Tag Archives: wikileaks

Wikileaks and data theft

A colleague of mine, Bill Munroe, is VP Marketing at Verdasys, the first of the agent DLP vendors and the most established of  the independent pure play DLP technology companies. (No. I do not have a business relationship with Verdasys).  Bill has written a paper entitled “Protecting against Wikileaks events and the trusted insider threat” . The paper brings a number of important insights regarding the massive data breach of State Department cables and why Wikileaks is different.

Wikileaks gives a leaker immediate visibility to her/his message. Once Wikileaks publishes the data, it’s  highly visible due to the tremendous conventional media interest in Wikileaks.  I doubt that PFC Manning, if he had a blog somewhere in the long tail of the Internet, would have made such an immediate impact.

Unlike Wikileaks, data theft of intellectual property or credit card data is motivated by the economic gain. In the case of Wikileaks, the motivation is social or political.  With cheap removable storage devices, smart phones, tables, dropbox and wireless network connectivity “employees with personal agendas will be more likely to jeopardize their careers in order to make a passionate statement“.

Network  DLP is a poor security countermeasure against the Wikileaks class of data breach. Network DLP can network-intercept but not analyze obfuscated data (encryption, embedded screenshots, steganography) and is blind to removable media and smart phones. The best technical countermeasure against a leak must be at the point of data use. First described in a 1983 DOD study called “The Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria” (TCSEC)  a user end point needs to be “instrumented” in order to identify and intercept content and mitigate threats before they can occur. This requires identification of the trusted user, appropriate content interception and analysis and the ability to tie the results into actionable forensics. Detecting data loss at the end point, is notably Verdasys’s key strength.

However – there are a few  points in the article that need to be addressed:

Insider theft of sensitive data is not new. WikiLeaks is just the latest outlet for the disaffected individual to be amplified in our interconnected world… WikiLeaks is merely the latest enabler of the populist-driven “Robin Hood” syndrome.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that data theft has always been an issue.   20 years ago, we had industrial espionage of trade secrets or national espionage of defense secrets – not the widespread data leaks we see today.  Conditions in 2011 are different then they were in the 80s when my father worked at TRW Defense and Space Systems in Redondo Beach.  Data breaches are driven by motive, means and opportunity – motive: under 30 something people have a sense of entitlement – they have a Blackberry, a nice car, a nice girlfriend, good standard of living, a 250K college education and a sense that they can do whatever they want without paying the price..  means – mobile and removable devices, Web services… opportunity – a leaker is in positions of access. Given the right stimulus (hating Obama,  despising Hilary, liking a bribe from Der Spiegel) they will get to the data, leave their ethics at the door and do the deed. Calling the phenomena “Robin Hood” is too gracious.

Trade secret and IP theft is projected to double again by 2017 with 2008 losses reaching one trillion dollars!

The $1 Trillion number for the financial losses due to IP theft  was mentioned in a McAfee press release (they took  the item off their web site…) and later quoted by President Obama’s in his talk on “aggressively protecting intellectual property”.

Since the 1 trillion number is  the cornerstone of both vendor and political argumentation for protecting IP, the number bears closer scrutiny. We will see that the $1 trillion number is no more than a love for round numbers, not unlike Gordon Browns love for round numbers “Bring 1,000 troops home for Christmas”.

Referring to Bessen and Maurer “Patent  Failure” and other research articles, the empirical data shows a different picture. Global patents held by US firms as of 1999 was $122BN in 1992 dollars.  Even if that number tripled in 20 years that means that the total IP value is 360BN so it’s impossible that 1 Trillion was “lost”.  I will discuss what loss of IP actually means in a moment.

Examining firm level data, we see that worldwide value of patent stocks is only about 1% of market value.   Note that the majority of this value is owned by a small number of large pharmaceutical companies.   Then, we have to net out litigation and IP legal costs from the net patent rents (the above-normal returns) that a company earns from it’s IP.

And to provide a sanity check on how disproportionate the 1 Trillion dollar IP loss number really is, consider that at  GSK (and their numbers are consistent with the other big innovative pharmas) – cost of sales is 26% of expenses, marketing – 31% and R&D 15%.  Now we know 2 things: (a) that the big pharmas account for most of the IP and (b) most of their money is in sales and marketing. If 10 big pharmas with a total of 100BN operating profit had lost a Trillion dollars, they would all be bankrupt by now,  but they are all alive and kicking and selling us everything from Viagra to Remicade.

What does the loss of intellectual property actually mean?  After all, it’s not like losing cash.

