<soapbox>While I can't disagree with this based on modern reality, I'm
increasingly hesitant to allow the conversation to bring in risk, since
it's almost complete garbage these days. Nobody really understands it,
nobody really does it very well (especially if we redact out financial
services and insurance - and even then, look what happened to Wall
Street risk models!), and more importantly, it's implemented so shoddily
that there's no real, reasonable way to actually demonstrate risk
remediation/reduction because talking about it means bringing in a whole
other range of discussions ("what is most important to the business?"
and "how are risk levels defined in business terms?" and "what role do
data and systems play in the business strategy?" and "how does data flow
into and out of the environment?" and so on). Anyway... the long-n-short
is this: let's stop fooling ourselves by pretending that risk has
anything to do with these conversations.</soapbox>

I think:
 - yes to prescriptive!
 - yes to legal/regulatory mandates!
 - caution: we need some sort of evolving maturity framework to which
the previous two points can be pegged!



On 2/2/10 4:32 PM, Arian J. Evans wrote:
> 100% agree with the first half of your response, Kevin. Here's what
> people ask and need:
> Strategic folks (VP, CxO) most frequently ask:
> + What do I do next? / What should we focus on next? (prescriptive)
> + How do we tell if we are reducing risk? (prescriptive guidance again)
> Initially they ask for descriptive information, but once they get
> going they need strategic prescriptions.
> Tactical folks tend to ask:
> + What should we fix first? (prescriptive)
> + What steps can I take to reduce XSS attack surface by 80%? (yes, a
> prescriptive blacklist can work here)
>  Implementation level folks ask:
> + What do I do about this specific attack/weakness?
> + How do I make my compensating control (WAF, IPS) block this specific attack?
> etc.
> BSIMM is probably useful for government agencies, or some large
> organizations. But the vast majority of clients I work with don't have
> the time or need or ability to take advantage of BSIMM. Nor should
> they. They don't need a software security group.
> They need a clear-cut tree of prescriptive guidelines that work in a
> measurable fashion. I agree and strongly empathize with Gary on many
> premises of his article - including that not many folks have metrics,
> and tend to have more faith and magic.
> But, as should be no surprise, I cateogrically disagree with the
> entire concluding paragraph of the article. Sadly it's just more faith
> and magic from Gary's end. We all can do better than that.
> There are other ways to gather and measure useful metrics easily
> without BSIMM. Black Box and Pen Test metrics, and Top(n) List metrics
> are metrics, and highly useful metrics. And definitely better than no
> metrics.
> Pragmatically, I think Ralph Nader fits better than Feynman for this 
> discussion.
> Nader's Top(n) lists and Bug Parades earned us many safer-society
> (cars, water, etc.) features over the last five decades.
> Feynman didn't change much in terms of business SOP.
> Good day then,
> ---
> Arian Evans
> capitalist marksman. eats animals.
> On Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 9:30 AM, Wall, Kevin <kevin.w...@qwest.com> wrote:
>> On Thu, 28 Jan 2010 10:34:30 -0500, Gary McGraw wrote:
>>> Among other things, David [Rice] and I discussed the difference between
>>> descriptive models like BSIMM and prescriptive models which purport to
>>> tell you what you should do.  I just wrote an article about that for
>>> informIT.  The title is
>>> "Cargo Cult Computer Security: Why we need more description and less
>>> prescription."
>>> http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=1562220
>> First, let me say that I have been the team lead of a small Software
>> Security Group (specifically, an Application Security team) at a
>> large telecom company for the past 11 years, so I am writing this from
>> an SSG practitioner's perspective.
>> Second, let me say that I appreciate descriptive holistic approaches to
>> security such as BSIMM and OWASP's OpenSAMM. I think they are much
>> needed, though seldom heeded.
>> Which brings me to my third point. In my 11 years of experience working
>> on this SSG, it is very rare that application development teams are
>> looking for a _descriptive_ approach. Almost always, they are
>> looking for a _prescriptive_ one. They want specific solutions
>> to specific problems, not some general formula to an approach that will
>> make them more secure. To those application development teams, something
>> like OWASP's ESAPI is much more valuable than something like BSIMM or
>> OpenSAMM. In fact, I you confirm that you BSIMM research would indicate that
>> many companies' SSGs have developed their own proprietary security APIs
>> for use by their application development teams. Therefore, to that end,
>> I would not say we need less _prescriptive_ and more _descriptive_
>> approaches. Both are useful and ideally should go together like hand and
>> glove. (To that end, I also ask that you overlook some of my somewhat
>> overzealous ESAPI developer colleagues who in the past made claims that
>> ESAPI was the greatest thing since sliced beer. While I am an ardent
>> ESAPI supporter and contributor, I proclaim it will *NOT* solve our pandemic
>> security issues alone, nor for the record will it solve world hunger. ;-)
>> I suspect that this apparent dichotomy in our perception of the
>> usefulness of the prescriptive vs. descriptive approaches is explained
>> in part by the different audiences with whom we associate. Hang out with
>> VPs, CSOs, and executive directors and they likely are looking for advice on
>> an SSDLC or broad direction to cover their specifically identified
>> security gaps. However, in the trenches--where my team works--they want
>> specifics. They ask us "How can you help us to eliminate our specific
>> XSS or CSRF issues?", "Can you provide us with a secure SSO solution
>> that is compliant with both corporate information security policies and
>> regulatory compliance?", etc. If our SSG were to hand them something like
>> BSIMM, they would come away telling their management that we didn't help
>> them at all.
>> This brings me to my fourth, and likely most controversial point. Despite
>> the interesting historical story about Feynman, I question whether BSIMM
>> is really "scientific" as the BSIMM community claims. I would contend
>> that we are only fooling ourselves if we claim otherwise. And while
>> BSIMM is a refreshing approach opposed to the traditional FUD modus
>> operandi taken by most security vendors hyping their security products,
>> I would argue that BSIMM is no more scientific than the those
