Steve McQueen’s Advice About Online Threats and Leaks

I saw the classic Hollywood disaster film The Towering Inferno in my twenties, two decades after it was released.  I watched it after I read Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel by author Marshall Terrill.  In fact, after reading TerriIl’s book, I watched just about every Steve McQueen film that I had not yet seen.  One tidbit from the book that I found interesting was that McQueen and Paul Newman were such fierce competitors that it led to McQueen counting the lines in the script and demanding to one-up his rival in order to flex his new-found star power by having one more line than Newman.  Egos aside, I’m glad he did.  This led to the final and, in my opinion, most poignant line in the entire film.  Newman plays the architect who designed the amazing spectacle of a building which, turns out, had some flaws due to corporate fat cats cutting corners.  Steve McQueen portrays the fire chief who saves the day.

The exchange is chilling:

McQueen: You know, we were lucky tonight. Body count’s less than two hundred. You know, one of these days, you’re gonna kill ten thousand in one of these firetraps, and I’m gonna keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until somebody asks us how to build them.

Newman: Okay. I’m asking.

McQueen: You know where to reach me, architect.

This exact scenario proposes itself to me week after week.  Those who construct and develop companies and infrastructures do not always look at what it takes to keep it safe.  I know what you’re thinking.  This should be a given.  It isn’t.  As I’ve said over and over, security and convenience are natural enemies.  In other words, the more convenient it is to use a product, the less secure it is.  There is no exception.  So, when individuals, investors and the like are building a company, security (no mater what they admit) is an afterthought.  This is why you’ve seen so many data breaches including Equifax, Sony, and Neiman Marcus.  Did you know Neiman didn’t even have a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) until months after the breach?!  Overlooking security in lieu of growth is an epidemic in this ‘race-to-a-billion-dollar-market-cap’ culture.  “So how can I prevent the next big hack?” you ask.  I’m glad you posed the question.

We work for many major corporations with a lot of assets to protect, and not a single one of those who trusted us have had a leak that led to negative publicity.  Nor has one of these companies had significant physical threat to a VIP.  “Impossible! How is that?” you say.  The answer is simple, but requires discipline and commitment:  You need to put out ever single small fire that comes along.  Every.  Single.  One.  Don’t wait for the big fires.  That’s it.  It’s that simple.

  • First, determine what is valuable within your organization.  This includes human capital (executives) as well as intellectual property (content).
  • Second, investigate every single threat no matter how insignificant it seems.
  • Third, follow up with every lead in succession based on priority determined by the results of the investigation.

If you follow these principles, with our guidance, you will never experience a towering inferno.