Defcon Grows Up and Gets Recruited As An Asset…
I came to Defcon this year as it turned 20 and after much had changed on the world stage regarding our business (INFOSEC/Pentesting/Dev/SECOPS) much remained the same. What has really changed though, and could be seen at this anniversary year was just how much our antics and interests were now the new “hotness” to the government and the military. Never before had the NSA had a booth at our conference but this year, they were there with recruiting in mind and that is a big change.
However, you may be saying to yourself right about now “Uhh, but, this has been going on a while, not just now” Well, yes, it has, but, what I have noticed this last con was that it’s not all about the tech, this year, it was also recruitment of human assets who would give “intelligence” to the players like NSA. No more are they just looking for programs and programmers, but also seeking out to make connections with people who have connections. You see, as Shawn Henry said as well as General Alexnder, “we need you to keep an eye out and tell us if you see something” What I heard was the equivalent of “if you see something say something” that the TSA has plastered at airports.
This is an important paradigm that we all need to be aware of. With the advent of Anonymous and Stuxnet as well as the nascent idea of the internet becoming a “digital nation state” we all have to be mindful that while the technologies out there are a commodity, so too are we in the great game of cold war intelligence and cyber war. We are the commodity that makes the new exploit as well as being the HUMINT asset that intelligence agencies need to “collect” with.
Now, while you are pondering that, consider the fact that the “opposition” is also trying to curry favor and recruit us as well…
Yup, that’s right. That party you might be attending might in fact have operators from other countries clandestine services too. In fact, that party could even be funded by said agencies and players to get you to chat and perhaps leak meaningful information. Think about it, how many of you out there reading this post work for fortune 500 companies as security technicians? What kind of data is in your head that might be of use to a foreign operative?
Ponder that as you sip that free drink late in the day. Say, did you know that the Chinese most preferable means to gaining intel with visiting professors and the like, is to have them over tired and tipsy? It’s true, it’s low level but its been used on many an occasion. You see, once you start talking, then you open the door for more rapport building, and then it’s pretty much over. One wonders how many Los Alamos folks had the same treatment on trips to China. Now think about the average Defcon party and the amount of alcohol and sleep deprivation we have going on there.
So, look at it from that perspective. Now the NSA has come to the con just as the FBI and other agencies and security bodies so too will the “other guys” I don’t know how many of you out there come from military or “other” backgrounds where you will have a DSS or counterintelligence training,but, I am assuming that a vast majority of the folks attending the cons today do not have that background, especially the younger ones who’s only been in the security arena a short time. Pentesters who know SE should be able to easily detect some of the techniques used to recruit an asset, and tease out information.. Others, maybe not so much.
So here we are today, APT (Yes China being one purveyor of APT attacks) are not only using malware to get into systems but also recruiting sources to help them in their goals. Used to be a time that it really only was the nuclear scientists getting the attention… Today though, everything is game, you might make widgets, but that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t want to know what you know.
Pssst… It’s still espionage kids… And now YOU are part of it because you hold interesting information.
How’s that for some “Threat Intelligence” huh?
Which brings me to the second line of thinking or topic that came up this year. The government is asking us to consider more “threat intelligence” and to bring them in on the loop. See, right there, they are asking you to be an asset.. Did that occur to you? Of course I know for the most part you all thought, as I did too, that the idea was a bit silly.
Because who really has that kind of threat intel program going on today? Hell, we are all pretty much trying to just keep our shit together right? On average, unless you work for a major company,you may not even have an SIEM or even snort instance right? How are you going to convince your employer that you need that stuff and then more so, to pass that intel to the government? The only groups I have known to do this are the DIB partners, and they do it because they don’t want to lose contracts for the military.
So now, we would all be assets? All corporations out there, whether they are being attacked by APT or Anonymous, would be reporting their incursions or attempts at them to the government? That’s kinda spooky really. This also circles back nicely to the idea that we all now, all of us in the INFOSEC community are now collection nodes for SIGINT/HUMINT/MASINT/ELINT and not many of us have had the training to be analysts.
You see, when you use the words “Threat Intelligence” this has some context that some may not get right away. It’s not just what IP is hitting us and with what attacks anymore.. It’s about the context around all of that and the attribution that is needed for cyber warfare, or more likely, cyber intelligence operations. I expect to see a lot more of this lobbying going on at all of the cons as well as more people sidling up to the attendee’s and asking “so, what’s going on out there?”
For those of you not acquainted with HUMINT and it’s techniques, I suggest you read “The Art Of Intelligence” By Henry Crump and learn… Why? Because that guy you’re talking to at the cool party might just be a PRC case officer…