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Vulnerabilities / Threats

9/19/2013
01:55 AM
Mike Rothman
Mike Rothman
Commentary
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It's New And Shiny. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

In the age of page views and breaking news, we have to reserve judgement until the facts emerge. Apple's Touch ID launch is just another example of fear-mongers favoring FUD over fact

Change is hard for everyone. Many appreciate and depend on the routine of their daily cycles. They may complain about the monotony, but they do nothing to change it. And then there are security folks. Monotony is not in our vernacular. I suspect most would give their eye teeth for some monotony.

Security folks face new challenges every day, most of which remain out of our control. We can't control what new innovative attack owned our data center. We can't control the rainmaker who clicks on the wrong thing two or three times a month. We have to accept our place in the system and clean up the mess. For the two years we stay in each job, anyway.

What we can control is how we react to everyone else's fear. And nothing causes fear like new, cool technologies. Take Apple's new Touch ID fingerprint reader. The mainstream technology product reviewers love it. It makes stronger authentication transparent to the consumer. We've always said that until security becomes transparent, it'll never really be accepted. So this is a good thing, right?

For most folks it is. Yet there are those fear-mongers still operating among us that use unsubstantiated and likely baseless claims to question new technologies. We heard the same stuff a few years ago when the cloud came into vogue. Oh, the cloud is dangerous. They were happy to point out when big cloud providers had availability issues. Conveniently forgetting when your own data center was down due to a faulty firmware upgrade or a rogue backhoe.

And SaaS provided a bunch more fuel for these naysayers. What happens when the SaaS provider gets attacked? It's like Groundhog Day. Blah fear blah fear blah. It's the same stuff that was bandied about when every innovation appeared in the market over the past 100 years. They decried the steam engine and the cotton gin. The car was going to crowd the road for all of the horses.

There are folks that just can't see the benefits of innovation, or choose not to see the benefits. So they hide behind fear of change. They find so-called experts to legitimize their point of view. But here's the deal, they can't get in the way of progress.

I was talking about Touch ID, right? How does this relate? Securosis CEO Rich Mogull referenced a FUD-tastic article on Touch ID (FUD-filled vacuum) in this week's Incite. He made the point that in the absence of verifiable fact, folks will make stuff up to stir up fear of the new.

These folks are worried about the privacy impact of storing your fingerprint on the device. Well, the device could be attacked, and then attackers would have access to biometric information, right? It turns out they store the fingerprint data on a dedicated spot in a chip on the device that doesn't seem to be accessible. But as Rich says, Apple isn't doing itself any favors by keeping such a tight lid on how Touch ID actually works. Nature abhors a vacuum, and an information vacuum is still a vacuum. Without sufficient detail, so called "experts" will just make stuff up.

Now to be clear, I'm not being critical of folks asking tough questions about important security and privacy issues. Lord knows that we (as an industry) have a bad habit of not asking questions until it's too late. (Dropbox privacy anyone?) So the questions need to be asked. I guess when evaluating potential vulnerabilities and threats, we'd all be better off if there wasn't a rush to judgment. That we'd cause an uprising, only when an uprising is called for.

Yet in the age of monetizing page views and breaking news, I'm probably being a little naive to think that anyone would actually wait for facts to emerge before hypothesizing about what may be. Or what may not be. So you are going to see the good, the bad, the baseless, and the wrong. The impetus is on all of us to not react and wait for the facts to emerge -- and then to take the appropriate actions based on those facts.

Now I better get back to my link-baiting on the Securosis blog. We need to drive some page views...

Mike Rothman is President of Securosis and author of The Pragmatic CSO

Mike's bold perspectives and irreverent style are invaluable as companies determine effective strategies to grapple with the dynamic security threatscape. Mike specializes in the sexy aspects of security, like protecting networks and endpoints, security management, and ... View Full Bio

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TBearr
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TBearr,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/5/2013 | 12:39:15 PM
re: It's New And Shiny. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Psst, it appears that two days after it's release Germany's Chaos Computer Club has hacked it. Curious thing about fingerprints. Unlike passwords you can't change them. And, unlike passwords, you leave your fingerprints all over the place. Happy trails.
Becca Lipman
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Becca Lipman,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/19/2013 | 9:50:40 PM
re: It's New And Shiny. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Excellent article. I'm excited by the new Touch ID, but I'm wary. I intend to sit back and listen to the conversation between testers and developers. Then early adopters to the rescue, poking and prodding all the new technology, giving me the necessary reviews to make a leap of my own.. Shiny but scary indeed.
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