|The New School of Information Security|
|author||Adam Shostack and Andrew Stewart|
|summary||Information security is highly broken; this book suggests a realistic fix.|
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.
In some ways, the authors are perhaps too aggressive in their desire for security statistics. One of the most scientific approaches to information security is from CERT (www.cert.org). Yet the authors are not satisfied with CERT's findings that the majority of incidents appear to be insider based. Given what data and statistics we have in 2008, the figures from CERT are certainly good enough. Yes, they could be better, and yes, breach data is not actuarial data, but given the data from CERT, combined with recent news and court cases (UBS, Société Générale,etc.) clearly show that insiders are the most insidious threat.
Also, while the current state of information security is indeed less than perfect, the authors are a bit too condescending of areas where security is formalized (ISO 27001, etc.), yet not perfect.
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.
Some Slashdot readers are likely to question how an author (Shostack) can write a book on security while being employed by Microsoft. Even with all its security issues, what many do not realize is that no software company has spent more on security in the past decade than Microsoft. Indeed they have a lot of catching up to do, but it is being done. Put another way, Microsoft has likely spent more on security than China has spent on democracy.
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 is a security consultant with BT and the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.
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