It’s one in the morning after Memorial Day, and my friend and I are trying to catch a Lyft home from the airport. The designated ride share area is swarming with people, all tired from long hours in the sun, long island iced teas, (hopefully some long bouts of appreciation for our fallen soldiers), and long flights. Phones are out and lit up, waving desperately from ground to pillars, everyone trying to get a signal. My Lyft is coming from the other side of town, and I know that every ride share in Austin is probably being pinged at the moment.
Just under a half an hour later, a white GNC truck pulls up amongst the storm of cars. The driver looks fit and well put together. He hops out of his truck and offers a friendly hello to my friend and I, putting our suitcases in the back of the truck. I can’t help but notice how utterly clean the vehicle is. We get in the four-door cab, and I’m struck by the interior. This is the truck of someone meticulous and careful.
The driver introduces himself, with no hint of an accent. I can’t place where he might be from. He finds out that my friend and I are traveling back from Los Angeles and he begins to talk about how he used to live in Long Beach and how much he misses the ocean. He is well-spoken, confident, and drives very carefully.
“So do you normally do the night shifts?” I ask.
“I do,” he says. “I work real estate during the day, and I’m also in school. And I serve in the military as well, army reserves.”
“Thank you for your service,” my friend says.
“Yes, thank you,” I agree. “How long have you been serving?”
“A while. I know I don’t look it, but I’m forty-one.”
He does not look forty-one.
“Wow,” I say.
“Hard worker,” my friend adds.
“Have to be, I’m trying to get back to where I was.”
“How so?” I ask.
“Well, funny enough, I didn’t want to leave California. I was laid off, and I own a house here in Austin. Fortunately, my tenants were moving at the same time. So I came back.”
“Sorry to hear it,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says, pulling onto the highway. He uses his blinker and checks his blind spot twice. “I had my dream job. I was doing systems engineering for [company name redacted] and I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t believe I got to go to work every morning. And then [company name redacted] got hit by a cyber attack and lost three hundred million dollars. They had to lay off almost all of us.”
I don’t mention what I do for a living. He doesn’t ask.
“And so now I’m here,” he says. “Doing as much as I can to get by. I got my MBA and I do some part time engineering work, and I’m just hoping one day I can work in the same field as I did. I really did love it. C’est la vie.”
It’s one-thirty when we arrive at our destination. The driver gets out and lifts our suitcases out with ease. His arms are as steely as his resolve. My friend and I yawn and give him our thanks. He gets back in his truck, and goes off to find another ride.
This may not sound like the most shocking story in the world to you, but it resonated deeply with me. Perhaps you might say the same: C’est la vie. Everyone is entitled to a case of bad luck from time to time, and life goes on.
But this wasn’t bad luck. This was a malicious entity, attacking a giant company for giant amounts of money, but scattering a rubble of decent people in the wake. With sums like three-hundred million, we are quick to assume that insurance will cover it, or perhaps the government will jump in and subsidize the loss; really anything other than the truth, because numbers like that are so large and feel removed from our everyday lives.
But these sorts of attacks certainly can affect everyday life.
Here was a lovely, courteous, hardworking soldier, who made all great choices in life, and had his dream taken from him. It wasn’t bad luck. It was bad security.
Even though I work in the field of cybersecurity, I rarely get to meet the people affected so directly by our adversaries. It was harrowing to see someone so decent, so strong, get tossed back into the trenches of life, fighting a battle he did not pick, nor for which he volunteered.
This is why cybersecurity is not just important. It’s critical. Crucial. Life-saving.
Even if we just see the missing numbers, the shifting data on a digital spreadsheet, there are always the folks on the other side of the computer, feeling the real ramification of those numbers. Because the enemy is out there working. And even though the average man might not be the target (although many times we are), no one is immune from the attacks. So protect your business. Protect your assets. Protect your futures.
Protect your dreams, and the dreams of those who depend on you.