Oh Noes!

Oh Noes Incident Response RPG Cover

Security is not a game. It just shares a lot in common with certain games. Oh Noes, as an incident response RPG, highlights that and makes great use of it.

I put a lot of my security knowledge down to being a heavy user of games. This includes both tabletop RPGs and board games. Social deduction and storytelling games provide practice dealing with people and presenting. Strategy games give a chance to spot and exploit system weaknesses. Others provide a myriad of other useful skills.

For another project for 2020 I’m going to pick out some which are directly or peripherally useful to a cyber security professional – whether for awareness building, threat modelling, or for useful skills development.

Oh Noes is probably one of the most directly related to security that I have come across, and I strongly recommend it. It’s also free, which is always helpful.

Inspired by a mix of classical tabletop RPGs and incident response exercises, Oh Noes! is a thin (but effective) layer of gamification over a tabletop incident response exercise. No matter how useful and enjoyable (at least I enjoy them) tabletop IR exercises are often seen as a tedious mandatory exercise rather than a chance to prepare and try out security. Wrapping a layer of gamification and entertainment around them is a good way to push engagement and more regular sessions. The game itself recommends quarterly rather than annual. With the right Incident Master and company culture regular Wednesday pizza and gaming sessions might happen.

At the very least it’s a new take on normal IR planning and is worth a shot. It’s published free by Expel, along with some handouts and a few scenarios to begin with. The first few sessions should be run by someone with a bit of experience running tabletop RPGs (as well as an understanding of IR and the company) to get the full experience.

Genre: business, security
Subjects: game, incident response, security, threat modeling, training

Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies

I needed a break from text books recently, so picked up Intercept by Gordon Corera for a relaxed, light read. Covering the origins of ‘computers’ in espionage back during the first world war, through to major attacks of the last few years, Gordon covers the topic objectively and with enough depth to be informative without overwhelming a more casual reader.

Going from the first war, through Bletchley, the cold war, national corporate espionage, and the beginnings of genuine cyber warfare involving known damage to infrastructure, Intercept provides a narrative framework for the parallel development of computer espionage with computers themselves – as well as asking interesting questions about the meaning of espionage in our new information age. There’s a sizeable mention of Cliff Stoll’s adventures as well, which provides a lot of wider context around the Cuckoo’s Egg.

Definitely an easy read, written in a light, narrative style while still managing to avoid imposing moral judgments on the decisions taken – simply examining their effects and consequences. One to take on the beach or out to the park, or just to sit and read on the train. Recommended especially to anyone interested in the history of computer espionage through the 20th century to today.

Genre: computer, espionage, history, security
Subjects: computer espionage, history, security

The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Cliff Stoll

Every now and then I’ll read a book which I add to my library on the history of security. The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll has definitely earned its place among them. Well written for a non-technical audience, with enough detail for those of a more technical leaning to fill in the gaps, it’s a great read.

From the initial discovery from an accounting error down to an intruder’s unfamiliarity with software, through over a year of careful and methodical tracking, monitoring, and running headlong into bureaucratic brick walls (which may be familiar to some), to a dramatic climax. Throughout Stoll gives a very personal, first-hand account of the hunt, the effect that being a computer security expert can have on your life (early morning calls may bring back bad memories for some), and the way that looking into security deeply enough brings about the realisation that while it is a solution, and is needed, the need for openness cannot be overstated.

Especially interesting are the principles which Stoll details during his chase of the spy, all of which are in use in some form today. Of course, the criticisms of certain agencies only ever taking in information and not sharing it, to the detriment of innocents, is a political position that many would agree with even now – particularly given some recent leaks of vulnerability stockpiles.

If you’re looking for a security read for the beach (or, more appropriately at this time of year in front of the fireplace with a hot, alcoholic drink) then this is definitely one to grab. And if you’re looking for a Christmas present for your security aware and/or professionally paranoid friends or family then I cannot recommend The Cuckoo’s Egg highly enough.

Genre: autobiography, computer, espionage, security
Subjects: autobiography, computer espionage, counter-espionage, security