Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber WarIn the early 1990s, NSA Director Mike McConnell created a brand-new position at the National Security Agency: Director of Information Warfare.  McConnell appointed Rich Wilhelm, with whom McConnell had worked closely on U.S. counter-command & -control intelligence operations during the first Iraq war.  After just a few weeks settling into his new job, Wilhelm walked into Director McConnell’s office and said “Mike, we’re kind of f***ed here.”

The problem?  The U.S. could penetrate and disrupt foreign adversaries’ increasingly computerized military, government, and civic infrastructures, and it was already clear that future conflicts would turn upon what would only later be dubbed cyber warfare.  But whatever we could do to our adversaries, they could do to us.  Making matters worse, the U.S. military, civilian governmental agencies, and private businesses were rapidly connecting everything in computer networks, with no meaningful attention paid to network security.  We’d be throwing rocks from the largest glass house on the planet.

In Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fred Kaplan adroitly distills over one hundred key player interviews –  from U.S. cabinet secretaries, generals, admirals, and NSA directors, to analysts, aides, and officers in the trenches – into a riveting narrative that tracks the debut, developments, and dilemmas of cyber warfare.

Kaplan’s book is a cyber roller coaster ride spanning three decades.  Here are some notable highs and lows:
Continue Reading The TAO of Cyber Warfare: Dark Territory

White WalkerA swarm of zombies, led by Byte Walkers, surges inexorably onward to penetrate a massive perimeter wall by force and stealth.  Sounds like Game of Thrones, right?  Instead, this is our cyberthreat reality. And in an ironic twist that would make George R. R. Martin blush under his beard, it’s now painfully real for HBO, which recently acknowledged suffering a massive cyber intrusion through which hackers claim to have stolen up to 1.5 terabytes of proprietary data, including Game of Thrones future epsodes.

First Sony, then Netflix, and now HBO – what’s a Westerosi to make of this?
Continue Reading Game of Hacks

Business woman screaming at laptopMany years ago, before common sense kicked in, I thought it would be a good idea to rent a storage space for all the extra furniture and other stuff I could not fit in my new house.  Knowing it would only be temporary, I stashed everything from upholstered and leather furniture, to boxes of books.  Fast forward twelve months.  The rental agreement was expiring, and I realized that I would never need nor have room for all that I’d stored, so I decided to have a sale to dispose of it.  When I went to the storage space I was horrified to see that everything was covered in a thin film of mold.  (This was years before climate-controlled storage was widely available.)  I had no choice but to trash it all, which both cost me money and prevented me from converting my goods to profit.

I was reminded of this long-ago event when I heard about the latest ransomware attack.  We’ve been reminded countless times of the importance of backup, and ransomware is only the most recent reason.  If you have ever had a hard drive fail, you know the pain that comes with irretrievable data.

So what happens when your backup media fails.? Or your archival media?  Don’t CDs last forever?
Continue Reading Backup failure in the age of ransomware

Lawyer holding a target on his faceWhile preparing for an upcoming presentation for in-house lawyers on data security, I dusted off the events of three months ago, when Yahoo! Inc. unceremoniously fired its general counsel on March 1st, the very same day it filed its 10-K for fiscal year 2016.  Yahoo’s 10-K disclosed the contemporaneous dismissal as a “Management Change” resulting from its Board of Directors’ Independent Committee investigation into Yahoo’s immense 2013-2014 data breaches, which were not disclosed until 2016. Unlike prior mega-breaches, in which the head of IT or the CEO was let go (Target, Sony), Yahoo singled out its lead in-house lawyer for firing … without separation compensation of any kind.

Henceforth, whether fairly or not, March 1 will be known as In-house Counsel Data Security Awareness Day – because it’s now clearer than ever before that in-house lawyers must take a hands-on approach to breach response, breach response readiness, and data security generally.


Continue Reading In-house Counsel in the Cybersecurity Crosshairs

… wMan with starting pistol over a background of ready racersell, not quite that fast.  But nine minutes is pretty quick, as FTC researchers recently confirmed.

The FTC’s Office of Technology Research & Investigation (OTech) ran an experiment in April and May, posting made-up personally identifiable information in plain text on two different Internet paste sites.  The phony PII was consumer account information for 100 fictitious people, including name, address, phone number, email address, password, and payment means (credit card number, online payment account, or Bitcoin wallet).  Then, OTech waited to see what would happen, monitoring for access attempts on email and payment accounts, attempted credit card charges, and calls and texts received.

The results, and the speed of those results, were a surprise to all but the most jaded.  Here’s what OTech’s monitoring revealed:


Continue Reading How quickly is stolen PII fraudulently used? Faster than you can tweet “covfefe”

dominoes fallingSometimes one must look past the headlines (Target’s $18.5 million deal with the states) to see what’s truly important in effective data breach response.

Last week, in the Experian data breach litigation, the District Court denied plaintiffs’ motion to compel production of the forensic analysis report on the breach, prepared by Mandiant.  Why?  Because it was Experian’s law firm that retained Mandiant to perform the forensic analysis and prepare its report, in anticipation of litigation.  According to the court:

  • Jones Day hired Mandiant to assist the law firm in providing legal advice to the client Experian;
  • Mandiant’s report was based on server images that are independently discoverable, without the report;
  • only a summary, not the full report, was shared with Experian’s internal Incident Response Team; and
  • though Mandiant had in the past worked directly for Experian on other matters, this engagement was separate.

On this basis the court held that the report was protected work product, without even reaching the additional point of attorney/client privilege.

So what’s the big deal?  It’s this – in the heat of an unfolding security incident (in Experian’s case, impacting 15 million people), things move fast.  Really fast.  Victim companies scramble to understand what happened, when it happened, what must now be done, and by when. The what and when are of course important, but  so too are the who and how of effective breach response.  For example, a natural move under the gun is to have the infosec folks immediately bring in an outside security/forensics firm and turn them loose.  Sounds great … until litigation ensues, and all of the forensic firm’s analysis is fair game in discovery – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This is a no-win situation, for both the unprepared and the semi-prepared:


Continue Reading In breach response, who and how are just as important as what and when

Verizon 2017 DBIRI always look forward to Verizon’s annual Data Breach Investigations Report.  Verizon dropped the 2017 DBIR last week, and for the 10th year in a row it cuts through the confusing landscape of security incidents and data breaches with analysis, alacrity … and yes, attitude (in what other report can you find a paragraph heading like “Tall, Dark, and Ransom”?).

The 2017 DBIR distills global information from 65 collectors of incident and breach data, analyzing 42,120 security incidents and 1,925 breaches that occurred during 2016.  The threat environment changes each year, but one of the reasons I value the DBIR is that it shines a light on a few key things that don’t change.  Here are four central aspects of data security that endure – and which we forget at our peril:


Continue Reading Yipee – Verizon’s 2017 DBIR has arrived!

Adding piece to jigsaw puzzleEffective June 16, New Mexico will be the 48th state with a PII data breach notification statute.  New Mexico joins the vast majority of states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in requiring notice to affected residents of PII security breaches – as of June, only Alabama and South Dakota will lack such a law.

Like other states’ statutes, New Mexico’s new law is triggered by the residency of the affected individuals, and so companies across the country with PII of New Mexico residents must now fold the New Mexico requirements into both their PII policy definitions and their breach response protocols.

So, how does New Mexico’s new statute fit into our perplexing puzzle of PII breach notification laws?


Continue Reading America’s great – New Mexico makes 48

Breach VennI wish I had a bitcoin for every time I get an email with the subject line “Data Breach,” yet the facts upon investigation reveal no notifiable breach occurred.

In the Venn diagram of cyber security, the big rectangle is security incidents, enveloping a smaller circle of incidents that are breaches under state PI breach notification statutes.  And a yet smaller circle are the breaches for which these statutes require notification of affected individuals.

So, what are common scenarios in which a security incident does not trigger notification duties under state PI breach notification statutes?


Continue Reading When is a “data breach” not a breach?

Vice President Mike PenceSorry to revive ugly memories of last fall’s vituperative presidential campaign, in which bile was spewed over candidate Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State, and its vulnerability to hacking.  Clinton eventually conceded that her use of a personal email server was a “mistake.”  Which it was, on so many levels.

Now, news reports indicate that Vice President Mike Pence, while Governor of Indiana, used a private email account (AOL, no less) to conduct state business.  And that some of the messages apparently contained sensitive law enforcement and Homeland Security information.  And that, unlike Clinton’s private server, Governor Pence’s personal email account was actually hackedAnd that the hack occurred (wait for it) last summer – in the midst of all of the self-righteous indignation over Clinton’s email practices.  Thankfully, Governor Pence and his wife were NOT stranded in the Philippines, and we did NOT need to wire them emergency funds.

These revelations will no doubt spur cries of bald-faced hypocrisy, and equally heated arguments that Pence’s situation is different than Clinton’s (AOL v. private server, Governor v. Secretary of State, sensitive Homeland Security information v. classified information, and so forth).

But here’s a thought – instead of yet another round of beating ourselves over the head with partisan cudgels, what if we tried something different this time?


Continue Reading So, Governor Pence used his hacked AOL account for state business – can we please now depoliticize data security?