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Humans matter: Issue three — Discretion, automation and the rise of the hackbot


07 February 2017

Bryan K. Fite

Blogs by author: Bryan K. Fite, Account CISO, BT.


The RSA Conference 2017 isn’t far away. Bryan K. Fite explores why discretion and automation will be high on the agenda this year. 

What matters most

It’s that time of year again: RSA prep. Presentation material? Check. Client, prospect and partner meetings? Check. Possibly the hardest of all choices — vendor party selection? Check. I think I’m ready, but I know I’m excited.

This is a chance to interact with other humans interested in protecting what matters most: the human beneficiary of technology (aka other humans). And one of the key areas I’ll be looking to discuss and learn more about will be the role of discretion in cyber security. It’s a reoccurring theme in my writing, and is now more relevant than ever.

Professionals’ discretion

Our guest blogger, and good neighbour, Sergey Bratus, provided a strong case for the value and application of discretion in his blog. And my own experience suggests that discretion has a significant role in cyber security. As we move towards greater automation, it’s important that a level of discretion is given to human assets (professionals). But obviously, discretion should only be afforded to qualified humans and exercised within well-defined parameters — that’s the tricky bit.

Biological robots: discretion and automation

I anticipate that automation will become the next reoccurring theme in my writings, research and rants, as well as the industry in general. I was at a CISO luncheon last week, and automation was discussed and positioned as a potential force multiplier that will allow organisations to scale, move with agility and improve quality.

Discretion and automation have a delicate relationship. It doesn’t make sense to outsource or automate a broken business process (but this happens every day) and it also doesn’t make sense to outsource it to a human who doesn’t have discretion.

Assuming the business process is fit for purpose, we should avoid moving these business functions to other (lower cost) human assets, and instead regard the process as an automation candidate. Humans who don’t have discretion are essentially biological robots — and this isn’t a good use of human potential.

It’s time for action

This struck me as a very timely discussion because defenders need to start changing the asymmetric nature of cyber security before it’s too late. Automation could be the lynchpin for such a paradigm shift but we don’t have the luxury of time on our side.

You only need to look at the results of the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge to realise the time for action is now — as a shortage of cyber operations personnel and the rise of the hacking machines conspire to make your current defences obsolete. Konstantinos Karagiannis’ presentation at last year’s RSA showed automated hacking isn’t only possible, but is becoming practical (and cheap), too.

The ‘hackbot’

The ‘hackbot’, as I call it, is how criminals and other adversaries will maintain their advantage. As we discussed at DCX, defenders need to adopt these techniques and develop similar capabilities. Graeme Nielsen demonstrated that, in a cloud attack, things can get real, real quick.

If the internet democratised free speech, then the cloud is democratising cyber crime and cyber war. The role of humans in future cyber conflicts is unclear, but the impact of not getting it right will be disastrous on a global level.

Making humans more effective

So I’ll be heading to RSA with my eyes and ears open, looking for innovative ways to make humans more effective.

You can visit me there at my session on Tuesday as I discuss ‘Disrupting the Disruptors’ by taking the offensive. Then it’s off to 31C0n 31C0n and on to Troopers, so please do reach out if you plan to attend any of the above — I’d genuinely like to hear from you on what works, because humans matter.

We’ll be a sponsor at the 2017 RSA Conference, 13-17 February at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and we’d like you to join us at our booth (North Hall #4123), meet with our senior security leaders and take part in our on-site activities.