Bright Stove

Reflecting information risk journey

Archive for July 2016

Fear when it is dark, fear when there is light

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We have fear of the dark because we can’t see what is in the dark. Many of us probably have similar experience of walking up or down an unlighted stairwell in the middle of the night, or into a dark  room or somewhere. Our mind respond to the change. With a sudden surge of attention, our retinas open without the need for us to give any command as we try to look into the darkness. Our ears try to listen for the slightest sound in vicinity, and our nose try to sense any unusual smell, and any unpleasant smell suddenly seem more foul than usual. Our body also react to any notable temperature change, and if our fear heighten, we start to sweat, along with a series of goose bumps. What happen is that our body is trying to collect data about the surrounding environment, and our brain is working hard to analyze and interpret those data. The least data we get, the more fear our mind generates, which is probably a way to get us to do something – collect more data, or just do something, through which we may get some (more) data from the unknowns in the dark. The “do something” can be different action for different individuals. Some may just try to escape the dark. What we would like ourselves to be able to do is likely to pause, calm ourselves, look for light (the flashlight on our mobile phone is pretty convenient these days), move forward slowly, touch for something to hold, or backtrack. But our legs might have already been stiffen from the fear generated. Even then, many try to calm down and take stock after some frightful wondering time. We give up only when our heart stops. Meanwhile, our mind continues to wonder for a way out or scare us into desirable or undesirable actions.

If you read all the dark stories or news of exploitation and attacks, you may feel that the Cyberspace is a dark place. Many users however don’t seems to have any fear of it. That’s primarily because their experience are often shielded by the layer of Web user interface (web browser, mobile Apps, etc.) that gives them a perception that they are in the light, and that they are in control. Blocking their fear sensors basically. What we need is to surface the known risks so that the darkness in the Cyberspace becomes visible. Besides being educated so that their body/mind sensors would respond to those risks, they need to be trained to be competent to deal with the risks appropriately, so called practice secure computing.

Shutting them out or designating specific device for use in the Cyberspace is unlikely going to change their mind sensors, and influence their behaviors against those risks. On the surface, it will seem that the overall surface area of attack has reduced as a specific channel of exposure gets shut down. Like water, the risk will flow towards those permitted devices, especially those that do not have the level of security protection available on corporate machines. Weak links prevail. More importantly, users will find ways to overcome the restrictions in the name of getting their job done more efficiently. If an insider wants to leak information, he/she will find ways to do it as well.

What’s in the dark stairwell remains dark until we get some light on it. We bring light to counter darkness. The moment we are able to see, our fear subsides. Our other sensors also begin to stand down. However, visibility can also generate fear, like when we encounter a fog or sudden heavy downpour while driving on a highway, or when another vehicle suddenly crosses over from the opposite side of the traffic and heads directly towards us, or when we light up the dark stairwell and immediately see a dead animal in front of us. Partial visibility at times can be worst as our mind starts to interpret whatever it can and may have our imagination running faster than our brain can process. Such situations can cause knee jerk reactions and may result in dire consequences. The “16 waves of Cyber attacks” mentioned in the press on June 9, 2016 have certainly generated much fear of the Cyberspace. Such fear that results from visibility is unlike those of the darkness. It calls for a different kind of response. It is not about collecting more data, but reacting to the present (and also perceived) danger based on what have been learned. If we have to frequently take immediate reactive actions against known visible risks, our heart will also stop beating very soon. Since these are known risks, we can get ourselves prepared and be ready for them so that we can deal with them as “normal” response, and our heart rate needs not surge suddenly. Preparation will have to include not just people knowledge and competency, but also process and infrastructure (technology) readiness.

In short, visibility allows us to see and detect dangers, and gain situation awareness. Readiness is to enable us to contain and reduce the potential impact/damages. Stopping the fog or the heavy storms is not even humanly possible. Do we choose to stop driving then? In many instances, people still drive when there’s a bad weather forecast. Why? They want to live their life and not hide from or stopped by the risks of the nature. As such, like many others, we will continue to face off with the threats of nature when they arrive, and meanwhile, we get ourselves prepared so that we have a lesser chance of being impacted by the danger. When we are already on the road, our readiness will save us at that moment. So we learn about slowing down (having brake, as the technology readied all the time), turn on the head/tail/parking lights so others can see us, and tune in to the weather/traffic channel if available (which is always on in big countries like the US). On top of these, we go for vehicle test and check-ups periodically to gain assurance of the level of our technical readiness.

Some says that a bit of fear is good. I think so too. It gets us to take action to deal with those risks (note that risks are known potential dangers, whereas unknowns are hidden and uncertain.) The challenge however is how to quantify “a bit of fear”. When does a bit become too much? Risk management is a trade-offs, we give away some conveniences, in return for safety or security. Inconveniences are real, affecting our daily life, and consume our energy in many ways. However, a state of safety and security is a perception, a state of mind, something that is not measurable. We feel safe, or secure, when nothing happens. Nothing happens can also be because we have not seen the problem, obscured by other distraction, or not having the capability to see it. However much should we trade-offs remains a challenge. We can never be more secure, since we don’t even know when we get there. Instead, we can be less insecure, by discovering or knowing the vulnerabilities, taking actions to continuously eliminate or reduce their potential for exploitation, and getting ready to respond when they do get exploited, or detect any abnormality. Vulnerabilities can be measured though we may continue to have new ones when old ones get fixed.

A well known depiction of risk, vulnerability, and readiness, is the The Great Wave created by Katsushika Hokusai in 1830 on a woodblock. It portrays the struggle of people whose livelihoods and property are “at risk” from not just the Tsunami, but also the volcano of Mount Fuji. It shows the social, economic, and physical vulnerability of the people, and their capacity and resilience through the design of their boats and the way they oars in parallel with the wave crest. The oarsmen appear to have interwoven their oars into a lattice, perhaps to prevent them being smashed by the giant wave. That’s being ready. Hokusai’s great work of art is a reminder of the awareness of such hazards in Japan as well as the way in which all households, groups, and societies cope with and adapt to such threats to their everyday lives and livelihoods (Wisner, et al., 2004).

Perhaps we need a version of The Great Wave to depict the Cybersecurity challenges and bring about greater awareness of the Cyberspace risks and promote a culture of capacity and readiness against the ever changing vulnerability.

Reference

Today news, June 9, 2016, “Singapore hit by 16 waves of attacks since April last year”.

Wisner, B., et al. (2004). At risk – Natural hazards, people’s vulnerability and disasters, Routledge.

Written by mengchow

July 28, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Brief thought on IoT security 

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There will be things that are security capable, things that are not security capable, and things that are somewhere in between. What those things can do, and how much an application can trust a given thing should therefore be tiered based on the security capabilities that the thing can do, and what the thing is willing to do in a given context.

Written by mengchow

July 15, 2016 at 11:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lucas Critique 

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Written by mengchow

July 14, 2016 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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