The Curmudgeon's Crystal Ball: security predictions for 2003

Never a dull moment

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SecurityFocus logo Opinion For better or for worse, 2003 will be an exciting year for information assurance professionals and for the Internet in general, particularly on the policy and technical fronts. As always, the phrase "never a dull moment" will apply to us involved in the security field, which will hopefully mean that we'll stay gainfully employed.

White House Cybersecurity Strategy

Perhaps the single greatest item to make security headlines (barring a major Internet attack) will be the upcoming public release of the White House Cybersecurity Strategy in its second and final - for now - form. Having seen a draft of the latest version, I'm pleased to report that it's more focussed and less sensational than its predecessor ( released last summer). It also appears to contain much more realistic aspirations and security guidelines than the first version.

The White House Cybersecurity team sought feedback on the first draft from industry and the public. To its credit, it paid attention to the comments received, as evidenced in this latest version. Knowing that for any national information security strategy to succeed requires further and regular cooperation between industry and government, and knowing that this draft facilitates such cooperation, I believe it will be the major policy item for 2003. Of course, this assumes that all involved parties back up their security rhetoric with visible and effective action.
Security professionals will continue their game of digital futility as they scramble from one problem to another.

Increased Encryption

There will be increasing resistance to the increasing breadth and invasiveness of electronic surveillance powers granted to law enforcement under the controversial USA-PATRIOT Act. A growing underground community will be working to develop easier-to-use encryption and privacy-enhancing software that the average user can implement. PGP and other high-end privacy applications will continue to be used by power users.

In light of the shadowy "war on terrorism", it's likely that government officials will try and brand such tools as "supportive of terrorism" and attempt to stigmatize them in the public eye. Such efforts will mirror previous federal efforts to stifle digital privacy, such as the failed attempt to outlaw PGP in the mid-1990s.


The Digital Millenium Copyright Act will become less of an anti-piracy legal mechanism and, as we're seeing now with the Lexmark case, will instead be used by large companies to ensure their marketplace dominance and force competitors out of business. Further, in light of the legal victories of Jon Johannsen and Dmitry Sklyarov, the courts and the public are more frequently realizing, and formally challenging, the lunacy of Hollywood's quest for domination of the digital environment. This will be a slow, arduous struggle. But it will be necessary to ensure the protection of freedom and innovation expected by consumers living in the Information Age. 2003 will be replete with DMCA-related stories making headlines around the world.

Corporate Security

Enterprises will continue paying lip service to information assurance. Unfortunately, they will continue to do nothing about it, as the prevailing sentiment amongst corporations is that securing systems detracts from profits instead of assuring them. As such, corporations will continue paying high-priced consultants to conduct vulnerability reviews, draft policies, and secure their systems while ignoring their recommendations on improving security.

Security of DNS Servers

Security of the Internet will continue to be a heated and highly politicized topic for 2003, as various special interests - governments, corporations, law firms, and ICANN, to name but a few - jockey to take control of securing critical DNS servers around the world. We'll see frequent references to the October 2001 attacks against several root servers as justification to make dramatic changes to how DNS works. While the ostensible motivation will be to improve the security of the Internet, the real objective will be to increase corporate profitability. Industry will lobby against the Internet community's easy and cost-effective proposals to improve DNS security, and will instead prolong the DNS security debate into 2004 and beyond, or until a pro-business solution is reached.


With regard to technical vulnerabilities, I'm wagering that while the aggregate number of Windows and *NIX vulnerabilities will remain a tight race, the term "Microsoft product" will continue to be synonymous with "buffer overflow" and other such programming goofs. As well, the contentious debate over the full disclosure of vulnerabilities will continue to rage amongst security stakeholders. And Apple will continue to understate the significant out-of-the-box security features Mac OSX provides. By doing so, they will continue to overlook a major benefit of their product, particularly as they continues to try to entice Windows users to switch over.

Allocating Responsibility for Security Unfortunately, the practice of avoiding responsibility for information assurance will remain the single largest obstacle to effective security. The latest version of the Cybersecurity Strategy includes no provisions for making the producers of security products accountable for the failures of their programs. This is most likely due to industry lobbying in Washington. As a result, vendors will still have neither mandated accountability nor real incentive to provide products that are not easily exploited or abused.

Until CIO is fired or the US government issues a public "threat warning" suggesting folks avoid a specific product for security reasons - both of which steps would encourage and enforce accountability on security managers and product vendors - the state of information assurance really won't change much for the better. Instead, it will be business as usual. Security professionals will continue to be engaged in their traditional game of digital futility as they scramble from one problem to another.

Of Course, That's Just My Opinion...

These are a few forecasts for 2003 gleaned from my curmudgeonly crystal ball over the holiday season. Some may indeed come true, while others may prove me wrong. All things considered, I'll wager that these predictions are more accurate than anything you'll get from Miss Cleo or any other per-minute psychic.

Still, I'm holding out optimism that we'll see real change for the better this year. But, as comedian Dennis Miller is fond of saying, "that's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

© SecurityFocus Online

Richard Forno is the coauthor of Incident Response (O'Reilly) and The Art of Information Warfare (Universal). He helped to establish the first incident response team for the U.S. House of Representatives, and is the former Chief Security Officer at Network Solutions. Richard is currently writing and consulting in the Washington, DC area.

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