Cybercrime- You Can’t Win Only With Defense

I picked up the ever-ubiquitous USA Today sitting in front of my hotel room door this morning and noticed an interesting article by Jon Swartz and Byron Acohido on cybercrime markets. (Full disclosure, I’ve served as a source for Jon in the past in other security articles). Stiennon over at Threat Chaos is also writing on it, as are a few others. About 2-3 years ago I started talking about the transition from experimentation to true cybercrime. It’s just one of those unfortunate natural evolutions- bad guys follow the money, then it takes them a little bit of time to refine their techniques and understand new technologies. I can guarantee that before banks started buying safes and storing cash in them, the only safecrackers were bored 13 year old pimply faced boys trying to impress girls. Or the guys who make the safes and spend all their time breaking the other guy’s stuff. Trust me, I have a history degree. We all know financial cybercrime is growing and increasingly organized. Unlike most of the FUD out there, the USA Today article discusses specific examples of operating criminal enterprises. Calling themselves “carders” or “credit card resellers” these organizations run the equivalent of an eBay for bad guys. And this is only one of the different kinds of criminal operations running on the web. We, as an industry, need to start dealing with these threats more proactively. We can’t win if all we do is play defense. I used to teach martial arts, and we’d sometimes run an exercise with our students where they’d pair of for sparring, but one person was only allowed to defend. No attacks, no counterattacks, blocking only. The only way you can win is if the other guy gets so tired they pass out. Not the best strategy. This is essentially how we treat security today. As businesses, government, and individuals we pile on layers and layers of defenses but we’re the ones who eventually collapse. We have to get it right every time. The bad guys only have to get it right once. Now I’m not advocating “active defenses” that take down bad guys when they attack. That’s vigilantism, and isn’t the kind of thing regular citizens or businesses should be getting into. Something like a tar pit might not be bad, but counterattacking is more than a little risky- we might be downing grandma’s computer by mistake. One of the best tools we have today is intelligence. We in the private sector can pass on all sorts of information to those in law enforcement and intelligence who can take more direct action. Sure, we provide some intelligence today, but we’re poorly organized with few established relationships. The New York Electronic Crimes Task Force is a great example of how this can work. One of the problems those of us on the private side often have with official channels is those channels are a black hole- we never know if they’re doing anything with the info we pass on. If we think they’re ignoring us we might go try and take down a site ourselves, not knowing we’re compromising an investigation in the process. Basically, none of this works if we don’t develop good, trusted relationships between governments and the private sector. When it comes to intelligence gathering we in the security community can also play a more active role, like those guys on Dateline tracking pedophiles and working with police directly to build cases and get the sickos off the street. Those of you on the vulnerability research side are especially suited for this kind of work- you have the skills and technical knowledge to dig deep into these organizations and sites, identify the channels, and provide information to shut them down. We just can’t win if all we do is block. While we’re always somewhat handcuffed by playing legal, we can do a heck of a lot more than we do today. It’s time to get active. But I want to know what you think… Share:

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McKeay’s Right- There’s Always Someone Smarter

Martin McKeay has a great addition to my post on experts. I’d like to add one point to this: There’s always going to be someone who knows more about the subject than you do. I don’t care how good you are, somewhere there’s someone who understands what you’re working on better than you do He’s right. Really right. I just want to know who the heck that guy at the end of the chain is. Probably some monk in the mountains with a metaphysical relationship to the OSI model. Share:

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Security and Risk Management Are Lovers; Don’t Mistake Them for Twins

I’m on the plane heading back home from Symposium and have to admit I noticed a really weird trend this week. Maybe not a trend per se, but something I haven’t heard before, and I heard it more than once. In two separate one on one meetings clients told me they’d reorganized their security teams and were now calling them “risk management”. No security anymore, just risk management. I’m a big proponent of risk management. I even wrote a framework before it was cool (the Gartner Simple Enterprise Risk Management framework if you want to look it up). Now all the kids are into it, but I get worried when any serious topic enters the world of glamorous trend. Usually it means anyone with a tambourine starts jumping on the bandwagon. Problem is, without a lead guitar, drummer, keyboardist, or even, god forbid, a bassist, there’s a lot of noise but they ain’t about to break out in a sudden rendition of Freebird. Probably. Not. Risk management is a tool used by security practitioners, and security is a powerful tool for risk management. If you catch me in a rare moment of spiritual honesty I’ll even admit that security is all risk management. I even often recommend that security report to a Chief Risk Officer (or your title-happy equivalent). Risk management is mitigating loss or the potential for loss. Security is one tool to reduce risk, and a good security team uses risk management as a technique for balancing the costs and benefits of security controls and deciding where to focus limited resources. (At this point I’d like credit for not expanding the innuendo of the title with some… uh… circular arguments. I’m not completely juvenile. Probably. Not.) But dropping the name “security” is just silly. Both security and risk management are established disciplines with related but different skills. Risk management plays the higher-level role of evaluating risk across the enterprise, helping business unite design risk controls, measuring exposures, and taking action when those exposures exceed tolerance. It’s a guiding role since risk managers will NEVER have the same depth of domain expertise as someone with years of experience in their particular business specialty. Security is one of those specialties (and notice I didn’t just say “information” security). Yes, good security professionals have strong risk management skills since nearly every security decision involves risk. That doesn’t mean we’re experts in all types of risk. It does mean we’re domain experts in ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of either IT systems (for us geeks) or the physical world (for us goons). It’s security. Don’t re-label it risk management. It’s okay to report to risk management, but it’s still security. Share:

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