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Someone today asked me about CISA.  The truth is, I’ve stopped paying attention. Everyone, just shut up and pass something so we can move on.  But, I do have perspective that might be relevant: I’ve spent the past 12 years in infosec, including doing threat analysis, have spend the past 8-ish years in Critical Infrastructure, have been a government operational incident responder to the private sector with access to super secret info sauce, have helped build a strategic government pubic/private partnership program, worked with a number of ISACS, and have worked in a non-profit ISAO-like environment.  Here’s what I think:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far too close to here, a bunch of techies, not in sufficient control of the business and other environmental factors to influence the cybersecurity exposure business was creating or suffering from,  said: “We need better, actionable information to succeed!”.  This was both sexy-tech driven and a last-resort.  If the business was leaving the doors and windows open, the “defenders” (heh) needed to know as much about their adversary as they could.

At the same time, businesses, finding they were becoming more and more on the hook for serious adversary conflict  (as opposed to automated worms) tried to offload their responsibilities to the government.  Lack of “Information Sharing” was a really convenient roadblock to partnership. “Hey, look, gov, we’d really like to help, but you’ve got all this awesome intel that you won’t share, how can WE do anything? YOU should!”.

Government, having its own interests, was also looking for more data because, essentially, most of theirs was limited or sucked or wasn’t useable.  At the end of the day, cyber conflict is occurring on private infrastructure – the government infrastructure either being tangential to the discussion at hand, handled internally, or a peer infrastructure the private critical infrastructure (i.e: The internet is the internet is the internet and its all a common geography of conflict).   So they said (and, for what it’s worth, largely truthfully): “We can’t send you information if you don’t send US information! How can we know what’s actionable for you?” The fact that they might have their own uses for the information was tangential to this roadblock/truth.

This was *exactly* what industry hoped would happen!  Industry, having done this in the past with other non-cyber information sharing, knew this would stymie everyone for awhile: Competitive disadvantages, risk of prosecution for what they shared, inability of government to release classified information effectively, and the biggie – risk of regulation!

So at this point, we had:

Techies going: “Mmmm..Info Share! Sexy! We want more info! Wait, actually reduce exposure? That’s no fun, and besides, that’s really out of our control – business people suck at making decisions”

Industry: “Sweeeeet. This techie cry for Info Sharing is cool! It’s something that looks like low hanging fruit that we can use to block cyber interaction with the government indefinitely”

Gov: “Hmm. Cyber is scary and we have little to no visibility and we’re on the hook to help without (for the most part) regulation, we need information to better conduct conflict and apply game theory to international relations! We need to get industry to trust us and give us all their bits!”

Given the long history of the government ROYALLY screwing up trust relations with industry, this stood for years as a happy-medium-quagmire with everyone taking pot shots at each other from across entrenched positions.

But wait!  Suddenly it actually got serious – the MEDIA started running away with cyber? Can those Chinese kids take out the power grid? OMG! (Note: I actually think the risks from cyber conflict are potentially VERY severe, but these are not the SAME risks as the ones Media got hold of).  And suddenly, congress, who KNOWS where it’s risks come from – bad political coverage by the media forcing uneducated people to vote or clamor for some MEME-OF-THE-DAY – got involved.

Congress: “Gov, Industry, Techies? What do we need to do CYBER better?!!?!?”

All: “Informaaaatttiion Shaaaarrrriiinnnnggg…”

And now, Congress has it, and everyone has lost COMPLETE sight of the fact that, at best, information sharing is a MATURE and DIFFICULT capability that results from mature organizational awareness and decision making and will, again at best, help catch the EXCEPTIONS that are not handled by mature organizational decision making, and will do little to NOTHING to reduce cybersecurity risk exposure or to reduce the escalating cost and complexity of the problem over the time.  Instead, it will help better execute/conduct conflict in cyberspace, satisfy techies who want to play more complicated games and solve more interesting problems, and leave the governments involved without any real position change in their ability to apply game theory strategically to cyberspace.

(NOTE ABOUT THE BELOW: This post was more about the history of information sharing driving these types of bills. My comments below are much less informed)

Does CISA trample on rights and privacy? Maaaaayyybee – Probably not…this is an old discussion that wasn’t completely initiated by government.  It may have secondary cascading effects, but I don’t believe that’s the primary motivation for it (or even A motivation).

