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Purdue University - Discovery Park
Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

Symposium Summary: Transitive Security & Standards Adoption Panel

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A panel summary by Jason Ortiz.

Panel Members:

  • Pascal Meunier, CERIAS, Purdue University
  • Tim Grance, NIST
  • Shimon Modi, Biometrics Standards, Performance and Assurance Laboratory, Purdue University
  • Rao Vasireddy, Alcatel-Lucent

There has been a lot of discussion recently surrounding the issue of standards and standard adoption. Many questions have been posed and openly debated in an attempt to find the correct formula for standards. When can a standard be considered a “good” standard, and when should that standard be adopted?

According to Dr. Pascal Meunier of Purdue University CERIAS, standard adoption should be based on what he calls transitive trust. Transitive trust indicates that an evaluation of the standard using criteria appropriate to the adopters has been done by an outside source. This ensures the standard applies to the adopter and that it has been evaluated or tested. Dr. Meunier says this allows for sound justification that a standard is appropriate. Unfortunately, most adoption and creation of standards are focused on assumptive trust, or simply knowing someone, somewhere did an evaluation.

Another concern surrounding the creation and adoption of standards raised during the panel discussion was, when standards interfere with economical development or technological progress, should they be adopted, even if they are well-tested, “good” standards? Tim Grance from NIST responded by saying as of right now, standards are mostly voluntary recommendations and they must be in accordance with economical and technological desires of industry in order for them to be widely adopted and widely accepted. There are very few punishments for not following standards and thus there must exist other motivation for industries to spend time and money implementing these standards.

Along with this, the audience posed a question surrounding the practical use of a standard. Even if a partner does decide to comply with a standard there is no easy method of ensuring they actually understand the standard or have the same interpretation of the standard as other partners. Simply establishing a mutual understanding of a standard within an industry poses another obstacle that requires time and resources.

As a result of this, “good” standards may never be used in practice if they are too costly to implement. Therefore, currently used standards may be out of date, flawed, or simply untested. This discussion lends itself to the question of which is better, a standard which is known to be flawed or no standard at all? There is no clear answer to this question, as there exists sufficient evidence supporting both sides.

An argument for the idea that a standard is better than no standard (even if it is a flawed or insecure standard) is that in this scenario, at least the flaw will be know, recognized and consistent throughout the industry. However, others point to the idea that this would actually be detrimental, as now any entity which has adopted the standard becomes vulnerable to the standard’s flaws as opposed to only a small number of industries.

It is clear that industries need standards to follow in many scenarios. However, the difficult questions include when a standard is needed, when a specific standard should be adopted versus when it could reasonably be adopted, and whether or not a flawed standard is better than no standard at all.

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