Sandeep Mittal, I.P.S.,*
It is globally realized that humans are the weakest link in cyber security to the extent that the dictum ‘users are the enemy’ has been debated over about two decades to understand the behavior of the user while dealing with cyber security issues.Attempts have been made to identify the user behavior through various theories in criminology to understand the motive and opportunities available to the user while he interacts with the computer system. In this article, the available literature on interaction of user with the computer system has been analyzed and an integrated model for user behavior in information system security has been proposed by the author. This integrated model could be used to devise a strategy to improve user’s behaviour by strengthening the factors that have a positive impact and reducing the factors that have a negative impact on information system security.
Most of the system security organizations work on the premise that the human factor is the weakest link in the security of computer systems, yet not much research has hitherto been undertaken to explore the scientific basis of these presumptions. The interaction between computers and humans is not a simple mechanism but is instead a complex interplay of social, psychological, technical and environmental factors operating in a continuum of organizational externality and internality.1 This article tries to examine various aspects of interaction between humans and computers with particular reference to the ‘users’.The taxonomy adopted for understanding who is actually a user is based on the available literature.It is also imperative to explore the following questions: Why do users behave the way they do? Is there a psychological basis for the specific behaviour of users during the human’ computer interaction, and if yes, how does it affect the security of the computer system?Various hypotheses and suggestions offered by different experts are thus being reviewed in order to identify ways to improve both user behaviour and the overall security of computer systems. The debate on this issue was initiated by an article entitled,’UsersAre Not the Enemy’2,where the authors studied the behaviour and perceptions of users relating to password systems, and challenged the conclusion drawn in a previous work3 (DeAlvare,1988 quoted in Adams and Sasse, 1999) that many password users do not comply with the password security rules because ‘users are inherently careless and therefore insecure’.
Adams and Sasse (1999) concluded that the possession of a large number of passwords by users prevents the latter from memorising all of them, thereby also compromising password security,that users are generally not aware of the concept of secure passwords, and that they also have insufficient information about security issues. The earlier perceptions of security managers were thus challenged and users were no longer seen as the ‘enemy’. Since then, a number of studies have been undertaken by researchers who have adopted either of these two positions, viz., ‘The user is the enemy’ or ‘The user is not the enemy’. In this article, we examine various hypotheses before taking either of these two positions.
Taxonomy of Users’ Behaviours
It has been found that the effectiveness of technology is impacted by the behaviour of human agents or users,who access, administer and maintain information system resources4. These users could be physically or virtually situated inside or outside the organisations,thus, bringing into interplay a range of environmental factors that influence their behaviour. Most of the organizations tend to be more concerned with threats from external users even though surveys conducted by professional bodies indicate that three- quarters of the security breaches in computer systems originate from within the user fraternity.5Therefore,it is necessary to foster a systematic understanding of the behaviour of users and how it impacts information security.In this context, researchers have developed taxonomy of the behaviour of information security end-users.6 This taxonomy of security behaviour, comprising of six elements, (as has been depicted in Figure 1) is dependent upon two factors, viz., intentionality and technical expertise. On the one hand, the intentionality dimension indicates whether a particular behaviour was intentionally malicious or beneficial, or whether there was no intent at all. The dimension of technical expertise, on the other hand, takes into consideration the degree of technological knowledge and skill required for the performance of a particular behaviour.
The taxonomy of end-user behaviour, as delineated in Figure 1, helps in classifying the raw data on users’ behaviours and also in selecting the paths that could be followed for improving the information security behaviour of a particular user within an organization.
Exploring ‘What the Users Do?’
A fundamental postulate is that the users’ behaviour is guided by the risk which they perceive to be associated with their interaction with the information system in everyday situations. However, research has revealed that users normally fail to take optimal or reasoned decisions about the risks concerning security of information systems. The decision-making process of users exhibits the following predictable characteristics, and thereby understanding them would be of great use in positively impacting the decision-making ability of users7:
- Users often do not consider themselves to be at risk.In fact, as the users increase
the security measures for their computer systems, they start indulging in more risky behaviours.
- Although users are not, by and large, imbecile or obtuse in their thinking, they
lack both the motivation and capacity to devote full attention to information processing, especially since they resort to multi-tasking, which prevents them from concentrating fully on a single task at a time.
- The concept of safety per se is unlikely to be a persuasive element in determining human behaviour, especially because the argument that safety prevents something bad from happening is a rather abstract one, and consequently, human beings do not perceive adherence to safety norms as a gain or a beneficial exercise.
- It has been observed, that adherence to safety and security norms does not always produce instant results. In fact, the results often come weeks or months later, if at all, which prevents human beings from immediately comprehending the positive outcomes of their actions, thereby making them complacent. The same delay in perception of outcomes is also evident in the case of negative actions. Thus, human beings realize the impact of their actions only when the results can be seen instantaneously, as in the case of disasters.
- Research on the association between the concepts of risk, losses and gains indicatethat ‘people are more likely to avoid risk when alternatives are presented as gains and take risks when alternatives are presented as losses. When evaluating a security decision, the negative consequences are potentially greater, but the probability is generally less and unknown. When there is a potential loss in a poor security decision as compared to the guaranteed loss of making a pro-security decision, the user may be inclined to take the risk’.8 This study, therefore, shows a strong likelihood of users gambling to offset a potential loss rather than accepting a guaranteed loss in toto. This observation is depicted in Figure 2 (West, 2008, adapted from Tversky and Kahneman, 1986).9
The author is tempted to undertake a detailed literature survey to study the influence of human factors on security of information systemsin order to gain an insight into the entire scenario. However, in view of the limited scope of the present article, the author is restricting himself to presenting only a summary of the important available literature on users’ behaviour vis-à-vis the information system security (Table 1), leaving it to the readers to probe the matter further.
