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Q&A: Oracle's security head talks from the trenches

By Scarlet Pruitt
May 25, 2005 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - LONDON -- Although no longer in the U.S. Navy, Mary Ann Davidson has placed herself on the front lines of an escalating war. It's not a battle between nations, or over land or principle, but instead a fight over information -- perhaps yours.
As chief security officer at software vendor Oracle Corp., Davidson is in charge of making sure that customers' data stays safe. Even if you're not an Oracle customer, it's possible that some of your data is being stored in Oracle software.
With so much sensitive information to protect, Oracle has been working to diminish the number of vulnerabilities in its software while delivering fixes in a way that makes it easier for customers to manage them. But just as major software vendors like Oracle are ramping up their defenses, hackers, lured by the profit potential in selling data, are becoming more skilled at their attacks.
Amid the growing conflict, Davidson made a stop in London last week, where she discussed Oracle's plan of attack with the IDG News Service. The CSO talked not only about her latest defense -- software auditing -- but also about a little-known technology world where military history is used to plot strategy and security researchers roam like mercenaries. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
What can vendors do to make their software more secure? One of the problems I see is that communications software has poor auditability. There isn't a standard for data capture and the format that it's represented in. Industry won't solve this problem by itself so we have to get standards bodies like the National Institute of Standards for Technology to take this on, then all of a sudden industry would have something to work with. Governments and large procuring bodies could push this by making it a procurement requirement.
Why is auditing important? It's important for a lot of people from a regulatory standpoint to not only show they did the right thing but to prove it. And on the larger scale, I look at what the [U.S.] Defense Department is doing, and say 'look there's no way I can figure out what the bad guy is doing because there's no auditing records.'

Oracle chief security officer Mary Ann Davidson
Oracle chief security officer Mary Ann Davidson
You were an officer in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps. What strengths do you bring from that experience? I read a lot of military history and a lot of those lessons apply. One of my development teams thought I was insane recently when I asked them "OK, how did the Marines take Guadalcanal?:
Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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