Cybersecurity Tools & Resources

My book Handbook for Defensive Cyberspace Operations contains an extensive chapter on tools and resources for cybersecurity analysts. As a closed project, however, this knowledge has had little impact outside of my niche community. This post contains a version of that chapter suitable for distribution to the public.

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Passing CISSP

Like college degrees before them, professional certifications seem to be waning in popularity in the cybersecurity industry. Perhaps as a way to mitigate the well-documented workforce shortage, some companies have gradually begun to account for competence and experience, too, rather than onerous credentials alone — and in some cases, base their hiring decisions solely on those criteria. This is a localized phenomenon, though, exclusively limited to the private sector, and even there primarily limited to smaller firms. In the public sector, at many large firms, and particularly at large firms that work with the government, formal credentials such as a degree and professional certifications remain not only an important factor, but in many cases the only factor. This led me to take (ISC)<sup>2</sup>’s Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam earlier this summer. Even as a Cyber Operations Officer, credentials like this one carry great weight. I passed on my first attempt, so in this article I want to share my preparation strategy.

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Individual versus Program SOC Metrics

The other day, a member of SANS’s GIAC Advisory Board asked a question about Mean Time to Detection, or MTTD. In the ensuing discussion, another member cautioned against confusing key performance indicators used to assess individual efficiency, to then serve as the basis for penalties and rewards, with measures of program efficiency. Holding individuals accountable for MTTD, for example, made little sense when that detection relied on factors outside of their control such as effective data collection and efficient aggregation into a centralized platform, each of which were likely to be managed by a separate department. I alluded to the challenge of implementing metrics in part one, but did not deal with this issue specifically. This bonus article provides specific recommendations for applying SOC metrics to individuals versus an entire program.

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There is no iceberg

From David Heinemeier Hansson:

It’s human nature to assume there’s a good reason for why things are the way they are. And that this reason is either benign, based on careful deliberation, or malignant, derived from malice or incompetence. But this is a false dichotomy that often steers us away from the simpler answer: Nobody thought about this at all.

Given an absence of information, many tend to fill those gaps with generous assumptions. At the beginning of Russia’s botched invasion of Ukraine, national security pundits considered it some sort of 4D chess game; time proved otherwise. No one knows what they’re doing, “It’s OK though — that’s not where your problems are coming from. Rather, your problems are coming from the fact that you think other people know what they’re doing.”

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Amateurs Talk Detection. Professionals Talk Collection.

I went to a presentation from a large cybersecurity firm the other day. The salesmen — and they were all salesmen, as even a few post-presentation questions made clear — focused on the intelligence their company produced, but knew little about the rest of their company’s intelligence cycle. As a consumer of their products, though, I consider knowledge of the process that created them critical. After an hour on finished intelligence, and in particular a slide that touted a “globally deployed sensor grid”, I wanted to know more about that production process in general, and about their collection specifically. Unfortunately, when asked, the salesmen offered a handful of handwavy “We have millions of sensors across the globe”, and, “We ingest billions of events per day” statements, but little beyond that.

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SOC Metrics, Part III: Measures of Effectiveness

In part one of the SOC Metrics series, I introduced the idea that success requires the right person doing the right things in the right ways. That article also described several foundational metrics, ways to measure the SOC’s ability to produce meaningful results. Part two then focused on measures of performance (MOPs), which assess whether or not (and to what degree) the SOC is doing the right things. This article delves into measures of effectiveness, the last step in defining useful SOC metrics.

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SOC Metrics, Part II: Measures of Performance

In part one of the SOC Metrics series, I introduced the idea that success requires the right person doing the right things in the right ways. Measures of performance (MOPs) assess whether or not (and to what degree) the SOC is doing the right things, and measures of effectiveness (MOEs) assess whether or not (and to what degree) the SOC is doing them in the right ways. MOPs and MOEs rely on foundational metrics to produce meaningful results, though, and so I started with them in part one. This article delves into measures of performance, the next key step in defining useful SOC metrics.