Do I want them to pass it? Well, the government has shown it is PERFECTLY WILLING to try and get this information by other means, so….are we really losing anything? If nothing else, if we pass AN information sharing bill, at least there’s an increased possibility everyone will be able to finally share the Information that the Info Sharing Emperor Has No Clothes?

Ill have a longer discussion of SIRACon later, maybe, but for now, you can find my talk slides here:



Some of it is old material, but some of it is new. I really like how it’s fitted together and ordered here.

A couple of people have asked me to clarify what I mean by Sieges (and parasites) in terms of the first Siege post and the subsequent strategy/problem space framework post. Here’s a quick email I wrote that might help:

Sieges and Parasites:

From a collective non-aggressor entity perspective, cybersecurity “conflict” is functionally a siege of the collective environment: Non-combatants trying to maintain a minimum level of survivability while they’re surrounded, being drained of resources, and lack sufficient environmental influence/position to make effective risk decisions.

Compare/Contrast Siege and Parasitic Environment as conflict types to: crime, espionage, battlefield warfare, natural events.  These latter tend to be incident/event driven, where the risk and responses to a siege are more environmental over time, with incidents to individuals happening but being largely irrelevant except as they contribute to the overall lack of stability/freedom to operate.

This though process got kicked off for me while reading about the siege of Sarajevo in particular. Imagine  – you (a private org standing in as a citizen for this narrative) are in a city surrounded by artillery and snipers and you have to decide how best to keep getting water, which involves cross several streets through town. Some streets are vaguely safer than others, usually, but not necessarily.  You occasionally can see or have insight into the people on the hills, but not usually.  There are dedicated defenders around, but theyre not well positioned and lack the capacity to defend everyone all the time. Your resources are limited and your freedom to operate is constrained further over time as resources diminish. You can be hit at any time once you move from a standstill from your base/home (and even then, without change, you are at some risk).  You sort of make up criteria for decisions that help you feel safer (has anyone crossed that street recently? Were they shot at?) but aren’t really indicative of actual risk.

In this case, trying to decide how and when to get water as a risk based decision is almost a nonsensical proposition: You don’t control your environment, you have a lot of exposure, and you lack relevant information that would change your situation significantly (this isn’t the same as lacking data, just helpful data).

This scenario is substantially different from how we look at cybersecurity and infosec today: Individual defenders, with sufficient skill and competency, access to resources indefinitely and as needed, on a relatively level playing field, trying to prevent, manage, or mitigate individual events on their own.

Ultimately, right now, we’re asking a bunch of non-combatants (you know, most businesses) to have the capacity to effectively and sustainable participate in what is becoming a low level global conflict (inclusive of state to state, criminal, hacktivist, etc activity) while under siege.

This is a broken model and will never, ever get us where we want to be (for more reasons than I’ll lay out here).  We have to break the siege (thoughts on that being out of scope for the moment), which involves a level of strategic cooperation and unity that present culture, politics, business realities, and law do not allow.

(The Parasitic environment analogy is more specific to single-organizations, as it allows for specific targeting: )

Aside: Interestingly, though, from an aggressor standpoint, it might or *might not* look like either a siege or a parasitic environment – ie, aggressors acting individually and *without* coordination are contributing to creating a separate conflict type for defenders (Siege).

I’ve been known, now and again, to mouth off sarcastically that we don’t have any idea what “Cybersecurity” is, strategically – that we have no real concept of what “it” is.  So, as a preface to my upcoming talks, I’ve sketched out a very, very draft and incomplete framework off the top of my head that is, I think, STILL more complete than anything else out there. It’s done in terms of “Environments” that must be managed or that pose describable, discernible, solvable problem spaces that pertain to cybersecurity risk.  Note how different this looks than the NIST Framework, NERC CIP, SANS guidance, what you hear panels talk about, etc. Just remember, I have a lot to add here, which I’ll do after my upcoming talks have been given.


