Security goes to the movies: Iron Man 2

How Hollywood's new blockbuster reflects today's security industry

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Art reflects reality

One of the more interesting threads of the Stark story is his personal growth. When he appears before the Senate committee early in the movie, he mocks the proceedings throughout. Not only does he hack the video feed, he also refuses to share his technology with the government.

Iron Man gets a partner: War Machine
Iron Man gets a partner: War Machine (© Paramount Pictures)

Stark tells the senators "you're welcome" because he has "privatized world peace" and insists that no one else in the world is anywhere close to duplicating his technology. Of course, he's proven wrong in short order, and as the film progresses he comes to realize he can't act alone.

This is an ongoing theme in the security industry. White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt constantly pushes the view that public-private partnerships are essential if we're to have any chance at achieving meaningful security.

Schmidt says the information security community is right to be spooked by massive, coordinated attacks that targeted Google and other large corporations in December 2009, and he believes the best defense against this sort of thing remains in the hands of the private sector -- with help from the government.

"You guys have been carrying the water," Schmidt told attendees at CSO Perspectives 2010 in April. The government can do a lot to improve the nation's cyberdefenses, he said, but ultimately, the key to warding off attacks like the one Google experienced remains private-sector vigilance. That doesn't mean the private sector can go it alone, which is why Schmidt's cybersecurity coordinator position was created last year.

Looking at this in reverse, the private sector needs to help save government from itself much of the time. Government agencies still make plenty of mistakes in their own IT security, just as the military in Iron Man 2 made a mess of things by doing business with a hack (pun intended) like Hammer.

Now, we're not suggesting that the producers of Iron Man 2 set out to make a mockumentary about the security industry as it exists today. But for anyone in the security business watching the film, it's impossible to avoid the comparisons.

On the positive side, if these comparisons are to be taken literally, the movie suggests that there's hope for the security industry. Stark learns that he can't act alone and must treat the government as more of a partner -- or at least there's a suggestion of this newfound attitude. And the message of the Hammer story line is that if you push junky security technology on the buyer, you will pay the price.

Ken Gagne is Computerworld's associate editor of community content. In his free time, he writes film reviews for Showbits. Follow Ken on Twitter at @IDGagne.

Bill Brenner is senior editor of CSOonline and CSO Magazine. He has covered the security industry for more than half a decade. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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