Risk assessment and the Nu M8 Child Tracker

A few weeks ago I allowed my 7 year old daughter to walk the last 400 yards from the bottom of the road to the school gate by herself. Off she trotted, full of her own independence, and away she went. About half an hour later the school headmistress called me “did you know that your daughter arrived at school by herself today?” You’d have thought some crime had been committed, or that I’d been negligent in my care. The expectation is that all children will be accompanied to the school and into the grounds by a parent. When I broached this subject at a friend’s party recently and expressed my view that most of the kids at the school are more than capable of walking the half a mile of so without needing to cling to a parent like a monkey with velcro arms, one mother of two particularly obnoxious offspring stated “well I’d be too worried to let mine go by themselves.” So, it’s no surprise that products such as the Nu M8 digital watch with child tracker are now on the market.

I really don’t see why anyone would want to buy one. If my kids are outside playing then I can usually hear them and if I can’t hear them my general attitude is “phew, some peace and quiet at last.” Either I’m unaware and ignorant of the fact that kids are being regularly picked off the streets, or perhaps I’m just old fashioned enough to remember that kids like to explore and enjoy some carefree freedom rather than being shackled to the house under constant supervision just in case they graze a knee and need hospital treatment.

Statistically, children are at more risk inside their own homes than out of it, from everything ranging from domestic violence to electric shocks. However, the hype that the press has put on the apparently ever increasing risk of child abduction (59 cases in 2002/2003 – see here) means that people do a quick risk assessment in their head where the formula used is something like risk = number of Daily Mail articles multiplied by mentions on GMTV. If result is a number greater than number of fingers on one hand then action equals throw protective blanket around child.

It’s this same principle that causes people to panic about getting on an aeroplane at the same time as they happily swerve from lane to lane at 90mph on the motorway. It’s also the reason why businesses have failed in the past to deal adequately with information security: hire an IT guy, call him the security dude, give him a firewall and a know-it-all attitude, and Bob’s your uncle: tick the box, we’re protected. It’s no different from buying a Nu M8 – you get the same soft, warm, squidgy feeling of security without having done anything to address the real risks. The system will break down the first time the child goes to cross a road and gets run over because these days nobody teaches them the Green Cross Code anymore.

For information security, we do the brain surgery but, as somebody recently said, end up dying from the common cold. Example: a nicely developed and well coded online CRM system that I recently saw. No obvious hacks, hosted on a decent infrastucture with firewall, IPS, and anti-malware . Even a good hacker would struggle to get in through the code and steal the data. Except that everyone with access to the system was, for ease of use and administration purposes, using the same, very simple, username and password combination.

Anyway, must go and make up the kids school packed lunches for the day: remember, nothing with nuts just in case there’s somebody with an allergy in the school, no sweets in case they get fat, but the crappy fake chemical cheese snacks that come in a plastic pot with some sticks of wood included for dipping are fine…