By Adam Turteltaub
Last week we witnessed a string of simple human errors that led to problems of epic proportions.
The Oscars snafu is, of course, the Oscar winner in this category. For anyone who happened to miss this one, the accountant at PWC responsible for handing out the envelopes for the presenters to read, accidentally gave out the wrong envelope for best picture. “La La Land” was announced as the winner, only to have it revealed that “Moonlight” had actually won. It led to chaos on the stage, endless coverage in the press, many late night comic jokes, and even a great prank by a UK theater. The lights went down, and instead of “Moonlight” coming on, twenty seconds of “La La Land” appeared on the screen. The audience reportedly laughed its collective head off.
This humor aside, much chagrin followed the initial mistake, along with a very big black eye for PWC.
They can take solace, though, in not being alone. On March 2nd, Amazon.com revealed that the massive outage in their cloud server business was caused by human error. While most people think of Amazon as a retailer, the company has a remarkably large business, known as S3, serving tens of thousands of sites around the web, including companies such as Netflix, Spotify and Pinterest. Not all the sites were down, but it was a long four plus hours when the S3 service was offline.
Finally, earlier in the week, Boeing revealed a data “breach” caused when an employee emailed a spreadsheet to his wife to get her help in formatting it. What he didn’t know was that there were hidden columns in the document containing personal data on 36,000 employees.
All of these incidents are a good reminder that people are only human. No matter how much training is involved, no matter how strong the controls, someone is going to bungle things badly.
It’s also a good reminder that not all compliance breaches are mal-intended. Sometimes, somehow things just get messed up.
But the biggest lesson here is that we should never feel complacent. The capacity to create controls is almost always surpassed by the human capacity to do something totally unexpected that somehow gets around them. Bottom line: given the opportunity something will likely go wrogn. Oops, I mean wrong.
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