You read the title of this post correctly. Maybe it should be most people don’t care about cybersecurity, but you get the point. It’s a reality that those of us responsible for securing our organizations know but don’t like to acknowledge because it leads to a tough question. If people don’t care, then what is all of this for?
Lack of caring customers affects business decisions. You don’t see large swaths of people holding companies accountable post-breach. As a matter of fact, In many cases, stock prices tend to rebound after a breach. There are also some who advocate that insecure software is still more advantageous than the potential negative impacts it creates. This argument is inaccurate based on skewed and superficial perceptions of the customer and not based on the reality of the situation.
So, should we all change professions and try our hands at being celebrity chefs? If you are like me and have a weak flambé, we should take a closer look at the situation.
Why people don’t care
It’s essential for us to have a look at the conditions that create this apathy in customers. Understanding these issues makes framing potential solutions easier.
Here are the major ones:
- Short attention span
- Numb to breach occurrence
- Good detection and recovery
Effects of breaches aren’t immediately felt. Of course, this is assuming an attack doesn’t delete all of your data, and by your data, I mean your customer’s data.
If compromised data is used in some form of attack or fraud, it’s not done immediately. Tying an instance of abuse to a specific breach can be hard for a consumer. In that time, their data may have been compromised in other locations, so who does the consumer blame?
Short on Attention
People these days live under a constant bombardment of content all competing for their attention. This is on top of the professional and personal priorities they have. They can be mad at a hotel chain for a breach one day and book a stay with points the next. With the perception that too much is on their plate, only the most egregious instances will stay top of mind.
For perspective, people are more likely to hold a grudge with a restaurant they had a bad experience with than the credit company who lost enough of their data for a criminal to commit identity theft.
People have gotten numb to all of the breaches. High-profile breaches have become a regular occurrence and lesser profile ones even more so. The number of breaches has a numbing effect, so news of a new instance results in little more than a sigh and an eye roll.
Good Detection and Recovery
Companies have gotten good at detection and recovery in post-breach scenarios. Think of your bank calling you when it notices some odd transactions or notification from another site offering free credit monitoring. Most often the customer doesn’t have to take much action at all and only encounters a mild inconvenience.
A Dangerous Road
If your customers don’t care about security, then it can be a hard sell to management and other business units. On the surface, this makes business sense, but letting security priorities slip is a dangerous road. The lack of prioritization and focus on security initiatives opens the door for nefarious actors that goes far beyond the superficial surface. Here are just a few areas to consider.
Autonomous systems make decisions without human interaction. The integrity of the data these systems consume is paramount because tainted data could cause the system to make the wrong decision. Think of a drone attacking the wrong target or an automated trading algorithm triggering a mass selloff of stocks.
Injury or Death
Of course, building off of the previous point about autonomous systems, there is the fact that systems that can kill us are becoming more common. Medical implants, self-driving cars, industrial systems, drones, and countless others that aren’t obvious to consumers have the potential to impact their health and wellness. It shouldn’t take a breach causing large scale death for people to begin caring. Unfortunately, that may very well be what it takes.
Stolen data and compromised systems have monetary value to criminals. Criminals have various motivations for their activities, but a compromise of your systems could assist in the ongoing support of illegal activities. Some of these activities could include terrorism.
Losing a customer’s data is a breach of privacy. Privacy has never been in more danger through shady purposeful activities, but unauthorized disclosure makes it worse. On this front, I think there is some hope. Not only has privacy importance been elevated by regulation such as GDPR, but younger people seem to be caring about it more as technology becomes less of a novelty and more something that’s always been part of their lives.
In my Black Hat Europe presentation last year, I spent some time talking about how the technology created today will be with us tomorrow possibly much longer than their support cycles. You aren’t likely to upgrade your refrigerator or car at the same frequency you do your phone or smartwatch. Tons of low-cost devices are spreading across the planet that will affect our security posture for years to come.
What can we do?
So if all of this is a problem, then what can we do to ensure we are protecting our organizations both now and in the future?
Not be part of the problem as an organization
By contributing to the larger problem, we are contributing to a sea of already compromised data making it hard to determine where it came from other than when an attacker makes it known for their marketing purposes.
Avoid the top-down approach
Far too often people feel that security needs buy-in from senior management to drive initiatives through the company. Laboring under this delusion can cause you to miss opportunities. It’s true that management support can make things easier, but it’s not the only way to get security initiatives implemented. Buy-in from the bottom up or even cross-pillars to other peers can be just as effective, if not more.
It shouldn’t be a secret that reducing the friction of a solution increases adoption. We all know someone who never locked their phone because entering numbers was an inconvenience. Their behavior changed with the inclusion of things like TouchID and FaceID, indirectly causing an increase in security posture. We should be investigating areas where a reduction in friction could lead to increased adoption.
Regulatory compliance and privacy law
Regulatory compliance is a topic that many in the industry love to hate. It may very well take governments and other regulatory bodies getting involved effecting a broader change. Although the effectiveness of such compliance measures can be debated, discussions spring out of these requirements.
