There Should Need to Be Evidence That Security Measures Are Effective, Not Ineffective

When it comes to security advice for websites, there is a nearly endless supply. What there decidedly isn’t is an abundance of is testing or other evidence presented that the measures mentioned in that advice are effective.

That seems particular acute when it comes to advice to use paid security products and services, for which we have frequently see bold claims about their effectiveness in their marketing materials, but we have seen almost no evidence presented as to their effectiveness (when it has, it hasn’t been very reliable, for example, one company claimed to have had independent testing done, when the testing decidedly was not independent).

That brings us to a couple of recent comments on one of the posts on the blog for our Plugin Vulnerabilities service.

We had noted that a lot what is supposed to provide protection doesn’t actual do that and cited our testing to see if WordPress security plugins could protect against real vulnerabilities in other plugins:

A lot of what is portrayed as protecting, including a lot of security hardening, doesn’t actually provide any protection. There is even a term for that type of thing, security theater. That is part of the reason we started doing testing of security plugins against real vulnerabilities, to show what, if any, protection they provide. So far BulletProof Security hasn’t provided any, which is what brought this up in the first place.

The response we got to that was this:

This is a big claim and it is one you would need to back up with some proof, especially given that so many people rely on them to protect their websites. Please point me to articles which back these statements. As a typical web dev customer who spends time hardening sites, and promoting a secure WP service, I’m unconvinced about your claims.

This seems to us to be backwards, the onus should be on proving something actual provides protection. Just because a lot of people are doing something that doesn’t mean that is effective, especially since a lot of people are following advice from others that don’t actual have the experience needed to be a reliable source.

Now in reality we have also written plenty about this sort of thing from years ago when we wrote about how hiding the WordPress version isn’t an effective security measure (this seems to have dropped off as claimed important security step) to the currently very popular, but false, claims that there are a lot of attempts to brute force WordPress admin passwords (which are pushed by security companies that then tell you their product or service is the solution). That second item is also a good example of why evidence is important, because we were actually able to disprove the claim based on the evidence that security companies were presenting as supporting it.

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