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Joe Security is pwned: Are security defense technologies working?

RSA Conference 2012 feels like a big ol’ group therapy session. Small circles of friends, larger circles of industry peers, huddled masses freeing themselves of a collective weight on their shoulders. No longer do they have to lie to themselves, their colleagues or bosses. “Hi, I’m Joe Security and I’m pwned!” They’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s OK to say security technologies suck, networks are compromised and attackers are winning.

OK, that last part has always been part of the dialogue. But the other two have only been whispered in the past. Now it’s being shouted at networking events and even from the big keynote pulpit here in San Francisco. Legacy investments in signature-based antivirus, intrusion detection and other detection technologies don’t serve the industry as well as they used to. Signature updates can’t keep up with the evolution of malware. And most attacks are too targeted or too stealthy, or both, to warrant signatures for the masses. It doesn’t work anymore and everyone’s free to say it without repercussion.

Granted, Art Coviello, RSA Security’s chief executive, has a vested interest in shouting it the loudest, but he made a good, encapsulating point during his keynote yesterday: “We have to stop being linear thinkers, blindly adding new controls on top of failed models. We need to recognize, once and for all, that perimeter-based defenses and signature-based technologies are past their freshness dates, and acknowledge that our networks will be penetrated. We should no longer be surprised by this.”

There’s a lot of whispering now about bringing big data concepts to security. Your resume had better soon include some business analytics experience if you wanna be tomorrow’s CISO. You’d also better figure out how to harness all that data your security gear spits out and learn how to baseline “normal” network behavior and address anomalies. And oh yeah, you better know how to talk to your executives about security.

Selling them your initiatives based on fear is so five years ago. You better learn your business, how it makes money, and how to deliver metrics that address not only bottom-line impact, but how the customer experience is affected, how internal processes need to reflect security and how you’re articulating security to the company to turn everyone into an advocate for you.

Journalists and analysts like tipping points and landmarks because it makes it easier for us to articulate our stories to readers. Most of the time those tipping points and landmarks are made up; not this time though. There’s a definite change in the air and some tangible direction for the industry. Let’s see how we did about this time next year.

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