Monday, 18 February 2013

Information Security Themes for 2013

Everyone else is making predictions as to what will be the important information security trends in 2013.  I think they are all wrong.  Not because the writers are uninformed, just because they are unimaginative.  It’s easy to look to the past, draw a line through the dots, scale it up and to the right, and predict the future.  Except these sort of predictions are safe, boring and they never allow for disruptive events.

Here are a few of the safe predictions that others have made:

·         mobile malware will increase

·         state sponsored attacks will increase

·         malware will get smarter

·         hactivists will get smarter

·         IPv6 security will matter

I agree with all of them, but then who wouldn’t.  Up and to the right.  And nearly everyone making these predictions sells something to mitigate them.

So what do I think the themes for 2013 will be?  I have only one information security theme that I think really matters.  Only one theme that will confound the industry, and add to the number of grey hairs sported by CIOs.  Only one theme we cannot avoid, even though we are really trying to do so.


Everything else pales in comparison.  It really is back to basics.  2012 was the year that we saw more password dumps than ever before.  It was the year the hash-smashing as a service became mainstream, and not just performed by spooky government agencies.  It was the year that we saw a mobile version of the Zeus crime-ware toolkit to attack SMS two factor authentication.  It was the year logging into sites via Facebook became the norm, and not the exception.

And these are all symptoms of an underlying problem.  Passwords suck.  Passphrases are just long passwords, and they also suck.  Every two factor scheme out there really sucks – mostly because I have so many different tokens that I have to carry around depending on what I want access to.

The problem is that we are tied into the past: something you know, something you have, something you are.  We spend more and more time trying to prove these to so many disparate systems that the utility of the systems asymptotes to zero.

So instead of looking back we need to look forward: somewhere I am, something I do, something I use.

Instead of trying to authenticate the user, we need to instead authenticate the transaction.  And that is a hard problem that our backward looking way of thinking makes even more difficult to address.  Happy 2013.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer