A striking disconnect between CSOs and hackers

Security execs tend to live in a world apart from the hacking community, which means missed chances to accomplish big things

Though I've been writing about Internet security for six-plus years, there's an interesting problem in the industry that I've only noticed in the last couple years: Security executives and the hacking community tend to live in different worlds.

Some of you will tell me this is an overblown notion and that I'm making drama where none exists. But hear me out.

At the beginning of my time as a security writer, I was mostly talking to lower-level IT administrators and researchers from the vendor community. At CSO, I've focused my attention more on the upper-level, CSO and CISO types. It makes sense, of course. That's our target audience on the print side.

But online our focus tends to be broader. That's where I've noticed a disconnect between these two halves of the industry.

Also see Steve Fox's post "SecurityBINGE: Infosec from a hacker's perspective"

It's particularly glaring at security conferences. This week is Black Hat, BSidesLasVegas and DefCon. You'll find plenty of researchers who resemble punk rockers, folks who aren't interested in giving a PowerPoint presentation in suit and tie in front of a boardroom full of top brass. You won't see a lot of people dressed like executives. That would be too out of place.

A friend of mine who spends most of his time around CSO-types gave Black Hat a try a couple years ago. He came back and reported that the crowd was "too freaky" for his tastes. I laughed, imagining how he would have felt roaming the halls of the earlier Black Hats, before it became tamer and more commercialized.

I've also been to a lot of events that focus on executive-level security, and the imagery is essentially reversed. Business suits are everywhere. The conversation is less about how to exploit the latest vulnerabilities in Adobe, Windows or Cisco's IOS and more about high-level strategy, the fine art of regulatory compliance and communicating budgetary needs to the CEO.

My idea of a dream conference would be a mix of those topics, with rooms full of suits and Mohawks -- executives who live under a spotlight and hackers who work in the dark, putting their heads together to hammer their particular interests into solutions that better fit the big picture.

I consider myself lucky. I move pretty easily from one camp to the next and have learned much from both sides. I'm not special. It's my job.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting hackers and executives hate and distrust each other. I'm not even sure it's fair to label everyone who is not an executive a hacker and vice versa. There's that security language problem, again.

And I have seen folks from both camps mix it up in settings like Security B-Sides, National Information Security Group (NAISG) meetings -- for the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I'm on the NAISG board of directors -- and monthly gatherings like BeanSec (in Boston), BaySec (in the San Francisco Bay area) and SilliSec (Sillicon Valley).

The latter events are more informal gatherings where people talk about security and other things over a beer and appetizers. I've done some of the best networking of my career in these places. The ice-breaking conversations usually start with tales of parenthood, favorite cars, motorcycles, music or food. The common interests that transcend a person's working life. From there, people starts to share their security war stories and partnerships are forged. This isn't how it always works, but I've seen conversations shape up this way more than once. People find common ground as human beings first, then delve into the business side of things.

It gives me hope.

What would give me even more hope is to see the executives and hackers doing more of that in corporate settings.

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