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6 hard truths security pros must learn to live with

Roger A. Grimes | April 29, 2015
Caveat emptor: Security solutions will always fall short in addressing the fundamental flaws of securing IT systems.

If social engineering is the No. 2 problem, how come all user education programs operate on a shoestring budget? I've yet to see a user education program that truly, and routinely, teaches employees about the latest threats and how to avoid them. Most education programs are stuck in the past, offering solutions that would have worked moderately a decade ago.

Very few programs tell users what the company's real antivirus programs are or look like, so how can they be sure to avoid responding to a fake one? Very few programs tell employees that they are more likely to be infected by a website they trust, let alone remind them not to run unexpected executables from any Web page. How many programs inform employees of the most frequent exploits fellow co-workers fall prey to, and how to avoid them? If your program does, send me a copy, so I can say I know of one company that does it right.

No solution addresses the real root of the problem
Each security solution you buy addresses a particular set of threats on a particular set of platforms. Each tries (imperfectly) to thwart a certain problem sticking its head out of a particular hole. Meanwhile, the nimble hacker moves to the left and starts a new hole. It's a game of digital whack-a-mole that defenders will never win.

But behind each attack is a single basic problem that remains unresolved: pervasive anonymity on the Internet. Anyone can send you an email claiming to be anyone else. Anyone can send network packets that your servers will consider or pass along. Anyone can claim to be anyone, by default. This means that evildoers are harder to identify and prosecute. As long as this is the case, we will never defeat malicious hackers.

There are ways to get rid of pervasive anonymity without revealing everyone's true identity in every instance. There are many instances in which absolute anonymity should be guaranteed, as many forums and circumstances absolutely benefit by some or all the participants being anonymous. This is a basic truth of society.

At the same time, I would prefer to never receive an email from someone whose real identity hasn't been verified. Anonymous emailers too often indulge in mean and bullying behavior. I've received death threats for pointing out that Apple computers have more known vulnerabilities than Windows computers. Enter the terms "quits twitter" in your favorite search engine and you'll find copious incidents of people opting out of social media due to bullying or threats of physical harm to their family members. Being able to reject email from people whose real identity hasn't been verified may not eliminate that kind of behavior entirely, but it would seriously curtail it.


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