What did we learn at ‘Hacker Summer Camp?’

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Last week, Las Vegas hosted a trio of major cybersecurity conferences that attracted many global leaders involved in one of the world’s most critical industries – information technology.

The yearly events, Black Hat USA, DEF CON, and BSidesLV, are collectively referred to as “Hacker Summer Camp.” Luminaries from the world of information security including former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director, Chris Krebs, National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, and deputy chairman of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, Victor Zhora, were among the number of influential speakers that addressed eager audiences as they shed light on the major issues affecting information technology today.

Among the prevalent themes discussed, especially among government associated speakers, was concern regarding increasing cyber-attacks that are originating from China and Russia.

This was discussed in detail by Ukraine’s Zhora, who has seen his country victimized by over 1,600 Russian-based “major cyber incidents” so far this year. These include DDoS attacks that targeted many of Ukraine’s government agencies, as well as numerous new malware strains that were discovered leading up to, and in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These new variants included a spike in data-wiping malware strains, that can be particularly damaging to both governmental organizations and private businesses.

Zhora told the Black Hat USA conference that, “​​This (Russian Hacking Attacks) is perhaps the biggest challenge since World War Two for the world, and it continues to be completely new in cyberspace.”

Ukraine, which entered into a new expanded cyber cooperation with the United States in July, was not thought to have the ability to stand much of a chance against Russian cyberattacks initially, according to statements made at DEF CON by National Cyber Director Chris Inglis. Inglis told the gathering that, “We didn’t give enough credit to the Ukrainians for being able to defend cyberspace.” Inglis also stated, “I and a whole bunch of others would have said that the Ukrainians would have a really tough time defending themselves in cyberspace against the Russians, because the Russians have lots of capabilities.”

According to the July Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) between the US and Ukraine, the two nations will share intelligence and best practices on cyber events and participate in cyber training and joint exercises. “I am incredibly pleased to sign this MOC to deepen our cybersecurity collaboration with our Ukrainian partners,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly in the press release announcing the partnership. “I applaud Ukraine’s heroic efforts to defend its nation against unprecedented Russian cyber aggression and have been incredibly moved by the resiliency and bravery of the Ukrainian people throughout this unprovoked war. Cyber threats cross borders and oceans, and so we look forward to building on our existing relationship with the State Service of Special Communications & Information Protection of Ukraine (SSSCIP) to share information and collectively build global resilience against cyber threats.”

The rise in cyberattacks in the aftermath of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict has also had implications for countries that support the Ukrainian effort, as Russian-based hacktivist organizations have begun to launch attacks against entities operating within nations that are providing material support to the Ukrainian government during the war.

Although the majority of attention was given to the Russian threat, former CISA Director Christopher Krebs told Black Hat 2022 that US officials have advised him that they are “confident” that the rise in tensions between China and Taiwan are “going to come to a head” and that organizations should “manage risk yesterday,” and figure out how these rising tensions will affect their supply chain and IT operations, among other interests in Taiwan. 

Another dominant theme that was talked about involves the coming US midterm elections. Election security, which has been a subject of contention among conservative Trump supporters and most of the political establishment and intelligence community, was also talked up earlier this month by CISA’s Easterly, as she expressed concerns regarding disinformation, misinformation and the possibility of threats to election officials. 

Just before the commencement of cyber week, Easterly said that CISA intends to continue to use its Rumor Control website, that allows the agency to try to counter false election narratives. “I need to make sure that my resources and my focus are where we can make the most difference at the end of the day,” Easterly said.

Many of the more critical issues discussed during cyber week could be addressed if there was an increase in the global cyber workforce. The severe lack of staffing has been a dominant theme in 2022. Krebs had also mentioned during his Black Hat address that he finds it “confounding” that the global cyber workforce continues to face these major workforce shortages. In his words, a cybersecurity career was “fun, lucrative, durable, fascinating,” and with national security at stake, “meaningful.” 

The growing threats facing the public sector and private businesses will only continue to multiply the next few years. With profitable hacking operations earning cybercriminals billions of dollars via scams involving ransomware and other online schemes, the future seems bright for the new generation of cyber-warriors. But will severe cyber workforce shortages being the norm, the question remains, will Generation Z answer the call?  

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by numerous websites and he is regularly seen on National and International news programming.


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