Security Staff Acquisition & Development, Data Security, Leadership

What Do You Do When the Tech Hits the Fan?

By Joshua Marpet

Idiots Abound

Occasionally, I, like many people, am an idiot. Let me explain: Driving to a wedding on a recent Sunday, I needed to put some gas in the car so I stopped at a rest stop along the way. Befitting of the event to which I was headed, I was wearing a suit. Now, while wearing a suit I dislike putting items in my trouser pockets, as suit pockets aren’t designed for bulky items, like a wallet. So after I’d pulled into the station, I took my wallet, which I would use to pay for the gas, out of the center console in my car, pulled out a credit card, initiated the transaction on the gas pump, pumped the gas, put the card back in the wallet, and then… I got stupid. To my best recollection, I put my wallet on top of my car, fully intending to grab it before sitting back in the driver’s seat. And here’s where things go awry. I’ll give you three guesses as to what actually happened next.

I got back into my car with my wife, drove off, and arrived at the wedding where we had a great time with the happy couple. It was a beautiful ceremony in a gorgeous setting, there was amazing food and dancing! When the festivities were said and done, we drove home, and the next day headed to my family’s house for Passover. At one point during that trip I realized I didn’t have my wallet with me, remembering the suit pants pocket issue. “I must have left it in the car,” I thought to myself, then took out my phone and turned on TrackR modules, which I use to keep track of my stuff. I turned on the handy dandy app and see that my wallet is… many, many miles away. The last known location is Maryland House, the rest stop at which we gassed up on our way to the wedding.


Next I do what any reasonable person would do: I cancelled my debit cards and watched my credit card statements to see if any charges were made—this might provide a clue as to who picked the wallet up, right? No charges. Nothing, nada, zip. Ok, I think, maybe it flew off the top of the car on the highway and is sitting forlorn, alone, and forsaken, waiting to be picked up by a highway lawnmower and shredded via whirling blades of doom.

But none of that happened. Instead, I received a call from Wilmington University Security. Apparently, a road worker had picked up my wallet, found my WilmU faculty card in it, and called the security number on the back. Security called me, and when I confirmed that I had indeed lost my wallet, they gave me the road worker’s name and number.

Robert Watts (named with permission), the road worker in question, had my driver’s license, passport card, and numerous credit and debit cards, but amazingly enough, nothing in the wallet had my phone number on it. I had run out of business cards weeks before, so they were gone, and none of the other items lists a phone number. The only phone number Robert found was the security line on the WilmU ID so he called them, gave my name, and from an employee directory, they were able to track me down, call me, and facilitate the exchange.

We met up the next day and I got my wallet back! To the exchange, Robert brought his 6-year-old son. Instead of just handing over the wallet to me, Robert gave the wallet to his son and told him to hand it back to me. After multiple attempts on my part, they both refused any reward; this was Robert’s way of teaching his son to do good deeds. After we all departed, Robert sent me this text (he finally had my phone number):

Josh, I wanted to thank you again for the moral my son learned today. It is very easy to say, “do the right thing,” be a light for someone else, to take time to help others, but to show him was an amazing experience for him. To see the joy on your face and the relief in your eyes was something I could not explain to my son. In a world that's ever changing, so much rush, where people don't think too far outside their own world, it's nice to show him that little moments in your life can turn you into a hero. Whether it's holding the door for a lady/ older people, saying a prayer for those who need it, or simply just making sure someone is return something they lost, it's that moment you become a hero. Thanks again for this life lesson that you have given my son.

This was incredibly humbling. Robert was thanking me for his good deed! And his note made me reflect on a few things that had happened over the course of the past several days.

Apparently, my wallet had been run over, as the mangled TrackR disc proved. What was interesting to me, though, was that the technology (and “technology,” as I’ll soon explain) still worked. My TrackR system was able to tell me the last time it saw the disc in my wallet. It was even able to tell me the last tracked location. However, once the TrackR disc got run over, it was unable to communicate with my phone or anyone running the TrackR app. Even if it had been able to communicate, finding a precise location on a busy highway with a crowdsourced GPS, the technology used by TrackR in this case, would have been tough.

What worked, then? Old-fashioned investigation, phone calls, and connecting the dots. Amazing how when technology cannot be the answer, some older methods provide the right paths to the answers we need. Since I’m a security practitioner, I could spout off about how encryption is a wonderful technology.  I could point to many instances in which technology facilitated communication or provided leads that would have been more time consuming and challenging without technology. I could say that automated alerts prevent more incidents than manual hunting, or that big data allows organizations to connect dots more easily and with greater accuracy. And this would all be true.

Instead, let’s realize that new technology is impressive, but sometimes it’s not available or just plain doesn’t work. Legwork, investigation, and following leads are skills security pros can’t forget to practice and use. We need to remember the ways things were done before all the amazing tech we’ve come to rely on was available, and occasionally put it into practice if we’re going to be truly effective at our jobs. With so many cool tools in our arsenal, it’s often harder to recognize when something isn’t working exactly as it should. Curiosity and investigative skills are a fantastic complement to the tech we have today, but it’s often forgotten in the business of our work (and daily) lives.

Robert and his son taught me an incredible lesson—in life and for work. So, thanks, Robert. As for work, I’ll be looking at things in a new…or old, actually…way from now on. 

Attend Cyber Security World, June 28-29, 2017 in Denver, CO where Joshua will be leading a workshop on The Different Languages of Security, Business, Venture Capital, and Exit Strategies.

Joshua Marpet be found presenting at InfoSecWorld, and other MISTI conferences, as well as Security BSides Delaware, Derbycon, Defcon, Shmoocon, etc. Ask him business, entrepreneurial, and technology questions. But be ready to get a long answer. Have a drink with you. You’ll need it.

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