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Purdue University - Discovery Park
Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

Symposium Summary: Fireside Chat

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A panel summary by Utsav Mittal.

Panel Members:

  • Eugene H. Spafford, CERIAS
  • Ron Ritchey, IATAC
  • John Thompson, Symantec

It’s an enlightening experience to listen to some of the infosec industry’s most respected and seasoned professionals sitting around a table to discuss information security.

This time it was Eugene Spafford , John Thompson and Ron Ritchey. The venue was Lawson computer science building. The event was a fireside chat as a part of the CERIAS 10th Annual Security Symposium.

Eugene Spafford started the talk by stating that security is a continuous process not a goal. He compared security with naval patrolling. Spaf said that security is all about managing and reducing risks on a continuous basis. According to him, nowadays a lot of stress is placed on data leakage. This is undoubtedly one of the major concerns today, but it should not be the only concern. When people are focused more on data leakage instead of addressing the core of the problem, which is in the insecure design of the systems, they get attacked which gives rises to an array of problems. He further added that the amount of losses in cyber attacks are equal to losses incurred in hurricane Katrina. Not much is being done to address this problem. This is partly due to the fact that losses in cyber attacks, except a few major ones, occur in small amounts which aggregate to a huge sum.

With regards to the recent economic downturn, Spaf commented that many companies are cutting down on the budget of security, which is a huge mistake. According to Spaf, security is an invisible but vital function, whose real presence and importance is not felt unless an attack occurs and the assets are not protected.

Ron Ritchey stressed upon the issues of data and information theft. He said that the American economy is more of a design-based economy. Many cutting edge products are researched and designed in the US by American companies. These products are then manufactured in China, India and other countries. The fact that the US is a design economy further encompasses the importance of information security for US companies and the need to protect their intellectual property and other information assets. He said that attacks are getting more sophisticated and targeted. Malware is getting carefully social engineered. He also pointed out there is a need to move from signature-based malware detection to behavior-based detection.

John Thomson arrived late as his jet was not allowed to land at the Purdue airport due to high winds. John introduced himself in a cool way as a CEO of a ‘little’ company named Symantec in Cupertino. Symantec is a global leader in providing security, storage and systems management solutions; it is one of the world’s largest software companies with more than 17,500 employees in more than 40 countries.

John gave some very interesting statistics about the information security and attack scene these days. John said that about 10 years ago when he joined Symantec, Symantec received about five new attack signatures each day. Currently, this number stands about 15000 new signatures each day with an average attack affecting only 15 machines. He further added that the attack vectors change every 18-24 months, and new techniques and technologies are being used extensively by criminals to come out with new and challenging attacks. He mentioned that attacks today are highly targeted, intelligently socially engineered, are more focused on covertly stealing information from a victim’s computer, and silently covering its tracks. He admitted that due to increasing sophistication and complexity of attacks, it is getting more difficult to rely solely on signature-based attack detection. He stressed the importance on behavior-based detection techniques. With regards to the preparedness of government and law enforcement, he said that law enforcement is not skilled enough to deal with these kind of cyber attacks. He said that in the physical world people have natural instincts against dangers. This instinct needs to be developed for the cyber world, which can be just as dangerous if not more so.

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