WithSecure Pours Energy into Making Software More Efficient
WithSecure has unveiled a mission to reduce software energy consumption, backing research on how users trade off energy consumption against performance and developing a test bench for measuring energy use, which it ultimately plans to make open source.
The Finnish cyber security firm has also kicked off discussions on establishing standards for measuring software power consumption with government agencies in Finland and across Europe, after establishing that there is little in the way of guidance currently.
Power consumption by backend infrastructure is a known problem. Data centers, for example, account for up to 1.3% of worldwide electricity consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. While this figure has stayed relatively stable in recent years, it excludes the impact of crypto mining, which accounts for almost half as much.
A report for the UK Parliament last year cited estimated that user devices consume more energy than networks and data centers combined.
Leszek Tasiemski, WithSecure’s vice president for product management, spoke at Sphere 2023 in Helsinki, saying that most of the firm’s own operations run in the cloud, which gives it good visibility into the resources it was using and their CO2 impact.
Most of the data centers it uses already run on renewable energy sources, he said, and it was already “optimizing the code as much as we can so that it performs less operations. Or it performs the same operations with a different approach or a different programming language or different libraries so that it results in less CPU cycles, less I/O operations.”
It is harder to have an impact on power consumption outside of the platforms it directly controls, says Tasiemski, but the firm is working to optimize the agent software its clients run on their systems.
The energy consumption of the WithSecure agent, which runs on clients’ devices, might be relatively small, but Tasiemski said, “This is where we have economies of scale. We have millions of devices out there.”
This would benefit the users, he said. “This is not for our direct benefit. It’s not our electricity bills, it’s not our heat to remove.” He added that, as for its own systems, lowering energy usage usually means better performance. “It’s not always black and white, but it’s related.”
The challenge is how to do this without compromising security. Users can vary settings in WithSecure’s profile editor, for example, how often scans are run. Optimizing or adjusting these could be used to reduce resource use. But this could also be dangerous if admins are so focused on energy reduction that they dial things back too far.
So it has kicked off research at Poland’s Poznan University of Technology to examine how general users and security pros are likely to visualize energy consumption versus risk appetite. “We are doing this research to see how we can, in a responsible way, show this information,” said Tasiemski.
Tasiemski said another problem is that there aren’t many standards for measuring energy consumption by software, so WithSecure intends to meet with government organizations and institutions to try to kickstart a conversation. There is no tangible work at present, either in Finland or the European Commission. He said there seems to be some work going on in France, so he is trying to contact the relevant organizations there.
“In the case of software, it’s incredibly hard to figure out common standards for energy efficiency. We have it for buildings. Buildings are also not the easiest thing to measure, so I think it can be done.”
He said there was no direct commercial object to this. “I absolutely don’t mind if somebody steals our idea. We do the research; it will be open to everybody. So if other companies would like to use it, yeah, go ahead.”
Likewise, he said, WithSecure has built a test bench for measuring energy usage of software. It has been using this since January to measure the power consumption of its ongoing agent releases by modeling typical user behavior. The goal is to establish a baseline against which it can measure progress in reducing consumption over time.
“I absolutely wouldn’t mind open sourcing that because this is not our core business, and it’s only for the greater good.” He said the biggest brake on making it open source so far is that it was still being tweaked and he wanted to be sure the documentation was good enough.
But ultimately, making such tools open source was the right thing to do, he said. “It doesn’t make sense if every company builds things like that on their own because it’s going to be built in a different way. Classical reinventing the wheel.” And that would be a waste of resources in itself.