Table 1: Summary of Research on Users’ Behaviour and Information System Security
|1.||Users’ Behaviour||a) There is a relation between end-user security behaviour and a combination of situational factors.
b) The various factors that are believed to influence security-related behaviour include the users’ perceptions of their own susceptibility and efficiency, and the possible benefits they are likely to derive from security.
c) It is extremely difficult to audit employee behaviour and the reasons thereof as individuals react differently in each situation, depending upon organizational culture.
|Stanton et al., 2004
Ng, Kankanhalli and Xu, 2009
Vroom and von
|2.||Familiarity with information security aspects||a) Shared knowledge about information security is important as it contributes towards bringing about a change in individual behaviour and eventually in an organization’s behaviour.
b) The following three factors have been identified as barriers to information
* General security awareness,
* Users’ computer skills, and
* Organizational budgets.
|Vroom and von Sloms, 2004
Shawet al., 2009
|3.||Awareness||The following factors have been identified among Users as three levels of security
* Perception re-use of potential security risks,
* Comprehensive know-how to perceive and interpret risks, and
* Prevention of the user.s ability to predict future situational events.
|Shawet al., 2009|
|4.||Organizational||In a positive work environment,users Environment understand their role in the complex information security system,which helps them improve their behaviour. An organization with a positive climate may influence the behaviour and commitment of users.||Shawet al., 2009.|
|5.||Work Conditions||Unsatisfactory and negative work conditions can contribute negatively to work. Tiredness and fatigue may also lead to failure to follow policies and procedures among users, thereby resulting in their disregarding information security.||Kellowayet al., 2010 .|
Unfolding Criminology Theories to Understand Users’ Behaviour
The theoretical foundation for several research models designed for studying users’ behavior has been provided by criminology theories. These theories have been categorized according to their focal concepts and aims, as enumerated in Table 2.10 As pointed out in the last column of Table 2, a number of researchers have tried to apply these criminology theories in isolation or in combination with each other to the information security system. These theories explain the behaviour of users as perceived by criminologists, most of whom have deep foundations in psychology.
Table 2: Criminology Theories, Concepts and Principles in Information Security (IS) Literature (afterTheoharidou , et al., 2005)
|Criminal theories||Focal concept||Basic Principles||Related Research within IS Security literature|
|General Deterrence Theory (GDT).
|A person commits a crime if the expected benefits outweight the cost of sanction.||(Goodhue and Straub, 1991)
(Straub and Welke, 1998).
|Social Bond Theory
|A person commits a crime if the social bonds of attachment, involvement and belief are weak.||(Lee and Lee, 2002),
(Lee et al., 2003)
|Social Learning Theory
(Sutherland, 1924 ,
quoted in Akers,2011)
|Motive||A person commits a crime if (s) he associates with delinquent peers, who transmit delinquent ideas, reinforce delinquency, and function as delinquent role models.||(Lee and Lee, 2002)
(Skinner and Fream, 1997)
|Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB)
(Ajzen and Fishbein,2000)
|A person’s intension towards crime is akey factor in predicting his/ her behavior. Intentions are shaped based on attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control||(Lee and Lee, 2002)
|Situational Crime Prevention (SCP)
|Opportunity||A crime occurs when there is both motive and opportunity. Crime is reduced when no opportunities exist.||(Willison, 2000)|
Models of User Behaviour
Researchers have used theories used in general criminology and literature pertaining to interaction between humans and technology in information security systems for developing theoretical and research models to understand users’ behaviour. Figure 3 depicts an integrated model of this behaviour derived and designed by the present author from two research studies.11
The findings of these studies can be summarized as follows12:
- A constructive organizational environment has a positive impact on the responsible behaviour of users towards information security.
- Stressful work conditions would negatively impact the responsible behaviour of users towards information security.
- The adoption of responsible behaviour by users in terms of adhering to information security policies and procedures would negatively impact the vulnerabilities of users to information security breaches.
- Familiarity with information security policies and procedures among users would:
a)Positively impact their responsible behaviour towards information security;
b)Negatively impact their vulnerability to information security breaches; and c)Positively impact their awareness of potential information security threats.
- Awareness of potential information security threats among users would:
a)Positively impact their responsible behaviour towards information security; and
b)Negatively impact their vulnerability to information security breaches.
- Some of the key elements that play a vital role in users behaviour include gender, work experience, age, and educational qualifications.
- The intentions of users to follow security policies are determined by both internal and external motivating factors.
- The security behaviour of users is positively affected by both standard prescriptive beliefs as well as peer influences.
- The security-related behavioural intentions of users are positively impacted if detection is certain.
- The security-related behavioural intentions of users are negatively impacted if the prospective penalty for neglecting security is expected to be severe.
- The perceptions of users regarding compliance by others with security behaviour also play an important role in determining their own behaviour towards security.
- The vulnerability of users to any breaches in information security are inversely related to the compliance with security procedures among users. This implies that the stronger the users’ intention to adhere to security behaviour, the lower would be their vulnerability to any security failures.
While the element of technology remains constant during human’computer interaction, it is the human element which remains highly dynamic mainly due to the complexity of human behavior. Suggestions for the relevant implications of human behavioural science in improving cyber security are as follows13:
- The implication of the ‘Identifiable Victim’s Effect’ (the tendency of an individual to offer greater help when an identifiable person is observed in hardship as compared to a vaguely defined group in the same need) may lead a user to choose a stronger security system when possible negative outcomes are real and personal, rather than abstract. 14
- The ‘Elaboration Likelihood Model’ describes how human attitudes form and persist. There are two main routes to attitude change, viz., the central route (the logical, conscious and thoughtful route, resulting in a permanent change in attitude) and the peripheral route (that is, when people do not pay attention to persuasiv e arguments, and are instead in fluenced by superficial characteristics, and the change in their attitude is consequently temporary). Efforts should thus be made to motivate users to take the central route while receiving cyber security training and education. Fear can also be used to compel users to pay attention to security, but this would be effective only when the fear levels are moderate and simultaneously, a solution is also offered to the fear-inducing situation. The inducement of a strong fear, on the other hand, would lead to fight or flight reactions from users.15
- Cognitive Dissonance (a feeling of discomfort due to conflicting thoughts) acts as a powerful motivator by evoking the following reactions among users, making people react in the following three ways:
a)Change in their behaviour
b)Justification of their behaviour through a rejection of any conflicting attitude; or
c) Addition of new attitudes for justifying their behaviour.
- Cognitive dissonance is hence used to persuade users to change their attitude towards cyber security and then eventually adopt a behaviour that motivates them to choose better security.16
- Social Cognitive Theory stipulates that learning among people is based on two key elements—by watching others, or through the effect of their own personality. Thus, by incorporating the demographic elements of age, gender and ethnicity, one could initiate a cyber awareness campaign that would help reduce cyber risk by enabling the users to identify with their recognisable peers and thereby imitate the secure behaviour of the latter.17
- Status Quo Bias’the tendency of a person not to change an established behaviour without being offered a compelling incentive to do so’ necessitates the introduction of strong incentives for users to change their cyber behaviour. This can be exploited positively by information system designers.18
- The Prospect Theory helps us in framing user choices about cyber security by framing them as gains rather than losses.19
- Another factor to be considered is Optimism Bias, which leads users to under- estimate the security risk, thereby making them perceive that they are immune to cyber-attacks. In order to enable users to overcome this attitude, the security system could be designed to incorporate the real experiences of users for effectively conveying the impact of the risk.20
- 8. Control Bias or the belief among users that they have a strong control over or capacity to determine outcomes hinders people from following security measures. This bias should be kept in mind while designing systems and training programmes for users.21
- Confirmation Biaslooking for evidence to confirm a positionexposes the users minds to new ideas. In order to overcome this bias, the system must provide evidence to change their current beliefs (for example, regular security digests may be e-mailed to them).22
- While trying to improve the cyber behaviour of users, the Endowment Effect, wherein people place a higher value on the objects they own as compared to the objects they do not own, could be used. Users may thus be persuaded to pay more for security when it allows them to safely keep something that they already have (for example, the privacy of data).23
It is amply clear from the foregoing discussion that humancomputer interaction is not a simple process but is instead a complex and dynamic mechanism, characterized by the interplay of a large number of technological, human and environmental factors with each other in space and time. Being humans, users do not have the biological capacity to handle these numerous factors simultaneously in space and time, which is why they behave the way they do, thus, unintentionally or accidentally (and sometimes maliciously) compromising the information system security. In this way, users themselves become the enemy of information security, and are therefore categorized as the weakest link in the information security chain.
The most important and dynamic aspect of the interaction between humans and computers is the behaviour of the user, which varies in space and time. It is also influenced by psychological, intrinsic and extrinsic factors, which in turn, are governed by peer behaviour, normative beliefs, and social pressures, among other things. Therefore, the behaviour of the user is not solely dependent on the user himself, or we could say that he might have little control over his own behaviour while interacting with the security of information systems. The integrated model discussed in this article may thus be used to devise a strategy for improving the users’ behaviour by strengthening the factors that have a positive impact and reducing or even eliminating the factors that have a negative impact on the security of the information system security. However, this is a complex task and should not be considered as simple, as for instance, selling a non-durable consumer item like a soap!
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The term ‘Cyber Domain’ has been used widely by various experts, sometimes interchangeably with ‘Cyber Space’, to imply – “the global domain within the information environment that encompasses the interdependent networks of information technology infrastructures, including the internet and telecommunication networks” (Camillo & Miranda, 2011). Today it has become “the fifth domain of warfare after land, sea, air and space and its a challenge to have a common definition of cyber Domain” but for the purpose of this essay the definition given above would suffice. Any entity, whether it is a Nation State or an Enterprise, who operates in cyber domain need to maintain confidentiality, integrity and availability of its deployed resources. The dynamics of cyber domain is complex and complicated in time and space. The humans, machines, things and their interaction is evolving continuously to pose risks and opportunities in the cyber domain. The risk to someone becomes opportunity for the other. In this essay, the ‘risks presented by’ and ‘opportunities available in’ the cyber Domain would be identified, discussed and analyzed to consider key strategic policy elements to defend the cyber domain.
Risks and Opportunities in Cyber Domain
The ‘very low cost efforts’ giving asymmetric results coupled with anonymity in space and time makes the cyber domain attractive (Cyber Security Strategy of UK, 2009) for use by various actors for malicious objectives. This faceless and boundary less domain is highly dynamic and throwing surprises with rapidity and having the potential of causing damages (real and virtual) which are disproportionate to the resources deployed. Let us have a look at various realms in terms of risks associated with them.
