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CIO Authors: Jason Bloomberg, Adrian Bridgwater, Ed Featherston, Jackie Kahle, Srinivasan Sundara Rajan

Related Topics: Cloud Computing, Agile Software Development, Change Leadership Journal, CIO, SOA Best Practices Digest, Microservices Journal

Agile Development: Blog Post

Red Queen or Dystopia? By @TheEbizWizard | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

The hackers might as well be measles viruses at an anti-vaxxer convention.

Red Queen or Dystopia? The Sorry State of Cybersecurity

Warning: if you like a manageable inbox, then whatever you do, don't get a press pass to the RSA Conference. I've had such passes to conferences before, even quite large ones, but nothing prepared me for the onslaught of PR pitches for this venerable enterprise security shindig.

To make matters worse, all the pitches sounded alike. Apparently there are only about a dozen or so buzzwords in the security industry, and it's the role of each vendor - and especially their PR wonks - to put said buzzwords into a unique order, thus differentiating their products from the hundreds of other widgets and gewgaws looking to rise above the noise.

The clamor surrounding enterprise cybersecurity is to be expected, of course, with all the breaches - ahem, "incidents" - over the last year or so. Home Depot. Target. Anthem. The list goes on and on. And with breaches come enterprise dollars, frantically swirling over the proverbial barn door after the horse is long gone, having fallen victim to some central Asian DDoS attack, no doubt.

So in come the big bucks, driving the cybersecurity market into a frenzy. Which would be all fine and good, if anyone had a freaking clue how to get a handle on all those incidents. Which, apparently, no one really does.

Tools, Tools Everywhere
One advantage to receiving over 200 PR pitches is I had the luxury of being picky. So I filtered for the more interesting companies from my perspective of agile digital transformation, and then only set up calls with CEOs or other senior executives. In the end I ended up meeting with about 20 vendors during my 2 ½ days at RSA.

Most of them were tools vendors - a proportion representative of the conference at large. And yes, the tools are getting better, and some of the vendors I interviewed had some admittedly cool gear (see my recent Forbes article for a summary).

And yet, none of the vendors had the nerve to say they would stop every attack - or even uncover every attack, for the ones that focused on after-the-fact analysis. Furthermore, assembling all the tools wouldn't stop the hackers either. As they say, there's no such thing as perfect security.

The bottom line: the most complete suite of the best cybersecurity tools on the planet would do little to stop the determined miscreant, since all tools have blind spots, and blind spots are just what the bad guys go after.

In other words, ask a security tool vendor what they do, and they'll be only too happy to go on and on about their features and problems solved. Then ask them what they don't do, and they'll look at you funny and basically say, well, everything else. It's the everything else that presents an engraved invitation to the bad guys.

At this point you might be tempted to throw up your hands and wonder whether there's any point in investing in any security tools at all. Forgoing them would save you a lot of money to be sure. Well, sorry to disappoint. You still need to buy the tools. A lot of them. And you need to set them up properly. Which probably means hiring some expensive and possibly nonexistent security experts. But even then you'll still be vulnerable.

Tools, you see, don't stop hackers. At best they deter them. Deterrence is the name of the game at RSA. After all, deterrence is why you lock your front door. Everybody knows a determined burglar can still break your door down. But if you lock your door, then the burglar will likely move on to the next house, since those bozos next door left their door unlocked and a pile of newspapers on their lawn.

Deterrence does work in many cases. After all, hackers are inherently lazy. They're looking for the easy way to the treasure. If they poke around and find some hacks are difficult and others are easy, they'll go for the easy ones every time.

That is, unless the treasure you're protecting is exceptionally valuable to them. Burglars still break into highly secure bank vaults on occasion, after all, even though there are plenty of easier targets to be had.

But there's an even more insidious problem with the deterrence value proposition. If everybody locks their doors, then yes, you still need to lock yours, but no, locking them no longer reduces the odds that a burglar will finger your house over someone else's.

Hence the true value prop for nearly all the security tools on the market: "we can't stop the bad guys, but we can convince them to hack someone else. Maybe. Until everybody has the same gear you do. Then you still need to buy our stuff, but it won't do you any good." Somehow I'm not getting any PR warm and fuzzies anymore.

OK, So Forget the Tools. Now What?
People, process, and technology, folks - the mantra of every consultant out there, and plenty of them were touting their wares at RSA. If technology won't solve our cybersecurity crisis, then we'd better figure out the people and process side of the story, or we're toast.

Only we've long since run out of people - that is, people who really know their cybersecurity stuff. After all, a solitary hacker only needs to find a single vulnerability, but each enterprise needs to deal with all the vulnerabilities, and thus needs a veritable army of highly qualified, expensive anti-hackers on staff.

As a result, the ratio of available bad-guy-security-experts to good-guy-security-experts is appallingly skewed, and is only getting worse. And that's not even taking into account the high-reward, low-risk lifestyle of the professional hacker, sucking the best and brightest of the enterprise security crowd over to the Dark Side.

That leaves process. Only one problem: the process part of cybersecurity is perhaps the most appalling Achilles heel of every enterprise, because that's where social engineering fits in. All it takes is one low-level sysadmin clicking that malware link in that spoof IRS email to hand the keys to the kingdom to the North Koreans.

How do we fix that click-the-bad-email process? Training? Good luck with that.

All That Remains Is to Clean Up the Mess
There are two kinds of enterprises in today's world: the ones that know they've been hacked, and the ones that don't know they've been hacked - but hacked you are. To make matters worse, hackers are getting better and better at hiding their tracks.

There's a good chance that unbeknownst to you, malefactors have long since infiltrated your network, and may have been siphoning off your valuable data for months now. The hackers might as well be measles viruses at an anti-vaxxer convention.

It's no wonder, therefore, that so many of the products at RSA are more mops than locks - more for cleaning up the mess (or for finding it in the first place) than for prevention of attacks.

An entire category of tools focuses on detecting the traces the hackers leave behind, in hopes either of stopping them before they get what they want, or at the very least, collecting forensic information to throw them in jail. Eventually. Maybe.

These hacker detection tools, however, have their own limitations: the level of noise on the typical enterprise network. After all, the good guys are monkeying with things on an ongoing basis - apps are getting updated, software is getting patched, and networks are getting reconfigured all the time.

The detection tools have to spot the hacker activity above all this noise. All the bad guys have to do to avoid detection, therefore, is to operate below the noise level. What you do want to bet they're working on that right now?

The Intellyx Take: Where the Money Is
If you really want to make money in the cybersecurity arena, the second-most lucrative corner of the market is incident response (the first being hacking, of course). All the big consulting firms and SIs have their incident response (IR) teams. If you have a breach, who ya gonna call? Now you know.

IR includes identifying the damage done, shoring up defenses to keep the attack from happening again, and then supporting the investigation into the crime. IR teams work with the appropriate law enforcement agencies to gather evidence usable at trial.

IR also includes remediation - for example, sending letters to all your customers informing them that whoops, sorry, you've let their deepest darkest secrets escape to some unknown foreign hacker, but here's some cheap-ass credit monitoring for your troubles, and oh yes, please don't sue us.

However, if you think the law enforcement angle is going to stymie - or even deter - that many hackers, well, welcome to the 21st century. Cybercriminals almost never get caught. And it's getting easier and easier to become a hacker.

Hacking tools are free and plentiful. There are plenty of hacker communities out there that will get the most ignorant n00b up to speed quickly. And there's nothing on the horizon that promises to turn the tide.

Welcome to your dystopian nightmare.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).