Bridging the gender gap in cybersecurity

In a panel at the ISC2 Security Congress 2021, Sharon Smith, CISSP, Lori Ross O’Neil, CISSP, Aanchal Gupta and Meg West, M.S., CISSP, discussed the challenges and opportunities of being a woman in cybersecurity. From the factors that lead to women being underrepresented in cybersecurity to removing those barriers, the cybersecurity leaders discussed their ideas on how to bridge the gender gap in the field.

Contributing factors to the underrepresentation of women

Gupta believes that a cybersecurity awareness gap contributes to the underrepresentation of women in the field. With her background in software engineering, Gupta declined her first offer to pivot to cybersecurity, believing that she didn’t possess the correct qualifications. Once she entered the field, she realized the vastness of the cybersecurity space and how people with varied skillsets thrive in the industry. Helping women understand that they don’t need a cybersecurity or computer science degree to enter the field can attract more qualified women to the industry. Smith added that hiring managers should also be aware that qualified candidates exist outside of those majors.

Women looking to transition into cybersecurity mid-career can frame the change as adding cyber to their profession. O’Neil’s passion is bringing cybersecurity to other disciplines — someone with an accounting or chemistry background can benefit from cybersecurity coursework in order to do their jobs safely and securely. Certifications are a great way to enter the industry, as well as seeking out online communities and information can help entering the field by immersing oneself in the cybersecurity sphere.

How do we remove barriers from cybersecurity

Although the number of women in cybersecurity has increased over the past years, there is still a ways to go to achieve equal gender representation in the field. “We should get ahead of this problem by engaging with women and other underrepresented groups early on,” said Gupta. Reaching young people with capture-the-flag style exercises, coding programs and cybersecurity information provides industry exposure at an early age and allows them to imagine what a career in cybersecurity might look like.

Breaking down self-imposed barriers, changing a broken hiring system that relies on AI searching for keywords to select candidates and more men stepping up as allies in the field are all ideas suggested by Smith to bridge the gender gap in cybersecurity. Looking for opportunities to educate women and other underrepresented groups on cybersecurity roles can increase the amount of those groups in the field.

All women on the panel shared experiences when they were affected by sexism in the industry. West began as an associate in cybersecurity at a Fortune 100 company as the youngest and only female employee on the team. On one of her first days on the job, one of her coworkers told her that the only reason she got the job was to fill a diversity quota. West took this comment as a challenge — within about 3 years, she was promoted from being a cybersecurity associate to the Global Incident Response Manager at the age of 24. She created the role and advocated for her promotion with statistics of her accomplishments. “Just because an opportunity does not exist, that doesn’t mean I can’t create it myself,” said West..[…] Read more »….


3 key reasons why SOCs should implement policies over security standards

In the not-so-distant past, banking and healthcare industries were the main focus of security concerns as they were entrusted with guarding our most sensitive personal data. Over the past few years, security has become increasingly important for companies across all major industries. This is especially true since 2017 when the Economist reported that data has surpassed oil as the most valuable resource.

How do we respond to this increased focus on security? One option would be to simply increase the security standards being enforced. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this would create substantial improvements.

Instead, we should be talking about restructuring security policies. In this post, we’ll examine how security standards look today and 5 ways they can be dramatically improved with new approaches and tooling

How Security Standards Look Today

Security standards affect all aspects of a business, from directly affecting development requirements to regulating how data is handled across the entire organization. Still, those security standards are generally enforced by an individual, usually infosec or compliance officer.

There are many challenges that come with this approach, all rooted in 3 main flaws: 1) the gap between those building the technology and those responsible for enforcing security procedures within it, 2) the generic nature of infosec standards, and 3) security standards promote reactive issue handling versus proactive.

We can greatly improve the security landscape by directly addressing these key issues:

1. Information Security and Compliance is Siloed

In large companies, the people implementing security protocols and those governing security compliance are on separate teams, and may even be separated by several levels of organizational hierarchy.

Those monitoring for security compliance and breaches are generally non-technical and do not work directly with the development team at all. A serious implication of this is that there is a logical disconnect between the enforcers of security standards and those building systems that must uphold them.

If developers and compliance professionals do not have a clear and open line of communication, it’s nearly impossible to optimize security standards, which brings us to the next key issue.

2. Security Standards are Too Generic

Research has shown that security standards as a whole are too generic and are upheld by common practice more than they are by validation of their effectiveness.

With no regard for development methodology, organizational resources or structure, or the specific data types being handled, there’s no promise that adhering to these standards will lead to the highest possible level of security.

Fortunately, addressing the issue of silos between dev and compliance teams is the first step for resolving this issue as well. Once the two teams are working together, they can more easily collaborate and improve security protocols specific to the organization.

3. Current Practices are Reactive, Rather Than Proactive

The existing gap between dev and security teams along with the general nature of security standards, prevent organizations from being truly proactive when it comes to security measures.

Bridging the gap between development and security empowers both sides to adopt a shift-left mentality, making decisions about and implementing security features earlier in the development process.

The first step is to work on creating secure-by-design architecture and planning security elements earlier in the development lifecycle. This is key in breaking down the silos that security standards created.

Gartner analyst John Collins claims cultural and organizational structures are the biggest roadblocks to the progression of security operations. Following that logic, in restructuring security practices, security should be wrapped around DevOps practices, not just thrown on top. This brings us to the introduction of DevSecOps.

DevSecOps – A New Way Forward

The emergence of DevSecOps is showing that generic top-to-bottom security standards may soon be less important as they are now.

