Detection is much more important than prevention –Bruce Schneier

Reviewing Bruce Schneier’s 2004 book Secrets and Lies, much of which was written in 2000, reminds us of something really basic. You can’t just fix security. Security is a process, most of which is about knowing what’s going on. Detection is more important than prevention. To which I add that for detection we need comparable Internet-wide metrics on security performance so every organization can see what’s going on and will have incentive to do something about it because its customers and competitors can see, too. Sound familiar? That’s what is about.

Joe Zack posted in on Bastille Day, 14 July 2013, Secrets and Lies: Nine Years Later,

2. “Detection is much more important than prevention”

Schneier keeps coming back to this point. He had this epiphany in 1999 that “it is fundamentally impossible to prevent attacks” and “preventative countermeasures fail all the time.” Security is “about risk management, that the process of security was paramount, that detection and response was the real way to improve security.” (emphasis mine)

I had formerly thought of security as largely being about prevention. A year ago, if you have asked me about “InfoSec” I might have prattled on about firewalls, injection attacks, encryption and good passwords. That’s still important, but now I know that there’s a lot more to it.

Zack says he thinks Schneier was like Nostradamus for having such insight before NSA PRISM and even before Facebook. Sure, Bruce has always been ahead of his time. But that basic insight was not unique to him, and long predates 2004 or 2000. For example, I wrote in 2004:

Maybe what the Internet needs is more cooperative decentralization, and new means to achieve it.

I was referring specifically to an event back in 1996 when Bob Metcalfe ended up eating his hat because when he saw my data on Internet performance improving he had to admit the Internet wasn’t in danger of imminent collapse even though it wasn’t centrally run like AOL.

Decentralized cooperation is one of the founding principles of the Internet, and of the ARPANET before it, all the way back to 1969.

What we’ve been missing in the current Internet is sufficent transparency in the form of frequent, regular, comparable, Internet-wide metrics. Joe Zack is discouraged by Bruce Schneier’s insight. I’m encouraged by the reminder, because we have the means to get that missing transparency.