Hacked Opinions: The legalities of hacking – Bob Stevens

Lookout's Bob Stevens talks about hacking regulation and legislation

Bob Stevens 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?

Bob Stevens, Vice President, Federal Systems, Lookout (BS): They’re trying to solve problems that existed in 2009, not the problems that plague us today.

Lawmakers have even admitted that CISA would not have prevented a Sony or OPM-scale attack. It’s like trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s technology - it doesn’t work. Likewise, lawmakers are forgetting new threat vectors that have emerged in recent years, such as mobile devices.

As the way people work and play continues to evolve, mobile devices will become more of a target because of the sensitive, valuable data they increasingly hold or have access to. I hope we don’t have to wait another 6 years for Congress to address this threat with prescriptive legislation.

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

BS: Security researchers should be embraced, not exiled. Laws that criminalize security research will put national security at risk because it’s these ethical hackers that can find and remediate problems before they are exploited.

We should be creating bug bounty programs and nurturing an environment where researchers are encouraged to work with industry to fix security issues. Of course, security researchers need to follow responsible disclosure process and companies and government need to be quick to address the security issues that are raised. To be fair, there isn’t yet a formalized standard for responsible disclosure and that is something that should be created to ensure a widely accepted process is followed by all.

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?

BS: I would add a government-wide policy related to mobile security. Today, there is no mandate that mobile devices in the government must have security protection on them and given that the way people work is changing, this needs to be solved soon. I would also ensure that this mandate has some teeth. To get the proper respect for mandates, there needs to be penalties for non-compliance.

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

BS: The cybersecurity practices, or lack thereof, of the federal government are under the microscope in the wake of the OPM hack. Yet, hardly anyone is scrutinizing the unsanctioned use of mobile devices that could be putting government data at risk.

Federal employees are using personal technology for work purposes whether BYOD is approved or not. And based on my experience, a significant number of them engage in behaviors that could put the device and, in turn, the data it contains or accesses at risk.

This includes behaviors such as rooting, jail-breaking, and side-loading applications, which involves installing applications from places other than official app stores, such as websites or links in email. As we evaluate the federal government’s cybersecurity practices, we must also take into account the increasing role mobile plays in today’s workplace and assess how to protect the sensitive data accessed by federal employees’ devices.

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?

BS: As I said before, security researchers should be embraced, not exiled. If the researcher followed responsible disclosure process then a company has an obligation to act on that information and not attempt to hide it from the public eye.

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?

BS: Today, the government expects one-sided behavior: they want the industry to share with them, but they do not reciprocate the sharing. This needs to change for industry to trust the government. They must be more open about the information that is shared.

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