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1/21/2015
10:15 PM
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President's Plan To Crack Down On Hacking Could Hurt Good Hackers

Security experts critical of President Obama's new proposed cybersecurity legislation.

Last night President Obama dedicated more time on cybersecurity than any other president has on a State of the Union address. While on its face a positive sign that political leaders are taking notice of cybersecurity as a real item of pressing national concern, many within the security community believe that the president's proposed cybersecuirty legislation at best would be ineffective at curtailing black hat hacking and at worst could actually criminalize the type of research and penetration testing that vendors and enterprises depend on to harden software and hardware implementations.

"Obama's recommended cybersecurity legislation will do absolutely nothing to stop the hackers we're concerned about or protect any of the companies who were victimized. It certainly won't protect 'the children,'" says Jeremiah Grossman, founder of WhiteHat Security. "What the proposed legislation would do is criminalize professional routine security research that’s been crucial in protecting companies and citizens at large. This outcome would be disastrous."

Of particular concern is the proposal to update the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Some of the proposed "modernizations" include the expansion of the definition of "exceeding authorized access" language to include any kind of authorized access for a "purpose that the accesser knows is not authorized by the computer owner," a new definition ripe for broad misinterpretation by the courts.

"If passed, it will have a broad chilling effect on security researchers while the courts sort out the definition," says Jonathan Cran, vice president of operations at the bug bounty program firm Bugcrowd. "Disclosure policies and bug bounties provide a form of safe harbor for researchers, and we'd encourage organizations that want to continue engaging the research community in the face of the CFAA to start a disclosure program. "

But CFAA changes aren't the only ones proposed. Additional proposed changes include the addition of hacking to laws related to racketeering and organized crime that could potentially bring the heavy hand of the law even on people who associate with hackers.

"Hanging out in an IRC chat room giving advice to people now makes you a member of a “criminal enterprise”, allowing the FBI to sweep in and confiscate all your assets without charging you with a crime," explained Rob Graham of Errata Security in a blog on the topic

Meanwhile, another change to existing law around "computer and cell phone spying devices" makes it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, possess or advertise "electronic communication intercepting devices."

"This is good in intent, but will negatively affect positive cyber security outcomes by limiting the tool set that the good guys can use to detect and respond to attacks from bad guys as 'wire or electronic communication intercepting devices' are standard tools that are used in all global 500 organizations today," says J.J. Thompson, CEO of Rook Security. 

Thompson says it is clear that the proposed law changes were made without much input from the security industry. He wants to stimulate better collaboration between the politicians and the industry through a cyber law rewrite on GitHub.

For his part, Grossman believes that if the government is going to dedicate more resources to cybersecurity, they'd be better off helping the industry shore up weak software and train a cadre of security professionals.

"A better idea would be for the federal government to allocate budget dollars to perform software security audits on key commercial and open source software that the country relies upon," he says. "Additionally, allocating dollars toward professional cybersecurity education as a vocation would give us the talent needed to execute these goals. Policies that protect real cybersecurity research and promote education would dramatically improve our defenses against cyberattacks." 

Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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Wolf6305
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Wolf6305,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2015 | 8:09:02 AM
Re: Proponent
Thanks for the voice of agreement.  I think that a small group of people who embrace the concept of leveraging the state legislative process could rather handily create this model.  Practicioners, rather than Security product vendors ought to be pushing the agenda.  Vendors are likely to see everything through the lense of their solution, whether they want to or not.  Legislators who are not trained in security should not be expected to understand the obvious implications of criminalizing the tools.  They don't see it is rather like criminalizing the posession of bricks because it is easy to use a brick to break into a car or building.  Some of the brilliant security researchers I know, are leery of the idea, because

1.) They don't want to take on the job of lobbying and organizing (even if it supports their own interests).  They are busy doing the fun job of security research.

2.) Because they are anti-establishment, they have decided that there is no solution for dim-witted legislators mucking up the water.

I think of this as one of the ultimate social engineering experiments, and a way to hack the parameters of reality as it is currently imagined. 

 
SgS125
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SgS125,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2015 | 2:09:10 PM
a ticket to ride
Think of it as you would a cissp or other such certification.  Plenty of professionals are willing to test for the certifications needed to land jobs.  I would be happy to have a White Hat/ Ethical hacking license.
Ericka Chickowski
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Ericka Chickowski,
User Rank: Moderator
1/22/2015 | 2:03:01 PM
Re: Proponent
I really wonder how well that would fit within the security research community, given its culture? There are a lot of brilliant, ethical and very anti-establishment researchers who would be turned off by the whole process. I'm not sure that kind of mandatory licensing would fly. 
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
1/22/2015 | 11:12:47 AM
What would work as a national cybersecurity policy?
Certainly not all of the recommendations are bad? Who can object to a 30-day breach disclosure law? 
SgS125
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SgS125,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2015 | 10:58:04 AM
Re: Proponent
That is an awesome concept!  We should have a license structure like you mention that offers us the ability to do the work we need to do, using the tools that can be used for both good and bad.  Like a locksmith.  Your analogy is spot on!

