[ISN] Security expert: Make vendors liable for bad code

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Thu Feb 15 2007 - 00:09:06 PST


By Todd R. Weiss
February 14, 2007

NEW YORK -- When U.S. courts ruled more than a decade ago that consumers 
weren't liable for fraudulent use of their credit card numbers after the 
first $50, credit card companies -- which were left holding the huge 
bill -- took notice and dove into fighting fraud and losses.

That's the same approach needed now in the software industry to help 
drastically improve IT security, according to Bruce Schneier, a security 
expert, author and CTO of Mountain View, Calif.-based enterprise 
security vendor BT Counterpane. Today's more secure credit card systems 
were "built because the credit card companies were forced to assume the 
liability for fraud," Schneier said today at the opening keynote of the 
first LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit held here this week. "The trick 
here is to align responsibilities with capabilities."

A major problem with IT security, he said, is that even as new software 
patches and other fixes are posted, not every company or home user 
installs them. Instead, many users, both at work and at home, aren't 
motivated to keep up with security because vulnerabilities are often 
unseen, leaving them unaware that they are risking their own operations 
-- and the larger global system of networks, Schneier said.

"I think things are getting worse, not better," he said.

To change that, the ultimate economic responsibility for better software 
should be moved directly to software makers, who can directly influence 
the creation of more secure applications, he said. "If there is 
liability, we'll pay more [for software], but at least we'll get better 
software out of it and things will improve," Schneier said.

A penalty system will ultimately result in a more secure global IT 
system through better-built and better-maintained products. "That's what 
I want to affect, and liabilities have a way of doing that," Schneier 

In his talk about the economics of IT security, Schneier said today's 
software development system lets software vendors sell products without 
any real responsibility for it once users begin working with it. That 
doesn't encourage software vendors to stay on top of security problems 
that arise, he said. The situation is similar to a company that dumps 
pollution into a river but doesn't worry about the problem because it's 
not directly affected by the pollution downstream, he said.

Scenarios like that "are all over [the] security [world] and a lot of 
security failures are due to them," Schneier said. If a third-party 
company loses someone's data in a breach, then that company can have 
little concern because the data loss wasn't ever suffered by a direct 

Those attitudes must change, he said. "We're living in a world where our 
security all depends on each other."

Every year, when Schneier visits his mother, he said, he cleans up her 
home computer and strips it of worms and other security problems. For 
her -- and other corporate and private users -- security is seen as 
mainly important to individuals, without an awareness of the 
interconnections between users. "I'm sorry to tell you, she really 
doesn't care about you," he said of his mom's lax home computer security 

By modifying the cost-benefit analysis and giving greater IT security 
responsibility to software companies through liability assignment, 
security can eventually be improved, he said. "All I need is for the 
cost of doing the bad [work] to increase. This is why I favor software 
liability because it raises the costs of bad software."

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