Learn From The Military, Don’t Emulate It

I haven’t met Richard Bejtlich yet, but I have a feeling we’d get along just fine. We’re both fans of the History Channel, have backgrounds in martial arts, love the show Human Weapon (martial arts AND the History Channel!), and have a background in the military (four years on a Navy ROTC scholarship, but I ended up becoming a paramedic instead of going active duty). That said, I have to slightly disagree with his latest post where he criticizes Jay Heiser, my friend and former colleague, for being “anti-military”. As usual, I’ll be my slimy self and take a position just between my associates. I think I lived in Boulder, Colorado for too long or something – it made me go all soft. Jay’s original article discusses how we, in non-military information security, need to leave the military mindset behind. Military defense models are great for the military, and (as Richard’s post demonstrates) often contain some extremely valuable principles and techniques we can translate into non-military security. The problem with trying to follow military principles too closely is that they don’t translate well in two dimensions: The Mission: The mission of the military is dramatically different than that of most private businesses. The military is completely defined by the mission of defending the nation, from culture, to org structure, to every policy and procedure. That mission also creates a unique risk profile that doesn’t translate well to the civilian world. Sure, on the Internet we’re all targets, but when you combine the mission and risks of the military it drives policies and procedures that will be very different than what we civvies need. There’s overlap, but the devil is in the details and trying to push military models in commercial enterprises nearly always fails (unless we stick to very abstract levels, as Richard does in his post). The Culture: Human behavior doesn’t change, but one of the most powerful aspects defining behavior is culture. All organizations have a culture, whether they want it or not. I define culture as the instinctive behavior of employees; within an organization it’s what someone does without thinking. The military culture is one of the most powerful in existence, defining everything from haircut, to dress, to speech patterns. It’s been fourteen years since I left the Navy (and I was only active for summer training), and people can still tell. Civilian corporate culture is wildly divergent from military culture, and this limits the effectiveness of many military solutions to security problems. We still have a lot we can learn from the military (and law enforcement, for that matter), and shouldn’t throw out the bath water out with the baby, but we need to pay better attention to which lessons we bring over, and increase the rigor of how we translate those for private enterprises. Some examples? Defense style data classification doesn’t work outside of defense/intelligence/government. Certification and accreditation are a waste of time and resources (probably for the government as well as the rest of us, but that’s for another post). Common Criteria below EAL-5 doesn’t provide any significant value in assessing the security of a product. I’ll keep telling budding information security pros to learn history, read Sun-Tzu, familiarize themselves with the Orange book, and study military principles, but it’s equally important to show them where these models don’t work in the private sector, why, and how to translate them into something effective for us civilians. Share:

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Why I’m Not a CISS

Over at the Network Security Blog, Martin’s been doing a great job of putting the CISSP certification (Certified Information Systems Security Professional for you non-security-geeks) in proper context. I’m not the biggest fan of the CISSP any more; I think it’s outdated and commoditized. It’s no longer the gold standard of security certifications because the world around it has changed too quickly. These days, there’s no “single” security career track, and the CISSP is diluted from attempting to remain the One Ring that Certifies Them All. Not that it’s worthless. It can give a new security prospect a reasonable grounding in some of the basics. But where it used to be a Master’s (or maybe Bachelor’s) degree, it’s now a high school diploma. About 4 years ago we didn’t have many CISSPs on our team at work, and my boss suggested I give it a shot for some professional development. I took one of those week-long intensive courses, and walked out realizing that taking the test would be, for me, a waste of time. Not that I didn’t learn anything, but I’d obviously hit the point in my career where it wouldn’t give me any advantages. I wasn’t going to learn anything else by preparing for the test (except how to pass the test), and I was in a position where the CISSP after my name wouldn’t make a difference for any job I’d ever apply for. If you’re just getting started, or need it for the resume, a CISSP still has some value. In some places we’ve hit the point where not having it is more of a career obstacle than boost. That doesn’t mean it will help you do your job better. Which is sad. Edited: Almost missed Rothman’s comments on the subject; one on-point paragraph instead of my drawn out story. Sigh. Share:

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A Short Take On Why Good Security Isn’t A Competitive Advantage

Stepping between Hoff and Curphey. Consumers always lie in surveys and claim that if a company loses their credit card or other personal info, they’ll go someplace else. In reality, they almost never do. Why? The pain of switching to a different vendor/store/service/whatever is almost always greater than that of the fraud, even when there is fraud. When it comes to credit cards the only pain is that of reversing a charge. Real ID theft is a lot rarer. We also tend to assume someone tightens the ship after a big breach, making them more secure. We’re nice people, and tend to give someone a pass on the first mistake. If TJX customers started suffering fraud on a regular basis due to negligence on the part of TJX, I bet sales would drop. Your security only needs to be good enough to avoid giving your customers more pain than that of buying from someone else. Share:

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