Secure the future – have a change of mind!

guard_cat_on_dutyThe future of the enterprise can be secured provided that it is properly organized and operated with full understanding of its economics. The current concentration on “profit here and now” is extremely harmful to the survival of the economy of the world as a whole and every given enterprise in particular.

Why is that? There are two parts to the problem. The first part has to do with the short-sightedness of the typical management of the companies and the second part – with the isolation of company parts from each other and the requirement that everything brings profit by itself. Under these conditions the security becomes an unwanted “fifth leg” that brings nothing but unjustifiable costs to the company. I tried to find a solution within this extremely limited view and there ain’t any. However, the situation looks completely different if you take a long-term systemic view of the enterprise.

In the long term, we absolutely need security as we need quality and many other things besides money to ensure that the enterprise survives. Once we understand that, we shall realize that we already have the knowledge, technology and tools to actually secure our products and we will apply the research where we see them lacking.

To illustrate, let’s look at how the simple economic model of the well-known game “Civilization” operates.

“Civilization” is a strategic game with a simplified economic model of cities, countries and the world. In this highly simplified model of the economy, describing the behavior of an entire civilization, the parameter “money” is not the only one that leads to success but rather it is used to serve other areas of society. For example, when you build a library you go to the cashier and convert money to scientific knowledge. The theater is also not built for profit but for spending money on the culture. Almost all of the buildings that do not bear a direct destination “hack loot” represent a direct loss: football stadiums, churches, and tank factories – those just consume money, not make profit, but instead they produce something else: contentment for people, culture, or the tanks.


In principle, you can try to concentrate everything in the world on getting more money – but experienced players will tell you that this option is only meaningful on the finishing spurt – when there is a race to win, when you are actually in the military conditions “it’s either us or them.” At other times, you can not ignore any sections of public life – it is necessary to make sure that the culture is taken care of and the science is at a level not far behind (so that foreign tanks don’t overwhelm your chariots), and your production facilities allow you to produce anything you might need, and that the cash account allows to support the whole caboodle.

Once again, it is important to note that most of the objects in Civilization are obviously unprofitable and that’s fine – they give non-monetary income and in most cases they determine the success or downfall of the player. You build a theater, a library or a tank, pay for them and don’t complain that they need money. Money is produced by special objects replenishing the treasury – they are important, of course, as an integral part of society but their main role in the game is to support the work of other objects – let the society work and move forward the progress, culture, carry the flag of the country. Only in a single case it makes sense to be “in the money” – when you want to win politics through buying of votes from neutral city-states. In all other cases, a large cash balance, on the contrary, is rather an indication that you are doing something wrong.


So, why are we talking about that? Money in Civilization is a tool and that what it should be in real life, at least in theory. Therefore, if you have excess money, it is best to invest immediately into something that moves forward some real aspects of life – culture pushes the boundaries of your country, science is discovering all the new electric cars, cavalry and navy are bringing the light of truth to infidels. Since everything around is continually evolving, then the funds should be regularly put into circulation – not in the sense of “revolve in the bank” but through investments in the real sector – because conventional 100 coins in the ancient world is not the same as even in the era of feudalism, even in the absence of inflation. Just to save money has no special meaning – it means that you could invest it in any business but did not – for example, you could mount an expedition to another continent but instead you are wasting away over your gold. Yes, the money can be useful to respond to changes in the situation in a rush – but that usually does not come with a huge effectiveness; for example, you can immediately buy up a bunch of soldiers in the case of the Mongol invasion; but if you act wisely, it is much more effective – including in monetary terms – to prepare them in advance; albeit soldiers are all loss and no profit, yes.

In the real world, it is much more complicated. Yet, somehow it turns out that in a simplified toy world simulator “father of the nation” the different effects of a particular aspect of human activity are taken into account, while in our advanced and such a diverse modern society, it all comes down to one parameter – money. Look at what is happening in the world or in your company – the terms are reductions of this and that, because of the “inefficiency”.

In purely totalitarian economies societies somehow engage in culture, science and other things, and only in our purely “liberal” economy and culture, we force the culture, science, and almost the military … to make money. But, after all, this is nonsense in terms of governance!

There seem to be two important aspects at work:

1) The atomization of society and the economy also applies to the enterprise. In a singular society and company things can be divided into “earning” parts and “wasters” of money, as was done in the traditional family – husband works in the field, a wife at home on the farm, and that’s fine. Under the conditions of atomization one is forced to survive as best one can. The science and culture in the society and security and quality in the company are forced to earn profits, losing their original essence. Every single part is required to perform, basically, all of the elements of the whole without any regard to its original purpose to survive. The security department now has to “sell” its services, engage in marketing campaigns and calculate its “efficiencies”.

2) Extremely short time horizon has become the norm. Where the top management was supposed to keep a very long-term perspective and support the activities that would cause the company to exist in the distant future, now we are dealing with a non-stop pressure to deliver everything today.

In general, the reduction of all aspects of life and work to make a profit in the monetary sense immediately leads to many fun things.

There are many aspects to our work as a software company producing and selling software products but if we simplify the model we can say that there are a few factors that are involved in long term survival and prosperity of the company. One of the factors is the features of the software. That is your “money production” part, the thing that gets software sold and brings in the money. Too much concentration on this part is dangerous, however.

