Adam Slagell is ESnet’s Chief Security Officer and a founding member of the newly formed Security Assistance For Education & Research (SAFER) trust group.
SAFER is an operational security entity focused on fighting computer misuse and defending the academic, research, and education (R&E) mission globally. SAFER brings together expertise and resources from organizations across the Research and Educational cybersecurity community, including CERN, DFN-CERT, ESET, ESnet, LBNL, STFC, and WLCG.
More information can be found here https://www.safer-trust.org/.
What motivates the creation of SAFER and what do you think success will look like for the community?
There are many cybersecurity trust groups out there, some even dedicated to R&E like REN-ISAC or XSEDE’s trust group consisting of current and former Teragrid and XSEDE site members. However, there really isn’t anything like this—both permanent and truly international— even though attacks are almost always transnational. So each time there is a new, major campaign, an international group connecting all these regional responders must be created again. What we are trying to do is create that permanent backbone with a core set of highly connected individuals who are a part of these regional and project-specific trust groups around the world.
If we are successful, we will see several things. First, I believe we will see more international cooperation and information sharing, leading to an earlier notice of new attack campaigns. Second, we will be able to activate a response more quickly, pulling in the expertise needed from a broad pool of SAFER members and their trusted colleagues. Finally, it is our hope that we can provide surge capabilities when a member is under attack. Many R&E organizations have limited resources and small teams. It is a tremendous asset if they can get help from their peers, maybe with unique expertise as they are facing a disruptive attack.
What kind of security resources will SAFER provide?
I alluded to some of the services when discussing what success will look like. But ultimately, our security resources will be determined by community needs. The founding members will serve as the steering committee for the first year until we elect the next steering committee.
One of our first-steps is setting up a Malware Information Sharing Platform (MISP) instance to share Indicators of Compromise, e.g., IP addresses, file hashes, domain names, etc. Usually, there is no requirement for members to share such data as the rules and regulations differ so much across organizations. But even on day one, we will have enough organizations that can contribute to making this service useful.
There is also a secure messaging and chat service using decentralized cryptography that all of our members can participate in. These ad hoc conversations about what people are seeing on their networks will hopefully help detect trends early.
Finally, many of the founding members have more resources from these large institutions, and I believe we can quickly help those projects and institutions that might struggle with an attack by providing our expertise while helping to train the next generation of security professionals.
What excites you most about this effort and what is the opportunity to do the most good?
I love the community-building aspect. In a past life, I created the Bro (now Zeek) Leadership Team and really worked hard to build a vibrant community around that software. I think this expertise is where I can be most helpful as I am less technical in my roles today.
I will also say, I am excited about getting young people involved, too. Organizations who contribute time from their teams will really benefit. There is no training for an incident response like jumping in, and I expect the variety of issues we will see will prove very useful just from a training and development perspective.
LBL has a long history supporting cybersecurity research, from the early days of Clifford Stoll and The Cuckoo’s Egg to the creation of Bro. What does the future of cybersecurity look like, and how will that shape the REN community?
Indeed, LBL’s security team is also a SAFER founding member. One of the things I love about working here and at ESnet is that our mission is outward-focused and when we help the community we raise all boats so to speak.
Fortune telling however is a dangerous game. We have anticipated some things, like cryptocurrency mining coming to HPCs. However, the threat landscape and tools available keep changing. That is part of what makes this job interesting. The important thing that I hope we keep in mind is that security is not done for its own sake, but to enable our mission of scientific research. To me, this means that we must always work to make risk-based security decisions, even when that might challenge pushes for compliance and simple one-size-fits-all solutions.