In a threat analysis I did for a NASDAQ traded firm with significant IP – I determined together with the CFO and the board that their exposure to IP leakage was about 1% of their market cap – they understood that you cannot “lose” IP – but when it’s leaked it goes to a competitor who may gain a time to market advantage – and that advantage is only temporary.   At another public firm where I did a threat analysis using the same methodology, the CEO and board determined that the exposure to IP theft was negligible since the competitors needed 12-18 months to implement stolen IP and since the firm was operating on a 12 month product release cycle, they were ahead of the competition who were using stolen IP.  In other words – it’s better to innovate than to steal and try to re-implement.  This is particularly true in the software industry where the cost of implementation is far higher than the time and cost to develop the algorithm.

Reading Bill’s article, one would naturally ask, given the magnitude of the problem and the effectiveness of Verdasys technology, why doesn’t every company in the world deploy end point DLP like they deploy a firewall.  I think that the answer lies in the actual magnitude of the financial impact of data leakage.   The State department cables Wikileaks disclosure may or may not have been orchestrated by the Obama administration itself – but arguably, no economic damage and no tangible damage was incurred to the US political image or image of it’s allies.  If  real damage had been done to the US, then Hilary would be keeping Jonathan Pollard company.

I think that Verdasys and other DLP vendors miss one of the key strengths of data loss detection/prevention technology: real time feedback to an organizations users, and the deterrent value.   As Andy Grove once wrote – “a little fear in the workplace is not necessarily a bad thing“.

With increasing consumerization of IT, entitled employees will have even more means at their disposal and even more blurring of business boundaries by sexy personal devices.

What is a company to do?  That leaves us with good management and a corporate culture with employee values of competitiveness that drives value that drives rewards both intangible and tangible for the employee.  If it’s just about the money – then an iPhone is worth a lot more than a $500 bonus but engendering a sense of being involved and influencing the business at all levels – even if it’s just a kind word once a day – will be worth 100 fold that number and go a long way towards mitigating the vulnerability of employee entitlement.

I’d like to conclude with a call to the marketeers at McAfee, Symantec, IBM, Oracle, Websense, Fidelis, Checkpoint and Verdasys. Let’s shift the DLP marketing focus from large federal customers and banks and explain to small to medium sized enterprises how DLP technologies can protect the value of their implementation techniques and intellectual property.

For a 10 man vaccine startup the secret is in the recipe, not in the patents.  For a SME with IP – it’s not the IP licensing value, it’s difference between life and death.  And death trumps money any day of the week.

You can download the paper “Protecting Against WikiLeaks Events and the Insider Threat” on the Verdasys Web site.

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Bank of America and Wikileaks

First reported in the Huffington Post in November 2010, the Bank of America has set up a Wikileaks defense team after an announcement by Julian Assange that Wikileaks has information from a 5GB hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

In a burst of wikipanic, Bank of America has dived into full-on counterespionage mode…15 to 20 bank officials, along with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, will be “scouring thousands of documents in the event that they become public, reviewing every case where a computer has gone missing and hunting for any sign that its systems might have been compromised.”

Interesting that they needed Booz and Hamilton.  I thought Bank of America was a Vontu DLP (now Symantec) customer.  It says something about the technology either not working, being discarded or simply not implemented properly because the Wikileaks announcement was made in October 2009. So it took BoA over a year to respond.  Good luck finding forensics over a year after the leak happened.

This is a good thing for information security consultants and solution providers, especially if it drives companies to invest in DLP. There are some good technologies out there and companies that implement DLP thoughtfully (even if for dubious reasons) will be profiting from the improved visibility into transactions on their network and better protection of IP and customer data.

Ethics of the bank executive aside, it is conceivable (albeit totally speculative), that the Obama administration is behind the Wikileaks disclosures on US banking. It is consistent with the Obama policy that required banks to accept TARP funds and stress testing in order to make the financial institutions more beholden to the Federal government. This is consistent with the State Department cables leak, which also appears (from my vantage point in the Middle East) to be deliberately disclosed to Wikileaks in order further the agenda against the Iranians without coming out and saying so specifically.

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Government Agencies Need to Comply with White House Directive to Keep WikiLeaks Documents Off of Their Networks

Yes – there is apparently a White House directive to keep Wikileaks documents off Federal networks – according to a directive from the White House Office of Management & Budget on the treatment of classified documents.

WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) – The United States said on Monday that it deeply regretted the release of any classified information and would tighten security to prevent leaks such as WikiLeaks’ disclosure of a trove of State Department cables.

More than 250,000 cables were obtained by the whistle-blower website and given to the New York Times and other media groups, which published stories on Sunday exposing the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy, including candid and embarrassing assessments of world leaders.

The U.S. Justice Department said it was conducting a criminal investigation of the leak of classified documents and the White House, State Department and Pentagon all said they were taking steps to prevent such disclosures in future.

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would not comment directly on the cables or their substance, she said the United States would take aggressive steps to hold responsible those who “stole” them.

