The New School of Information Security

Posted on by Ben Rothke

My full review of The New School of Information Security is on Slashdot. 

Never has so much been spent in information security. Year after year, more and more security hardware and software is purchased, more and more security professionals are hired, and more security is done; yet things are not getting better. Every indicator, every pundit, everything points to more security breaches, vulnerabilities and incidents. Large amounts of proprietary data are compromised on a daily basis. Obviously something is wrong, yet the entire industry goes along thinking things are getting better and more secure. Obviously something needs to change. And that new change is what The New School of Information Security attempts to conceive. 

Far too much of the security industry has its roots in FUD. Billions of dollars of information security products have been sold, and for what? The book asks why information security is so dysfunctional and why companies are often wasting so much money on security. So what is this thing called the new school? The authors define it as neither a service nor a product; rather it is a new approach that uses the scientific method and objective data. This in turn gives an entirely new perspective from diverse fields to make effective security decisions. The authors rightly believe that when objective data is used, it enables better decision-making. 

The New School of Information Security is a ground-breaking text in that it attempts to remove the reader from the hype of information security, and enables the reader to focus on the realities of security. The fact that such a book needs to be written in 2008 shows the sorry state of information security. 

The book starts out with observations of why there are so many failures within information security. Anyone with experience in security can easily relate to these issues. One recurring theme throughout the book is that poor data, be it research or advertising negatively effects the state of security. The authors astutely note that security advertising often does a disservice to the security field because it glosses over complex problems and presents the illusions of a reality in which a security panacea exists. It makes the buyer believe they can reach that panacea by using their service or purchasing their product. 

In creating their new school, the authors have no qualms in attacking the dogma of the current state of information security. From Gartner to the Executive Alliance and more, the authors show that these groups and more often suffer from issues such as bias, lack of a scientific method and more. The book notes that the search for objective data on information security is at the heart of the philosophy of the new school. Since there is a drought of objective data today, the book asks how can we know that the conventional wisdom is the right thing to do? The observation is that the current state of affairs is unsustainable for the commercial security industry and for security practitioners. 

The title of chapter 5 gives away the theme of the book — Amateurs Study Cryptography — Professionals Study Economics. The idea is that information security must do a better job of embracing such diverse fields as economics, psychology, sociology and more, to make effective decisions. 

After years of countless 1,000+ page massive security books, The New School of Information Security succinctly spreads its message in a brief 160 pages. In those 160 pages, the author's detail at a high-level what needs to be done to create this new school. Therein lays the books only flaw, its brevity. The authors want to get the concept of the new school out there, but they do not detail enough of the necessary requirement to make it work. They show with clarity how things are broken, but don't do enough to show how to fix it. Let's hope the authors are at work on a follow-up writing those necessary additions. 

Too much of information security is clearly broke and The New School of Information Security is about fixing it. The author's pragmatic approach is a refreshing respite from years of security product based FUD and silver-bullet solutions. The approach of the new school is one that screams out to be put into place. It is the job of today's CISO's and CIO's to heed that call, take the initiative, and lead their organizations there. Either they graduate their staff from the new school, or we are faced with more decades of information security failures. 

Let's hope The New School of Information Security is indeed a new start for information security. The book is practical and pragmatic, and one of the most important security books of the last few years. Those serious about information security should definitely read it, and encourage others to do the same.

Ben Rothke

Senior Information Security Manager, Tapad

data security

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