May 6, 2011
"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution - Take a bow for the new revolution - Smile and grin at the change all around me - Pick up my guitar and play - Just like yesterday - Then I'll get on my knees and pray - We don't get fooled again" -- The Who, Won't Get Fooled Again
As much as I try to accept the "game" the security business has become, I still have moments of annoyance and frustration. Yes, despite rumors to the contrary, I am human. My latest point of frustration is how some vendors blatantly misuse the latest attack du jour to create a buying catalyst with their customers. A recent announcement by Symantec claiming to counter an APT with antivirus was a particularly egregious example, but it happens all of the time.
Sure, APT is the latest bandwagon, but it's not the first -- and it won't be the last. Pretty much every high-profile attack gets followed with all sorts of marketing buffoonery around how this widget or that service would have blocked the attack before it caused damage. We "in the know" chuckle, since this positioning is the worst kind of revisionist history, promising potential customers a different outcome. But it seems the movie always has the same ending -- with everyone dying.
Here's the problem: Most companies out there are not in the know. Unfortunately, many customers take vendor claims as gospel, believing, for example, you can block an APT with an updated antivirus product. Not that they know what an APT is, but those are just pesky details. The customers get what they want, which is plausible deniability. They want to believe if they install a product, or plug in a box, or engage a service provider, then the problem will go away. They want to believe, so they do. They will be fooled again with the next attack and wonder how their intellectual property will end up on an Estonian file-sharing site. Again.
This is nothing new, and I'm painfully aware I'm tilting at windmills again. Even my trusty sidekick, Pancho Sanza, has abandoned me on this one. He has accepted that this is how the game is played, and fighting it only makes everyone miserable. But I don't give up so easily because the ramifications of this ongoing misdirection and obfuscation from desperate security marketing folks inevitably results in the entire security industry losing credibility. OK, it's not like we had a lot of credibility in the first place, but we are doing a good job of squandering the little we had.
We will get fooled again. The system is built for that to happen -- mostly because we want to be fooled. We want the problem to be as easy as writing a check. But those of us who understand how things really work know it's not so easy. There is an answer. We have to start a revolution.
Let's call it the QUESTION REVOLUTION. The best way to wade through marketing hyperbole is to ask questions. A lot of questions. When buying products/services, take on the role of the interrogator. I don't think you can really use truth serum (anymore), but I have no issue with that. Basically, you want to challenge all of these vendor claims and expose them for the idiocy they represent.
Back to our example above: Ask questions challenging your antivirus vendor when they come in and claim they can stop APTs. How do they do that? Exactly. And don't take some high-level technical mumbo jumbo as a legitimate answer. Really dig deeply into its technology, and if the poor SE you are grilling can't answer the question, find someone who can. Expose the flaws in the logic. Expose the buffoonery, and then buy the competitor's product, who lies a little less.
How does this change things? Besides a jilted bride, the only more scary creature out there is a sales rep who just lost a big deal because of a marketing fail. You can count on the rep raising holy hell because a customer exposed his lies *AND* he lost the deal. If that happens enough, the marketing team learns the hard way that telling tall tales is not the way to sell security products/services.
We have to send a strong message that these tactics are no longer acceptable. I'm not asking for bloodshed. I'm taking a page from Gandhi's playbook. It requires some cajones to hold your ground and not buy products from lying buffoons. It's the only way we won't get fooled again. And again. And again.
Mike Rothman is president of Securosis and author of the Pragmatic CSO
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