Security sturm und drang – selling fear.

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Sturm und Drang is associated with literature or music aiming to frighten the audience or imbue them with extremes of emotion”.

The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report is a good example of sturm und drung marketing endemic in the information security industry.

Vendors like Symantec sell fear, not security products, when they report on “Rises on Data Theft, Data Leakage, and Targeted Attacks Leading to Hackers’ Financial Gain”, without suggesting cost-effective security countermeasures.

1. Lumps consumers and enterprises together

“End users, whether consumers or enterprises, need to ensure proper security measures to prevent an attacker from gaining access to their confidential information, causing financial loss, harming valuable customers, or damaging their own reputation.”

Since when do consumers have customers…Consumers are insured for credit card theft and PCI DSS certified merchants are protected from chargeback exposure with the acquiring bank. What financial losses do consumers and enterprises have in common?

2. Incorrectly classifies assets, incorrectly uses legal terms

“Symantec tracked the trade of stolen confidential information and captured data frequently sold on underground economy servers. These servers are often used by hackers and criminal organizations to sell stolen information, including social security numbers, credit cards, and e-mail address lists”.

Social security numbers are classified as PII (personally identifiable information) not confidential information. If Symantec is uncertain how to classify this asset, they should read the US State privacy laws and PCI DSS specification. As a matter of fact, the law does not protect confidential information – it protects a confidence relationship. Once the information is disclosed (and Social security numbers are frequently disclosed), a third party is not prevented from independently duplicating and using the information. See the Wikipedia.

3. Provides misleading data

“Increase in Data Breaches Help Facilitate Identity Theft”

By not quantifying the threat probability, Symantec deliberately misleads the reader into thinking that cyber threats are the main attack on PII.

Au contraire. The FTC says that most identify theft cases are caused by offline methods such as dumpster diving, stealing and pretexting. According to Applied Cybersecurity Research, “Internet-related identity theft accounted for about 9 percent of all ID thefts in the United States in 2005”.

4. Cites vulnerability stats without suggesting countermeasures

“Symantec documented 12 zero-day vulnerabilities during the second half of 2006”

What is the point of a threat model without security countermeasures?

a. What were the vulnerabilities, and do consumer PCs have the same vulnerabilities as corporate servers behind a Checkpoint firewall?

b. What are the most cost-effective security countermeasures?

c. Does Symantec recommend that consumers use the same security countermeasures and risk assessment procedures as business enterprises?

See the full report here:
Symantec Reports Rise in Data Theft, Data Leakage, and Targeted Attacks Leading to Hackers’ Financial Gain

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