11/16/2010
06:52 AM
Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
Commentary

Larry Ellison's Mistress, And Security As A Blame Game

Focus on security, not on finger-pointing



I've been covering the drama between Oracle, HP, and most recently, SAP, for several weeks now. At the heart of this drama was an incident where Oracle's CEO, Larry Ellison, allegedly discontinued an intimate relationship with an Oracle employee and appeared to have come close to losing his top job for a second time.

It is that experience that appears to have triggered much of the drama we now see, and it was caused by a security practice that put protection against blame above protecting their company.

I think it is once again time to reconsider the use of passwords and an increasing security practice to focus on assigning blame over protecting the company.

A lot of us have been struggling with why Larry Ellison is so upset with the firing of Mark Hurd by HP. This became even harder to understand when it was revealed that the HP board clearly believed that Hurd may have leaked information about the HP acquisition of EDS. After a lot of review, we discovered that Ellison had experienced a similar close call where an Oracle employee he was involved with filed a similar action and falsified the evidence. Apparently, it was a close thing.

However, the lesson has little to do with the affairs, but a lot to do with the falsified information. See, she apparently was able to log into an executive's email account and that is how she falsified the documentation that was supposed to validate her claim against Ellison;d she went to jail for it.

She was caught, but the fact that in a very secure organization like Oracle is reported to be, what she did should have been impossible. Yet we all know that in our own organizations it likely is not. It is that way because many of us have become more focused on avoiding blame than in real security.

Decades after the industry pronounced that passwords were inadequate when it comes to security end points, we still use them as our primary method of securing our sites. We fool ourselves into thinking that we have addressed the problem by changing them often and making them very complex with numbers, punctuation, capitals, and the avoidance of repeating patterns. All this did was apparently force people to write the passwords down and place them in unsecure locations -- notepads on desks, in drawers, in wallets, on cell phones, and even taped to the computers themselves.

In addition, we don't even remind people very often not to share them and, when they do, we tend to ignore the practice rather than penalize it. As a result, we wander around feeling like we did our jobs when, in fact, all we have done is create a personal defense when a password is compromised.

I was reminded of a quote today: "The man who smiles when things go wrong has thought of someone to blame it on," by Robert Bloch. Increasingly, I wonder if that is what security has become. No longer do we really try to secure our sites; instead, we put in place practices and rules that we inherently know employees won't follow so we can blame them in a breach.

Was it security's fault that Larry Ellison's pissed-off ex-girlfriend got access to an executive's email account and forged documents? Of course not. It was the fault of the person who committed the crime and the person who didn't properly secure a password. To me, that's BS.

If we carry a security title, then it is our job to do what is necessary to secure the company. If we can't, we should move into another line of work. We know employees can't remember complex passwords, ignoring how they document these passwords in my mind is negligent. Simple passwords remembered are often more secure than complex passwords that aren't secured, and passwords alone aren't secure enough.

We have to look at the entire solution because our job isn't to make sure someone else is blamed for a breach. Our job is to prevent the breach in the first place. And, frankly, at the end of the day, it is vastly more rewarding to know that those in your care are safe than it is in successfully avoiding the blame when they are not.

-- Rob Enderle is president and founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

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