Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Operations

3/28/2018
10:30 AM
John De Santis
John De Santis
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

Automating Ethics for Cybersecurity

Having a code of ethics and enforcing it are two different things.

Doctors, accountants, and lawyers all operate under a code of ethics, but what about security professionals? Shouldn't they, too? While cybersecurity breaches don't necessarily have the life-and-death consequences of, say, brain surgery, the more vicious cyberattacks can and do cripple livelihoods, often en masse. Witness last year's WannaCry ransomware attack, the Equifax breach, and the more recent processor flaws Spectre and Meltdown.

A number of IT security organizations do have codes of ethics — SANS, ISSA, and GIAC, for example. They spell out the do's and don'ts that should already be inscribed in the heart of every security professional. Things like, I will not advance private interests at the expense of end users, colleagues, or my employer; I will not abuse my power; and I will obtain permission before probing systems on a network for vulnerabilities.

But having a code of ethics and enforcing it are two different things. Some organizations may have security pros sign off on such frameworks, but this is little more than a move that allows employers to prosecute the signer if she later abuses her power or simply makes a mistake. And mistakes do happen. A novice or unskilled IT operator, like a novice or unskilled plumber, can screw up. Badly.

Don't Regulate — Automate
This question of enforcement is a tricky one. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, cybersecurity executive Nathaniel Fick compares cybersecurity today to accounting in the pre-Enron era. Just as the Enron scandal inspired higher standards for corporate disclosure with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Fick proposes that cybersecurity breaches like WannaCry and Equifax should spur increased regulation of cybersecurity practices by the federal government.

While I applaud the intent here, governmental intervention does not solve the enforcement issue. Regulations can be ignored, subverted, forgotten. Even if enforced after the fact — by an army of auditors, for example — damage has already been done, and victims may not necessarily be made whole. On a personal level, I'm not much of a fan of interventionist approaches in general, and I will choose non-intervention every time. Instead of regulating, how about automating?

One of the best ways to implement an ethical framework is to automate it. It’s not yet perfect, but in the world of driverless cars, automation enforces traffic rules and regulations without giving the driver a chance to make a mistake. Automation keeps the vehicle in the correct lane, makes it adhere to speed limits, avoid pedestrians, cyclists, and kids darting from behind ice-cream trucks — regardless of the experience level or skill of the operator. Today, we benefit from automation of this kind in a wide variety of scenarios. Imagine what automation could do as a means of enforcing "the right thing" in large, complex data centers.

Instead, we entrust the running of these huge IT environments to system administrators, many of whom have been gaming, hacking, and cracking since their early teens. Their tech smarts are beyond reproach, but how many of them have the ethical foundation needed to handle such a responsibility? In some ways, it's like putting a regular motorist behind the wheel of a Formula One racecar.

Sometimes the enemy of doing the right thing is simply too much data — and here, too, automation can play a role. The Equifax breach is a case in point. The data was all there to indicate that something was going wrong, but the sheer amount of it was so overwhelming that the security teams couldn't separate the signal from the noise. Automation doesn't allow bad actors to take advantage of the system. With the right investment, automation could have prevented the breach.

Separate the Signal from the Noise
Many solutions today automate functions such as patching, software updates and determining whether or not a system is vulnerable before it attaches to the network. It helps keep human error and questionable ethics out of the equation. Take Microsoft Windows. One reason it's so vulnerable to attack is that, philosophically speaking, it was created to be open (unlike UNIX, which was created closed). Its creators worked under the assumption that Windows operators would have a strong ethical compass and would not be bad actors. As a result, many exploits in Windows have stemmed from people uncovering a door left open or system unpatched. Automation pre-empts bad actors from exploiting these vulnerabilities.

We live in an era where ethics are given scant regard — in which our leaders almost daily eschew the moral high ground. Compromise your ethics, hold your nose and get the vote to hold the party line seems to be the order of the day. How long before we see a trickle-down of this attitude into cybersecurity, if it hasn't already happened?

In the absence of an ingrained ethical framework and assurance of skill levels, security professionals needs tools to dynamically and in real time enforce good, skilled, and ethical behavior. The end-state we should seek is a strong ethical culture embedded in system and network administrators, in security practitioners, in database administrators — in short, in all those who have access to the keys of the kingdom.

Related Content:

Interop ITX 2018

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop ITX. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop ITX 2018 agenda here.

John De Santis has operated at the bleeding edge of innovation and business transformation for over 30 years -- with international and US-based experience at venture-backed technology start-ups as well as large global public companies. Today, he leads HyTrust, whose ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 9/25/2020
Google Cloud Debuts Threat-Detection Service
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  9/23/2020
Shopify's Employee Data Theft Underscores Risk of Rogue Insiders
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  9/23/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-24565
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
CVE-2020-25770
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
CVE-2020-25771
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
CVE-2020-25772
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
CVE-2020-25773
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
A vulnerability in the Trend Micro Apex One ServerMigrationTool component could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code on affected products. User interaction is required to exploit this vulnerability in that the target must import a corrupted configuration file.