- a) The information system platforms and the equipment supporting the cyber ecosystem is susceptible to conventional physical attacks. The electronic equipment can be subjected to destruction by generating High Energy Radio Frequencies and Electromagnetic Pulses.
- b) The services in the cyber- space may be disrupted by direct attack e.g. DoS, DDoS etc. This is the most common attack and has the potential to paralyze the lines of communication, bring down banking services and sabotage military operations. It has been deployed over the years not only by novice script kiddies but also sophisticated state sponsored agencies successfully. Botnets working round the clock have become a serious challenge.
- c) The sensitive data (in storage and on the move) may be accessed, stolen or manipulated to have the desired effect immediately or at a subsequent date. The technology and deployment methodology is evolving with time and simple malware tools have been replaced with complex, intelligent and well-crafted attacks generally known as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). The stealth, patience and dedicated consistency of APTs has the capability to bypass the best firewalls (including New Generation Firewalls) and Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems to exploit the Zero- Day- Vulnerabilities (Fire Eye White Paper, 2014).
The risks associated with various realms as discussed above may manifest themselves in various dimensions of the society like Civic Infrastructural Breakdown (e.g., failure of electric power grids, disruption of fuel pipelines, disruption of water supply chain etc.), Economy Disruption (e.g., disruption of banking services, business continuity and maintenance related costs), Social Behavioral Effects on Society (e.g., gambling, spamming, pornography, drugs supply, propagation of extremist ideology) and last but not the least hacking and intrusion into privacy, compromising the Nations Morale through use of social media leading to civic unrest and hampering diplomatic relations (e.g. Wiki Leaks ) and thus finally setting the stage for Cyber Warfare. Eventually, the Cyber Domain becomes a ‘means’ of most serious ‘end’, that is, the Cyber Warfare (Cornish et al, 2009). The ‘research-tool of yester- years’ has evolved into a strong medium of mass communication. In the Chatham Report titled ‘Cyberspace and the National Security of the United Kingdom, 2009, the concept of Cyber Threat Domains is introduced.
Let us have a look at the challenges and opportunities in Cyber security in terms of four ‘Cyber- Threat- Domains” (Cornish et al, 2009).
- a) ‘State-sponsored Cyber-attacks: The complete dependence of a Nation’s economy and critical infrastructure presents an opportunity to the ‘Nation States’ to deploy cyber- tools to gain information-dominance in cyber-domain to transmit information and denial/ restriction of such information to enemy state, as also the collection of tactical information. Going further, crippling a nation by paralyzing its critical infrastructure through deployment of stealthy and well-crafted tools to exploit ‘Zero-day-vulnerability’ is a matter of hours, and not even days. The use of Cyber attacks in raising the temperatures of furnaces in nuclear power plants and increasing the flow-speed of liquids in fuel pipelines may be used as weapons of mass- destruction.
The concepts of war-maneuvering have been compared with cyber-maneuver (Applegate 2012), where it is realized that blatantly hostile acts in cyber space are characterized by rapidity, anonymity and difficulty in attribution and are dispersed in space and time. Even the territory of enemy or one of his allies can be used to achieve desired asymmetric results.
- b) Cyber-Terrorism /Extremism –There is no other medium which is more powerful and anonymous than cyberspace, where asymmetric results can be achieved by deploying minimal resources with ease. The internet is an anarchic play ground or an ungoverned space, which can be exploited by extremists for communication and information sharing, designing strategies, conducting training for its members, procurement of resources, infiltrating State’s assets and forming alliances with organization having common objectives but different motivations. The use of social media by political extremists to propagate their ideology and take on the government machinery may spearhead insurgency by exploiting public sentiment.
- c) Serious and Organized Criminal Groups are exploiting the cyber space not only to maintain their criminal networks but also for money laundering, drug-trafficking, extortion, credit card frauds, industrial espionage etc. “In the cyber space, physical strength is insignificant […….] , strength is in software , not in numbers of individuals“ (Brenner, 2002). It poses a great challenge to the Law Enforcement Agencies to tackle Cyber- criminality. The need of operational level coordination with international LEAs can not be under stated as the existing mechanisms of MLAT etc have not given desired results. The thrust LEAs is on acquisition of hardware and software and the training of human resources is lacking.
- d) Lower –level Individual Attacks: are acts of individuals and may give results disproportionate to the skills deployed. These attacks may not be technologically advanced but have the capabilities to create panic and day to day disruptions. Sometimes fools pose great questions. Free availability of a number of hacking and penetration testing tools on internet assist the script kiddies to venture in the world of hacking.
Thus it is amply clear form the foregoing that the cyber domain presents unimaginable opportunities spread over space and time with rapidity, anonymity and almost no investments.
