Breaking Out of Routines

Thursday, May 19, 2016 Posted by Corey Harrell
I was digging a hole to plant my blackberries plants when I kept hearing a noise of something moving around the corner of my house. I stopped digging and walked around the house to see what was making the noise. I didn’t see anything anywhere so I shrugged it off and went back to digging the hole. Shortly thereafter I heard the noise again so I went back to look around the corner. Again, I didn’t see anything so I went back to work thinking maybe it was the wind. After a few minutes I heard the noise for a third time and this time I was determined to figure out what was making the noise. I went around the corner of my house but I still didn’t see anything. Then I looked down to my right to my basement window well that sits below ground and saw what was making the noise. Sitting next to my window inside the window well was a squirrel, which wasn’t moving since it saw me standing right above it.

I walked a few feet away so the squirrel couldn’t see me but I could still see it. I stood on top of my air condition unit to see what the squirrel was doing. After a minute, the squirrel started to move around. Not just in any manner but it started to walk the boundary of the window well making a circle. As I stood there watching the squirrel I realize what occurred. I built up the soil on that side of my house to prepare for our garden but this caused the soil to be close to the top of my window well. The squirrel must had been walking and fell into the window well before I was able to buy window well covers. The trapped squirrel searching for a way out turned it into a routine. The routine of walking in circles trying to find a way to escape but not finding one. The squirrel keeps walking searching for a way out. In the end, the squirrel is just walking in a small circle. As I was watching the squirrel I could see it had been trapped for some time; maybe for hours or maybe the entire day.

I thought about how I could help the squirrel escape without it biting me. My first attempt was to put a branch into the window well. This way the squirrel could climb up the branch to escape. I dropped the branch down into the window well and went back to my spot to watch what happens. The squirrel started to walk the circle and approached the branch. Then the squirrel walked over the branch and continued looking for a way out. My first thought was maybe the branch was too small so I replaced it with a piece of lumber. The same thing occurred with the squirrel walking right over the lumber and not seeing that the wood was its way out from being trapped. I stood there watching the squirrel and thought to myself the squirrel is trapped in its own routine. For hours the branch and lumber were not there so the squirrel was walking right past it since it was not expecting it. My neighbor came over to help me get the squirrel out. It took a few minutes but he was able to manage to lift the now freaked out squirrel out of the window well with the shovel. The squirrel panicked and jumped right back down into the window well. However, this time the squirrel was no longer trapped in its routine since the experience with the shovel was a jolt to its senses. My neighbor now struggled to get the squirrel on the shovel so he decided to set a brick on the bottom of the window well. The squirrel immediately saw the brick and used it to jump out of the window well to free itself.

At times we can find ourselves trapped in our routines and this is especially true when performing analysis for security monitoring, digital forensics, or incident response. Routines make our job easier because we can perform certain actions without having to think really hard about how to do it. The downside of routines is they tend to put us on auto-pilot, which blinds us to seeing something new that is right in front of us. Similar to the squirrel’s routine blinding it to seeing the way to escape. Every now and then when you are performing routine analysis tasks take the time to stop and think about what you are doing, what you are trying to accomplish, and what you are seeing. If you don’t then you may never see what you are missing because we don’t have the luxury of someone giving us a jolt to break us out of our routines.

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