As a follow on to our last write up about an effective digital vaccine we thought it would be worth pointing out a few facts about a critical topic in the health arena. Soap. Yeah, soap. Before you stop reading let me break down what we have been getting wrong about something as simple as washing our hands during the Covid19 fiasco and detail how that applies to our digital space if we think about it differently.
Health bodies around the world recognize handwashing as one of the most important health care steps to prevent the spread of disease. Seriously, washing your hands effectively is noted as one of the most effective countermeasures to stopping the spread of viruses and diseases. The CDC estimates that about 30% of stomach illnesses and up to 20% of respiratory infections can be prevented through something as simple as handwashing: all you need is soap and water and 20 seconds of scrubbing.
Proper handwashing with soap and clean running water removes germs from the hands, it literally washes them away from your skin, which stops people from catching viruses when they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes, and prevents germs being spread on surfaces like door handles. And it stops you or someone else from spreading the virus or disease to others by touching or casual contact.
Antibacterial soap may seem like a more effective cleaning solution, and it is marketed as the “cure” for virus and disease spread but the reality is antibacterial soap is no better than regular soap at killing bacteria or viruses. And what the marketing forgets to remind us is that a virus is not a bacteria, so all the antibacterial chemicals in the universe won’t help kill a virus this way. To put it simply, anti-bacterial does not magically become anti-viral because it is being used to cleanse one’s hands for a viral infection.
Antibacterial soap also contains chemicals that destroy bacteria, but not necessarily viruses. Antibacterial soap contains chemicals not found in regular soap, which can react with the surface of bacterial cells, notice bacterial cells, not viral cells. That fact means that antibacterial soap doesn’t necessarily make it more effective. Really any soap can destroy bacteria and some viruses, but the most important “feature” of soap is that it helps to wash away the infectant. Dead or not a virus down the drain is a good thing. Some antibacterial soaps can technically kill germs, but that isn’t necessarily better. The fact that the germs have left our hands is enough.
What we should pay attention to here is that if we stick to regular soap and water, we reduce the risk of an infection. Overall, both the FDA and CDC have stated that antibacterial soap’s effectiveness at killing germs is unproven, and that it is no more effective than regular soap at removing germs, period. Though it may be tempting, don’t listen to the marketing ploys used by ‘antibacterial’ soaps. Just washing your hands frequently with regular soap and water is still the best way to remove viruses and bacteria.
Ok great, what does that have to do with cyber security. Well it’s pretty simple and clear when you think about it. Many security vendors market their solutions as a “cure” for cyber security flaws and the inherent technical problems that enable compromises. That’s marketing, not a fix. That is essentially “antibacterial digital soap”. It won’t magically fix the issues that we most commonly face in cyber security and those solutions won’t effectively eliminate the technical problems that are present in today’s computer systems. In other words we cant kill a digital virus when we are using a solution for digital bacteria, it wont work.
If that’s the case then what should we do. Well we need to digitally wash our hands more effectively. Simple, right. We need to use solutions that help us “wash away” the risk and flush it down the proverbial drain. By applying solutions that are vectored specifically to reduce the risk that is present because of technical misconfigurations and the inherent weaknesses that hackers exploit in systems we can do better and reduce our risk.
Just like in the physical world we must deal with threats to our digital health as effectively and simply as possible to ensure maximum survivability and a return on our efforts and expenses. Doing something as simple as using the right solutions that are vectored to the specifics of the threat and not just based on sexy “antibacterial” marketing is what makes the most sense and helps us collectively be more secure and digitally healthy.