First, what does it mean to say, “security should be wrapped around DevOps practices”? It means not just allowing, but encouraging, the expertise of SecOps engineers and compliance professionals to impact development tasks in a constantly changing security and threat landscape.

In outlining the rise and success of DevSecOps, a recent article gave three defining criteria of a true DevSecOps environment:

  1. Developers are in charge of security testing.
  2. Security experts act as consultants to developers when additional knowledge is required.
  3. Fixing security issues are managed by the development team.

Ongoing security-related issues are owned by the development team..[…] Read more »….



Beyond standard risk feeds: Adopting a more holistic API solution

In July 2020, the gaming company Nintendo was compromised in a data breach that commentators described as unprecedented.

The breach, dubbed “the gigaleak,” exposed internal emails and identifying information, as well as a deluge of proprietary source code and other internal documents.  But the compromise wasn’t discovered by observing network traffic or even dark web analysis — it was first identified through a post on 4chan.

Less-regulated online spaces like imageboards, messaging apps, decentralized platforms, and other obscure sites are increasingly relevant for detecting these types of corporate security compromises. Serious threats can be easily missed if security teams aren’t looking beyond standard digital risk sources like technical and dark web data feeds.

Overlooked risks can cost companies millions in financial and reputational damage — but existing commercial threat intelligence solutions often lack data coverage, especially from these alternative web spaces.

How does this impact corporate security operations, and how can data coverage gaps be addressed?

An evolving corporate risk landscape

Security risk detection is no longer limited to highly anonymized online spaces like the dark web or technical feeds like network traffic data.

While these sources remain crucial, corporate security teams also need to assess obscure social sites, forums, and imageboards, messaging apps, decentralized platforms, and paste sites. These spaces are frequently used to circulate leaked data, as with the Nintendo breach, and discuss or advertise hacking tactics like malware and phishing.

Example of leaked data on RaidForums, a popular hacking website on the deep web—posted/discovered by Echosec Systems

Beyond malware and breach detection, these sources can indicate internal threats, fraud, theft, disinformation, brand impersonation, potentially damaging viral content, and other threats implicating a company or industry.

The rise of hacktivism and extremism on less-regulated networks also poses an increased risk to companies and executives. For example, disinformation or violence targeting high-profile personnel may be discussed and planned on these sites.

Why are these alternative sources becoming more relevant for threat detection?

To start, surface and deep web networks are more accessible for threat actors even though the dark web may offer more anonymity. They also have further reach than the dark web — a relatively small and isolated webspace — if the goal is to spread disinformation and leaked data.

Obfuscation tactics in text-based content are also becoming more sophisticated. For example, special characters (e.g. !4$@), intentional typos, code language, or acronyms can be used to hide targeted threats and company names. Adversaries are often less concerned with detection on surface and deep websites using these techniques.

Decentralization is also becoming a popular hosting method for threat actors concerned with censorship on mainstream networks and takedowns on the dark web. Decentralization means that content or social media platforms are hosted on multiple global or user-operated servers so that networks are theoretically impossible to dismantle.


CEO-targeted death threat on the decentralized social network Mastodon — discovered by Echosec Systems


While the dark web was once considered a mecca for detecting security threats, these factors are extending relevant intelligence sources to a wider range of alternative sites.

New barriers to threat detection

Emerging online spaces offer valuable security data, but the changing threat landscape is posing new challenges for corporate security. Many alternative threat intelligence sources are obscure enough that analysts may not know they exist or to look there for threats. Some surface and deep websites, like forums and imageboards, emerge and turn over quickly, making it hard to keep track of what’s currently relevant.

Additionally, many commercial, off-the-shelf APIs provide access to technical security feeds and common sources like the dark web and mainstream social media — but do not offer this alternative data. This creates a functional gap for security teams who realize the value of obscure online sources but may be forced to navigate them manually.

APIs enable security teams to funnel data from online sources directly into their security tooling and interfaces rather than collecting data through manual searches on-site.


Leaked image of a security operations Centre on social media — discovered by Echosec Systems


For most corporate security teams and operations centers, manual data gathering — which often requires creating dummy accounts — is unsustainable, requiring a significant amount of time and resources.

Efficient threat intelligence access is essential in an industry where security teams are often understaffed and overwhelmed by alerts. According to a recent survey by Forrester Consulting, the average security operations team sees 11,000 daily alerts but only has the resources to address 72% of them.

Putting aside the issue of niche data access, industry research suggests that commercial threat intelligence vendors vary widely in their data coverage — overlapping 4% at most even when tracking the same specific threat groups. This raises concerns about how many critical alerts are missed by security teams and operations centers — and how holistic their data coverage actually is, even when using more than one vendor.

Holistic APIs: The future of addressing corporate risk

How do security professionals and operations centers comprehensively access relevant data and accelerate analysis and triage? To address these issues, security teams must rethink their API coverage.

This means adopting commercial threat intelligence solutions that are transparent about their data coverage. Vendors must be able to offer a wider variety of standard and alternative threat sources than is commonly available through off-the-shelf APIs. To achieve this, vendors often must source data in unique ways — such as developing proprietary web crawlers to sit in less-regulated chat applications and forums.

When standard threat intelligence sources are combined with fringe online data in an API, analysts can do their jobs faster than merging conventional feeds with manual navigation. Analysts also get more contextual value within their tooling than viewing different sources separately. It also means that previously overlooked risks on obscure sites are included in a more holistic security strategy.

An API also retains content that has been deleted on the original site since being crawled, allowing for more thorough investigations than those possible with manual searches. This is important on more obscure networks like 4chan where content turns over quickly.




