Tag Archives: Risk and strategy

safeguard your head office small business

A word to Teva on firing employees and assuring data security

To be able to do something before it exists,
sense before it becomes active,
and see before it sprouts.

The Book of Balance and Harmony (Chung-ho chi).
A medieval Taoist book

In early December 2017, the Israeli pharmaceutical generics company Teva announced it would lay off about 1,700 of its employees in Israel, who make up about 25% of all the company’s employees in Israel, out of a total workforce of 6,680 employees.    Without diving into the emotional implications and political opportunities the big layoff creates – I suggest taking a different look at the problem.

What kind of risk are you creating when you fire a big chunk of your work force?

When a big global, publicly-traded company like Teva decides to fire a big piece of it’s work force – it’s to reduce costs in anticipation of reduced revenues and preserving or improving the share prices.

Risk management and IT governance runs a distant second and third when it’s a question of survival. The IT department is often in the line of fire, since they’re a service organization. The IT security staff may be the first to get cut since  companies view information security as a luxury, not as a must to run the business.

There is nothing in the information security policy of any organization that I have seen that talks about how to manage risk when 1700 employees are being fired in a short period of time in a business unit.

When firing large numbers of employees, the unauthorized network transfer of sensitive digital assets belonging to the company should be (but is rarely) a key concern for the CEO. Here are a few true examples of trusted insider theft of digital assets and intellectual property  during a big RIF – all cases are true:

  • Sending suppliers  classified RFP documents
  • Exploiting production servers with anonymous file transfer protocol (FTP) turned on in order to send large quantities of confidential product design documents
  • Break-ins, bribes and double agents (workers who spy for other groups or companies) taking advantage of the chaos caused by RIFs and strikes.

The business need to use advanced technology to detect and prevent data loss drives directly to the CEO and his management team, and in firms with outsourced IT infrastructure (like Teva), the need for data loss prevention becomes more acute as more and more people are involved with less and less allegiance to the firm.

High risk appetite and waiting until the last minute?

In my experience (and this is supported by prospect theory), highly paid CEOs wildly underestimate to the point of ignoring them completely, high impact, low frequency events like trusted insiders and outsourced IT staffers stealing IP during a big RIF.

In normal times, a key part of formulating and establishing information security   policies for your organization is in deciding how much risk is   acceptable and how to minimize unacceptable risk.

This process initially involves undertaking a formal risk assessment which is a  critical part of any ISMS.  However – it’s a mistake to assume that risk assessment is a static process when the business is a dynamic process.

Risk assessment must be dynamic and continuous, moving at the front line of the business not as an after though or not at all.

When a company fires wide-scale – the word dynamic and continuous takes on new meaning.  We are no longer in Kansas anymore when we can ask KPMG to come in and do an organizational risk assessment using their standard questionnaires.

In times of massive layoff – you need to throw away the standard forms and use a threat-analysis based checklist to reevaluate your digital value at risk on a daily basis.  The rationale behind the threat analysis is to mitigate the tendency of top management to ignore high-impact, low-frequency events:

  • Think like an attacker.  What would you steal if you had the opportunity?
  • Use systematic approach to estimate magnitude of risks (risk  analysis).
  • Compare estimated risks against risk criteria to measure the  significance of the risk (risk evaluation)
  • Define the scope of the risk assessment process to improve  effectiveness (risk assessment)
  • Undertake risk assessments periodically to address changes in  assets, risk profiles, threats, safeguards, vulnerabilities and risk  appetite (risk management)
  • Risk measurement should be undertaken in a methodical manner to  produce verifiable results (risk measurement)


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ניהול אבטחת מידע בענן – על תבונה ורגישות

ניהול אבטחת מידע בענן – על תבונה ורגישות

,ממשל נתונים הוא דרישה הכרחית להגנה על נתונים כשעוברים למחשוב בענן. קביעת מדיניות ממשל נתונים היא בעלת חשיבות מיוחדת במודל העבודה של מחשוב ענן שמבוסס על אספקת שירותים בתשלום ליחידת צריכה, בניגוד למודל המסורתי של מערכות מידע המבוסס על התקנה, שילוב מערכות ותפעול מוצרים.

