14 dirty IT tricks, security pros edition

By Roger A. Grimes, InfoWorld |  Security

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 7: Travel bribes

They come in and insinuate that if you buy their product they will be able to "recommend" you as a visitor to their annual conference meeting in some exotic locale: "Buy our expensive IPS and you'll have a week in Maui coming up soon."

Or they fund an expensive "networking" trip for you before you buy the product.

I can't say I really hate this technique, even though what your consultant is suggesting is usually unethical and sometimes illegal. Who doesn't want to visit a nice vacation spot, stay in a five-star hotel, and eat in restaurants they could never otherwise afford?

Of course, it always pisses off the consultant when you decide not to buy. When I get offered something that might be mistaken for a bribe, I think it's best if I don't buy any product, just so no one gets the wrong idea. But thanks for the trip!

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 8: "One last thing"

I hate this trick most of all. The consultant brags and brags about a particular solution, even demos its awesomeness. It is awesome. You'll take 10 of them. Then after you've convinced management to allocate the money to buy it, the consultant tells you a tiny fact that crushes all the advantages.

I've been told after signing a contract that the data storage I was shown in the demo, which I thought was part of the product, is extra. After signing a contact, I've been told the solution has a few bugs. Those bugs, it turns out, invalidated the product. I've been told, after the fact, that the solution doesn't work as well on my wider enterprise, though the consultant was very familiar with my environment. I've had consultants leave out annual service costs, mandated upgrades, and all sorts of details that tipped what I thought was a good decision to become a bad decision.

And they tell you the new information with a smile.

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 9: Ignoring your deadline

From the outset, you tell the consultant or vendor your drop-dead date for finishing a particular implementation or project. They work with you, gain your trust, and their solution seems perfect for your company. You place your order, and all of a sudden they don't have a product, installers, or trainers that can fit your schedule. It's hurry up and wait.

You wonder how they didn't hear you repeatedly at the beginning when you asked if they could make the date expectations you were directed to meet. Their changing date forces you to make another purchase decision, eat into another budget, or reschedule a major vacation. It's never fun.

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 10: Promoting product -- and getting kickbacks

We expect consultants to be impartial and to recommend the best solutions for our companies. Lots of consultants make extra money from their "partners" to push particular solutions. We get that. But pushing a product without telling you about the possible conflict of interest goes beyond the pale.

I remember one consultant, many years ago, who advised me on what networking equipment to buy. He didn't tell me that he was getting a vendor kickback, and after we became "friends," or so I thought, he tricked me into buying more network equipment than I could ever have used. It was enough network ports for three times the number of Ethernet runs I needed.

To this day I have memories of all that equipment, hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth, sitting unused in a backroom storage area. It was my mistake. The consultant? He bought a brand-new boat that year.

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 11: Knowingly recommending products that will be discontinued

Twice recently I've encountered customers who were lured into buying solutions just months before their end of life.

In one case, it was high-speed networking equipment. The other was a network access control solution. Each spent megadollars to deploy what ended up being a discontinued product. In one instance, the consultant later let it slip that he was suspicious the solution was going to be discontinued because he had heard all the developers were let go last year.

Isn't that a tidbit you might want to know before making a buying decision?

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 12: Saying one thing, signing another

One thing consultants are very good at is translating your needs into a vendor's purchasing nomenclature. This is especially important when customizing or purchasing a partial solution. You want X of this and Y of that, and the consultant ensures these needs are met, cutting through any possible miscommunication.

Except when they don't.

No matter how many times you're told what you're going to get, make sure it's part of the contract. Too often, the product arrives, the project is supposed to begin, and something is missing -- something expensive. The customer goes back to the vendor and finds out the consultant didn't include a particular item on the contract.

The consultant will retort that they were clear about what was and wasn't on the contract, even if you are dead sure what they said verbally was different. Then you have to come up with the additional budget to get what you want or otherwise scratch the entire project.

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 13: Shortchanging accountability

Doctors take an oath to do no greater harm to their patients than when they first arrived. I wish consultants had a similar oath.

Too often consultants implement projects poorly, leaving their customers to endure service outages in their wake. Knowing that the only thing that changed in your environment was what the consultant just installed is of no consequence. That just moves the consultant to openly wonder whether something unrelated is causing the outage on the very system they messed with.

Insist on a contract that makes your consultant accountable for unexpected service outages due to no fault of your own.

Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 14: Consultants who make big changes before leaving

Lastly, my favorite consultant trick is the one where they make a major change just before they get on a plane home for the weekend or take an extended vacation. Sure, the resulting outage isn't always their fault, but if you're going to make big changes to an IT network, do it a few days before you skip town. Nothing is worse than having to leave multiple, unanswered emails and phone calls to a consultant while your user base is experiencing downtime.

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