Simple Isn’t Simple

I have to admit that some days I have no idea what will resonate with readers. For example, my latest column over at Dark Reading seems to be generating a lot more interest than I expected. For a few months now I’ve been bothered by all the pile-ons every time some organization gets hacked. Sure, some of them really are negligent, and others are simply lazy or misguided, but the rest really struggle to keep the bad guys out. There’s never any shortage of experts with hindsight bias ready to say X attack would have been stopped if they only used Z security best practice. It’s like a bunch of actors sitting around going “I could have done it better”. Frequently this ‘advice’ is applied to a large organization which “should know better”. But these critics consistently fail to account for the cost and complexity of doing anything at scale, or for (universal) resource constraints. This was the inspiration behind Simple Isn’t Simple. Here’s a quote: This isn’t one of those articles with answers. Sure, I can talk all day about how users need to operationalize security more, and vendors need to simplify, consolidate, and improve functionality. But in the end those problems are every bit as hard as everything else I’m talking about and won’t be solved anytime soon. Especially since the economics aren’t overly favorable. But we can recognize that we rely on complex solutions to difficult problems, and blaming every victim for getting hacked isn’t productive. Especially since you’re next. Security is hard. It’s even harder at scale. And we need to stop pretending that even the most basic of practices are always simple, and start focusing on how to make them more effective and easier to manage in a messy, ugly, real world. I thought is was the usual analyst BS, but I guess there’s something more to it… Share:

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Smart Card Laggards

The US is playing ‘catchup’ in contactless security. The US lags in smart identity card technology adoption. We lag in payment card security. It’s frustrating for Americans to travel in Europe. We have rudimentary ePassport technology, and it has been almost a decade since the first draft of the HSPD-12 PIV standards. We’re behind. We are laggards. And I say “So what?” When it comes to smart card adoption, the US is not even in the race. Citizen ID, government employee ID, ePassports, first responder cards, Chip and PIN payment cards, whatever – we are in no hurry. And I am not at all convinced we should be in many cases. Credit card fraud rates in the US are not much higher than Europe’s. Sure, it’s still pretty easy to ‘skim’ credit cards – but not enough to rework the entire payment infrastructure to accommodate Chip & PIN systems. Are people breaching the security of federal buildings due to the lack of advanced PIV cards? How many terrorist attacks on RFID systems have you seen? Many of the efforts are technology for the sake of technology. You’re getting new technology, at 10 times the cost, for only slightly better security. Like those motorized paper towel dispensers or automated Japanese toilets – sometimes technology was not a necessary solution. I am amused that smart card, ePassport, National ID, and PIV vendors market their products as benefits to the consumer. Do you know anyone who thinks their life would be better if they had a smart national ID card? Me either. And the only time I have even heard about problems around the lack of EMV (Europay-Mastercard-Visa alliance) smart cards is in the last few months for US travelers in Europe. Even then there are plenty of solutions if you plan ahead. The noise on this subject seems to be coming from the SmartCard alliance and associated organizations – not from consumers, merchants, or even the payment card industry. It’s not that we lack the technology, it’s that we lag in deployment of the security technologies. So why is that? Because there is not enough financial justification for the expense. It would cost billions to swap merchant payment terminals, and possibly billions to issue new cards, given the investment in back-end personalization and issuance systems to produce the cards. The fact that many of the security problems have been mitigated with fraud detection and other forms of authentication offsets the need for these smart token systems. It’s a classic security vs. business tradeoff. Do we really really need Chip and PIN in the US? Will it keep us more secure? Will it drop credit card fraud enough to offset the cost of replacing the infrastructure? Does it reduce merchant liability? Are RFID systems really being hacked for fun and profit? Not enough to warrant adoption today, at least. Ultimately we’ll see smart cards with increasing frequency as things like multi-app EMV cards offer more business opportunities, but the motivator will not be security. Share:

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