The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

The Center for Education and Research in
Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

Symposium Summary: Unsecured Economies Panel


A panel summary by Kripa Shankar.

Panel Members:

  • Karthik Kannan, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University
  • Jackie Rees, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University
  • Dmitri Alperovitch, McAfee
  • Paul Doyle, ProofSpace
  • Kevin Morgan, Arxan Technologies

Adding a new dimension to the CERIAS 10th Annual Security Symposium, five of the panelists with varied background came together on the final day to share their work and experiences on “Unsecured Economies: Protecting Vital IP”.

Setting the platform for this discussion was this report. “Together with McAfee, an international team of data protection and intellectual property experts undertook extensive research and surveyed more than 1,000 senior IT decision makers in the US, UK, Japan, China, India, Brazil and the Middle East regarding how they currently protect their companies digital data assets and intellectual property. A distributed network of unsecured economies has emerged with the globalization of many organizations, leaving informational assets even more at risk to theft and misuse. This report investigates the cybercrime risks in various global economies, and the need for organizations to take a more holistic approach to vulnerability management and risk mitigation in this ever-evolving global business climate.”

Karthik Kannan, Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems, CERIAS, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University was the first to start the proceedings. He gave a brief overview of the above report, which was the product of the collaborative research done by him, Dr. Jackie Rees and Prof. Eugene Spafford as well. The motivation behind this work, was that more and more information was becoming digital and traditional geographic boundaries were blurring. Information was being outsourced to faraway lands and as a result protecting leaks was becoming harder and harder. Kannan, put forth questions like: “How do perceptions and practices vary across economies and cultures?”, and sighted an example from India where salary was not personal information, and was shared and discussed informally. To get answers for more such questions, a survey was devised. This survey was targeted at senior IT decision makers, Chief Information Officers and directors of various firms across the globe. US, UK, Germany, Brazil, China and India were among the countries chosen, giving the survey the cultural diversity element that it needed. Adding more value to the survey was the variety of sectors: Defense, Retail, Product Development, Manufacturing and Financial Services. According to results of the survey, a majority of the intellectual property (47%) originates from North America and Western Europe, and on an average firms lost $4.6 million worth of IP last year. Kannan went on to explain how security was being perceived in developing countries, and also discussed how respondents reacted to security investment during the downturn. Statistics like: 42% of the respondents saying laid-off employees are the biggest threat caused by the economic downturn, showed that insider threats were on the rise. The study put forth many case studies to show that data thefts from insiders tend to have greater financial impact given the high level of data access, and an even greater financial risk to corporations.

Jackie Rees, also an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems, CERIAS, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University took it up from where Kannan had left and brought to light some of the stories that did not go into the report. Rees explained the reasons behind the various sectors storing information outside the home country. While Finance sector viewed it as being safer to store data elsewhere; the IT , Product Development and Manufacturing sectors found it to be more efficient for the supply chain; and the Retail and Defense sector felt better expertise was available elsewhere. Looking at the perspective on the amount that these sectors were spending on security, 67% of the Finance industry said it was “just right”, while “30%” of Retail felt it was “too little”. The other results seemed varied but consistent with our intuitions, however all sectors seemed to agree that the major threat to deal with was “its own employees”. The worst impact of a breach was on the reputation of the organization. Moving on to the global scene where geopolitical perceptions have become a reality in information security policies, Rees shared that certain countries are emerging as clear sources of threats to sensitive data. She added that Pakistan is seen as big threat by most industries according to respondents while China and Russia are in the mix. Poor law enforcement, corruption and lack of cooperation in these economies were sighted as a few reasons for them to emerge as threats.

Dmitri Alperovitch, Vice President of Threat Research, McAfee Corporation began by expressing his concern over the fact that Cybercrime is one of the headwinds hitting our economy. He pointed out that the economic downturn has resulted in less spending on security, and as a result increased vulnerabilities and laid of employees were now the serious threats. Elucidating, he added that most of the vulnerabilities are used by insiders who not only know what is valuable, but also know how to get it. Looking back at the days when a worm such as Melissa that was named after the attacker’s favorite stripper seems to be having a much lesser malicious intent that those of today, where virtually all threats now are financially motivated and more to do with money laundering. Sighting examples, Alperovitch told us stories of an organization in Turkey that was recently caught for credit and identity theft, of members of law enforcement being kidnapped, and of how Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups were using such tools to finance terrorist groups and activities. Alperovitch vehemently stressed on the problem that this threat model was not understood by the industry and hence the industry is not well protected.

Paul Doyle, Founder Chairman & CEO, Proofspace began by thanking CERIAS and congratulating the researchers at McAfee for their contributions. Adding a new perspective of thinking to the discussion, Doyle proposed that there has not been enough control over the data. Data moves over supply chain, but “Control” does not move. Referring to yesterday’s discussion on cloud computing, where it was pointed out that availability is a freebie, Doyle said the big challenge here was that of handling integrity of data. Stressing on the point he added that integrity of data is the least common divisor, and that it was the least understood area in security as well. How do we understand when a change has occurred? In the legal industry, we have a threat factor in the form of a cross-examining attorney. What gives us certainty in other industries? We have not architected our systems to handle the legal threat vector. Systems lack the controls and audit ability needed for provenance and ensured integrity. Trust Anchor of Time has to be explored. “How do we establish the trust anchor of time and how confidentiality tools can help in increasing reliabilities?” are important areas to work on.

Kevin Morgan, Vice President of Engineering, Arxan Technologies began with an insight on how crime evolves in perfect synchrony with the socio-economic system. Every single business record is accessible in the world of global networking, and access enables crime. Sealing enterprise perimeters has failed, as there is no perimeter any more. Thousands and thousands of nodes execute business activity, and most of the nodes (like laptops and smart phones) are mobile, which in turn means that data is mobile and perimeter-less. Boundary protection is not the answer. We have to assume that criminals have access to enterprise data and applications. Assets, data and applications must be intrinsically secure and the keys protecting them must be secure too. Technology can help a great deal in increasing the bar for criminals and the recent trends are really encouraging.

After the highly informative presentations, the panel opened up for questions for the next hour. A glimpse of the session can be found in the transcript of the Q&A session below.

Q&A Session: A transcript snapshot

Q: We are in the Mid-West, no one is going to come after us. What should I as a security manager consider doing? How do you change the perception that organizations in “remote” locations are also subject to attack?

  • Alperovitch: You are cyber and if you have valuable information you will be targeted. Data manipulation is what one has to worry about the most.
  • Morgan: Form Red teams, perform penetration tests and share the results with the company.
  • Doyle: Employ allies and make sure you are litigation ready. Build a ROI model and lower total cost of litigation.

Q: CEOs consider cutting costs. They cut bodies. One of the biggest threats to security is letting the people go. It’s a paradox. How do we handle this?

  • Kannan: We have not been able to put a dollar value to loss of information. Lawrence Livermore National Lab has a paper on this issue which might be of interest to you.
  • Rees: Try to turn it into a way where you can manage information better by adding more controls.

Q: How do we stress our stand on why compliance is important?

  • Doyle: One of our flaws as a professional committee is that we are bad in formulating business cases. We have to take a leaf out of Kevin’s (of Cisco) books who formulates security challenges into business proposals. Quoting an analogy, at the end of the day it is the brakes and suspensions are the ones that decide the maximum speed of the automobile, not the engine or the aerodynamics. The question is: How fast we can go safely? Hence compliance becomes important.

Q: Where do we go from here to find out how data is actually being protected?

  • Kannan: Economics and behavioral issues are more important for information security. We need to define these into information security models.
  • Rees: Governance structure of information must also be studied.
  • Alperovitch: The study has put forth those who may be impacted by the economy. We need to expose them to the problem. Besides we also need to help law enforcement get information from the private sector as the laws are not in place. We also need to figure out a way to motivate companies to share security information and threats with the community.
  • Doyle: Stop thinking about security and start thinking about risk and risk management. Model return-reward proposition in terms of risk.
  • Morgan: We need to step up as both developers and consumers.

Q: The $4.6 million estimate. How was it estimated?

  • Rees: We did a rolling average across the respondents, keeping in mind the assumption that people underestimate problems.

Q: Was IP integral to the business model of a company that there was a total loss causing the company to go bust?

  • Rees: We did not come across any direct examples of firms that tanked and fell because of IP loss.

Q: Could you suggest new processes to enforce security of data?

  • Doyle: We need to find ways from the other side. If we cannot stop them, how do we restrict and penalize them using the law?

Q: Infrastructure in Purdue and US has been there for long and we have adapted and evolved to newer technologies. However other old organization and developing countries are still backward, and it actually seems to be helping them, as they need to be less bothered with the new-age threats. What’s your take on that?

  • Kannan: True. We spoke to the CISO of a company in India. His issues were much less as it was a company with legacy systems.
  • Alperovitch: There is a paradigm shift in the industry. Security is now becoming a business enabler.


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