It’s that time of year again. I don’t mean when all the government secrets are leaked onto the Internet by some unknown organization. I mean the time of year when it’s unsafe to cross streets or ride your bike. At least in the United States. It’s possible more civilized countries don’t have this problem. I enjoy getting around without a car, but I feel like the number of near misses has gone up a fair bit, and it’s always a person much younger than me with someone much older than them in the passenger seat. At first I didn’t think much about this and just dreamed of how self driving cars will rid us of the horror that is human drivers. After the last near fatality while crossing the street it dawned on me that now is the time all the kids have their driving learner’s permit. I do think I preferred not knowing this since now I know my adversary. It has a name, and that name is “youth”.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with how this works in the US. Essentially after less training than is given to a typical volunteer, a young person generally around the age of 16 is given the ability to drive a car, on real streets, as long as there is a “responsible adult” in the car with them. We know this is impossible as all humans are terribly irresponsible drivers. They then spend a few months almost getting in accidents, take a proper test administered by someone who has one of the few jobs worse than IT security, and generally they end up with a real driver’s license, ensuring we never run out of terrible human drivers.
There are no doubt a ton of stories that could be told here about mentorship, learning, encouraging, leadership, or teaching. I’m not going to talk about any of that that today. I think often about how we raise up the next generation of security goons, I’m tired of talking about how we’re all terrible people and nobody likes us, at least for this week.
I want to discuss the challenges of dealing with someone who is very new, very ambitious, and very dangerous. There are always going to be “new” people in any group or organization. Eventually they learn the rules they need to know, generally because they screw something up and someone yells at them about it. Goodness knows I learned most everything I know like this. But the point is, as security people, we have to not only do some yelling but we have to keep things in order while the new person is busy making a mess of everything. The yelling can help make us feel better, but we still have to ensure things can’t go too far off the rails.
In many instances the new person will have some sort of mentor. They will of course try to keep them on task and learning useful things, but just like the parent of our student driver, they probably spend more time gaping in terror than they do teaching anything useful. If things really go crazy you can blame them someday, but at the beginning they’re just busy hanging on trying not to soil themselves in an attempt to stay composed.
This brings us back to the security group. If you’re in a large organization, every day is new person screwing something up day. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like at a public cloud provider where you not only have new employees but also all your customers are basically ongoing risky behavior. The solution to this problem is the same as our student driver problem. Stop letting humans operate the machines. I’m not talking about the new people, I’m talking about the security people. If you don’t have heavy use of automation, if you’re not aggregating logs and having algorithms look for problems for example, you’ve already lost the battle.
Humans in general are bad at repetitive boring tasks. Driving falls under this category, and a lot of security work does too. I touched on the idea of measuring what you do in my last post. I’m going to tie these together in the next post. We do a lot of things that don’t make sense if we measure them, but we struggle to measure security. I suspect part of that reason is because for a long time we were the passenger with the student drivers. If we emerged at the end of the ride alive, we were mostly happy.
It’s time to become the groups building the future of cars, not waiting for a horrible crash to happen. The only way we can do that is if we start to understand and measure what works and what doesn’t work. Everything from ROI to how effective is our policy and procedure. Make sure you come back next week. Assuming I’m not run down by a student driver before then.