A Wicked Problem

A wicked problem is one that is difficult to even clearly describe because of its diffuse and interconnected nature, and this is a useful lens to view software security. How are we doing overall at software security? How do you even define the standard to measure against?

Vulnerabilities are commonplace in most commercial software and the CVE counts grow year over year, but that’s hardly an accurate metric for the state of the industry as a whole. Ransomware is huge these days, but is that a technology failing or just a powerful business model promoting attack for profit? Security updates of proprietary platforms rarely provide much detail at all, so how do we know what happened, much less how to improve? Software security is a wicked problem for all these reasons, and that makes getting a handle on it all the more difficult.

As my new book on the subject begins shipping, I’m thinking back on the writing process which helped me to glimpse the hard parts of the challenge. While I like to imagine that I have an intuitive idea about software and how it’s made from my years working in the industry, things change quickly and there is precious little public information. Who are the several million (in the US alone) writing code, what are they doing exactly, and are they competent at good security practices? I don’t think anyone really knows, so in the end I fell back on writing about what I know from personal experience. Keeping it as concise as possible, just that ran 300 pages.