Welcome to Codebook, the only cybersecurity newsletter bold enough to admit those times I chose to purchase new clothing rather than do laundry.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
A year ago, Equifax got hit with a data breach of historic scale: the Social Security numbers for nearly 150 million people. Jamil Farshchi’s job as the credit-rating firm’s new chief information security officer (CISO) is to rebuild Equifax’s defenses.
Farshchi says Equifax has “taken a stand” on cybersecurity and is spending whatever it needs to, with "basically...an open checkbook." But key to the turnaround, or to any security regimen, he said, is something any company can do for free: have the CISO report directly to the CEO and the board of directors.
Why it matters (to most consumers): Americans who still feel burned by the credit bureau worry this kind of attack might happen again. Any steps the company can take to prevent such a disaster are worth pursuing.
Why it matters (to Equifax): The breach spurred talks of regulation on a federal and state level. The firm largely seems to have dodged that bullet for now, but a second breach could bring on more oversight.
Why it matters (to other companies): Studies differ, but somewhere around a third or more of CISOs do not report to CEOs or boards of directors. Instead, they report to chief information officers or other executives further down the chain. These firms could consider a reorg of their own.
Done this before: Farshchi came aboard Equifax in February. He says reworking the organizational chart happened between the breach and his arrival, after poor organizational structure impacted how the breach was handled. It's his second time righting the ship for a company after a historic breach, after a role at Home Depot in 2015, back when 50 million users still counted as historic.
The pitch: Giving the CISO the ear of the CEO can not only bolster requests for resources and changes to procedure, Farshchi said, but also change a company’s culture. It strengthens how other employees view the importance of security and increases the chance other top executives will seek out a security opinion when making other decisions.
Coming in after a breach: Farshchi says a CISO’s role changes dramatically after a breach. “Before a breach, your success is dependent on convincing a people about the value of security. I don’t have to do that."
Age-old question: The debate over the CISO’s org-chart standing dates back at least a decade, but the post’s place in corporate hierarchies remains far from a given.
Yes, but: That argument represents the conventional wisdom — CISOs get shut out of board rooms because it seems like they speak a different language. Farshchi argues that doesn’t wash. "Legal people speak in jargon," he said. "If there is an inability for a business to understand technology on a high level, it’s incumbent on them to learn it."
Hackers from the Boston collective The L0pht testified on Capitol Hill 20 years ago this weekend, in what became a landmark moment for the legitimization of white hat hackers and an altogether surreal event in the annals of the U.S. Senate. Today, four of them return to discuss how things have changed.
What they're saying: L0pht alumni Chris "Weld Pond" Wysopal and Cris "Space Rogue" Thomas emailed Codebook to explain what actually did change:
The President Trump refuses to take simple steps to secure the phone he uses to tweet, reports Politico. Those measures include swapping out his phone every month or using a device without a microphone or camera, which could be coopted by hackers for surveillance.
The reasoning: Trump allegedly has told aides that taking these measures — ones his predecessor willingly undertook — would be "too inconvenient."
Why it matters: For the president of the United States, a man literally tasked with managing a team of rocket scientists as one of his many roles, this shouldn't be rocket science.
At its annual Ignite Conference today, Palo Alto Networks will demonstrate the first third-party apps able to run on its cybersecurity platform, a "proof of concept" for a model that CEO Mark McLaughlin believes is the future of the industry.
How the framework works: Palo Alto Networks will allow vetted security companies to use the sensors its platform uses to monitor networks and the data it collects. Vendors demoing today range from the biggest companies in the space, like Microsoft, to smaller upstarts, like Colorado-based ProtectWise.
Why it matters to innovation: The cybersecurity industry is due for contraction — there are currently more vendors than is practicable. But McLaughlin argues that shrinking the industry down to a handful of major players will rid it of a lot of the innovation coming from smaller players.
Why it matters to customers: Many vendors agree that the companies they sell to feel overloaded from running multiple platforms at the same time.
What others are saying:
Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The email protection group Agari announced the results of an ambitious and — they promise us — legal project to surveil 78 email accounts belonging to so-called Nigerian scammers, both to rescue victims and study the practice.
"We’re using social engineering on them the way they have used it on other people," Markus Jakobson of Agari told Axios.
Why it matters: Studies have examined data provided by victims of Nigerian scams, but this is the first to look at data collected on the other end.
Legal? Agari did not want reporters to reveal the exact methods used to take over the email accounts. But representatives say they've briefed lawyers and law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, none of whom believed there was a legal problem. As described to Codebook, the methods were certainly more aggressive than most traditional research techniques, but appeared difficult to pin down as outright illegal.
The numbers: Nine out of 10 of the scam-spewing accounts researchers observed were actually headquartered in Nigeria at one point during the observation period.
Researchers at Google and Microsoft discovered two new security flaws in microprocessors similar to the Spectre glitch earlier this year. Patches are available and the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team has alerted stakeholders to the potential problems.
Why it matters: For years, microprocessors did not receive the same kind of scrutiny for security issues as software, despite both being critical parts of systems. That's starting to change. There will be more of these before we're done.
Codebook will return on Thursday.