The CIA’s Approach to Cybersecurity

The tech community has known for a long time now that securing network endpoints is just not enough. Cybersecurity threats have grown exponentially since the birth of the Internet, and much more effort must be put in today than in the past. But most companies and even the government is not prepared to do what it takes to secure their systems and users, and some just do not know how. But the Central Intelligence Agency in the US may have the answer.

Outdated Security Practices

It is not so much that the approach to security has not changed in decades but that the idea behind implementation hasn’t shifted to compensate for incoming threats. The intelligence community and law enforcement agencies have for the past couple of decades or so been trying to collect every type of data on everything they can to improve cybersecurity. The type of research being done on this data is very important to the creation of effective strategies and tools for combating cyber threats. But storing this data became a challenge as it was creating very enticing places for cybercriminals to access more information than was ever previously available. Another response to threats has been to apply encryption technologies to as much data and networks as possible. Encryption was a good move, but it was being applied to only the endpoints of networks. This fortress may be a good way to protect things in the real world, but in cyberspace there are a lot of other ways to get inside.

The perimeter approach to cybersecurity did work for a while when the Internet was still new, but hackers and cybercriminals have long since found many ways to get inside networks without necessarily breaking through the perimeter. In some cases, there are breaches because there are just too many endpoints today to properly monitor. On the surface of things, systems were keeping the bad guys out, but they were actually slipping past unnoticed and penetrating deep into sensitive networks. It has gotten so bad that half of the US population has already experienced some kind of cybersecurity breach. All those passwords, certificates and firewalls are just not doing the job anymore.

With the growth of the Internet and the boom of Internet-enabled devices from toys to kitchen appliances to cars to medical devices, there are too many potential access points for cybercriminals. This adds to the difficulty of securing people. If current cybersecurity practices are unable to protect existing government agencies and private corporations, how can it hope to protect let alone keep an eye on all these millions of smaller things? And we haven’t even yet considered all things cloud and all things connected to remote access.

The CIA’s Plan

Dividing cybersecurity issues into the three categories of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability, the CIA has developed a plan to enable proper cybersecurity for everyone. Confidentiality is the first line of defense where everyone is called on to take responsibility for protecting sensitive data. Data thieves and spies are the enemies to this aspect of cybersecurity. This has been the focus of cybersecurity thus far, even for critical public, private and military systems. Encryption has helped, but not all threat vectors have been covered yet. We can’t just keep putting little locks on everything when what we really need is bigger and stronger locks to keep attackers out of these vital systems.

We now come to Integrity where software and network data and system data vulnerabilities are considered. This is where the greatest threats lie based on the degree of damage a single attack can do. For comparison, an attack in the confidentiality area can uncover operational information that can cause costly data leaks while an attack in the integrity area can uncover critical systems that can cause a complete collapse. This could mean, for instance, a takeover of commercial flight systems and military weapons systems controls. Attackers are no longer limited to DDoS attacks that interrupt system functioning but can actually take control of and use these systems for themselves.

Users today need to be concerned more about whether or not their cars can be commandeered by cybercriminals than only about the data that potential identity thieves and marketers can collect from them. On a larger scale, we are talking about commercial craft and a potential for entire cities and even countries to be held for ransom. This pertains to the second category, Availability, which takes into account all the possible ways that cybercriminals and spies and other malicious actors can do their dirty deeds.

The CIA is recommending the C-I-A approach – no pun intended – to wean people off the now inept Public Key Infrastructure defense design and get them started on the much more capable Dynamic Provable Data Possession and Scalable Proven Data Possession systems. These methods move away from trying to keep out the malicious elements that are actually already in our systems and instead focus on threat and breach prioritization. This way, we can stop the futile chase of cybercriminals and actually get something done by catching them when they are spotted inside the system.

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