It may very well take something that causes multiple deaths or a substantial financial impact to get the average consumer to care about cybersecurity, but we as security professionals can’t let that guide our decisions. Are we okay with allowing people to die before we take a problem seriously? We need to be proactive and find creative ways to get our solutions adopted and look for areas to reduce friction before it’s too late.
Now that Black Hat USA and DEF CON are over, it allows for some reflection on conferences and speaking engagements. I’ve been involved in the conference review and submission process for quite some time. In that time, there have been multiple instances where someone submits a good talk, it gets accepted, and their company makes them pull it. This situation is frustrating not only for the conference staff but also for the individual who submitted the talk in the first place.
On a less extreme side, I’ve seen many talks given by people who aren’t allowed to say where they work. They also had to take vacation time and pay their expenses. That’s pretty humiliating.
Why does this happen? The reason isn’t always apparent, but often it indicates an antiquated idea of the risk associated with presenting at a security conference. There may also be a healthy dose of not understanding the benefits mixed in as well.
With a few highlights, I hope to provide some benefits and dispel some myths. My aim is to give you some solid talking points for these conversations with your organization.
Benefits of Speaking
If you are a security leader who finds conferences valuable, then you already understand the value of presenting. Some companies, however, don’t see the benefits. But these most likely aren’t security companies. If you have any doubts, what if I told you that your people speaking at conferences gives you a leg up on your competition from both a perception as well as recruiting perspective?
Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Employee Retention / Morale / Quality of Life
Employees are more likely to stick around at companies that support them. Saying no to speaking engagements could mean you lose good people. Working on something more significant than your everyday job is fulfilling.
- Recruiting Tool / Differentiator
Future employees want to work with smart people and perform “cool” work. One of the best ways they can find out about that is through conference activities. We all know not everything we do is glamorous, but knowing there are interesting opportunities to engage and present research could be a good differentiator for future employees.
Customers get an idea that you have experienced people and that you take security seriously. Even if the research points out something you weren’t doing so well in the past, it engenders confidence that you continue to be proactive and make improvements.
- Information Sharing / Greater Good / Community Support
You send a strong signal to the industry and peers that you’re willing to be a part of the community by sharing knowledge. This makes it much more likely that other organizations will share as well. Lead by example.
- Demonstration of Expertise
Speaking and sharing your experience at conferences can be incredibly rewarding. Not only is it a notch in the belt professionally, it just feels good to share with peers. Show the industry, peers, and customers that you are proactive.
Fear of the Unknown
Given the benefits, why do some companies not allow their people to speak? In my opinion, this comes down to fear. Let me break this up into 3 main areas.
- Unnecessary Attention
Throughout the years, unnecessary attention has been the excuse I’ve heard most often. Companies feel that if their people speak at conferences, it puts a target on them and invites attackers to try and show them up. I’ve got some news for you; your company is most likely already a target.
Vulnerabilities these days are worth money. So if an attacker is sitting on a 0day, they aren’t likely to burn it to make a point about you having someone speak at a conference.
If you are worried about elevating your position on an attacker’s radar because of public speaking, a lot of this comes down to how the speaker presents the content. If the presenter is claiming to be the smartest person around and says their organization is “unbreakable” then that can undoubtedly invite some negative attention. If the presenter is merely sharing some experiences and trying to further the conversation, then it’s rarely an issue.
In some cases, there may be a fear of disclosing sensitive internal information or internal process. Maybe the company feels an attacker can use the information to formulate more accurate attacks.
Your people should be smart enough to know what content is sensitive internally and not disclose. After all, don’t you have an awareness program for that? If there are any doubts, you could always review the content before submitting rather than creating a blanket denial.
On the disclosure front, I think there is also a little bit of not wanting to look “stupid.” Security problems can be tough to solve (even simple ones in some cases), and many are just trying to figure it out. Some may worry about their customers thinking they don’t have it together, but one thing I’ve learned in my career is customers appreciate due diligence.
We have real problems with information sharing in the security community as it is without further restrictions. Information such as lessons learned, information on attacks and intelligence as well as mitigation of risk could be helpful to the community as a whole. The more share, the better off we’ll be.
On the other side, it may be pressure from a vendor over a responsible disclosure process. I’ve seen a few companies push deadlines to try and stop people from presenting their findings at a conference.
Healthy responsible disclosure pushes vendors to ensure they are performing due diligence on their side. If you’ve given a vendor 60 to 90 days, then that is more than fair. At that point, you have fulfilled your obligation when it comes to responsible disclosure, and you should support the continuation of the process by disclosing.
Somewhere, buried deep inside your organization is an ancient policy that states people can’t speak at conferences. This policy hasn’t seen an update since its creation because everything in the company is more important.
I think we can all agree that policy for the sake of policy is bad. The intention of that policy is probably lost (or relates to the previous two points) and the default answer when you ask about it is, “well, that’s just the way it’s always been.”
Don’t look at that policy as a fixed object. Maybe the reason it has never changed is that there hasn’t been a champion to address the issues with it. If the policy is necessary, adjust it with new processes, where there is a certain amount of review (hopefully not painful and lengthy).
