I know that security is a pretty good business, but I think that Dave Wichers, Jeff Williams and their whole crew should quit consulting and go into the conference business. I go to a lot of conferences and these guys pull off the best speakers, locations, and most productive conferences of anyone. These guys could make a plumber's convention in West Texas fun and informative.
Superb post by Mark on what I think is the biggest problem we have in security. One thing you learn in consulting is that no matter what anyone tells you when you start a project about what problem you are trying to solve, it is always a people problem. The single biggest problem in security is too many breakers not enough builders. Please understand I am not saying that breakers are not useful, we need them, and we need them to continue to get better so we can build more resilient systems. But the industry is about 90% breaking and 10% building and thats plain bad.
It’s still predominantly made up of an army of skilled hackers focused on better ways to break systems apart and find new ways to exploit vulnerabilities than “security architects” who are designing secure components, protocols and ultimately secure systems. If you don’t believe me go have a conversation with a so called application security consultant about SAML or security issues in Enterprise Message Buses and you’ll almost definitely draw blank stares. Ask application security consultants if they know about the latest HTTP or HTML spec and they’ll likely say yes (and want to demonstrate the latest issues) but if you ask them about the latest WS-x spec you’ll likely draw more blank stares. When was the last time you saw an attack drawn out as a UML sequence diagram? This is worrying and somewhat sad. I don’t think we are culturing, encouraging and nurturing people with the right skills to make a positive difference.
The financial industry drives a lot of what happens in security. They
have had a lot of money, and lots of people try to steal from them their customers. They did drive some good stuff, but only from one vertical's perspective. I have advocated for awhile that software security look to other verticals to understand their security needs. Now that we're watching these behemoth financial firms vanish before our eyes, we will see the needs of insurance, manufacturing, healthcare and other verticals take on more precedence. If you want some ideas on what is important, start here. FWIW, here are some key themes that i think will emerge.
Take a difference I've noticed between financial services and government. I have encountered situations where a financial services customer may say "what if we just forget about using all those standards and make all these messages simpler", as they have optimization hard-wired as a goal. A government customer is (in my experience) more likely to focus on standards support for interoperability, and also to support directives that certain standards are used (e.g. XACML, let's say).
If the vendor was to build their product based solely on either customers needs, they would assume, as you say, that "the client just doesn't get it". It would be either "These government people are crazy, the people back at the bank told us those standards were not important", or else "these financial services people are crazy, we show them all the complex support for standards we have and they do not seem to care at all, they just want us to strip all that out".
In that case, the trick would be to build something down the middle, with the standards support and the optimization. But, just focusing on one sector is bad.
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Next week is the OWASP App Sec conference in New York, I am doing Web Services security training and talking on Web services security and the OWAPS Top 10; and it should be "interesting" to be there in the middle of Hurricane Subprime as the MBAs scramble to restructure the global financial system. On the plus side, the Yankees are not going to make the playoffs.
A few months back Minyanville wondered whether this subprime mess would end up as a cancer or a car crash. Guess we know the answer now. The question is - should we be at all surprised? Some smart folks have been warning for a long time. Warren Buffett famously called derivatives financial weapons of mass destruction.
I think a good litmus test of the mental and moral quality at any large institution [with significant derivatives exposure] would be to ask them, "Do you really understand your derivatives book?" Anyone who says yes is either crazy or lying.
It was a particularly foolish mess. We talked about an idiot in the credit delivery grocery business, Webvan. Internet based delivery service for groceries -- that was smarter than what happened in mortgage business. I wish we had those Webvan people back.
It is crazy to allow things to get too big to fail, run with knavery. As an industry, there is a crazy culture of greed and overreaching and overconfidence trading algorithms. It is demented to allow derivative trading such that clearance risks are embedded in system. Assets are all “good until reached for” on balance sheets. We had $400m of that at general re, “good until reached for”. In drug business you must prove it is good. It is a crazy culture, and to some extent an evil culture. Accounting people really failed us. Accounting standards ought to be dealt with like engineering standards.
There are distinct parallels between phishing / retail payments, and the bigger investment mess. In both cases, banks would argue these are core business. In both cases, they have applied risk-based security models, and accepted some loss. In both cases, they have the ability to apply substantial experience to the monitoring, allocating and absorbing risks and losses.
In both cases, they watched and did nothing as the risks started from low, and migrated upwards. Are we at the point where regulation has killed the ability of banks to apply their (arguable) one core skill, to whit, risk-based analysis? Are banks that far out of banking that they no longer have it?
Earlier this year, I gave a talk with on Breaking Web Services with Brian Chess at RSA. We pointed out that adding security into Web services is an exercise left to the implementer, the standards bodies and vendors give you some primitives, but it is still up to you to figure out all of the items on the Web services security checklist should work together in a cohesive system. Needless to say, there are many ways to shoot yourself in the foot.
Freud wrote that dreams are the "Royal Road" to the unconscious. Messaging Systems and mainframes can be the Royal Road for a malicious user to attack a banking system, unless the security thinking moves from a "claim by claim" thinking to thinking about the full transaction.