Personalizing Data Security Part 3

In parts 1 and 2, we talked about various forms of security testing and evaluation by telling a story about a concerned parent purchasing (and evaluating) a car for the newly licensed teenaged daughter. Now, let's talk about the mechanic for a bit.

You, fortunately, have had a car before, and have had the opportunity to work with this mechanic before. He set your expectations, you’ve seen what he’s done before, and you generally have good reasons to trust him because you know what you want is what he is going to give you. You’ve already got a mutually established language. His services are clearly defined. You know what to expect.

What if you’ve never had a car before, and you don’t know any mechanics? 
You’d probably ask some friends who have cars if they have recommendations. But, some of your friends might be even less informed about cars than you are. You did research, but you know your friend Steve would rather be golfing than thinking about this kind of stuff. He probably went to his mechanic because it was next to the golf course. And since he can afford to spend a little more than you could on a car, he probably doesn’t have as much to worry about as you do. Also, Steve doesn’t have any kids of his own, only a partial-custody stepson who hates his guts.

But, what about these services that claim to vet service providers for their quality? Wouldn’t one of them be able to help? It turns out, there’s no single way of managing auto maintenance that works for everyone and every condition. Take Steve, for example. His mechanic might be just fine for his concerns. What standard is this service using to vet the mechanics? Also, what about the mechanics who pay lots of money to be listed with the service? Does the service feel like it should be nicer to the mechanics who pay a lot of money to support the listing?

Do your research (establish a threat model):
So, it looks like you have to learn a little bit about cars, and the possibilities.The first step is understanding what could happen, and how much of it you’re really worried about. So, you watch the news, and you see terrible car crashes on the interstate. Write that down: The car could crash. Think about your car. What could happen if it crashed? Write that down: if my car crashes, I could get hurt. My passengers could get hurt. My children could get hurt. Other people on the road could get hurt. Then, you should think about what causes crashes. Why did that crash on the news happen? The car’s tire blew out, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Write that down: bad tires can cause crashes.

You don’t need to be an expert on cars. But, you do need to talk to other car owners about problems they have had with cars. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to some mechanics and say “what kinds of things should I be worried about finding wrong on my car, and why?” It would be useful for you to keep notes of all the things that have gone wrong with your car so that you can know how to deal with them going forward. For instance, remember that time your battery died, and you were late for work? Write that down: Batteries are required for the car to work. 

Examine your risk tolerance
Once you have an established knowledge base, now it’s time to think about what you’re most concerned about. Are you more worried about the safety of the people in the car than the reliability of the car? Are you concerned about how long the car is going to last? What about the daily commute? Are you worried that the car will be the same in the rain as it is when it’s dry, or when it’s hot or cold? Will you get to work, not only safe, but dry? 

So, you should look at how you use your car. You decide that you use your car to drive back and forth to work, to get groceries, to take your kids to school, and occasionally lend it to your teenagers when they want to go out with their friends. It’s, therefore, important to you that your car is dependable - that it works when you need it to. It’s important to you that the car is safe, that it won’t cause injury to you or your passengers in the event of a crash. It’s important to you that the car isn’t unnecessarily prone to crashing (the tires aren’t in bad shape, the steering works as expected, you can see adequately at night and in the rain, etc.) You also don’t have a ton of money to pay for repairs all the time, so you hope the car will last a little while. You have to meet the letter of the law.

Find out what services are available
Now you determine how best to figure all of that out. Go talk to the mechanics. Ask about what services they offer. Get them to explain how those services address your concerns and needs. Ask how the services compare to one another. Ask how they compare to competing offerings.
Sanity check your expectations
Remember the triangle: Fast, Good, Cheap. If your mechanic is very cheap and very fast, you should be skeptical that the service is good. If the service is Cheap and Good, everyone is going to be lined up, so it might take longer than you thought. If your product is Fast and good, you’re going to pay more for it.
Be clear that the mechanic can meet your budget, but be realistic that cars are complex machines and they cost quite a bit when compared to chairs or shirts or food. If you’re a teacher or low-income wage worker who can’t afford a proper mechanic, see if you can identify charity organizations or services who do charity work. But, remember that informal charity organizations may not offer the same consistency of service or polish that a professional garage gives. And professional garages are going to be selective about the organizations to which they choose to donate their services.

Get references
Beware of people who promise things that sound too good to be true. Ask your mechanic for references. Prior customers should be willing to talk with you about how the mechanic met their needs. Ask to talk to prior customers who are like you and have similar concerns. Get feedback from other parents who are concerned about the safety, reliability, and longevity of their commuter cars.

Is the provider a good match for you?
Ask whether the mechanic has experience with your model of car. Ask questions to confirm the mechanic understands your concerns about your car and why you want them evaluated. If your concern is safety, and the only thing the mechanic can talk about is legality, that mechanic may not be the best match for your concerns. 
Ask mechanics whether their methodology is adaptive, or if it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Here’s an example, if the process is to run the car through a test track by turning left, then turning right, then going in reverse, what happens when the tires fall off? What happens if the doors fly open? Do they simply write it down and tell you, or do they examine additional problems that might be related to that happening to your car? If the tires fall off, do they do additional tests to the wheels? If the doors fly open, do they look at the seatbelts? If they have a test track that is designed to test the doors, what happens if you have a Jeep, and it doesn’t have doors? One-size-fits-all solutions might not work for you.
Confirm the common language
Ask if the mechanic makes the connection between a broken part and a broken system. Think about the door and seatbelt example. Does your mechanic simply note that the door locks don’t work, or is there additional consideration within context of the driver? How about the engine? Does the mechanic say that it’s an older engine that might have problems, or does the garage actually spin up the engine and see if it fails? Which case makes you feel like your goals are met best?

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