Good comments.  It may be true that "older" technology is what today's Sr
Managers have the most familiarity with, however... In my opinion, it's not
that familiarity that we (or they) should rely on, in order to be
well-informed, and thus be making good security-related decisions. It's no
longer their job to be into the details of that technology, unless they are
the CTO (for example), and if they are into the details... That's actually a
red flag to me that they're likely *not* doing their actual job, today, as a
Sr. Manager.  [Slight rant: It *is* the responsibility of the management
team of the organization, overall, to be sure that information which is
critical to the organization be conveyed, abstracted or not, up and down the
layers of the entire omanagement and individual contributors... to
accomplish whatever organizational goals exist. (see more, below).]

If a Sr Manager was once familiar with COBOL (I chuckled at the recent COBOL
SC-L postings...), but the issues are now WinMobile and AJAX, then it's
really the responsibility of someone in the organzation to have synthesized
and presented  the security issues, opportunities, and costs as they relate
to WinMobile/AJAX/etc. to senior management as Business Issues. At other
layers in the organization, yes, there are Technology issues, concerns, joy
and grief... But not at the Executive levels, because that's not their

As an aside...since security means so many things to so many people, here is
a 4-layer model that I use with a lot of my customer to help position what
we do, in the "vast" landscape of security:

 1. Business/Mission objectives - what are "we" trying to accomplish?
 2. Systems Architecture - how is this being instantiated, in terms of
systems, communication, storage, etc?
 3. Security Architecture - what specific technology and processes are we
using to reduce risk, introduce control mechanisms, etc.
 4. Protection Technology - how do we lock down the #3, so it can be
resistant to attack, itself.

I've used this over and over again, in helping to frame discussions of what
"should" or "could" be done, so that they're not confusing.  For example, a
question of policy with a question of choice of technology selection.

A few days early, but Happy Thanksgiving, to all!

- James

James W. Stibbards
Sr. Director - Sales Engineering
Cloakware, Inc.
phone: 703-752-4836
cell: 571-232-7210

-----Original Message-----
On Behalf Of Benjamin Tomhave
Sent: Sunday, November 18, 2007 10:08 AM
To: Secure Coding
Subject: Re: [SC-L] OWASP Publicity

I agree and disagree with these comments, as I think they possibly represent
an outmoded way of thinking when it comes to IT management.
Execs and senior mgmt _must_ have a certain understanding of security that
will at least give them a basis for making risk decisions. It seems today
that they are fine (generally) making business risk decisions, but then
believe falsely that making an IT risk decision requires following a
completely different set of rules (when, in fact, it's just another kind of
business risk decision). I'm of the belief that this directly correlates to
their lack of fundamental understanding of IT and security issues.

Where I agree is the level of detail that needs to be imparted. OWASP Top 10
is probably too much detail to communicate to the average exec or sr
manager. However, we must not overlook that these business leaders were once
individual contributors. Yes, it's true that some of these folks came up
through a strictly business route, but for the most part these days I see
these careers originating in at least a semi-technical role. We should be
seeking to leverage those backgrounds to educate them and bring them to
modern times.

On Crispin's later comments about bad vs good managers, I think he's very
much hit the nail on the head (see the quote in my sig). However, there's
one aspect that's overlooked, which is outdated prior history.
If an executive's understanding of technology is founded in their first
contributions as an individual contributor 10-20 years ago, then this means
their understanding of modern technology may be severely limited.
I'm sure all of us understand how difficult it is to stay on top of current
trends as technology evolves, and it's often our job to do so.
What if it's not your job to keep current? The times will change while your
focus is elsewhere, but only a truly savvy person will think to check that
context before making decisions that affect it. This seems to be a rarity.

So, to conclude, I think that it would be valuable, in broad brush strokes,
to educate leaders about secure coding - and security in general - but
perhaps not to the level of detail we might really desire to see. We want
execs and sr managers to drive their folks toward secure coding practices,
but that doesn't mean they themselves have to know how to code securely. As
such, in targeting these other publications, the message should be refined
to be business-oriented, extolling the business risks associated with
ignoring these practices and providing a big arrow pointing in the direct of
orgs like OWASP.



Benjamin Tomhave, MS, CISSP

[ Random Quote: ]
"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will
scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will
refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which
affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept
it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this
Bertrand Russell

Crispin Cowan wrote:
> McGovern, James F (HTSC, IT) wrote:
>> I have observed an interesting behavior in that the vast majority of 
>> IT executives still haven't heard about the principles behind secure 
>> coding. My take says that we are publishing information in all the 
>> wrong places. IT executives don't really read ACM, IEEE or other the 
>> sporadic posting from bloggers but they do read CIO, Wall Street 
>> Journal and most importantly listen to each other.
>> What do folks on this list think about asking the magazines and 
>> newspapers to publish? I am willing to gather contact information of 
>> news reporters and others within the media if others are willing to 
>> amplify the call to action in terms of contacting them.
> The vast majority of IT executives are unfamiliar with all of the 
> principles of security, firewalls, coding, whatever.
> The important thing to understand is that such principles are below 
> their granularity; then are *right* to not care about such principles, 
> because they can't do anything about them. Their granularity of 
> decision making is which products to buy, which strategies to adopt, 
> which managers to hire and fire. Suppose they did understand the 
> principles of secure coding; how then would they use that to decide
between firewalls?
> Web servers? Application servers?
> If anything, the idea that needs to be pitched to IT executives is to 
> pay more attention to "quality" than to shiny buttons & features. But 
> there's the rub, what is "quality" and how can an IT executive measure it?
> I have lots of informal metrics that I use to measure quality, but 
> they largely amount to synthesized reputation capital, derived from 
> reading bugtraq and the like with respect to how many vulnerabilities 
> I see with respect to a given product, e.g. Qmail and Postifx are 
> extremely secure, Pidgin not so much :)
> But as soon as we formalize anything like this kind of metric, and get 
> executives to start buying according to it, then vendors start gaming 
> the system. They start developing aiming at getting the highest 
> whatever-metric score they can, rather than for actual quality. This 
> happens because metrics that approximate quality are always cheaper to 
> achieve than actual quality.
> This is a very, very hard problem, and sad to say, but pitching 
> articles articles on principles to executives won't solve it.
> Crispin
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