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Black Hat: Moving Security Outside The Lines

Enterprises clearly define security's responsibilities; attackers don't. It's time to think more like the attacker

In enterprises and large organizations, IT security has nice, neat boundaries. A SQL injection attack belongs to the security department. A software vulnerability goes to the app development team. A network error goes to the network operations center. Computer theft? That's for the physical security group.

Unfortunately, attackers seldom pay attention to those neat and careful boundaries. At last week's Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas, we got a glimpse of how attackers think, and it's anything but inside the lines.

So far, Dark Reading has published more than 40 stories about the speaker presentations at Black Hat, each of them exposing a new and important vulnerability that might affect enterprises or their users. But many of these vulnerabilities stray into territory that would be outside the purview of most IT security departments, or might fall between the cracks of departmental boundaries.

Consider, for example, the physical security flaws exposed by researchers at Bishop Fox at the conference. The ability to fool security sensors that protect most office buildings is bad enough; the ability to steal and copy proximity badges is even worse. But in most enterprises, physical security and IT security are handled by two different departments. Who's handling these?

Or take a look at the raised by researchers at MITRE and the Open Source Vulnerability Database. Many enterprises recognize applications vulnerabilities as their most serious threat. Yet most enterprises are still having trouble defining responsibility for software vulnerabilities -- does this problem belong to the app development team? Or security? Or some combination of both?

Car hacks, smart TV hacks, medical device hacks, SIM card flaws -- many of the biggest vulnernabilities revealed at Black Hat fall outside the boundaries of the traditional IT security department. Yet any one of them could have a profound effect on the safety of enterprise data, or even the safety of your company's customers themselves.

As usual, Black Hat provides a glimpse into the minds of creative people who want to find ways to access your company's data -- or influence the behavior of your products. But because they are creative, these "attackers" don't confine themselves to the PCs on your desks or other technology that is tightly defined as being under IT control. In the past, Black Hat has shown us vulnerabilities in video conferencing systems, mobile devices, printers, and copy machines. Some attackers specialize in applications security; others are just as creative with door locks or social engineering over the phone.

This year's Black Hat helps to prove that security is not just an issue for the information security department, or even the broader IT department. It's a business issue that can affect any aspect of customer or employee behavior, and it may extend into the home as well as the office.

For enterprise defenses to work, then, security professionals must get their counterparts across the enterprise to see the myriad dangers inherent in any computer-driven system or device and aid in their remediation. The security department should not be territorial in its approach, but should invite the participation of many in the organization. Security pros should be willing to review business initiatives that may not be strictly IT-oriented, and offer advice from the attacker's perspective, rather than strictly from an IT perspective.

Enterprise departments and org charts may be well defined, but last week's Black Hat presentations helped remind us that cyber criminals have no such boundaries. It's time to look at security from the attacker's perspective, rather than the defender's. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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