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New Black Hat Cybersecurity Buzzwords

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the pithy words of Monzy Merza at TechCrunch, the annual Black Hat briefings are an opportunity for the hoi-polloi "to drink from the firehose." While the lions' share of know-how and information will no doubt be devoured and processed by the brainiest of cybersecurity experts and hackers, the rest of us must play the part of vultures -- eating the scraps.

And that assumes we can digest what's left. Blink, and some new threat is already out there on the internet threatening your data and network. Here we'll discuss some of the recurring terms that featured at this year's Black Hat briefing.

Asymmetric Cryptography

Asymmetric cryptography, or public-key cryptography, is the mechanism by which two keys are generated from very large random numbers. One key is widely known to the public, but the other key is specific to its holder.

Actually, "public" is a little misleading, particularly if this PKC technique us used by a layperson. PKC allows Sally to hold her own key while making a "public" key for all of her friends, family, etc. When someone attempts to pose herself as Sally, but is not Sally, someone with the public key will have the ability to validate that claim by opening a file in a way that only a public key could open it. In other words, only a file from Sally could be accessible using Sally's public key. This is generally known as the digital signature.

In the digital word, one locks (encrypts) a file with any key (public or private), but only you can unlock (decrypt) a file as you hold the original private key.

Behavior Baselining

"It's quiet ... too quiet."

Being cautious of abnormal situations is the very core of behavior baselining. Without getting too deep into the techno-babble weeds, let's just say that this line of defense involves tracking the behaviors of systems at home and abroad in order to spot deviations from mean behavior. If one subscribes to the theory of mean reversion, it's reasonable to begin by thinking that deviations from the norm never last long -- unless the deviation represents a fundamental change in the norm.

Active Response

Perhaps the most intuitive of the terms spoken of at Black Hat. How quickly can the defense respond to an attack?

Perhaps the most recent exemplar of how things ought not be done is the Democratic National Committee. Seems that no active response was implemented despite Russian hackers comfortably making a nest in the DNC's computer servers for over a year. Perhaps this was a failure of behavior baseline monitoring, too.

Moving Goalposts

We consistently subscribed to the view that cybersecurity is a battle of constant vigilance and that lawyers would do well to become proficient in the basics of encryption and to engage in best security practices. Sadly, lawyers consistently fail in this regard. You owe it to your business to learn as much as you can to protect it and your clients. Along the way, you'll learn how best to protect yourself.

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