Gunnar posts on the continuing sad saga of infosec:
There's been a lot of threads recently about infosec certification, education and training. I believe in training for infosec, I have trained several thousand people myself. Greater knowledge, professionalism and skills definitely help, but are not enough by themselves.
We saw in the case of the Great Recession and in Enron where the skilled, certified accounting and rating professions totally sold out and blessed bogus accounting practices and non-existent earning.
Right. And this is an area where the predictions of economics are spot on. In Akerlof's seminal paper "the Market for Lemons," he predicts that the asymmetry of information can be helped by institutions. In the economics sense, institutions are non-trading, non-2-party market contractual arrangements of long standing to get stuff happening. Professionalism, training, certifications, etc all are slap-bang in the recommendations.
So why don't they help? There's a simple answer: we aren't in the market for lemons! There's one key flaw: Lemons postulates that the seller knows and the buyer doesn't, and that simply doesn't apply to infosec. (Criteria #1) In the market for security, the seller knows about his tool, but he doesn't know whether it is fit for the buyer. In contrast, the salesman in Akerlof's market assumed correctly that a car was good for the buyer, so the problem really was sharing the secret information from the seller to the buyer. Used car warranties did that, by forcing the seller to reveal his real pricing.
The buyer doesn't really know what he wants, and the seller has no better clue. Indeed, it may be that the buyer has more of a clue, and at least sometimes. So professionalism, certification, training and warranties isn't going to be the answer.
Another way of looking at this is that in infosec, in common with all security markets (think defence, crime) there is a third party: the attacker. This is the party that really knows, so knowledge-based solutions without clear incorporation of the aggressor's knowledge aren't going to work. This is why buying the next generation stealth fighter is not really helpful when your attacker is a freedom fighter in an Asian hell-hole with an IED. But it's a lot more exciting to talk about.
Which leads me to one controversial claim. If we can't get useful information from the seller, then the answer is, you've got to find it by yourself. It's your job, do it. And that's really what we mean by professionalism -- knowing when you can outsource something, and knowing when you can't.
That's controversial because legions of infosec product suppliers will think they're out of a job, but that's not quite true. It just requires a shift in thinking, and a willingness to think about the buyer's welfare, not just his wallet. How do we improve the ability of the client to do their job? Which leads right back to education: it is possible to teach better security practices. It's also possible to teach better risk practices. And, it can be done on an organisation-wide basis. Indeed, this is one of the processes that Microsoft took in trying to escape their security nightmare: get rid of the security architecture silos and turn the security groups into education groups .
So from this claim, why the flip into a conundrum. Why aren't certifications the answer? It's because certifications /are an institution/ and institutions are captured by one party or another. Usually, the sellers. Again a well-known prediction from economics: institutions to protect the buyer are generally captured by the seller in time (if not in the creation). I think this was by
Stiglitz or Stigler, pointing to finance market regulation, again.
A supplier of certifications needs friends in industry, which means they need to also sell the product of industry. It's hard to make friends selling contrarian advice, it is far more profitable selling middle-of-the-road advice about your partners . "Let's start with SSL + firewalls ..." Nobody's going to say boo, just pass go, just collect the fees. In contrast:
In short, the biggest problem in infosec is integration. Education around security engineering for integration would be most welcome.
That's tough, from an institutional point of view.
 E.g., I came across a certification and professional code of conduct that required you to sign up as promoting /best practices/. Yet, best practices are lowest-common-denominator, they are the set of uncontroversial products. We're automatically on the back foot, because we're encouraging an organisation to lower its own standards to best practices, and comply with whatever list someone finds off the net, and stop right there. Hopeless!