The prospects of autonomous self-driving vehicles becoming a pervasive presence on our roadways seems more likely everyday. From the big automakers to Tesla to Google to Uber, a wide range of companies are investing a tremendous amount of money to create a world without carbon-based drivers. The motivation for a big payday abounds, but the hope is that this will be a huge boon to vehicle safety, and I believe it ultimately will be. As we have learned at hacker conferences, there are a lot of security concerns about self-driving cars that we need to solve, but that is not what I want to talk about here.
What I would like to do here is steal the term from the automotive industry and apply “Self Driving” to Information Security. What is Self-Driving Information Security? For me, this is an initiative to apply the ever growing power of computing to solve complex and fast changing information security problems dynamically and without human intervention. Do I believe we can eliminate humans from the information security industry? No, I don’t believe that is possible or desirable, and it certainly would make BlackHat a lot less fun. However, I think we need to rapidly take steps to push the envelope on where we can take the person out of the loop, simply because we are not going to have enough humans to go around and insert into every potential security problem space. In a world where we will soon have thousands of Internet connected devices for every person on Earth, it’s highly unlikely we will have enough information security professionals to go around to solve all of the resultant problems.
Automation is a very old idea that is present in every industry. In information technology, we seek to automate every repetitive task we can. But like in other industries, the explosion in compute power is causing us to explore automating ever more sophisticated tasks. It is no longer just assembly line robots, but advances in computing are taking on white collar jobs and in many cases doing a great job. Computers are diagnosing diseases more accurately than doctors. Computers are doing journalism and even taking on the legal profession.
Are you a skeptic in regards to computer encroachment on sophisticated and complex professions? One of the most seminal moments in computing history that impacted me was the chess contest between Garry Kasparov and IBM Deep Blue. Personally, I was rooting for the human until the bitter end. When Deep Blue ultimately defeated the world’s greatest chessmaster, I was in mourning for days. That was 20 years ago.
To be clear, Self-Driving Information Security will not be bereft of humans. Humans are the biggest part of information security today by any measure – clearly by the budgetary metric. I think we will continue to grow the overall number of people employed in the profession for the foreseeable future. The unpredictability of information security and its adversarial, logic-defying nature will require humans. But Self-Driving Information Security will gobble up the jobs we are doing today, and I am not quite sure what jobs we will be doing in the future. What I do know is, if we do not implement Self-Driving Information Security, we are going to drown in information and incidents.
What are some of the building blocks of Self-Driving Information Security? It is actually many things we are working on today, they just need to gain maturity:
DevSecOps. This idea of merging DevOps with Security Operations, enabled by cloud, is gaining in popularity with very diverse security teams. The ability to tear down and instantiate new computing systems, using “serverless” capabilities and applying some imagination is leading to automation of security process that can seem like magic to an old security guy like me.
Autonomics. The ability for computers be self-managing, self-healing, self-optimizing – self-EVERYTHING is important. A big part of how the Internet works today is through some levels of hierarchy and “command and control” systems. Clearly this model is going to break. I think about the apartment of the future with thousands of computers. Then I think about the bad guy that attacks the upstream link or servers. Or perhaps malware is injected into one of the apartment’s devices. In both cases, the nodes must not only be resilient and independent, but may need to collaborate and attack the infected device.
Blockchain. The distributed, immutable ledger technology that underpins Bitcoin is a favorite of VCs and the finance industry. I believe we are going to find a lot of applications for Bitcoin in information security. An authoritative, tamper-proof log of transactions which can be either public or private has fascinating implications. We can record any change in a very granular manner. I think about IT audit and having a record of all security control implementations, it can really change how that job is done.
Analytics. Data Science. The answers are in the data. If the data sets are large enough, if the quality is good enough and if the algorithms are well designed and speedy, we will find the security answers we are looking for. I believe our massive and inexpensive compute infrastructure is going to excel in finding the right answer to a new security problem
Artificial Intelligence. AI is certainly controversial, even trying to define it can cause fights. Many are terrified by AI and its potential threat to mankind. Some security solutions claim to use AI, others say that the current products are really employing machine learning. Closely related to analytics, having access to quality data is going to enable AI to make security decisions and take action before a human can blink.
In addition to all of these areas of focus, it is safe to assume that computing is going to get faster, cheaper and bigger at an ever-increasing pace. Quantum computing may be years away, but there are already serious efforts in government and industry to make a massive leap in computational speed. It’s also safe to assume that the bad guys will want to harness or exploit all of these trends for themselves.
The building blocks above will soon be assembled together into Self-Driving Information Security. It will be quite necessary for this to happen to manage our rapidly increasing compute universe. The jobs we know today will go away. I am convinced new jobs will replace them in greater numbers, but it may be messy. The paradox of automation is that humans will operate in a world with more layers of complex technical abstraction. We aren’t as intimately involved, but when we are needed, it is for more critical reasons.
At Cloud Security Alliance, we think it is important to be considering these trends now to be true to our mantra of “solving tomorrow’s problems today”. That’s why we have research in all of these areas happening in 2017. As always, our research is your research and we encourage you to join us.
Jim Reavis, Co-founder and CEO, Cloud Security Alliance
[Cloud Security Alliance Blog]