System Admins and Hackers: Now What?

The last couple of weeks have brought tons of coverage on the government’s metadata gathering, the privacy concerns of American citizens and who has access to data in large, sprawling systems.

Systems AdminAs the NSA, Booz-Allen and the IT sector grapples with what to do next, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that system admins and their role would all of the sudden come under scrutiny. The situation illustrates the extremely complex interplay between computing professionals and their organizations, especially when it comes to trust and responsibilities, in today’s IT world.

On the other hand, maybe it’s always kind of been that way.

On the good side, more people are suggesting that both commercial and government organizations should thoroughly screen potential hires and use a two-person access method when dealing with highly sensitive information. It’s a reasonable and fairly predictable response. I can see where the general public might get the impression that system administrators need to be closely watched and monitored, lest they go rogue at the first sign of stress or personal hardship. That seems a bit over the top.

For example, this story in the New York Times paints a picture that doesn’t match any system administrator I’ve ever known. You certainly trust that your family brain surgeon or neighborhood commercial pilot will do the right thing when it comes to your best interest. So it is too, with system administrators.

Let’s be realistic. Just like any other professional, if you can’t trust your system administrator… who can you trust?

Experienced system administrators are confident and usually have pretty strong personalities. They aren’t pushovers or wimps, and they take their job responsibilities seriously. They overwhelmingly have a strong sense of personal pride in their work.

When I ran across this letter to the NSA — Dear NSA: You Need Hackers Like Me, but We Don’t Need You — I had to pause for a minute. What are we to make of the writer’s bold, defiant attitude? Would this particular character be the person you’d want running your systems? Moreover, would traditional system administrators who manage, maintain, and protect their organization and its data let this particular person anywhere near their systems?

I was a bit upset with one particular statement from this letter-writer: “One thing we don’t do is blindly put hand to heart and sing ‘God Bless America’ — unless we’re in a North Korean gulag and it’s a contrarian move.” Although I have some serious disagreements with quite a few politicians, I certainly pledge allegiance to the institution of my own country, the United States.

It makes me wonder if this person has any allegiance to anybody? What about his country? How about his company? Spouse and family? Perhaps, he’s just young, smart and hasn’t fully developed what he really believes yet.

Maybe, I’ve missed the rationale behind being a hacker. The NSA-busting Edward Snowden is a man without a country now, regardless of whether he was right or wrong in what he did.

Where do organizations, their system administrators — and the hackers — go from here?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

5 Responses to “System Admins and Hackers: Now What?”

  1. Jon Paul Salas

    All I can say is that I feel luckier than him now. I’m an immigrant, pledge allegiance to the flag of the USA since I become a citizen. There is only one USA and we should love it. SERIOUSLY.

  2. Rob Reilly

    Jon Paul Salas,

    Thank you for your comment.

    How long have you been a US citizen and where was your home country? Also, what brought you to America?

    Rob Reilly
    Dice Linux and Mobile Development Community Guide

  3. Fred Bosick

    Cool. Instead of blaming the government or corporate culture, let’s blame the computer guy! Those computer guys make too much money anyway and understand weird things that salesmen and executives don’t. We should lay them all off and hire indentured H-1Bs who won’t rock the boat and make us execs look dumb.

  4. Rob Reilly

    Dear Fred,

    Darn right it’s the computer guy! Blaming the government? The NSA, CIA, EPA, LMNOP, EIEIO, etc. are doing a fine job and I support them all 1000%.

    Not! All the system admins, I know, are a tremendous bargain at 3X their rates. They have one of the toughest jobs in IT and many times are taken for granted. Yes and they do know lots of stuff that salesmen and execs don’t.

    I’d hope by now that you know I don’t look to government for answers…definitely not my style.

    Thanks for your levity. Dice readers will certainly appreciate your particularly dry way of expressing your views.

    So, what do you think will happen to Snowden? He’s definitely in a tough spot.

    Rob Reilly
    Dice Linux and Mobile Development Community Guide.

  5. Fred Bosick

    “So, what do you think will happen to Snowden? He’s definitely in a tough spot.”

    He’s only a plastic token in a real, live, game of Diplomacy. I have no clue what will become of him, but the moment he’s worth more dead, he will be.