יחד עם ההיצע הגדל של פתרונות מחשוב ענן זולים ובעלי ביצועים גבוהים, ישנו צורך חיוני לארגונים לנסח ולהסדיר את מדיניות ממשל הנתונים שלהם. ממשל נתונים פירושו הגדרת הבעלות על הנתונים, השליטה בגישה לנתונים, עד כמה ניתן לעקוב אחר הנתונים וציות לרגולציות, כמו למשל נתוני חולים (הגנה על מידע רפואי אישי כפי שמוגדרת בתקנות של משרד הבריאות האמריקאי).

כדי לבנות אסטרטגיית ממשל נתונים יעילה לענן, יש לענות על עשר השאלות הבאות – תוך חיפוש האיזון המתאים בין הגיון פשוט לדרישות אבטחת הנתונים:

1. מהם הנתונים היקרים ביותר בארגון? כמה כסף הם שווים?

2. כיצד מאוחסנים נתונים אלה – שרתי קבצים, שרתי מסד נתונים, מערכות ניהול מסמכים?

3. כיצד יש לנהל ולאבטח את הנתונים?

4. למי צריכה להיות גישה לנתונים?

5. למי בפועל יש גישה לנתונים?

6. מתי הייתה הפעם האחרונה שנבחנה מדיניות אבטחת המידע / הצפנה?

7. מה המתכנתים בארגון יודעים על אבטחת מידע בענן?

8. למי יש אפשרות לשנות או לטפל בנתונים? (כולל שותפים עסקיים וקבלנים)

9. במקרה של דליפה למקור בלתי מוסמך, מהו הנזק הכלכלי שיגרם לארגון?

10. במקרה של פריצה, תוך כמה זמן יאותר אירוע אובדן הנתונים?

בהקשר של ממשל נתונים בענן, רבים שואלים מה סוג הנתונים שיש לשמור בתשתית IT מקומית?”.

התשובה המוכנה והמובנת מאליה היא שמידע רגיש צריך להישמר באחסון מקומי.

למרות זאת, יתכן ועדיף לאחסן דווקא מידע רגיש מחוץ לכותלי המשרדים במקום לספק גישה מקומית לעובדים וקבלנים.

השימוש בשירותי תשתית מחשוב בענן לאחסון נתונים רגישים יכול למעשה להקטין את מרחב האיומים לאיומים במקום להגדיל אותו, ולהעניק לארגון יותר שליטה על ידי מרכוז וסטדנדרטיזציה של אחסון נתונים כחלק מאסטרטגיית ממשל נתונים מקיף.

בנוסף ניתן לשאת ולתתבחוזה מסחריעל הרכב אמצעי שליטה יעילים במסגרת חוזה מסחרי עם ספקי שירותי מחשוב ענן, מה שלא ניתן לעשות בקלות מול עובדים בארגון.

השאלה השנייה שחוזרת על עצמה לגבי אסטרטגיית ממשל נתונים בענן היא כיצד ניתן להגן על נתונים בלתי מובנים מפני פריצות?”.

באופן ברור, התשובה תלויה בארגון עצמו ומערכות הוכנה שלו.

למרות שאנליסטים כמו גרטנר טוענים שיותר מ– 80% ממידע הארגוני מאוחסן בקבצים כמו מיקרוסופט אופיס, הנתון הזה תלוי באופן טבעי בתחום העיסוק של הארגון. ספקי שרות אוגרים מרבית המידע שלהם במסדי נתוניםת ולא בקבצי אקסל.


אם בכלל, מרחב האיומים על מסדי נתונים גדל הרבה יותר מהר מהגידול הטבעי בקבצי אופיס. ספקי שירותים בתחום הטלקום והסלולר מחזיקים כמויות עצומות של מידע במסדיי נתונים מובנים (רשומות שיחה, רשומות שירותים ללקוח וכו‘). ככל שסמארטפונים, אנדרואיד, מחשבי לוח והתקני מחשוב ניידים יהיו נפוצים יותר, כך יגדל חלקם של הנתונים המובנים בספקי השירות למיניהם בענן. בתחום הבריאות, בעידן שכל הרשומות רפואיות אלקטרוניות, גדל עוד יותר כמות המידע הרגיש במסדי נתונים כגון אוראקל.

