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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Bite Vulnerabilities Before They Bite You

April 1, 2007 — Firewalls are great if you’re worried about barbarians attacking your front gate. Intrusion detection systems are fine, if your goal is to see if unauthorized traffic is on your LAN; intrusion prevention systems work in conjunction with your firewall to block that unauthorized traffic.

Bah. Firewalls, IDS and IPS systems, as well as anti-virus solutions, spam filters, worm detectors — they’re all worthless, absolutely worthless, when it comes to attacking the real causes of software security failures. So, too, are checks against buffer overflows, cross-site scripting and SQL injection. While those vulnerabilities can trip up an unwary programmer, they’re easy to catch. Just about any static or dynamic code analyzer can find those problems. The real challenge is how to handle the most significant software security challenge of our time.


Yes, my fellow software architects, developers and test/QA professionals, the biggest threat to our software infrastructure, and the integrity of our data, is puppies. They look so cute, don’t they, with their lolling pink tongues, soft waggly ears and short little legs. They roll and play and want to be cuddled. But don’t be fooled. Puppies, those innocent little puppies, are placing your enterprise software in deadly peril… and your CEO, if the puppies start messing with your Sarbanes-Oxley systems. He’ll be going down the river… and you’ll be down there with him, if you don’t take action now.

Where did this insidious threat come from? It’s hard to know. Perhaps the first puppies merely wanted some fun; they wanted to show off in front of their litter mates. Nobody picks on the runt, you see, if he can erase breeding records with the click of a mouse. But then things got worse. Government agencies and their espionage programs. The military. Commercial interests. Terrorists and rogue states. They learned how to use puppies to bypass virtual private networks, routers, firewalls. How in the face of a determined puppy, even 256-bit AES encryption is about as effective as an old, battered squeaky toy. Buffer overflow exploits? Ha. Puppies sneer at your pathetic algorithms; you might as well not bother.

The puppy threat is years ahead of our technology. Check your Tivoli, your OpenView, your Unicenter TNG, even Microsoft’s MOM. Do any of them detect puppies? Not the latest versions, and not the current betas. Do they have any facilities for neutralizing the puppy threat, once detected? Not a chance. Microsoft Research, the T.J. Watson Laboratories — they’re hopeless. The experts at the Carnegie Mellon Computer Emergency Response Team are asleep at the switch. The Computer Security Institute doesn’t have a clue. Even the U.S. National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security lack contingency plans to protect our vital enterprise software from the puppy scourge.

You should pool your resources with the rest of the IT team. Gather up your LAN and WAN managers, end-user support teams, data center managers, test teams. Heck, even bring the code librarian. Get the CIO or CTO to bring the team together — there’s no time to lose! Check out the RSA Conference or the Software Security Summit, neither of which (surprise) have classes or tutorials on puppy threat management. Ask, no, demand that they address this issue immediately We need classes. We need patches. We need an action plan!

Puppies. This time, the rolled-up newspaper is not going to be enough. Let’s get to work, people, before it’s too late.

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