In his Black Hat USA keynote, Square’s Dino Dai Zovi discussed lessons learned throughout his cybersecurity career and why culture trumps strategy.
BLACK HAT USA 2019 – Las Vegas – Cybersecurity no longer has to worry about getting attention, said Black Hat founder Jeff Moss in his introduction to the keynote that kicked off the conference’s twenty-third year. Business management and political leaders recognize the importance of security; now, the infosec community must learn how to handle the spotlight.
“Not only have we got the attention, we’re struggling with what we do with it – how we communicate,” said Moss of the industry’s present-day challenge. “The quality of communication now determines a lot of our outcomes.” And while communications problems can be fixed, Moss said, doing so will require reordering the way we think and convey ideas.
His sentiment was echoed in the keynote by Dino Dai Zovi, head of mobile security at Square, who spoke about lessons learned in his career that emphasize the weight of security culture. At a time when every company is driven by software, the responsibility of security goes far beyond one team. Software teams must own security just as security must also focus on software.
Dai Zovi illustrated this idea with the story of when he started working at Square, a time he referred to as “my unfrozen caveman hacker period.”
“I had no idea the depth of things I didn’t know,” he said.
One of those things was a cultural shift: At Square, unlike other firms, security engineers had to code like everyone else. “Because the security team wrote code like the rest of the company, there was a lot more collaboration,” Dai Zovi explained. “That, I think, was really powerful.”
It was one of many lessons he learned that changed the way he viewed how security influenced an organization. In his keynote, Dai Zovi outlined three additional principles for attendees to consider.
Work Backward from the Job
Before a security team can start on a project, it must first talk to internal customer teams to better understand why they’re doing it in the first place. Security pros must first understand the business’ struggles, what is easy for them and what adds friction, and when and why they “hired” security to do something. What are their hiring criteria? What is important to them? Just as significant is their firing criteria. What would cause them to seek an alternative solution?
“You can think about everything security does as offering a product or service to the rest of the company,” Dai Zovi said. Asking these questions helps ensure security adds value rather than implements a tool or service that people didn’t ask for, don’t need, and likely won’t use.
Seek and Apply Leverage
Many cybersecurity experts have a deep pride in being subject matter experts, Dai Zovi said, describing his second point. But this typically small group of people can have a broad impact.
“There’s not enough of us,” he explained, pointing to fuzzing as an example of how automation can help scale security. Making fuzzing easier for developers drives the benefit, he added, because there are more developers than there are security pros.
Dai Zovi also emphasized the importance of feedback loops. Cybercriminals have natural feedback loops; they immediately know whether things work or don’t work. Defenders have to explicitly build their feedback loops, but if they do this right, they can measure attackers probing their systems, identify them learning, see them hacking, and see when they succeed.
Culture > Strategy > Tactics
“Culture is way more powerful than strategy, which is way more powerful than tactics,” Dai Zovi stressed. Both operations and developers enable the business, and the business requires change. “We must allow change to happen,” he added.
Businesses should move toward a model where risks are shared. Instead of security being security’s job alone, organizations that can reinforce security is everyone’s job can adopt a more risk-sharing culture. This is the environment Dai Zovi described at Square, where developers would write new features and go to the security team for feedback and guidance. Instead of being perceived as the “no” department, security can share their responsibility.
“Instead of saying ‘no,’ start with ‘yes’ and say, ‘This is how I can help,'” Dai Zovi advised. This mindset can drive collaboration with other departments rather than isolating the security team.
“If we can create security culture change in every team, we can scale way more powerfully than we can if security is only our responsibility,” he said.
Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial … View Full Bio
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