נוסף על כך, השימוש בטכנולוגיית מאגרי מידע גסון המתחברת ישירות ליישומי אינטרנט (נמצא בשימוש רחב בפייסבוק), גדל במהירות עצומה. שימו לב במיוחד לקאוצדיבי שיש מעל עשרה מיליון התקנות לאחר פחות משנתיים בשטח! מאגרי כאלה כאלה עלולים להיות חשופים להתקפות חדירה מסורתיות שמנצלות נקודות תורפה בזמן בנייה והרצת שאילתות.

לסיכום, כשניגשים לבנות אסטרטגיית ממשל נתונים לענן יש להתחשב בכל הנקודות שהוצגו כאן ולהתחיל על ידי מענה לעשר שאלות המפתח לאבטחת נתונים במחשוב ענן.

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Small business data security

Here are 7 steps to protecting your small business’s data and and intellectual property in 2011 in the era of the Obama Presidency and rising government regulation.

Some of these steps are about not drinking consultant coolade (like Step # 1- Do not be tempted into an expensive business process mapping project) and others are adopting best practices that work for big business (like Step #5 – Monitor your business partners)

Most of all, the 7 steps are about thinking through the threats and potential damage.

Step # 1- Do not be tempted into an expensive business process mapping exercise
Many consultants tell businesses that they must perform a detailed business process analysis and build data flow diagrams of data and business processes. This is an expensive task to execute and extremely difficult to maintain that can require large quantity of billable hours. That’s why they tell you to map data flows. The added value of knowing data flows between your business, your suppliers and customers is arguable. Just skip it.

Step #2 – Do not punch a compliance check list
There is no point in taking a non-value-added process and spending money on it just because the government tells you to. My maternal grandmother, who spoke fluent Yiddish would yell at us: ” grosse augen” (literally big eyes) when we would pile too much food on our plates. Yes, US publicly traded companies are subject to multiple regulations. Yes, retailers that  store and processes PII (personally identifiable data)  have to deal with PCI DSS 2.0, California State Privacy Law etc. But looking at all the corporate governance and compliance violations, it’s clear that government regulation has not made America more competitive nor better managed.  It’s more important for you to think about how much your business assets are worth and how you might get attacked than to punch a compliance check list.

Step #3 – Protecting your intellectual property doesn’t have to be expensive
If you have intellectual property, for example, proprietary mechanical designs in Autocad of machines that you build and maintain, schedule a 1 hour meeting with your accountant  and discuss how much the designs are worth to the business in dollars. In general, the value of any digital, reputational, physical or operational asset to your business can be established fairly quickly  in dollar terms by you and your accountant – in terms of replacement cost, impact on sales and operational costs.  If you store any of those designs on computers, you can get free open-source disk encryption software for Windows 7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. That way if there is a break-in and the computer is stolen, or if you lose your notebook on an airport conveyor belt, the data will be worthless to the thief.

Step #4 – Do not store Personally identifiable information or credit cards
I know it’s convenient to have the names, phone numbers and credit card numbers of customers but the absolutely worst thing you can do is to store that data. VISA has it right. Don’t store credit cards and magnetic strip data. It will not help you sell more anyway, you can use Paypal online or simply ask for the credit card at the cash register.  Get on Facebook and tell your customers how secure you are because you don’t store their personal data.

Step #5 – Don’t be afraid of your own employees, but do monitor your business partners
Despite the hype on trusted insiders, most data loss is from business partners. Write a non-disclosure agreement with your business partners and trust them, and audit their compliance at least once a year with a face-to-face interview.

Step #6 – Do annual security awareness training but keep it short and sweet
Awareness is great but like Andy Grove said – “A little fear in the workplace is not necassarily a bad thing”. Have your employees and contractors read, understand and sign a 1 page procedure for information security.

