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> Some might imagine it as eschewing heedless amateurism in favor of mature professionalism.

I don't fully understand what you're advocating, so I apologize if I am misinterpreting or mischaracterizing your position. But I can't imagine "mature professionalism" including berating or embarrassing another developer for creating a security hole. Some people do need that, but most don't. Many devs I've worked with are horrified when they find out they wrote in a vulnerability, and they try to grow and find out better ways. This is startup culture tho.

When I worked in enterprise type environments it was the opposite. There, you could send the dev a working exploit and most of them would groan and bitch about how "you security guys just want to tear things down and break things." I can understand being more of a dick in those situations, but I would still contend that's a venting of frustration more than a desire to actually teach. Most people just get defensive and put up walls when they feel attacked or embarrassed, and the learning is over at that point.




Berating someone is never helpful. Setting out to embarrass someone is never helpful. The goal should never be to blame someone. The goal should always to educate someone on what has happened, what exploits have been enabled, and how this could cause harm.

One issue is that full-throated encouragement coupled with suggestions of problems couched in uncertainty is the Dale Carnegie approach. I suspect you're using it now! It's well-suited to a great many situations, as documented in the man's seminal work.

Unfortunately, this suitability is not universal. It is fallible, and in security those failure can be quite dangerous. The Carnegie approach thus described makes it very easy for devs to notice the encouragement and ignore the suggestions of criticism. I have personally encountered this reaction in both open source and enterprise-y contexts, generally from developers who might be charitably described as highly enthusiastic. Including right here on HN!

I've also encountered the hostility you described in reaction to kind, generous, compassionate security reports of the sort you suggest. This has happened in open source, startup-type, and enterprise-y environments.

The key to what I'm advocating is this: you are not your code and the other person is not their code. Who wrote a vulnerability is not as important as that it exists. How it can be fixed, and how it can be prevented in the future, are what matter.

Professionalism means understanding the distinction between a craftsperson and what they have produced. It also means understanding the distinction between yourself and your work. It means understanding that ignorance isn't a character flaw, it's a temporary state of affairs that can be fixed.

It also means realizing that some who refuses to participate in fixing their technical ignorance is someone who is being unprofessional. Such a person might benefit from correction.


Ok, I think I understand your position better, and if so I agree.

> The Carnegie approach thus described makes it very easy for devs to notice the encouragement and ignore the suggestions of criticism.

This is definitely true, I've seen it too. Definitely something to watch out for.

I guess at the end of the day I think it comes down to "know your audience." Similar to the Principle of Least Privilege I like to follow (what I call) the Principle of Least Criticism. Don't use any more criticism than what is necessary, but (and I suspect this is where we will both agree) you need to use enough criticism that the person understands your point.


That's a wonderful idea! It's an ideal way to engage with people.

With that said there might be some significant limitations on the approach. The principle one is that it relies on knowing the individuals involved fairly well. This is easy in a close-knit and small startup environment! It could perhaps be more difficult in a sizable enterprise or open source context where you don't know the other party, don't have time to build a relationship, and/or can't rely on a long conversation to slowly build up to the least amount of criticism required. There's also the question of how to handle groups or meetings in which different people have different thresholds. When one person's minimum required might be someone else's excessive negativity and they're both in the room, there might not be a winning outcome with this approach.

Knowing your audience is an excellent and wise maxim to live by. It might not always be as simple to live by as could be hoped.


Wise words, I completely agree :-)

Thanks for the discussion




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