The True Cause of Cybersecurity Failure and How to Fix It

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here. He starts with “Root Cause Analysis 101”

David A. Kruger

The classic line “I have a bad feeling about this” is repeated in every Star Wars movie. It’s become a meme for that uneasy feeling that as bad as things are now, they are about to get much worse. That’s an accurate portrayal of how many of us feel about cybersecurity. Our bad feeling has a sound empirical basis. Yearly cybersecurity losses and loss rates continually increase and never decrease despite annual US cybersecurity expenditures in the tens of billions of dollars and tens of millions of skilled cybersecurity man-hours. Cybersecurity’s record of continuously increasing failure should prompt thoughtful observers to ask questions like “Why are cybersecurity losses going up? Why isn’t cybersecurity technology reducing them? Are there things we don’t understand or are overlooking?”

That’s easy to answer: Of course, there are! After spending this much time, money, and brainpower on cybersecurity without managing to decrease losses, much less eliminating them, it’s painfully obvious something isn’t right.

This article explains what we get wrong about cybersecurity, how and why we get it wrong, and how to fix it. Fair warning: it’s a long and bumpy road. There a healthy dose of counterintuitive assertions, cybersecurity heresy, and toes stepped on, but at roads end you’ll know what the true cause of cybersecurity failure is and how to fix it.    

Part One – Cybersecurity Technology

The Heart of the Matter

When confronted with a chronic problem, we human beings are prone to err by trying solutions without first asking the right questions. We tend to ask, “How do we stop this now?” and fail to ask, “What’s causing this?” Then we are shocked when our fixes don’t last. This tendency is so common that safety engineers developed a formal analytical method called a root cause analysis to prevent this error. Root cause analysis is designed to find unidentified causes of recurring…