Pescatore on Security Trends

The article Spend less on IT security, says Gartner caught my attention. Comments are inline, and my apologies if Mr. Pescatore was misquoted.

Organisations should aim to spend less of their IT budgets on security, Gartner vice-president John Pescatore told the analyst firm’s London IT Security Summit on 17 September.

In a keynote speech, he said that retailers typically spend 1.5% of revenue trying to prevent crime, then still lose a further 1.5% through shoplifting and staff theft, costing 3% in total.

Digital security is not comparable to shoplifting. It is not feasible for shoplifters to steal every asset from an a company in a matter of seconds, or subtly alter all of the assets so as to render them untrustworthy or even dangerous. I would also hardly consider shoplifters an "intelligent adversary."

But Gartner’s research suggests that the average organisation spends 5% of its IT budget on security, even with disaster recovery and business continuity work excluded, and IT managers are tired of requests for more. Security has dropped from first (in 2005) to sixth (in 2007) in the firm’s annual survey of chief information officers’ technical concerns.

I concur with this, especially with regard to IPS and SIM/SEM/SIEM. Managers spent a lot of money several years ago on this technology and they are "still getting hacked."

Pescatore said that managers are not impressed by the claim that “security is a journey” without a destination. “Can you imagine, ‘profit is a journey’?” he asked, pointing out that other areas of IT are often able to offer their organisations more functionality for less money, or some other kind of business benefit.

This could be the single greatest problem I see in this whole article. Please tell me how profit is not a journey, unless the goal of your company is to 1) enjoy a really awesome quarter (or year, etc.) and then disappear; or 2) dash for the acquisition line and then cash out. The operative word in business is not profit but profitability. A stock price reflects future value. Turning strictly to the security aspect, I'd like to hear Mr. Pescatore or his upset managers describe when security can end. This statement is clearly troubling.

Growing efficiencies could be possible for IT security too: “I really don’t think most of us need more and people,” he said, if organisations moved to a model he called ‘Security 3.0’. In this, IT security would anticipate threats, rather than fight them after they hit.

This is another poor statement. As I wrote in Attacker 3.0, security is at 1.0 (and that's being generous) while we approach Web 2.0 and fight Attacker 3.0. No one is ahead of the threat and no one could ever be. Advanced attackers are digital innovators. By definition they cannot be anticipated.

Pescatore said ways to prevent problems rather than fight them include buying and building secure systems, which means considering security during procurement and development, and rejecting products which are not adequately protected. This might mean spending more initially, but prevention is cheaper than cure.

This is all true and sounds nice, but it has never worked and will never work. Everyone is so excited to see the government finally working with Microsoft to secure the operating system, but at this point who really cares? It's all about applications now.

In response to a question, Pescatore dismissed the idea that insider threats are growing: he believes that attacks generated by malicious insiders are stable at 20-25%. Half come from mistakes made by insiders, while around 30% of attacks are made solely by outsiders, the majority of whom are cybercriminals.

I love to see the insider threat fans squashed.

Let's hear another view on this speech from Security to drop out of CIO spending top ten:

Security pros need to get more proactive about dealing with threats and adopt strategies to persuade their colleagues to take on security spending as part of their projects, according to analysts Gartner.

The changes in roles for security specialists come as the internet security market enters what Gartner described as the third major stage of its development.

Always a sector of the industry that relishes one-upmanship, the Web 2.0 phenomenon is accompanied by Security 3.0. The first stage of security, according to Gartner, belongs to the time of centralised planning and the mainframe. The widespread use of personal computers ushered in reactive security to deal with threats such as malicious computer hackers and worms (security 2.0). Security 3.0 is characterised by an era of more proactive security, according to John Pescatore, a VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Security 3.0 involves an approach to risk management that applies security resources appropriately to meet business objectives. Instead of bolting security on as an afterthought, Security 3.0 integrates compliance, risk assessment and business continuity into every process and application.

For security managers the process involves persuading their counterparts in, for example, application development to include security functions in their projects. In this way security expenditure in real terms can go up even as security budgets (as such) stay flat or modestly increase. Security budgets freed from firefighting problems can then be invested with a view to managing future risks.

"Even a reduced security budget does not necessarily mean reducing security-related spending," Pescatore said. "Security professionals need to think in terms of changing who pays for security controls," so they can "move upstream" and spend their time and resources on more demanding projects, he added.

Now this makes sense to me. I do not understand why security as it relates to applications should be treated separately from those applications. Security should be another consideration that is built into the application, along with performance and other features. Security as an operational discipline doesn't need to be integrated into other businesses, but including security natively in projects is the right way forward.

Gartner predicts that security spending will rise 9.3 per cent in 2007, but will drop out the first ten spending priorities for CIOs for the first time since the prolific internet worms of 2003. Malware threats these days have evolved into targeted attacks featuring malware payloads designed not to draw attention to themselves.

This "run silent, run deep" malware means that security is a less high-profile function than before, as improving business processes and reducing costs become the pre-eminent priorities for IT directors.

This is true and it is killing us. Security got plenty of attention when managers could see the sky was falling. In other words, when their email and their boss' email was inaccessible or filled with spam and malware, or they couldn't surf the Web because their pipe was filled by DoS traffic, security failures couldn't be ignored. Now enterprises are silently and completely owned, and no one cares.

Finally, a few more thoughts from Managing IT risk in unchartered waters of "Security 3.0":

Gartner research suggests that throwing money a security is not working. At the summit, the firm said that there is no correlation between security spending and the security level of a system. The firm added that progress in security should see a reduction in security spending, not increase it.

I agree with this. The reasons are complex, but a major problem is that managers have no idea if the money they apply makes any difference in their security posture. To the degree they measure at all, they measure inputs of questionable value and ignore the output. However, I don't see how Gartner can say that success in security means spending falls. This is not the so-called "war on drugs" where a raise in the price of a drug means interdiction could be restricting supply. Security spending is determined by management; it is not an output of the security process.

Overall, it must have been an interesting speech! I fear the overall take-away for managers will be the "spend less on security" and "employ fewer people" headlines. That may be appropriate if you know how spending and manpower affects security outputs, but that is not the case. I believe management is spending plenty of money on the wrong tools and potentially people, and directing resources to other functions would be more effective.


Anonymous said…
"Now enterprises are silently and completely owned, and no one cares."

As someone who lives in a network with this exact problem, it is just a world of despair. I sit here thinking to myself:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

It has gone to the point of reporting viruses is a administrative punishable offense because we are fully protected by mcafee's full network security.
Anonymous said…
I'm surprised when you write:

"Everyone is so excited to see the government finally working with Microsoft to secure the operating system, but at this point who really cares? It's all about applications now."

According to NSA, we have these problems at the application level because we have insecure operating systems:

"Current security efforts suffer from the flawd assumption that adequate security can be provided in applications with the existing security mechanisms of mainstream operating systems."


"The Inevitability of Failure: The Flawed Assumption of Security in Modern Computing Environments"
Rob, that paper was written in 1998.

I think the world has changed a little bit since then.
Anonymous said…
If the arguments in that paper were valid in 1998, but the changes required to heed them were not realized in the time since, are they no longer valid?

This paper does not say that any one solution will fix everything, but what it does say is that o/s level security must complement app level security or else application level security will likely fail.

I think you and John Pescatore both say in this post that throwing more money at the problem is not working. Why is that so? Could it be that o/s level security is still being ignored and the authors of this paper are right?

There are many kinds of malware that must go through the operating system to function, even the "run silent, run deep" kind, that lead to enterprises being "silently and completely owned, and no one cares".

Of course those enterprises might not get owned if better protective mechanisms at the operating system prevent rooting of those boxes in the first place.
Anonymous said…
Hmm.. wasn't Pescatore recently removed from Gartner's Security group?
Anonymous said…
John Pescatore was known for his moments of foot in mouth even back in the Trusted Information System days. Why Gartner took him on remains a mystery to some.

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