Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

1/30/2019
02:30 PM
Ira Winkler
Ira Winkler
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

Yes, You Can Patch Stupid

Before you start calling users stupid, remember that behind every stupid user is a stupider security professional.

There are many catchy phrases in the security community referring to users in both grandiose and condescending terms. They are often treated like the gospel, yet they're often based on a rather myopic view of the subject. This view is typically naive and dangerous when actions are based on those catchy phrases. I will deal with others in future columns, but I want to start with this one: "You can't patch stupid." I often hear this phrase during conference presentations, when speakers are trying to be clever about how their technical countermeasures will always be ruined by some stupid user.

There are many things wrong with that phrase. The most important aspect is the actual meaning of "stupid." "Stupid" is generally defined as showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense. Breaking that down, let's understand that if you are assuming a fundamental level of intelligence in the use of a computer, you either have to knowingly enforce a minimum level of intelligence or assume there is a barely functional level of intelligence on the part of the users. It is impractical for the average security team to assume that all users have any base level of intelligence.

Regarding "common sense," you cannot have it without common knowledge. I have found that computer personnel tend to assume everyone has the same base of common knowledge that they have regarding security matters. Unless there is a rather thorough, comprehensive security awareness program in place, no assumption of common knowledge — and therefore common sense — can be assumed.

For these reasons, I say, "Behind every stupid user is a stupider security professional."

That being said, you do have to assume that users will potentially cause damage, either due to naivete or a mistaken action. You therefore must "patch" your systems and network to account for such potential damage. Awareness and training can help to address the naivete by informing users how to make better decisions. At the same time, you should also implement technology and process that reduce the opportunities for users to be presented with choices where they may make mistakes or to mitigate when they do make mistakes.

For example, you can educate users about phishing attacks and safe web browsing. At the same time, anti-malware software should be implemented to filter out ransomware attacks before they reach the user. Setting system permissions to not provide users with administrator privileges will stop malware from loading on the system, while anti-malware loaded on the clients will stop the damage of the malware should it actually load on the system.

All of this will not completely prevent the possibility of successful malware attacks because there is no such thing as perfect security. However, you are essentially patching potentially damaging user actions by putting an environment around users that prevents the actions from being taken or mitigates the action after they are taken.

I won't contend that there are no "stupid users." I am certain that about 3% of users will click on a phishing message that says, "This is a phishing message, and if you click on this message, it will ruin your company." There are also studies that indicate that around 5% of users cause 90% of damage to organizations, and organizations must deal those users.

However, we know these people exist and there are known ways to proactively mitigate the inevitable actions of these people. That is how you patch "stupid," and if you're not doing it, you are stupider than the users.

Related Content:

Ira Winkler is president of Secure Mentem and author of Advanced Persistent Security. View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
mjwiii2020
50%
50%
mjwiii2020,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/3/2019 | 9:50:59 AM
Cybersecurity ecosystems
Yes, the users connected to hosts are the first line of defense. The user population is a vital and integral component of the ecosystem of cybersecurity. 80% of all network attacks occur behind the security appliances.
mjwiii2020
50%
50%
mjwiii2020,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/3/2019 | 9:45:58 AM
Re: Not Sure I agree
The etymology of the word 'stupid' derives from the latin term, 'stupere' which translates to be stunned, or amazed. In present English modern morphology, versus mid 16th century: from French stupide or Latin stupidus, from stupere 'be amazed or stunned'.
enhayden1321
100%
0%
enhayden1321,
User Rank: Strategist
1/31/2019 | 12:53:36 PM
Not Sure I agree
The comments are really not helping the situation.  Frankly, as a "seasoned" security professional I tend to view the user as the "first line of defense."  Therefore, the Security manager/CISO/CSO needs to train and encourage the staff to be more secure and practice the proper hygiene.  Inferring someone is "stupid" doesn't help.  My 2 cents.
ASTEVENSN/A
67%
33%
ASTEVENSN/A,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/31/2019 | 5:22:26 AM
Users, users, users
Interesting article. Early on it talks about condescending terms - isn't calling people 'users' condescending? It appears 23 times in the article. If we're talking about people then can we call them people? 'Users' is a term from the past.
REISEN1955
0%
100%
REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2019 | 3:07:17 PM
Stupid includes mamangement
The C-Suite - well remember the CEO of Equifax blaming their entire, total and complete catasrophe on one, just one (1) IT drone unit who failed to patch software.  One guy now revealed TOTALLY CRITICAL TO THE ENTIRE FIRM and if he did not do his job NIGHTMARE ENDING OF THE WORLD.   This is also STUPID.  
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 9/25/2020
Hacking Yourself: Marie Moe and Pacemaker Security
Gary McGraw Ph.D., Co-founder Berryville Institute of Machine Learning,  9/21/2020
Startup Aims to Map and Track All the IT and Security Things
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  9/22/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15208
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-25
In tensorflow-lite before versions 1.15.4, 2.0.3, 2.1.2, 2.2.1 and 2.3.1, when determining the common dimension size of two tensors, TFLite uses a `DCHECK` which is no-op outside of debug compilation modes. Since the function always returns the dimension of the first tensor, malicious attackers can ...
CVE-2020-15209
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-25
In tensorflow-lite before versions 1.15.4, 2.0.3, 2.1.2, 2.2.1 and 2.3.1, a crafted TFLite model can force a node to have as input a tensor backed by a `nullptr` buffer. This can be achieved by changing a buffer index in the flatbuffer serialization to convert a read-only tensor to a read-write one....
CVE-2020-15210
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-25
In tensorflow-lite before versions 1.15.4, 2.0.3, 2.1.2, 2.2.1 and 2.3.1, if a TFLite saved model uses the same tensor as both input and output of an operator, then, depending on the operator, we can observe a segmentation fault or just memory corruption. We have patched the issue in d58c96946b and ...
CVE-2020-15211
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-25
In TensorFlow Lite before versions 1.15.4, 2.0.3, 2.1.2, 2.2.1 and 2.3.1, saved models in the flatbuffer format use a double indexing scheme: a model has a set of subgraphs, each subgraph has a set of operators and each operator has a set of input/output tensors. The flatbuffer format uses indices f...
CVE-2020-15212
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-25
In TensorFlow Lite before versions 2.2.1 and 2.3.1, models using segment sum can trigger writes outside of bounds of heap allocated buffers by inserting negative elements in the segment ids tensor. Users having access to `segment_ids_data` can alter `output_index` and then write to outside of `outpu...