I've said before that there is no return on security investment (ROSI). This argument appears to have morphed again in the form of a paper titled Creating Business Through Virtual Trust. A Technorati search will show you other comments on this idea. These are mine.
First, I agree with others who say "virtual trust" should not be "virtual" -- it's either "trust" or it's not. That's not a major point though.
Second, the thesis for the paper appears to be the following, as shown in the abstract.
Business is concerned with the creation of new entities and assets that generate cash. Information security, by contrast, is traditionally concerned with protecting these entities and assets. In this paper we examine a perspective which currently exists but is largely dormant in the information security field. We maintain that information security can be actively involved in the creation of business and that the skills required to create commercial activity must be added to the information security professional's intellectual tool set. We also present evidence to demonstrate that the capability of security to create business, which we designate by the term "virtual trust", may become a dominant paradigm for how to think about information security.
The authors provide this example:
Apple' iTunes employed Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies to create a new product and, hence, a new revenue stream. Over 1 billion songs have been downloaded from iTunes. In the case of iTunes, DRM works by restricting the number of CPUs on which the .mp3 will play. The songs are also stored in a proprietary, encrypted format. These two factors, at minimum, erect a prohibitive barrier and thereby reduce the likelihood that an end user will trade songs. The various security mechanisms used by Apple's iTunes DRM created the Virtual Trust necessary to persuade the music industry that their rights will be protected digitally and be profitable.
I see nothing wrong with this statement. However, security is not making money in this example -- iTunes sales are making money. Imagine a world without DRM. Someone buys a song, then gives it to their friends. Apple and the music companies believe those extra copies are lost sales. What have we returned to? That's right -- a loss prevention model.
"Virtual Trust" is just another name for the Road House security model. Security is not making money for anyone in the bar Patrick Swayze patrols. Alcohol and food sales are making money.
Security may be a necessary condition for sales and a thousand other activities, but it doesn't make any money. Imagine this exchange between executives:
SecGuy: "Hey boss, I have a great idea for enabling business through virtual trust."
Boss: "What is it?"
SecGuy: "I'm going to secure a business initiative that will make millions!"
Boss: "What is the initiative?"
SecGuy: "Hmm, I don't know. But whatever it is I will secure it and enable business through virtual trust!"
You can watch one of the authors of this paper post his thoughts on his blog.