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Microsoft, Symantec Rethink Security Approach

If the traditional notion of infrastructure-based perimeter security is not yet dead, it's not for lack of effort by keynote speakers at this week's RSA Security conference.

If the traditional notion of infrastructure-based perimeter security is not yet dead, it's not for lack of effort by keynote speakers at this week's RSA Security conference.

Symantec Corp. Chief Executive Officer John Thompson echoed calls from RSA President Art Coviello for an information-based security paradigm. "The battleground for security no longer revolves around infrastructure," Thompson said. "It revolves around information."

The new approach would do away with security as a standalone industry or practice within an organization. Security is the business of business, and though technology should be used to implement and enforce policy, it's not an end in itself.

"We must rethink our approach to security," Thompson said.

To this end, the Cyber Security Industry Alliance and the Information Technology Association of America announced today that they are merging, a move that Thompson applauded as a step toward better integrating security into IT.

An example of that new paradigm is Microsoft, which has received plenty of criticism for not producing secure software. The company has instituted a Trustworthy Computing initiative with the goal of ensuring that its software is secure enough to be used for mission-critical applications. Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, said the company has now integrated interoperability into its Trustworthy Computing initiative to better enable the secure movement of data between applications.

Mundie, who spoke at this year's conference without Bill Gates on hand, acknowledged the need for Microsoft to cooperate with third parties to enable truly trustworthy computing because information is becoming increasingly voluminous, valuable and mobile.

"Today we all have cell phones, we have people carrying laptops everywhere," he said, and protecting data within the network is no longer adequate. "All of these things are changing the way bad guys are seeking to get at data."

Mundie also discussed the tension between security and privacy, and the need for better ways to manage users' identities. He outlined the requirements for what he called a trusted stack that could enable end-to-end trust: trusted devices, operating systems, applications, people and data.

Symantec's most recent Internet Security Threat Report, released today, shows that theft or loss of devices is the primary cause of data breaches and accounts for 57 percent of them. State, local and federal government agencies experience 20 percent of data breaches, but those breaches can be particularly damaging because they account for 60 percent of the identities exposed.

In one disturbing trend, 65 percent of software programs delivered to users in the last six months of 2007 contained malicious code. With that shift in balance, security in the future could depend more on using whitelists to allow trusted software rather than relying on blacklists to block untrustworthy applications, Thompson said.

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).

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