Monday, December 31, 2012

formula for the future

while reading over some of the prediction-posts that tend to spring up towards the end of the year it struck me that many of these predictions follow from pretty basic axioms. sometimes they're particular to the malware world but other times they're even more general and are simply combined with a malware concept to make a malware prediction. at any rate, i thought perhaps i should point out some of these things and help prediction-makers in the future, as well as to offer a different perspective on predictions of these types.

  • the end of something as we know it - the only constant is change, you can never step into the same river twice (because having stepped in it the first time changed it), etc, etc. things are always different in the future than they were in the past. note that the prediction is rarely about the end of something but rather the end of something as we know it. all that means is that that something is going to change in a way that some people will consider significant.
  • the dynamic equilibrium between focusing on software exploits and social engineering will continue to be dynamic - when exploits are hard to come by the bad guys will focus on social engineering to get the job done, because it is a job and they want to get paid. when exploits are easy to come by, focus on using them will increase because it's easier to fool an automaton consistently than it is to fool people consistently.
  • software that has been popular to exploit in the past will continue to be popular to exploit in the future - bad guys will continue to focus on many of the same pieces of software because that's what their victims use and because they've had so much success there in the past. it's where the money is. good guys will continue to focus on many of the same pieces of software because that's what many people use and thus where the greatest impact can be made. in essence, so long as frequently exploited software remains popular among users it will continue to be a valuable target.
  • we will learn more things about more things because of attacks - attacks are generally disruptive in one way or another. even if it's an attack that simply compromises confidentiality rather than availability, it still disrupts the process of using a system or service even if the system or service isn't itself disrupted. disruption has a tendency to highlight things that we would never have known if everything continued to run smoothly and the disruption had never taken place. disruption gives us an indirect view into things that might otherwise remain opaque.
  • trends that are increasing will continue to increase, trends that are decreasing will continue to decrease - inflection points are rare. if they weren't it would be much more difficult to recognize trends in the first place. as a corollary, emerging trends will go mainstream. 
  • the world is increasingly being made out of computers, and as new marriages of old-tech and computers become mainstream the resulting new-tech will become a target for attack - everything new opens up new possibilities for attack, and everything that is made new by sticking a computer in it opens up new possibilities for attacking that computer. furthermore, the more popular something is, the more profit can be had by attacking it, and so the more tempting a target it becomes.
  • people will grow tired of defending themselves the same way they always have and try to find new alternatives - it is a quirk of human nature that we are always looking for new things. it is also true that we are largely unsatisfied with our current defensive capabilities (for whatever reason).
  • new defenses will be developed to ward off new attacks and those defenses will be met with new offensive countermeasures - this is just the same offensive vs. defensive cat and mouse game that it's always been and always will be.
  • new platforms will offer promise and seem secure, until they stop - figuring out how to successfully attack something without a lot of prior knowledge is difficult and time consuming, but it eventually happens, and the more it happens the faster additional attacks can be formulated until eventually we recognize that the platform wasn't the promised land we had hoped for.
  • everything old will become new again - over time, as new people shift into a population and old people shift out, that population will collectively forget the past. at least for a while until someone figures out how to do new things using old concepts and then a renaissance occurs. we've already seen that occur with stealth, as well as boot sector infection/modification.
if you see the shadow of a prediction you've made in the list above, congratulations, you probably made a formulaic prediction. don't feel bad, you get better results using a formula than by trying to pluck the future out of thin air.