What the Dickens?

Lessons on managing cyber security risk

Charles Dickens used a shorthand code that stumped historians for years. But it has finally been hacked by an IT worker from California who responded to a challenge from the Dickens Code Project. The Project was set up last year by Dr Claire Wood at the University of Leicester and offered a modest prize of £300 to anyone who could hack the compelling and puzzling shorthand of a scrawled note by Dickens. Dickens based his shorthand on a script developed by Thomas Gurney, a shorthand writer at the Old Bailey, and noted himself that it was ‘the devil’s handwriting’.

Upon launching the competition in October 2021, the note was downloaded 1,000 times in three days. Competitors had access to a notebook where Dickens had explained a few of the symbols he’d used. Only 16 people were able to make any progress and submit solutions – each of which were incomplete. Shane Baggs, a Reddit codes group enthusiast, scooped the £300 prize by solving the most symbols and effectively hacking Dickens' code.

Dickens wrote 15 novels as well as many other texts. Just for a bit of fun on a stormy Friday, what lessons can security professionals take from his most famous titles, which lend themselves nicely to cyber security analogies?!

  • CISOs currently inhabit a Bleak House with stretched security budgets and the threat of ransomware attacks. Make sure 24/7/365 monitoring is in place to detect and respond to any weaknesses, exposures, vulnerabilities or active attempts to compromise your services.
  • It's Hard Times for over-stretched cyber security teams. Look at leveraging existing tools and implementing a SOC to get the best coverage and more from your current tech.
  • Globally, the recent Moscow/Kiev stand-off really is a Tale of Two Cities with implications for the security of UK organisations' as outlined by NCSC P.S. don't forget to check our advice on this constantly evolving situation!
  • But like Oliver Twist, CISOs will need to figure out how to communicate with the Board if they want a positive response to "Please Sir, can I have some more cyber security budget!" The challenge here is best described by the well-shared meme comparing the cyber budgets before and after a breach…

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