A New Hope…

Posted on 24 December 2013 by


Dave Aitel has graciously allowed us to run his commentaries before – see Hackers May Help Choose The Next US President and Aitel On Cyberwar. Dave is the founder and Chief [Security|technology|executive][1] Officer of Immunity, Inc, and runs the Daily Dave mailing list, where this article was originally published. It is re-published here with his kind permission.

dave-aitelSo I hesitate to make predictions, but I think it’s important to at some level acknowledge that 2013 was a huge year for information security. A few things happened… :

The rebirth of managed security services

When you don’t care about bringing hackers to court, but you DO care about the security of your IP, you start to evolve a very different fabric on your network and you need a completely different specialist set of skills. Managed Security Services used to be the haven of total technical wash-outs, with IDS monkeys watching screens for alerts nobody cared about. This has changed, and I think the watershed moment was February 2013, with Mandiant releasing their APT1 report. We are moving to a much more highly skilled, and expensive, version of managed security services, with Mandiant, Crowdstrike, Terremark, and others all competing with similar technologies and methodologies and price points. This is the pendulum swinging away from offense a bit more, assuming people can afford these services (which is not at all a given).

The Snowden Event

Look, there’s very little in the “revelations” Snowden has talked about that wasn’t already highly visible to industry insiders: What can be done, is being done. And everyone who says Cyber is a asymmetric warfare should be eating their words now, since you cannot believe the US Intel Community has succeeded to the level they have in this space and think it was a game for small players anymore. My USENIX talk from 2011 pointed out much of what has come out.

The most obvious angle on the story is the growing push-back from corporations. Google building certificate pinning into Chrome by default hurts not just Iran, but also all the allied governments Google calls home, who are just as happy about how the global PKI system SSL depends on bends to their whims. The corporations have been taking huge unbalanced risks on behalf of their governments, and these chickens are coming home to roost.

Or, to be more specific, vultures, as Huawei demonstrated by being thrown out of the largest market for IT gear in the world. But it’s exactly that horrifying prospect that scares Facebook and Google and every other big US IT company into taking a hard line with the USG, and no doubt, with one eye on Cisco’s revenue sheet.

To quote from today’s Washington Post article:

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith took to his company’s blog and called the NSA an “advanced persistent threat” — the worst of all fighting words in U.S. cybersecurity circles, generally reserved for Chinese state-sponsored hackers and sophisticated criminal enterprises.

What should scare administration officials is that when you talk to big financials in NY, they feel the exact same way. In my discussions, they are now MORE invested in securing themselves against the US Government than the Chinese government!

The rise of Bitcoin

The financials (and business in general) are extremely excited about the useful shared delusion that is Bitcoin. Nobody knows how this pans out, but it doesn’t necessarily pan out well for groups whose root of power is controlling the flow of commerce.

The cementing of Leaks as cyberweapons

Every reporter I talk to now who is starting a new venture has a foundational element of “some place people can send me leaked documents”. The concept of leaking things into the public eye as a cyber-weapon has gone from “Assange is a crazy loon” to “This is how things get done” in a fairly rapid space. It’s easy to forget that the whole reason he started WikiLeaks was that he believed that you could forever change how government works by draining the ocean of secrecy they live in (and of course, to get babes). The Russian and Chinese and Iranians and so forth are snarkily reveling in how the USG is painfully handling the leaks, but of course, their turn is coming, and they are far more vulnerable.


So to sum up, 2013 was a year governments (and in particular the USG) found their influence sharply contracting, with budget cuts, shutdowns, and philosophical pressure on all sides. I, with the rest of the hacker community, look forward to 2014, when the empire can strike back.