[REDUX] Reassessing Cyber Risks as a Security Strategy

I happened across [Between Hype and Understatement: Reassessing Cyber Risks as a Security Strategy](http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1107&context=jss) [PDF] when looking for something else at the [Journal of Strategic Security](http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/jss/) site and thought it was a good enough primer to annoy everyone with a tweet about it.

The paper is—well—_kinda_ wordy and has a Flesch-Kincaid grade reading level of 16*, making well suited for academia, but not rapid consumption in this blog era we abide in. I promised some folks that I’d summarize it (that phrase always reminds me [of this](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwAOc4g3K-g)) and so I shall (try).

The fundamental arguments are:

– we underrate & often overlook pre-existing software weaknesses (a.k.a. vulnerabilities)
– we undervalue the costs of cybercrime by focusing solely on breaches & not including preventative/deterrence costs
– we get distracted from identifying real threats by over-hyped ones
– we suck at information sharing (not enough of it; incomplete, at times; too many “standards”)
– we underreport incidents—and that this actually _enables_ attackers
– we need a centralized body to report incidents to
– we should develop a complete & uniform taxonomy
– we must pay particular attention to vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure
– we must pressure governments & vendors to take an active role in “encouraging” removing vulnerabilities from software during the SDLC, not after deployment

The author discusses specific media references (there are a plethora of links in the endnotes) when it comes to hype and notes specific government initiatives when it comes to other topics such as incident handling/threat sharing (the author has a definite UK slant).

I especially liked this quote on threat actors/actions/motives & information sharing:

> _[the] distributed nature of the Internet can make it difficult to clearly attribute some incidents [as] criminal, terrorist actions, or acts of war. Consequently, to affirm that “the principal difference” between [these] “is in the attacker’s intent” is far too simplistic when many cyber-attackers cannot be identified. It is also quite simplistic to attribute financial motivation only to cyber criminals since terrorists can be motivated by monetary gain in order to finance their political actions. [An] added difficulty is that a pattern of cyber incidents may not reveal itself unless information is shared between the different stakeholders. For example, taken in isolation, a bank’s website being temporarily unavailable may look innocuous and not worth reporting to the competent agencies. Yet, when associated with other cyber incidents in which the victims and timeframe are similar, it may reveal a concerted effort to target a particular type of business or e-government resources, a pattern of behavior that could amount to crime (fraud, espionage) or terrorism if the motive can be established. Detection thus may depend on information being shared._

She does spend quite a bit of ink on vulnerabilities. Some choice (shorter) quotes:

> _[the] economic analysis adopted by software companies does not take into account (or not sufficiently) that the costs of non- secure software are significant, that these costs will be borne by others on the network and ultimately by themselves in clean-up operations_

> _Of course, to fix the vulnerabilities after release is laudable; it is also commendable that those companies participate in huge clean-up operations of botnets like Microsoft did in 2010. However, there is nothing more paradoxical than Microsoft (and others) spending money to circumscribe the effects of the very vulnerabilities they contributed to create in the first place_

She then concludes with suggesting that governments work with ISPs to actually severely restrict or disable internet connections of users found to be infected and contributing to spam/botnets, positing that this will cause users to demand more out of software vendors or use the free market to shift their loyalties to other software providers who do more to build less vulnerable software.

Again, I think it’s a good primer on the subject (despite some dubious analogies peppered throughout), but I also think there is too much focus on vulnerabilities and not enough on threat actors/actions/motives. I do like how she mixes economic theory into a topic that is usually defined solely in terms of warfare without diminishing the potential impacts of either.

It would have been pretty evident to see the influence of Beck & Giddens even if her references to [Risk Society](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_society) didn’t bookend the prose. I’ll leave you with what might just be her own one-sentence summary of the entire paper and definitely apropo for our current “cyber” situation:

> _[the] risks that industrialization and modernization created tend to be global, systemic with a “boomerang effect,” and denied, overlooked, or overhyped._

*Ironically enough, this blog post comes out at F/K-level 22-23
Cover image from Data-Driven Security
Amazon Author Page

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