When collected and catalogued appropriately, a wider variety of online data can be used to train effective machine learning models. These can support faster and more accurate threat detection for overwhelmed security teams. In fact, some emerging APIs have machine learning functionality already built-in so analysts can narrow in on relevant data faster.

As alert volumes grow and threat actors migrate to a greater variety of online spaces, security professionals are likely to become more concerned with their data coverage — and how to integrate alternative data sources effectively into workflows…[…] Read more »….



The Inevitable Rise of Intelligence in the Edge Ecosystem

A new frontier is taking shape where smart, autonomous devices running data on 5G networks process information that can lead to near real-time insights enterprises need.

The implementation and adoption of 5G wireless, the cloud, and smarter devices is setting the stage for advanced capabilities to emerge at the edge, according to experts and stakeholders. Communications providers such as Verizon continue to flesh out the newest generation of wireless, which promises to offer more robust data capacity and mobile solutions. In brief, the edge has the potential to be a place where greater data processing and analytics happens with near real-time speed, even in seemingly small devices. On the hardware and services side, IBM, Nokia Enterprise, DXC Technology, and Intel all see potential for these converging resources to evolve the edge in 2021 in exponential ways — if all the right pieces fall into place.

The edge is poised to support highly responsive compute, far from core data centers, but Bob Gill, research vice president with Gartner, says the landscape needs to become more cohesive.  “As long as all we have are vertical, monolithic, bespoke stacks, edge isn’t going to scale,” he says, referring to the differing resources created to work at the edge that might not mesh well with other solutions.

Gill defines the edge as the place where the physical and digital worlds interact, which can include sensors and industrial machine controllers. He says it is a form of distributed computing with assets placed in locations that can optimize latency and bandwidth. Retailers, internet of things, and the industrial world have already been working at the edge for more than a decade, Gill says. The current activity at the edge may introduce the world to even more possibilities. “What’s changed is the huge plethora of services from the cloud along with the rising intelligence and number of devices at the edge,” he says. “The edge completes the cloud.”

The focus of the evolution at the edge is to push intelligence to locations where bandwidth, data latency, and autonomy might otherwise be concerns when connecting to the cloud or core computing. With more autonomy, Gill says devices at the edge will be able to operate even if their connections are down.

This might include robots in manufacturing or automated resources in warehousing and logistics, as well as transportation, oil, and gas. Organizations will need some normalization of platforms and solutions at the edge, he says, in order to see the full benefit of such resources. “They’re looking for standardized toolsets and a way that everything isn’t a bespoke one-off,” Gill says.  This could include using open source frameworks deployed to create solutions that can be tweaked.

Gill expects there to be move toward a standardized approach in the next five years. He says enterprise leadership should ask questions about ways the edge can help the organization achieve goals while also eliminating risk. “The c-suite should be saying, ‘What is the business benefit I’m getting out of this? Is it something that’s replicable?’”

Edge mimics public cloud

Edge computing is becoming an integral part of the distributed computing model, says Nishith Pathak, global CTO for analytics and emerging technology with DXC Technology. He says there is ample opportunity to employ edge computing across industry verticals that require near real-time interactions. “Edge computing now mimics the public cloud,” Pathak says, in some ways offering localized versions of cloud capabilities regarding compute, the network, and storage. Benefits of edge-based computing include avoiding latency issues, he says, and anonymizing data so only relevant information moves to the cloud. This is possible because “a humungous amount of data” can be processed and analyzed by devices at the edge, Pathak says. This includes connected cars, smart cities, drones, wearables, and other internet of things applications that consume on demand compute.

The population of devices and scope of infrastructure that support the edge are expected to accelerate, says Jeff Loucks, executive director of Deloitte’s center for technology, media and telecommunications. He says implementations of the new communications standard have exceeded initial predictions that there would be 100 private 5G network deployments by the end of 2020. “I think that’s going to be closer to 1,000,” he says.

Part of that acceleration came from medical facilities, logistics, and distribution where the need is great for such implementations. Loucks sees investment and opportunities for companies to move quickly at the edge with such resources as professional services robots that work alongside people. Such robots need fast, low latency connections made possible through 5G and have edge AI chips to assist with computer visions, letting them “see” their environment, he says.

Loucks says there are an estimated 650 million edge AI chips in the wild this year with that number expected to scale up fast. “We are predicting [there will be] around 1.6 billion edge AI chips by 2024 as the chips get smaller with lower power consumption,” he says.

The COVID accelerator

World events have played a part in advancing the resources and capabilities at the edge, says Paul Silverglate, vice chairman and Deloitte’s US technology sector leader. “COVID has been an accelerator and a challenge as it relates to computing at the edge,” he says. Remote working, digital transformation, and cloud migration have all been pushed faster than expected in response to the repercussions of the pandemic. “We’ve gone 10s of years into the future,” Silverglate says.

That future may already be happening as Verizon sees the components of the edge coming together, says director of IoT and real-time enterprise Thierry Sender. “From a Verizon standpoint, we now have partners for enabling edge deeply integrated into our 5G network and wireless overall,” he says, “which means 4G devices get the benefit of the capabilities.” For example, Sender says for private infrastructure, Verizon has a relationship with Microsoft to deliver on compute resources that support mission critical applications large enterprises would have in warehouses or manufacturing. That ties together different bespoke solutions that enterprises use together to solve their needs.

The edge elements coming together in 2020 are building blocks for exponential change, Sender says. “2021 is the year of transformation,” he says. “That’s where a lot of the solutions will begin to truly manifest themselves.” Sender also says 2022 will be a year of disruption as industries adapt to real-time operational and customer insights that affect their businesses. “Every industry is being impacted with this edge integration to network,” Sender says.

This transformative move is well under way, says Evaristus Mainsah, general manager of the IBM Cloud private ecosystem. “What we’re seeing is lots of data moving out to edge locations.” That is thanks to more devices carrying enough compute to conduct analytics, he says, reducing the need to move data to a data center or to the cloud to process. By 2023, expect 50% of new on-prem infrastructure will be in edge locations, he says, compared with 10% now. Enterprise data processing outside of central data centers will also grow from 10% now to 75% in 2025, Mainsah says. “Think of it as a movement of data from traditional data center or cloud locations out into edges.”

There is a generation shift taking place, says Karl Bream, head of strategy for Nokia’s enterprise business, which will take some time and see more agility, automation, and efficiency. “The network is becoming higher capacity, much more reliable, much lower latency, and can perform better in situations where you’re controlling high value assets,” he says. Bream calls this an inflection point, though networks alone cannot achieve the next evolution. Data privacy and security remain concerns, he says, as many enterprises must decide if they can allow data to reside offsite.

Tradeoffs and choices

There are tradeoffs and choices to be made, but possibilities are growing fast at the edge. “We’re seeing web companies putting edge type scenarios into place to put storage closer and closer to the device,” Bream says..[…] Read more »…..


Social Engineering: Life Blood of Data Exploitation (Phishing)

What do Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Wayne Gacy, Dennis Rader, and Frank Abigail all have in common, aside from the obvious fact that they are all criminals?  They are also all master manipulators that utilize the art of social engineering to outwit their unsuspecting victims into providing them with the object or objects that they desire.  They appear as angels of light but are no more than ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are six components of an information system: Humans, Hardware, Software, Data, Network Communication, and Policies; with the human being the weakest link of the six.

By Zachery S. Mitcham, MSA, CCISO, CSIH, VP and Chief Information Security Officer, SURGE Professional Services-Group
Social engineering is the art of utilizing deception to manipulate a subject into providing the manipulator with the object or objects they are seeking to obtain. Pretexting is often used in order to present a false perception of having creditability via sources universally known to be valid. It is a dangerous combination to be gullible and greedy. Social engineers prey on the gullible and greedy using the full range of human emotions to exploit their weaknesses via various scams, of which the most popular being phishing.  They have the uncanny ability to influence their victim to comply with their demands.

Phishing is an age-old process of scamming a victim out of something by utilizing bait that appears to be legitimate. Prior to the age of computing, phishing was conducted mainly through chain mail but has evolved over the years in cyberspace via electronic mail. One of the most popular phishing scams is the Nigerian 419 scam, which is named after the Nigerian criminal code that addresses the crime.

Information security professionals normally eliminate the idea of social norms when investigating cybercrime.  Otherwise, you will be led into morose mole tunnels going nowhere. They understand that the social engineering cybercriminal capitalizes on unsuspecting targets of opportunity. Implicit biases can lead to the demise of the possessor. Human behavior can work to your disadvantage if left unchecked. You profile one while unwittingly becoming a victim of the transgressions of another. These inherent and natural tendencies can lead to breaches of security. The most successful cybersecurity investigators have a thorough understanding of the sophisticated criminal mind.

Victims of social engineering often feel sad and embarrassed. They are reluctant to report the crime depending on its magnitude. And the CISO to comes the rescue! In order to get to the root cause of the to determine the damage caused to the enterprise, the CISO must put the victim at ease by letting them know that they are not alone in their unwitting entanglement.

These are some tips that can assist you with an anti-social engineering strategy for your enterprise: Employ Sociological education tools by developing a comprehensive Information Security Awareness and Training program addressing all six basic components that make up the information system. The majority of security threats that exist on the network are a direct result of insider threats caused by humans, no matter if they are unintentional or deliberate. The most effective way an organization can mitigate the damaged caused by insider threats is to develop effective security awareness and training program that is ongoing and mandatory.

Deploy enterprise technological tools that protect your human capital against themselves.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) serve as effective defensive tools that protect from the exfiltration enterprise data in the event that it falls into the wrong hands...[…] Read more »…..

This article first appeared in CISO MAG.

<Link to CISO MAG site:>

How to find weak passwords in your organization’s Active Directory


Confidentiality is a fundamental information security principle. According to ISO 27001, it is defined as ensuring that information is not made available or disclosed to unauthorized individuals, entities or processes. There are several security controls designed specifically to enforce confidentiality requirements, but one of the oldest and best known is the use of passwords.

In fact, aside from being used since ancient times by the military, passwords were adopted quite early in the world of electronic information. The first recorded case dates to the early 1960s by an operating system created at MIT. Today, the use of passwords is commonplace in most people’s daily lives, either to protect personal devices such as computers and smartphones or to prevent unwanted access to corporate systems.

With such an ancient security control, it’s only natural to expect it has evolved to the point where passwords are a completely effective and secure practice. The hard truth is that even today, the practice of stealing passwords as a way to gain illegitimate access is one of the main techniques used by cybercriminals. Recent statistics, such as Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report leave no space to doubt: 37% of hacking-related breaches are tied to passwords that were either stolen or used in gaining unauthorized access.

For instance, in a quite recent case, Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (NTT) — a Fortune 500 company — disclosed a security breach in its internal network, where cybercriminals stole data on at least 621 customers. According to NTT, crackers breached several layers of its IT infrastructure and reached an internal Active Directory (AD) to steal data, including legitimate accounts and passwords. This lead to unauthorized access to a construction information management server.

