FireStarter: There is No Market for Security InnovationBy Rich
I often hear that there is no innovation left in security.
That’s complete bullshit.
There is plenty of innovation in security – but more often than not there’s no market for that innovation.
For anything innovative to survive (at least in terms of physical goods and software) it needs to have a market. Sometimes, as with the motion controllers of the Nintendo Wii, it disrupts an existing market by creating new value. In other cases, the innovation taps into unknown needs or desires and succeeds by creating a new market.
Security is a bit of a tougher nut. As I’ve discussed before, both on this blog and in the Disruptive Innovation talk I give with Chris Hoff, security is reactive by nature. We are constantly responding to changes in the underlying processes/organizations we protect, as well as to threats evolving to find new pathways through our defenses. With very few exceptions, we rarely invest in security to reduce risks we aren’t currently observing. If it isn’t a clear, present, and noisy danger, it usually finds itself on the back burner.
Innovations like firewalls and antivirus really only succeeded when the environment created conditions that showed off value in these tools. Typically that value is in stopping pain, and not every injury causes pain. Even when we are proactive, there’s only a market for the reactive. The pain must pass a threshold to justify investment, and an innovator can only survive for so long without customer investment.
Innovation is by definition almost always ahead of the market, and must create its own market to some degree. This is tough enough for cool things like iPads and TiVos, but nearly impossible for something less sexy like security. I love my TiVo, but I only appreciate my firewall.
As an example, let’s take DLP. By bringing content analysis into the game, DLP became one of the most innovative, if not the most innovative, data security technologies we’ve seen. Yet 5+ years in, after multiple acquisitions by major vendors, we’re still only talking about a $150M market. Why? DLP didn’t keep your website up, didn’t keep the CEO browsing ESPN during March Madness, and didn’t keep email spam-free. It addresses a problem most people couldn’t see without DLP a DLP tool! Only when it started assisting with compliance (not that it was required) did the market start growing.
Another example? How many of you encrypted laptops before you had to start reporting lost laptops as a data breach?
On the vendor side, real innovation is a pain in the ass. It’s your pot of gold, but only after years of slogging it out (usually). Sometimes you get the timing right and experience a quick exit, but more often than not you either have to glom onto an existing market (where you’re fighting for your life against competitors that really shouldn’t be your competitors), or you find patient investors who will give you the years you need to build a new market. Everyone else dies.
- PureWire wasn’t the first to market (ScanSafe was) and didn’t get the biggest buyout (ScanSafe again), but they timed it right and were in and out before they had to slog.
- Fidelis is forced to compete in the DLP market, although the bulk of their value is in managing a different (but related) threat. 7+ years in and they are just now starting to break out of that bubble.
- Core Security has spent 7 years building a market- something only possible with patient investors.
- Rumor is Palo Alto has some serious firewall and IPS capabilities, but rather than battling Cisco/Checkpoint, they are creating an ancillary market (application control) and then working on the cross-sell.
Most of you don’t buy innovative security products. After paying off your maintenance and licens renewals, and picking up a few widgets to help with compliance, there isn’t a lot of budget left. You tend to only look for innovation when your existing tools are failing so badly that you can’t keep the business running.
That’s why it looks like there’s no security innovation – it’s simply ahead of market demand, and without a market it’s hard to survive. Unless we put together a charity fund or those academics get off their asses and work on something practical, we lack the necessary incubators to keep innovation alive until you’re ready to buy it.
So the question is… how can we inspire and sustain innovation when there’s no market for it? Or should we? When does innovation make sense? What innovation are we willing to spend on when there’s no market? When and how should we become early adopters?