Thursday, December 18, 2014

Our Gray Cyber Future

This post by Bruce Schneier kicked off an idea that's been rattling around in my head for a year or three...The future of cyber-security is indeed looking more and more gray.   Gray as in gray hat... as in more and more "bad guy" techniques being adopted by good guys.  We're going to see continued growth in offensive hacking techniques migrating from attacker to defender, just so defenders can keep up.   And bad guys are going to get even more bad.

As if things weren't already gray enough, with some security professionals jumping back and forth across the line from blackhat to whitehat and vice-versa. 

As Richard Thieme famously pointed out, in the near future the edge will move to be the center. To see the future of the mainstream, we only need look at the edge. So what is happening at the edge?

The Age of Mega-Threats

We're moving into a time of invisible cyber-wars between nation-states, NGOs and multinationals.  Not to mention large scale industrial espionage, DDOS and revenge hacking and major corporations getting whacked by semi-cloaked villains.

We can see the rise of true super villains - individuals who can cause massive cyber-damage.  Not just folks like Snowden, but what about the mega-Botmasters and mercenary super hacker-for-hire.  We're really only one good 0-day in the wrong hands from someone shutting down the Internet for a few days.  Large scale automation of attacks allows one person could direct an attack of millions of bots or use them as their own private surveillance network

Law Enforcement Response
Like they have in the face of terrorism and the war on drugs, LE is going to move away from the clean-cut traditional police methods and use more... let's say, aggressive "out-of-the-box" response techniques.  We started with the usual deceptive law enforcement tools:  stings and informant-baited traps... To deals with the questionable folks... collaboration with Internet providers to spy on people, surveillance in the soft areas of the law, spyware injections, and now outright hacking and social engineering.

The Private Sector Response

We in the private sector don't have the legal authority to hack and lie outright, but we're still definitely adopting more and more gray hat techniques.  We now have massive private intelligence operations with private undercover agents in the hacker underground, honey pots to trap and collect intel, reputation tracking and semi-secret threat sharing organizations.  As Dan Geer said, "We're all intelligence officers now."
But that's just the beginning.  There is a strong movement towards active-response.  And  more outsourced security and tech-giants doing “what’s necessary” to clean up the Internet.  There are also quieter semi-active responses going on: large scale black-list shunning, false data injections and active deception, and tar pitting.

The next step on the downward spiral would be cyber-privateers hired by victim companies to mete out retribution against attackers on the open Internet by means fair and foul.  And the bad guys and APTs stepping up their game to respond. With everyone else caught in the cross-fire.

PS: I know one can say this is reflective of our times, and you may be right.  But is that the future we want?

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