Figure 1: Diagram of the NTT breach (source: NTT)

As with other directory services, Microsoft Active Directory remains a prime target for cybercriminals, since it is used by many businesses to centralize accounts and passwords for both users and administrators. Well, there’s no point in making cybercrime any easier, so today we are going to discuss how to find weak passwords in Microsoft Active Directory.

Active Directory: Password policy versus weak passwords

First, there is a point that needs to be clear: Active Directory indeed allows the implementation of a GPO (Group Policy Object) defining rules for password complexity, including items such as minimum number of characters, mandatory use of specials characters, uppercase and lowercase letters, maximum password age and even preventing a user from reusing previous passwords. Even so, it is still important to know how to find weak passwords, since the GPO may (for example) not have been applied to all Organizational Units (OUs).

But this is not the only problem. Even with the implementation of a good password policy, the rules apply only to items such as size, complexity and history, which is not a guarantee of strong passwords. For example, users tend to use passwords that are easy to memorize, such as Password2020! — which, although it technically meets the rules described above, cannot be considered safe and can be easily guessed by a cybercriminal.

Finding weak passwords in Active Directory can be simpler than you think. The first step is to know what you are looking for when auditing password quality. For this example, we will look for weak, duplicate, default or even empty passwords using the DSInternals PowerShell Module, which can be downloaded for free here.

DSInternals is an extremely interesting tool for Microsoft Administrators and has specific functionality for password auditing in Active Directory. It has the ability to discover accounts that share the same passwords or that have passwords available in public databases (such as the famous HaveIBeenPwned) or in a custom dictionary that you can create yourself to include terms more closely related to your organization.

Once installed, the password audit module in DSInternals Active Directory is quite simple to use. Just follow the syntax below:

Test-PasswordQuality [-Account] <DSAccount> [-SkipDuplicatePasswordTest] [-IncludeDisabledAccounts] 

[-WeakPasswords <String[]>] [-WeakPasswordsFile <String>] [-WeakPasswordHashesFile <String>] [-WeakPasswordHashesSortedFile <String>] [<CommonParameters>]

The Test-PasswordQuality cmdlet receives the output from the Get-ADDBAccount and Get-ADReplAccount cmdlets, so that offline (ntds.dit) and online (DCSync) password analyses can be done. A good option to obtain a list of leaked passwords is to use the ones provided by HaveIBeenPwned, which are fully supported in DSInternals. In this case, be sure to download the list marked “NTLM (sorted by hash)”..[…] Read more »….


“To be successful, CISOs must have intentionality and focus”

Most of today’s CISOs got into the role accidentally. Yet tomorrow’s CISO will have chosen this role by intent. It will be a chosen vocation. Therefore, CISOs will need to focus on the role and start cultivating the skills required to become a security leader. This was a key message from a presentation on The Future CISO by Jeff Pollard, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research.  Speaking at the Forrester Security & Risk Global 2020 Live Virtual Experience on September 22, Pollard urged CISOs to check if they are “Company Fit” and to prepare for what’s next. He also outlined the six different types of CISOs: transformational, post-breach, tactical/operational, compliance guru, steady-state, and customer-facing evangelist. Pollard showed how CISOs can build a roadmap for transitioning from one type to another and explore strategies for obtaining future CISO and related roles.

By Brian Pereira, Principal Editor, CISO MAG

“CISOs do an insanely challenging job under challenging circumstances. They have to worry about their company, adversaries who attack, insider threats, and also employee and customer experience. This is not easy. That’s why intent matters,” said Pollard.

He advised CISOs to plan for the role and make a meaningful contribution at the C-Level. Skills enhancement, both for the CISO and the security teams is also crucial.

Pollard alluded to the example of Pixar Animation Studios, which achieved immense success and bagged many awards because it has intent and focus.

“Pixar is a company that matches this intent. They know exactly what they want to do. They have a specific methodology for stories, how they think about content. Technology drives the stories that they tell. They are an incredibly innovative company. There is a secret history of Pixar that ties in with the CISO role,” said Pollard.

Pixar earned 16 Academy awards, 11 Grammys, and 10 Golden Globes.

“They earned all these awards because they operate with intent and focus. When you operate without intent and focus, and when you don’t plan for this role, and when you don’t actively cultivate all of the skills that you need, then this happens,” said Pollard.

By “this” he meant that CISOs lose focus and find their role challenging, which could even lead to burn out.

He urged security leaders to start writing their own stories and to think about their stories with intent, discipline, and rigor.

Why CISOs lose focus

The CISO was never a “No” department. In saying “Yes” to everyone and trying to do everything for everyone, CISOs lost their focus.

CISOs juggle many tasks like product security concerns, compliance concerns, regulatory issues, legal issues, beaches and attackers, and incident response. And then, there are new priorities that come up.

“0% of CISOs are great at everything. And that’s what most security leaders have had to do. You can’t do all of that and be effective. It’s not possible. But that’s what happened to the role — priority after priority and trade-off after trade-off. None of it results in the success that we want,” said Pollard.

He added, “CISOs haven’t operated with constraints, which lead to focus. And focus leads to innovation. We are just doing too much and not succeeding. We are too tactical. We say yes to a lot. The CISO is not the department of No.”

How many are C-level?

While most security leaders aspire for a seat at the table in the board room, very few make the cut.

A 2020 study by Forrester Research shows that just 13% of all security leaders are actual C-level titles or CISO.

The Forrester study considered those with an SVP or an EVP title and compared that to those with a VP, Director, or another title — across Fortune 500 companies. The other data point from this study is that the average tenure of the CISO is 4.2 years and not two or three years.

“Even those who got a seat at the table are not treated like a true C-level executive. They do not have the same access for authority that those others have. And most of the 13% are on their third or fourth CISO role. After the second one, they don’t take that laying down anymore. They demand to be an actual C-level,” said Pollard.

