3 Things I Learned Talking to InfoSec People About Crime

Over the last several years, I have given many many talks about the behavior of criminal rings, how the criminal underground operates and black market economics. I wanted to share with my audiences some of the lessons I have learned about crime. Many people responded well and were interested in the content. Some replied with the predictable, “So what does this have to do with my firewall?” kind of response. One older security auditor even went so far as to ask me point blank “Why do you pay attention to the criminals? Shouldn’t you be working on helping people secure their networks?”  I tried to explain that understanding bad actors was a part of securing systems, but she wouldn’t hear of it…

That’s OK. I expected some of that kind of push back. Often, when I ask people what they want to hear about, or where my research should go, the responses I get back fall into two categories: “more of the same stuff” and “make x cheaper”, where x is some security product or tool. Neither is what I had in mind… 🙂 

Recently, I announced that I was taking this year off from most public speaking. I don’t think I will be attending as many events or speaking beyond my podcast and webinars. Mostly, this is to help me recover some of my energy and spend more time focused on new research and new projects at MicroSolved. However, I do want to close out the previous chapter of my focus on Operation Aikido and crime with 3 distinct lessons I think infosec folks should focus on and think about.

1. Real world – i.e.” “offline” crime – is something that few infosec professionals pay much attention to. Many of them are unaware of how fraud and black markets work, how criminals launder money/data around the world. They should pay attention to this, because “offline” crime and “online” crime are often strongly correlated and highly related in many cases. Sadly, when approached with this information – much of the response was – “I don’t have time for this, I have 156,926 other things to do right now.”

2. Infosec practitioners still do not understand their foes. There is a complete disconnect between the way most bad guys think and operate and the way many infosec folks think and operate. So much so, that there is often a “reality gap” between them. In a world of so many logs, honeypots, new techniques and data analysis, the problem seems to be getting worse instead of better. Threat intelligence has been reduced to lists of IOCs by most vendors, which makes it seem like knowledge of a web site URL, hash value or IP address is “knowing your enemy”. NOTHING could be farther from the truth….

3. Few infosec practitioners can appreciate a global view of crime and see larger-scale impacts in a meaningful way. Even those infosec practitioners who do get a deeper view of crime seem unable to formulate global-level impacts or nuance influences. When asked how geo-political changes would impact various forms of crime around the world, more than 93% of those I polled could only identify “increases in crime” as an impact. Only around 7% of those polled could identify specific shifts in the types of crime or criminal actors when asked about changes in the geo-political or economic landscapes. Less than 2% of the respondents could identify or correlate accurate trends in response to a geo-political situation like the conflict in Ukraine. Clearly, most infosec folks are focused heavily ON THIER OWN STUFF and not on the world and threats around them.

I’m not slamming infosec folks. I love them. I want them to succeed and have devoted more than 20 years of my life to helping them. I will continue to do so. But, before I close my own chapter on this particular research focus, I think it is essential to level set. This is a part of that. I hope the conversation continues. I hope folks learn more and more about bad actors and crime. I hope to see more people doing this research. I hope to dig even deeper into it in the future.

Until then, thanks for reading, stay safe out there, and I will see you soon – even if I won’t be on stage at most events for a while. 😉

PS _ Thanks to all of the wonderful audiences I have had the pleasure to present to over the years. I appreciate and love each and every one of you! Thanks for all the applause, questions and, most of all, thanks for being there!  

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