Step #7 – Don’t automatically buy whatever your IT consultant is selling
By now – you are getting into a security mindset.  Thinking about asset value, attacks and cost-effective security countermeasures like encryption. Download the free risk assessment software and get a feel for your value at risk.  After you’ve done some practical threat analysis of your business risk exposure you will be in an excellent position to talk with your IT consultant. While most companies don’t like to talk about data theft issues, we have found it invaluable to talk to colleagues in your market and get a sense of what they have done and how well the controls perform.

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How to assess risk – Part II: Use attack modeling to collect data

In my article – “How to assess risk – Part I: Asking the right questions”, I talked about using attack modeling as a tool to collect data instead of using self-assessment check lists. In this article, I’ll drill down into some of the details and provide some guidelines on how to actually use attack modeling to assess risk.

Read achieving HIPAA compliance using threat modeling for a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the popular PTA (Practical Threat Analysis) Professional software in order to perform  quantitative risk assessment for a data security  and compliance. Software Associates specializes in HIPAA data security and compliance. The concepts and techniques described here can be implemented for any regulatory area of compliance such as PCI DSS 2.0 or security certification such as ISO 27001. You can obtain a free download of the PTA Professional software from the PTA Technologies download page.

The first guideline I will lay down, is to estimate value of risk  in Dollar/Euro/Ruble values – whatever currency you like.

Attack modeling is based on the notion that any system or organization has assets of value worth protecting. These assets have certain vulnerabilities. It is a given that internal and external attacks exist, that may  exploit these vulnerabilities in order to cause damage to the assets. An additional given is that appropriate countermeasures exist that mitigate the damage caused by internal or external attackers.

With attack modeling, you make future risk scenarios vivid, tangible, and measurable in dollar terms, countering the tendency to ignore threats and do nothing. Attack modeling gives you and your employees a practical language of assets, threats, vulnerabilities and countermeasures.

Here are 6 rules for effective attack modeling –

If you’re bought into the traditional approach of consultants looking at your watch and telling you what time it is, then don’t let me stop you, but if you don’t mind considering some new ideas for cracking the risk assessment problem, here are a few ideas inspired by Tom Peters “In pursuit of Luck”:

1. Do something new. Don’t bother with the same old trade shows, talking with the same old security salespeople about the same old stuff. The first time you do attack modeling, it may take several months – and take you into unfamiliar territory of having to valuate assets and anticipate the probability of threat occurrence.

2. Listen to everyone. Ask your senior managers what are your most valued assets – customer lists, product IP, ontime delivery. Ask the CFO how much those assets are worth in dollar terms. Ask your 22 year old customer service agents how they would attack your assets.

3. Try out options. Don’t stop with the annual IT security audit. With attack modeling you can test many mitigation plans, implement countermeasures and measure effectiveness on the fly.

4. Ready, Fire, Aim. (instead of ready, aim, fire). Experiment with new attack models. Test the ramifications of turning off personal anti-viru software or opening a field office with contract technicians. Attack modeling lets you test without threatening the operation.

An ERP systems integrator maintained their own corporate messaging systems. Although they felt that security required them to keep corporate mail inhouse; the costs of content security maintenance were skyrocketing. An attack model showed a reduced dollar level of risk to their digital assets at a lower ongoing security cost; they are now using Google Apps, freeing up valuable internal resources and management attention at the cost of swallowing their pride and admitting that Google can provide better message security then their own internal IT operations team.

5. Make odd friends. Strangers can best help you see new attack scenarios, providing fresh ideas unprejudiced by your corporate judgment. Find advisors through social and professional networks who can help you anticipate the unexpected.

6. Smash functional barriers. Many companies separate IT security, fraud and physical security functions. What difference does it make if a notebook with sensitive M&A data is stolen from an executive’s desk by a competitor posing as a FedEx messenger? Attack modeling is a holistic practice that can help mitigate risk in all areas of your business.

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Professional skill sets

We spent the past week in Tzfat  (Safed) – situated in the northern part of Israel and with a 900meter elevation, the weather is cool and dry and a welcome relief from the humidity and heat of Tel Aviv.

We met a couple at dinner one evening – the husband is a retired aerospace software engineer that had done cutting edge work in his career, including the embedded software for one of the first unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).  He took early retirement 15 years ago and today is hustling real estate and odd jobs.   At age 62, he’s overweight, after a triple bypass, technology-obsolete and convinced he will never get back into the tech game.

