January 23, 2010

load up on Steel, and shoot it out! PCI and the market for silver bullets

Unusually, someone in the press wrote up a real controversy, called The Great PCI Security Debate of 2010. Exciting stuff! In this case, a bunch of security people including Bill Brenner, Ben Rothke, Anton Chuvakin and other famous names are arguing whether PCI is good or bad. The short story is that we are in the market for silver bullets, and this article nicely lays out the evidence:

Let's just look at the security market: I did a market survey when I was at IBM and there were about 70 different security product technologies, not even counting services. How many of those are required by PCI? It's a tiny subset. No one invests in all 70.

In this market, external factors are the driving force:

But the truth is, when someone determined they had to do something about targeted attacks or data loss prevention for intellectual property, they had a pilot and a budget but their bosses told them to cut it. The reason was, "I might get hacked, but I will get fined." That's a direct quote from a CIO and it's very logical and business focused. But instead of securing their highest-risk priority they're doing the thing that they'll get fined for not doing.

We don't "do security," rather, we avoid exposure to fingerpointing and other embarrassments. By way of hypotheses in the market for silver bullets, we then find ourselves seeking to reduce the exposure to those external costs; this causes the evolution of some form of best practices which is an agreed set that simply ensures you are not isolated by difference. In the case in point, this best practices is PCI.

In other words, security by herding , compliance-seeking behaviour:

One of the things I see within organizations is that there's a hurry-up-and-wait mentality. An organization will push really hard to get compliant. Then, the day the auditor walks out the door they say, "Thank goodness. Now I can wait until next year." So when we talk about compliance driving the wrong mindset, I think the wrong mindset was there to begin with.

It's a difficult proposition to say we're doing compliance instead of security when what I see is they're doing compliance because someone told them to, whereas if no one told them to they'd do nothing. It's like telling your kids to do their homework. If you don't tell them to do the homework they're going to play outside all day.

This is rational, we simply save more money doing that. What to do about it? If one is a consultant, one can sell more services:

There is security outside of PCI and if we as security counselors aren't encouraging customers to look outside PCI then we ourselves are failing the industry because we're not encouraging them to look to good security as opposed to just good PCI compliance. The idea that they fear the auditor and not the attacker really bothers me.

Which is of course rational for the adviser, but not rational for the buyer because more security likely reduces profits in this market. If on the other hand we are trying to make the market more efficient (generally a good goal, as this means it reduces the costs to all players) then the goal is simple: move the market for silver bullets into a market for lemons or limes.

That's easy to say, very hard to do. There's at least one guy who doesn't want that to happen: the attacker. Furthermore, depending on your view of the perversion of incentives in the payment industry, fraud is good for profits because it enables building of margin. Our security adviser has the same perverse incentive: the more fraud, the more jobs. Indeed, everyone is positive about it, except the user, and they get the bill, not the vote.

I see a bright future for PCI. To put it in literary terms:

Ben Rothke: Dan Geer is the Shakespeare of information security, but at the end of the day people are reading Danielle Steel, not Shakespeare.

In the market for silver bullets, you don't need to talk like Shakespeare. Load up on bullets of Steel, or as many other mangled metaphors as you can cram in, and you're good to shoot it out with the rest of 'em.

Posted by iang at January 23, 2010 08:23 AM | TrackBack
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