For Want of a Patch (& a Supply Chain)

December 8, 2014
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By John Scott

For Want of a Patch

For want of a patch the component was lost.

For want of a component the stack was lost.

For want of a stack the system was lost.

For want of a system the message was lost.

For want of a message the cyberbattle was lost.

For want of a battle the enterprise was lost.

And all for the want of a software patch.

As the old proverb reminds us, logistics is important: most battles are over before they’ve begun due to having or not having a solid logistics tail. During WW2 the Allies found out the hard way with the invasions of Africa: ships loaded incorrectly led to delays in material onto the beaches and towns, things like ammunition, fuel and medical supplies are needed before typewriters and tents. As subsequent amphibious invasions progressed (North Africa, Sicily, Italy) the military learned how to coordinate better the planning and ultimate loading and unloading of material and manpower to have the largest effect in the fight. These processes ultimately culminated with the successful massive invasion of Normandy to end the 3rd Riech’s hold on Europe. 

The key lesson was to view logistics in war as a continuous process that feeds a fast and continuously maneuvering Army. 

Cyberwar is no different and more closely follows the proverb: one unpatched line of code can leave an entire enterprise open to assault. Why? Accelerated use of software, more software dependencies on other pieces of software AND all that software is constantly in need of being updated. Current organizational processes to keep software updated can’t keep up with the change being generated by the outside world. 

Example: Amazon software deployments for May 2014 for production hosts and environments: 11.6 seconds is the mean time for deployments and 1,079 max deployment in one hour: how many military systems can claim that many deployed changes in a month? (Ref: Gene Kim, slide 23 I doubt any, but this is what the military (and modern enterprises like Sony) must prepare for: never ending change and updating on near random cycles.

More to the point: continual and unscheduled software patches are the landscape in this new maneuver environment. And since they can’t be planned for, organizations need to learn to evolve for change and deploy software and new capabilities continually. 

Software supply chain planning is no longer something that can be starved of funds. Malware, continuous monitoring, and network scanners can tell you which barn doors are open and that the horses are leaving, but leave enterprises with a massive punch list of fix it items. Funding, time and effort need to spent on the supply chain. It is the first true line of cyber-defense. 

Parting shot, question for CIOs/CTOs: Can you patch all of your systems in the next hour, using existing processes and not bypassing things? For most organizations the answer is no, OpenSSL patches (seriously!) get emailed around from dubious sources is akin to Mom mailing ammo to her son in a care box in Afghanistan.

For want of a message the cyberbattle was lost.

For want of a battle the enterprise was lost.

And all for the want of a software patch.