My concern is that public trust in vital infrastructures is being severely eroded. That public trust is the real victim of these attacks. If people and companies feel they can no longer use their systems securely, the trickle-down impact can be enormous. It's not likely something we'll notice immediately. The patching and such will be taken care of in an orderly manner. The trust erosion is something that will play out over time, and it can have a crippling effect on our systems. I hope I'm proved wrong on this.
Because of this, operators of public trust systems such as CAs have a greater burden of security that they simply must practice. Things like patch management, secure configurations and application security are considered to be important to normal companies, but they're even more important for systems involving the public trust.
As consumers of these products, we must not accept anything less than extreme care with these public trust systems. Failures there are costly in long-term ways. I've even seen some declarations of "the death of SSL" as a result of these recent attacks.
So what sorts of things should we ensure are in place with our public trust infrastructures? Certainly, they should all follow best-practice approaches in all their security processes and procedures. They should also undergo mandatory and detailed audits of their security. Personally, I want the results of those audits to be openly available.
Now, when I say "audits" in this context, I am talking about significant scrutiny, down to source-code analysis of the applications in use.
I know that much of what I'm saying here is already in place for registered CAs and such, but clearly there have been failures in the recent attacks I cite. I hope that in the response to these attacks the root causes of the failures are carefully studied and analyzed -- and the results become publicized so that we may all benefit from that knowledge.
We all want our systems to be sufficiently trustworthy so that we can put our most important business systems on the Internet. To continue to do that, our security infrastructures simply must be the best of the best. Failing to do that will exact a high price on the public trust -- one that the economies of the world shouldn't have to overcome in today's harsh climate. We must do better.
With more than 20 years in the information security field, Kenneth van Wyk has worked at Carnegie Mellon University's CERT/CC, the U.S. Deptartment of Defense, Para-Protect and others. He has published two books on information security and is working on a third. He is the president and principal consultant at KRvW Associates LLC in Alexandria, Va.
Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.