Policies to Address Cyber Defense
Any policy for cyber- defense has to be multipronged, tiered and dynamic. There are many approaches to decide upon the strategic policies. One is the systematic approach while the other is to keep the national security as the central theme and then weave other defenses around it. What should be the strategy for a secure Information Society? For the purpose of this essay we may define it as “the ability of a network or an information system to resist, at a given level of confidence, accidental events or malicious actions that compromise the availability authenticity, integrity and confidentiality of stored or transmitted data and the related services offered by or accessible via these networks and systems” (Commission of the European Communities, 2006). Though this is a network- system- centric definition, it is felt by author that, if this approach is taken care of, by the strategic policy, the other considerations would fall in line. The approach should not be like the example of the “elephant and the five blind men’ rather it should be an integrative approach to address various risks, issues and opportunities in the cyber domain. We would try to build up the key elements of the strategy which a strategic policy should address to defend the cyber domain. “The integrated application of cyberspace capabilities and processes to synchronize in real- time, ability to detect, analyze and mitigate threats and vulnerabilities, and outmaneuver adversaries, in order to defend designated networks is part of cyber defense strategy and includes proactive network operations, defensive counter cyber operations and defensive countermeasures” ( U.S Department of Defense, 2010 ). As policy should be general and broad, it would be beyond the scope of this essay to discuss procedures, details of technologies and processes associated with them and mechanisms to deploy them. We would be focusing rather on the key elements; a security policy should incorporate to achieve the objective of defending the cyber domain. It should incorporate the ground realities present in the scenario where policy would be applied.
The author has perused the summaries of the National Cyber Security Strategies of nineteen countries (Luijf, Besseling & Graaf, 2013) and based on them, tried to identify the key elements of the strategic policy to defend the cyber domain.
- a) Legislation/Legal Framework:
The cyber domain has no boundary. The various stakeholders and players may be spread all round the globe irrespective of national jurisdictions. Hence, a law which is progressive and aligned with international conventions on cyber-crime and Laws of the other nation states would be a basic requirement to defend the cyber domain. Additionally, the judiciary needs to be sensitized on various aspects of cyber law for better appreciation while dealing with such cases.
- b) Mandating the Security Standards:
Mandating the minimal security standards in information security is like preparing the ground before the seeds are sown. Security assurance measures for products ( ISO/IEC 15408), security assurance measures for development process (ISO /IEC 21827) , measures for Security Management (ISO/IEC 27001) etc should be implemented with Zero tolerance for non-compliance. Personnel expertise and knowledge should be mandated through professional certifications.
- c) Secure protocols, Soft wares and Products:
At present there is no system in place for ‘cyber-supply-chain-security-ratings’. This is a big loophole as these hardware and software , have to be frequently changed and have the potential of getting compromised thus putting the cyber- security at stake. These software and hardware become the gateway to attacks in the cyber domain.
- d) Active-Dynamic Security Measures for Prevention, Detection and Response Capabilities:
The technology of the malware and the methodology of its deployment in cyber-domain has radically evolved over the years. “The attacks are advanced, targeted, stealthy and persistent and cut across multiple threat vectors [web, email, file shares, and mobile devices ] and unfold in multiple stages, with calculated steps to get in , signal back out of the compromised network, and get the valuables out (Fire Eye White Paper, 2013). While firewalls, new generation firewalls , Intrusion Prevention Systems etc. are important security defenses, they can not stop dynamic attacks that exploit zero-day vulnerabilities. Hence integrated platforms having the capability to identify and block these sophisticated attacks, and thus safeguard their critical and sensitive assets. Attack Attribution Analysis should be deployed to identify the attackers (Lewis, 2014) . Zero Trust Model of Information Security also helps in reducing the attacks from digitally- signed-malware (IBM Forrester Research Paper, 2013).
- e) Threat and vulnerability Analysis: A detailed threat and vulnerability analysis of the resources should be maintained and updated periodically as per minimum At least a broad 3×3 matrix as per NIST FIPS 199 Standards is suggested. A risk- profile- dashboard should be kept ready. The assets which are critical need to be identified clearly and SOPs for their protection be put in place.
- f) Continuity and contingency Plans should be prepared and kept ready. Many nations are deploying in house “Government- off- the- shelf“ (GOTS) technology for sensitive defense and critical infrastructure systems. The attacks are inevitable but if the services are maintained, the confidence and trust of the stakeholders is vindicated. The Governments should also work towards a mechanism of Cyber Liability and Cyber Insurance which at present is generally lacking.
- g) Information Sharing: In most of the countries there is a mechanism to share information on security breaches and related developments by establishing Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). These national CERTs also interact with each other at international level. However , the author’s personal experience shows that many of the enterprises don’t share information on breaches in order to protect corporate image. Sometimes the security breaches may not be even known for months. There is an urgent need for devising a mechanism where reporting of security breaches should be made mandatory with penalties for non-compliance.
- h) Awareness, education and training: Practice makes a man perfect. Continuous awareness and educational campaigns for various stakeholders on dos and don’ts have to be run repeatedly. The training workshops for the workforce should be organized. We should always remember that the human behavior is the greatest risk to security and this risk can only be minimized by education and training only.
- i) Reforms in school and Collegiate Education: If cyber security as a subject is included in the school and college curricula, a ready cyber work force would be available to be deployed across various sectors. The online training courses in cyber security should be designed and incentives offered to workers, if they attend and successfully complete these courses.
International Collaboration:The cyber domain has no boundaries. The attacker sitting in one country using the system and resources of a second country may compromise a sensitive database in a third country. If there is no international collaboration, what ever strategy we may design, it is bound to fail. Although, there is a Regional Convention on Cyber Crime but unfortunately there is no such convention on cyber security [The Council of Europe (Budapest) convention on Cyber Crime, 2004]. There is a necessity for comprehensive international cooperation to sort-out issues regarding Jurisdiction, Mutual Assistance, Extradition , 24 / 7 Network etc ( Clough, 2013). However , personal experience of the author is that there is need to galvanize international cooperation, which is presently almost ineffective at operational level.