What CISOs need to do

CISOs need to plan for a four-year stay, and they can take some inspiration from Pixar by writing their own stories.

“The reason why this is so important is because you are looking at a four-year stay. It’s going to be hard for CISOs because they are going to do all their tasks for four years with all these limitations. They can make mistakes if they do not operate with intentionality and if they don’t fight for what they deserve. The good news is that CISOs can get this right and write their own story. It’s just about thinking about it in terms of intent and our own story,” advised Pollard.

Going back to the Pixar example, he urged CISOs to simplify and focus. Like Pixar, they should combine characters (or tasks) and hop over detours.

“You will feel like you are losing valuable stuff, but it is actually freeing you. Fire yourself. find a way to replace yourself. Get rid of activities that you don’t need to do. And don’t be afraid to empower the direct reports that work for you,” he said.

Reproduced with permission from Forrester Research 

The 6 types of CISOs

Forrester Research began thinking about the future or the CISO two years ago and came up with a concept that there were 6 types of CISOs. The roles could overlap, and one could have the attributes of other types as well.

Pollard said the CISO should consider these 6 types when thinking about their intent and focus. These types give one the opportunity to think about their roles and future careers —  and even life after being a CISO.

We started thinking about this concept of the future CISO two years ago. We figured out there were 6 types of CISOs out there.

1. The Transformational CISO

This is a more strategic type of CISO who thinks about customers and business outcomes. They focus on turn around and transformation of the security program. They take it from one that may be too insular and too internally focused to one that focusses on the outside of the organization. They do this to make the security program more relevant to the rest of the business.

2. The Post-breed CISO

This CISOs comes in after the organization has been breached. There is intense media and board speculation. Add to that, litigation, regulatory investigations, and potential fines. There is a lot of chaos and they must remediate the situation and lead through the turbulence.

3. Tactical / Operational expert

This is the action-oriented CISO who gets things done. They are adept at sorting out technical issues and building out cybersecurity programs for the company.

4. Compliance Guru

They have a thorough knowledge of compliance requirements and they operate in a heavily regulated industry. They help the company to figure out how to navigate international issues and wars as well as oversight from the FTC, PCI, HIPPAA, and other regulatory bodies. For them, Security is always a risk management conversation.

5. The Steady-State CISO

The minimalist who doesn’t rock the boat and change the status quo overnight. They maintain a balance between minimal change and keeping up. Maybe things are just fine at the company right now and security is working for them.

6. Customer Facing Evangelist 

This type is common at the tech and product companies. They evangelize the company’s products and services with a commitment to cybersecurity. And they speak about how security and privacy help customers.

CISO Company Fit

Forrester defines “CISO Company Fit” as the degree to which the CISO type at the company matches the type the company needs to maximize the success of both parties.

“If the company fit is not suitable, then security leaders have to deal with burn-out and angst.  And part of that burn-out comes from the fact that they may not have CISO Company fit,” said Pollard..[…] Read more »…..

This article first appeared in CISO MAG.

<Link to CISO MAG site:>

Security theatrics or strategy? Optimizing security budget efficiency and effectiveness


I am a staunch advocate of the consideration of human behavior in cybersecurity threat mitigation. The discipline of behavioral ecology is a good place to start. This subset of evolutionary biology observes how individuals and groups react to given environmental conditions — including the interplay between people and an environment.

The digital world is also a type of environment that we have all ended up playing in as computing and digital transactions become ever-present in our lives. By understanding this “digital theater,” we can determine a best-fit strategy to produce an effective cybersecurity play that optimizes security budgets.

Why having an effective strategy is important

I’ll offer up an example from nature to show the importance of an effective strategy. You may read this and wonder what it has to do with cybersecurity, but bear with me.

Starlings feed their chicks with leatherjackets and other insect larvae. During nesting season, the starlings work hard finding food and relaying it back and forth to the nest of chicks. If you’ve ever observed any bird during this season, you might have noticed by the end of it, they have lost feathers and look pretty beat up. But the sacrifice is important: effective feeding of chicks will produce fledglings that then go on to reproduce. Reproduction is seen as a success in evolutionary terms.

However, starlings are capable of carrying more than one leatherjacket in their beak. The more they can carry, the fewer trips they need to make. Fewer trips mean the parent starling is less likely to fall foul of bad health or predators. However, there is a tradeoff. To find the leatherjackets, the starling has to forage. Too many leatherjackets in the beak and it becomes harder to forage. The optimum number of leatherjackets is a trade-off between the number of trips and foraging efficiency.

Any strategy that plays out in the real world is a balance: a trade-off between what seems to be optimal and what is strategically efficient. The starling could try to cram lots of larvae into its beak and this might seem to be a show of capability and a great strategy, but in the end, it would just be a piece of theater.

In evolutionary biology, this balance is known as an Evolutionary Stable Strategy, or ESS. In nature, this would be a strategy that confers “fitness” so an organism can reproduce at an optimal rate. The concept behind an ESS also applies in cybersecurity, where fitness is also about finding a best-fit strategy for a given environment.

Security, like feeding chicks, is about knowing how to use the right tools for the job in an optimal manner and not just for show. This creates a fine balance that can help optimize a security budget.

Security and trade-offs: A complex equation

Enough of the biology lesson! Back to cybersecurity. The security industry, like most industries, has a culture. This culture has informants, people in your company who influence decisions and people outside such as vendors who sell security products. The result can be an overwhelming cascade of information. This can lead to decisions that are based on less-than-optimal input.

