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The Cyber Security Ecosystem: Collaborate or Collaborate. It’s your choice.

As cyber security as a field has grown in scope and influence, it has effectively become an ‘ecosystem’ of multiple players, all of whom either participate in or influence the way the field develops and/or operates. At Hivint, we believe it is crucial for those players to collaborate and work together to enhance the security posture of communities, nations and the globe, and that security consultants have an important role to play in facilitating this goal.

The eco-system untwined

The cyber security ecosystem can broadly be divided into two categories, with some players (e.g. governments) having roles in both categories:

Macro-level players

Consists of those stakeholders who are in a position to exert influence on the way the cyber security field looks and operates at the micro-level. Key examples include governments, regulators, policymakers and standards setting organisations and bodies (such as the International Organization for Standardization, Internet Engineering Task Force and National Institute for Standards and Technology).

Micro-level players

Consists of those stakeholders who, both collectively and individually, undertake actions on a day-to-day basis that affect the community’s overall cyber security posture (positively or negatively). Examples include end users/consumers, governments, online businesses, corporations, SMEs, financial institutions and security consultants (although as we’ll discuss later, the security consultant has a unique role that bridges across the other players at the micro-level).

The macro level has, in the past, been somewhat muted with its involvement in influencing developments in cyber security. Governments and regulators, for example, often operated at the fringes of cyber security and primarily left things to the micro-level. While collaboration occurred in some instances (for example, in response to cyber security incidents with national security implications), that was by no means expected.

The formalisation of collaborative security

This is rapidly changing. We are now regularly seeing more formalised models being (or planning to be) introduced to either strongly encourage or require collaboration on cyber security issues between multiple parties in the ecosystem.

Recent prominent examples include proposed draft legislation in Australia that would, if implemented, require nominated telecommunications service providers and network operators to notify government security agencies of network changes that could affect the ability of those networks to be protected[1], proposals for introducing legislative frameworks to encourage cyber security information sharing between the private sector and government in the United States[2], and the introduction of a formal requirement in the European Union for companies in certain sectors to report major security incidents to national authorities[3].

There are any number of reasons for this change, although the increasing public visibility given to cyber security incidents is likely at the top of the list (in October alone we have seen two of Australia’s major retailers suffer security breaches). In addition, there is a growing predilection toward collaborative models of governance in a range of cyber topic areas that have an international dimension (for example, the internet community is currently involved in deep discussions around transitioning the governance model for the internet’s DNS functions away from US government control towards a multi-stakeholder model). With cyber security issues frequently having a trans-national element — particularly discussions around setting ‘norms’ of conduct around cyber security at an international level[4] — it’s likely that players at the macro-level see this as an appropriate time to become more involved in influencing developments in the field at the national level.

Given this trend, it’s unlikely to be long before the macro-level players start to require compliance with minimum standards of security at the micro-level. As an example, the proposed Australian legislation referred to above would require network operators and service providers to do their best (by taking all reasonable steps) to protect their networks from unauthorised access or interference. And in the United States, a Federal Court of Appeals recently decided that their national consumer protection authority, the Federal Trade Commission, had jurisdiction to determine what might constitute an appropriate level of security for businesses in the United States to meet in order to avoid potential liability[5]. In Germany, legislation recently came into effect requiring minimum security requirements to be met by operators of critical infrastructure.

Security consultants — the links in the collaboration chain

Whatever the reasons for the push towards ‘collaborative’ security, it’s the micro-level players who work in the cyber security field day-to-day who will ultimately need to respond as more formal expectations are placed on players at the macro-level with regards to their security posture.

Hivint was in large part established to respond to this trend — we believe that security consultants have a crucial role to play in this process, including through building a system in which the outputs of consulting projects are shared within communities of interest who are facing common security challenges, thereby minimising redundant expenditure on security issues that other organisations have already faced. This system is called “The Security Colony” and is available now[6]. For more information on the reasons for its creation and what we hope to achieve, see our previous article on this topic.

We also believe there is a positive linkage between facilitating more collaboration between players at the micro-level of the ecosystem, and encouraging the creation of more proactive security cultures within organisations. Enabling businesses to minimise expenditure on security problems that have already been considered in other consulting projects enables them to focus their energies on implementing measures to encourage more proactive security — for example, as we discussed in a previous article, by educating employees on the importance of identifying and reporting basic security risks (such as the inappropriate sharing of system passwords). And encouraging a more proactive security culture within organisations will ultimately strengthen the nation’s overall cyber security posture and benefit the community as a whole.

Article by Craig Searle, Chief Apiarist, Hivint

[1] See in particular the proposed changes to section 313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth).
[2] See https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44069.pdf for a description of these proposals.
[3] See http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/network-and-information-security-nis-directive
[4] See for example http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/international-norms-cyberspace-by-joseph-s–nye-2015-05
[5] See http://www.technologylawdispatch.com/2015/08/privacy-data-protection/third-circuit-upholds-ftcs-authority-in-wyndham-case/?utm_source=Mondaq&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign=View-Original
[6] https://www.securitycolony.com/

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