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Beware the software security scare silly season

Don't let touts cloud your judgement

Reducing security risks from open source software

Open ... and Shut The software risk silly season is upon us again. Every so often a big trend washes over the industry, and soon afterwards well-intentioned people start telling us why we should be afraid to dip our toes into the water. Or perhaps they are not so well-intentioned...

Even as cloud computing takes off in the enterprise and Android takes top spot in mobile computing, we're now being told that both trends are hugely scary ... unless we can afford to pay to have someone fix the problems. Perhaps not surprisingly, those warning us in both situations have something to sell.

In the case of Android, which is apparently a malware-maker's dream, Google's open-source programs manager Chris DiBona has already gone on the defensive, arguing: "Virus companies are playing on your fears to try to sell you BS protection software for Android, RIM, and, iOS."

DiBona goes on to call virus companies like McAfee "charlatans and scammers," declaring mobile phones essentially safe territory for enterprises and consumers.

Perhaps. But given the importance and prevalence of mobile, it is also "BS" to suggest that no one need worry about malware, as DiBona seems to do. And while DiBona is quick to rush to the rescue of all the major mobile platforms, the reports I've seen - biased or not - point to Android as the primary security risk, not iOS or anything else.

So perhaps the suggestion that we look to motives goes both ways: security vendors are surely conflicted in warning us to buy malware protection, but Google is also conflicted in suggesting it's not necessary.

HP, however, is not content to warn people that their mobile phones may be at risk. HP is telling executives that they're sure to be fired. This is worth quoting:

You will be fired as a CIO if you don’t know where things are running. You will be fired if something goes down and you don’t know about it. If you are a CIO and some of your apps are running on Amazon and you don’t know about it then your costs are running out of control. If they are running a mission-critical app and it gets breached, you will get fired.

The punchline, of course, is that HP offers software that magically tracks and resolves each of these issues. So don't worry!

I'm guessing that most CIOs aren't worried, anyway. After all, they already went through similar FUD about open source. Remember that massive security threat? Just as open source was hitting its stride, firms like Black Duck (which years and a new CEO later has taken a much more positive approach) cropped up to tell CIOs of a terribly risky IP threat growing within their data centres, and how to solve it ("Buy our software!").

Some CIOs heeded the message and bought into this protection money business, but most either didn't know open source was rampant throughout their enterprise (and didn't get fired) or knew and allowed or encouraged it (and didn't get fired). The number of lawsuits launched over open source is very, very small in light of the Very Big Threat that such vendors used to sell to the media and in closed-door sales meetings.

Again, there is arguably some truth to this newest round of self-interested warnings. But for anyone concerned by such dire predictions on the security of their job or mobile phone, the US Watergate scandal furnishes some timeless advice: follow the money. If it leads back to a vendor, it's probably wise to verify the veracity of the message. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analyzing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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