Dealing with Security Vendor Exaggerations

I generally don’t discuss “industry” issues here since that’s what I get paid to do at my day job. And if I start offering for free here, what I get paid to do over there, I may find myself offered the opportunity to do it for free on a permanent basis. Mike Rothman runs one of the better industry-oriented blogs. He and I used to sit across the table when he ran marketing for one of the vendors I cover. I like Mike a lot better as an analyst. He’s running an interesting debate on the problems with the security market. The debate started with an article in Dark Reading, moves to Mike’s blog here, Alan Shimel responds, then Mike gets the last word (for now). At the crux of their debate is the honesty of vendors and the aggressiveness of their sales and marketing tactics. My opinion? I work with many excellent security vendors who are out to protect their customers and fairly make a little money on the way. But, every single day, either directly to me, or relayed by my clients, vendors misrepresent their products or outright lie about capabilities. Usually it’s the marketing or sales teams, not the product teams. Do all vendors lie? No, but the good vendors out there are frequently forced into bad positions by their less scrupulous competition. Yes, vendors lie. So does your Mom (remember the tooth fairy) but that doesn’t make her the embodiment of pure evil. Probably. And some of this is simply passion for their products. Everyone thinks their baby is the best looking, smartest, most talented in the world, but there are still a lot of dumb, ugly, couch potatoes. If you don’t believe in what you do you shouldn’t be doing it. So how do you cut through the crap? My self serving answer is use your friendly neighborhood analyst. The biggest part of our job, at least for those of us who are end user focused, is to help make appropriate buying decisions and separate hype from reality. Our testing lab is the production environment of our end user clients- if a product doesn’t work, we’ll eventually hear about it. But if you don’t trust or can’t afford an analyst firm just do what we do. Ask your vendors for customer references in production deployments; if a feature isn’t in production, with a reference-able client, it isn’t real. Then talk to your network and see what other companies like yours are doing and if any have deployed the product. Let’s be honest- most of you readers are either security-types, or at least have a passing interest in security. It’s not like we trust anyone anyway. Share:

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What I Really Meant About Security Through Obscurity

I’ve been publishing for in various formats for nearly 10 years now, and I have to admit I’m really enjoying some of the features of blogging. Aside from writing in a more personal voice, I actually appreciate the near instant feedback- from anyone- anywhere- of the blogosphere. I actually enjoy having my ideas challenged and debated. A couple days ago I posted a somewhat lengthy rant on disclosure. Not that I think disclosure is bad, but that we aren’t always willing to discuss the deeper motivations of those involved, on all sides, and admit that in many cases the process can favor the bad guys. In the information security world we often state that “security through obscurity” never works and secrets always leak. I stated: But in the world of traditional security, obscurity sure as hell works. Not all bad guys are created equal, and the harder I make it for them to find the hole in my security system, the harder it is for a successful attack. Especially if I know where the hole is and fix it before they find it. Secrets can be good. And Martin Mckeay called me on it here. So did the ever-present Mike Rothman here. Martin stated: One more minor issue I have with the article is the use of security through obscurity: while this works for a while, security through obscurity is the most brittle of all types of security. All it takes is one hacker releasing his notes on your security vulnerability and what little security you had because of the lack of knowledge is gone. I sure don’t want my bank relying on security through obscurity to protect my bank account. Not that they’d get much right now, a couple of days before the end of the month I agree completely. Martin’s bank funds are running a little low Security through obscurity only works for a limited amount of time. Eventually someone will reverse engineer the patch or figure out the vulnerability on their own. Also while it might now be important for every sysadmin to know the details of a flaw, it’s sure important for security vendors to get a peek before the bad guys so the good guys can try and shield any attacks. Mike says, Since most of the bad guys would just as soon take the path of least resistance, obscuring information about vulnerabilities is a short term strategy that works. And that’s the point I meant to make. These days a few weeks can mean the difference between completely shielding and patching your environment, or getting nailed by the early exploits. This wasn’t true a few years ago, but it’s true today. Automated tools are making exploit development much easier and faster- we need to start dropping some obstacles. We’re just trying to slow down the mass exploits and the script kiddies long enough to give us a fighting chance. That said product vendors need to work more with security vendors on “staged disclosure” (I like to make up phrases, later I’ll make up an acronym just for the fun of it). Security vendors need more detailed vulnerability details to better tune their products before exploits appear. They shouldn’t have to reverse engineer product patches to do this. This also means those security vendors need to share vulnerability details instead of treating them like their own IP. Finally, product vendors need to provide their customers enough information for them to make an appropriate risk decision. Too much information helps the bad guys, but too little hurts the good guys. Then again, perhaps that’s just responsible disclosure… (edited 9/1 ) Just to clarify- I, in no way, think security through obscurity alone is a meaningful security control on its own. I think it can be a useful tool to buy us time, but we should never rely on it. It’s just too fragile. Share:

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