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Security firms must provide evidence to back their claims

Security firms increasingly appear to think that they can dish out information and expect people to believe it without bothering to provide any supporting evidence.

A classic example of this was demonstrated on Thursday when the security company Symantec issued a media release claiming that it had discovered evidence of a new wave of attacks targetting the energy sector in the US and Europe.

After saying that the attacks were being attempted through phishing emails sent to personnel in the energy sector and also through trying to attract such individuals to watering holes (infected websites), Symantec clammed up when asked to provide evidence of either method of attack.

iTWire asked for the content of an email and also the list of URLs; both requests were refused, the latter on the grounds that it was "confidential". I guess one had to just have faith in Symantec.

Spreading this kind of information, in an attempt to scare the bejesus out of ordinary consumers — who would not be scared if they knew that the electricity grid was likely to go down? — is a stock-in-trade for such companies.

snake oil

Rare individuals in the industry admit that the increasing number of actual attacks are a good thing from a marketing perspective; one such senior figure, Jon Oliver of Trend Micro, was candid enough to tell iTWire back in March that the increase in ransomware attacks was the best possible marketing tool for the cyber security industry.

Companies like Symantec seem to think that this is a matter of belief, akin to a religion, at a time when public confidence in the corporate sector could not be lower.

But as in the famous fable from Aesop, one can cry wolf only so many times before the warning is disregarded. It's high time that security companies come clean and provide evidence to back up their claims.

Many in the tech media may shrink from calling out this kind of behaviour. But have no fear, there are some among us who will go against the grain.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.