The other day I hear someone mention that they were securing software that they didn’t even have the words for 5 years ago. That reminded me of how fast technology moves. Things that didn’t exist last year are vulnerable today, and the discovery of those things only happens faster as we invent weirder and weirder ways of reinventing the wheel.

The Myth of Perfection

A well known saying is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. We take that to mean that if we wait until a thing is perfect, we will never feel it is done enough and ready enough for the world. In Open Source technology we’re fond of releasing and iterating, accepting the lack of perfection and aiming instead for the minimum. What is ‘good enough’ to let people use our work and improve on it?

Perfection doesn’t exist. There is nothing on the planet that is perfect and there never will be. But accepting this doesn’t mean we allow imperfection and danger into our lives.

The Balance of Reality

Everyone screws up code, no matter how awesome a professional you are. Accept it 🙂

I said that nearly three years ago, and I’ve argued before that it’s okay to screw up. I really do believe that making mistakes isn’t a bad thing. But at the same time, many people understood that to mean I was alright with shipping code that I knew was bad. This is not at all the case.

If you know your code is bad or insecure, you fix it. Period. You don’t let things you know are bad out the door. But you do release things that work and perhaps lack all the features you want. There’s a difference between releasing bad code and releasing imperfect code.

The Attack of Security

To turn this on its ear a little, if someone comes up to you and says “This code is wrong, you should do this other thing.” then you have a choice. You can listen and believe them and study if they’re right and test it and fix it, or you can ignore it.

When someone you respect tells you those things, you’re inclined to believe them. But at the same time, your heart takes a hit because “this code is wrong” sounds a lot like “this code is bad.” And that sounds like “you wrote bad code” and that feels like “you’re a bad coder.”

That slope slipped right down, didn’t it? It’s a reality. It’s in our nature to take admonishments of our work as a personal attack, even if they are rarely meant that way. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve actually told someone they were a bad coder. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve told someone who wasn’t me that they’re a bad coder. I’ve certainly said it to myself a lot. I believe I’ve told one person directly that I thought they were a bad coder.

I don’t think they actually understood what I meant… Which says something.

The Shield of Arrogance

We are not psychic. If you are, please let me know who to bet on for the World Series. Being humans, and therefore fallible, we cannot be so arrogant as to presume we know all the possible ways our code might be vulnerable. Technology moves so fast that what looks safe today may turn out to be terrible dangerous tomorrow.

Knowing this, knowing we are imperfect, we know that our fellow humans are also imperfect. The greatest danger to our security is ourselves. And that means, as developer writing code to be used by others, it’s incumbent upon ourselves to protect our fellow humans from innocent mistakes.

You are not psychic

You don’t know what will be insecure next. You can’t. So secure your code as best you can and secure it better if people point out your shortcomings. Learn. Improve. Protect.

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Comments

  1. [some guy on Twitter] once said: software being “done” is like lawn being “mowed”.

    Also, I never cease to be surprised by how some people use software I’ve written. You just can’t pin down the ingenuity of humans, it keeps moving.

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