Back in 2008, security man extraordinaire Bruce Schneier wrote a treatise entitled “The Psychology of Security”. In this, Bruce talks about how security is a tradeoff. He goes on to explain how these trade-offs, which often come down to finding a balance between cost and outcome, are actually much more nuanced. Bruce says that asking “Is this effective against the threat?” is the wrong question to ask. Instead, you should ask “Is it a good trade-off?”

Security teams can be put under enormous pressure to “do the right thing.” An example is the recent ransomware attack on Garmin. If you are being effectively held hostage by malicious software that prevents your business from running, you have to do something and quickly. Garmin is reported to have paid the ransom of $10 million.

But was this a shrewd move? Was the trade-off between business disruption and hope of a decryption key a balanced one? When making that decision, there are multiple considerations. Can the company offset the cost of the ransomware? Will the decryption key end the attack or have the hackers installed other malware into the company’s IT system?

Security systems, like biological ones, are reliant on making good trade-off decisions to move the needle of security towards your company’s safety.

Back to basics to optimize security trade-offs

Security can be a costly business. Solutions, services and platforms all need to be costed and maintenance and upgrades factored in. And the choice is astounding. In terms of just startups in the cybersecurity sector, there were around 21,729 at last count. The amount of spending on cloud security tools alone is expected to be around $12.6 billion by 2023.

Getting the balance right is important. An organization must cut through the trees to see the wood. In doing so, the balance of financial burden against cyber-threat mitigation can be made.

Going back to basics is the starting point. There is little point in putting on a security show with the latest in machine learning-based tech if you misconfigure a crucial element so the data becomes worthless. At this point in history, machines are nothing without their human operators. We have to get back to basics, build a strong strategy and culture of security before layering on the technology.

The basics, human factors and a great security ESS

Weaving this together we can ensure optimization of a security budget through an awareness of strategic security considerations, e.g.:

The basics

The fundamentals of security are covered by several frameworks and general knowledge of Operations Security (OPSEC). Frameworks such as Center for Internet Security (CIS) and NIST-CSF set out basics for a robust cybersecurity approach. These include knowing what assets (both digital and physical) you have and how to control access.

The human factors

Cybercriminals place a focus on using humans to perpetrate a cyberattack. This is inherent in the popular tactics of social engineering, phishing and other human-activated cybercrimes. Employees, non-employees (e.g., contractors), supply chain members and so on all need to be evaluated for risk. Mitigation of the risk levels can be alleviated using several techniques:

  • Security awareness training for all: Teaching the fundamentals of security is an essential tool in a cybersecurity landscape that focuses on human touchpoints. But security awareness needs to be performed effectively. Some training sessions feel more like those old-school lessons that ended up with snoozing students. Modern security awareness is engaging, interactive and often gamified.
  • The issue of misconfiguration: It isn’t just employees clicking on a malicious link in a phishing email that is cause for concern. Loss of data due to misconfiguration of IT components cost companies around $5 trillion in 2018 – 2019. Security awareness training needs to extend to system administrators and others who take care of databases, web servers and so on.
  • Patch management. Like misconfiguration, ensuring that IT systems are up to date can be the difference between exposed data and safe data. This process has been complicated by the increase in home working. But this fundamental piece of security hygiene is as vital as it ever was.
Never trust, always verify

The concept of zero-trust security has highlighted the importance of robust identity and access management (IAM). The idea behind this tactic is to always check the identity of any individual or device attempting to access corporate resources. Zero trust defines an architecture that puts data as a central commodity and trust as a rule to determine access rights..[…] Read more »….


Fundamentals Of Cryptography

The mathematics of cryptography

Under the hood, cryptography is all mathematics. For many of the algorithms in development today, you need to understand some fairly advanced mathematical concepts to understand how the algorithms work.

That being said, many cryptographic algorithms in common use today are based on very simple cryptographic operations. Three common cryptographic functions that show up across cryptography are the modulo operator, exclusive-or/XOR and bitwise shifts/rotations.

The modulo operator

You’re probably familiar with the modulo operator even if you’ve never heard of it by that name. When first learning division, you probably learned about dividends, divisors, quotients and remainders.

When we say X modulo Y or X (mod Y) or X % Y, we want the remainder after dividing X by Y. This is useful in cryptography, since it ensures that a number stays within a certain range of values (between 0 and Y – 1).


In English, when we say OR, we are usually using the inclusive or. Saying that you want A or B probably means that you’re willing to accept A, B or both A and B.

Cryptography uses the exclusive or where A XOR B equals A or B but not both. The image above shows a truth table for XOR. Notice that anything XOR itself is zero, and anything XOR zero is itself.

XOR is also useful in cryptography because it is equivalent to addition modulo 2. 1 + 0 = 1 and 1 + 1 = 2 = 0 (mod 2) = 0 + 0. XOR is one of the most commonly-used mathematical operators in cryptography.

Bitwise shifts

A bitwise shift is exactly what it sounds like: a string of bits is shifted so many places to the left or right. In cryptography, this shift is usually a rotation, meaning that anything that “falls off” one end of the string moves around to the other.

The bitwise shift is another operator that has special meaning in modulo 2. In binary (mod 2), shifting to the left is multiplying by a power of two, while shifting to the right is division by a power of two.

Common structures in cryptography

While cryptographic algorithms within a “family” can be similar, most cryptographic algorithms are very different. However, some cryptographic structures exist that show up in multiple different cryptographic “families.”

Encryption operations and key schedules

Many symmetric encryption algorithms are actually two different algorithms that are put together to achieve the goal of encrypting the plaintext. One of these algorithms implements the key schedule, while the other performs the encryption operations.