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SOC Metrics, Part I: Foundational Metrics

I prefer a hands-off approach to management. Describe a goal, give me the freedom and resources to achieve it, and I will. The success of that approach, which the Army calls “mission command”, ultimately depends on the right person doing the right things in the right ways. Unfortunately, many focus on that first criterion but neglect the second and the third. In many cases, that leads to failure. In the final days of my last job, in a security operations center (SOC), I realized that this explained many of our systemic problems. We had the right people, they just did the right things in the wrong ways or — in some cases — did the wrong things altogether. This was not an inherent consequence of that hands-off approach, of mission command, but rather a necessary consequence of its partial implementation: we lacked measures of performance (MOPs), to assess whether or not (and to what degree) we were doing the right things, and measures of effectiveness (MOEs), to assess whether or not (and to what degree) we were doing them in the right ways. In their absence the right things and the right ways became inconsistent and subjective, and so did our success. I wrote this series to fix that.

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XeTeX on Windows

I switched from Ubuntu to Windows 10 a few days ago. After eight years of macOS and then a year of Linux, I wanted to circle back to Windows.1 Since my latest writing project relies on XeTeX, a lesser-known typesetting engine within the already obscure TeX world, I expected some trouble recreating my workflow in Windows; I was not disappointed.2 This post explains the steps I went through to create a functional TeX writing environment in Windows 10.

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Command versus Leadership

The Army has a strange relationship with words. On the one hand, precision means everything: the term “seize” means something very different to a ground forces commander than the term “secure”. On the other hand, “leader” has become an umbrella term for both the entire force in general and the select few in command positions specifically. This has little impact on non-commissioned and warrant officers who — for the most part — will never command a unit; “leadership”, to them, means leadership: influence to accomplish a mission. For officers, however, the impact of this imprecision is significant.

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I frequently encounter people eager to learn or interested in understanding current events but that do not know where to start. Many lack the experience to know what they should study. Others have become so disillusioned by the hyper-partisan twenty-four-hour news cycle that they just ignore current events altogether. While I have addressed those challenges in Personal Development and the two-part series Keeping Up with Current Events and My Evening Reads, respectively, those aggressively curated lists leave out many useful sources that did not make the cut. I just don’t have time to keep up with everything. This article highlights those sources as well as several other valuable resources. While I may not visit these websites often, these are my first stops when I must seek out trustworthy information on a range of topics. This article also links to several useful tools both as a way for me to keep track of them and as a way to highlight them to others.

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Threat Intelligence & Threat Research

Network defenders often struggle to obtain timely, accurate, relevant, predictive, and tailored intelligence about the enemy and other aspects of the operational environment. This document attempts to address that difficulty by detailing a single, curated list of reputable, open sources of threat data, information, and intelligence. This list combines traditional sources such as cybersecurity organizations that publish detailed reports (think finished intelligence) with non-traditional ones like social media that provide feeds more akin to information or raw data. While many others exist, I tried to stick to those with a high signal to noise ratio. That ruled out some decent sources, but I consider that a worthy trade off. Keeping up with this entire list would require a full-time job as-is, so while you may choose differently, choose wisely.

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Advice to New Lieutenants

As I close in on my promotion to captain, mentorship has become an increasingly important part of my job. Many new lieutenants find the Basic Officer Leader Course just that — basic — and so they report eager to develop personally, professionally, and militarily. My article Personal Development addresses that first domain in terms of improving one’s personal, professional, and military knowledge, but neglects other areas. After several conversations with new lieutenants eager for professional development as officers and military development as warfighters, I decided to turn some of those discussion points into a post here. As a Cyberspace Operations Officer, most of this advice will target other 17-series soldiers, although some of it may help new officers in other branches. This advice is also not specific to officers, and in some cases may apply to enlisted soldiers as well.

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Your First Week as a New Lieutenant

Aside from maintaining my article on personal development, I have shared little about this profession of arms. As I close in on my promotion to captain, though, mentorship has become an increasingly important part of my job. After several similar conversations with new officers, I decided to answer a common question here: “What do I do as a new lieutenant?” While the answer to that question will change from branch to branch and from unit to unit, I decided to write about some advice that should generalize well. If you follow this advice during your first week, you will put yourself in a good spot at the beginning of your assignment and set you up for success in the long run.

