How I Would Secure The Internet With $4 Billion

In an open letter to President Obama, a member of the Open Web Application Security Project tells why pending legislation on threat-intel sharing doesn’t go far enough.

Jim Manico, OWASP Global Board Member

May 29, 2015

4 Min Read

Dear President Obama,

Modern business has reached a point today that attackers can trigger serious security incidents and data breaches with minimal technical sophistication. Industry deploys countless security solutions but, application security liabilities at the root of the problem reside with the standards, frameworks and languages developers use to build complex software.

Unfortunately, most chief information security officers (CISOs) are not equipped to handle these issues; whether it’s expertise, time or resources, the task of efficiently building and managing secure software is daunting.
That said, the problem is not hopeless. Mr. President, write me a check for $4 billion dollars—or any amount of money deemed enough to instigate change—and I’ll show you how to help secure the software that drives modern businesses and the Internet at large. One thing that won’t help – even if passed -- is the controversial information-sharing legislation currently being debated in Congress.

What I’m asking is not very sexy but it’s very strategic. It won’t be running at full force for some time, but once it reaches maturity, it will ensure a more secure software development infrastructure. There is value in quick, short-term wins that deter cyber criminality, but we need to leave a legacy for the technology companies, developers, and users of the future.

A past in which security was never properly prioritized, funded, or built into the fabric of key technologies has caught up with us. The Web has grown rapidly and brought changes with it that have put everything form critical infrastructure to enterprises to hospitals at risk. As a result of this current threat landscape, the general mentality has finally changed, but it will take further education and greater transformations at the root of our software and other IT development processes for that to take place. Mr. President, this is how I would start to enact that change with the goal of benefitting the Internet at large.

Software development frameworks and web languages are the building blocks of a secure application. Developers use frameworks every day to assist in rapidly building advanced software. Many of these frameworks have the capacity to include security by default for certain security areas. We see this today in technologies like LINQ for .NET which automatically provides SQL injection protection, and technologies like GO Templates and Angular which radically help prevent XSS (cross-site scripting) with minimal extra work on the part of the developer. We can do much more in this area.

With significant funding, I would hire a large, senior team of security-minded developers and assessment professionals to focus on providing security services for the most popular open source software framework of our day. This would be done in a similar fashion to Google’s Project Zero, whose sole mission is to identify and help remediate critical security flaws in every piece of popular software that reaches the Internet. They’ve called out huge players including Apple and Microsoft. What is stopping us from making an even bigger and more comprehensive team to do this?

Any why stop at just finding bugs? What we need is deeper investment in creating and maintaining secure software development frameworks that can be used by everyone in their own development processes. We need an investment from Washington that could finally influence, at a wider scale, top-tier developers to bake security into common frameworks as well as creating security development tools and frameworks anew.

Imagine a trove of open-source development frameworks that can be leveraged to ensure security from the inception of any new product. These efforts would radically lower the cost and time of building secure software, which are two of the biggest reasons why companies have not built secure software in the first place. We need to address these issues at the root cause which are 1) providing existing popular open source software frameworks with significant developer and other security professional resources and 2) spearheading the creation of new software security frameworks and tools. If we do this, we have a chance to counter one of the biggest hurdles in creating secure software.

These would be the first steps in setting the stage for a secure technological tomorrow. We are living in a time which some view as the Golden Age of Hacking. But it’s not. It’s the Golden Age of Security Awareness and Security-Driven Action. Everyone is worried about protection at all levels, from the user to the enterprise, and they should be able to openly access the tools needed to calm those worries. It’s time the effort was bolstered with a sense of urgency and action, because talking about it and sharing information won’t get us far enough.

About the Author(s)

Jim Manico

OWASP Global Board Member

Jim Manico is a Global Board Member for the OWASP foundation where he helps drive the strategic vision for the organization. OWASP's mission is to make software security visible, so that individuals and organizations worldwide can make informed decisions about true software security risks. OWASP's AppSecUSA<> conferences represent the nonprofit's largest outreach efforts to advance its mission of spreading security knowledge, for more information and to register, see here<>. Jim is also the founder of Manicode Security where he trains software developers on secure coding and security engineering. He has a 18 year history building software as a developer and architect. Jim is a frequent speaker on secure software practices and is a member of the JavaOne rockstar speaker community. He is the author of Iron-Clad Java: Building Secure Web Applications<> from McGraw-Hill and founder of Brakeman Pro. Investor/Advisor for Signal Sciences.

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