Some Possible Insights into Geo-Economics of Security

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

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I first started thinking about this when I talked to a friend from Vietnam a year or so ago regarding his CISSP. Once upon a time it was nearly impossible to find someone in Vietnam with a CISSP.

At first I thought he was making some sort of joke about the usefulness of the certificate, but for some things in Vietnam it’s really a hot commodity. It turns out that the cost of living there makes a CISSP almost totally not worth it. Even though it’s expensive in the United States (where I live) respective to the wages in Vietnam it’s weeks or even a month worth of work.

Therefore the rate at which a certificate would be awarded is less, not because of skill, know-how or anything else. It’s purely economics. Slowly that has changed and more people now have it than before in Vietnam, but it’s still not equal as a percentage compared to the USA, for instance, from what I was told.

That got me thinking about other issues that are relatively the same. For instance SSL/TLS certificates. Buying a certificate to allow for transport security is a good idea if you’re worried about man in the middle attacks.

Yes, that’s true even despite what I’m going to tell you in my Blackhat presentation where Josh Sokol and I will be discussing 24 different issues of varying severity with plugins and browsers in general.

But when you’re in another country where the cost of running your website is a significant investment compared to the United States, suddenly the fees associated with the risks are totally lopsided.

So this may be why you might see a lower adoption rate of certificates in certain regions. More importantly there really is no long term reason the security industry can’t create a free certificate authority (over DNSSEC for instance) that provides all the same security or more even without the costs - therefor making it a more equal playing field.

Lastly I started thinking about bug bounties and how they work almost opposite. Unlike security, where the cost is high for playing, hacking can be much more lucrative based on your geo-economic situation.

For instance, a $3000 bug bounty for something that takes two weeks to work on equates to a $78k a year job if you can be consistent. In the United States for a skilled researcher that’s barely worth the time.

But in a country where the average income is closer to $10k a year, something like this might highly incentivize researchers to focus on attack verses defense, which few can afford.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting concept that may play out entirely different in reality, but it was a fun thought exercise.

Cross-posted from Robert "RSnake" Hansen's blog:
General Budgets Security Awareness Vulnerabilities Webappsec->General
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