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Privacy, Cybercrime Headline the Infosecurity Europe Conference

Attendees debate NSA surveillance, privacy reforms, cybercrime defenses, and sharpen their CISO skills.
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London Eye(Source: Mathew Schwartz)
London Eye
(Source: Mathew Schwartz)

Information security professionals and technology vendors from Europe and beyond descended on London this week for the annual Infosecurity Europe conference.

The topics of privacy and surveillance dominated conference presentations and panels. That befits Europe's reputation for not only taking people's privacy seriously, but often treating privacy as a right unto itself, which need not necessarily be weighed against business interests or market demands.

Finding answers to many of those concerns, of course, remains difficult because of the continuing rapid evolution in consumer technology, as well as the default tracking arrangements, into which many consumers opt in simply by using free mobile apps. "If you download anything for free, then you're the product; nothing is free," said Troels Oerting, head of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and assistant director for the operations department at Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency. But in the future, he predicted that Europe would pass legal "standards for protection."

In fact, EU officials and lawmakers are revising Europe's watershed 1995 Data Protection Act, which for many global privacy experts remains the gold standard in how people's privacy rights can be protected. But David Smith, deputy commissioner at the UK Information Commissioner's Office, said in an interview at the conference that, even though EU officials hoped to have a new law in place last year, Edward Snowden's NSA leaks stalled negotiations.

Furthermore, as with Congress in the United States, crafting new laws is rarely a fast process. "The existing European directive behind our current law took five years to negotiate," he said. By contrast, "we're getting on to three years now [in terms of negotiations into the new law], and it's much more complicated now" than in 1995. That's thanks in no small part to the rise of the Internet and mobile devices since the first law went into effect.

The specter of US government surveillance, as highlighted by Snowden's NSA leaks, dominated many conference discussions, especially when it comes to how the NSA's digital dragnet affects Europeans' rights. "As a society, what's the danger to us?" Graham Cluley, an independent security analyst, asked during a conference panel on cybercrime. "I think the danger to us might be the erosion of our privacy, mainly state-sponsored surveillance, which our government is doing or allowing to be done to us."

But Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure in Finland, said there's an upside to the technological evolution that's allowed the NSA to conduct massive amounts of surveillance, in that such programs remain vulnerable to whistleblowers and leakers. "The Internet and technology like this have enabled wholesale blanket surveillance on us. Governments can watch us because the information is so accessible and easy to store," Hypponen said. "However, it's the very same technology that allows us as citizens to get information about wrongdoing and make it public, so while the governments are watching over us, they know that we are watching over them."

 

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer, as well the InformationWeek information security reporter. View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Moderator
5/5/2014 | 4:57:23 PM
Re: InfoSec ROI, a "rounding error" -- Yikes
How much is it worth to this fellow to keep business plans away from a competitor or to keep his company's bank accounts from being drained?
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
5/5/2014 | 2:03:13 PM
Re: InfoSec ROI, a "rounding error" -- Yikes
"Saying" is one thing. "Doing" is a different matter entirely. And if it was easy to measure the cost of the breach that didn't happen because of good security practices, then I suspect security budgets would be very ample!
Ed Moyle
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Ed Moyle,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2014 | 1:26:49 PM
Re: InfoSec ROI, a "rounding error" -- Yikes
Marilyn,

Hah! You did in 50 words what it took me three paragraphs.  :-)  So yeah, you're right on the money.  
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
5/5/2014 | 12:59:26 PM
Re: InfoSec ROI, a "rounding error" -- Yikes
Ed, if I follow your logic, are you saying that it's hard to measure what you save by avoiding a breach?
Ed Moyle
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Ed Moyle,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2014 | 11:46:14 AM
Re: InfoSec ROI, a "rounding error" -- Yikes
So, taken at face value, I don't think this quote is "wrong" per se.  Meaning, assuming the premise is true, then the conclusion is a logical one.  My issue with this is that I think the premise is false.  

Specifically, there is quite a bit more possible (financial) return to an organization than just operational cost savings as a result of security innovation.  Certainly, operational savings hit the bottom line, but (as this quote highlights), the bottom line impact isn't always that significant (though that said, why not save 20k vs. wasting it).  

What is significant though - and also not represented at all in this quote - is the economic return associated with offseting risk.  Why is it not represented?  I'm speculating now, but I'm thinking because it's harder to calculate.  Essentially, it can be seen in the answer to a question like this one: "What's the bottom line impact of offsetting chance of a breach by .05%?"  If you believe the answer is "nothing" (realized numbers), you're in agreement with the person you quoted.  If you belive the answer is some number based on some function that includes cost of the impact, likelihood of the event, cost of the control, and so forth (which includes unrealized numbers) then you probably disagree with it.  I happen to fall into this latter camp.

 
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
5/5/2014 | 9:38:04 AM
InfoSec ROI, a "rounding error" -- Yikes
This is an outrageous quote. How prevalent is this attitude?

 "I think security innovation is a waste of time," said Michael Colao, head of security for the investment firm AXA UK and a participant in a "security as enabler" panel session. "My business thinks in money. I've done something really innovative in security that will save 20 grand a year? That's a rounding error, in my business."

 

 

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