However, to achieve the desired objectives, the strategies need to be implemented through acquirement and effective allocation of sufficient resources through accountable responsibilities ( Ward & Peppard, 2002). But even if all this is done, the things will not turn out as desired ( Johnson & Scholes, 2002 ). Therefore a strategic management process that can adapt to changing scenarios during the implementation of original strategy is not a substitute for the original strategy but it’s a way of making it work.
The Cyber Domain by virtue of its unique characteristics of anonymity, availability and maneuverability in space and time, having no international borders , and capacity to give asymmetric results hugely disproportionate to the resources deployed, offers tremendous risks and opportunities for various stakeholders. It is rapidly expanding its scope from internet of human beings and machines to internet of things. It has the potential of disrupting a Nations economy, polity, civic and military infrastructure and last not the least, may lead to the cyber-warfare. Any policy and strategy to defend the Cyber Domain should be dynamic enough to adjust to the rapidly changing nature of attacks and technology. The futuristic scenarios like “Botnet of Things” have the potential of disrupting the normal life of humans. The strategic policy explained in this essay, if implemented, should take care of various aspects of defending the cyber domain. However, as the attacks, technologies and attackers evolve, the policy should also evolve with the same rapidity. The ‘unknown- unknown’ of the cyber domain is yet to be seen by the world.
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Sandeep Mittal, I.P.S.
As the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system are deployed in infrastructures which are critical to the survival of a nation, they have emerged as a potential terrain for cyber-war, thus attracting the considered attention of ‘nation-states’. The analysis of worms like ‘stuxnet’ ‘flame’ and ‘duqu’ reveals the hand of a ‘nation-state’ in their design and deployment. Hence, the necessity to understand various issues in the defence of SCADA systems arises. The forensics of the SCADA system provide deep insight into the design and deployment of the worm (the malware) once the system is attacked. This is precisely the scope of this essay.
The peace, prosperity and economic development of any Nation depends upon its critical infrastructure and how well-protected it is. These critical infrastructures are distributed physically and virtually in space and time. The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are an important component of the process to control and monitor industrial and infrastructure process 24/7. Initially, these SCADA systems were designed to run in an isolated environment. However, with sudden improvements in information and communication technology, SCADA systems have evolved and adopted latest technologies like wireline IP communication and communicate over public IP network on one hand making the SCADA system vulnerable to attacks (Bailey & Wright, 2003) and malware infections from the much wider networks. The discovery of ‘ stuxnet’, ‘flame’ and ‘duqu’ in the recent post has opened a ‘can of worms’ which was unimaginable till recently. While ‘stuxnet’ could be termed as ‘an essentially a precision military-grade, cyber –missile’ which, once deployed, would not require any human intervention thus heralding the beginning of digital attacks on physical targets by hunting them globally (Chen and Abu-Nimes 2011 ), the other two are more improved malware to gather intelligence about critical infrastructure worldwide. The developers, critical infrastructure stakeholders are realizing this increasing threats and started taking measures to address these ( Brandle & Naedele, 2008; Ahmed et.al, 2012). As these SCADA system are deployed in infrastructures which are critical to the survival of a nation, it has emerged as a potential terrain for cyber-war, thus attracting the considered attention of ‘nation-states’. The analysis of worms like ‘stuxnet’ ‘flame’ and ‘duqu’ reveals the hand of a ‘nation-state’ in their design and deployment. Hence, the necessity to understand various issues in the defence of SCADA systems arises. The forensics of the SCADA system provide deep insight into the design and deployment of the worm (the malware) once the system is attacked. This is precisely the scope of this essay.
The Components of SCADA System
A typical architecture of a SCADA system controlling a typical critical infrastructure would mostly comprise of a ‘control-centre’ and ‘field- sites’. The ‘field-sites’ are equipped with devices like ‘Programmable Logic Controllers’ (PLCs ) Remote Terminal Units ( RTUs) which send information by different communication media (e.g. satellite, wide area networks or radio/cellular/microwave networks) about the state of Filed-equipment to Control-centre. The major components of a control centre are Human Machine interface (HMI), data base management system (Historian) and Server or Master Terminal Unit (MTU) Components. All the communications with the field sites are initiated by MTU and it receives back the data from field-devices, pre-processing this data, if necessary, and sending to historian for archiving. The HMI provides the interface to the human operator. The typical architecture is shown in the following figure (Ahmed et.al, 2012.)
The Defence Issues in the SCADA System
The discovery of complex, complicated and deceptive worms e.g. ‘stuxnet’, ‘flame’ ‘duqu’ and ‘careto or mask’ in recent past points to the fact that the SCADA System are rapidly becoming the targets of ‘nation-states’ who are ever-eager to deploy such cyber weapons to strike at will in the enemy territory. Therefore, the defence approach for securing SCADA systems has to be comprehensive and multi-pronged. These strategies can be broadly divided in to 3 broad categories (after Nazario, 2004)
a) Host based defence measures provide a deeper entrenchment of the defence for any single system. Therefore, multiple defences at host level make things difficult for the malware attack to exploit the system. However, these defences may fail due to misconfiguration and may be bypassed. This strategy has the following components,
(i) Host based static or the dynamic firewalls are used as a complement to the network firewalls. However, the limitations to this strategy are that the host based firewalls are ineffective in stopping the worms following the already established link paths that are allowed via policy. Moreover, the worm itself may subvert these firewalls if sufficient right are obtained by the malicious executable. A worm on launch may issue a command to unload the firewall’s rule set, completely neutralising the installed security monitor.
