Friday, September 7, 2012

Why We Train

Ken van Wyk asks what is in your Mobile App Security toolkit? I had planned to write a post responding to that, but saw the tweet below from two of my favorite people in the industry and thought I would expand on this:
The first part, mostly, makes sense. Training developers is not an instantaneous fix, to be sure. In my training for developers we look at concrete ways for developers and security people to improve their overall security in their apps. The ways to do this vary, some are short term design/dev fixes (improving input validation for example) and some are longer term (swapping out access control schemes). There is some latency from the time you train developers til the time you realize all the benefits in your production builds.  However, unless you roll code at a glacial pace, I do not believe it takes 18 months for training to pay off. Should happen way faster.

The second part of the tweet boils down to the old adage - "what if you train them and they leave?" The counter argument to this is simple and serious - "what if you don't train them and they stay?" Believe me I have seen plenty of the latter and lack of clue does not age well.

So while I agree with the spirit (but not timetable) of the first part of the tweet, I definitely disagree with the second part of the tweet. We need more training, better educated developers and security people, not less.

Specifically, we need hands on security engineering skills - the basic principles of security are not rocket science, the challenge is all in how do you apply it in the real world?

Despite increasing budgets, the security industry has not solved many problems in the last decade, but one thing the industry absolutely excels at is - conferences!
900 - NINE HUNDRED - Infosec conferences! This is not a record to be proud. Granted there are a handful of very good conferences, but the security industry's conference problem is that the industry as a whole is geared to talking not doing. We've all seen the conference hamster wheel - oh big problems, oh solutions that seems hard, when is beer? You get on the plane home with the same problems (or more) than you left with. Repeat.

Many years ago, I was working on a project at a large company with thousands of developers, and they wanted to tackle software security. The company put its top architect on the project, a software guy not a security guy. We met early on the project, he was very talented one of the better architects I have worked with, and like is the case with all such people was very curious, he really wanted to learn. He asked me - how do I get up to speed on security matters? I told him to read Michael Howard's books, Gary McGraw's books and Ross Anderson's books. I came back a month or two later, to his credit he had plowed through, they were piled up behind him. He looked at me seriously and asked - "I see where the problems are, but what do I do about them?"

The what do I do question has haunted me ever since. We got down and worked on a plan for this company, but the industry as a whole glamorizes the oh so awful security problems at conferences but leaps over the what do I do part.

This is where training comes in. I am not naive enough to believe training is all we need to do, but I definitely believe that education for security people, architects and developers has a major role to play in improving our collective situation. We need better tools and technologies, advances in vulnerability assessment tools, identity and access management, these have all helped a lot over the decade, we need better processes on how to apply them in real world systems, your SDL matters. But so do your people! Without basic training you won't know what tools to use and where, how to apply them and what traps to avoid. This is why we train.

Ken and I will be in San Jose, Nov 5-7 doing three days of training on Mobile AppSec. If you or your dev teams are doing work on iOS, Android, or Mobile, there is a lot to talk about. The focus is hands on, what problems are out there in mobile today and what to do about them.

The first time I went to Black Hat, I was intrigued and impressed by the depth of FX's and other presentations, but I was also horrified. There was simply no one in the software world (at that time) talking about this stuff, it was clear the problems would just keep getting worse and they did. But enumerating problems decade plus later is not good enough, we need time materials, resources and people on what to do about them - how to fix. Out of 900 conferences, there is no equivalent "how to fix" conference that is akin to Black Hat. If you plant ice, you're gonna harvest wind.

By the way, waiting to deal with problems is a proven way to fail, and there is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution. Ken and I started on Mobile because now is the chance, the initial mobile deployments for many enterprises, to get it in right, with some forethought on security.

The last thing we need is more hand waving, bla bla and power point at a conference on "the problem" we need to get busy engineering better stuff, and that is where training comes in. As the USMC says the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. You might ask - with so many problems, can we really engineer our way out? Let me ask then - if we had 900 cons a year on how to build better stuff would be better off or worse?

Security always lags technology. In the early days of the Web, the security was egregious. But this did not matter so much because the early websites were brochureware. The security industry had time to catch up (though still behind) and learned over time how to deal with SQL Injection et al.

In Mobile its much worse. The security industry is behind the technology rate of change as always, the developers are untrained, but the initial use cases for Mobile are not low risk brochureware, they are high risk mobile transactions, Banking, and customer facing functionality. Security's window to act on building better Mobile App Sec for high risk use cases is not 3 years away, its now.

Come join two leading experts, Gunnar Peterson and Ken van Wyk, for a Mobile App Security Training - hands on iOS and Android security, in San Jose, California, on November 5-7, 2012.

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