Does the market care about security?

I had some discussions this week about security and the market. When I say the market I speak of what sort of products will people or won’t people buy based on some requirements centered around security. This usually ends up at a discussion about regulation. That got me wondering if there are any industries that are unregulated, have high safety requirements, and aren’t completely unsafe?

After a little research, it seems SCUBA is the industry I was looking for. If you read the linked article (which you should, it’s great) the SCUBA story is an important lesson for the security industry. Our industry moves fast, too fast to regulate. Regulation would either hurt innovation or be useless due to too much change. Either way it would be very expensive. SCUBA is a place where the lack of regulation has allowed for dramatic innovation over the past 50 years. The article compares the personal aircraft industry which has substantial regulation and very little innovation (but the experimental aircraft industry is innovating due to lax regulation).

I don’t think all regulation is bad, it certainly has its place, but in a fast moving industry it can bring innovation to a halt. And in the context of security, what could you even regulate that would actually matter? Given the knowledge gaps we have today any regulation would just end up being a box ticking exercise.

Market forces are what have kept SCUBA safe, divers and dive shops won’t use or stock bad gear. Security today has no such bar, there are lots of products that would fall under the “unsafe” category that are stocked and sold by many. Can this market driven approach work for our security industry?

It’s of course not that simple for security. Security isn’t exactly an industry in itself. There are security products, then there are other products. If you’re writing a web app security probably takes a back seat to features. Buyers don’t usually ask about security, they ask about features. People buying SCUBA gear don’t ask about safety, they just assume it’s OK. When you run computer software today you either know it’s insecure, or you’re oblivious to what’s going on. There’s not really a happy middle.

Even if we had an industry body everyone joined, it wouldn’t make a huge difference today. There is no software that exists without security problems. It’s a wide spectrum of course, there are examples that are terrible and examples that do everything right. Today both groups are rewarded equally because security isn’t taken into account in many instances. Even if you do everything right, you will still have security flaws in your software.

Getting the market to drive security is going to be tricky, security isn’t a product, it’s part of everything. I don’t think it’s impossible, just really hard. SCUBA has the advantage of a known and expected use case. Imagine if that gear was expected to work underwater, in space, in a fire, in the arctic, and you have to be able to eat pizza while wearing it? Nobody would even try to build something like that. The flexibility of software is also its curse.

In the early days of SCUBA there were a lot of accidents, by moving faster than the regulators could, they not only made the sport extremely safe, but probably saved what we know as SCUBA today. If it was heavily regulated I suspect much of the technology wouldn’t look all that different from what was used 30+ years ago. Software regulation would probably keep things looking a like they do today, just with a lot of voodoo to tick boxes.

Our great challenge is how do we apply this lesson from SCUBA to security? Is there a way we can start creating real positive change that can be market driven innovation and avoid the regulation quagmire?

Join the conversation, hit me up on twitter, I’m @joshbressers

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