Hacked Opinions: The legalities of hacking – Sol Cates

Sol Cates, from Vormetric, talks about hacking regulation and legislation

Sol Cates 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?

Sol Cates, CEO, Vormetric (SC): The misconception that attackers can be kept out by traditional IT defenses.

It’s not a big surprise, as even IT professionals are having trouble absorbing that protection of an IT perimeter no longer protects an organization from attacks. Even the best protection at end points and network borders are less effective than in past.

With the removal of perimeters as a result of cloud computing technologies, and with attackers increasingly able to compromise the credentials and systems of organizations, these defenses are no longer enough by themselves. Attacks are increasingly able to penetrate perimeter defenses, compromise accounts, damage critical systems and mine data – in some cases without targets even being aware of the penetration until serious damage is done.

With so many groups intent on theft or causing harm using new techniques it’s critical that they understand this as a fundamental change. Those groups include criminals out to steal information for financial gain, nation-state attackers out to steal plans, formulas and secrets, hacktivists promoting their causes and terrorist hackers out to damage critical infrastructure.

Defense requires a layered approach, including traditional technologies like ant-virus, firewalls, network segmentation, and others but must also include wide usage of technologies less widely deployed like encryption, access controls, extended identity and access management, pattern recognition, threat recognition and others that will evolve as threats escalate.

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

SC: We’re rapidly entering a world where the most devastating national attacks and criminal actions will occur on-line. For the military, it’s as if we’ve introduced an entirely new battlefield and technology set, similar to the transition from single fire weapons to mechanized repeating rifles and armored artillery that happened post the U.S. Civil War and through World War I.

For commercial organizations like banks, it’s much like the introduction of dynamite and similar explosives – until they became widely available in the early 1800’s, good physical security plus locks and keys could secure almost any valuable from theft.

Critical problems include a shortage of skills to fight these threats, authorization to share critical information among competitors and industry groups with protection from collusion and monopoly laws, and incentives for organizations to deploy and create innovative solutions.

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?

SC: In early October, the White House said it would not require tech companies to create encryption backdoors into their products – for now. While definitely a step in the right direction, I would encourage lawmakers to forbid backdoor access by government entities. Far more users are being impacted by businesses not encrypting data than they are by the government not having access to their data.

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

SC: While the government’s reasoning for creating a backdoor is sound, opening a door for the government means that it is also open to government abuse and compromise. We did a recent survey with Wakefield that found 91% of ordinary Americans are concerned about these kinds of threats for adding backdoors to encryption solutions.

And if implemented, backdoors would not protect the public against determined bad actors. Groups or individuals that are seriously worried about being compromised by the government’s backdoor have only to get hold of a moderately talented programmer, create their own, secure encryption tools and then use them. Result – the ones who are serious about eluding detection will continue to do so.

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?

SC: Generally speaking, I personally don’t feel companies should attempt to intimidate researchers from publishing their work. Collaboration is fundamental to the success of the security community.

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?

SC: A good example of cooperative government and industry sharing already exists in the financial industry with FS-ISAC, which shares critical information for the financial services industry with government, critical IT security industry partners as well as members from the industry. It’s a great model for making available the information that the industry needs to adjust to changing threats.

Extension of this model to other industry verticals would be a real step forward, the extension of the model for a higher level view of threats across industries an additional next step.

Industry need to share as much detail of attacks as possible with government, as the same types of attacks are used by criminals, terrorists, hacktivists and nation state attackers. With a charter to help safeguard industry, a deep understanding of attacks, attackers, origins and methods based on Governments knowledge to industry is also critical.

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