Monday, 17 June 2013

How to feel cool, whether you're an "attacker" or a "defender"

...in which it is "scientifically" (if psychology is considered science) proven why attacking usually feels "cooler" and unqualified self-help advice is provided. No less.

A little on terms: attacking includes both finding vulnerabilities and creating exploits, defending - ensuring that "attackers" don't succeed.

"Cooler" here does not mean the media angle, or the pecking order inside the industry. Here I talk only about self-perception based on ability to achieve own goals.

I stumbled upon an article last year, while researching what motivation developers would have to write secure code (short summary of research results: very little). A Twitter conversation this morning gave me an idea that the same approach can be applied inside the infosec industry as well.

Here are some quotes from the article with their "infosec" interpretation:
...it matters how people frame their good intentions or goals.  
For instance, better performances are observed when people set themselves challenging, specific goals as compared with challenging but vague goals (so-called "do your best" goals). 
Let's see: "attackers" do have specific goals; "defenders" - maybe, it depends. In many organisations it is indeed "do your best".
This goal-specificity effect is based on feedback and self-monitoring advantages, as is also true for the goal-proximity effect (proximal goals lead to better performances than distal goals). 
Attackers' goals are usually closer in time: find a vulnerability in this software, get this exploit running. Defenders... their goals last as long as the company exists.
Goal attainment is also more likely when people frame their good intentions as learning goals (to learn how to perform a given task) rather than performance goals (to find out through task performance how capable one is) 
Not sure about this, looks the same for both "sides" to me - depends how you actually do your work. If your goal is "figure out how quick I can run Nessus (or Metasploit)", then it kind of sucks either way.
...or when they frame their intentions as promotion goals (focusing on the presence or absence of positive outcomes) rather than prevention goals (focusing on the presence or absence of negative outcomes)
This one is obvious - attackers' outcomes are usually positive, while defenders are stuck with "prevention".

Now what you can do if you think "defenders suck", and you're one of them?

Reframe your goals:

  1. Make them more specific,
  2. Closer in time (e.g. "we need to do X threat models in 3 months")
  3. Learn new stuff
  4. Stop being a "prevention specialist". Find positive outcomes to pursue.
I bet this can even get you a promotion.

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