Data for Defense

It’s a dangerous world out there. Many of us hear about data breaches on a regular basis, and we often blame poor security at various organizations. Certainly there are a lot of silly mistakes made, whether in configuration or the mishandling of data in insecure environments. Security is a tough business, however, and most organizations don’t have the budget to combat all the threats they face, at least not as effectively as a larger organization could.

I have more sympathy for organizations after reading about the work of some Microsoft security teams that go up against the world’s best hackers on a daily basis. To truly understand the vulnerabilities in software, someone must also understand how to attack it. Those of us that only have a defensive mindset are inherently limited in how we design protective measures.

There is a group, the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC), that looks for and tracks hackers around the world, trying to understand how they attack organizations. This is a group of multiple teams looking at nation state attacks, as well as complex software tricks, using the tremendous amount of data they gather from telemetry to analyze the different techniques and vectors used to exploit holes in our systems. They notify customers, letting them know when a customer need to be prepared to defend themselves.

This is a fascinating read, and one that makes me think that most of our organizations are going to be at cyberwar for the foreseeable future. Already we know that any system on the Internet is likely to be probed and attacked if it has vulnerabilities. Most of us are careful about what we expose, but we also know the weakest link in our organization could cause us issues.

We do the best we can, but often we do depend on other organizations, like Microsoft, to actively be identifying and helping us understand what to patch or change to protect ourselves. I assume Google and Apple have similar groups, notifying their customers of potential threats. These large vendors are likely the best positioned to help, given all the data they collect about their platforms. Certainly I worry about data privacy with these vendors, but I do think that their massive troves of data on how their software works can also benefit all of us.

Steve Jones

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