By Rodney Gedda
Usability of security software is partly to blame for low protection
levels in many computers, according to international security experts.
In a panel session at this year's Australian Unix Users Group (AUUG)
conference in Melbourne yesterday, software security developers gave
reasons why the IT industry is still at the mercy of so many problems.
University of Auckland computer scientist Peter Gutmann said many
security standards were written 10 years ago and have mostly just been
tweaked since then.
"A lot of the security stuff is designed by crypto geeks [and] because
of a lack of usability, people can't apply them correctly," Gutmann
said, adding usability is just as important as "having a bunch of crypto
and let people figure it out from there".
Gutmann said the protocols were designed without usability and even if a
user-friendly GUI could be put over it, it is unlikely the original
developers would accept it.
"They would rather have 100 percent perfect software that's unusable
than 99 percent perfect software that is usable," he said.
OpenBSD developer Ryan McBride, who works on packet filter and IPSec
code, lashed out at intrusion detection systems, saying the technique
has no way of detecting whether a virus is attacking a network.
"I do IDS work in a Fortune 50 company and it's a case of 'oh look,
another box has a virus - go turn it off'," McBride said. "It's very
hard to automate turning things off in security."
McBride said IDS isn't the place to solve the problem, but inside the
University of NSW School of IT senior lecturer, Dr Lawrie Brown said
when looking at modern software, part of the problem is the enormous
body of un-safe software that people continue to use, which propagates
Brown said there is also a mindset within the general population that
computers are relatively new and people are unaccustomed to the
importance of information security.
German network security PhD student Tobias Eggendorfer seconded this by
saying end users are not educated to deal with security threats.
"It will take 20 to 30 years to educate people about computer security,"
he said. "You wouldn't give your house key to someone, so why do the
same with your password."
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