Bad security products 'pose a threat'

Security expert says too many products sell a "feeling" of security rather than offering the real deal.

Enterprise security is being compromised by the number of poor security products on the market in a world where hackers have become more organized, delegates at the RSA Security conference were told this week.

Keynote speaker Bruce Schneier, security expert and CEO of BT Counterpane, said there were many security products being offered that sold the "feeling" of security rather than offering real security. He said such products offered "security theatre" either by making their customers feel secure but not delivering on the promise, or by offering protection against threats that were not that great in the first place.

Schneier used the term 'lemons' market' to describe the IT security industry, since there are both good and bad products out there but telling the difference is not easy. The term "lemon" is generally used to describe a car that is worth less than what it is sold for.

"There is no functional test you can run to tell which one is good and which is bad. We've seen this in practice. If you go back 15 years, there were hundreds of firewalls. The ones that survived weren't the best ones. Buyers can't tell the difference between good and bad. Bad products can drive good products out of the market," he said.

"For every company with a good product or service, there is at least one more company that capitalizes on [the lemons market] to make a quick buck before customers find out."

Schneier added there was still not enough accurate information available for users to make informed choices. And he said the problems was exacerbated by humans' irrationality, with a lot of security efforts playing on emotion and fear. He said it was hard for businesses to realistically evaluate and mitigate risk by weighing up the likelihood of an attack against the cost of investment.

"All this means enterprises are stuck with bad security a lot of the time," he said.

But in another keynote, RSA president Art Coviello told delegates that enterprises were more vulnerable to attack than ever and hackers were becoming more organized and effective.

Information security was undergoing a fundamental shift and the belief sets of the past were inadequate for the present, said Coviello.

He said enterprises were more dependent on IT and information then ever before, as companies used new technologies such as web services and service oriented architectures to "open themselves up to transact more business".

"We must think and act anew. Never have we been so dependent on information. We must open up an information repository to be effective in running our business," he said. "And security must be granular, centered on the transaction and information, rather than the infrastructure."

Coviello said a different model to the popular perimeter defense model might be needed. "Instead of throwing up walls" businesses must protect the data while also opening up more channels to customers, he said.

But at the same time as opening things up hackers were growing more organized and sophisticated, he added.

"Never have we been so vulnerable to attack, and never have hackers been so purposeful, organized and effective," he added. "We create vulnerabilities by opening up and doing more and more, not because criminals are smarter."

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Siobhan Chapman

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