PENS AND PAPER

By P Segal

 

The invaders of the public trust had hacked everything worth hacking that week. The governments of several big nations, all the big banks, and all the dating sites now had everyone’s information out in the open. The world had become transparent and the criminal class was quick to take advantage. There were not enough investigators to handle all the reports of credit card fraud, blackmail, identity theft, and related skullduggery. Bank accounts were frozen, and online sales ground to a halt. The only thing merchants took these days was cash, after holding it up to the light, to insure that it was real. Insurance companies, security firms, and top-secret agencies had already shown their fragility. The term “online security” was only spoken these days with a wry smirk.

In boardrooms all over the world, people were contemplating that perhaps it was not such a good idea to put confidential information online. Nowhere was this a bigger issue than in the boardrooms of Switzerland, where despots, profiteers, and zillionaires hid their assets. In the inner sanctum of the venerable firm, Verbreken, Delit, and Crimine, the board sat speechlessly, pressing fingers together, or running them through quickly thinning hair.

Herr Verbreken broke the silence. “Perhaps we need a bigger, stronger firewall.”

Mme. Delit sneered. “Oh, yes, a bigger, stronger firewall. So the hackers have a more entertaining challenge.” She sat back in her chair, shook her hair, and looked down her nose, unconsciously holding her pen like a cigarette.

“This is horrible! What can we do? We can’t even find the hackers, so we can stop them,” fumed Signore Crimine. “And the discretion we promise our clients! If we can’t hold up our reputation for absolute discretion, we’re doomed.”

The three principals of the firm turned their gaze to the youngest vice president, who was in charge of IT.  “Well, Herr Blasé? What do you recommend we do?”

The intense young vice president nodded vigorously and said, “I have been giving this problem a great deal of thought, and I have devised a strategy.”

The partners slumped into their well-padded armchairs, steadying themselves for one of Blasé’s authoritative lectures, of which they understood only every third word. Signore Criminale’s eyes were always the first to glaze over, during IT reports, as he thought, with considerable detail, about his impending lunch. 

The vice president of the IT division straightened his tie. “As you know,” he began, “I have been in the tech industry for nearly 30 years.”

The board members brightened, because they understood every word of his sentence, and they became unavoidably attentive when the youngest vice president faltered.  He usually barreled into his monologues, unconcerned about his audience. The others hadn’t needed to understand, and still didn’t need to comprehend, the complexities of what he had been paid so handsomely to know himself.

“Alors?” Mme. Delit snapped. “What must we do?”

Herr Blasé’s voice cracked as he said, “I really think… our best bet, under the circumstances, and considering the level of disruptive force at work in the world these days, uh… I really think…”

“Basta!” Signore Crimine warned. “Just tell us.”

Herr Blasé cleared his throat and said, “We should go back to pens and paper.”

“What?” Herr Verbreken said incredulously. “You want us to go back to the old way?”

“Only temporarily! There is software under development in Silicon Valley, such as the NeverFail Project, which combines state-of-the-art facial recognition
features, Navajo firewalls…” At this stage of Herr Blasé’s explanation, the others tuned out. When Blasé stopped making sounds, Verbreken fixed his deeply blue eyes on the silent Mme. Guichet, the vice president of accounting.

“Mme. Guichet,” Herr Verbreken said, as though summoning a person from a hypnotic trance, “How would we go about this?”

She put an elbow on the table and used her hand to support her head. “Are you aware,” she asked her fellow board members, “that most of our youngest employees haven’t held a pen or pencil since the last day of their education? In the last 30 years, we have struggled to make everyone use computers, and now we have to try to get them to give them up?”

“So you are proposing that we fire our IT department?” Mme. Delit snapped.

“No, no, no!” Blasé insisted. “We put them to work creating our own programs that are not used by anyone else—programs so complicated that they are only accessible to us!”

Herr Verbreken pressed his hands together in a gesture of prayer, staring off into the ethers. “Yes,” he said vacantly, “We may need to do that. Our confidentiality is vital. So, Mme. Guichet, do we have anyone who still knows traditional bookkeeping practices?”

She frowned. “I think our last bookkeeper is still alive.”

“Bring him in, Mme. Guichet.” 

As they left the meeting, Crimine grabbed Mme. Delit’s elbow and whispered in her ear, “These IT people—how do we know that they don’t cause the problems themselves, to remain absolutely indispensible? We don’t know who they are, and maybe it’s Blasé.”

She goggled at her partner in the firm. “Signore, you’re a raving paranoid.”

The Swiss-Italian sighed. “That’s what happens, madame, when you’re in charge of security— and people who are dangerously smart make you insecure indeed.”