Berkeley Professor Finds Security Is No Bluffing Matter


Professor Jasper Rine, a genetics teacher at the University of California at Berkeley, might be a leading figure in his field of study. But when it comes to computer security, it seems he might have a lot to learn.

Rine gained Internet fame over the past week, after he had his laptop stolen out from under him during one of his classes. Later, he told the class that the theft was especially serious business because the notebook contained data from a $100 million National Institutes of Health-backed study in which he served as a consultant. Not only that, but one of the companies involved in the study is a pre-IPO company, and the data on the laptop was proprietary.

Serious stuff. But this is where the whole story took a turn for the absurd. According to a video of his diatribe, which is circulating throughout the Web in various formats, Rine tried to bluff his way into scaring the thieving student into giving the laptop back. Here is how he started the bluff, according to a transcript of the video posted on the blog Blast Radius (warning: this site contains profanity):

The thief was smart not to plug the computer into the campus network, but the thief was not smart enough to do three things. He was not smart enough to immediately remove Windows. I installed the same version of Windows on another computer. Within 15 minutes, the people in Redmond, Wash., were very interested to know why it was that the same version of Windows was being signaled to them from two different computers.

There are tens of millions of versions of Windows actively running in the world. To think that Microsoft would respond within 15 minutes to two of "the same version" booting up at the same time fails the giggle test.

Rine continued:

The thief also did not inactivate either the wireless card or the transponder that's in that computer. Within about an hour, there was a signal from various places on campus that has allowed us to track exactly where that computer went every time that it was turned on.

And yet, there was Rine, in front of his class, without his laptop. Yes, the technology exists to track and pinpoint the location of stolen laptops. But obviously, it wasn't good enough for Rine to get the thing back without the histrionics.

There have been scores and scores of comments on the Web about Rine's situation since the story began to emerge last week. But this one, by a commenter named "punkd" at the blog Engadget, seems representative of many in discussing Rine's plight:

"Hahahahahahahahahahaha [breath] hahahahahaha."

Ok, to sum up: Rine admittedly left out a notebook with incredibly sensitive data, unsecured, for someone to steal. Now it's gone. He then did what a lot of college students do at least once during the course of an academic career: He tried to bluff his way out of it. There have been no reports as of yet that it worked.

Now if you're a solution provider and even the smartest and most tech-savvy of your clients turns a deaf ear to your counsel on security and, well, common sense, you can point to Professor Jasper Rine.

And try not to laugh.