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Build Systems, and Habits

If I like an article, I look into its author. Most good writers write well and often. This helps me find independent websites, like Ben Kuhn’s blog. In his 2018 piece, Stop Trying, Ben talks about steps he took to better his life: tracking time with RescueTime, and waking up with automatic lights. His productivity went up, and he gets out of bed on time now — because these changes required “literally zero maintenance”. He tried to make productivity and wakefulness a habit, but did not succeed until he built systems around those two goals. From Stop Trying:

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Staying Focused with a Simple Method

Leo Babauta, in Staying Focused with a Simple Method:

“When you notice yourself avoiding something hard or uncertain ... the method is to turn towards it. Turn towards what you’re avoiding. Open to the discomfort, embrace it as training and growth. Bring curiosity. Do it even when you don’t feel like it. This is the training. The simple method makes it easier. Take it on, and see what happens.”

As I have said before, and will keep on saying, there is no shortcut, life hack, or trick; grind.

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"Be yourself" is terrible advice

One of my favorite mentors used to tell me this: “Be yourself, unless yourself is a shitbag; then be someone else.”

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Not long after I found an old piece on attribution from Thinkst Applied Research, Cisco’s Talos Intelligence group posted an article on the same topic. Attribution is fraught, as both pieces explain. IP geolocation is woefully inaccurate, many of the tactics, techniques, and procedures tied to specific actors are either so common that they apply to several groups or so general that they might as well, and the proliferation of viable tool sets has made even this metric unreliable. At best, we can attribute activity with a degree of certainty — but never complete confidence, and you should be circumspect of anyone who does.

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Showing Up Even When You're Not Feeling It

Leo Babauta, in Showing Up Even When You’re Not Feeling It:

“Most of us have an expectation that we should feel in the mood to do something. We should be excited, rested, focused. And when we do it, it should be easy, comfortable, fun, pleasurable. Something like that. That results, predictably, in running from the things that feel hard, overwhelming, uncomfortable.”

You will not always feel like taking the hard road, but achieving success means defining a goal, making a plan to accomplish it, and then applying unmitigated daily discipline until you get there. There is no shortcut, life hack, or trick; grind.

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Reshoring Supply Chains: A Practical Policy Agenda

Outsourcing has put America in a precarious position. It quietly became one of the greatest threats to national security over the course of several decades, unrealized until the Coronavirus pan(dem)ic revealed the fragility of our situation. David Adler and Dan Breznitz, in the American Affairs Journal, discuss the issue and offer some concrete suggestions for fixing it. I encourage you to give it a read. See also: On National and Enterprise Outsourcing, and Out-Sourced Profits: The Cornerstone of Successful Subcontracting.

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Personal Development

A smart person knows everything about a single topic. An intelligent person knows as much as possible about more than one topic. Both have great value, and depending on the industry, some organizations value one more than the other. In general, though, smart people fill entry-level jobs, who then become intelligent people to move up the ladder1. A robust personal development strategy will help you go from the former to the latter.

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Software disenchantment

Nikita Prokopov, in Software disenchantment:

“You don’t have to be a genius to write fast programs. There’s no magic trick. The only thing required is not building on top of a huge pile of crap that modern toolchain is.”

Nikita makes a lot of great points about the general decline of software quality, many of which I have made before. It’s nice to hear this coming from someone else.

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Starting Over: The Gear I Would Buy if I Had to Do it All Over Again

As best I can remember, I have bought seventeen backpacks in my life. Seven backpacking ones1, and a mix of ten book bags and assault packs2. Each time I bought something new, I upgraded in some way. I went from the Teton Sports Scout 3400 to the Texsport Wolcott because it carried better. Next came the Kelty Falcon 4000 because I needed more space and wanted greater versatility and modularity. I continued pursuing those goals in purchasing the Eberlestock J79 Skycrane II, which I eventually replaced with the Mystery Ranch Terraplane. With nine more liters of space yet coming in at 60% of the weight, I could not rationalize sticking with the Skycrane II no matter how much I liked it.

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Inaction is a Form of Action

Cory Doctorow, in Inaction is a Form of Action:

“It’s tempting to simply laugh off these ‘free market’ fetishists as they get their comeuppance when Alex Jones and the Daily Stormer get kicked off the internet, but that is to miss the wider point: we are now in a speech environment where power is so concentrated that the whims of a half-dozen tech execs determine — for all intents and purposes — who may speak and what they may say. If you think that power will only be wielded against Alex Jones, there’s a bunch of trans activists, indigenous activists, anti-pipeline activists, #BlackLivesMatter activists, and others who’d like to have a word with you.”

