Author: Gary Hibberd

Date: 21st December 2020


Stave I: Old Marley

Old Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The registry was corrupted completely. The system wasn’t coming back at all, and this fact had been signed off by the Developer, the IT guy, and the Chief Technology Officer, Tim Tiny. In fact, it was Tim who had reported the failure of the system. “God help us. Everyone!” he had exclaimed when the failure occurred. He knew Scrooge, the business owner and CEO (‘Chief Ebenezer Ogre’ was his unofficial title!) would not be happy. But Tim was prone to sudden outbursts and exclamations due to the systems frequent issues.

After a long time explaining the situation, Tim Tiny managed to persuade Scrooge that this time, Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. 

But Scrooge knew Marley was dead. Of course, he did. How could he not? Tim had raised concerns for a long while, and he had rarely invested in the system which had controlled his entire business for the last seven years. Yes, it had been updated, but protecting the Data wasn’t particularly high on Scrooge’s priority list. Paying for maintenance, patches and upgrades was always at the bottom of the balance sheet.

Scrooge was a good businessman, but Oh! He was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, and solitary as an oyster. But to the outside world, he was simply ‘good old Scrooge’, but to anyone who wished to provide services, he struck a hard bargain or dismissed them out-of-hand.

Earlier that week he had held a meeting with Bob Cratch-IT, the IT company who also offered Security Consultancy. The meeting had gone well for Scrooge as it had ended quickly and without having to spend any money. Cratch-IT had spoken about the importance of Cybersecurity, not just in the systems but also people, premises, processes and providers. “Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability were key these days,” they told Scrooge.

But Scrooge wasn’t listening. He just heard ‘Cost. Cost. Cost’, and was already wondering how he could get them out of his office before they had finished speaking. He hadn’t had a problem before, so didn’t need their help now.


Stave II: Marley’s Spirit

Later that evening Scrooge sat in the darkness of his home office, at his computer, pondering how he was going to replace the system while keeping costs down. He knew he would have to spend some money, but wondered if there was a way around it?

As Scrooge sat at his computer the screen, which had been dead just moments before came to life. “eh?!” Scrooge watched as Old Marley appeared on the screen. The cursor pulsing slowly as if breathing in time with Scrooge’s quickening breath.

As he reached for the keyboard, words appeared on the screen…


For a second he froze, his hand hovering above the keyboard. “Humbug” he exclaimed! “Who’s messing with me? I won’t believe it!”

As he uttered his last word, the speaker crackled and from it came an unholy screech that forced Scrooge to cover his ears for the pain was worse than an x-factor singer at a Christmas karaoke party.

“What do you want with me?!” Scrooge cried out!

As the room fell silent, the screen response was a single word, “Much.”

“Who are you?”

“In life, I was your system. Old Marley.”

“What do you want of me?” after a moment’s pause words began flying across the computer screen.

“It is required of every man, that he cares for his fellowmen, not just of their physical and mental wellbeing, but of their Data too. Because we now reside in both the physical and Cyber universe those of us who manage and control data must live, breath and embody the spirit of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability. Where this does not happen, someone must intercede.”

Scrooge glanced about him, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by spirits of some sort. But he was alone.

“So what does that mean to me?”

“Hear me. My time is nearly gone. But this evening you’ll be visited by three Spirits; The Spirits of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability.”

“I — I think I’d rather not,” said Scrooge. “Can’t I take them all at once and get it done with?”

But there was no response. The screen fell silent and Scrooge was alone again, with an uneasy feeling which chilled him to his core.


Steve III: Three Spirits

When Old Marley had Ebenezer Scrooge, he was to be visited by three Spirits he was rightly terrified. The thought of being visited by three Spiritly apparitions was not how he expected to be enjoying his Christmas. Not that he ever really enjoyed it.

As Scrooge readied himself for bed, he glanced at the door which was shrouded in darkness, he switched off his lamp, placed his mobile phone on the bedside table – having already set his alarm for 6am, and slowly drifted off into an uneasy slumber.

His restless sleep was abruptly broken by the sound of crashing waves… His mobile phone filling the room with an eerie glow. Sitting up right, he glanced at his phone. It was 1am, and it wasn’t ringing, but the room was full of light. His eyes slowly becoming accustomed to the bright light in the room, and as he did, he saw a figure in the corner.

