Hacked Opinions: The legalities of hacking – Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson talks about hacking regulation and legislation

Ben Johnson, from Bit9+Carbon Black, 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. This week CSO is posting the final submissions for the second set of discussions examining 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 have thoughts or suggestions for the third series of Hacked Opinions topics, or want to be included as a participant, feel free to email Steve Ragan directly.

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

Ben Johnson, Chief Security Strategist, Bit9+Carbon Black (BJ): That threat intelligence, or lack thereof, is the problem. The problem is our aging, poorly designed corporate infrastructures that are understaffed and often at the mercy of decision makers who don’t take security seriously.

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

BJ: Embrace security research and development, fund more initiatives to train cyber defenders, share best practices for monitoring events, and provide incentives for companies who conduct thorough, realistic security audits on a consistent basis. A second point is that compliance and security are two entirely different concepts - you can be compliant and have terrible security.

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?

BJ: I would add a line that gives schools funding for cyber security degrees as well as provides grants to citizens who want to become cyber defenders.

Now, given what you’ve said, why is this one line so import to you?

BJ: The lack of cyber security talent is becoming a national crisis. We are completely understaffed, and even when we fill seats, the individuals are often not at the level they need to be. Furthermore, most universities are still mostly focusing on computer science and not explicitly building significant cyber security degrees or concentrations. The threat is growing and yet our pool of talent is falling further and further behind.

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?

BJ: If a researcher is up front with a company, I think the company needs to applaud that researcher and embrace the opportunity to work together to make that device or software safer. Too often companies slap the researchers who are doing the right thing and that helps no one.

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?

BJ: The government should take the lead on sharing best practices, threat intelligence, and custom-developed defensive tools. Organizations should share relationship data, not just atomic pieces of information, and then the government should process that and supply any conclusions or useful processed intelligence back to anyone who wants it.

For example, the fact that a particular malicious application ran in my environment is useful, but showing what sites that application communicated with and what its behaviors were are invaluable. Finally, the root causes for day-to-day alerts are not shared enough - only the major breaches seem to have the resulting root cause shared with the wider community, and, even then, it’s not always disclosed.

From a human perspective, some teams are good at workflow and operationalizing responding to alerts and finding root cause. Many other organizations are not sure how they should structure their team, how they should build their security stack to enhance their team, and how they should be measuring their effectiveness. All of these lessons learned need to be shared much more bountifully.

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