Because I'm all about the "good enough."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Looking logically at legislation.

There's a lot of fuss around the recent White House proposal to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and some level-headed analysis of it. There's also a lot of defensive and emotional reaction to it ("ZOMG we're going to be illegal!").

First of all, everyone take a deep breath. The reason why proposed changes are made public is to invite comment. This is a really good time to step up and give constructive feedback, not just say how much it sucks (although a large enough uproar will be taken into account anyway). Try assuming that nobody is "out to get you" -- assume that they're just trying to do the right thing, as you would want them to do for you. Put yourself in their shoes: if you had to figure out how to protect citizens and infrastructure against criminal "cyber" activity, and do it legally, how would you do it?

There's another really important point here, beyond the one that if you don't like it, suggest something more reasonable. Jen Ellis talks about the challenge of doing just that in her great post. And I agree with Jen that an intent-based approach may be the most likely avenue to pursue, although proving intent can be difficult. I'm looking forward to seeing concrete suggestions from others. As I've pointed out before, writing robust legislation or administrative rules is a lot like writing secure code: you have to check for all the use and abuse cases, plan for future additions, and make it all stand on top of legacy code that has been around for decades and isn't likely to change. We have plenty of security people who should be able to do this.

If they can't -- if there's no way to distinguish between security researchers and criminals in a way that allows us to prosecute the latter without hurting the former -- then maybe that's a sign that some people should rethink their vocations. (It also explains why society at large can't tell the difference, and doesn't like security researchers.) After a certain point, it's irrational to insist on your right to take actions just like a criminal, force other people to figure out the difference, and not suffer any consequences. If you want to continue to do what you're doing, step up and help solve the real problem.