Friday, April 3, 2009

The Sky is Falling, When it Rains

We have come to distrust any doomsaying in the security industry. We can't identify an authoritative and impartial entity that can stand back and really make an assessment of risk. Claims about the cyber threat level resemble the Orange Threat Level at the airport - a distant flag of color, washed out behind the gate call and the long line at Starbucks. To an outsider, the latest threat reports published by security companies seem to be coat tailing on Conficker - a recycling furnace of self-fulfilling prophecy, the press thermometer following along, ticking up to the final doomsday hour when conficker went... fizzle pop. Conficker a bust. Move on, this is not the threat you're looking for.

From y2k to Al Qaeda threats on the Capital, the lack of materialization can lead us beyond healthy skepticism to a place where we conceptually disenfranchise threat intelligence as a whole. This is where we have to be careful and step softly in those dark woods beyond the campfire. Just because conficker didn't blow up the Internet does not mean it couldn't. If anything, conficker brought a lot of press attention to the problem of malware, and that is a Good Thing. When tens of millions of computers remained infected with a variant of conficker on April 1st and still today, we all need to understand that someone somewhere could have lit the flash powder. Conficker is old news. New variants of malware are released daily. In one discussion I heard upwards of fifty thousand new variants per 24 hour period (think autopacking on deployment). If conficker is truly controlled by the Russian Mafia, then blowing up the Internet serves no purpose for the their bottom line. Silent ongoing presence is what steals intellectual property and banking credentials; not DDOS, not software vulnerabilities that amount to sexed up access violations. Real attacks are about reliable access to money and information. The security industry can sometimes get caught up in stuff that really doesn't matter that much, while ignoring the threat that is right there, in front of your face, in your computer right now.