Software Security Is a Shared Responsibility

software security

Software security requires discipline and diligence, said Mårten Mickos, speaking at the Open Source Leadership Summit.

Achieving effective security takes constant discipline and effort on everyone’s part – not just one team or group within a company. That was Mårten Mickos’s message in his keynote speech appropriately titled, “Security is Everyone’s Responsibility,” at The Linux Foundation’s recent Open Source Leadership Summit (OSLS).  

Mickos, CEO of HackerOne, which he described as a “hacker-powered security company,” told the audience that $100 billion has been spent on cybersecurity, yet, “Half of the money is wasted. We’ve been buying hardware and software and machines and walls and all kinds of stuff thinking that that technology and [those] products will make us secure. But that’s not true.”

Even if you ply your network with hardware to create a perimeter around it, it won’t make your organization any more secure, Mickos said. The answer is much simpler, he maintained, and the magic bullet is sharing.

“You share the defense, you share information, you work together,’’ he said. “You can’t have secure software if just some of your software engineers are in charge of security. You can’t just delegate it or relegate it to a security team. If you do that it won’t happen.”

Mickos likened that approach to the 1990s, when companies had quality managers and people got ISO certifications. “It didn’t help. It reduced quality in the companies, because people felt that quality now was the job of somebody else, not of you.”

Discipline

Software security, Mickos said, “only happens when we’re very disciplined.”

Mickos’ company has 160,000 contributors, including security researchers, ethical hackers and “white hats;” people who have signed up to find flaws in software, he said.  Security vulnerabilities can emanate from situations even when there are no bugs, he noted, adding that HackerOne hacked the U.S. Air Force in eight minutes.

“We found 200 vulnerabilities in the Air Force’s systems, 20 of those were found by Jack Cable, a 17-year-old high school student from Chicago, Ill.,” he said.

HackerOne has fixed over 65,000 security vulnerabilities, Mickos claimed. “So that has removed a lot of holes where criminals could have entered. But there are still tens of millions of vulnerabilities; no one knows the exact number. But if we deploy 100 billion lines of code every year … there’s a lot of security to look after.”

Pooled Defense

In his speech, Mickos promoted the notion of a “pooled defense;” the idea that “the number of defenders is far larger than the number of bad guys.’ He said there are far more white hats in the world than there are cyber criminals or “black hats.”

Cyber threats are often characterized as being asymmetric, he said, in the sense that one single criminal attacker can cause a lot of harm — so much so that a company needs 100 people to defend against it.

“If companies can get together and pool their defense, you … suddenly you have 10 times the power of the attackers,’’ he said. “If you share information, share the defense, share best practices, and share the act of responding to threats, then you overcome the asymmetry and you turn it around.”

It takes discipline and diligence, Mickos said, recalling how Equifax had “so many failures and acts of negligence or … omissions in the way they handle security,” and that “it was one single software vulnerability that led to the data breach in their systems.” Meanwhile, he added, “There’s nobody here who has a software system with just one vulnerability.”

While people often complain about long passwords or having to use multi-factor authentication because it is so time-consuming, they had better get used to it, he cautioned.

“Security doesn’t come for free. The only thing that … acts against these threats is the discipline and diligence [and] remembering long passwords,’’ Mickos said. “Even when somebody invents a method where we don’t need passwords anymore, you will be asked to do something else which is burdensome and every day, and where you’re not allowed to miss it one single time.”

Mickos also had a message for educational institutions: “Don’t call it computer science and software engineering unless there’s security in it. Today, you can graduate in CS without taking a single course in security.” He said he didn’t pay attention to the importance of security when he was in college, but different times call for a different approach. Today, security “has to become part of everything we do.”

We Can Turn the Ship

When everyone recognizes that security is a shared responsibility, he stressed, “the ship will turn. It’s a big ship, so it turns slowly, but it will turn, and we will get to a state that is similar to what we have with airline safety or hospital hygiene or … automotive safety, where today it all works. But it works because we do it together and we jointly take responsibility for it.”

Watch the complete presentation below: