2011 Research Agenda: Quantum Cloudiness, Supervillan Shields, and No-BS Risk

In my last post I covered the more practical items on my research agenda for the coming year. Today I will focus more on pure research: these topics are a bit more out there and aren’t as focused on guiding immediate action. While this is a smaller percentage of where I spend my time, overall I think it’s more important in the big picture. Quantum Datum I try to keep 85-90% of my research focused on practical, real-world topics that help security pros in their day to day activities. But for the remaining 10-15%? That’s where I let my imagination run free. Quantum Datum is a series of concepts I’ve started talking about, around advanced information-centric security, drawing on metaphors from quantum mechanics to structure and frame the ideas. As someone pointed out, I’m using something ridiculously complex to describe something that’s also complex, but I think some interesting conclusions emerge from mashing these two theoretical frameworks together. Quantum Datum is focused on the next 7-10 years of information-centric security – much of which is influenced by cloud computing. For me this is an advanced research project, which spins off various real-world implications that land in my other research areas. I like having an out-there big picture to frame the rest of my work – it provides some interesting context and keeps me from falling so far into the weeds that all I’m doing is telling you things you already know. Outcomes-Based Risk Management and Security I’m sick and tired of theoretical risk frameworks that don’t correlate security outcomes with predictions or controls. I’m also tired of thinking we can input a bunch of numbers into a risk framework without having a broad set of statistics in order to actually evaluate the risks in our context. And if you want to make me puke, just show me a risk assessment that relies on unverified vendor FUD numbers from a marketing campaign. The idea behind outcomes-based risk management and security is that we, to the best of our ability, use data gathered from real-world incidents to feed our risk models and guide security control decisions. This is based on similar approaches in medicine which correlate patient outcomes to treatments – rather than changes in specific symptoms/signs. For example, the question wouldn’t be whether or not the patient has a heartbeat when the ambulance drops them off at the hospital, but whether or not they later leave the hospital breathing on their own. (With the right drugs you can give a rock a heartbeat… or Dick Cheney, as the record shows). For security, this means pushing the industry for more data sets like the Verizon and Trustwave investigation/breach reports, which don’t just count breaches, but identify why they happened. This needs to be supplemented by additional datasets whenever and wherever we can find and validate them. Clearly this is my toughest agenda item, because it relies so heavily on the work of others. Securosis isn’t an investigations firm, and lacks resources for the kinds of vigorous research needed to reach out to organizations and pull together the right numbers. But I still think there are a lot of opportunities to dig into these issues and work on building the needed models by mining public sources. And if we can figure out an economically viable model to engage in the primary research, so much the better. The one area where we are able to contribute is on the metrics model side, especially with Project Quant. We’re looking to expand this in 2011 and continue to develop hard metrics models to help organizations improve operational performance and security. Advanced Persistent Defense Can you say “flame bait”? I probably won’t use the APD term, but I can’t wait to see the reactions when I toss it out there. There are plenty of people spouting off about APT, but I’m more interested in understanding how we can best manage the attackers working inside our networks. The concept behind advanced defense is that you can’t keep them out completely, but you have many tools to detect and contain the bad guys once they come in. Some of this ties to network architectures, monitoring, and incident response; while some looks at data security. Mike has monitoring well covered and we’re working on an incident response paper that fits this research theme. On top of that I’m looking at some newer technologies such as File Activity Monitoring that seem pretty darn interesting for helping to limit the depth of some of these breaches. No, you can’t entirely keep them out, but you can definitely reduce the damage. I’m debating publishing an APT-specific paper. I’ve been doing a lot of research with people directly involved with APT response, but there is so much hype around the issue I’m worried that if I do write something it might spur the wrong kind of response. The idea would be to cut through all the hype and BS. I could really use some feedback on whether I should try this one. In terms of the defense concepts, there are specific areas I think we need to talk about, some of which tie into Mike and Adrian’s work: Network segregation and monitoring. When you’re playing defense only, you need a 100% success rate, but the bad guy only needs to be right once – and no one is ever 100% successful over the long term. But once the bad guy is in your environment, with the right architecture and monitoring you can turn the tables. Now he needs to be right all the time or you can detect his activities. I want to dig into these architectures to tighten the window between breach and detection. File Activity Monitoring. This is a pretty new technology that’s compelling to me from a data security standpoint. In non-financial attacks the goal is usually to grab large volumes of unstructured data. I think FAM tools can increase our chances of detecting this activity early. Incident response. “React Faster

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.