Back in December, I applauded Mark Zuckerberg for continuing to push back on demands that Facebook clamp down on its users’ speech. As I said there, “The idea that [Facebook] should also [, in addition to commanding an unprecedented amount of the world’s time and attention, ] become the arbiter of truth boggles my mind.” Cory Doctrow, in Inaction is a Form of Action, does a great job explaining why this disturbing trend ought to concern you.

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Why I Keep a Research Blog

Gregory Gundersen, in writing Why I Keep a Research Blog, might as well have just written a post on why everyone should blog. I have talked about this before, and how you can get started today with a handful of free services; I hope you will.

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First Crack Release Notes, May 2020

I have wanted to add this to First Crack for a while now, and this month, I finally did it: First Crack now supports post categories.

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If Everyone Else is Such an Idiot, How Come You're Not Rich?

Megan McArdle making a great point, writing for The Atlantic:

“If you see a person — or a company — doing something that seems completely and inexplicably boneheaded, then it’s unwise to assume that the reason must be that everyone but you is a complete idiot who is blind to fairly trivial insights such as ”people desire inexpensive and conveniently available movie services, and will resist having those services made more expensive, or less convenient“. While it’s certainly true that people do idiotic things, it’s also true that a lot of those ‘idiotic’ things turn out to have perfectly reasonable explanations.”

Everyone has their reasons — and everyone else has a reason for why those reasons are dumb. In leadership, as in writing, it’s important to remember the latter, and recognize the patent absurdity of the former.

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The Best of the Best

In a draft titled Starting Over, I try to condense a decade’s worth of outdoor gear experience. The 8,000 word missive, started in 2017, highlights “The Gear I Would Buy if I Had to Do it All Over Again”. After thousands of dollars spent searching for the best of the best, it tries help those just starting out avoid some of the expensive lessons I had to learn. That post has not left my drafts folder, though, in part because the list keeps changing. Two weeks in Arizona made me reconsider my chosen boot, the Vasque St. Elias GTX, plus I need to try the new Phantom 50 I bought while there to go with my Matador Freerain 24. I want to move to a more lightweight and season-agnostic setup, and I will have to see how that plays out before I publish the be-all, end-all list for aspiring adventurers. Until then, take a look at these sites. I do a lot of research before I buy, and that research starts here.

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How apocalyptic is now?

John Gray, writing for UnHerd:

“As pre-Covid life fades into history, large sections of the professional classes face a version of the experience of those who became former persons in the abrupt historical shifts of the last century. The redundant bourgeoisie need not fear starvation or concentration camps, but the world they have inhabited is evanescing before their eyes. There is nothing novel in what they are experiencing. History is a succession of such apocalypses, and so far this one is milder than most.”

As far as disaster’s go, COVID-19’s direct effects have been far less impactful than its indirect ones. Once we have some distance from the event, and can look back on it with less bias, it will become clear that the panic that led to a national shutdown and then economic stagnation caused far greater pain and suffering than the disease ever could have, even if we had taken no action. This should be the legacy of COVID-19: not that of a deadly physical disease, but rather a panic-inducing mental one.

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Building 2Africa, a transformative subsea cable to better connect Africa

Every time I see an article like this one, I think back to something Horace Dediu said in Making rain:

“I propose a way to think about [the Facebook Home and the Google Fiber issue] as: Google tries to make a business succeed through having a huge amount of flow in terms of data, traffic, queries and information that is indexed. So think about this idea of them tapping into a vast stream. The more volume that is flowing through the system the more revenue they generate.”

Not quite so altruistic after all.

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Encouraging a Culture of Written Communication

Another interesting piece, among several others, on encouraging writing within an organization. As I prepare to move on to a new role, I’m happy to report that my team’s efforts to publish an internal written product on a regular schedule has gone well so far. I hope it continues in my absence, and I look forward to starting a similar project with my next team.

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The Cost of Javascript Frameworks

Turns out, dependencies are a drag. Shocker.

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