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March 10, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Retired Marine, cybersecurity expert compares traditional warfare, cyberwarfare

An East Tennessee native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran drew comparisons between military conflicts and cyberattacks during a presentation yesterday to a standing room only crowd.

The IT Company hosted the event – “Are You Prepared? Understanding Cyber Threats & Risks to Your Business” – that featured Hank Brown, a retired Lieutenant Colonel and one of the founding members of U.S. Cyber Command. He was born in Knox County and raised in Blount County.

Almost immediately after launching his presentation, Brown said, “I’m going to talk about cyberwarfare in the context of you.” Over the next 30 minutes before a robust Q&A session, he offered many of the same cautions that readers have no doubt heard from others, but did so in the context of warfare.

“In all other domains, defense has a three to one superiority,” he told the attendees, about one-half of them owning their own business. “In cyber, it’s the opposite,” pointing out the impact that just a single infiltration can have. “Treat your network as if it is compromised. The attacker has the advantage. They are always going to find something.”

Noting that cybersecurity is “a very sophisticated field but our adversaries use mostly fundamental ways” to hack into systems, Brown said the most common approach is still social engineering that includes phishing.

He explained that those plotting a cyberattack do their reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, just as military leaders do. They are also willing to take their time and make many stops – he drew an analogy with the “island hopping” that occurred as the U.S. successfully fought the Japanese in World War II.

“These are patient people (with) a long view,” Brown noted.

He also talked about CAI or CIA – you select the order – and the tension that exists between the items that these letters represent. “A” references the availability of and accessibility to information that the Internet provides. “C” stands for confidentiality of that data, while “I” refers to the integrity of the information and whether someone might have hacked the system and altered the data.

“The Internet was designed around availability at a time when no one considered bad acting nation states,” he said, something that is clearly not the case today. “(In regard to) anything you put on the Internet, you should assume it is public domain.”

His advice to the companies in attendance included:

  • Limiting the amount of data retained and accessible if it does not have current utility;
  • Reducing attack surfaces or potential entry points;
  • Avoiding connecting devices to the Internet – think security cameras at home;
  • Practicing good cyber hygiene, much like individuals are now doing in relation to the coronavirus;
  • Limiting access points to a network; and
  • Enabling two-factor authentication.

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