For sure – this recession is helping us understand the importance of family and friends and the difference between needing something (really) and wanting something.  This is a natural inward-looking reaction. However, in order to really take something of value out of the recession you need to look outward and challenge a lot of your base assumptions – it doesn’t really matter if you are (or soon will be) a self-employed consultant or a salaried (or soon to be ) sales professional. I submit that there are several important takeways that most people miss:

1) Invest in knowledge – spend 1 hour a day in constant learning, if you’re a tech person then work on keeping your edge and learning some new tools and technologies. If you are a sales professional – remember that sales skills are like basketball – practice your shooting 1 hour/day and your stats will go up.

2) Remember that what counts in your business is free cash flow – adding value and having some cash left at the end of the transaction. It’s not definitely not about  leveraging credit cards, mortgages and derivatives.

3) Invest in your health – spend 4-5 hours a week in physical activity. There is no point reaching 60 with a heart condition and proficiency in a programming language that was obsolete in the 70s.

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Knowledge Prostitution

After a discussion with a client today about privacy and data security in social networking, I started looking at physician portals and came across a fascinating post from Dr. Scott Shreve – Knowledge Prostitution enabling Aggregated Voyeurism: Is this a Business Model?

Voyeurism (voi-yûr’ ĭzəm) n.

1. The practice in which an individual derives pleasure from surreptitiously observing people.

2. Derives from the French verb voir (to see); literal translation is “seer” but with pejorative connotations.

The client told me that they were considering using a closed physicians’ portal to help market their products.  The business model used by closed, advertising-free, doctors portals (Sermo.com in the US or Konsylium24.pl in Poland) involves paying for market intelligence data collected from the “user generated content” in the community.   The tacit assumption is that physicians will talk freely inside a gated, advertising-free community.

Sermo.com kicks some of the revenue back to the users but the precision and recall of this market intelligence is not clear to me, considering the amount of noise in vertical social communities like Sermo and Konsylium24.pl and open social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

What is clear to me – is that there are data security and privacy implications when the community operator data-mines user-generated content for profit.  As a concrete example – a recent thread on Konsylium24.pl went something like this:

Doctor Number 1:

You know – Professor X is the KOL (key opinion leader) for company Y’s drug Z.  He says that drug Z is extremely effective for treating the indications of infectious disease Alpha.

Doctor Number 2:

Of course – Professor X is an acknowledged expert on infectious diseases, but he is also an expert on cash and knows how to do the math and add up the numbers…

I asked my client – “and for this kind of data, your parents sent you to medical school?

This took me back to the days of Firefly, Alexa, Hotbar and use of personal information as currency – collected with “collaborative filtering” and “automated inference” from people browsing the web.

Web 2.0 and social media seems to be going through a similar evolution as Web 1.0 – trying to monetize content by  data aggregation and analysis using “collaborative filtering” techniques.  This may have been a sexy looking business model for Venture Capitalists during the dot.com era, but in 2009 (5 years after Sermo.com launched) and a few months after their well-publicized breakup with the AMA; automated inference, knowledge prostitution and aggregated voyeurism may be  yielding to direct communications between people in B2B communities, social and professional networks.

Why peep through a window when you can just knock on the front door and ask?

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The threat behind the House Tri-Committee Bill on Health Care

Federal Healthcare Chart

Don’t ask me why, but I was invited (and joined) the Pakistan Networkers group on LinkedIn.  I see all kinds of cool job opportunities in the Emirates which I can’t really take but the traffic is interesting.

I saw this picture in a post today from the Pakistan Networkers group. It graphically describes the complexity of ObamaCare:  the Obama health care reform bill.   I then sat down and started to learn more about this proposed solution to the US health care system that will cost over a trillion dollars in the next 10 years.

The Obama Health plan and the problems the administration is currently facing getting it through Congress is second page news here in Israel (front pages this weekend in Israeli papers are how Obama and Rahm are throwing their weight around and dictating to the Jews where they can live and not live….)

