It has been less than four months since Intel appointed Window Snyder as its chief software security officer and vice president and general manager of its Intel Platform Security Division. But Snyder, it seems, has been preparing to take on this position for years.
"This role ties into everything I've been working on in my career until now," she says. "By the time I learned more … there was no way I was going to say no."
Snyder is an industry veteran best known for her work in advancing security efforts at Apple, Microsoft, and Mozilla. She started her career as a software engineer, and later shifted to consulting before joining Microsoft as senior security strategist in 2002. It was a difficult time for businesses, which were grappling with an onslaught of cyberattacks.
"It wasn't just Microsoft," she recalls. "A lot of the industry was looking at vulnerabilities, viruses, worms, and trying to figure out how to get ahead of this set of threats that were causing a lot of pain."
The way the systems were organized, they "really had to be rearchitected to a significant degree," she says, and this meant starting from scratch – it wasn't just one vulnerability they had to address. There were hundreds. From 2002 through 2005, Snyder worked at Microsoft creating methods for addressing security at every stage of the development lifecycle.
"We were not just developing mitigations for specific threats, but securing the platform altogether," she explains. The attack surface was designed to be open and interoperable. Her team had to create categories of mitigation to address industry changes and evolving threats.
In 2010, after holding security leadership roles at Matasano Security and Mozilla, Snyder joined Apple's privacy division. It was a shift from her previous focus at Microsoft; now, she was working with consumers in mind. "I was excited about making security usable," she says.
During her time at Apple, Snyder took responsibility for privacy and security features in iOS and OS X. Her goal was to design security features people could understand, and it was hard at first to demonstrate there could be value in security protections. Simple things made people feel like they were in control: "Can we have access to your photos" alerts, for example.
"A growing awareness made folks more willing to make those choices, and then happy to make these choices, because they recognized they were in control," she explains.
While modern users have greater awareness of security and privacy, Snyder believes there is more work to be done. "Security features were not built for people to use," she points out. The security industry often puts blame on users, which she says isn't fair. Usually it means something wasn't properly designed and could have been built in a more accessible way.
Bringing it Back to the Business
Snyder now has brought her skills from earlier roles to Intel, where she's the strategic lead of the product roadmap for its security portfolio. She's evaluating and understanding the kinds of problems Intel customers are facing, what their priorities are, and how they want to use tech.
"It's so broad in scope," she says of her new role. "But it's still people at the end of the day."
Whether the person using a tool is a CIO, CISO, or business executive, they still want security to be robust and easy to deploy. Access control is a problem for many, she notes, as is complexity. Employees want to simplify problems so they can make decisions more easily.
When asked about her future plans for Intel, Snyder says three categories come to mind.
The first is protection technologies with mitigations designed to make systems more resilient. There are security components every system needs to consider, she explains, and one of her plans is to create mechanisms that support the foundational security of each platform.
Second is understanding how the system is running. "Everything from key signing to code signing to validation to updates, anything that helps understand the state of the system." She wants to create ways to expose this information to industry tools so they can evaluate security.
Snyder's third priority is enablement. A lot of technologies may not specifically be security systems but they use security technology to protect data, onboard users, or authenticate. There are ways we can leverage those technologies to deploy security onto systems.
It has been a rough year for Intel, which has been in the spotlight for major flaws in its microprocessor products, namely the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities exposed earlier this year. Hardware is tough to patch, and Snyder says Intel is working on tools that enable administrators for easily “getting back to a known good state.”
When you go to update low-level components, you have to be sure the update is highly resilient, she explains. Developing that sort of capability for all of Intel's partners, and throughout the industry, is what is needed to support this robust ecosystem, she explains.
We're at a point, Snyder adds, where organizations must operate with the expectation they are compromised. "Designing for compromise, designing for vulnerability, is a different approach," Snyder explains. You may have to operate without confidence that you know everything on your network, but knowing if one thing was affected, not everything was affected.
"We're building systems designed to be resilient against future threats," she says.
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