(ii) Server side commercial antivirus software can be implemented. However, it requires regular and timely updates to the definitions as they rely on signature based definition, failing which defence becomes ineffective.
(iii) Partitioned privileges – The service running on well-known ports (between 1 and 1024) have elevated rights and handle authentication and thus having super-user level access to system databases. However these access rights are not required through the life time of a program. Any system that does not need repealed can discard the elevated privileges, it began with, once the restricted operations are performed.
(iv) Privileges Separation – In this method, two instances of the application run, one with few privileges (only sufficient to handle user request) and second with system level privileges (required to handle services such as authentication) and the two process communicate via inter-process communication, with the child requesting the results of any operations that require any privileged access. Thus a small process run with system level access that has minimal exposure to external risks. Compromise, if any, occurs in the unprivileged process space (Provos, 2002).
(v) The other strategies include disabling the unneeded service and features, aggressively patching known holes, implementing the behaviour limits on hosts. The last of these is a promising area for computer security and can be applied to different level of networks. The behaviour of the host in normal circumstances is enforced in this method. However this method may prove useful at the network level rather them at the host level.
However, this approach may not scale well to large SCADA networks, in addition to difficulties in maintaining and enforcements. But they would continue to be used in SCADA defence as malware spreads by attacking the host only.
b) Firewalls and Network Defences
Firewalls are used to enforce a network security policy which includes authorisation to establish communication between two end points, controlled by the port, applications and protocols in place. The firewalls evaluate the connection requests against its rule base and apply a decision to requested action (Ranum & Avolio, 1994; Wack, Cutler & Pole, 2001; Nazario, 2004). Network architects and administrators managing SCADA systems should deploy firewall technology to achieve several key objectives( Wack and Cranahan, 1994);
i) Protection from malicious applications by controlling their entry and exit from a network.
ii) Control the destinations and sources of network communications.
iii) Concentrated security and enhanced privacy
iv) availability of logging statistics for internet activities.
Most of the firewalling devices are of two basic types. The first is a packet filter which performs policy enforcement at packet level and could be stateful or stateless. A stateful filter understands the context of a communication and can conditionally pass or reject packets that are part of the communication (or at least appear to be so), while, in contrast, the stateless firewall, only monitors single packet irrespective of the context of surrounding traffic. Here, filtering rules are applied on a packet level basis as opposed to a connection level basis (Chapman, 1992). Placing a firewall at the network perimeter, usually the place where two different policies exist at the end of a network. At the ‘outside’, polices are generally more liberal than on the ‘inside’ of the network, thus giving rise to the ‘trusted internal network and ‘untrusted external network’. This creates a protected network and exposed network. These exposed networks have services such as web servers and access given to the world at large. Each network is then protected with different policies to meet the differing security requirements. However, the perimeter firewalls presume that one security policy can adequately meet the requirements of entire network which is simply impossible and therefore inadequate. Therefore, a set of firewalls on each submit of the network are deployed and tailored to meet the usage patterns of the different use of groups, and are an effective natural way to defend against an active worms who spread and mutate rapidly. Another strategy is to deploy reactive Intrusion Detection System (IDS). Typically, an IDS sensor passively listens to the traffic on the network and only sends an alert when it has observed suspicious traffic, but still allowing the communication to proceed. In contrast, reactive IDS can be configured to close the connection via forged packets. A second type of network firewall is the proxy server which provides their services by being an intermediate system for a network connection. Typically a listening agent on the proxy server receives a request for a network action, and fulfils the action on behalf of the client. At no point of time the client and the final destination make a direct contact. However, as the proxy act as an active peer in the communication, it may held the data temporarily before transfer to the client system. This allows compromise of the content including the details of malicious activity being removed (Ptacek & Newsham, 1998). However, as using the proxies induces communication stream latency resulting in time lag in communication of critical instructions, its use in SCADA systems is limited.
The most important thing to be kept in mind is that SCADA systems control the critical infrastructure which requires data transmission and decision implementation in real time failing which the critical networks may collapse. Therefore, any defense strategy to be used for SCADA system should have a judicious blend of security and usability in real time.
The Forensic issues in the SCADA Systems
The reliability of a SCADA system depends not only on safety, but also on security (Brandle & Naedele, 2008). A comprehensive guide on Industrial Control Systems (ICT) Security has been published by NIST (Stouffer et.al, 2011) and is very useful in implementing the security controls in SCADA systems deployed in critical infrastructure. A SCADA system is different than a conventional IT System i.e. criticality of timeliness and availability of its capability all the time, having terminal devices with limited computing capability and memory resources and last but not the least the direct impact of logical execution in the physical world. Additionally, the SCADA systems usually have a static topology, a presumably regular network traffic pattern and use simple protocols (Zhu & Sastry, 2010).
The Forensic examination of SCADA systems is important post-incident to understand the design, attack vector of malware and attribute responsibility if possible, to assist law enforcement in investigation.
From the perspective of digital forensics , a SCADA system can be viewed in different layers, as demonstrated in following figure (Ahmad et.al, 2012), based on the connectivity of the various SCADA components and their network connectivity with other networks such as Internet (Bailey & Wright, 2003).
