Arthur Coviello

We focus too much on finding out who hacked us and not enough on using big data to protect ourselves from the hack in the first place, Arthur Coviello, security firm RSA’s executive chairman, said on stage today at the RSA conference in San Francisco. One of the main ways we can use data is sharing information about our hacks with other companies.

“Do we really need to see a smoking gun to know there’s a dead body on the floor?” Coviello asked the conference crowd. “Sure we should continue to work to out the perpetrators, but for the most part, we know who they are.”

In 2012, Coviello said, we collected one zettabyte of data. That’s the equivalent of 4.9 quadrillion books. But, according to IDC, only one percent of that is actually analyzed, and not all of that one percent can be used for security purposes. So much of a hacked company’s time and attention is spent on naming the attackers, and it makes sense. Everyone who has ever watched a cop show knows we want the culprit caught red-handed. But this can become a distraction from actually preventing attacks.

The way to start on the path to using this data, Coviello said, is for companies to share attack information with each other so that we can use big data and an understanding of attacks in our environments to prepare for the next ones. It’s a controversial idea, however. Companies don’t exactly jump to explain how people got into their systems. In fact, if customer information isn’t involved, an attack on a company may never be revealed.

There’s a movement, however, in that direction. Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter all revealed they were hacked in the last two weeks alone. Facebook and Twitter lead the pack, saying they know they weren’t the only ones and they wanted others to be aware of the attack. Whether these companies share information about the attack, however, is unknown. It’s those kinds of conversation that Coviello hopes we’ll start to see more of.

Arthur Coviello image via Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat