“Perfect” security

Saturday, August 23, 2008

There’s been an interesting theme of late on many of the infosec mailing lists (including WASC) which carry a tune that mimics my own experience in this field — that of “perfect” security vs. acceptable risk mitigation or “operational” security.

It drives an interesting point, since “perfect” security is simply not possible unless you want to throw away your business model and cut yourself off from the world (unless that IS your business model, then–awesome for you!!).

As security testers or auditors (or whatever you want to call us) we are often called on to assess the target environment in terms of perfect security. This is a good practice and we - as professionals - should never compromise this in our profession, but so many times this ideal of “perfect security” is what is relayed to the client in the final report–which is not good practice.

This is one of the issues that, over my career, I have had to come to terms with–assess the environment in terms of perfect security, but relay them in operational terms that works for the client. Of course this is second nature to me now, but it’s interesting the line that can be walked here — if you know the end result is less-than-perfect security evaluation, are you not tempted to cut corners?

I certainly hope that if you are a professional security consultant/auditor/tester that you DONT CUT CORNERS, or your customers will ultimately suffer…perfect security is still the prize, but “perfect” is only relevant to the real business risk, the operation reality and often many, many other factors. All of the risks should be evaluated from a perfect security mentality, and translated into good (not perfect) operational reality…

Years ago the common analogy was that the only secure computer was one that was disconnected from the ‘Net, powered off and buried 6 feet below a nuclear blast site…I don’t know many companies operating 6 feet below a nuclear blast site that would find much use out of a powered off PC, but I may be wrong…

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