The upper layers shown in above figure correspond to the enterprise IT networks environment wherein, the routine corporate desktops, servers dealing with enterprise business operate. However it is the first 3 lower layers (layers 0, 1 & 2) where most of the forensic analysis in SCADA systems has to be performed as these layers contain the special SCADA components and are crucial for controlling the underlying industrial processes. However, the analysis may extend to further up the higher-layers if necessitated (Ahmed et.al; 2012). As 24/7 availability is a critical requirement of a SCADA system, a forensic investigator cannot turn it off for data acquisition and analysis, necessitating use of live forensics for data acquisition and subsequent offline analysis of the acquired data (Adelstein, 2006). However, live forensics data acquisition has a few challenges in capturing data viz;
a) if the data is not acquired immediately, the volatile data would be lost.
b) maintaining the integrity of volatile data and its admissibility in courts of law.
c) inconsistent data image.
The SCADA systems typically have a primary system and a backup system. The investigator may put the SCADA system on the backup and conduct data acquisition on the primary- affected system. But it is most likely that the malware which has infected the primary system would have affected the backup system also thus making the life difficult for a forensic investigator (Stouffer & Scarfone, 2011). Forensic investigators have to deal with the problems arising from the unique features of SCADA system which limits application of contemporary forensic tools and techniques to SCADA Systems (Ahmad et.al, 2012; Fabro and Cornelius, 2008),
a) predefined rules in network traffic of SCADA system may allow communication between various components of SCADA system, but may not allow communication between forensic tool and SCADA components during data acquisition.
b) customised operating system kernel of the SCADA components may not be compatible with the data acquisition tool.
c) resource(e.g. memory, processing etc.)- constrained nature of SCADA components (e.g., RTUs & PLCs etc.) may limit data acquisition tools.
d) log- records of SCADA systems are inadequate due to limited logging capability of SCADA systems.
e) large amount of data generated by individual field-components (e.g. large number of sensors).
f) vendor-dependency during analysis as the SCADA components ( modern as well as legacy proprietry technology ) are provided by multiple vendors some of the components being forensically compatible and some not as shown in following table. (after Fabro & Cornelius, 2008),
Table 2. Modern/Proprietary Technology and Forensics Compatibility
(after Fabro & Cornelius, 2008)
|Modern/Proprietary Technology||Effective Audit /Logging||Forensics Complaint||Reference Materials Available|
|Engineering Workstations, Databases, Historian||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|HMI, Data Acquisition, Application Server||Possibly Yes||Possibly Yes Most Likely No||No|
|Field Devices (PLC, RTU, IED), Modern/Remote Comms||Probably No||No||No|
Table 3. Legacy/Proprietary Technology and Forensics Compatibility (after Fabro & Cornelius, 2008)
|Legacy/Proprietary Technology||Effective Logging||Forensics Complaint||Reference Materials Available|
|Engineering Workstations, Databases, Historian||No||No||No|
|HMI, Data Acquisition, Application Server||Most likely No||No||No|
|Field Devices (PLC, RTU, IED), Modern/Remote Comms||No||No||No|
At present the complex SCADA environment presents a number of challenges to forensic investigator, thus preventing him from applying contemporary forensic tools and techniques. The challenges are detailed in the following lines (Wu et.al, 2013)
- Live Forensics and Data Integrity – The live forensics is a dynamic environment and the live data acquisition would not be forensically sound as volatile memory cannot be verified and traditional hash algorithms, e.g., MDS cannot be used. However, baseline hashing algorithms of the ladder logic of field devices can be taken and stored as read-only-access in a secure unit. In case of an incident a comparison of existing logic inside the field device would provide comparison to the baseline hash. The baseline hash of the ladder logic should be updated at regular interval to ensure device integrity.
- Lack of compatible forensic tools for field devices- The incidents like ‘stuxnet- attack’ on Iranian Nuclear Facilities clearly demonstrate that field components of SCADA (like PLCs in this case) can be compromised. These embedded devices have low memory and processing power, thereby limiting the data retention. However, the data on RAM and flash memory would be useful for forensic investigation.
- Lack of Forensically sound storage – OPC clients and Historians are typically the available devices for storage on SCADA systems. The data stored in these devices is for specific purposes, accessible from external environments and therefore forensically unsound.
- Identification of Data Sources on a SCADA system is very difficult. The several layers of connectivity, as discussed earlier, having complex architecture makes the task inherently difficult.
Another important issue is a sound “SCADA Forensic Process Model” for preservation, identification, extraction and documentation of digital evidence so that it is admissible in courts of law from procedural proprietary of process, law and science. SCADA Forensics Models have been proposed by researchers recently (Radvanovsky & Brodsky, 2013; Wu et.al; 2013).
However, it has to be borne in mind that due to complexity of SCADA components, architecture, and networking and also the sophistication of attacks now a day, one has to be careful in carrying out the various steps of the SCADA forensic model.
The complexity of SCADA systems in terms of technology, process and architecture throw a number of challenges to be experts securing the SCADA as also in collecting forensic evidence, one an incident is reported. The embedded technology, short memory, little processing power poses limitation in live forensics. Any defence strategy to be used for SCADA system should have a judicious blend of security and usability in real time. Any process of live forensic should meet the test of nonrepudiation on procedural aspect of process, technology, science and integrity of the data has to be assured, so that it is admissible in court of Law. The attacks on SCADA systems in future are not only going to increase but would be highly sophisticated, more particularly when SCADA systems would provide a potential terrain of war for the nation states. Only a judicious use of technology and common sense would help to keep the SCADA systems secure. More research is required in designing live forensic platforms that could be applicable to SCADA environment.
Note: The views expressed in this paper are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations where he worked in the past or is working presently. The author convey his thanks to Chevening TCS Cyber Policy Scholarship of UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who sponsored part of this study.
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