Yay! We Have Value Now!
I haven’t written in a while, but I was moved to bang on the keyboard by a post over at Risky Biz. I don’t want to pick on the author, he’s expressing an opinion held by many security people. What I do want to talk about is the thinking behind “Why we secretly love LulzSec”. Because this type of thinking is, I have to say it: sophomoric.
Problem #1: It assumes there is some golden level of “secure enough” that everyone should aspire too. If a company doesn’t put a moat with some type of flesh eating animal in it, they’re a bunch of idiots and they deserve to be bullrushed because it’s risky to not have a moat, right? Wrong, this type of thinking kills credibility and diminishes the influence infosec can have on the business (basically this thinking turns otherwise smart people into whiners). The result is that the good ideas of security people are dismissed and little-or-no progress is made which leads to…
Problem #2: Implies that security people know the business better than the business leaders. Maybe this is caused by an availability bias but some of the most inconsistent and irrational ranting I have seen, have come from information security professionals. I haven’t seen anyone else make a fervent pitch for (what is seen as obvious) change and walk out rejected and have no idea why. This is closely related to the first problem – this thinking implies that information security is an absolute and whatever the goals and objectives are for the company, they should all still want to be secure. That just isn’t reality. Risk tolerance is relative, multi-faceted, usually in a specific context and really hard to communicate. I think @ristical said it best (and I’m paraphrasing) with “leadership doesn’t care about *your* risk tolerance”.
Problem #3: This won’t change most people’s opinion of the role of corporate information security. Saying “I told you so” will put you back into problem #2. It’s simple numbers. We’re pushing 200 Million domain names, the U.S. has over 5 million companies and we’re going to see a record, what, 15-20 large breaches this year? Odds are pretty good, whatever company we’re working at won’t be a victim this year. There are some flaws in this point here (and exploring these flaws is where I think we can make improvements), but this is the perception of decisions makers, and that brings us to the final problem with this thinking. We need more tangible proof to really believe in hard-to-fix things like global warming: we fix broken stuff when the pain of not fixing something hurts more than fixing something. And let’s be honest, in the modern complex network of complex systems, fixing security is deceptively hard, it’s going to have to hurt a lot for the current needle to be moved, the entire I.T. industry is built on our high tolerance for risk and most companies just aren’t seeing that level of comparable pain.
Problem #4: Companies are as insecure as they can be (hat tip to Marcus Ranum who I believe said this about the internet). To restate that, we’re not broken enough to change. Despite all the deficiencies in infosec and the ease with which companies can fall to script kiddies (who are now armed to the teeth), we are still functioning, we are still in business. Don’t get me wrong, the amount of resources devoted to infosec has increased exponentially in the last 15 years. Companies care about information security, but in proportion to the other types of risks they are facing as well.
Are companies blatantly vulnerable to attacks? Hellz ya. Do I secretly love LulzSec? Hellz No (aside from the joy of watching a train wreck unfold and some witty banter). I don’t see the huge momentum in information security being shifted by a “told ya so” mentality. I only see meaningful change through visibility, metrics and analysis and even then only from within the system. Yes, companies may be technically raped in short order, but that doesn’t mean previous security decisions were bad. We didn’t necessarily make a bad decisions building a house just because a tornado tore it down. Let’s keep perspective here. Whether or not Sony put on a red dress and walked around like a whore doesn’t make them any less of a victim of rape and the attackers any less like criminals and security professionals should be asking why there is a difference in risk tolerance rather than saying “I told you so.”