Why is the Security Industry Failing?

Why is the Security Industry Failing?

Another year, another set of records broken. 2016 saw the most breaches, the most records breached, and the largest single breach – at least according to one report. News of the latest breach barely registers over the din of others.

In February, I attended a luncheon entitled “Perspectives and Insights from White House Insiders” which featured a panel of former White House advisors. The panel shared their war stories with an audience of CIOs, CTOs, and CSOs, and answered questions about public/private partnerships, government involvement in security, and suggestions for future planning. The conversations in the room were pessimistic. If I could summarize the discussion it would be simply: “Things in cyber security are bad and getting worse.”

And yet, it is clear the security industry is vibrant and flush with innovation. An unprecedented amount of venture capital is fueling dozens of startups in the security industry. A record number of security professionals attended the 2017 RSA Security Conference.

Which brings me to the question I somewhat rhetorically asked the panel. There are a record number of breaches every year; the overwhelming majority of those breaches succeed by exploiting a flaw for which a fix has been available for over a year. Organizations consistently fail to implement the ‘top ten’ or ‘top twelve’ or ‘top twenty’ security controls and yet, there are hundreds of vendors, and tens of thousands of security professionals here at RSA. Are we spreading ourselves too thin?

Richard Clarke, former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism for the United States was quick to respond to my question, with a resounding “yes!”

To paraphrase his response, Clarke said that venture capital was the biggest blessing and curse to the security industry. Too many people spend their time chasing unicorns, and not enough time doing the dirty work to improve cyber defense.

The irony is that the reason security industry is failing is because it is growing without bound. Security vendors try to turn every potential problem into a sustainable business model. Investors chase the latest shiny technology and don’t see value in the time, productivity, and money being lost to breach recovery and identity theft. And despite the large number of security professionals, there is a growing shortage of qualified workers.

If the true goal is to improve security, we cannot spend all our time and effort buying and implementing new tools to shore up our defenses. The only solution viable in the long term is to focus on building security into our software applications and technology platforms. This means that we need to stop taking short cuts when building software. By working diligently to avoid – and minimize the impact of – security flaws while building systems, we can start to turn the tide. The only way this will be effective is to focus on security in the design, architecture, and development phases – not just in the operations, maintenance, and support phases.

Let’s stop spreading ourselves too thin and instead focus our security efforts on where they have the most impact – building security in.

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