INSIGHTS | June 28, 2012

Thoughts on FIRST Conference 2012

I recently had the opportunity to attend the FIRST Conference in Malta and meet Computer Emergency Response Teams from around the world. Some of these teams and I have been working together to reduce the internet exposure of Industrial Control Systems, and I met new teams who are interested in the data I share. For those of you who do not work with CERTs, FIRST is the glue that holds together the international collaborative efforts of these teams—they serve as both an organization that makes trusted introductions, and vets new teams or researchers (such as myself).

It was quite an honor to present a talk to this audience of 500 people from strong technical teams around the world. However, the purpose of this post is not my presentation, but rather to focus on all of the other great content that can be found in such forums. While it is impossible to mention all the presentations I saw in one blog post, I’d like to highlight a few.


A session from ENISA and RAND focused on the technical and legal barriers to international collaboration between National CERTS in Europe. I’m interested in this because during the process of sharing my research with various CERTs, I have come to understand they aren’t equal, they’re interested in different types of information, and they operate within different legal frameworks. For example, in some European countries an IP address is considered private information and will not be accepted in incident reports from other teams. Dr. Silvia Portesi and Neil Robinson covered a great wealth of this material type in their presentation and report, which can be found at the following location:


In the United Kingdom, this problem has been analyzed by Andrew Cormack, Chief Regulatory Advisor at Janet. If I recall correctly, our privacy model is far more usable in this respect  and Andrew explained it to me like this:


If an organization cannot handle private data to help protect privacy (which is part of its mission), then we are inhibiting the mission of the organization with our interpretation of the law.


This is relevant to any security researcher who works within incident response frameworks in Europe and who takes a global view of security problems.


Unfortunately, by attending this talk—which was directly relevant to my work—I had to miss a talk by Eldar Lillevik and Marie Moe of the NorCERT team. I had wanted to meet with them regarding some data I shared months ago while working in Norway. Luckily, I bumped into them later and they kindly shared the details I had missed; they also spent some of their valuable time helping me improve my own reporting capabilities for CERTs and correcting some of my misunderstandings. They are incredibly knowledgeable people, and I thank them for both their time and their patience with my questions.


Of course, I also met with the usual suspects in ICS/Smart Grid/SCADA security: ICS-CERT and Siemens. ICS-CERT was there to present on what has been an extraordinary year in ICS incident response. Of note, Siemens operates the only corporate incident response team in the ICS arena that’s devoted to their own products. We collectively shared information and renewed commitments to progress the ICS agenda in Incident Response by continuing international collaboration and research. I understand that GE-CIRT was there too, and apparently they presented on models of Incident Response.


Google Incident Response gave some excellent presentations on detecting and preventing data exfiltration, and network defense. This team impressed me greatly: they presented as technically-savvy, capable defenders who are actively pursuing new forensic techniques. They demonstrated clearly their operational maturity: no longer playing with “models,” they are committed to holistic operational security and aggressive defense.


Austrian CERT delivered a very good presentation on handling Critical Infrastructure Information Protection that focused on the Incident Response approach to critical infrastructure. This is a difficult area to work in because standard forensic approaches in some countries—such as seizing a server used in a crime—aren’t appropriate in control system environments. We met later to talk over dinner and I look forward to working with them again.


Finally, I performed a simple but important function of my own work, which comprises meeting people face-to-face and verifying their identities. This includes our mutually signing crypto-keys, which allows us to find and identify other trusted researchers in case of an emergency. Now that SCADA security is a global problem, I believe it’s incredibly important (and useful) to have contacts around the world with which IOActive already shares a secure channel