>> who gather common quality metrics of counting defects/KLOC. Certainly
>> there is some correlation there, but cause and effect relationships
>> are far from obvious and seem to have little predictive accuracy.
>> Sure, BSIMM _looks_ scientific on the outside, but simply collecting
>> specific quantifiable data alone does not make something a scientific
>> endeavor.  Yes, it is a start, but we've been collecting quantifiable
>> data for decades on things like software defects and I would contend
>> BSIMM is no more scientific than those efforts. Is BSIMM moving in
>> the right direction? I think so. But BSIMM is no more scientific
>> than most of the other areas of computer "science".
>> To study something scientifically goes _beyond_ simply gathering
>> observable and measurable evidence. Not only does data needs to be
>> collected, but it also needs to be tested against a hypotheses that offers
>> a tentative *explanation* of the observed phenomena;
>> i.e., the hypotheses should offer some predictive value. Furthermore,
>> the steps of the experiment must be _repeatable_, not just by
>> those currently involved in the attempted scientific endeavor, but by
>> *anyone* who would care to repeat the experiment. If the
>> steps are not repeatable, then any predictive value of the study is lost.
>> While I am certainly not privy to the exact method used to arrive at the
>> BSIMM data (I have read through the "BSIMM Begin" survey, but have not
>> been involved in a full BSIMM assessment), I would contend that the
>> process is not repeatable to the necessary degree required by science.
>> In fact, I would claim in most organizations, you could take any group
>> of BSIMM interviewers and have them question different people in the
>> organization using the exact same questions and arrive at different results.
>> In fact, I am willing to bet that the different members of my Application
>> Security team who have all worked together for about 8 years would
>> answer a significant number of the BSIMM Begin survey questions quite
>> differently. (My explanation for this phenomena is the general observation
>> that if you ask a group of N engineers for their opinion on something,
>> they will almost certainly arrive at N+1 different opinions. ;-)
>> I commend the BSIMM sponsors and leadership of releasing BSIMM under
>> a Creative Commons license, but at the same time, I challenge them
>> to put forth additional information explaining their data collection
>> process and in particular, describing how it
>> avoids unintentional bias. (E.g., Are assessment participants choose at
>> random? By whom?  How do you know you have a representative sample of
>> a company? Etc.)
>> I also challenge BSIMM to show their data collection is repeatable by
>> others following their process. The published BSIMM Begin survey is a
>> good start, but information regarding the full assessment seems to be
>> lacking.
>> I challenge BSIMM to put forth their hypotheses, plainly stated.
>> In your InformIT article, you wrote:
>>    "Another distinct advantage that descriptive models have over
>>    prescriptive models is the ability to compare current observations
>>    with past observations."
>> In my opinion, comparison of observations from two companies is not
>> worth the paper that is printed on UNLESS we can extrapolate from
>> this data and make accurate predictions based on past findings. Therefore,
>> I also would challenge BSIMM to publicly make some specific predictions
>> using their model and collected data so that their hypotheses can be
>> tested independently by others.
>> Finally, while I would like, as you did, to blame our Computer Security /
>> software security's "Cargo Cult" mentality on "its relative youth as
>> a field", I believe there is something deeper going on here. For one,
>> computer science / IT / whatever you want to call this much broader
>> field has the same issue. And while computer "science" is young as
>> measured against most other scientific disciplines, it is by no means an
>> immature field. (As a discipline, it is much older than I, and trust me,
>> I am no spring chicken. :)
>> After observing this field for 30+ years (ouch!), I have concluded that we
>> have not matured into a science because as a discipline we *do NOT
>> really want to!*  We can't even decide if we want this study of computers
>> / information processing / etc. to be a "science", an "engineering
>> discipline", or a "craft". (And some even would like it to be an "art".)
>> Most of us--myself included--are too lazy to do the disciplined work
>> that true science requires, and that includes having enough guts to
>> challenge the academic culture and *demand* funding to do well-designed
>> scientific experiment in our discipline at our leading universities. IMO,
>> if we fail to do this, CS is doomed to always remain a science wannabe.
>> Some would say that because our broader field of study--whether you
>> call it Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Information Science,
>> whatever--is part science, part engineering, part craft, and part
>> something unique that humanity has never before encountered, attempts
>> to treat it as a science will not succeed. However, surely this does
>> not mean that we should not attempt to add some scientific rigor to
>> it as a discipline. To that end efforts such as BSIMM should be welcomed
>> by all.  But is also important for those who prefer _descriptive_ approaches
>> like BSIMM, to acknowledge the importance of _prescriptive_ approaches
>> such as ESAPI, WAFs, anti-malware software, etc. We truly need *both*
>> approaches to be successful.
>> Regards,
>> -kevin
>> ---
>> Kevin W. Wall           Qwest Information Technology, Inc.
>> kevin.w...@qwest.com    Phone: 614.215.4788
>> "It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students
>>  that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers
>>  they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration"
>>    - Edsger Dijkstra, How do we tell truths that matter?
>>      http://www.cs.utexas.edu/~EWD/transcriptions/EWD04xx/EWD498.html
>> This communication is the property of Qwest and may contain confidential or
>> privileged information. Unauthorized use of this communication is strictly
>> prohibited and may be unlawful.  If you have received this communication
>> in error, please immediately notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy
>> all copies of the communication and any attachments.
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Benjamin Tomhave, MS, CISSP
Blog: http://www.secureconsulting.net/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/falconsview
LI: http://www.linkedin.com/in/btomhave

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