Immersed as you are in the world of IT, you're probably all too familiar with the notion that software, especially software that connects with the outside world via the Internet, is a ticking technological time bomb just waiting for the right combination of malicious users and vulnerabilities. But if you step back and look at this problem from a much higher level, you might see other troubling signs. For example, how can you really trust the vendors and partners with whom you work, especially as more and more of our business and personal lives rely on their products working both reliably and securely? Here are a few examples:

After a two-year-long Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation and an internal audit, Dell, once the world's biggest PC maker and the champion of low-cost, high-speed PC manufacturing, revealed last week that it had uncovered years of irregularities and would need to restate its earnings from 2002 to 2006. Dell had previously ushered its CEO, Kevin Rollins, out the door and had reinstated company founder Michael Dell to run the day-to-day activities of the company. Mr. Dell responded by simply listening to customers, and the company has spent the past several months plowing through the most popular customer requests one after the other. Problem solved, right?

Not exactly. Analysts this week raised the possibility that Mr. Dell was also involved in the illicit financial dealings, since he was CEO through 2004. And the SEC is surely going to want to speak with him before it concludes its investigation. Meanwhile, Dell continues to struggle from a market share perspective.

Coincidentally, the company that supplanted Dell as the number one PC maker has its own problems. HP, long the whipping boy of Dell's low-cost tactics, has secured the top spot and has even grown its lead in recent months, capped by a $1.8 billion net profit in its most recent financial quarter (up 29 percent year over year) on revenues of $25.4 billion. Those are big numbers. But HP is still embroiled in a damaging pretexting scandal in which investigators working for the company had phoned journalists and financial analysts and misrepresented the nature of the calls. Worse, company executives illegally obtained phone records and spied on board members and journalists. HP has apologized for its actions, but last week four of the journalists involved in the case announced that they were suing the company and seeking damages for emotional and financial loss.

Google--the "do no evil" company--works diligently to appease the government in China, though it had no problem denying a US government request for anonymous search data. IBM, which sold its way out of the PC market when it handed the valuable ThinkPad brand to Lenovo, seems more interested in setting up expensive servicing infrastructures than in actually helping anyone get their work done. And Microsoft. Oh, books have been written about the software giant from Redmond. Let's just say that the company's Software Assurance (SA) scheme seems more than a bit skewed toward the licensor and away from the licensee.

So who can you trust? Sure, it's a rhetorical question. And no, none of the companies I've highlighted here are inherently untrustworthy. In fact, I respect them all quite a bit. But in this age of heightened security, awareness, and regulation, especially in the wake of corporate fiascos at Enron, Worldcom, and elsewhere, it makes sense to know who you're dealing with. Who can you trust?