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Monday, July 9, 2018

Interview With Cybersecurity Expert & Author O. Sami Saydjari

Engineering Trustworthy Systems: Get Cybersecurity Design Right the First Time

“This is the “bible” for cybersecurity, which needs to be consulted as we struggle to solve this enormous threat to our national security.”

--John M. Poindexter, PhD, Former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan

Cybersecurity poses the leading threat to global commerce, the military, government agencies, individual privacy, and data integrity for leading institutions.  Tens of billions of dollars are spent annually to build, upgrade, and fix computer networks to withstand terrorism, hackers, spies, criminals, and corporate espionage.  The next generation of cybersecurity professionals needs to be armed with a comprehensive defense. internationally recognized cybersecurity expert O. Sami Saydjari has written the authoritative bible for crafting cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions to defend against even the most sophisticated attacks, Engineering Trustworthy Systems; Get Cybersecurity Design Right the First Time (McGraw-Hill, July 2018, 672 pages; Trade Paper, $60, ISBN: 978-1-260-11817-9).

This professional guide shows, step-by-step, how to design and deploy highly secure systems on time and within budget. It offers a comprehensive set of objectives and best practices and shows how to build and maintain powerful, cost-effective cybersecurity systems.  Whether you are a cyber-emergency responder, manager of information technology, or a red teamer, tester, accreditor, evaluator or systems designer, you will learn to think strategically, identify the highest priority risk, and apply advanced countermeasures that address the entire attack space.

Saydjari has been a visionary and thought-leader in cybersecurity for thirty-five years, working for elite organizations and government powers such as NSA, DARPA, the DoD, and NASA.  He has published more than a dozen papers in the field, consulted to national leaders on cybersecurity policy and has been featured in interviews with major media, including Time, CNN, The Washington Post, PBS, Wall Street Journal, ABC, and The Financial Times.  He is the founder and president of Cyber Defense Agency, a leading cybersecurity consulting firm.

1.      What trends are you seeing today when it comes to the newest threats in cybersecurity? Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent, complex, sophisticated, purposeful and targeted. The sheer volume of attacks is increasing exponentially.  It is only a matter of minutes between when a computer is first connected to the network and the first attack on that computer.  Attacks are now more complex--they employ more steps, and those steps attack more fundamental layers, such as operating systems.  They are more sophisticated--they leverage knowledge of flaws in systems design and of the defense systems themselves, steering around and underneath protections. They are more purposeful and targeted—when they attack, it is to gain some effect, such as ransomware to gain money, or Stuxnet to destroy centrifuges.

2.      Sami, what inspired you to publish Engineering Trustworthy Systems? Cyberattacks pose an existential threat to our entire society; addressing this problem has been a lifelong passion of mine. My career has spanned a good portion of the cybersecurity field. Much of the field grew and evolved as I was learning and applying it. There are many good books on particular aspects of cybersecurity, but there are none that really address the problem holistically, practically, and in an organized manner that starts with a foundational understanding of the problem. I feel it is important and urgent to confer this essential knowledge to the next generation so they can use timeless principles, developed over three decades, to solve important, emerging, and future problems.

3.      What can you do to ensure that those who engineer, maintain, or grow an electronic data and information system don’t come back to sabotage, blackmail, extort, steal, or destroy these bits and bytes? This is known generally as the insider threat problem. One addresses this problem through a three-layer architecture that is robust against any single security failure. The first is prevention, which creates bulkheads so that insiders cannot access all of the system if they have access to one part of the system.  The second layer is detection, which detects anomalous activities, such as accessing parts of the system that a person does not normally access. This indicates an intrusion or abnormal behavior suggesting insider activity. The third layer is tolerance, in which the system reconfigures itself to continue operation if the insider damages a portion of the system.

4.      What could global-scale cyberwarfare look like in a decade? Imagine a world without electrical power, telecommunications, money, and oil and gas to run essential machinery.  That is what global-scale cyberwarfare looks like.  Our society depends heavily on computers to run these critical infrastructures.  Cyberwarfare is capable of not only short-term disabling of these infrastructures, but actually physically damaging infrastructure such as electrical generators and transformers, for which there are no easy replacements.  The effect is the reduction of humanity back to a pre-modern world.  We must do everything possible to create a safer and more secure cyberspace to reduce the probability of an all-out global cyberwar because these consequences are as serious and significant as nuclear warfare.

