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Let’s face it, enterprise information systems can be large, complex ecosystems that preclude anyone from completely understanding all aspects of them. Thirty years ago, a few endpoints were cobbled together on a single LAN and everyone marveled at how characters from one machine could show up on another (voila, email!). Back then, much of it was magic to the layman user. Turn the clock ahead and all those amazing functions are now taken for granted.
Likewise, healthcare evolved as an understanding of the complex system we know as the human body. From the application of primitive herbs (3000-4000 BC) through bloodletting and on to present day medicine, our ability to care for ourselves has become more effective as our knowledge of ourselves has expanded.
There are a number of powerful parallels between the evolution of healthcare and cybersecurity. There are five listed below, as well as a few thoughts on what this could mean for the future of cyber.
1. Infection to cure to resistance
Infection has been around since the beginning of mankind. It wasn’t until 1928 that a solution became available to treat it. Prior to that, the solution was to hope the patient survived the accompanying fever. For cyber defense, the solution to early infections was to erase everything and start all over. Now, like penicillin, we have technology that detects and fights infections so we don’t always need to restart from scratch. And, just like infections that are becoming antibiotic-resistant, forms of malware are becoming more difficult to identify and remediate.
2. Diet—from organic to buyer beware
Early humans ate what they could forage and kill. Everything was fresh and organic. The advent of processed foods brought with it an impact on our health that we are still analyzing. Cyber defense had a similar path. The early web was a treasure trove of information, fresh and informative. Over time we came to the realization that not everything online was true. We have revealed contaminated sources of information that have negatively impacted everything from hotel ratings to presidential elections. We have increasingly learned to be careful about what information we consume, and that process too is in its early stages.
3. Critical care—From hope & pray to a phone call away
Not too long ago, if you were struck with a serious illness, you dealt with it on your own. Watch and wait, hope and prayer were the main courses of action while maladies took their toll. In the developed world, advanced care is often just a 9-1-1 call and a short ambulance (or helicopter) ride away where there is access to a small army of highly trained experts. In the early cyber world, similarly, there was nowhere to go when a dead machine had to be resurrected. Today, cybersecurity incident response teams are often available on site, or a phone call away. These teams quarantine, remediate, and restore systems much like medical professionals can quickly tend to a wound or illness and get the patient stable.
4. An ounce of prevention
The healthcare industry has come to realize over the past 50 years that prevention is much more effective and cost-effective than cure. This is illustrated by the mainstream acceptance of things like mammograms and colonoscopies. Cyber defense has recently learned similar lessons. Even with the tidal wave of exciting new detection and remediation technology, most CISOs realize their best bang for the buck is executing a tight patch management and configuration control process.
5. Access to specialists
The town doctor has become a thing of the past, largely because the body of knowledge and expertise to master all aspects of medicine and the associated technologies is way too huge for any individual. Specialists have sprouted up in every corner of medicine, and more are emerging, as advances in medicine continue. The American Board of Medical Specialties lists 25 different certificates, each with up to 21 possible sub-specialties. Cyber defense has followed a similar trajectory. Specialties now exist in areas such as endpoint, network, database, mobile security, and more. Whether medical or cyber, the appropriate expert is an appointment away. Fortunately for all of us, cyber has not yet adopted the waiting room concept.
What could this mean for the future of cyber?
Since healthcare has been around a lot longer than cyber defense, perhaps there are lessons we can take advantage of as we move to make our cyber world more secure. Here are some thought-provoking prognostications.
Healthcare has made huge leaps in the area of genome-based medicine. We have developed the ability to decode our DNA. This may lead to the possibility of medicine, one day, being able to predict what diseases or disorders you may be susceptible to, enabling you to take precautions to potentially avoid those conditions. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a similar, predictive, solution-seeking system in the cyber defense world? Maybe one is currently being developed?
A healthy lifestyle wave has started that is unlikely to subside. This allows an individual to take control over their own personal health as much as possible. Perhaps a healthy cyber lifestyle becomes the first line of defense as individuals start to realize they are some of the biggest victims in most current forms of cyber crime. Sounds simple, but it is not that easy.
The parallels between healthcare and cyber seem too strong to ignore. It will be interesting to watch as these two sciences learn from each other over the next years.