Security like it’s 2005!

I was reading the newspaper the other day (the real dead tree newspaper) and I came across an op-ed from my congressperson.

Gallagher: Cybersecurity for small business

It’s about what you’d expect but comes with some actionable advice! Well, not really. Here it is so you don’t have to read the whole thing.

Businesses can start by taking some simple and relatively inexpensive steps to protect themselves, such as:
» Installing antivirus, threat detection and firewall software and systems.
» Encrypting company data and installing security patches to make sure computers and servers are up to date.
» Strengthening password practices, including requiring the use of strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
» Educating employees on how to recognize an attempted attack, including preparing rapid response measures to mitigate the damage of an attack in progress or recently completed.

I read that and my first thought was “how on earth would a small business have a clue about any of this”, but then it got me thinking about the bigger problem. This advice isn’t even useful in 2017. It sort of made sense a long time ago when this was the way of thinking, it’s not valid anymore though.

Let’s pick them apart one by one.

Installing antivirus, threat detection and firewall software and systems.
It’s no secret that antivirus doesn’t really work anymore. It’s expensive in terms of cost and resources. In most settings I’ve seen it probably causes more trouble than it solves. Threat detection doesn’t really mean anything. Virtually all systems come with a firewall enabled and some level of software protections that makes existing antivirus obsolete. Honestly, this is about as solved as it’s going to get. There’s no positive value you can add here.

Encrypting company data and installing security patches to make sure computers and servers are up to date
This is two unrelated things. Encrypting data is probably overkill for most settings. Any encryption that’s usable doesn’t really protect you. Encryption that actually protects needs a dedicated security team to manage. Let’s not get into an argument about offline vs online data.

Keeping systems updated a fantastic idea. Nobody does it because it’s too hard to do. If you’re a small business you’ll either have zero updates, or automatically install them all. The right answer is to use something as a service so you don’t have to think about updates. Make sure automatic updates are working on your desktops.

Strengthening password practices, including requiring the use of strong passwords and two-factor authentication

Just use two-factor auth from your as a service provider. If you’re managing your own accounts and you lack a dedicated identity team failure is the only option. Every major cloud provider can help you solve this.

Educating employees on how to recognize an attempted attack, including preparing rapid response measures to mitigate the damage of an attack in progress or recently completed

Just no. There is value in helping them understand the risks and threats, but this won’t work. Social engineering attacks go after the fundamental nature of humanity. You can’t stop this with training. The only hope is we create cold calculating artificial intelligence that can figure this out before it reaches humans. A number of service providers can even stop some of this today because they have ways to detect anomalies. A small business doesn’t and probably never will.


As you can see, this list isn’t really practical for anyone to worry about. Why should you have to worry about this today? These sort of problems have been plaguing small business and home users for years. These points are all what I would call “mid 200X” advice. These were suggestions everyone was giving out around 2005, they didn’t really work then but it made everyone feel better. Most of these bullets aren’t actionable unless you have a security person on staff. Would a non security person have any idea where to start or what of these items mean?

The 2017 world has a solution to these problems. Use the cloud. Stuff as a Service is without question the way to solve these problems because it makes them go away. There are plenty who will naysay public cloud citing various breeches, companies leaking data, companies selling data, and plenty of other problems. The cloud isn’t magic, but it lets you trade a lot of horrible problems for “slightly bad”. I guarantee the problems with the cloud are substantially better than letting most people try to run their own infrastructure. I see this a bit like airplane vs automobile crashes. There are magnitudes more deaths by automobile every year, but it’s the airplane crashes that really get the attention. It’s much much safer to fly than to drive, just as it’s much much safer to use services than to manage your own infrastructure.

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