Welcome to the Information Security Leadership blog.

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New Research Blog

In order to not dilute the nature of the posts here, I have just started a new Research Blog, which will focus on my ongoing academic research.

This Information Security Leadership Blog will continue to focus on more high-level content and will primarily target CISO-level folks working on defensive security.

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RSS Feed Hickup

My RSS feed seems to have experienced a hickup and listed some old articles as new. Apoligies for the inconvenience and/or confusion!

Apple's Dilemma

By now, most people know that Apple is refusing to comply with a court order to decrypt the contents of a cell phone. The Justice Department isn't too happy with that, and calls it a marketing strategy.

They are right.

However, to call it just a marketing strategy would be incredibly short-sighted. Before I can address that, let's look at what's are the heart of all this. Over the last couple of days, I spent more time explaining what cryptography is, and what purpose it serves, than I spend time explaining what the order is really about.

So, here it goes: cryptography is a technique to allow people to communicate securely in the presence of an opponent. There are a few key components:

1. Cryptography is about communications. In other words, cryptography protects messages. In today's world, most of those messages live on mobile devices, such as smartphones.

2. Cryptography is about security. In most cases, that idea of security is used synonymously with confidentiality. Cryptography can do more than that, but the other cryptographic services are not really in scope in this case.

3. Cryptography assumes an adversarial environment. Without an 'us-and-them', there is no need for cryptography.

Apple, Google, Facebook, WhatsApp are all in the business of messaging. Furthermore, they believe that the senders and recipients of messages expect a level of privacy concerning their exchanges. As a matter of fact, they see privacy as a key competitive advantage, and they believe that without privacy their services will fall out of demand.

Privacy requires message confidentiality. Confidentiality of messages requires cryptography.

In other words, removing, or purposefully weakening cryptography, puts these companies at a global competitive disadvantage.

Note the word 'global'. Apple doesn't just sell their goods in the U.S. While flawed, the U.S. system of checks and balances actually works pretty well; especially when compared with other countries. Consumers in repressive regimes don't just look for cryptography as a nice-to-have feature, it is something that can save their lives, or even the lives of their families, friends and neighbors.

Second, the court order requires Apple to invent and build a product that currently does not exist. It is similar to telling a builder to first build a house that isn't there yet, but leave out any doors and windows, so that a warrant can be executed when he is done. Apple is not the FBI's private on-demand software development shop. Asking a company, via court order, to invent, build and hand over something that does not yet exist is a scary idea.

Third, all iPhones are pretty much the same. Once the software has been developed to unlock the phone's secrets, it can be used to open all iPhones. Anywhere in the world. Always.

While the FBI stipulates that this court order only applies to one specific physical device, the damage to Apple's brand is done as soon as words comes out that the vulnerable version of their software exists. As much as companies try to keep things secret, they aren't very good at it. The mere existence of such software will cause it to eventually leak. When that happens, anyone (national states, criminals, or just about anyone else), will be able to use it.

Two real questions remain:

1. Is this court order indeed based on legal grounds? I am not a lawyer, and I cannot answer that question.

2. Is our deep fear of terrorism an acceptable reason to compel one of the countries strongest companies to weaken its own brand, invent and develop products that do not exist, and provide governments world-wide (not just in the U.S.) with unlimited access to any cell phone, at any time?

If so, the terrorists have achieved their goal: we have allowed fear to influence every aspect of our daily lives. The fact that Apple unlocks one more phone really doesn't matter then.

Update: Fixed a whole lot of typos.

Changing jobs

New job

Effective January 1st, I'll complete my transition to the Dark Side by vacating my position as Information Security Officer. Afterwards, I will join Adelphi University's full-time faculty. My primary focus will be on computer science in general, with an emphasis on cybersecurity.

In my new position, I'm going to be rekindling my research interests, and hopefully do something that is interesting and valuable to the community as a whole. With a change of responsibility comes a new focus, and hopefully, more materials to write about here.

Want to replace me?

If you are interested in becoming my successor as Adelphi University's Information Security Officer, please take a look at the job posting and apply. I'll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Adelphi is a great place to work; salaries aren't bad (not great either ;), the campus has a close proximity to NYC, there are decent benefits, its campus is beautiful,  and you'll be in a fairly informal and non-hostile work atmosphere. Even better, you'll work in a professional well-run department and you will have FULL OWNERSHIP of the Infosec function.

Note to bad guys

Until my replacement has been appointed, I will not fully vacate my position. Logs are still going to be monitored, the phone will still be answered, email will be watched. Basically, nothing changes.