What's Bruce Schneier Doing at Co3?

When incident response software maker Co3 announced earlier this month that Bruce Schneier was joining the company as its first CTO, some observers might have wondered: Huh?

Why would an internationally known thinker on security issues leave a gig as chief security technology officer at a large telecom like BT to serve as CTO of a much smaller software company? Well, the answer is pretty basic. He sees the company offering a product the security and privacy communities desperately need.

“What I see of value is a way to coordinate incident response, which is lacking,” he said in an interview with The Privacy Advisor. He said most of what we see in the media when privacy breaches are reported is “how to mess up incident response” because “the fundamental problem of any emergency response system is that you only use it in an emergency, which means you mess it up… Any time you can either drill, which is hard, or offload command and control responsibilities, which is easier, you’re going to do better.”

At its core, the latter is what Co3’s software is designed to do, Schneier said. “It’s a system that allows people to deal with an emergency situation without screwing up, and that’s really valuable and important.”

And the likelihood of a screw up is only increasing, he argued. Attacks are getting more sophisticated, which makes responding more difficult. The legal environment is changing almost constantly, leaving companies sometimes unsure of their responsibilities in different jurisdictions. Then you’ve got the specter of increasing class-action lawsuits looming once the incident has been resolved, which increases the value of good documentation and process.

“If there’s a privacy breach, there might be 13 things you have to do,” Schneier said. “Wouldn’t it be great if a system automated those things and collected responses, so you know they’re done?”

Whether you think of it as command-and-control software, project management software or, as Schneier calls it, coordination software, what Co3 does, he said, is make incident response more a part of day-to-day operations—so it’s less of a fire drill when incidents happen—and better coordinate everyone involved so that when true emergencies happen, there’s less chance for error.

For example, “You’re used to talking on the network, which is under attack,” he said, “and this gives an offline way to communicate.” But, if you haven’t practiced using that offline mode of communication, it can be especially foreign when you try to use it during an emergency. In the security industry, there is the idea of red-teaming or stress-testing, essentially testing people and systems without letting them know ahead of time. Schneier sees this idea moving into privacy, and Co3 is ready to help.

“And once you build that response capability,” he said, “you realize it’s not just for emergencies; it’s every day. It’s useful for mundane incidents. And when the real bad thing happens, you’re already familiar with what to do, because you know what to do, and you’ve done your testing.”

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.