January 30, 2023
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Talks on resilience, future technologies and digital evidence at symposium


The Central Coast Business Symposium in Arroyo Grande on April 2 drew several hundred business and community leaders to learn more about how to protect their business from hackers from within and without, how to build more resilient organizations and how to prepare for technological change.

The symposium is organized by law firm Andre, Morris & Buttery and is now in its fifth year. One of this year’s more colorful speakers was Don Vilfer, a former FBI investigator and attorney who now runs Califorensics, a firm that helps companies and law firms track down deleted digital evidence.

The vast majority of the his firm’s work comes from trade secrets cases, when an employee leaves a firm and then inappropriately takes with them client lists, vital processes or other sensitive information. He said workplaces trends such as “bring your own device” — in which employers let workers use their own phones and computers — can be a hidden liability. “Do you really want clients to know that [employee’s] cell phone number, in case they leave?” he Vilfer said.

But phones are also a cornucopia of information when deleted voicemails and text messages contain evidence. In one case, Vilfer said, a company was suing over allegedly stolen data from some hard drives. When it subpoenaed the machines in question, Vilfer found no dust inside the computers and curiously recent manufacture dates for the hard drives — as though the originals had been swapped. So they also subpoenaed an iPhone and checked for deleted voicemails, which provided the key. “Some of the messages were like, ‘Uh, this is Tim the tech guy, and I just downloaded the stolen data from the hard drives.’” Vilfer said. “I love phones.”

Searching a company smartphone issued to an employee can also basically provide a map of where they’ve been. Smartphone operating systems log every mobile phone tower and every WiFi network they encounter. And apps gather all kinds of data.

“There’s a lot of location information on phones,” Vilfer said. “Even flashlight app grabs location data about where you used the flashlight.”

There’s also the threat from the outside, and Vilfer pointed out that Chinese hackers are known to infiltrate sites, steal everything, and then sift for valuable information after the fact. But there’s a certain amount of risk that companies must live with, he said.

“You can lock down  our website so now one can work from home, and the public can’t see you,” he said. “But that’s not what most businesses want.”

On a considerably lighter note, San Luis Obispo-based business consultant and psychologist Jeff Thompson gave advice on how to build companies that are more resilient — that is, better at bouncing back after adversity. In fact, he argued that having such people in a company’s workforce might be a better determinant of success than any other single indicator.

“The soft skills are the hard skills, which is why people aren’t good at them and they don’t spend enough time on them,” he said.

Thompson said that one way to build resiliency is to make sure that every employee knows why they matter to the company and what it does — and that mission statement on a plaque in the hallway likely doesn’t cut it. A clear view throughout the company does. “It’s funny how many executives I meet that have forgotten how to say hello to people,” he said.

He also said that if a company and its workers are struggling, it often helps for executives to ask themselves whether they’re resilient or whether they waste time blowing up over problems they can’t influence, letting one setback ruin a day or spinning their wheels to prove they’re right instead of meeting workers where they are to get the company’s business done.

“A fish rots from the head,” he said. “So if you’re running one of the businesses that is having these issues, the problem is probably you.”

Futurist Simon Anderson, founder of futur1st.com, also gave a talk on how technology is changing culture and business with it. He explained that young people are more and more comfortable buying subscriptions to services for everything from music to cars rather than purchasing things outright and how that will change the way businesses should thing about marketing and customers.

He also pointed out that technologies such as 3D printers, which firms like Paso Robles-based IQMS are already putting to use, will revolutionize the way companies develop and deliver goods.