“Are you the Spirit of Confidentiality. Whose coming was foretold to me?” He asked.

“I am”

Scrooge looked carefully at this strange figure – Who was like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of being there… but not being there.

“What business do you have here?”

“Your welfare” came the reply.

“I don’t need welfare. I’m a wealthy man!”

“Your security then…” came the rebuttal. “Come rise with me”

And with those words echoing in his head, Scrooge was transported to a nearby store. He recognised it as he had been there many times to purchase and item or two. It was a family run business that had provided food and beverages for over 100 years. Seeing a woman at the tills, he walked over to see what was happening. But fearing he might be seen, held back slightly.

“Have no fear.” said the spirit. “We are merely shadows. They cannot see us.”

The woman was on her phone speaking fervently. “But I had funds in the account yesterday. Where has my money gone!?… But I didn’t make any transfers?” her shrill voice grew louder as her anxiety grew.

Scrooge looked at the Spirit “Who is she?”

“You recognise her. She has served you many times, but she is also someone you did business with three years ago. You held on to her data longer than needed, including all her banking details. Evil spirits, ‘Ghosts in the machine’, were able to enter your systems and took her details and emptied her bank account. They did this before they destroyed your Old Marley system. They call it ‘scorched earth’. They burn what they take so that you can’t trace them.”

“But… how?”

“How is not important. Cybercriminals can be inside your systems for months, even years and you never knew it, because you didn’t think to look. It can start with a call, or the click of a phishing email. Where it starts isn’t as important as to where it leads.”

Scrooge watched as the woman, now in tears paced the floor, pleading to the people on the line “Will she get the money back?”

“No…” And with that single word ringing in his ears, Scrooge was transported once again to house he did not recognise. Looking upon a family he did not recognise.

“Who are these people?”

“Your customers of Christmas past.” Replied the Spirit.

As Scrooge looked on, he listened in horror as the father explained to his family that they couldn’t buy the house they wanted because someone had stolen his identity and it had affected his credit history. He explained it could take them years to clear his name and put things right.

“I wish…” Scrooge muttered, digging his hands deep into his pocket, and looking about him “but it’s too late now.”

“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.

“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing.”

But the apparition pressed on, “That breach cost you a great deal of money to fix, didn’t it? Do you remember it? But you never told your customers about it, did you? You thought it best to keep that information to yourself. But did you ever stop to consider what the cost was to your customers? What the real-world impact was? And how your lack of controls to keep information Confidential impacted real lives.”

Placing his arm around Scrooge he led him into the shadows and almost as quickly as he had appeared, Scrooge was alone and back in his own bed. The Spirit had gone and the room was again shrouded in darkness except for the glow of the light from his mobile phone.


Stave IV: The Second Spirit

As he lay his head on his pillow, he was suddenly aware of the sound of laughter from out in the hall. Edging out of bed and across the room, he gingerly opened the door and was faced with the strangest sight he had ever seen.

His laptop was aglow with a green light, and from within it the image of what looked like Santa Claus beamed back at him! A cheery voice boomed out from the speakers

“I am the Spirit of Integrity! You have never seen me before have you?!” exclaimed the Spirit

“No. Never.” Scrooge made answer to it.

“Have never walked forth with the other members of my family; Confidentiality or Availability for all these years?” pursued the Phantom.

“I don’t think so!” said Scrooge.

“Spirit. Conduct me where you will. I have already learnt a valuable lesson and, if you have anything to teach me, let me profit by it.”

The spirits face hardened slightly and lost any sense of humour. “Touch the spacebar.” Said the Phantom.

And with that, Scrooge plunged headfirst through Windows, into the laptop.

As Scrooge’s eyes became accustomed to the glare of the light he saw an office he had never seen before, but before him was a familiar face working at his computer.

“Good Heaven! Is that Bob’s Cratch IT” the company I dismissed last month because they warned me about my lack of security controls?”

“It is.” Said the Spirit with a withering look.

“Strange that I never gave them a second thought. They wanted me to invest in security standards, but I didn’t want to spend the money. That was the day before the data breach.”

