Transparency in security

Transparent

I was asked to deliver a keynote in Germany at the Security Transparent conference. Of course, I agreed. Transparency in security is one of the topics that is very close to my heart and I wish professionals in the industry not only talked about it more, but also applied it in practice.

Back in the old days, security through obscurity was one of the many defence layers security professionals were employing to protect against attackers. On the surface, it’s hard to argue with such a logic: the less the adversary knows about our systems, the less likely they are to find a vulnerability that can be exploited.

There are some disadvantages to this approach, however. For one, you now need to tightly control the access to the restricted information about the system to limit the possibility of leaking sensitive information about its design. But this also limits the scope for testing: if only a handful of people are allowed to inspect the system for security flaws, the chances of actually discovering them are greatly reduced, especially when it comes to complex systems. Cryptographers were among the first to realise this. One of Kerckhoff’s principles states that “a cryptosystem should be secure even if everything about the system, except the key, is public knowledge”.

Modern encryption algorithms are not only completely open to public, exposing them to intense scrutiny, but they have often been developed by public, as is the case, for example, with AES. If a vendor is boasting using their own proprietary encryption algorithm, I suggest giving them a wide berth.

Cryptography aside, you can approach transparency from many different angles: the way you handle personal data, respond to a security incident or work with your partners and suppliers. All of these and many more deserve attention of the security community. We need to move away from ambiguous privacy policies and the desire to save face by not disclosing a security breach affecting our customers or downplaying its impact.

The way you communicate internally and externally while enacting these changes within an organisation matters a lot, which is why I focused on this communication element while presenting at Security Transparent 2019. I also talked about friction between security and productivity and the need for better alignment between security and the business.

I shared some stories from behavioural economics, criminology and social psychology to demonstrate that challenges we are facing in information security are not always unique – we can often look at other seemingly unrelated fields to borrow and adjust what works for them. Applying lessons learned from other disciplines when it comes to transparency and understanding people is essential when designing security that works, especially if your aim is to move beyond compliance and be an enabler to the business.

Remember, people are employed to do a particular job: unless you’re hired as an information security specialist, your job is not to be an expert in security. In fact, badly designed and implemented security controls can prevent you from doing your job effectively by reducing your productivity.

After all, even Kerckhoff recognised the importance of context and fatigue that security can place on people. One of his lesser known principles states that “given the circumstances in which it is to be used, the system must be easy to use and should not be stressful to use or require its users to know and comply with a long list of rules”. He was a wise man indeed.


Vienna Cyber Security Week 2018

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I’ve spend last week in Vienna at the annual intergovernmental conference focused on protecting critical energy infrastructure.

The first two days were dedicated to the issues of security and diplomacy.

A number of panel discussions, talks and workshops covered the following topics:

  • Implementing the EU strategy for safe, open and secure cyberspace
  • Cyber-threats to critical energy infrastructure
  • Operational resilience
  • Reducing the risks of conflicts stemming from the use of cyber-capabilities
  • Cyber-diplomacy: developing capacity and trust between states

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For the rest of the conference we moved from the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna to Tech Gate, a science and technology park and home to a number of local cyber startups.

We’ve discussed trends in technology and cyber security, participated in Cyber Range simulation tutorial and a scenario-based exercise on policy development to address the growing cyber-threat to the energy sector.

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AIT Austrian Institute of Technology together with WKO Austrian Economic Chambers, ASW Austrian Defence and Security Industry, and the Austrian Cyber Security Cluster hosted a technology exhibition of latest solutions and products as well as R&D projects.

Participants had an opportunity to see state-of-the-art of next generation solutions and meet key experts in the field of cyber security for protecting critical infrastructures to fight against cyber-crime and terrorism.

Talks continued throughout the week with topics covering:

  • Securing the energy economy: oil, gas, electricity and nuclear
  • Emerging and future threats to digitalised energy systems
  • Cyber security standards in critical energy infrastructure
  • Public sector, industry and research cooperation in cyber security
  • Securing critical energy infrastructures by understanding global energy markets

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The last day focused on innovation and securing the emerging technologies. The CIO of City of Vienna delivered an insightful presentation about on cities and security implications of digitalisation.  A closing panel discussed projected trends and emerging areas of technology, approaches and methods for verifying and securing new technologies and the future of the cyber threat.


Best Cyber Security Speaker 2017 Award

I am pleased, honoured and humbled to receive the “Best Cyber Security Speaker 2017” award.

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Presenting at SANS European Security Awareness Summit

It’s been a pleasure delivering a talk on the psychology of information security culture at the SANS European Security Awareness Summit 2016. It was the first time for me to attend and present at this event, I certainly hope it’s not going to be the last.

The summit has a great community feel to it and Lance Spitzner did a great job organising and bringing people together. It was an opportunity for me not only to share my knowledge, but also to learn from others during a number of interactive sessions and workshops. The participants were keen to share tips and tricks to improve security awareness in their companies, as well as sharing war stories of what worked and what didn’t.

It was humbling to find out that my book was quite popular in this community and I even managed to sign a couple of copies.

All speakers’ presentation slides (including from past and future events) can be accessed here.


Delivering a guest lecture at California State University, Long Beach

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I’ve been invited to talk to Masters students at the California State University, Long Beach about starting a career in cyber security.  My guest lecture at the Fundamentals of Security class was well received. Here’s the feedback I received from the Professor:

Leron, thank you so much for talking to my students. We had a great session and everybody was feeling very energised afterwards. It always helps students to interact with industry practitioners and you did a fantastic job inspiring the class. I will be teaching this class next semester, too. Let’s keep in touch and see if you will be available to do a similar session with the next cohort. Again, thank you very much for your time – I wish we could have more time available to talk!


Talking to PhD students about cyber security

presentI recently had the pleasure to help organise and host PhD students from Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), who spent a day at my company interacting with the team in order to gain industry insights.

This day-long event included presentations by the students, their lecturers, our partners and consultants.

During one of these presentations, I shared some of my own experiences as an information security consultant, in which I talked about my role and area of expertise. I also discussed current security challenges and provided some career advice.

Several round table discussions provided everybody with much needed food for thought. We covered topics like security monitoring, threat intelligence, information protection in digital health and the role of the C-suite.

We received positive responses from the professors – the students enjoyed the presentations and learned a lot from the interactions during the day.


Presenting on cyber security at UCL

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The UCLU Technology Society invited me to deliver a talk on information security to UCL students. Together with my colleague, I discussed various aspects of information security focusing on both technical and non-technical topics.

We talked about Advanced Persistent Threats and common misconceptions people have about them. When referring to protection measures, I emphasised the importance of considering human aspects of security. I described typical causes of a poor security culture in companies, along with providing some recommendations on improving it.

I concluded the evening with a discussion on managing and communicating the necessary changes within the organisation and the skills required to successfully do that.