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3/5/2018
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More Security Vendors Putting 'Skin in the Game'

Secure messaging and collaboration provider Wickr now publicly shares security testing details of its software.

Product warranties, while still rare in the security industry, appear wildly popular among enterprises looking for more guarantees from their vendors. More than a dozen security vendors now offer some sort of warranty for their products and services.

Proofpoint, Symantec, SentinelOne, and Trustwave are among the security product vendors that reimburse customers for various security failures with their products or services. Symantec, for instance, offers coverage with its LifeLock identity theft protection service coverage from $25,000 to $1 million for stolen funds, while SentinelOne offers $1,000 per endpoint infected with ransomware and up to $1 million in aggregate per year for a ransomware attack that slips past its endpoint product. But few big-name enterprise security vendors offer warranties today.

Meanwhile, secure messaging and collaboration provider Wickr has created a new security transparency program for its customers that ultimately could lead to a warranty program as well: Wickr today launched what it calls a customer security promises program, which shares with the public the details of its regular third-party software security testing results as well as any resulting remediation tasks.

The program stops short of a product warranty, but Wickr CEO Joel Wallenstrom left the door open for a warranty offering at some point. "Warranties are very intriguing, and pretty close to what we are doing in our promise process," Wallenstrom says.

Security product guarantees increasingly are gaining traction. A study by Vanson Bourne found that 95% of US companies want their security vendors to provide a guarantee on their products and services, and 88% would consider switching to a vendor that offered one.

Wickr's new program, meanwhile, opens up to the public its internal engineering and software testing process, including its code and how it engages with third party software security testing providers. "We're really trying to open the kimono to customers around the world" on how Wickr's code stands up to regular testing and how the firm then makes any relevant fixes, he says. The customer security promises initiative joins the company's existing secure development and bug bounty programs, and provides a framework for third-party testing firms that test Wickr's software.

But Wickr isn't a typical security provider. Its platform is aimed at users and organizations with high levels of privacy and security requirements. Wickr's end-to-end encryption platform uses perfect forward and backward secrecy with a new random key for each message, file, and voice call communication, and Wickr does not store any content. 

"Our customers are pretty self-selecting," notes Wallenstrom. "They are pretty serious about data security."

NCC Group, the third-party software security testing firm currently working with Wickr in the new program, says Wickr is the first of its vendor clients offering such transparency. "They started the next bar," says Ollie Whitehouse, CTO at NCC Group. Whitehouse expects GDPR to place more regulatory and economic pressures on other companies and vendors to perform stronger software-security due diligence akin to Wickr's efforts. "Anyone with PII [personally identifiable information]," for example, he says.

Jeremiah Grossman, chief of security strategy at SentinelOne, has been pioneering the movement toward security product warranties and guarantees for several years now. He sees Wickr's new testing transparency program as a gamechanger. "Most companies could do this, provided that they know how well their product actually worked," he says.

He says it makes sense for Wickr to lead the way with its program because it's offering secure end-to-end communications that calls for validation and transparency of the code to back up its product claims. "An additional benefit [would be] to add a warranty to it," he says.

Cyber insurance provides a level of risk coverage for enterprises, he notes, but vendors also need to offer some product guarantees, he says. "We're trained to think security can't be guaranteed," Grossman says. "But customers deserve [more]. Vendors need to put some skin in the game."

Cryptography expert Paul Kocher, an advisor to Wickr and one of the industry researchers who discovered the Spectre and Meltdown microprocessor vulnerabilities revealed earlier this year, notes Wickr's testing transparency program isn't for all security vendors. "I don't think a lot of companies are able to do something as comprehensive as Wickr is doing," he says.

Kocher, who is chief scientist at Rambus, says security product liability programs remain a bit of an enigma. There's no clear model for liability, he says. "Are we at a point broadly where the cost benefit of strict liability for security failures is good or bad? When you put in a lot of liability, you slow innovation down," for instance, he says.

Spectre is a current example of the gray area surrounding product liability, according to Kocher. "There are 35 active lawsuits over" Spectre right now, he says.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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