Individual Privacy vs. Business Drivers

‘I ended a recent Breach Statistics post with “I start to wonder if the corporations and public entities of the world have already effectively wiped out personal privacy.” It was just a thowaway idea that had popped into my head, but the more I thought about it over the next couple of days, the more it bothered me. It is probably because that idea was germinating while reading a series of news events during the past couple of weeks made me grasp the sheer momentum of privacy erosion that is going on. It is happening now, with little incentive for the parties involved to change their behavior, and there is seemingly little we can do about it. A Business Perspective Rich posted a blog entry on “YouTube, Viacom, And Why You Should Fear Google More Than The Government” on this topic as well. Technically I disagree with Rich in one regard, that being to have a degree of fear for all parties involved as Viacom, Google and the US government are in essence deriving value at the expense of individual privacy. I think this really ties in as companies like Google have strong financial incentives to store as much data on people- both at the aggregate and the personal level- as they can. And it’s not just Google, but most Internet companies. Think about Amazon’s business model and their use of statistics and behavior profiling to alter the shopping experience (and pricing) for each visitor to their web site. My takeaway from Rich’s post was “The government has a plethora of mechanisms to track our activity”, and it is starting to look as if the biggest is the records created and maintained by corporations. Corporate entities are now the third party data harvester, and government entities act as the aggregator. While we like to think that we don’t live in a world that does such things, there are reasons to believe that this form of data management had a deciding factor in the 2000 presidential election with Database Technologies/Choicepoint. We already know that domestic spying is a reality. Over the weekend I was catching up on some reading, going over some articles about how the government has provided immunity to telecom companies for providing data to the government. If that is not an incentive to continue data collection without regard for confidentiality, a “get out of jail free” card if you will, I don’t know what is. I also got a chance to watch the SuperNova video on Privacy and Security in the Network Age. Bruce Schneier’s comments in the first 10 minutes are pretty powerful. He has been evolving this line of thought over many years and he has really honed the content into a very compelling story. His example about facial recognition software, storage essentially being free, and with ubiquitous cameras is fairly startling when you realize everything you do in a public place could be recorded. Can you imagine having your entire four years at high school filmed, like it or not, and stored forever? Or if someone harvested your worst 5 minutes of driving on film over the last decade? Bruce is exactly right that this conversation is not about our security, but the entire effort is about control and policy enforcement. And it is not the government that is operating the cameras; it is businesses and institutions that make money with the collected data. With business that harvest data now seemingly immune to prosecution for privacy rights violations, there are no “checks and balances” to keep them from pursing this- rather they are financially motivated to do so. From cameras on the freeway to Google, there are always people willing to pay for surveillance data. They are not financially incentivized to care about privacy per se; unless it becomes a major PR nightmare and affects their core business, it is not going to happen. My intention with the post was not to get all political, but rather to point out that businesses which collect data need some incentive to keep that consumer information confidential. I don’t think there is a legitimate business motivator right now. CA1386 and associated legislation is not a deterrent. Businesses make their money by collecting information, analyzing it, and then presenting new information based upon what they have previously collected. Many companies’ entire business models are predicated upon successfully doing this. The collection of sensitive and personally identifiable information is part of daily operation. Leakage is part of the business risk. But other than a competitive advantage, do they have any motivation to keep the data safe or to protect privacy? We have seen billions of records stolen, leaked or willfully provided, and yet there is little change in corporate activity in regards to privacy. So I guess what scares me the most about all this is that I see little incentive for firms to protect individual privacy, and that lack of privacy is supported- and taken advantage of- backed by government. Our government is not only going to approve of the collection of personal data, it is going to benefit from it. This is why I see the problem accelerating. The US government has basically found a way to outsource the costs and risks of surveillance. They are not going to complain about mis-use of your sensitive data as they are saving billions of dollars by using data collected by corporations. There are a couple of other angles to this I want to cover, but I will get to those in another post. Share:

Read Post

NitroSecurity’s Acquisition of RippleTech

‘I was reading through the NitroSecurity press release last week, thinking about the implications of their RippleTech purchase. This is an interesting move and not one of the Database Activity Monitoring acquisitions I was predicting. So what do we have here? IPS, DAM, SIM, and log management under one umbrella. Some real time solutions, some forensic solutions. They are certainly casting a broad net of offerings for compliance and security. Will the unified product provide greater customer value? Difficult to say at this point. Conceptually I like the combination of network and agent based data collectors working together, I like what is possible with integrated IPS and DAM, and I am personally rather fond of offering real-time monitoring alongside forensic analysis audits. And those who know me are aware I tend to bash IPS as lacking enough application ‘context’ to make meaningful inspections of business transactions. A combined solution may help rectify this deficiency. Still, there is probably considerable distance between reality and the ideal. Rich and I were talking about this the other day, and I think he captured the essence very succinctly: “DAM isn’t necessarily a good match to integrate into intrusion prevention systems- they meet different business requirements, they are usually sold to a different buying center, and it’s not a problem you can solve on the network alone.” I do not know a lot about NitroSecurity and I have not really been paying them much attention as they have been outside the scope of firms I typically follow. I know that they offer an intrusion prevention appliance, and that they have marketed it for compliance, security and systems management. They also have a SIM/SEM product as well, which should have some overlapping capabilities with RippleTech’s log management solution. RippleTech I have been paying attention to since the Incache LLC acquisition back in 2006. I had seen Incache’s DBProbe and later DBProbeSec, but I did not perceive much value to the consumer over and above the raw data acquisition and generic reports for the purpose of database security. It really seem to have evolved little from its roots as a performance monitoring tool and was missing much in the way of policies, reporting and workflow integration needed for security and compliance. I was interested in seeing which technology RippleTech chose to grow- the network sniffer or the agent- for several reasons. First, we were watching a major change in the Database Activity Monitoring (DAM) space at that time from security to compliance as the primary sales driver. Second, the pure network solutions missed some of the critical need for console based activity and controls, and we saw most of the pure network vendors move to a hybrid model for data collection. I guessed that the agent would become their primary data collector as it fit well with a SEM architecture and addressed the console activity issue. It appears that I guessed wrong, as RippleTech seems to offer primarily a network collector with Informant, their database activity monitoring product. I am unsure if LogCaster actually collects database audit logs, but if memory serves it does not. Someone in the know, please correct me if I am wrong on this one. Regardless, if I read the thrust of this press release correctly, NitroSecurity bought RippleTech primarily for the DAM offering. Getting back to Rich’s point, it appears that some good pieces are in place. It will come down to how they stitch all of these together, and what features are offered to which buyers. If they remain loosely coupled data collectors with basic reporting, then this is security mish-mash. If all of the real time database analystics are coming from network data, they will miss many of the market requirements. Still, this could be very interesting depending upon where they are heading, so NitroSecurity is clearly on my radar from this point forward. Share:

Read Post

Totally Transparent Research is the embodiment of how we work at Securosis. It’s our core operating philosophy, our research policy, and a specific process. We initially developed it to help maintain objectivity while producing licensed research, but its benefits extend to all aspects of our business.

Going beyond Open Source Research, and a far cry from the traditional syndicated research model, we think it’s the best way to produce independent, objective, quality research.

Here’s how it works:

  • Content is developed ‘live’ on the blog. Primary research is generally released in pieces, as a series of posts, so we can digest and integrate feedback, making the end results much stronger than traditional “ivory tower” research.
  • Comments are enabled for posts. All comments are kept except for spam, personal insults of a clearly inflammatory nature, and completely off-topic content that distracts from the discussion. We welcome comments critical of the work, even if somewhat insulting to the authors. Really.
  • Anyone can comment, and no registration is required. Vendors or consultants with a relevant product or offering must properly identify themselves. While their comments won’t be deleted, the writer/moderator will “call out”, identify, and possibly ridicule vendors who fail to do so.
  • Vendors considering licensing the content are welcome to provide feedback, but it must be posted in the comments - just like everyone else. There is no back channel influence on the research findings or posts.
    Analysts must reply to comments and defend the research position, or agree to modify the content.
  • At the end of the post series, the analyst compiles the posts into a paper, presentation, or other delivery vehicle. Public comments/input factors into the research, where appropriate.
  • If the research is distributed as a paper, significant commenters/contributors are acknowledged in the opening of the report. If they did not post their real names, handles used for comments are listed. Commenters do not retain any rights to the report, but their contributions will be recognized.
  • All primary research will be released under a Creative Commons license. The current license is Non-Commercial, Attribution. The analyst, at their discretion, may add a Derivative Works or Share Alike condition.
  • Securosis primary research does not discuss specific vendors or specific products/offerings, unless used to provide context, contrast or to make a point (which is very very rare).
    Although quotes from published primary research (and published primary research only) may be used in press releases, said quotes may never mention a specific vendor, even if the vendor is mentioned in the source report. Securosis must approve any quote to appear in any vendor marketing collateral.
  • Final primary research will be posted on the blog with open comments.
  • Research will be updated periodically to reflect market realities, based on the discretion of the primary analyst. Updated research will be dated and given a version number.
    For research that cannot be developed using this model, such as complex principles or models that are unsuited for a series of blog posts, the content will be chunked up and posted at or before release of the paper to solicit public feedback, and provide an open venue for comments and criticisms.
  • In rare cases Securosis may write papers outside of the primary research agenda, but only if the end result can be non-biased and valuable to the user community to supplement industry-wide efforts or advances. A “Radically Transparent Research” process will be followed in developing these papers, where absolutely all materials are public at all stages of development, including communications (email, call notes).
    Only the free primary research released on our site can be licensed. We will not accept licensing fees on research we charge users to access.
  • All licensed research will be clearly labeled with the licensees. No licensed research will be released without indicating the sources of licensing fees. Again, there will be no back channel influence. We’re open and transparent about our revenue sources.

In essence, we develop all of our research out in the open, and not only seek public comments, but keep those comments indefinitely as a record of the research creation process. If you believe we are biased or not doing our homework, you can call us out on it and it will be there in the record. Our philosophy involves cracking open the research process, and using our readers to eliminate bias and enhance the quality of the work.

On the back end, here’s how we handle this approach with licensees:

  • Licensees may propose paper topics. The topic may be accepted if it is consistent with the Securosis research agenda and goals, but only if it can be covered without bias and will be valuable to the end user community.
  • Analysts produce research according to their own research agendas, and may offer licensing under the same objectivity requirements.
  • The potential licensee will be provided an outline of our research positions and the potential research product so they can determine if it is likely to meet their objectives.
  • Once the licensee agrees, development of the primary research content begins, following the Totally Transparent Research process as outlined above. At this point, there is no money exchanged.
  • Upon completion of the paper, the licensee will receive a release candidate to determine whether the final result still meets their needs.
  • If the content does not meet their needs, the licensee is not required to pay, and the research will be released without licensing or with alternate licensees.
  • Licensees may host and reuse the content for the length of the license (typically one year). This includes placing the content behind a registration process, posting on white paper networks, or translation into other languages. The research will always be hosted at Securosis for free without registration.

Here is the language we currently place in our research project agreements:

Content will be created independently of LICENSEE with no obligations for payment. Once content is complete, LICENSEE will have a 3 day review period to determine if the content meets corporate objectives. If the content is unsuitable, LICENSEE will not be obligated for any payment and Securosis is free to distribute the whitepaper without branding or with alternate licensees, and will not complete any associated webcasts for the declining LICENSEE. Content licensing, webcasts and payment are contingent on the content being acceptable to LICENSEE. This maintains objectivity while limiting the risk to LICENSEE. Securosis maintains all rights to the content and to include Securosis branding in addition to any licensee branding.

Even this process itself is open to criticism. If you have questions or comments, you can email us or comment on the blog.