Accessibility Trumps All

One stark contrast to security in the Dark Ages, to modern IT security today is perhaps the speed at which technology is outpacing our ability to protect it.

Every year sees an increase in usage of the Internet. Broadband penetration rises. More websites are created.  Business grows by sharing information with their partners. This desire to reach the masses and provide goods and service cheaper and faster than their competitors often means trade-offs are made. These trade-offs typically involve trading accessibility for security.

For those of us working in IT security, it comes as no surprise. We've all seen projects that aim to rush to market with a new doodad and beating out their competitors.  Anything that stifles or hinders the development process seen as baggage rather than a value-add.  IT Security is the classic example. However, back in the Dark Ages, I'm sure it was no different for the noblemen and women who found their knightly armed escorts an impediment to their lifestyle.

Perhaps one stark contrast however to security in the Dark Ages, to modern IT security today is perhaps the speed at which technology is outpacing our ability to protect it. Or at the very least, our ability to consume technology is swifter than our consideration for securing it.

Back in the Dark Ages, the height of security technology advancement was typically heavier armour or a better bow. Today, IT security technologies span more domains than we know how to adequately manage: firewalls, IPS, web application firewalls, source code analysis tools, VPNs, spam filters and so on. We heap layer upon layer of complexity and yet, we still fail to secure data because we're attempting to apply security after service made available over the Internet. This is analogous to attempting to fix barn door after the horse has bolted. And we all know that bolt-on security never works.

Case in point, at Black Hat USA this year, Jerome Radcliffe demonstrated how he could compromise an insulin pump wirelessly. Also, Don Bailey from iSEC Partners revealed how cars could be unlocked and engines started via SMS messages sent from a mobile phone. However, this is not the first time essential services have been compromised wirelessly.  Back in 2008 at Defcon, Kevin Fu revealed how he was able to shutdown a pacemaker by remote control as well. But these all present what I see is a disturbing trend in society that people are looking to expose critical services to remote connectivity - accessibility - without sufficient regard for the consequences should they be compromised.

A wise man once said, "Just because you can do a thing doesn't necessitate that you must do a thing". This axiom holds equally true with our approach to providing new technology and services. The oft heard justification for this ranges from "our competitors are doing this so if we don't we'll be left behind" to "we can be the first to market". As security professionals, we need to be the voice of reason. I'm not saying we should be saying no the business, but we do need to be objective and consider the consequences of making new services widely accessible and point those out to the business. If security has not been considered from the onset, then we need to seek ways in which it can be secured, while minimising or otherwise preventing barriers to entry. 

While today, the primary risk is loss of data, which may lead to reputation loss, financial loss, identity theft and so on, the above examples highlight a shift where in future, a compromise increasingly will equate to loss of life. In our roles as custodians we must be mindful how our work can play a vital impact not just data but lives.


Jarrod Loidl is an information security consultant with seven years industry experience. He has worked in a number of different verticals such as education, gaming, advertising, financial services, professional services, not-for-profit and healthcare. His specialities are security management, risk and architecture. He runs his own blog and can be found on twitter as @jloidl.

The views in this article represent his own and not that of his employer.

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Tags IT Securityblack hatDefconiSec PartnersKevin Fusecure dataJerome radcliffeDon Bailey

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