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LASCON Interview: Nick Galbreath

IMG_1509Nick Galbreath (@ngalbreath) is VP of Engineering with client9, LLC.

What are you doing nowadays since leaving Etsy?

I am managing a small DevOps team for a company whose engineering team is based in Moscow, from Tokyo, Japan. Some other executives and our biggest customer is from there. And, I love Japan!

I know you from Velocity and the other DevOps conferences. Why are you here at a security conference?

I’ve been active at Black Hat, DEFCON, etc. as well as DevOps conferences. I’ve found that if your company is in operational chaos you don’t need security.  Once you have a good operational component and it’s not in chaos – standardized infrastructure, automation – you get up to the level where you can be effective at security.  I used the same approach at Etsy – I started there working on security, stopped, worked in infrastructure until that was basically squared away, and only then started working on security again. You have to work your way up Maslow’s hierarchy.

It’s the same with development. My background is originally development and when you’re programming in C/C++ your main effort is stability, but all those NPEs and other bugs are also security issues.  I don’t know any company doing well at security and not well at development, I’m not sure you can do it. Nail the basics and then the advanced topics are achievable.

What’s your opinion on how much the security space has left developers behind?

Look at the real core issues behind security. Dev teams have trouble with writing secure code, ops folks have problems with patching – at security conferences you don’t see anything for solving those problems.  Working on offense/breaking and blocking tools is lucrative but inhibits us from going after the root causes.

For many security pros, working in a team instead of solo is a different skill set. “We don’t want to bother the developers with this” – siloed approaches are killing us.

What do you see as the most interesting thing going on in the security landscape right now?

What has happened in the last 3-4 months, as much as I hate to say it, with all the leaking of documents – we’ve been lazy about encryption and privacy and other foundational elements and we assumed it worked, now we’re doing some healthy review to do a next generation of those. It brought that discussion to the forefront. The certificate authority problems, and the NSA stuff – we need to spend some time and think about this.  The next generation of SSL and certificate transparency are very interesting.

In terms of pure language work… Improvement of cryptography. Also, we’re making more business level APIs for common problems like PHP5’d password hashing APIs.  If your’e building a Web app and need auth you’re starting from zero most of the time and now you’re starting to see things put into the languages that solve these problems.

Out in the larger DevOpsey world, what are the things to watch, what is your team excited about?

Stuff that we’re excited about is traditional devops stuff like really treating our infrastructure like code.  No button clicking, infrastructure completely specified in config files in source control, code reviews, and then the file pushed to production to allocate/deallocate hardware and deploy software.  That’s a big change.

How do we disseminate best practices/prevent worst practices through those who aren’t the technical “1%?”

Well, best practices are harder

People went into server programming because they don’t like doing user interface stuff. But the joke’s on us, there is still a user interface, it’s configuration files, installers, etc. which are nontrivial. We should either be bundling audit software or server-side config healthchecks to provide warnings. “Why do you have SSL v2 enabled?” “Why are your .htaccess files visible by default?” [Ed: Where the hell did apache chkconfig go?]

People in ops can write these but retroactively folks won’t use them… But the future can have them.  If you at least get warned that your Apache config is using suboptimal security configs it’s your deliberate negligence to not do it right.

Maybe take the module approach (Apache wouldn’t want it in their core I’m sure) – if you want to work on it give me a call!

What message do you want to send to other security folks?

For security people, the message is, “It’s really important you start bringing your  non-security friends to these security conferences.” Devs and ops and business and QA. They’ll find it interesting and get involved. It’s really important.

Last year, we had a dozen people from my company come out to AppSec. But except for me and our security team, they’re not back this year. There just wasn’t enough content to hold the interest of the devs. What can we do about that?

Really!  Interesting.  Maybe we need more of a proper dev track, with more things like Karthik’s talk.

A project I’ve wanted to do for a very long time – most people in business and development don’t have  real idea of how much damage can be done, it’s why we have Red Teams. If someone’s really good at SQLi, etc. do a talk showing how much damage can be done.

Also – if you work at any company, you depend on an immense set of open source software and they don’t have a security person or anything.  Get involved in their process, try to help them and make it better and it’ll improve quality of everyone’s systems. We could do a hackathon during the convention to improve some existing projects.

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Filed under Conferences, DevOps, Security