Vulnerabilities / Threats
4/6/2015
10:30 AM
50%
50%

Obamas War On Hackers

Cybersecurity legislation, for the most part, is a good idea. But not without protections for bug bounty programs and other vital, proactive security research.

There has been a lot of discussion recently around President Obama’s plans to broaden the scope of legislation that would crack down on cybercrime in his proposed Modernizing Law Enforcement Authorities to Combat Cyber Crime plan. This proposal has raised a lot of questions for me and for many of my peers in the security research industry. Chief among them: will the research that I do, and that many in the community do, now become subject to investigation and possible prosecution?

Unfortunately, as currently proposed, the provisions are sufficiently vague so that solely consulting the law does little to clearly answer the question. That, for obvious reasons, leads to another set of questions:

  • Who would I ask to find out if the research I am conducting might violate the law? 
  • Would inquiring put the spotlight on me and put my research at risk? 
  • And, in general, what are the overall implications to the security research community?

Cybersecurity legislation is a complex topic. I think the intention of the law is largely a good one: government wants to crack down on criminals who have the potential to cripple infrastructure that is vital not only to business but to the lives of citizens in general. Defining laws that would only target the bad guys, however, is a very tricky thing.

Those of us in the trenches of information security are very much aware of the proactive industry research that takes place every day with the goal of preventing such crippling attacks from ever happening. However, concerns that security research could also be seen as illegal might curtail involvement by some of the brightest and most talented minds in our security community. Fear alone is a very credible deterrent, and unless there is a means for researchers to verify their research without fear, vital research will never see the light of day, or it will be taken overseas.

I had an opportunity to discuss this topic on a recent Dark Reading radio program. Joining the discussion was Harley Geiger from the Center for Democracy and Technology. The conversation touched on many interesting points, one being the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which was enacted in 1986.

Just think about that for a moment: 1986. The overarching piece of legislation that is governing what may or may not be deemed illegal when it comes to cybersecurity research was written before the advent of the Internet itself!

[ICYMI: Hear the fascinating DR Radio broadcast on how New Cybercrime Crackdown Could Backfire And Criminalize Security Professionals]

What the current administration is essentially proposing is not a re-write of the current law, but instead, a broadening of it. Consider that, as the CFAA is written, things like bug bounty programs or any breach of a product/company’s terms of service (TOS) would be a violation of the law. How much broader can it get?

We have already seen negative examples of the current law being used against researchers, the most notable was the case against Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in early 2013 while facing the potential of more than 30 years in prison and millions in fines for downloading academic journals from MIT’s JSTOR. If the laws are broadened and punishments increased, how many more cases like this will there be? It’s distressing to think about, and quite frustrating for researchers whose intentions are to help advance security and protections for businesses and consumers alike.

Ultimately, I think that some legislation is needed and that the majority of the cases that are enacted under it will be aimed at those with malicious intent. However, we need to reform the current law before extending it. Otherwise, there will be wide-reaching implications on the same security research that could ultimately play a strong hand in proactively derailing malicious behavior.

Jeremiah Grossman, Chief of Security Strategy, SentinelOne, Professional Hacker, Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, & Founder of WhiteHat Security. Jeremiah Grossman's career spans nearly 20 years. He has lived a literal lifetime in computer security to become one of the ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Marilyn Cohodas
50%
50%
Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
4/6/2015 | 1:23:28 PM
Great points, good article
Nice job on raising some important issues, Jeremiah. Curious to know if there is a process or federal agency where  for the public (and the cybersecurity community) can register its concerns about the proposed legislation? I couldn't see anything in the press release on the White House web site
GonzSTL
50%
50%
GonzSTL,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 10:21:33 AM
Re: Great points, good article
When lawmakers surround themselves with their chosen advisors while crafting legislation, they feel that those advisors provide them with all the information they need to create the legislation. I would like to know who the advisors were when the proposal was crafted. Perhaps that would shed light on the apparent vagueness and potentially terrible side effects of the modified law.
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Security Operations and IT Operations: Finding the Path to Collaboration
A wide gulf has emerged between SOC and NOC teams that's keeping both of them from assuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of IT systems. Here's how experts think it should be bridged.
Flash Poll
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
The transition from DevOps to SecDevOps is combining with the move toward cloud computing to create new challenges - and new opportunities - for the information security team. Download this report, to learn about the new best practices for secure application development.
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
In past years, security researchers have discovered ways to hack cars, medical devices, automated teller machines, and many other targets. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts researcher Samy Kamkar and Levi Gundert, vice president of threat intelligence at Recorded Future, to discuss some of 2016's most unusual and creative hacks by white hats, and what these new vulnerabilities might mean for the coming year.