I've long been a fan of the CNBC series American Greed. To me, the series illustrates, through a series of true stories, how some people make the pursuit of money, wealth, and material things their sole goal in life. For the subjects of the series, no relationship is sacred, no bridge built on trust is safe, and no tactic is out of bounds. For most of us, it can be difficult to imagine how a person can get to such a place. And yet, it happens. Repeatedly.
In security, I think we can learn a powerful lesson from this. Sadly, I have noticed in recent years that our industry has been driven increasingly by greed, and decreasingly by a true passion to protect sensitive data and reduce risk. Of course, I understand that everyone needs to earn a living and that it takes money to make things happen. Even so, I firmly believe that we can make money while still staying true to our values as security professionals. But, as an industry, we need to be cautious. Here are six prominent examples of how greed is taking us further away from solving the problems we face:
Example 1: Conferences
To my knowledge, security conferences serve three main purposes: to allow for the constructive and professional exchange of knowledge, to enable professional networking, and to give enterprises and vendors a forum in which to interact and learn. Unfortunately, many, though not all, conferences seem to have forgotten these three points. Obscenely high entrance fees and exhibition fees for vendors keep all but the most established and mature of organizations from attending. Startups or a smaller vendor with a great idea and a great product or service? Too bad. Small or midsized business that could benefit from the conference but don't have a Fortune 500 conference budget? No room for you here. Very unfortunate.
Example 2: Vendors
As a vendor, I understand the need to keep the lights on. But customers can be sold a high-value solution without needing to deceive them or sell them additional line items that are not in their best interest. It's tempting to inflate the size of a deal for short-term gain, but in the long-term, customers become aware that you've done this, and this hurts us as an industry by lowering the level of trust between vendors and their customers.
Example 3: Relationships
There are many people in our industry who appreciate the value of relationships that are built on mutual trust and respect. But unfortunately, there are also people driven by primarily by greed. There is a saying that goes something like, "No one in Washington calls you for lunch unless they want something." If I, as a customer, think that you, as a vendor (or vice versa), only want to talk to me when there is something to gain, I will likely take your phone calls less often, or perhaps never. The reduction in open communication affects everyone — even those who don't approach relationships in this manner. Worse, it restricts the free flow of ideas.
Example 4: Investment
When I worked on the enterprise side, I often observed how a vendor's behavior would begin to change over time as its investors began to shuffle priorities and micromanage its behavior. Initially, the company might have seemed generally interested in understanding how it could help us address our operational requirements while we were doing business together. Later, investors would step in and set unrealistic numbers, throw in misaligned expectations, or shift the focus of the company toward maximizing short-term profit. Many times, this behavior cost promising companies their good reputations, community buy-in, and the collaborative spirit people offered them. In the end, nearly everyone lost.
Example 5: Innovation
Innovation takes resources and investment. The very same resources and investment add to the bottom line. Whether we're talking about an enterprise that is looking to innovate, a vendor that is well-established, or a startup, it takes an investment in time, energy, and money to innovate. The security profession benefits tremendously from innovation. But unfortunately, the greed that has crept into the profession in recent years has caused many of us in the industry to focus entirely on profit and margins without considering investments in products and services that will address the challenges of tomorrow. If we continue in this direction, we will soon encounter a whole new generation of problems that will put defenders at a big disadvantage against the attackers.
Example 6: Fresh Faces, New Ideas
We've all seen those memes where eerily similar people have by chance chosen to sit row after row on the same bus. While these memes make me laugh, they remind me about the same people I see over and over again at different events and forums. In many cases, these people are industry giants who teach us valuable lessons each time we see them. But in others, they are people whose visibility and check-writing abilities allow them to buy their way into the collective industry mindshare. Without fresh faces, new ideas, and renewed energy, our discourse quickly runs stale. And that is one of the main reasons, in my opinion, that we have been staring at the same unsolved problems for, in some cases, more than 20 years.