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At Gartner Summit, Experts Question Security's Future

Analysts, sci-fi authors challenge security pros to rethink the status quo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Gartner IT Security Summit 2008 -- You think you have security problems now? Just wait till 2018 and beyond, industry visionaries say.

Analysts, experts, and some science fiction writers took the long view here this morning as they shared their predictions and scenarios for the world of IT security, raising challenges that ranged from users' new personal devices to hackers from other planets.

The presentations were widely varied, but their theme was the same: Question everything you know about security, and prepare for the unexpected.

"Somewhere along the way, it has become fashionable to move away from long-term planning in IT, and particularly in security," said Ken McGee, vice president and fellow at Gartner, in his opening presentation for the three-day event. "We're here to tell you that you can do long-term planning, and you should."

McGee took a closer look at some of the megatrends affecting IT security, including a slowdown in spending and a general recharacterization of the relationship between the security department and the business.

IT spending will grow only about 6.1 percent in 2008, and security is frequently being cut back along with the rest of IT, McGee observed. "There is nothing on the radar screen for this decade that would suggest that IT will be anything more than a slow-growth industry," McGee said.

These cutbacks come at a difficult time, when most business' expectations for IT have outstripped the department's ability to deliver on a wide range of projects. "It's time to rethink the way IT projects are managed," McGee said. "Anyone in the company can't just run out and hire people whenever they want. But in most companies, anybody can request a project from IT."

Corporate executives and IT people need to identify their most contentious issues and work them out, McGee said. "When companies cut back on security, executives say they understand the risks, but when you ask them to sign something that says so, they won't do it. There needs to be better accountability on the business side for the decisions that are made."

But Scott Petry, director of enterprise security and compliance at Google and founder of the Google-acquired security company Postini, said companies need to stop telling users what they can't do and start embracing the trend toward more numerous and sophisticated personal devices.

"We need to reassess our hard boundaries and recognize that the boundaries between work and home life are blurring," Petry said. Google has an open environment in which employees can view nearly any data in the company, and employees are allowed to spend 20 percent of their time working on any project they wish, as long as it benefits Google.

In a third session, three science fiction authors took the security discussion to an even more futuristic level. "I think we have to look at the possibility that there might be a world where there is no security," said Greg Bear, a Hugo and Nebula-winning author who has advised several government agencies. "You just need to assume that someone is watching you."

Bear noted that "for the concept of quantum computing to work, the theory of multiple worlds has to be true. And if that's the case, then it's possible that we may be hacked from other worlds as well as our own."

The sci-fi writers offered up a wide range of future security scenarios, including one in which the World Wide Web gains consciousness and begins to act independently, or in which machines are able to harness the same defensive capabilities as living beings.

"Expect the unexpected, and always assume that your enemy is smarter than you are," Bear said. "Spend one day a week assuming that everything you know is wrong. Push your security vision beyond the limits of what you already know."

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