There is no 'I know what I am doing' trump card in security

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Aug 2, 2013

NSA activities could make millions avoid US-based services.

We have all been there. To continue the product you're working on, you need to get some extra permission: a port needs to be opened, or perhaps some files need to be uploaded onto a protected system. You ask the IT department for this permission and, much to your frustration, they won't give it to you until you've explained in full detail why you need it, and even then they will have to check with their management.

"But I know what I'm doing. And my manager says it is fine."

Security is always a compromise and in many cases knowing what you're doing is indeed good enough. Today, most employees have web and email access which, even with appropriate protection in place, increases the risk of an infection. But this risk is generally deemed small compared to the importance of the employee being able to use the Internet.

In such cases, making sure they know what they're doing, and perhaps sending the employee on the occasional security training course, may be good enough.

But when it comes to access to areas that need to be properly secured, for instance because it is where customer credit card details or company secrets are stored, one shouldn't be able to play the "I know what I'm doing" trump card. Security policies are there for a reason, even if at times they can be the cause of much frustration.

I thought of this when I watched the keynote gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, gave at Black Hat earlier this week.

Defending the agency's surveillance activities, Alexander played the "they know what they're doing" trump card. His employees go on courses, he said, and the judges who have to decide on the legality of their actions know the constitution.

I have no doubt that Alexander rates his employees highly; indeed, even its strongest opponents will readily admit that the NSA attracts very clever people. I am even willing to believe that most people at the agency genuinely believe that their work has thwarted 54 terrorist attacks and that they "know what they're doing".

I know what I'm doing when I need that port to be opened. And I also know how important the project is that I am working on. But I am glad there are security policies in place that prevent me from doing these things too easily. Because I also know that I sometimes make mistakes, especially when I focus on a project that needs finishing.

The NSA is treading on the privacy of billions of Internet users. This is an extremely important area, where they should never be able to play the "I know what I'm doing" trump card.

I am not an American citizen and thus I don't have a direct influence over what the NSA does and how its actions are being checked. But I am a customer of many US-based Internet services.

If I, as an employee, constantly breach security rules because "I know what I'm doing", I will lose my job. And rightly so. Likewise, if the NSA continues to play that trump card, millions of Internet users may stop using US-based services. That would be bad for all of us. And it won't have done anything to prevent terrorism.

Posted on 2 August 2013 by Martijn Grooten

twitter.png
fb.png
linkedin.png
hackernews.png
reddit.png

 

Latest posts:

VB2019 call for papers - now open!

Have you analysed a new online threat? Do you know a new way to defend against such threats? Are you tasked with securing systems and fending off attacks? The call for papers for VB2019 is now open and we want to hear from you!

VB2018 paper: Unpacking the packed unpacker: reversing an Android anti-analysis library

Today, we publish a VB2018 paper by Google researcher Maddie Stone in which she looks at one of the most interesting anti-analysis native libraries in the Android ecosystem. We also release the recording of Maddie's presentation.

VB2018 paper: Draw me like one of your French APTs – expanding our descriptive palette for cyber threat actors

Today, we publish the VB2018 paper by Chronicle researcher Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, who argues we should change the way we talk about APT actors.

Book Review: Cyber Wars

VB Editor Martijn Grooten reviews Charles Arthur's Cyber Wars, which looks at seven prominent hacks and attacks, and the lessons we can learn from them.

VB2018 paper: Office bugs on the rise

At VB2018 Sophos researcher Gábor Szappanos provided a detailed overview of Office exploit builders, and looked in particular at the widely exploited CVE-2017-0199. Today we publish his paper and release the video of his presentation.

We have placed cookies on your device in order to improve the functionality of this site, as outlined in our cookies policy. However, you may delete and block all cookies from this site and your use of the site will be unaffected. By continuing to browse this site, you are agreeing to Virus Bulletin's use of data as outlined in our privacy policy.