Hacked Opinions: The legalities of hacking – Feris Rifai

Feris Rifai, from Bay Dynamics, talks about hacking regulation and legislation

Bay Dynamics' Feris Rifai talks about hacking regulation and legislation with CSO in a series of topical discussions with industry leaders and experts.

Hacked Opinions is an ongoing series of Q&As with industry leaders and experts on a number of topics that impact the security community. The first set of discussions focused on disclosure and how pending regulation could impact it. Now, this second set of discussions will examine security research, security legislation, and the difficult decision of taking researchers to court.

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CSO encourages everyone to take part in the Hacked Opinions series. If you would like to participate, email Steve Ragan with your answers to the questions presented in this Q&A. The deadline is October 31, 2015. In addition, feel free to suggest topics for future consideration.

What do you think is the biggest misconception lawmakers have when it comes to cybersecurity?

Feris Rifai, CEO and co-founder at Bay Dynamics (FR): Lawmakers are still too narrowly focused on preventing attacks by protecting the perimeter.

For example, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) specifically relates to information sharing among private and government organizations that pertains to outside threats, attacks in progress from the outside and vulnerabilities. The act does not focus on preventing breaches from the inside. While blocking attacks from outsiders and securing the perimeter is important, criminals have found ways to get past those protections.

Lawmakers need to create a framework that allows for more visibility and exchange of intelligence within organizations and their third party vendors. You can’t stop what you can’t see.

What advice would you give to lawmakers considering legislation that would impact security research or development?

FR: Defending the perimeter is not enough anymore. Security researchers and experts need the government backing and green light to monitor and analyze what businesses’ insiders (including third party vendors) – the majority of whom are not doing anything maliciously – are doing on a daily basis.

If you could add one line to existing or pending legislation, with a focus on research, hacking, or other related security topic, what would it be?

FR: For CISA, lawmakers also need to include a section about creating a framework for collecting and sharing information between organizations and third party vendors.

Now, given what you've said, why is this one line so important to you?

FR: When partnering with third party vendors, organizations often go through a rigorous on boarding process looking at the vendors’ security ratings, having them sign contracts and fill out questionnaires about their security practices.

The problem is that these checks are done when they sign on, and then repeated annually for compliance reasons. The majority of the time organizations have little, if any, visibility into how their third party vendors are interacting with their data. It’s a security blind spot, which is why we continue to see so many breaches involving third party vendors.

We need a framework that opens the channel of visibility and communication between organizations and their third party vendors. That’s the best way to protect third party vendors and organizations from getting breached.

Do you think a company should resort to legal threats or intimidation to prevent a researcher from giving a talk or publishing their work? Why, or why not?

FR: I think companies and researchers have a shared responsibility to work together to help businesses strengthen their security. Businesses should have a platform or venue in place for researchers to share information about threats, vulnerabilities, etc. that need addressing before criminals exploit them.

If that venue is in place, then researchers should report their findings to companies, giving them an opportunity to make changes before they go public. If companies do not provide that type of venue for researchers or if researchers report vulnerability findings to companies and they do not take action to fix them, then that is irresponsible and the researcher should be able to publicly release their findings without facing legal threats or intimidation.

What types of data (attack data, threat intelligence, etc.) should organizations be sharing with the government? What should the government be sharing with the rest of us?

FR: Organizations and the government should be sharing information that is relevant to their respective parties. For example, organizations should share information such as indicators of compromise, attacks in progress, trends in the threat landscape and threat intelligence related to nation-state attacks.

The government should be sharing information such as indicators of compromise that may lead to an attack on those organizations, nation-state threats that could impact companies and any other threat intelligence that ties to direct attacks on businesses. The same goes for consumers.

If the government has information that could lead to an attack on consumers, especially if there are steps consumers can take to minimize their risk, then that information should be shared.

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