In symmetric cryptography, both the sender and the recipient have a shared secret key. However, this key is often too short to be used for the complete encryption process since many algorithms have multiple rounds. A key schedule is designed to take the shared secret as a seed and use it to create a set of round keys, which are then fed into the algorithm that actually performs the encryption.

The other half of the encryption algorithm is the part that converts the plaintext to a ciphertext. This is typically accomplished by using multiple iterations or “rounds” of the same set of encryption operations. Each round takes a round key from the key schedule as input, meaning that the operations performed in each round are different.

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a classic example of an encryption algorithm with separate parts implementing the encryption operations and key schedule, as shown above. The different variants of AES (AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256) all have a similar encryption process (with different number of rounds) but have different key schedules to convert the various key lengths to 128-bit round keys.

Feistel networks

A Feistel network is a cryptographic structure designed to allow the same algorithm to perform both encryption and decryption. The only difference between the two processes is the order in which round keys are used.

An example of a Feistel network is shown in the image above. Notice that in each round, only the left half of the input is transformed and the two halves switch sides at the end of each round. This structure is essential to making the Feistel network reversible.

Looking at the first round (of both encryption and decryption), we see that the right side of the input and the round key are used as inputs to the Feistel function, F, to produce a value that is XORed with the left side of the input. This is significant because the output of F in the last round of encryption and the first round of encryption are the exact same. Both use the same round key and same value of Ln+1 as input…[…] Read more »….


How CTOs Can Innovate Through Disruption in 2020

CTOs and other IT leaders need to invest in innovation to emerge from the current COVID-19 crisis ready for the next opportunities.

Are you ready for 2021’s opportunities? Are you ready for the new business models that will emerge once the COVID-19 coronavirus is behind us? What strategic technology moves will your organization make today to invest in the innovation to bring your enterprise out of the current crisis, stronger and better?

CTOs and other senior technology leaders should now be focusing on these key questions as we enter the second half of 2020. Sure, it was critically important to pivot instantly to enable working from home in the first half of this year. Yes, there’s still work to be done improving the systems that enable employees to work from home, especially since organizations are making many of these arrangements permanent. However, the strategic longer term moves that senior leaders make today are what will help their organizations emerge stronger on the other side of this crisis.

CTOs are at risk now of focusing solely on short-term needs when it is equally important to plan for technology and innovation initiatives to help their organizations come out of the crisis and meet post-coronavirus challenges, according to a new report from Gartner, How CTOs Should Lead in Times of Disruptions and Uncertain.

Read all our coverage on how IT leaders are responding to the conditions caused by the pandemic.

Disruption is nothing new for technology leaders. In Gartner’s survey of IT leaders, conducted in early 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic struck, 90% said they had faced a “turn” or disruption in the last 4 years, and 100% said they face ongoing disruption and uncertainty. The current crisis may just be the biggest test of the resiliency they have developed in response to those challenges.

“We are hearing from a lot of clients about innovation budgets being slashed, but it’s really important not to throw innovation out the window,” said Gartner senior principal analyst Samantha Searle, one of the report’s authors, who spoke to InformationWeek. “Innovation techniques are well-suited to reducing uncertainty. This is critical in a crisis.”

The impact of the crisis on your technology budget is likely dependent on your industry, Searle said. For instance, technology and financial companies tend to be farther ahead of other companies when it comes to response to the crisis and consideration of investments for the future.

Other businesses, such as retail and hospitality, just now may be considering how to reopen. These organizations are still focused on fulfilling the initial needs around ensuring employees and customers are safe. In response to the short-term crisis, CTOs and other IT leaders were likely to focus on things like customer and employee safety, employee productivity, supply chain stabilization, and providing the optimal customer experience. But the innovation pipeline is also a crucial component.

Innovation doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money. Budgets are tight, after all. Searle suggests incremental innovations and cost optimizations, gaining efficiencies where they are achievable.

Consider whether you’ve already made some investments in AI, chatbots, or other platforms. Those are tools that you can use to improve customer experience during the ongoing crisis or even assist with better decision making as you navigate to the future.

Remember, investments will pay off on the other side. For instance, companies that thought more about employing customer safety measures are the ones that will come out better in terms of brand reputation.

In a retail environment, for instance, an innovation for employee and customer safety might be replacing touch type with voice interactions.

Searle said that the crisis has also altered acceptance of technologies that may not have been desirable in the past. For instance, before the pandemic people generally preferred seeing a doctor face-to-face rather than via a telemedicine appointment.

“That’s an example of where societal acceptance of the technology has changed a lot,” she said.

Another example that was not quite ready for prime time as the crisis hit is the idea of drones and autonomous vehicles making deliveries of groceries, take-out orders, and other orders. However, those are technologies that companies can continue to invest in for the longer term benefits.

Another key action CTOs and other IT leaders should take is trendspotting, Searle said. Trends can be around emerging technologies such as AI, but they can also be economic or political, too. The current pandemic is an example that disruption is the new order, and that just focusing on emerging technology as the only perceived catalyst of disruption has been a a misstep by many organizations, according to Searle. She recommends that organizations use trendspotting efforts to assemble a big picture of trends that will impact technology strategic decisions as your organization begins to rebuild and renew.

In terms of challenges in the next 6 months, CTOs remain focused on the near term. In an online poll during a recent webinar, Searle asked CTOs just that question. The biggest percentage said that their challenge was improving customer experience at 31%. Other challenges were maintaining employee productivity (28%), infrastructure resilience (22%), supply chain stability (8%), and combatting security attacks (8%)…[…] Read more »…..