Sniffen Packets

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Process isn't a problem; it's those darn engineers!

From a colleague working on the process side of accrediting computing systems for integration with big, secure networks:

I have rarely seen an instance in which vulnerabilities could not be closed or mitigated in some fashion, and rarely still was it that the [security accreditation] process truly held up the system for any significant period of time. I think it is more an excuse than anything else.

That’s right, it’s those lazy engineers! If they’d just get their act together and close the vulnerabilities in the first place, everything would work smoothly. So the next step is to condescend to them and admit that they’re trained to build functional systems, not manage all the risks involved in deploying and operating them—so we’ll have an iterative development process, continuing to let the engineers propose systems, have the security gods send back the offering with some vulnerabilities flagged, and repeat until it’s done or upper management intercedes and demands the system be fielded as-is, now.

That kind of eager processing makes sense in places where doing more work is free—some kinds of highly concurrent computing, for example. But it makes no sense when your working units are human beings whose morale must be maintained. The present C&A process is not humane. It’s too one-way: requirements go down, and eventually a product comes back up… with an associated cost.

The whole system can be constructed to minimize or manage the risks associated with any particular vulnerability. If you insist on burnishing each component until it shines, until no vulnerabilities or risks can be found, you’re going to necessarily delay the result and increase the cost. You may not even see a practical security benefit.

A postscript for some of those reading this: some systems do need to be built at the highest evaluation or protection levels, with formal methods proving their correctness at every step, and every possible error of design or implementation corrected. These situations are rare—and should be justified by pointing to enormous savings in mitigating some other risk. For example, bulk declassification systems might require detailed scrutiny. They compromise existing air-gap security measures, which save a fortune.