We’re figuring out the security problem (finally)

If you attended Black Hat last week, the single biggest message I kept hearing over and over again is that what we do today in the security industry isn’t working. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem (and we have a big one). Of course it’s easy to proclaim this, if you just look at the numbers it’s pretty clear. The numbers haven’t really ever been in our favor though, we’ve mostly ignored them in the past, I think we’re taking real looks at them now.

Of course we have no clue what to do. Virtually every talk that touched on this topic at Black Hat had no actionable advice. If you were lucky they had one slide with what I would call mediocre to bad advice on it. It’s OK though, a big part of this process is just admitting there is something wrong.

So the real question is if what we do today doesn’t work, what does?

First, let’s talk about nothing working. If you go to any security conference anywhere, there are a lot of security vendors. I mean A LOT and it’s mostly accepted now that whatever they’re selling isn’t really going to help. I do wonder what would happen if nobody was running any sort of defensive technology. Would your organization be better or worse off if you got rid of your SIEM? I’m not sure if we can answer that without getting in a lot of trouble. There is also a ton of talk about Artificial Intelligence, which is a way to pretend a few regular expressions make things better. I don’t think that’s fooling anyone today. Real AI might do something clever someday, but if it’s truly intelligent, it’ll run away once it gets a look at what’s going on. I wonder if we’ll have a place for all the old outdated AIs to retire someday.

Now, on to the exciting what now part of this all.

It’s no secret what we do today isn’t very good. This is everything from security vendors selling products of dubious quality, to software vendors selling products of dubious quality. In the past there has never been any real demand for high quality software. The selling point has been to get the job done, not get the job done well and securely. Quality isn’t free you know.

I’ve said this before, I’ll keep saying it. The only way to see real change happen in software if is the market forces demand it. Today the market is pushing everything to zero cost. Quality isn’t isn’t free, so you’re not going to see quality as a feature in the mythic race to zero. There are no winners in a race to zero.

There are two forces we should be watching very closely right now. The first is the insurance industry. The second is regulation.

Insurance is easy enough to understand. The idea is you pay a company so when you get hacked (and the way things stand today this is an absolute certainty) they help you recover financially. You want to ensure you get more money back than you paid in, they want to ensure they take in more than they pay out. Nobody knows how this works today. Is some software better than others? What about how you train your staff or setup your network? In the real world when you get insurance they make you prove you’re doing things correctly. You can’t insure stupidity and recklessness. Eventually as companies want insurance to protect against losses, the insurance industry will demand certain behaviors. How this all plays will be interesting given anyone with a computer can write and run software.

Regulation is also an interesting place to watch. It’s generally feared by many organizations as regulation by definition can only lag industry trends, and quite often regulation adds a lot of cost and complexity to any products. In the world of IoT though this could make sense. When you have devices can literally kill you, you don’t want anyone building whatever they want using only the lowest quality parts available. In order for regulation to work though we need independent labs, which don’t really exist today for software. There are some efforts underway (it’s an exercise for the reader to research these). The thing to remember is it’s going to be easy to proclaim today’s efforts as useless or stupid. They might be, but you have to start somewhere, make mistakes, fix your mistakes, and improve your process. There were people who couldn’t imagine a car replacing a horse. Don’t be that person.

Where now?

The end game here is a safer better world. Someday I hope we will sip tea on a porch, watching our robot overlords rule us, and talk about how bad things used to be. Here’s the single most important part of this post. You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. If you want to nay-say and talk about how stupid these efforts all are, stay out of the way. You’re part of an old dying world that has no place in the future. Things will change because they must. There is no secret option C where everything stays the same. We’ve already lost, we got it wrong the first time around, it’s time to get it right.

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