Balance depth with economy of mechanism – Design Monday

Balance depth with economy of mechanism – Design Monday

We spend far too much time talking about defense in depth and far too little time talking about economy of mechanism.

As a design inspiration, look to Alfred Heineken. Not a designer, Heineken was a brewer and a businessman.  In the 1950s, modernizing the look of the Dutch brewing company, Heineken made two changes to the beer’s logo. He dropped the upper-casing and then, to be playful, he tilted the e until it resembled a smile. Simple.

Defense in depth suggests more controls and more tools are better. However, this complexity comes at a cost. In a study performed by Cisco, the number of vendor tools was directly correlated with the downtime from a security incident. Security teams using one vendor averaged four hours or less of downtime, while teams managing more than 50 averaged more than 17 hours of downtime.

I suspect the downtime is driven by the team’s confusion when responding to incidents. It fits my personal experience, and reminds me of what Donald A. Norman wrote in Living with Complexity. “Modern technology can be complex, but complexity by itself is neither good nor bad: it is confusion that is bad. Forget the complaints against complexity; instead, complain about confusion.”

Economy of mechanism suggests implementing the fewest controls and fewest tools to mount an adequate defense. We have a finite cognitive throughput from people doing the work and people securing the work. We have a finite budget. After we have the requirements and possible tooling options, ask how we can achieve the same results with less. Ask again, and again.

Find the letter e, tilt it a bit, and smile.

Heineken’s smiling e logo, photography by Heineken.

This article is part of a series on designing cyber security capabilities. To see other articles in the series, including a full list of design principles, click here.

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