Hacked Opinions: The legalities of hacking – Katie Moussouris

HackerOne's Katie Moussouris talks about hacking regulation and legislation

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Katie Moussouris, from HackerOne, talks about hacking regulation and legislation with CSO in a series of topical discussions with industry leaders and experts.

Hacked Opinions is an ongoing series of Q&As with industry leaders and experts on a number of topics that impact the security community. The first set of discussions focused on disclosure and how pending regulation could impact it. This week CSO is posting the final submissions for the second set of discussions examining security research, security legislation, and the difficult decision of taking researchers to court.

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CSO encourages everyone to take part in the Hacked Opinions series. If you have thoughts or suggestions for the third series of Hacked Opinions topics, or want to be included as a participant, feel free to email Steve Ragan directly.

What do you think is the biggest misconception lawmakers have when it comes to cybersecurity?

Katie Moussouris, Chief Policy Officer, HackerOne (KM): The biggest misconception lawmakers and regulators have when it comes to cybersecurity is failing to understand how important offensive security tools and research are to Internet defense.

The technology used to attack computer systems is indistinguishable from the tools needed to test defenses, and attempts to define and regulate these technologies and tools into “legitimate” and “illegitimate” categories is misguided. Attackers can largely achieve their goals via phishing and exploitation of unpatched systems, but defenders need to be able to share exploit and 0day information freely, and much of this proposed legislation will harm defense without hindering offense at all.

As more vital technologies are adding Internet connectivity, including medical devices and vehicles, it is more important than ever for lawmakers to clarify a safe way for defenders, including friendly hackers, to perform security research and share the attack tools and techniques that identify weaknesses so they can be fixed.

What advice would you give to lawmakers considering legislation that would impact security research or development?

KM: Security research is vital to keeping us all stay safe online. All technology has flaws and if a friendly hacker can find a way to exploit the technology you rely on, chances are criminals can as well.

The war being fought for security and privacy on the Internet requires all hands on deck when it comes to defense. As users of the Internet, we all benefit when those who are ultimately on the same side feel empowered to work together. Hackers who want to help secure the Internet are everywhere, and they could be an early warning system if regulations permit it and organizations are willing to listen.

If you could add one line to existing or pending legislation, with a focus on research, hacking, or other related security topic, what would it be?

KM: “Don’t hate the hacker; Hate the Vuln” - This is obviously not fit to include in legislation, but the sentiment should be carried into any conversation about regulating or legislating security research or attack tools and technology.

The lines that may be more fit for inclusion in legislation might be “Vulnerability disclosure to vendors, maintainers, or deployers of technology for defense purposes must not be impeded.” As well as, “Vendors must provide a way for external parties to report vulnerability information in their products.”

Now, given what you've said, why is this one line so important to you?

KM: I gave two lines, because they go hand in hand. The first line underscores the need for cyber legislation to provide a safe harbor for offense security research that defenders need unimpeded access to without being slowed down or blocked.

The second line is equally important because many organizations lack the maturity or means to process vulnerabilities, even lacking an obvious front door for reporting vulnerabilities. Without that basic capability, how will they learn about potential attack vectors? Probably via active attacks.

Do you think a company should resort to legal threats or intimidation to prevent a researcher from giving a talk or publishing their work? Why, or why not?

KM: Under no circumstances does it benefit any party to threaten or attempt to silence security researchers. The researcher will learn not to report valuable security information because the risk is too high, the users will remain exposed to exploitation, and the vendor may incur the collective ire of the security community, while simultaneously discouraging future friendly hackers from coming forward. Nobody wins.

Threatening a researcher into silence does nothing to resolve software vulnerabilities. Hackers can help prevent attacks if they can come forward without fear of prosecution. As I’ve said before, don’t hate the hacker, hate the vuln. One way to measure an organization's security maturity is how they handle external vulnerability reports. Organizations are that are unable to gracefully deal with external parties who are trying to warn them of security holes are putting their users, and possibly the Internet as a whole, at risk.

Ultimately, attackers are the only parties that benefit when security researchers fear the consequences for reporting issues and these vulnerabilities remain unresolved. We need to focus on prosecuting crime, not research. The result is a safer computing ecosystem for everyone.

What types of data (attack data, threat intelligence, etc.) should organizations be sharing with the government? What should the government be sharing with the rest of us?

KM: Privacy concerns have not been adequately addressed in current proposed plans and proposed legislation for public-private information sharing from organizations to governments. In general, it’s important for defenders to share information about attacks in order to respond and correlate threat information.

However, in an era when global users of cloud services are rightfully suspicious of government mass data collection, the negative impact on international commerce of requiring organizations to turn over information to governments that has not been adequately stripped of personal information will stifle economic growth and undermine consumer confidence. Needless to say, the potential for abuse of mass data collection in the name of security should not be overlooked.

Information on current attacks; be they successful or otherwise, shared from governments to organizations, can help private industry better understand and spot weaknesses in their own defense.

This story, "Hacked Opinions: The legalities of hacking – Katie Moussouris" was originally published by CSO.

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