Incomplete Thought: Why Security Doesn’t Scale…Yet.

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There are lots of reasons one might use to illustrate why operationalizing security — both from the human and technology perspectives — doesn’t scale.

I’ve painted numerous pictures highlighting the cyclical nature of technology transitions, the supply/demand curve related to threats, vulnerabilities, technology and compensating controls and even relevant anecdotes involving the intersection of Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws.  This really was a central theme in my Cloudinomicon presentation; “idempotent infrastructure, building survivable systems and bringing sexy back to information centricity.”

Here are some other examples of things I’ve written about in this realm.

Batting around how public “commodity” cloud solutions forces us to re-evaluate how, where, why and who “does” security was an interesting journey.  Ultimately, it comes down to architecture and poking at the sanctity of models hinged on an operational premise that may or may not be as relevant as it used to be.

However, I think the most poignant and yet potentially obvious answer to the “why doesn’t security scale?” question is the fact that security products, by design, don’t scale because they have not been created to allow for automation across almost every aspect of their architecture.

Automation and the interfaces (read: APIs) by which security products ought to be provisioned, orchestrated, and deployed are simply lacking in most security products.

Yes, there exist security products that are distributed but they are still managed, provisioned and deployed manually — generally using a management hub-spoke model that doesn’t lend itself to automated “anything” that does not otherwise rely upon bubble-gum and bailing wire scripting…

Sure, we’ve had things like SNMP as a “standard interface” for “management” for a long while ;)  We’ve had common ways of describing threats and vulnerabilities.  Recently we’ve seen the emergence of XML-based APIs emerge as a function of the latest generation of (mostly virtualized) firewall technologies, but most products still rely upon stand-alone GUIs, CLIs, element managers and a meat cloud of operators to push the go button (or reconfigure.)

Really annoying.

Alongside the lack of standard API-based management planes, control planes are largely proprietary and the output for correlated event-driven telemetry at all layers of the stack is equally lacking.  Of course the applications and security layers that run atop infrastructure are still largely discrete thus making the problem more difficult.

The good news is that virtualization in the enterprise and the emergence of the cultural and operational models predicated upon automation are starting to influence product roadmaps in ways that will positively affect the problem space described above but we’ve got a long haul as we make this transition.

Security vendors are starting to realize that they must retool many of their technology roadmaps to deal with the impact of dynamism and automation.  Some, not all, are discovering painfully the fact that simply creating a virtualized version of a physical appliance doesn’t make it a virtual security solution (or cloud security solution) in the same way that moving an application directly to cloud doesn’t necessarily make it a “cloud application.”

In the same way that one must often re-write or specifically design applications “designed” for cloud, we have to do the same for security.  Arguably there are things that can and should be preserved; the examples of the basic underpinnings such as firewalls that at their core don’t need to change but their “packaging” does.

I’m privy to lots of the underlying mechanics of these activities — from open source to highly-proprietary — and I’m heartened by the fact that we’re beginning to make progress.  We shouldn’t have to make a distinction between crafting and deploying security policies in physical or virtual environments.  We shouldn’t be held hostage by the separation of application logic from the underlying platforms.

In the long term, I’m optimistic we won’t have to.


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  1. January 17th, 2011 at 11:48 | #1


    another reason why security doesn't scale is the base rate fallacy. Unless security controls were almost false positive/ false negative free the errors sum up to a point where operations are simply unmanageable. That certainly require new paradigms, as controls subject to FP/FN rates, even small ones, will never scale properly.

  1. January 11th, 2011 at 16:05 | #1
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