I was reading one of RSnake’s posts on how our security devolves to the lowest common denominator because we can’t break IT – which means we can’t make changes to systems, applications, and endpoints in order to protect them. He was talking specifically about the browser, but it got me thinking a bit bigger: when/if it’s OK to break IT. To clarify, by breaking IT, I mean changing the user experience adversely in some way to more effectively protect critical data/information.

I’ll get back to a concept I’ve been harping on the last few weeks: the need to understand what applications & data are most important to your organization. If the data is that important to your business, then you need to be able to break IT in order to protect it. Right?

Take the next step: this means there probably should be a class of users who have devices that need to be locked down. Those users have sensitive information on those devices, and if they want to have that data, then they need to understand they won’t be able to do whatever they want on their devices. They can always choose not to have that data (so they can visit pr0n sites and all), but is it unreasonable to want to lock down those devices? And actually be able to do it?

There are other users who don’t have access to much, so locking down their devices wouldn’t yield much value. Sure, the devices could be compromised and turned into bots, but you have other defenses to address that, right?

But back to RSnake’s point: we have always been forced to accept the lowest common denominator from a security standpoint. That’s mostly because security is not perceived as adding value to the business, and so gets done as quickly and cheaply as possible. Your organization has very little incentive to be more secure, so they aren’t.

Your compliance mandate du jour also forces us toward the lowest common denominator box. Love it or hate it, PCI represents that low bar now. Actually, if you ask most folks who don’t do security for a living (and probably a shocking number who do), they’ll tell you that being PCI compliant represents a good level of security. Of course we know better, but they don’t. So we are forced to make a serious case to go beyond what is perceived to be adequate security. Most won’t and don’t, and there it ends.

So RSnake and the rest of us can gripe about the fact that we aren’t allowed to break much of anything to protect it, but that’s as much our problem as anything else. We don’t make the case effectively enough that the added protection we’ll get from breaking the user experience is worth it. Until we can substantiate this we’ll remain in the same boat. Leaky as it may be.