Insecurity of mind

Walking past a member of chambers banging her head on a computer keyboard in an escalatingly frantic attempt to get into her cjsm secure email earlier reminded me this a topic close to my heart (and on occasions my own forehead, which is thereby imprinted with a qwerty shaped haematoma).

Because you see “secure” email is a really funny joke. The word secure is in fact a reference to the fact that nobody can get into their own email accounts. “Well”, say the IT “helpdesk”. “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you”.

Of course it’s PEBCAK most of the time. But by god they dunnalf make it easy to slide into the chasm between keyboard and chair and into a weeping heap beneath the desk.

And of course in the brief windows when one’s secure email is working (there is a golden period in the cycle of about three days following a successful password change and the next reminder that its almost time to change your password again) you spend your time emailing everything via secure email to the court and then relaying it *gasp* insecurely to the other legal representatives who don’t seem to have secure email.

Still, we’re pretty bored and underworked. We’ve not got much else to do. Keeps us occupied. Kept my chum in chambers occupied for 2 hours today before I cam across her shouting expletives at the screen. I slipped out quietly incase I ended up with a mouse lodged in my cranium.

And it’s not just the super-user-friendly CJSM, that we all love to hate. Oh no. CAFCASS have their own special secure email whizzy thing, called egress switch.

So. The other day I received an email from a Guardian attaching a report that directed me to a website to set up an account in order that I could access the report. Fine, I thought. I have navigated (periodically) the labyrinthine security of CJSM – I can do this.

I pause to note that this is the ONLY time before or since that I have had an email from CAFCASS in this format, so there appears to be a consistency problem, borne no doubt of the fact that secure email is a barrier to actually doing anything.

egress switchReader, I failed to set up my account. I can’t now remember what the precise technical barrier was, but I failed. I got the solicitor to fax it over. Old Skool. As far as I know nobody hacked the fax machine in order to post the report on facebook.

(don’t get me wrong, I’m not glib about data protection, confidentiality etc, but day in day out there are far riskier practices that put data at risk and actual data protection breaches than are caused simply by the use of “insecure” email. Like papers left on trains, in robing rooms, on printers. Only this morning I found an email between my instructing solicitor and a client I do not represent in amongst some papers on a different case, stapled to the back of something related to my case).

But the real reason I mention the CAFCASS secure mail thing is this. You know the security questions, mother’s maiden name all that jazz? Well on this particular version of secure email hell the questions are it seems peculiarly tailored to be ones that professionals working in a world filled with complex and dysfunctional families might find challenging. Or darkly amusing, if I’m honest.

So physically challenged people like me would fall at the first hurdle :

What was your worst subject at school?

P.E. Most definitely.

Oh cr*p. Punctuation not accepted. 2 letters too short.

What is the first name of your favourite aunt?

And here is where it really started to go wrong. It’s a sign of my true lawyers pathology that I found it impossible to just answer the questions without analyzing their meaning, their drafting and their potential for ambiguity or alternative interpretations. Surely, I pondered, this type of question needs to be a question to which there is only one possible right answer? A question that if asked some way down the road I will be sure to give the same answer to? Who is my favourite aunt? Today? Of all time? Do I count people I’m not really related to but who I called “aunty” when I was little? What criteria do I use to select between my various aunts? (Perhaps I should refer to B-S and conduct a holistic evaluation of their pros and cons) What about favourite uncles? What if I don’t like any of my aunties all that much anyway?

In what city did you meet your spouse?

Which one? Oh, you mean the current one?

What about my civil partner, significant other?

I am alone.

Where did you go for your first holiday?

I don’t know, I was 3. What kind of a bloody question is that?

What make was your first car?

CAFCASS Officers can’t afford cars.

In what city do you work?

Do you want me to name them all?

What is the maiden name of your grandmother?

Um. Which one? I have a 50:50 chance of getting that wrong next time you ask me, and lots of people have more than 2 grandmothers.

What was the surname of your favourite teacher?

Hmmm. Don’t rate the chances of most of us giving the same answer to that question twice in a row six months apart.

What was the surname of your first boss?

You mean the man that ran the papershop in 1986? Or the housekeeper at the hotel where I was a chambermaid in 1988 (Flo didn’t need a surname)…Or my first “real job”? Remind me, which was my first “real” job?

Where was your least favourite job?

Any job that involves secure frigging email

What is the name of your eldest cousin?

Well, mine is Brendon since you ask. But he might be dead for all I know as our families are estranged (long story). Should I count him or go for my eldest cousin who is known to be alive and speaking to me?

What high school did you attend?

Um, unless you live in one of those pockets of the midlands and wherever where they have “High schools” or happen to come from the US, this is a bit tricky to answer.

Does a comprehensive count? Very poor drafting. Tsk.

Where did you spend your honeymoon?

‘Cos clearly ALL of us are married and had honeymoons.

What was the name of your first friend?

I’m pretty sure it was actually bagpuss. Or Floella Benjamin. Or a girl I knew at nursery. 35 years ago. Oh God, the pressure to get the answer right is unbearable….

You see the trouble with these damned questions is that I am prone to actually typing in some snarky answer in the certain belief I will remember it next time purely on the basis that this whole experience was SO ANNOYING that it will be etched on my memory. But of course that is rubbish. And I won’t remember. And I’ll get it wrong once, twice and then the klaxons go off, the world goes into lockdown and I have to ask MI5 for security clearance before I can e-file an order.

I may be overreacting slightly. But its just a sign of my insecurity.

6 thoughts on “Insecurity of mind

  1. Would you let us have something a bit more interesting than insight into your personal problems, please, Percy.

  2. I use as one of my passwords (not CJSM) the forename of the young lady who provided me with my first introduction to adult life – and vice versa – and the date when it happened; which latter detail I remember because of a political event the same day. Add an exclamation mark and it doesn’t get more secure than that!

  3. Passwords are the bane of my existence. However, apparently there’s a solution just around the corner in the form of a bracelet that converts your heartbeat into a password ( I like the idea of it, but will be interested to see if it actually works!

  4. Naughty reminiscences apart, the trick is to take a phrase which you CAN remember such as I HATE F*CKING PASSWORDS and then add the number of letters in each word and then a shriek so in this case:


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