The concepts in the speech are not yet written into any kind of proposed law change so I can't really comment on how badly the politicians will muck it up.

It is very dangerous for us to trust this group of representatives to deliver comprehensive sensible legislation that does not give groups the right to go overboard on enforcement, or use it to further reduce the privacy of American citizens.

 

 
Ericka Chickowski
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Ericka Chickowski,
User Rank: Moderator
1/22/2015 | 10:54:14 AM
Re: Classic failures
GonzSTL: You aren't the only one worked up on this, believe me. J.J. and Jeremaiah are just a subset of lots of security people who feel this is, put politely, misguided policy. But I think there are other choice words going around about it, too. 
Wolf6305
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Wolf6305,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/22/2015 | 10:36:31 AM
Re: Proponent
Very true.  We have to look at who benefits from such a law.  There is a law in Germany, I am told, that prohibits a very broadly defined category of "hacking tools."  This has not made anybody any safer.  It will definitely make it harder to do routine security testing.  If the client doesn't like your results, will they get you arrested for felony "Accessing authorized resources in an unauthorized way?" 

People are the answer.  Well-trained security staff, as well as training the rank and file workers to recognize odd behavior and report it.  Actual response-team policy might be a good idea, too. 

In the field of locksmithing, there are states like California that control the tools of the trade, making state licensure a cost of doing business for locksmiths.  IT Security Specialists could start pushing for licenture rules, as well.  The costs need not be high, but the license would be a defense against facing felony arrest because you are doing your job. 
RyanSepe
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RyanSepe,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2015 | 10:21:27 AM
Proponent
Behind most detriments to an idea there is a postulated proponent. What does the government believe that instantiating this new verbiage and changing certain cyber security laws/rules will accomplish? Is there a report advocating the changes?
GonzSTL
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GonzSTL,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2015 | 10:16:57 AM
Classic failures
This is a classic case of politicians operating in a vacuum!

Meanwhile, another change to existing law around "computer and cell phone spying devices" makes it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, possess or advertise "electronic communication intercepting devices." Really? Simply reading those words tell me that my packet sniffer will now be illegal to simply possess. In fact, a broader interpretation could be that your wireless NIC will be illegal because in its attempt to determine if a wireless access point is in service, it "intercepts" a broadcast electronic communication.

"Thompson says it is clear that the proposed law changes were made without much input from the security industry". I realize that an overhaul of existing cybersecurity laws is certainly in order, but it should not be done without consultation with experts in that field. To be more precise, those "experts" should not simply be lawyers, aides, and advisors, but should also include people who actually work, live, and breathe IT security.

"Additionally, allocating dollars toward professional cybersecurity education as a vocation would give us the talent needed to execute these goals. Policies that protect real cybersecurity research and promote education would dramatically improve our defenses against cyberattacks." Providing scholarships to students who want to pursue an education in IT security is an initiative that I would wholeheartedly agree with and support as a wise use of my tax dollars.

I think the IT security community should be more vocal on this issue, and not just addressing the IT security community, but targeting the message to the politicians. In the attempt to strengthen IT infrastructures through legislation, that same legislation must not hinder our ability to properly assess the security posture of the infrastructure we wish to protect.

Maybe its too early in the morning and I haven't had my proper dose of coffee yet, but reading this article just got me a little worked up.
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The cybersecurity profession struggles to retain women (figures range from 10 to 20 percent). It's particularly worrisome for an industry with a rapidly growing number of vacant positions.

So why does the shortage of women continue to be worse in security than in other IT sectors? How can men in infosec be better allies for women; and how can women be better allies for one another? What is the industry doing to fix the problem -- what's working, and what isn't?

Is this really a problem at all? Are the low numbers simply an indication that women do not want to be in cybersecurity, and is it possible that more women will never want to be in cybersecurity? How many women would we need to see in the industry to declare success?

Join Dark Reading senior editor Sara Peters and guests Angela Knox of Cloudmark, Barrett Sellers of Arbor Networks, Regina Wallace-Jones of Facebook, Steve Christey Coley of MITRE, and Chris Roosenraad of M3AAWG on Wednesday, July 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss all this and more.