Analogies Keep Failing

[This was originally published on the OSVDB blog.]

One of the most often used, and later debated, analogies used for actions in the security/hacker industry is that of comparing port scanning to walking down a road checking doors and windows to see which are unlocked. This is fundamentally flawed because port scanning looks for open services that your computer is offering other people on the network. There is no expectation of ‘services’ offered when walking down a neighborhood street, regardless of checking doors and windows. A slightly better analogy would be walking down a street full of shops that have no power (no lights, no neon open signs) checking doors to see which are open.

Earlier today, someone (likely troll) on Full-Disclosure used an analogy i have heard before but didn’t give thought to. he tried to compare aspects of the vulnerability disclosure debate to other virtual events as well as the ‘real world’.

And while you might think these efforts are noble, the reality of the situation is simple – this is absolutely no different than a bunch of Russians with botnets, forcing businesses to comply with their demands if that business wishes to continue existing on the Internet.

Bad analogy #1. A vendor who writes code resulting in an exploitable flaw is at fault for doing so. A vendor who is taken offline due to bandwidth saturation attacks is not at fault.

When was the last time an auto manufacturer was humiliated publicly because their car windows can easily be broken and contents of the car stolen? When have chain manufacturers been chastised by the mass media for the existence of bolt cutters? What about the serious threat of hacksaws?

Bad analogy #2a. Breaking windows and cutting locks is better compared to your beloved Russians with botnets. Software can be written not to be vulnerable to well published attacks while still being practical and functional. Glass can not be designed to be unbreakable while still being practical (the cost associated with it isn’t). Locks can be designed fairly securely if they are heavy enough and well done (and costly), but chains suffer the same problem as windows.

Bad analogy #2b. When was the last time we saw a manufacturer give credit to the people who discovered the problem? You see a jeep vendor giving props to the thirty two people that had theirs tip over when it shouldn’t? Do you see the vendor give a timeline and coordinate disclosure with the news outlets? No.

In general, I find it amusing that security professionals spend so much time coming up with poor analogies to describe simple actions we should all be familiar with, that are already morally ambiguous to begin with.

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