6. What are the leading trends in information technology?
Information technology is a continually evolving field. The fast pace and amount of change, coupled with IT’s broad reach, make it especially challenging to isolate industry trends. From the time we write this chapter to the time you read it—as little as six months—new trends will appear, and those that seemed important may fade. However, some trends that are reshaping today’s IT landscape are digital forensics, the shift to a distributed workforce, and the increasing use of grid computing.
Cyber Sleuthing: A New Style of Crime Busting
What helped investigators bring suit against Enron, Merck’s Vioxx medication, and the BTK serial killer? Digital evidence taken from an individual’s computer or corporate network—web pages, pictures, documents, and e-mails are part of a relatively new science called digital forensics. Digital-forensics software safeguards electronic evidence used in investigations by creating a duplicate of a hard drive that an investigator can search by keyword, file type, or access date. Digital forensics is also evolving into areas such as cloud computing and blockchain technology. For instance, it is estimated that as much as 3.9 million of the original 21 million bitcoins are “lost” on hard drives confined to landfills and flash drives located in the back of old office desks.21
But nowadays digital sleuthing is not limited to law enforcement. Companies such as Walmart, Target, and American Express have their own secret in-house digital forensics teams. And what if you’re in New York and need to seize a hard drive in Hong Kong? No problem. Over 75 members of the Fortune 500 now use technology that allows them to search hard drives remotely over their corporate networks. Digital forensics makes it possible to track down those who steal corporate data and intellectual property. Broadcom, a semiconductor chip designer, used computer forensics to investigate and apprehend former employees who were attempting to steal trade secrets. In the process, Broadcom gathered incriminating e-mails, including deleted documents, that gave it solid evidence to use the 2013 Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to stop the former employees from starting up a rival firm.22
However, there is a downside to having these advanced capabilities. If this kind of software falls into the wrong hands, sophisticated hackers could access corporate networks and individual computers as easily as taking candy from a baby—and the victims would not even know it was happening. In an age of corporate wrongdoing, sexual predators, and computer porn, your hard drive will tell investigators everything they need to know about your behavior and interests, good and bad. Cybersleuthing means we are all potential targets of digital forensics. As evidenced by the huge increase in identity theft, personal privacy—once an unassailable right—is no longer as sacred as it once was.
Unearthing Your Secrets
Cybercrimes in our technologically driven world are on the increase—identity theft, pornography, and sexual predator victim access, to name a few. The FBI’s computer analysis response team confirms their caseload includes 800 cases reported per day in 2017. To keep up with the changing world we live in, law enforcement, corporations, and government agencies have turned to new crime-fighting tools, one of the most effective being digital forensics.
The leader in this technology is Guidance Software, founded in 1997 to develop solutions that search, identify, recover, and deliver digital information in a forensically sound and cost-effective manner. Headquartered in Pasadena, California, the company employs 391 people at offices and training facilities in Chicago, Illinois; Washington, DC; San Francisco, California; Houston, Texas; New York City; and Brazil, England, and Singapore. The company’s more than 20,000 high-profile clients include leading police agencies, government investigation and law enforcement agencies, and Fortune 1000 corporations in the financial service, insurance, high-tech and consulting, health care, and utility industries.
Guidance Software’s suite of EnCase® solutions is the first computer forensics tool able to provide world-class electronic investigative capabilities for large-scale complex investigations. Law enforcement officers, government/corporate investigators, and consultants around the world can now benefit from computer forensics that exceed anything previously available. The software offers an investigative infrastructure that provides network-enabled investigations, enterprise-wide integration with other security technologies, and powerful search and collection tools. With EnCase, clients can conduct digital investigations, handle large-scale data collection needs, and respond to external attacks.
Notably, the company’s software was used by law enforcement in the Casey Anthony murder case and the Sony PlayStation security breach, and was used to examine data retrieved by the U.S. special forces in the Osama bin Laden raid.
Guidance Software also helps reduce corporate and personal liability when investigating computer-related fraud, intellectual property theft, and employee misconduct. It protects against network threats such as hackers, worms, and viruses and hidden threats such as malicious code.
In response to increases in the number and scope of discovery requests, Guidance Software developed its eDiscovery Suite. The software package dramatically improves the practice of large-scale discovery—the identification, collection, cataloging, and saving of evidence—required in almost every major legal case these days. eDiscovery integrates with other litigation-support software to significantly decrease the time for corporations to accomplish these tasks. At the same time, it improves regulatory compliance and reduces disruption. The result is many millions of dollars in cost savings. In late 2017, Guidance Software was acquired by OpenText, an enterprise information management company that employs more than 10,000 people worldwide.
Sources: FBI website, https://www.fbi.gov, accessed January 15, 2018; Guidance Software website, https://www.guidancesoftware.com, accessed January 15, 2018; OpenText website, https://www.opentext.com, accessed January 15, 2018; “Casey Anthony: The Computer Forensics,” The State v Casey Anthony website, https://statevcasey.wordpress.com, July 18, 2011; Declan McCullagh, “Finding Treasures in Bin Laden Computers,” CBS News, https://www.cbsnews.com, May 6, 2011; Evan Narcisse, “ Who’s Cleaning Up the PSN Debacle for Sony?” Time,http://techland.time.com, May 4, 2011.
