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A hacker uses ransomware

Friday Fun for the IT Crowd:
Tech news steals the headlines

February 19, 2016

By Lisa Dare

From virtual stick-ups to an FBI-Apple showdown, it has been a riveting week for tech news. 

Healthcare IT for ransom

It was widely reported that a Hollywood hospital was being held for $3.4 million in a ransomware attack. The truth wasn’t so exciting. Yes, the hospital’s data was being held hostage—or encrypted without their permission—but for the most part, the facility had been functioning as usual during the attack.

Or at least "as usual" by 1990s standards. The hospital’s fax machines took the place of emails, and doctors had to use paper charts, slowing care to a halt and causing some patients to be diverted elsewhere. The hospital paid the 40 Bitcoins, or approximately $17,000—far less than the huge heist people were reporting.

But the story highlights an important point: healthcare IT systems have a target on their back. Healthcare records contain especially valuable data, like Social Security numbers and birthdates, that criminals can use forever to perpetrate identity theft, unlike a credit card number we can just change. And the complexity and number of operating systems, IoT devices and employee types (from volunteers to doctors to accountants) makes healthcare IT's defenses especially porous.

A couple of scary statistics from our healthcare InfoSec SlideShare coming next week:

Takeaway: Hospitals and other care providers will need to become incredibly sophisticated in building InfoSec into their systems and culture.

Apple makes a stand for data privacy

The IT world took notice this week when a judge ordered Apple to write code to undermine one of its own security features. The ostensible reason is for the FBI to extract information from the phones of the San Bernardino shooters, but Bloomberg reports the request is consistent with the government's secret strategy to find a way to force Apple to weaken its user security safeguards. The Guardian has a great story on just how far the implications of the request go. IT pros—who generally possess a strong libertarian streak when it comes to data privacy—have been sounding out about this issue. Join the conversation on our LinkedIn page.

Airbnb scores a point for women in tech

The defense of Silicon Valley’s—and tech’s—diversity problem usually come down to the so-called pipeline problem. Defenders absolve the tech industry from any blame by saying the disparity stems from the lack of qualified women, African Americans and Latinos applying for technology jobs.

Airbnb’s data science team discovered the talent pipeline wasn’t their main problem. Using information generated by its EEOC tracking (the little check boxes in any application that ask what gender and race you are), the company discovered they were actually getting lots of female data science applicants, but hiring few of them.

After taking steps to battle unconscious bias and making the interview process more welcoming to women, Airbnb doubled the ratio of women on its data science team from 15 percent to 30.

The benefits to Airbnb? That team has the strongest employee satisfaction scores of any department, and female members indicate they’re likely to remain with the company, hopefully helping Airbnb beat another intractable problem: women who enter tech tend to leave.

The encouraging news highlights another issue, however: Racial diversity hasn’t been as easy for tech companies to talk about or improve. 

Lisa Dare is a writer for TEKsystems who loves learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in the industry. She frequently blogs about IT careers, talent management and tech culture. Follow her on Twitter to keep up with TEKsavvy blog content.

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