Times when you can’t speak
In this post, I’ve covered why you should let people speak. You may be wondering if there are situations which you shouldn’t support a conference presentation. The answer to this question, unfortunately, is yes.
The first situation that comes to mind is if there is an NDA in place or some terms and conditions that prohibit disclosure. This should be obvious, but if you have an NDA that prohibits disclosure of details, then you have to abide by it. Keep in mind that some companies can use T’s and C’s to try and discourage disclosure, see Adventures in Vulnerability Disclosure from Google’s Project Zero.
There may be other times as well, such as revealing your intellectual property or damaging a business relationship. I will say that each of these is highly situational and should be fairly obvious. None of them are good reasons to create a blanket statement of not allowing people to present.
Call to Action
If you are a security leader, hopefully, this has softened your position on the subject of speaking at security conferences. If you are in favor, but someone above you objects or a policy related issue exists, then start now to add some clarity around this topic. Lead with the benefits and do your best to dispel any myths or old beliefs. It may not be easy, but in the long run, it will be worth it. Be the change agent your company needs you to be.
If you found this article interesting, you may also be interested in this article ‘Keys to a Successful Infosec Conference Submission’
As Black Hat continues to draw closer we wanted to take a moment to highlight some talks that we are excited about. There is a lot of great content, so picking just a few was difficult, but these are the presentations that I and some of my colleagues are looking forward to attending.
AI & ML in Cyber Security – Why Algorithms are Dangerous
By Raffael Marty
The topic of AI disciplines is one I spend quite a bit of time talking about myself. It seems you can’t turn anywhere these days without encountering some product claiming to use a subset of AI in some “advanced” way. A healthy dose of real-world challenges helps cut through the marketing hype and get to core issues. This talk is a much-welcomed reality check.
Blockchain Autopsies – Analyzing Ethereum Smart Contract Deaths
By Jay Little
Blockchain technologies aren’t just for cryptocurrencies. This technology is gaining more and more acceptance in the business world and being used or evaluated to solve a range of business challenges. Blockchain technologies aligned with business challenges, like Ethereum Smart Contracts, have a higher chance of success and longevity. Understanding how these contracts work as well as the various risks they present, is critical.
Applied Self-Driving Car Security
By Charlie Miller, Chris Valasek
Come on, who doesn’t love the thought of hacking self-driving cars? What’s even better is getting this information from the experts on the subject. In the not too distant future, we will share the road with people taking a nap, eating lunch, and texting. Okay, we do that now, but in the future people may not have control of their cars the way they do today. Highlighting these risks now helps us avoid running into them tomorrow. This presentation promises to be informative and entertaining.
Understanding and Exploiting Implanted Medical Devices
By Billy Rios, Jonathan Butts
Self-driving cars are one thing, but IoT gets scarier when it’s inside your body. Increased attack surface from a device inside your body is the stuff of nightmares and Hollywood movies. This presentation promises to shed light on these risks.
WebAssembly: A New World of Native Exploits on the Browser
By Justin Engler, Tyler Lukasiewicz
WebAssembly is a technology supported by all of the major browsers that allows for the compilation of languages like C, C++, and Rust for the web. WebAssembly makes a promise of better performance and increased security, but is it a lot of hot air? This talk highlights this technology and the security risks it introduces.
Squeezing a Key Through a Carry Bit
By Filippo Valsorda
Although this presentation isn’t some destruction-of-the-Internet-style vulnerability, it demonstrates a great example of why no small bug should be ignored. In an amazing feat of crypto engineering, by exploiting a single bit bug, the presenter shows how a cryptographer’s worse nightmare comes true. Secret keys can be recovered in about 500 submissions on average. Don’t miss this highly technical talk on the cryptography track that shows a small bug can yield a big result.
Kudelski Security Events
We also have a few events happening while we are out in Vegas.
Join us for our Kudelski Security Bash party Tuesday night from 6-9pm in the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay.
We are also doing a couple of breakout debriefs from 4:30-6pm on Wednesday, August 8th, and Thursday, August 9th. Wednesday’s session is on IoT and Operational Technology security. Thursday’s session is on Blockchain. Use the following link to RSVP for these sessions.
If you are hanging out for Defcon as well, check out our presentation:
Reaping and Breaking Keys at Scale: When Crypto Meets Big Data
Presented by Yolan Romailler and Nils Amiet.
In this talk, we show how we collected over 300 million public keys leveraging our scanning infrastructure and our open source fingerprinting tool, Scannerl, and tested them for vulnerabilities such as the recent ROCA vulnerability or factorization using batch-GCD. We performed this analysis on a 280 vCPU cluster and are able to test new keys against our dataset in just a few minutes thanks to a novel in-house distributed implementation of the algorithm. As a result of our research, we could have impersonated hundreds of people, mimicked thousands of servers and performed MitM attacks on over 200k websites. Fun stuff.
If you see any of us around the week after next, say hello. See you at Black Hat and Defcon!