5.      What are some of the bigger mistakes one makes when engineering a cybersecurity system? The first is to consider cybersecurity too narrowly. Most cybersecurity engineers specialize in firewalls or intrusion detection.  A more holistic approach, stressing how attacks and defenses interplay, is one of the hardest parts of the discipline and also the least well-understood by cybersecurity engineers today.  Another big mistake is underestimating the attacker’s breadth and depth, finding ways around or underneath defenses.  The breadth and depth of defenders must match that of the attackers.  Many people make the mistake of spending their budgets on one mechanism that someone claims is the next best thing, instead of considering a range of mechanisms and how much each reduces risk compared to cost.

6.      Why do some tend to think of cybersecurity as purely a technological problem?  Why is that bad? If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Cybersecurity was invented by technology research engineers, so solutions have naturally been technology focused. We understand that the solutions involve a great variety of disciplines and ideas, including sociology, psychology, and decision theory. For example, phishing attacks use social engineering, which uses psychology to get an authorized user to unwittingly facilitate an attack. The psychology of users and the sociology of user communities working within systems is highly relevant.  There is some research in this direction, but it does not receive adequate attention today. The book addresses user behavior and how people really operate in cyberspace.

7.      How do cyberattacks pose an existential threat to our entire society? Many people think cyberspace is an optional space of convenience, enabling email or online shopping. In reality, every major infrastructure now depends critically on cyberspace, making it essential to modern life.  If a city such as New York loses access to rail deliveries because of a cyberattack, it could not survive beyond three days, thus requiring complete evacuation. Because cyberattacks can destroy physical things, the consequence is not a matter of inconvenience for a day, but rather regional devastation lasting years. If the Unites States or any like nation were to lose power for six months, its very sovereignty would be at stake. That is the level of threat we are now experiencing in this world, and it is untenable.

8.      Based on your successful career experiences, your book provides wisdom from those who worked at NASA, Department of Defense, IBM, Honeywell, Cornell University, Columbia University, National Science Foundation, DARPA, Naval Research Lab, Carnegie Mellon University, Orincon, and dozens of other leading institutions, corporations, and government agencies.  Does it surprise you that everyone knows pieces of cybersecurity but few, if any, truly command complete knowledge of it? It is no surprise at all. Research in the community developed in a fragmented way. There were intrusion-detection researchers, firewall, and cryptographic researchers. Thus, each discipline grew and developed their own sub-disciplines, their own sub-lingos and their own sub-communities. Often, these sub-communities did not communicate with one another and, in fact, often disrespected the other’s contribution. At DARPA, I focused on bringing together these disciplines, including outside disciplines such as reliability and dependability, to address the problem systematically. We continue to need the deep expertise in areas such as firewall design, but we also need the generalists who understand the strengths and weaknesses of a broad set of mechanisms and how they can be woven together for effective defense.

9.  What does the cybersecurity solution landscape look like? We are used to thinking in only three dimensions. Cyberspace is hyper-dimensional, with hundreds of dimensions. The cybersecurity solution landscape is thus equally complicated. An attacker can get from one side of the world to the other in minutes, and a cyber weapon that costs a few dollars to create can cause millions of dollars of damage. If an attacker has a zero-day attack (i.e., one that has never been seen before) in the operating system, the attacker comes from underneath, as if reaching out from underground and grabbing your feet. If we do not foresee such attacks, it's hard to defend against them. This book helps cybersecurity professionals to appreciate required solution space against the complex attack space.

10.  Do today’s business leaders and entrepreneurs have a proper foundation of understanding what needs to be done to protect their company’s transactions, data, and consumer privacy? Given the number of recent major breaches in supposedly well-defended systems, the answer is clearly no. Business leaders today are ill-equipped to understand threats to cybersecurity, the gravity of the consequences, or to distinguish good solutions crafted by experts from snake oil talismans sold by charlatans. In the same way that they must manage risk for their company’s funds, stock values, and vulnerability to competition, today’s leaders must broadly understand cybersecurity risk to make intelligent decisions to protect their companies. This book is written in such a way that company leadership can easily understand the broad concepts, while professional cybersecurity engineers can grasp the depths of how to design effective systems.

11.  You were mentored by Brian Snow, the former National Security Agency Technical Director of National Cryptologic School.  Who mentors those seeking to crack the cybersecurity of corporations, governments, or individuals? There are two cyberattacker worlds: informal hackers, who hack for fun and mischief, and professional (including military) attackers who attack for high stakes.  The hacker community has a hierarchy in which position is established by the coolness and difficulty of various attacks demonstrated to their colleagues. The best of the best, the so-called “uber hackers,” become mentors for the hackers who then create tools for what we call the “script kiddies”—those who attack using pre-made scripts, which they tailor without understanding what they’re doing. Professional attackers, on the other hand, have a normal organizational infrastructure in which experts rise up to the become mentors. Those cyberattackers are dangerous and capable of major destruction of cyberspace.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource