Mikko Hypponen at TrustyCon: Governments as Malware Authors

Reviving keynotes

If we are to win this battle of Cyber Security we have to keep thinking strategically, learning from past and present and getting ready for tomorrow. I find a lot of value in learning from the leaders we have in the InfoSec community, they bring a wealth of experience and thought leadership to the table and this is often well expressed as part of their keynotes at conferences. Often the message may get lost during edutainment and networking at conferences.

I think there is a value for myself, researchers and leaders in the community to revive the keynotes and continue the discussion. I intend to blog about one keynote every month, let’s say every second Friday of the month (#GoalsShouldBeSpecific). The idea is to summarize the data, thoughts, proposed solutions, open questions and challenges from the talk, add my $0.02 too and engage in an interesting and productive conversation with the community.

Mikko’s “Government as Malware Authors” version at TrustyCon

For the first one in this series, I have picked the last keynote that I have watched and that was given by Mikko Hypponen (@mikko) CRO at FSecure at TrustyCon. There is a history behind this talk which is well known and well talked about and to avoid diverting your own attention from the main purpose of this entry I would not comment on it.

The talk is available at TrustyCon’s official youtube channel as part of one long recording of conference or as an extracted segment by makehacklearn.org embedded below.

Interesting points raised:

  • Security vendors commit to providing secure environments to their clients, we are trusted for it if we break that trust what’s left? Trust can be broken intentionally or via having their infrastructure compromised (RSA breach?)
  • There are various entities with their business success depending on being able to break our systems (VUPEN, Hacking Team, Defense Contractors, etc), they clearly are not here to make our systems securer, and can’t be classified as malicious parties either?
  • Many governments are getting into authoring malware / APT attacks / cyber warfare, not only the obvious ones US, China, Russia, Israel, even Iran is not a big surprise, but we have now seen this in India vs Pakistan and to add to list we (very likely) have some Spanish speaking country as well.
  • Are or will security vendors white list government malware?
  • Doesn’t this all make security vendors legitimate military targets?
  • It is easier to protect customers from cyber crime which is analogous to protecting from street robbers but to protect from governments trying to break in is very hard just like protecting you from James Bond, as shown below from one of last slides of his talk.

My $0.02

(Note the use of ‘we’ below is for us as users, vendors, CISOs, and analysts)

  • Our community has to continue to uncover, track and educate on APT / government malware, and work with policy makers, human right groups, international peace organizations to set up policies, procedures, accountability and consequences for violations.
  • We need to think about who is discovering APT and who is not, and why not? (intentional oversight, warning signs lost in noise, lack of investment in flagged for review?) 
  • What else can we do better detect and attribute the Stuxnet, Flame, Careto, etc in the future?
  • How can we make deniability harder for those responsible and then have appropriate national and international laws be enforced?
  • Along with this I think we can raise the bar pretty high with user education, security by design, running secure operations, rewarding for pro security attitude and penalizing otherwise.

Finally, I would like to thank Robert Freeman, for his valuable feedback for this entry.

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Zubair Ashraf

X-Force Security Researcher, IBM Security

Zubair Ashraf is a security researcher and team lead for IBM X-Force Advanced Research. He is very passionate about fighting all malicious activities in cyber space (aka cyber-crime/ attacks, or APT etc.). Currently he contributes to this via several means, and to share a few, he is actively and passionately: Educating and training others via his Twitter, blogging or presenting at security events; Analyzing Exploitation Techniques, Malware and Vulnerabilities and advising the IBM Security System's product development teams on prevention and detection strategies. His twitter account (@zashraf1337) has been listed among security researchers that will blow your mind and recommended on Metasploit's blog as among those to be followed if you like vulnerability research and/or exploit development.