The Tech Herald

The need for truthful and honest product disclosure in IT Security

by Dave Lowenstein - Federated Networks - Feb 3 2012, 12:00

It is high time security companies provide truthful and honest disclosure of what threats a given product can and cannot protect against. (IMG:J.Anderson)

The exponential rise in cyber- attacks and the seemingly lock-step proliferation of security products to safeguard against said attacks seem to have created an unintelligible quagmire for consumers of IT security products. Simply put, consumers have to wade through marketing propaganda and techno-speak in their quest for some form of reasonable assurance of a safe, private internet experience.

It is high time that IT security companies provide transparent truthful and honest ‘Plain English’ disclosure of what threats a given product can and cannot protect against.

Everyone knows that problems and issues inevitably do occur, but how transparent organizations are in dealing with these bad tidings has a material impact on people’s perceptions of the trustworthiness of an organization, person or product. Most people would agree that transparency is required in nearly every aspect of our lives whether at work, in relationships or with companies we give our money to.

Transparency earns trust and loyalty and people have come not only to respect, but also to expect transparency. Transparency is something that is not just clearly, explicitly and comprehensively described by the author, but also that it is done so in a manner that the reader or recipient can understand. In the context of the consumers of IT security, the veracity or efficacy of any solution should be easily discernible and/or recognizable or obvious to an average person. But transparency is a high hurdle and consumers don’t always receive it, particularly in our view when they’re spending hard earned money on products to protect themselves online. 

We acknowledge that IT security is a complex intellectual arena, but other equally complex areas seem to have developed methods of encapsulating the essence of the core attributes of solutions in an easily digestible fashion. For example, the number of pixels for digital cameras and CPU speeds for computers are used to set expectations about the performance of electronic goods.

However in IT security, the only thing that is discernible is the woeful inadequacy of current Internet security industry product’s ability to thwart the ever growing cyber threats and attacks. Just about every internet security solution claims to be anti-malware or anti-phishing but what the heck does that really mean? In truth, not much it seems, for product claims of being anti-phishing or malware are about as effective in stopping these actual attacks as anti-war sentiments are in stopping wars.

Truth, in the context of security software involves first informing consumers in plain English, about the actual threats to security and privacy a given solution can actually thwart. Obtuse language saying your product is anti-something is truthful, but not a very explicit or easy to neither understand statement, nor can one readily and explicitly assess efficacy.

Moreover, it seems that IT security vendors seem to thrive on the one hand on espousing non-security metrics (our product runs the fastest of all other really slow products in our class) and on the other to imbue their solution with convincing sounding techno-speak that is unintelligible to even technically savvy readers.

On this point we would note that the mere exposition of the whiz-bang way in which something was done has very little to do with actual results Some of the biggest names in Internet and IT security products seem to routinely engage in these types of activities which obviously don’t serve the needs of users.

Honest disclosure is a much higher hurdle, as it requires noting the known and conceptually known threats that a given solution cannot effectively address. We at FN adamantly believe that the onus should be on security vendors to be honest about what their products can actually accomplish in regard to thwarting both real as well as conceptual threats.

Vendors need to be aware, or dare we say it, even “required” via regulation or any other suitable means to provide transparently honest disclosure, especially when it involves the protection of highly sensitive personally identifiable information and data, such as passwords, bank information and important files or content, such as intellectual property.

In short, we believe that the IT security industry has lost its focus on the critical inch of its purpose, namely to protect users and their data and instead has focused too much time, energy and attention on matters related to compliance as well as internal/input driven activities of questionable merit, like OS patching, which are at best very weak proxies for actual security results.

In our view, the lack of clear, transparent, truthful and honest disclosure is one of the leading causes for the sorry state of cyber insecurity today.  Vendors owe consumers the truth in plain English to help them ascertain the scope and limitations of certain products and solutions in order to create a set of easily understood comparable facts upon which consumers can make informed decisions.

Until then, caveat emptor!

[This article was written by Dave Lowenstein, the CEO of Federated Networks. The Tech Herald welcomes submitted content from vendors, as long as they remain product neutral. All submissions are subject to editing. Rebuttals to this article or other submissions can be delivered to [email protected] for consideration.]

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