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We can learn from the Sony hack

Kenneth van Wyk | Dec. 22, 2014
The greatest mistake would be to sit on any information Sony learns about how it was breached.

Well that stinks, doesn't it? Sony Pictures goes and scrubs the launch of a $44 million movie after being hacked, potentially by North Korea. Almost reads more like a James Bond plot than a news story, but there it is. And this time, it doesn't seem likely that Bond, James Bond, is going to show up at the eleventh hour to save the day.

Sure, Sony's hands may well have been tied when a couple of major movie theater chains announced they wouldn't be showing the movie. And I have no doubt that there are plenty of facts in this situation that I'm simply not privy to.

But the movie in question, The Interview, is a fictional comedy, after all. Where is the righteous indignation? Where is the "screw you, we're going to run it anyway"spirit? Perhaps it's worth considering how the U.S. would respond if another country filmed a "comedy"that depicted a standing U.S. president being assassinated. Still, the whole situation stinks, and I sure wish that Sony had the spine to stand up to this cyberterrorism and run its movie anyway, even if it meant taking it straight to online streaming services and such, bypassing the equally spineless theaters.

But that's not really what I'm here to talk about today. Instead of dwelling on that which we can't change, let's instead consider how companies like Sony could turn a negative into a positive. After all, make no mistake about it: This time it's Sony, but it could be any company next time. And now that the precedent of capitulation has been set, I fully expect the bad guys to be emboldened more than just a little.

So then, how could Sony have turned things around here, even after agreeing to not run the movie?

First and foremost, let's take the time to learn from what happened here. By that, I mean let's study how the attacks took place and ensure we can prevent similar attacks in the future. To do that, the techniques and tools, if possible, must be understood by the IT security community, not just a few incident responders at Sony and whatever other incident responders worked on this incident.

In the incident-response world, through organizations like the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST), technical case studies from incidents like this one are often shared and discussed. FIRST itself holds several technical colloquia each year for that sort of purpose. Without a doubt, the most compelling sessions at these events, which are generally open only to the FIRST member teams, are the case studies of actual incidents.

The incident-response community uses an information-sharing model similar to that used by the medical community: It's acceptable to discuss a disease, its symptoms and its cures, but it's not acceptable to discuss patients directly.


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