There are other important parts. We will live aside many of them for the purposes of simplicity. Let’s look at the quality. Ensuring the software quality is pure cost, it does not sell as such, it does not bring money. Should we stop spending money on quality? You would be right to assume that we will not. But why? Because the quality of our product influences the future sales, it is not here-and-now but in the future that we will see indirect benefits, often not quantifiable. Still most of us understand that destroying the product quality will lead to deterioration of the market sales, company image, decline of revenues and eventual crumble of the company. So somehow over the years we realized that a completely non-profitable activity is necessary for the enterprise survival.

The same applies to security. Most companies ignore security nowadays. Security is nothing but cost and costs even more than quality. Security is even less visible and its impact is even further in the future. Many managers show short-sightedness and ignore security to concentrate on what brings money in today and tomorrow. But is that a good idea? Security is like your army in “Civilization” – it is pure cost and you may never actually use it directly but it is a good idea to have it unless you want to see your cities overrun by the American war chariots. Security is a cost that an enterprise must take on to ensure its long-term survival. It is as necessary as other costly things – quality, specialist training, research etc.

So when a company puts the security in a position where the security department has to justify its existence by proving with numbers in hand that they are somehow “profitable” – that’s pure lunacy on the part of top management. This concentration on the “money aspect” is going to pay off in the short term but will learn to a crash in the long term. The balance is as essential to a healthy company as it is essential to an empire in the game of “Civilization”. One cannot ignore the money aspect and risk running out of money at an unfortunate moment. One cannot concentrate on money and ignore everything else either. We must accept that security is one of the realities of life and it is necessary to have because otherwise “their tanks will crash our chariots”.

I hope we are clear on that now.

You may only need a sword once but you must carry it every day.
– Japanese proverb


Dump anti-virus and move to secure-by-design?

I stumbled across an article this morning that analyses the threat to the mobile devices from malware and comes to the conclusion that it is not likely a good idea to  have an anti-virus on your mobile.

mobiliesecurity01The premises are that only a very few of the mobile devices are currently infected, so the conclusion is that the infection is unlikely, plus that anti-virus software is terribly ineffective at catching the malware. The author concludes that the industry is best off to dump anti-virus on mobile and move to secure-by-design hardware and software.

I wholeheartedly agree that moving to secure-by-design devices would be excellent. I personally prefer an old trustworthy Nokia rather than any new fashionable smart phones for making calls and reading RSS. On the other hand, there is a couple of problems with the analysis and the proposition itself.

First, the apparent absence of the malware infection on the phones says nothing about either the actual infection or the possibility of infection. The mobile malware may get better tomorrow and the levels will jump overnight. Or perhaps we do not analyse it properly. The likelihood of infection is not a function of the current rate of infection.

Moreover, asking the mobile industry to make secure devices is vain. This is the same as asking the software industry to make secure software. They are just not going to. Security costs money, security is a cost for the manufacturer and they will reduce it through the floor if they can.

Secure-by-design is only going to happen when the costs of security breaches stop being externalities for the producer. As long as customers bear the costs, security remains the problem of the customer.

Getting revenue on security?

I am looking now into arguably the hardest problem of security: how to make it pay off. Security is usually seen as a risk management tool, where increasing security investment lowers the risk of costly disasters. But the trade off between security and risk is hard to evaluate and there is a bias for ignoring the rare risks.

We keep talking about costs, if you noticed. We lower costs, even not actual costs, but potential costs, and we do not increase the revenues here.

For example, when we talk about some product we can look at improvements that would get us more of the following to improve the bottom line:

  1. Acquisition – getting more users or clients
  2. Activation – getting the users or clients to make a purchase
  3. Activity – getting your users or clients to come back for more

Can security demonstrate similar improvements? To move from cost cutting to revenue generation? Share your opinion, please!

Apple – is it any different?

The article “Password denied: when will Apple get serious about security?” in The Verge talks about Apple’s insecurity and blames Apple’s badly organized security and the absence of any visible security strategy and effort. Moreover, it seems like Apple is not taking security sufficiently seriously even.

“The reality is that the Apple way values usability over all else, including security,” Echoworx’s Robby Gulri told Ars.

MoneyIt is good that Apple gets a bit of bashing but are they really all that different? If you look around and read about all other companies you quickly realize it is not just Apple, it is a common, too common, problem: most companies do not take security seriously. And they have a good reason: security investment cannot be justified in short-term, it cannot be sold, and it cannot be turned into bonuses and raises for the management. And the risks are typically ignored as I already talked about previously.

So in this respect Apple simply follows in the footsteps of all other software companies out there. They invest in features, in customer experience, in brand management but they ignore the security. Even the recent scandal with Mat Honan’s life wipe-out that got a lot of publicity did not change much if anything. The company did not suffer sufficient damage to start thinking of security seriously. The damage was done to a private individual and did not translate into any impact on sales. So it demonstrated once again that security problems do not damage the bottom line. Why else would a company care?

We need the damage done to external parties to be internalized and absorbed by the companies. As long as it stays external they will not care. The same thing exactly as the ecology – ecological cost is external to the company so it would not care unless there is regulation that makes those costs internal. We need a mechanism for internalizing the security costs.