Does "real" security matter?

As the dumpster fire that is 2016 crawls to the finish line, we had another story about a massive Yahoo breach. 1 billion user accounts had data stolen. Just to give some context here, that has to be hundreds of gigabytes at an absolute minimum. That’s a crazy amount of data.

And nobody really cares.

Sure, there is some noise about all this, but in a week or two nobody will even remember. There has been a similar story to this about every month all year long. Can you even remember any of them? The stock market doesn’t, basically everyone who has ever had a crazy breach hasn’t seen a long term problem with their stock. Sure there will be a blip where everyone panics for a few days, then things go back to normal.

So this brings us to the title of this post.

Does anyone care about real security? What I mean here is I’m going to lump things into three buckets: no security, real security, and compliance security.

No Security
This one is pretty simple. You don’t do anything. You just assume things will be OK, someday they aren’t, then you clean up whatever mess you find. You could call this “reactive security” if you wanted. I’m feeling grumpy though.

Real Security
This is when you have a real security team, and you spend real money on features and technology. You have proper logging, and threat models, and attack surfaces, and hardened operating systems. Your applications go through a security development process and run in sandbox. This stuff is expensive. And hard.

Compliance Security
This is where you do whatever you have to because some regulation from somewhere says you have to. Password lengths, enabling TLS 1.2, encrypted data, the list is long. Just look at PCI if you want an example. I have no problem with this, and I think it’s the future. Here is a picture of how things look today.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that if you’re doing the minimum compliance suggests, you still will have plenty of insecurity. The problem with the real security is that you’re probably not getting any ROI, it’s likely a black hole you dump money into and get minimal value back (remember the bit about long term stock prices not mattering here).

However, when we look at the sorry state of nearly all infrastructure and especially the IoT universe, it’s clear that No Security is winning this race. Expecting anyone to make great leaps in security isn’t going to happen. Most won’t follow unless they absolutely have to. This is why compliance is the future. We have to keep nudging compliance to the right on this graph, but we have to move it slowly.

It’s all about the Benjamins
As I mentioned above, security problems don’t seem to cause a lot of negative financial impact. Compliance problems do. Right now there are very few instances where compliance is required, and even when it is it’s not always as strong as it could be. Good security will have to firstly show value (actual measurable value, not some made up statistics), then once we see the value, it should be mandated by regulation. Not everything should be regulated, but we need clear rules as to what should need compliance, why, and especially how. I used to despise the idea of mandatory compliance around security but I think at this point it’s the only plausible solution. This problem isn’t going to fix itself. If you want to make a prediction ask yourself: is there a reason 2017 will be more secure than 2016?

Do you have thoughts on compliance? Let me know.

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