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Anti-virus, Patching, Drugs and the Immune System

Anti-virus is a hotly debated control.  For some it is a very profitable business model, and for others it is a primary portion of their security environment.  In other circles pointing out faults and weaknesses in anti-virus controls has become a banner for a crusade.  All of this results in confusion of users who are using it to protect themselves against online threats, which makes all of us a little less secure.  I'd like to make the point that if we focused on the causes of our online illnesses, secure software development and patching, that this would go a long way to improving our trust in the online community.

Anti-virus, like drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies are good at one thing, treating known conditions effecting us.  In anti-virus' case this is known malware and viruses.   These treatments are still essential at treating these conditions, and investment in new treatments is also very important.

On the other hand secure coding, development practices and rapid patching of systems is like our immune system, its there to help us prevent the infections from occurring in the first place.  And just as doctors provide advice on avoiding situations and preventing conditions which would result in infection, security professional provide advice on improving processes around the management of our environments, and the behaviours of our users.

Unfortunately, like drugs, anti-virus products are promoted as being a cure-all by some vendors biased by the profits to be had in the sale of these products.  Doctors live by a code of ethics which prevents them from solely relying upon drug treatments  to treat, cure and prevent the conditions of their patients. Like doctors, we security professionals need to provide the best advice to our customers, and ensure that we recognize the clear differences between these controls, and recommend and apply the right amounts of prevention and treatment.

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