Security experts debate if markets or legal liability will ensure secure software

Security experts agree that vendors lack the incentive to produce secure software, but have different opinions on how to solve this

Consumer desire for unnecessary features has encouraged the development of insecure and unreliable software products, said Tenable Network Security CSO Marcus Ranum, during a debate on Wednesday about software liability at the RSA security conference in San Francisco.

Ranum's discussion partner, British Telecommunications' chief technology security officer and renowned cryptographer Bruce Schneier, however argued that introducing liability for software vendors will give them an incentive to build software with security in mind.

Right now consumers support the cost of unreliable software, Schneier said, adding that software vendors won't take security seriously until it's cheaper to do it than not to do it.

Liabilities are everything, because they change the economic incentives, Schneier said. Vendors shouldn't support all costs if something goes wrong because of their software, but they shouldn't get away without paying anything either, he said.

Schneier used the automotive and financial sectors as examples of industries where introducing liabilities has led to security improvements.

Cars got safer after courts decided to hold automotive manufactures responsible for serious defects and banks have implemented credit card security systems after they started being forced to reimburse customers for credit card fraud loses, he said.

We can't rely on the ability of consumers to reward the best vendor because pretty much all of them are bad and there aren't many options, Schneier said.

Ranum agreed, but said that this is because consumers already chose the mediocre and killed the companies that actually produced reliable software in the process.

"The invisible hand of the market has done its work. Dancing pigs is all we want," Ranum said, referring to the consumer's desire for new features rather than reliability, which is expressed by them buying new product versions that are not really necessary.

The solution is not mandating liability for software vendors, because this will benefit big companies who can afford to hire good lawyers and get away with paying less, Ranum said.

Determining the damage costs that result from the use of unreliable software is also very difficult to do. "How do we value how much it cost to get hacked?" Ranum asked.

The answer to forcing vendors to take security seriously lies with manipulating the market, he said. We need to stop buying software that's bad, keep using the one we already have and refuse to upgrade until the product is solid, Ranum said.

The issue of software liability is not new and it remains to be seen if governments will eventually step in with regulation or the market will react by refusing to buy bad products.

However, people on both sides of the barricade seems to agree that, for now, vendors have little, if any, incentive to invest in the development of secure software.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?