Hacked Opinions: The legalities of hacking – Peter Woollacott

Peter Woollacott, from Huntsman Security, talks about hacking regulation and legislation

Peter Woollacott 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?

Peter Woollacott, CEO, Huntsman Security (PW): I'm not aware that legislators have misconceptions about cyber security. What I do observe however is the incidence, severity and implications of cyber attacks that are published almost daily in the media. I'm sure lawmakers see them too.

The evidence suggests that organisations are not particularly good at detecting malicious attacks. When detected and their threats mitigated, important information about the attacker is often obscured. With such compromised evidential chains, the perpetrator(s) is beyond the reach of relevant law enforcement authorities.

So while the Internet expands across a world without borders, no equivalent to the principles of International Maritime law exist. Maybe in time they will, but currently I doubt very much that lawmakers hold many misconceptions about the complexities they are facing in legislating, prosecuting and enforcing cyber security laws.

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

PW: Cyber security attacks are costing both the public and private sectors dearly. It’s therefore important that lawmakers develop legislation that encourages and supports research and development in the security space. Such measures could include tax and other forms of incentives to encourage investment and asset/information creation across sectors.

At a macro level regulators and security R&D operatives need to work more closely in the creation and maintenance of forums and other collaborative environments that assist common cyber defence ambitions of both the public and private sectors. The costs of the loss of state secrets and commercial intellectual property ultimately impact the balance sheet of organisations and the GDP of nations so the common interest is profound and should be collectively protected.

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?

PW: I'm not sure there is a universally suitable one line addendum to all existing or pending legislation. What is clear however, is that the burden of cost for the remediation of existing IT environments and the addition of resilience to future ones need to be shared across the communities affected. At this point, tax incentives that amortise costs, greater transparency in reporting and shared cybersecurity information will enable the market to be better informed and the pricing of cyber risk better understood. We need to disaggregate cybersecurity to better understand its parts.

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

PW: The risks resulting from cybersecurity are in many ways not dissimilar to many “business risks” that threaten ”asset value.” The key differences maybe the multiple vectors, the magnitude of the exposure and its covert nature. For that reason, legislation that supports the timely sharing of information to enable a greater awareness, preparedness and responsiveness is important. Equally important is an environment where the ROI of these capabilities are favourable through government initiatives to encourage cyber readiness or a better understanding of the pricing of cyber risk in the market.

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?

PW: I believe it’s an important principle that people be able to exercise their legal rights. Not everyone is so fortunate as to live in a modern democracy.

On the one hand, collaboration and disclosure is an important part of invention and advancement towards a stronger, more resilient cyber security capability (or indeed society). At another level, however, misguided or inappropriate revelations can result in financial loss, personal injury and worse. Therefore, while unlawful threats or intimidation are unacceptable in any circumstance, the ability to question and contest disclosures that have the potential to impact the rights of others seems to be quite reasonable.

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?

PW: There is a clear need for organisations and governments to develop a greater level of trust between one another. With the caveat that personal information must be protected, Governments should sponsor and prime information exchanges that provide data threats, vulnerabilities and “update bulletins.”

For their part, organisations should share anonymised observations, alerts, and relevant information as “subscribers” to the cyber information exchange. In this way, important information and cyber advisories can be quickly and efficiently shared across the government and private sectors.

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