Active Defense Framework Can Help Businesses Defend Against Cyberattacks

New report provides a framework that lets private sector entities defend themselves while at the same time protect individual liberties and privacy, and mitigate the risk of collateral damage.

George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security (CCHS), a “think and do” tank responsible for carrying out research and analysis on homeland security, counterterrorism, and cybersecurity issues, has released a new report called Into the Gray Zone: The Private Sector and Active Defense Against Cyber Threats.

The authors of this report — experts in the fields of technology, privacy, security, law, and business —argue that although the U.S. government has a role to play in cybersecurity, it still lacks the resources needed to fully protect the private sector. Given that, they said, private sector entities must take responsibility for protecting themselves.

The report provides a framework that businesses can use in order to defend their assets while also ensuring that their actions are embedded within policy and a legal framework. The authors also maintain that businesses’ and their clients’ privacy and civil liberties should not be infringed while mitigating technical risks.

A Push For Active Defense

The proposed framework is all about active defense, the umbrella term the authors use to mean “a spectrum of proactive cybersecurity measures.” Active defense is generally split into two groups. The first covers “the technical interactions between a defender and an attacker,” and the second describes “operations that enable defenders to collect intelligence on threat actors and indicators on the Internet as well as other policy tools (e.g. sanctions, indictments, trade remedies) that can modify the behavior of the malicious actors.”

The report stresses that active defense doesn’t mean hacking back at enemy entities and that the two terms must never be interchanged.

The paper is a dive into the gray zone in an attempt to find answers to the general questions that call for nuanced discussions on active defense, such as:

  • What measures fall within the scope of active defense and what are the benefits and risks of each?
  • What measures may be appropriate to use by certain actors and under what circumstances?
  • What is the role of the federal government in developing a framework and set of norms that can inform such action?
  • How should policy and law be updated to support private sector active defense in a way that is consistent with both our values and interests, and that can evolve as new technologies are developed?
  • Most importantly, how do we move beyond the current policy stalemate of inaction vs. hacking back and develop appropriate and risk-driven policies for active defense?

The paper also outlines the advantages of the active defense framework for the private sector, which are that it:

  • Maximizes the effect of the private sector’s ability to defend its assets and data
  • Uses the combined technical and nontechnical tools needed to counter cyberthreats;
  • Attempts to balance the need for the private sector’s defense measures with other considerations like protection of individual liberties, privacy, and the risks of collateral damage.

Information Security Is Everyone’s Responsibility

Although much is said about what private businesses should do to protect themselves in cyberspace, the report’s authors are quick to mention that the proposed active defense framework extends to the public as well. Thus, there is a call for both the public and private sectors to work together in addressing cybersecurity threats.

CCHS is not the only group to call out the public to take their own security seriously. Increasingly security experts and advocates have been backing the notion that information security is everyone’s responsibility, and it has become the driving force to further educate users and start awareness campaigns.

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