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At a Federal Trade Commission hearing on Wednesday, Malcolm Harkins, chief security and trust officer at Cylance, will pitch his pet idea: The government should hold companies that make security software — like his — accountable.

The big picture: Harkins is hoping the FTC will require companies to "disclose all of the controls that failed" during a breach — from the security flaws exploited by hackers to the security products that didn't capture them.

  • "Do what the FAA does. They report the primary cause of the problem, like a broken wheel, and all of the contributing factors that didn't stop it," Harkins told Codebook.

To be clear, this isn't the type of idea the FTC usually goes for. The FTC's regulatory powers are largely based on its mandate to fight unfair practices — in cybersecurity that means deceptive claims of privacy protection. It's not an IT advice shop.

  • "The FTC has historically been averse to specifying security measures or products that a company should employ," noted Julie O'Neill, former FTC staff attorney and current privacy and data security partner at Morrison & Foerster.
  • That doesn't make it any less interesting an idea for someone, somewhere to run with.

Why it matters: If Harkins' idea ever gets adopted, we'd know a lot more about blind spots in breach prevention.

  • Organizations typically use multiple security products designed to thwart breaches at different points in the process — one product may detect strange computers trying to log in, another might detect malicious code being run, and a third might detect data being stolen.
  • But when the public hears about breaches, while we might learn about the initial entryway into the network, we don't tend to hear about why none of those products halted the hackers' progress.
  • Harkins compared it to how the government intercedes when there's trouble with automobile parts. "Takata was crucified," he said of the airbag maker forced into a massive recall. "Why aren't we crucified?"

That doesn't mean breaches always result from problems with products. But a company whose product roster matches that of a breached competitor might want to know how that combination failed.

  • This would be a good way to identify less capable systems or show how to improve capable ones.
  • If companies have clear gaps in their security product systems, knowing their negligence would be exposed might motivate some action.

Security vendors would almost definitely push back against any such scheme, as has happened whenever Harkins has brought up his idea in the past.

  • Vendors argue that breaches that circumvent their products often happen thanks to factors beyond their control: misconfigured software, poorly trained IT staff, other user error.
  • Harkins has a different explanation for the resistance: "They're embarrassed about major breaches they didn't prevent. And they should be."

The bottom line: The security industry is not at a point where it's comfortable with the message that "even the best products staffed with the best people will occasionally fail" — nor is the public ready for that nuance.

Go deeper

Venezuela suspends talks with opposition after Maduro ally extradited to U.S.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, in June. Photo: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key ally of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. Saturday to face money laundering charges in Florida, Bloomberg first reported.

Why it matters: Venezuela's government called off negotiations with opposition officials that were scheduled for Sunday in Mexico in response to the extradition of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and financial fixer for Maduro.

4 hours ago - Health

5 times as many police officers have died from COVID as from guns since pandemic began

Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

COVID-19 is the leading cause of death for police officers even though members of law enforcement were among the first to be eligible to receive the vaccine, CNN reports, citing data from the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Why it matters: Nearly 476 police officers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, compared to the 93 deaths as a result of gunfire in the same time period, according to ODMP and CNN.

Virginia energy giant quietly boosts McAuliffe

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally on Oct. 15 in Henrico, Virginia. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe has sworn off money from the Richmond company Dominion Energy. But the utility has found more subtle ways to back McAuliffe's gubernatorial bid, records show.

Driving the news: Dominion's political action committee has donated $200,000 to a murky political group called Accountability Virginia PAC, a group with ties to prominent Democrats that's been running ads attacking Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin from the right.