Presidential advisor slams software security

Software makers could eliminate most current security issues if they only tried harder, according to a Homeland Security advisor

An advisor to the US' Homeland Security Council has lashed out at software developers, arguing their failure to deliver secure code is responsible for most security threats.

Retired lieutenant general John Gordon, presidential assistant and advisor to the Homeland Security Council, used his keynote address at the RSA Security conference in San Francisco on Wednesday to question how much effort developers are putting into ensuring their code is watertight. "This is a problem for every company that writes software. It cannot be beyond our ability to learn how to write and distribute software with much higher standards of care and much reduced rate of errors and much reduced set of vulnerabilities," he said.

Gordon's keynote followed a day after that of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

According to Gordon, if developers could reduce the error and vulnerability rate by a factor of 10, it would "probably eliminate something like 90 percent of the current security threats and vulnerabilities.

"Once we start writing and deploying secure code, every other problem in cybersecurity is fundamentally more manageable as we close off possible points of attack," he said.

Gordon also criticised wireless network manufacturers for making encryption too difficult to deploy, even for "technically competent" users. He made the comments after explaining that he had spent a long weekend trying to set up a Wi-Fi network at his house.

"One manufacturer got to invest an entire man-day of tech support and about eight hours of telephone charges. At the end of the day, I still had not accomplished a successful installation," said Gordon, who eventually managed to get the network running by "taking some steps that were not in the documentation".

However, he said the documentation didn't make it clear how to secure his network: "The industry needs to make it easy for users like me -- who are reasonably technically competent -- to employ solid security features and not make it so tempting to simply ignore security."