In the directive, federal agencies were informed that employees and federal contractors must avoid viewing and/or downloading classified documents that have been leaked via WikiLeaks disclosures. As the information on WikiLeaks is still classified, even if it’s in the public domain, a federal government employee electronically viewing the information from or downloading the information to devices connected to unclassified networks “risks that material still classified will be placed on non-classified systems”

NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES AND CONTRACTORS CONCERNING SAFEGUARDING OF CLASSIFIED INFORMATION AND USE OF GOVERNMENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SYSTEMS”, Office of Management and Budget, December 3, 2010.

Data security vendor Fidelis Security Systems has announced that they will provide policies in their Network DLP product. Fidelis XPS to help ensure that employees cannot view or download classified documents.

Fidelis XPS is extremely powerful network DLP technology for high speed (in excess of 2.5GB) content interception and analysis in real time of data entering or leaving a network.   With all due respect to the power of Fidelis network DLP, the White House Directive is nonsense.  It’s more security theater, not security countermeasures, designed to show that the administration is “doing something”.

The directive is nonsense for a number of reasons:

a) Requiring employees and federal contractors to avoid viewing and/or downloading classified documents that have been leaked via WikiLeaks disclosures is like saying – “well, you will have to disconnect yourself from the Internet, from Facebook, From Gmail and your smart phone”.   It’s not a practical strategy, since it’s impossible to enforce.

b) The network vector is almost certainly not how the information was leaked.  First of all, this means that network DLP solutions are not an appropriate countermeasure against Wikileaks. Releasing custom network DLP policies for Wikileaks is a crude sort of  link-baiting; misdirected, since Federal decision makers don’t evaluate data security technology  using social media like Facebook.

The Wikileaks documents are provided by trusted insiders that have motive (dislike Obama or Clinton), means (physical, electronic or social access) and opportunity (no one is watching).   There is little utility (besides appearing to be doing something) to install network DLP technology to prevent employees from viewing or downloading.

c) And finally it’s nonsense because the OMB directive talks about viewing and downloading documents and not about leaking.

If the White House is serious about preventing more leaks they should start by firing Secretary Clinton.

Then again – perhaps the wikileaks documents were all leaked under tacit direction from the White House.  Since President Obama has a pattern of sticking it to US friends (Israel, Czech Republic, Poland) whatever embarrassment it might cause friendly allies is more than worth the price of issuing a worthless OMB directive.

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WikiLeaks Breach – trusted insiders not hackers

With a delay of almost 10 years – SCIAM has published an article on the insider threat – WikiLeaks Breach Highlights Insider Security

As one of the pioneers in the DLP space (data loss prevention) and an active data security consultant in the field since 2003 – I am not surprised when civilians like the authors of the article and the current US administration claim discovery of America, once they discover that the emperor is naked.  Of course there is an insider threat and of course it is immune to anti-virus and firewalls and of course the US Federal government is way behind the curve on data security – installing host based security which was state of the art 7 years ago.

My Dad, who worked in the US and Israeli Defense industry for over 50 years is a PhD in systems science. He asked me how it happened that Wikileaks was able to hack into the US State Department cables.  I explained that this was not an external attack but a trusted insider leaking information because of a bribe or anger at Obama or Clinton or a combination of the 4 factors. My Dad just couldn’t get it.   I said look – you know that there is a sense of entitlement with people who are 20-30 something, that permits them to cross almost any line.  My Dad couldn’t get that either and I doubt that the US Federal bureaucrats are in a better place of understanding the problem.

Data leakage by trusted insiders is a complex phenomenon and without doubt, soft data security countermeasures like accepted usage policies have their place alongside hard core content interception technologies like Data loss prevention.  As Andy Grove once said – “a little fear in the workplace is not a bad thing”. The  set of data security countermeasures adopted and implemented must be a good fit to the organization culture, operation and network topology.

BUT, most of all – and this is of supreme importance – it is crucial for the head of the management pyramid to be personally committed by example and leadership to data protection.

The second key success factor is measuring the damage in financial terms. It can be argued that the Wikileaks disclosures via a trusted insider did little substantive damage to the US government and it’s allies and opponents alike. If anything – there is ample evidence that the disclosure has helped to clear the air of some of the urban legends surrounding US foreign policy – like the Israelis and the Palestinians being key to Middle East peace when in fact it is clear beyond doubt that the Iranians and Saudi financing are the key threats that need to be mitigated, not a handful of Israelis building homes in Judea and Samaria.

As an afternote to my comments on the SCIAM article, consider that after the discovery of America, almost 300 years went by before Jefferson and the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence.   I would therefore expect that in the compressed 10:1 time of Internet years, it will be 30 years before organizations like the US government get their hands around the trusted insider threat.

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