December 07, 2010

Assange has transformed whistle blowing and transparency into a whole new realm of information gathering and sharing. While his impact has yet to be fully evaluated, remember this: An entire generation of wide-eyed enthusiasts earned journalism degrees after they read All The President's Men and watched the film. If Assange is able to bring down a few politicians with his intelligence dumps, someone somewhere just might do the same to your company.

Right now, an angry, insulted or inspired employee could spill thousands of pages of emails and documents with a few mouse clicks.

Don't think it could happen to you? Just ask upstate businessman Carl Paladino who ran for governor of New York on the Republican ticket. As a successful business owner Paladino should have had a solid platform for talking about reviving a recession-ravaged New York, especially upstate. Instead, the first thing voters heard about "Crazy Carl" was his spectacularly off-color emails that he forwarded back when he was a private citizen.

Ask yourself: If you found out that you had a transparency crusader in your midst -- either a current or former employee or maybe even a business partner -- what secrets could they find out? Be honest. Those disparaging e-mails about clients who may not have performed their due diligence could come back to haunt you. Those crude comments about female co-workers and the insults of unqualified people who interviewed for jobs that they didn't get could be embarrassing when they are out in the light of day.

Remember, every Microsoft Excel spreadsheet you send out to an employee can easily be forwarded to a journalist or a personal e-mail account. Did you turn on the password protection? Have you disabled USB ports on your employee's work stations? Do you have any idea how many times your colleagues check their Gmail or Yahoo accounts?

Unlike the founders of Facebook, Twitter and Google, Assange is more of a cyber opportunist than a person who created, say, an algo for better searches. In fact, his methods are very deceptive. In a Forbes magazine profile, Assange claims that he used to call executives pretending to be their company's tech support. After getting their passwords to perform supposed routine maintenance he would go about hacking their systems.

In a crude way, this is the newest chapter in investigative journalism.

Before you plan your office's Christmas party, maybe you should revisit your security procedures. After all, closing a few windows and changing the locks is more important to your firm's health than the hors d'oeuvres and the rum punch.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phil Albinus is the former editor-in-chief of Advanced Trading. He has nearly two decades of journalism experience and has been covering financial technology and regulation for nine years. Before joining ...