When Bad Tech Journalism Gets Worse

Writing is hard – I get it. Tech writing is hard – I get it. Tech journalism is hard, especially when you need to translate complex technological issues into prose that the common reader (depending on your demographic) can understand. Writing about security for TidBITS and Macworld for the past 6 or so years has been an amazing educational experience as I have had to learn exactly how to walk this tightrope and explain things like memory parsing vulnerabilities and ASLR to consumers. So it’s hard. But that isn’t an excuse for irresponsible shoddiness or laziness. Then I saw this on Twitter today: Don Reisinger at CNet published an article today that essentially accuses one of the stalwarts of the security industry of engaging in illegal activity. Gordon Lyon, also known as Fyodor, wrote nmap (among other accomplishments). He reposted an older Full Disclosure email by some researchers who created a botnet out of over 400,000 Internet connected devices. Reisinger? He read that post, assumed Fyodor did the work, wrote an article about it without fact checking or interviewing anyone, and in that article stated that Gordon hacked those devices for “benign research”. But that would be very illegal. And Fyodor had nothing to do with it. Reisinger wrote his article based completely on a repost of an email to Full Disclosure. That’s lazy, shoddy, and irresponsible. Don might be a good guy, and might mean well, but he needs to learn that this sort of ‘journalism’ isn’t acceptable. CNet needs to require at least some semblance of responsibility from their writers. Look, we know half the stuff posted on most tech sites today is rewritten press releases or single-sourced ‘interpretations’ of someone else’s blog post or article (without any additional analysis, which could make it fine). But an article like this actually meets the legal definition of libel (rough guess on my part). I work with some amazing online writers. I have seen inside publications, and know how the editing process works. You can do better CNet, and plenty of other organizations manage to do so while remaining profitable. Update: Fyodor posted a response to the article with a perfect quote: Since he found the full-disclosure post on my mailing list archive site, clearly I must be the hacker :). This has got to be the most bone-headed CNET move since they released the trojan Nmap installer on CNET Share:

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If you don’t know where you’re going…

How will you know when you get there? That’s the point our pal Kevin Riggins made during his first RSA Conference talk. He wrote up the talk and allowed it to be posted on the Symantec blog. Kevin uses the metaphor of the Winchester Mystery House as a clear (and rather painful) analogy for how far too many people operate their security environments. In summary, someone with a lot of money decided to follow an unusual belief that led to 38 years of perpetual building… without a plan. Does that sound eerily familiar? Oh, but it does. Kevin then goes on to espouse the benefits of a security architecture as a way to structure security activities. I’ll take this one step further and say that the security architecture is an aspect of a broader security program. And if a security program isn’t well defined and accepted by senior management, the architecture isn’t going to help much. Kevin does talk a bit about some programatic aspects, but doesn’t quite say security program, and I think that’s an issue. Of all the things we can do as information security professionals to help the business, understanding their goals, drivers, and strategies will arguably gives us the biggest bang for the buck. If nothing else, it shows the business that we are engaged in what they want to achieve. He does talk about the need to understand the business and address business issues (which is what I call the “security business plan” aspect of the security program, and it is critical), but that’s not an architecture to me. Maybe I am just getting hung up on the words, but I believe an architecture is an aspect of the program, not vice-versa. So get your security program in place; then things like architectures, detailed designs, implementation plans, milestones, dashboards, and reports follow. But without a program, what you do every day will be a mystery to senior management. And you don’t have 38 years to try to tip the karmic forces back in your favor, like Sarah Winchester had. Photo credit: “Dome Plan Drawing” originally uploaded by Pat Joyce Share:

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