Sunday, November 15, 2020

Fifth order effects

There are methods of cyber policy and strategy thought that various countries keep quiet about the way ADM/TESO kept their 0day. When it takes a long time to integrate information warfare into your techniques and operationalize it and test it and learn from the practice of it, then knowing its relative weight in hybrid warfare before your adversary does is useful enough to hide.

But of course, the same thing is true on the other side. You could call out the United State's primacy in early lessons on ICS hacking as the results of opportunistic investment, or you could see them as payoff for forethought around the policy implications of ongoing technology change, slowly evolving into the Stuxnet-shaped Stegosaurus Thagomizer that pummels any society advanced enough to have email.

Persistent engagement might be one of these. Look far enough into the future on it and what you see is a sophisticated regime of communication strategies to reduce signal error between adversaries, sometimes leveraging the information security industry (c.f. USCC sending implants to VirusTotal), but also sometimes USCC silently protecting the ICS networks of Iran and Russia from other intruders

Recently I did a panel with one of the longest serving CSOs of a major financial that I know about, and one thing that struck me is how at the scale of a large financial institution, your goal is raising the bar ON AVERAGE. As an attacker, my goal is to find ways to create BINARY risk decisions, where if you lose, it's not ON AVERAGE but all at once. Your goal as a defender is to make any offense have a cost that you can mitigate on average.

Phishing is the obvious example. So many training courses (aka, scams) have been sold that provide a metric on reducing your exposure to phishing from 5% of clicked attachments to 2% of clicked attachments. But anything above 0% of clicked attachments is really all the attacker needs. There's a mismatch here in understanding of the granularity of risk that I still find it difficult to explain to otherwise smart people to this day! "It doesn't matter how deep the Thagomizer went into your heart, there's no antibiotics in the Jurassic and you're going to die!" might be my next attempt.

But other examples include things like "JITs" where any vulnerability can become EVERY vulnerability - from replacing an object to introducing a timing attack. You can't even understand the pseudo expression that defines what a JIT vulnerability is because it's written in an alien language only a specialist in x86 code optimization can even pretend to understand, and usually doesn't.

This is true for a large section of the new technology we rely on, especially cloud computing. What we've lost sight of is our understanding of fragility, or conversely of resilience. We no longer have tools to measure it, or we no longer bother to do so. What used to be clear and managed is now more often unclear and unmanaged and un-introspectable. 

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