Never Become Complacent About the Effectiveness of Security Controls

This is a new world since I first began in the information security business. In the early 1980s, information security had little to do with the vulnerability of the computers themselves – this is before personal computers, Windows-type operating systems and the Internet. Mainframes were a tough nut to crack, and the possibility of compromise was pretty much an internal threat. What information security focused on then was signals and physical security. How to keep your information from being lifted from hard wires, documents and radio signals? The answer was cryptographic techniques and security policies actually developed during WWII and the Cold War. These same methods were then, unfortunately, applied to networked computer systems constructed from personal computer technology and operating systems, across a different medium than those used before: the Internet protocols. This is a recipe for information security disaster! Functionality, not security, was the overwhelming focus of these original protocols and operating systems, and applying security methods after the fact was like applying a Band-Aid to a torn artery.

When hacking and later cyber-crime problems first started appearing in the mid-90s, the business world and the general public didn’t take the problem too seriously at all. Having to use passwords and other simple security measures was viewed as a pain in the keester by almost all of us at that time. But little by little, privacy and security breaches started getting more and more serious and damaging; people began to pay more attention to cybercrime and businesses began to become a little more open to increasing their information security budgets. Network perimeter security controls became stronger, and we started paying more attention to internal security controls. But by this time cybercrime was firmly in the hands of professional, financially and politically motivated cybercriminals. This highly motivated group started finding new and novel ways to overcome or circumvent information security controls, applications and services. Every time new and more restrictive security methods were put in place, some new attack method to overcome the latest and greatest soon followed. This, alas, is where we stand today.

The fight continues, and the good guys are making great strides, both in security methods and in public and business willingness to participate in information security. The CIS Critical Security Controls and all the new AI-driven security applications are examples of this willingness. But I have noticed something disturbing happening here of late. The security measures being employed by businesses are getting so good, that people are starting to trust in their effectiveness too much; complacency is rearing its ugly head! And since the very idea of security began thousands of years ago, complacency has proved itself to be a fatal error. No matter what, you can count on security controls to be overcome one way or another. So far, this has never failed to occur in the history of mankind.

It therefore behooves all of us, especially those of us tasked with the privacy and security of information, to be constantly vigilant and even more forward thinking than the attackers that would steel our information and privacy. It must constantly be kept in mind that the attacker always has an advantage over the defender: the defender must get it right every single time, the attacker only must get it right once.