There are no militant moderates. Moderates never stand out for having a crazy opinion or idea, moderates don’t pick fights with anyone they can. Moderates get the work done. We could look at the current political climate, how many moderate reasonable views get attention? Exactly. I’m not going to talk about politics, that dumpster fire doesn’t need any more attention than it’s already getting. I am however going to discuss a topic I’m calling “security moderates”, or the people who are doing the real security work. They are sane, reasonable, smart, and actually doing things that matter. You might be one, you might know one or two. If I was going to guess, they’re a pretty big group. And they get ignored quite a lot because they're too busy getting work done to put on a show.
I’m going to split existing security talent into some sort of spectrum. There’s nothing more fun than grouping people together in overly generalized ways. I’m going to use three groups. You have the old guard on one side (I dare not mention left or right lest the political types have a fit). This is the crowd I wrote about last week; The people who want to protect their existing empires. On the other side you have a lot of crazy untested ideas, many of which nobody knows if they work or not. Most of them won’t work, at best they're a distraction, at worst they are dangerous.
Then in the middle we have our moderates. This group is the vast majority of security practitioners. The old guard think these people are a bunch of idiots who can’t possibly know as much as they do. After all, 1999 was the high point of security! The new crazy ideas group thinks these people are wasting their time on old ideas, their new hip ideas are the future. Have you actually seen homomorphic end point at rest encryption antivirus? It’s totally the future!
Now here’s the real challenge. How many conferences and journals have papers about reasonable practices that work? None. They want sensational talks about the new and exciting future, or maybe just new and exciting. In a way I don’t blame them, new and exciting is, well, new and exciting. I also think this is doing a disservice to the people getting work done in many ways. Security has never been an industry that has made huge leaps driven by new technology. It’s been an industry that has slowly marched forward (not fast enough, but that’s another topic). Some industries see huge breakthroughs every now and then. Think about how relativity changed physics overnight. I won’t say security will never see such a breakthrough, but I think we would be foolish to hope for one. The reality is our progress is made slowly and methodically. This is why putting a huge focus on crazy new ideas isn’t helping, it’s distracting. How many of those new and crazy ideas from a year ago are even still ideas anymore? Not many.
What do we do about this sad state of affairs? We have to give the silent majority a voice. Anyone reading this has done something interesting and useful. In some way you’ve moved the industry forward, you may not realize it in all cases because it’s not sensational. You may not want to talk about it because you don’t think it’s important, or you don’t like talking, or you’re sick of the fringe players criticizing everything you do. The first thing you should do is think about what you’re doing that works. We all have little tricks we like to use that really make a difference.
Next write it down. This is harder than it sounds, but it’s important. Most of these ideas aren’t going to be full papers, but that’s OK. Industry changing ideas don’t really exist, small incremental change is what we need. It could be something simple like adding an extra step during application deployment or even adding a banned function to your banned.h file. The important part is explaining what you did, why you did it, and what the outcome was (even if it was a failure, sharing things that don’t work has value). Some ideas could be conference talks, but you still need to write things down to get talks accepted. Just writing it down isn’t enough though. If nobody ever sees your writing, you’re not really writing. Publish your writing somewhere, it’s never been easier to publish your work. Blogs are free, there are plenty of groups to find and interact with (reddit, forums, twitter, facebook). There is literally a security conference every day of the year. Find a venue, tell your story.
There are no militant moderates, this is a good thing. We have enough militants with agendas. What we need more than ever are reasonable and sane moderates with great ideas, making a difference every day. If the sane middle starts to work together. Things will get better, and we will see the change we need.
Have an idea how to do this, let me know. @joshbressers on Twitter