Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Other Side of Breach Hysteria

In a world where everyone is trying to sell you something, security is certainly no exception. But separating the hype from the truth can easily turn into a full time job if you're not careful.

With all the recent retail data breaches, it would appear as though the sky is falling in large chunks right on top of us. Every big-name retailer, and even some of the smaller ones, are being hacked and their precious card data is bring whisked away to be sold to miscreants and criminals.

Now enter the sales and marketing pitches. After every breach it would seem our mailboxes fill up with subject lines such as-
"Learn how not to be the next , read how our latest gizmo will keep you secure!"
I don't know about you, but the snake-oil pitch is starting to get old. While it's clear that the average buyer is getting the message about data breaches and hackers - I believe there are two other aspects of this which aren't talked about enough.

First there is the notion of "breach fatigue". If you read the news headlines you would have thought that everyone's bank accounts would be empty by now, and everyone in the United States would have been the victim of identity theft by now. But they haven't. Or they haven't been impacted directly. This leads to the Chicken Little problem.

You see, many security professionals cried that security incidents did not receive enough attention. Then the media took notice, and sensationalized the heck out of incidents to an almost rock-star fervor. The issue here is that I believe people are starting to grow weary of the "Oh no! Hackers are going to steal everything I have!" talk. Every incident is the biggest there has ever been. Every incident is hackers pillaging and stealing countless credit card records and identities. The average person doesn't quite know what to make of this, so they have no choice but to mentally assume the worst. Then - over time - the worst never comes. Sure, some get impacted directly but there is this thing called zero fraud liability (in the case of card fraud) that means they are impacted - but barely enough to notice because their banks make it alright. More on this in a minute.

We as humans have a shocking ability to develop a tolerance to almost anything. Data breach hysteria is no exception. I've now seen and heard people around televisions (at airports, for example, where I happen to be rather frequently) say things like "Oh well, more hackers, I keep hearing about these hackers and it never seems to make a difference." Make no mistake, this is bad.

You see, the other side of the awareness hill, which we are rapidly approaching, is apathy. This is the kind of apathy that is difficult to recover from because we push through the first wave of apathy into awareness, and then hysteria, which leads to a much stronger version of apathy where we will be stuck - I believe. So there we are, stuck.

If I'm honest, I'm sick and tired of all the hype surrounding data breaches. They happen every day of every week, and yet we keep acting like we're shocked that Retailer X, or Company Y was breached. Why are we still even shocked? Many are starting to lose the ability to become shocked - even though the numbers of records breached and scale of the intrusions is reaching absurd proportions.

Second point I'd like to make is around the notion of individual impact. Many people simply say that "this still doesn't impact me" because of a wonderful thing like zero fraud liability. Those 3 words have single-handedly destroyed the common person's ability to care about their credit card being stolen. After you've had your card cloned, or stolen online and had charges show up - you panic. Once you realize your bank has been kind enough to put the funds back, or roll-back the fraudulent charges you realize you have a safety net. Now these horrible, terrible, catastrophic breaches aren't so horrible, terrible and catastrophic. Now they're the bank's problem.

Every time someone has a case of credit card fraud the bank covers under zero fraud liability (and let's face it, most cards and banks have this today) - their level of apathy for these mega-breaches grows. I believe this is true. I also believe there is little we can do about it. Actually, I'm not sure if there is anything that needs to be done about it. Maybe things are just the way they're going to be.

There is a great phrase someone once used that I'm going to paraphrase and borrow here - things are as bad as the free market will support. If I may adapt this to security - the security of your organization is as good (or bad) as your business and your customers will support.

Think about that.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Exactly Raf. Fantastic points. I wrote about trying to break the cycle a couple of weeks ago. Lately I'm just pointing folks back to the post with the suggestion to change the company name.

It's the same steps over and over again and quickly becoming background noise. Very dangerous.