Beware of ‘Free’ InfoSec

It’s tempting to gravitate toward security vendors who offer assessments on the “we find holes or it’s free” basis. I wanted to take a moment and express my thoughts on this approach.

First off, security testing choices should not be based on price. They should be based on risk. The goal is to reduce the risk that any given operation (application, network, system, process, etc.) presents to the organization to a level that is manageable. Trust me, I have been in the security business for 20 years and all vendor processes are NOT created equal. Many variations exist in depth, skill level, scope, reporting capability, experience, etc. As such, selecting security testing vendors based upon price is a really bad idea. Matching vendors specific experience, reporting styles and technical capabilities to your environment and needs is a far better solution for too many reasons to expound upon here.

Second, the “find vulnerabilities or it’s free” mentality can really back fire for everyone involved. It’s hard enough for developers and technical teams to take their lumps from a security test when holes emerge, but to now also tie that to price makes it doubly difficult for them to take. “Great, I pay now because Tommy made some silly mistake!” is just one possibility. How do you think management may handle that? What about Tommy? Believe me, there can be long term side effects for Tommy’s career, especially if he is also blamed for breaking the team’s budget in addition to causing them to fail an audit.

Thirdly, it actually encourages the security assessment team to make mountains out of mole hills. Since they are rewarded only when they find vulnerabilities and the customer expectations of value are automatically built on severity (it’s human nature), then it certainly (even if only unconsciously) behooves the security team to note even small issues as serious security holes. In our experience, this can drastically impact the perceived risk of identified security issues in both technicians and management and has even been known to cause knee-jerk reactions and unneeded panic when reports arrive that show things like simple information leakage as “critical vulnerabilities”. Clearly, if the vendor is not extremely careful and mindful of ethical behavior among their teams, you can get seriously skewed views between perceived risk and real-world risk, again primarily motivated by the need to find issues to make the engagement profitable.

In my opinion, let’s stick to plain old value. My organization helps you find and manage your risk. We help you focus on the specific technical vulnerabilities in networks, systems, applications and operations that attackers could exploit to cause you damage. To do this, my company employs security engineers. These deeply skilled experts earn a wage and thus cost money. Our services are based around the idea that the work we do has value. The damages that we prevent from occurring save your company money. Some of that money pays us for our services and thus, we pay our experts. Value. End of story.

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About Brent Huston

I am the CEO of MicroSolved, Inc. and a security evangelist. I have spent the last 20+ years working to make the Internet safer for everyone on a global scale. I believe the Internet has the capability to contribute to the next great leap for mankind, and I want to help make that happen!

1 thought on “Beware of ‘Free’ InfoSec

  1. Pingback: Interesting Information Security Bits for 11/18/2009 | Infosec Ramblings

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