The obsolescence of enterprise security was at the core of McAfee's talk this week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. The Target breach clearly showcased that you simply can't secure a company by trying to prevent unauthorized access, malware or any other internal or external security breach.
You have to step back and recognize that someone is going to break in and you must therefore focus on catching them before they can do any damage. This is a very different approach to security, and the lessons apply to both home and business and both electronic and physical security approaches. As an older woman who lives near me discovered this week when armed men pushed into her house and stole her safe, a perimeter approach to security is no longer adequate.
McAfee's presentation was so compelling it actually held my wife's interest because she could see how the lessons learned could be applied more broadly to personal defense.
McAfee argued it is in a war-like arms race, and its lead offering, which I spoke about last week (Threat Intelligence Exchange), is only the start of the first battle.
McAfee Agrees With Blackberry
One of the things I found fascinating about the talk by Mike Fey, McAfee's CTO, was how closely it aligned with what Blackberry has been saying about mobile devices for some time. You can't layer on security anymore. If you want security you have to design it in from the ground up.
If you layer it on, an attacker will just figure out a way to go under the security layer and render it useless. If you think of this in terms of the human body, security is kind of like what you do when someone has a severe immune deficiency. You put them in a bubble and hope nothing penetrates it. The reason we all don't live in bubbles is that our immune system is an integral part of our makeup.
We survive because our bodies have defenses built into them. These anti-bodies can fight a virus or illness that gets inside and can learn over time and immunize us for things that may not have even existed when we were born.
McAfee and Blackberry are on the same page and believe the only way to really get ahead of the security problem is to aggressively design systems that can successfully defend themselves, which is where McAfee is going as it starts working with Intel to make the processors part of the security solution and where Blackberry has been working to assure everything from its phones to its services are designed with security as a key element.
Applying Theory to Physical Security
Think of our homes, businesses, schools and government agencies. These structures are largely designed to make it hard for people to get in, but once people get inside the perimeter, defenses are pathetic. The mass killings on school campuses, that poor woman I mentioned above and even the Edward Snowden breach all showcased that perimeter security is not only inadequate for electronic defenses, it is inadequate for physical ones as well.
Schools and businesses should have trackers that identify people who don't belong or don't belong where they have gone. They should have microphones that pick the sounds of gunfire or a person screaming for help and automatically trigger a response much like a fire alarm does if it senses smoke or fire. As with electronic security, people need to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We need to report suspicious activity and know what to do if we find ourselves in the middle of a crime.
You can't simply rely on the police or electronic security anymore. We have to step up and empower people to help protect themselves and others around them.
And this isn't just for company campuses, as the attacks on Google and Apple employees here in California showcased (even Google customers have been attacked here), we need to think about what might happen should our employees be put at risk going to or from work. The world has changed. It is more hostile, and we need to change how we electronically and physically protect those things dear to us or accept becoming an ugly part of a bad statistic.
It's Time to Rethink Security
I think it is well past time we rethought both the physical and electronic methods we use to protect our firms and homes. McAfee/Intel's approach electronically makes a ton of sense to me, but it doesn't address physical security. The concept of an Arcology does, but even that may not go far enough and there are a number of efforts underway to rebuild our society into safer harbors using that concept.
What I'm suggesting, though, is that you take a moment and think about physical security and how well you are protected against a disgruntled armed attacker inside your firm or your home and what you and your people should do if that kind of attack happens on your watch. We tend to think in terms of physical or electronic protection, but we need to be thinking and instead.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.