Conflict Environment

  1. Sieges & Unity (Defense problem of community siege-breaking, not incidents)
    1. Game Theory & International Relations
    2. Norms, Stabilization, and Confidence Building Measures
  2. Parasite Management
    1. Single Organization Value Control
    2. Competition for use of shared, not owned infrastructure
  3. Information vs Kinetic Warfare
    1. Long term abuse of misplaced cultural, political, and legal redlines

Technical Environment

  1. Complexity (exposure rising directly and infinitely with complexity)
  2. Competency (technical competency required by all, who cannot maintain)
  3. Security Express-ability (lower layers are approximating upper layer expressions)

Physical Environment 

  1. Geography & Power Delegation (Targets are Geography, cannot insert gov between industry and adversary)
  2. Geography & Proximity (Everyone is a Neighbor)

Single Organizational Environment

  1. Developing Sustainable Practices without requiring core Competency
  2. Decision Making Capacity Building
  3. Full System (Human) Threat Modeling
    1. Self Awareness
    2. Vulnerability/Exposure Identification & Management
    3. Exploitation Opportunity Identification & Management

Human Environment

  1. Stakeholder psychology requires targeted action to achieve desired behavior change
  2. Exceptional Distance between decisions, actions and risk limits involvement
  3. Ability to Process sufficient incoming knowledge tangential to core

National Environment

  1. Common Problem Space Consensus Development/Socialization
  2. Development and Engagement of Appropriate Regimes
  3. Stabilizing vs Developing managed Environments
  4. Business Value Production is inherently and completely tied to exposure creation/mgt, how does gov manage?

Market Environment

  1. Entrenched Industry is sucking needed resources away uselessly, needs derailment (fail, iterate, improve)
  2. Abstract, tenuous connection between market and risk

Leadership Environment 

  1. We Need Generals: Now Guys with Guns Espousing Tactical Requirements in Place of Strategies to Win (Win = Desired level of risk for desired investment over time)
  2. Formal Roles limiting Routing of Knowledge/Capability into available levers (ie, if you’re not selling something, you’re not participating)

Getting to be a busy fall/winter schedule. If you’re interested in catching up with me, learning, or just discussing security, check me out at one of these venues:

  • Sept 14 | Washington DC | EnergySec Summit
    • Giving workshop on Frameworks and the Discipline of Cybersecurity
  • Sept 28-29 | Krakow, Poland | CYBERSEC EU
    • Panelist in the State Stream
  • Oct 8-9 | Detroit, MI | SIRAcon
    • Speaking on risk: Yours, Anecdotally”
  • Jan | Florida
    • To Be Announced

Cant make these? Interested in having my somewhat unusual viewpoints represented at your security, industry, coffee, hiking, or other event? Let me know so I can get it on the calendar! :)

Pulled from a posting I made to SCADASEC:

Hard to believe that only 54 percent of those surveyed knew who to call in the event of a cyber incident or attack.

Why is this hard to believe? I think it’s not only hard to believe but
also somewhat astounding that we live in a world where we legitimately
expect a substantial percentage of our control systems operators to
have to know this information.  Think about it.  We’re not asking them
to be prepared for a hurricane, we’re asking them – businesses – to
have the knowledge and capability to participate (even if, in some
cases, minimally) in what is becoming global conflict (the delineation
between crime, war, espionage, vandalism, etc is really immaterial to
that statement).  This isn’t a series of potential incidents, it’s an
effective siege environment.  Sieges drain resources, drain morale,
and need a serious strategy to break, or those inside get overwhelmed
eventually. Even with or without actual (public) incidents, the effect
is the same here.

Fifty-three percent of respondents have experienced at least one malicious cyber attack on their control system networks and/or cyber assets— ** that they were aware of- ** within the past 24 months“.  – WOW!

I can’t emphasize enough how…irrelevant….”incident” and “attack”
incidences are when taken individually, or even as concepts that can
be individualized and counted.  The long term damage will be in
environmental predictability, resource allocation, trust, and
increasing cost of doing business.  Maybe something really bad might
happen as an event, but whether it does or not, the foundational
environment can’t sustain this level of conflict and risk indefinitely
without cascading consequences.

Instead of concentrating on managing incidents, responding to
incidents, etc, we should be taking a serious look at what
environmental (technical, legal, social, political) changes we can
make to break the overall siege.  Anything focused on incident
management directly is a two edged sword: It keeps us feeling like
we’re treading water at the cost of resources dedicated to fixing the
long term problems (and incident management capability for individual
organizations is *not* solving a long term problem).

All In My Late Night Humble Opinion.  Take it as you will.

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