Critical Thinking Questions
- How is Guidance Software responding to and helping to manage changes in our technology-driven world?
- What other types of forensics software do you foresee a need for in the future? Do you think there are ethical issues in using forensics software, and why?
- What are the benefits and risks of Guidance Software being acquired by a larger company?
The Distributed Workforce
Insurance company Aetna shuttered 2.7 million square feet of office space, saving the company $78 million, while American Express estimates it saved between $10 to $15 million dollars per year by expanding its distributed workforce. Was this a sign that these company were in trouble? Far from it. Instead of maintaining expensive offices in multiple locations, they sent employees home to work and adopted a new model for employees: the distributed workforce. Employees have no permanent office space and work from home or on the road. The shift to virtual workers has been a huge success, and not only do companies save on their personnel and related costs, but they also have happier, more productive employees.
Aetna and American Express are not alone in recognizing the benefits of distributed workers, especially in companies that depend on knowledge workers. Work Design Collaborative LLC in Prescott, Arizona, estimates that about 12 percent of all workers in the United States fall into this category, and in urban areas the number could be as high as 15 percent. There are estimates that this trend could eventually reach 40 percent over the next decade, as long commutes, high gas costs, and better connecting tools and technologies make this an attractive option for many workers who like the flexibility of not working in an office.23 Already, employees use the internet to conduct video-conferenced meetings and collaborate on teams that span the globe. On the downside, working from home can also mean being available 24/7—although most workers consider the trade-off well worth it.
According to recent statistics, close to four million U.S. workers work from home at least half of the time. Remote workers continue to be recruited by companies of all sizes, including Amazon, Dell, Salesforce, and others.24 Intel has a successful virtual-work program that has been popular with working parents. “Technology allows working remotely to be completely invisible,” says Laura Dionne, the company’s director of supply-chain transformation. At Boeing, thousands of employees participate in the virtual-work program, and it has been a critical factor in attracting and retaining younger workers. Almost half of Sun Microsystems’ employees are “location-independent,” reducing real estate costs by $300 million. Additional benefits for Sun are higher productivity from these workers and the ability to hire the best talent. “Our people working these remote schedules are the happiest employees we have, and they have the lowest attrition rates,” says Bill MacGowan, senior vice president for human resources at Sun. “Would I rather settle on someone mediocre in the Bay Area, or get the best person in the country who is willing to work remotely?”25
Grid and Cloud Computing Offer Powerful Solutions
How can smaller companies that occasionally need to perform difficult and large-scale computational tasks find a way to accomplish their projects? They can turn to grid or cloud computing, also called utility computing or peer-to-peer computing. Cloud and grid technology provides a way to divide the job into many smaller tasks and distribute them to a virtual supercomputer consisting of many small computers linked into a common network. Combining multiple desktop machines results in computing power that exceeds supercomputer speeds. A hardware and software infrastructure clusters and integrates computers and applications from multiple sources, harnessing unused power in existing PCs and networks. This structure distributes computational resources but maintains central control of the process. A central server acts as a team leader and traffic monitor. The controlling cluster server divides a task into subtasks, assigns the work to computers on the grid with surplus processing power, combines the results, and moves on to the next task until the job is finished. Exhibit 13.9 shows how typical grid and cloud setups work, and the differences between the two.
Exhibit 13.9 How Grid and Cloud Computing Work (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license.)
With utility computing, any company—large or small—can access the software and computer capacity on an as-needed basis. One of the big advantages of cloud computing is that companies can update their inventory in real time across their entire organization. For example, suppose you are an appliance retailer and have several outlets throughout the Midwest. If you have one model of a Whirlpool washing machine in your Des Moines, Iowa, store, and a salesperson in your Chicago location can sell that model in Chicago, the sale can be accomplished pretty easily. They can finalize the sale, create the shipping instructions, and update the inventory record automatically—and the Chicago consumer’s needs will be met.26
Amazon, Google, IBM, Salesforce.com, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise are among the companies providing as-needed cloud and grid services. Although cloud and grid computing appears similar to outsourcing or on-demand software from ASPs, it has two key differences:
- Pricing is set per-use, whereas outsourcing involves fixed-price contracts.
- Cloud and grid computing goes beyond hosted software and includes computer and networking equipment as well as services.
The cloud and grids provide a very cost-effective way to provide computing power for complex projects in areas such as weather research and financial and biomedical modeling. Because the computing infrastructure already exists—they tap into computer capacity that is otherwise unused—the cost is quite low. The increased interest in cloud and grid technology will continue to contribute to high growth.
- How are companies and other organizations using digital forensics to obtain critical information?
- Why do companies find that productivity rises when they offer employees the option of joining the virtual workforce?
- What advantages do grid and cloud computing offer a company? What are some of the downsides to using this method?