Enrique Salem

Today’s younger generation suffers from “continuous partial attention,” Symantec chief executive Enrique Salem said at a security conference today. And it’s going to take a new kind of firewall to protect us, he said; one that doesn’t just pay attention to what’s coming in, but what’s going out.

Salem is specifically concerned about protecting today’s “digital natives,” or individuals born after 1990, who have never experienced a time without smartphones. To leave home without a connected device for this generation is like leaving home without your wallet for the previous generation. They turn to YouTube and social networks for answers and will quickly take this method of problem solving into the workplace.

“Most digital natives don’t think about identity and security like we do; their identities are free and open,” Salem said, speaking on stage at the RSA conference in San Francisco. “The way they work, we can’t stop it.”

Enter the next generation firewall. For Salem, this will be a piece of software that looks at every piece of information leaving the company’s system. It will know who accessed the information, when it was accessed, where it went, and will report these details back to administrators. The software will have to look at each file, determining what it is, and whether or not that user is allowed to have it. It’s protecting a company’s trade secrets from the inside, as opposed to defending against the outside.

“You and I know what I just described is not an easy task,” said Salem. “[But] we need to reduce administrative burden.”

Some companies fear the mobile and social world, and have adopted “lock down” mindsets — blocking off all kinds of social communication in order to protect what is inside. But this method is insufficient. Digital natives always seem to find a way to connect. Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan recalled an elementary school, which blocked all chat functions in its facilities. A class of fourth graders decided to use a “collaborative document” — probably a Google Doc — that had a built-in chat feature. It was a double whammy. Not only did they look like they were doing work, but all the students were in one doc having an instant message conversation under the noses of the school board.

While ingenious, this still poses a problem. Digital natives don’t think of how easily accessible their content is, or realize that a shared document is just that: a shared document.

Marc Benioff“Security for us, the digital immigrants, we grew up in the Wild West of the Internet. We learned about carrying our own guns,” said Sullivan at RSA.

Because of this, Salem calls digital natives the “sledgehammer” of change. The task of building technology such as reverse-firewall, while difficult now, will never truly be a finished product either. Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff explained it as companies learning to become completely new organizations to address new and evolving threats in cyber space.

“We’re holding it all together, but it’s a highly dynamic and rapidly changing environment,” said Benioff at RSA. “There’s no finish line when it comes to security.”