Why we cannot make things less secure

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A hospital in California is infected with ransomware, and forced to pay $17,000 to decrypt their own patient information. Ransomware ships with a legitimate Mac app and is remotely installed on people’s computers using the software’s auto-update mechanism. Remote administration tools are installed on people’s computers without their knowledge, and used to spy on them. Cars can be remotely controlled by hackers. Android malware steals people’s banking information. Since more and more information is stored online, identity theft is becoming easier, particularly because governmental and private databases containing personal information are regularly breached.

I could keep adding to this list, and literally never stop, because people are exploiting security problems in computer systems faster than I can type.

For the past 20 years, we’ve lived in a world where the Internet is ubiquitous, and more and more devices connect to it. At the same time, we’re still using computer systems, and an approach to security, that was largely designed for a threat model that did not include the Internet.

At the same time, computers, from the tiny smartphones in our pockets to huge data centers in far-away countries, contain more and more of our personal data.

It is to Apple’s great credit that, more than any other company, they have invested tremendous resources into making iOS an operating system that’s designed for a world in which the Internet exists.

All of this makes it particularly disheartening to see our own governments trying to undermine the work that goes into making us more secure. Not just with the lastest attacks on Apple, but also with previous actions (like the DMCA) that made security research harder, or even illegal, that targeted security researchers directly, and that made it much more difficult—sometimes impossible—for software companies to secure their products properly.

All of this doesn’t just have a direct negative impact on our security; it also has a chilling effect on future security research and development. Why should I invest any money into fixing security problems with my software, if it will just lead to trouble with the government?

We’re all vulnerable, since we’re still mostly using software designed for a pre-Internet era. There’s very little we can personally do to make ourselves more secure.

Instead of trying to fix this problem, our own governments are fighting to make us even less secure.

Clearly, this is not helping.

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