I started reading about the House Tri-committee Health Care bill and my eyes started popping at the cost and complexity of the proposal. I then read the response of the Mayo Clinic – Mayo Clinic’s reaction to House Tri-Committee bill and I finally realized that just like in Cyber Security and data loss prevention – the Obama administration is more interested in compliance and big government than customers and health, safety and security.

I’ve been arguing for basing data security product purchasing decisions on value at risk and cost-effectiveness of the DLP product in reducing the value at risk of a data breach. Therefore, it is  obvious to me that the notion of a value-based decision is an important cornerstone in redefining health care – see a discussion on pay for value in health care in the open letter to congress

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Are you a leader or a friend?

Although I served in the Israeli Army – I was what they called a “simple soldier”, a communications tech in a van. Our officer was glad that we kept things working – and that was fair enough we thought. After grad school, serving in the armies of high-tech samurai, I learned that commanders fight with the troops but leaders lead from the front – and being a friend of the troops disables your effectiveness as an effective leader/manager.

My friend Isaac Botbol has a leadership training business – he conveyed this message perfectly in his last news letter – “Are you a leader or a friend?”

Continue reading

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Understanding culture reduces risk

It’s during the war on Hamas in Gaza and I got on a thread on a blog about why Islam is so violent. I explained that there are fundamental ideological differences between Islam and Judaism. For starters – Islam values land but not human life, Jews value human life and are willing to compromise on land.

On a much smaller scale it’s important to understand the culture in your workplace and manage in a fair process of being open and taking commitments,  Technical/professional skills are not enough.

Back in the 90s – when I worked at Intel Fab8 in Jerusalem, we were chosen to train about 150 engineers for the Intel fab in Leixlip Ireland. I had two Irish people on my team. In particular, I remember Ronnie Murray and Dympna  O’Connell (she told me – pronounce my name like “Debna”, you know like the DEC network adapter…) Dympna once worked for Digital Equipment Corporation and I spent years developing applications in VAX/VMS so we shared common language, the language of Digital networking equipment.

Before the Irish engineers came on board, we went through 3 days of cross-cultural training. We learned a lot, including how much Israelis and Irish are alike – strong family values, ties to country, religion (but not too much) and openness. Of course, the Irish can drink us under the table – which is probably why we had a such a great time.

My friend Isaac Botbol told me that there is a famous but true story about a Texas oil company that was intensely involved in negotiating a substantial business deal with a major company in Mexico. The American team spared no expense in flying their experts to Mexico and presenting the benefits and long term rewards of their state of the art equipment, hardware and excellent customer support. Throughout the negotiations and long hours of working together, both the Mexican and American teams developed a camaraderie and respect for each other.

The Mexicans were satisfied with the proposal and agreed to proceed with the deal. The Americans were delighted. They phoned their legal department in Houston and instructed them to fax the contract to their Mexican counterparts. Since they felt they had completed their job the American team jumped on the next flight back home.

The Mexicans were incensed! They wondered how the American team could be so rude and insensitive as to just fax a bunch of papers and expect to seal such an important deal after weeks of working closely together. The Mexican team refused to sign the contact tried to have as little contact as possible with the American team.

Eventually, when the Americans inquired about the delay and discovered what had happened, they immediately went into damage control. For the American negotiating team, the signing of the deal meant the final phase of a process. For the Mexicans, it symbolized the beginning of a relationship. They wanted to celebrate this milestone and make it personal. They wanted this important occasion to be marked by having all the major players and their spouses, from both sides of the border, to come together and enjoy a memorable dinner.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending because the American team was able to recover and the deal was finally signed. The lesson from this incident is quite significant because it teaches us the importance of being aware of the different cultural perspectives. While the American business stance is to be task and results oriented, the Hispanic mindset places much more emphasis on the human side of business.

When dealing with customers in Europe (especially Italy, Israel and Greece) this lesson is just as valuable. Hi-tech sales and technology management is also about understanding the cultural differences. Whether they’re your customers, colleagues or direct reports – people want to see the business as well as the human side of your leadership abilities. They want to know that despite the language differences, you genuinely care about them and the work they do. Of course this is true in every workplace but driving home this idea and putting into practice, is much more difficult and challenging when there are different language and cultural expectations.

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