Research Note: Security, privacy, insider threats, and espionage

I am concerned about how this discussion has evolved, and it is influenced heavily by political and ideological biases. More importantly, it is in a box, which does not reflect a stern reality. I have been told that “Privacy is dead – Get over it.”  Steve Rambam 2010. Eric Schmidt says if we do not like people seeing us do something then we should change our scandalous behavior. Bruce Schneier says, “Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.”

Perhaps these assertions conflate privacy with confidentiality, and do not rise to the scientific level we might aspire to. Then again at the ISSA conference in 2013 Dr. Eugene Spafford said that confidentiality, integrity, and availability were basically made up on the spot in the early 1970s (@ 21:00). The story backed up in 2001 by Donn Parker means the standard security principles do not even rise to the level of a Vint Cerf cocktail napkin for peer reviewed evidence. The base scientific case for the differences or assumptions of privacy and security may be flawed and accepted as myth rather than science. Of course, Donn Parker has his own security model he would suggest.

I am dismayed that collectively we miss a couple of key points. The first point is what if we as a populace have created a situation where ubiquitous surveillance is possible and privacy is no longer possible and do not understand the resulting effects. What logic allows us to think that government has any hope of having privacy if it is not even possible for the citizen? I told somebody recently that privacy and security are not two sides of a coin but the properties that make the coin a coin. If the technological society we have built is so significantly powerful in violating privacy then every tool, capability, or process can be turned against the government.

From systems engineering we know that apocalyptically any system is only as strong as the weakest link. We can look at that in the sense of granularity. If the people of a nation have no privacy, and if the government is of and for the people, then the government has no hope of privacy. Is privacy the enabling social construct for information security? What if the privacy of the citizenry is actually the enabling resource for government security?

The second aspect is that of insider threats. Obviously, if there is confusion over insider threats something is up. The first point being insider threats are actually outsiders you have not detected. Ames, Hanssen, Manning, Delisle, Snowden, Philby, even Anna Chapman were and are all spies. That their motivations were appropriate in various political ideologies is irrelevant. That some of them have not been tried in a court of law is irrelevant. They gave information to foreign powers and additionally treason does not require intent to harm.

The web has been scrubbed or obscured to the point that a simple Google search does not disclose it, but in the mid 2000s the CSO for NSA said they knew they had moles in the agency. She said that they were operating with an assumption of breach. Apparently not so well, but the point remains.

After Anna Chapman and her colleagues were scooped up in 2010 there were strong suggestions that several people got away and that other entities remained in the United States working for Russia. It is interesting to note that Snowden was working for the CIA in 2007 and started working for the NSA in 2009. It is also interesting that the FBI was the ones who tipped off the Canadians about Delisle in 2011.

The take away is not these are related but that there was and is a pervasive level of espionage occurring. The Russian principle of reflexive control is also well known and most spies are volunteers. The Canadian case of Delisle suggests deeper conspiracy and threats that are coordinated and efficient. The espionage landscape is active, hostile, and filled with lots of silly people talking about playing “grand games.”

The misidentified insider threat is an age-old counter intelligence problem. Doing away with the concept of “insider” and realizing you have an “outsider” inside your network alleviates a lot of the social and cultural baggage of the insider concept. You do not care about motivations, or why an outsider would try to harm you. All you care about is getting them out of your network. I tell people that I work with that I do not care about insiders. I want to find the outsiders that they have mischaracterized.

I see at least five vectors that have to be coordinated but can be summed up into one simple statement. There must be privacy preserving security at all levels or neither privacy nor security is possible. Corollary to this the concept of insider threats must be better understood if trust is a component of privacy or security.

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