The Spiritly apparition stared coldly at Scrooge, “At a cost of a few mortal pounds would have protected so much.”

Scrooge walked over to the man, Bob who was writing an email and peered at the words on the screen… “Dear user, we’re warning you of a new Ransomware virus called ‘Fezziwig’. This virus has the potential to infiltrate systems, extract data or render data useless unless a ransom is paid. We will issue emergency patches and updates, but for now please follow your emergency policies & procedures we have provided previously.”

Scrooge stood open-mouthed, staring at the screen. “But… that could affect me!!” he stammered. Spinning to turn to the Spirit, who was simply staring at him nodding.

“But of course. Why would it not? Are you special in some way? Do you think cybercriminals care about whom they attack? You made yourself an easier mark when you chose not to listen to those who tried to help.”

And with that, the apparition placed a skeletal hand on Scrooge’s shoulder, and he was transported one more time. But this time he was taken to a building he recognised.


Stave V: The Third Spirit

Standing on the street, looking up at the building he knew was his office he instantly knew something was wrong. The spirit he had conversed with, was gone. He was alone, or so he thought.

Looking around him, he began to make out the shape of a shrouded figure to his left. Standing motionless he appeared to be more shadow than material. After a short spell of silence, the shrouded figure raised an arm gesturing towards the building.

“Am I in the presence of Spirit of Availability?” But there was no response.

“You are about to show me the impact of Availability?” Scrooge pursued. But if there was any response it was only in the smallest of movements as the figure tilted its head towards the building.

Scrooge stepped forward and pushed the door to his office, but as he did, it was met with equal force as the door swung open and two men stepped into the street.

“No,” said one of the men, ”I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know the systems are dead.”

“When did it die?” inquired the other.

“Last night I believe.”

“Why, what was the matter with it?” asked a third man, stepping through the door.

“God knows,” said the first with a yawn.

“What has he done with the money he saved from not spending it on systems and security management?” asked the first of the three men, as they stood on the pavement.

“I haven’t heard,” said the second man. “But I hope he enjoyed it. He didn’t spend any of it with the guy who did ours. That’s all I know! But he’ll be picking up the pieces on this for months to come. I wonder if his office will be up for grabs now? I’m guessing he won’t be needing it for a while!”

And with that, the three men laughed and walked into the night.

Not for the first time, Scrooge found himself dumbfounded. Lost for words and lost in his thoughts. His mind was racing. If this was the future, and the future isn’t set then perhaps there is a chance of redemption.

“Spirit answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that WILL be, or are they shadows of things that MAY be, only?” the Spirit pointed to the office once more.

Etched on the window, visible for the first time were the words “JM & ES Ltd. Closed on…” Scrooge turned to face the shadow again. “But spirit hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this if I am past all hope?”

“I will honour Data in my heart and try to keep it safe all year round. I will live by the tenents of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this window!”

As he clenched his eyes shut and fell to his knees, he felt the cold air turn warmer, and there was silence all around him. Slowly he opened his eyes and found himself transported back to his own bedroom.

Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!

Rising to his feet he strode to the window and threw open the window.

“Boy! Hey you … What day is it?”

A young boy walking down the street looked up quizzically. “Today? It’s Christmas day of course?!”

Scrooge was delighted. The spirits had done it all in one night. And with that, Scrooge sat at his desk and began making plans for the coming year. His first email would be to Tim Tiny, raising his budget, and the next would be to Bob’s Cratch-IT company. Over the next few hours, Scrooge worked on his strategy for Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability, ensuring it sat within all areas of his business.

It took only a short amount of time to persuade Bob’s Cratch IT that he was serious about investing in the future of the business and the protection of people’s Data. Bob was taken aback when he received the email, but Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more.

He became as good an advocate for Security the good old city, town, or borough had ever seen. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh because he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset. But his eyes had been opened to a possible future that he didn’t wish to participate.

So for Scrooge, the story was over. He had no further interaction with Spirits but lived by the principles of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability in all he did. And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Data safe if any man alive possessed the knowledge. 

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tim Tiny observed, God help us, Everyone!

Written by Gary Hibberd ([email protected]) with a little help from Charles Dickens.

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