On Episode 83 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with hacker and security expert, Adriel Desautels of Netragard about what’s new in the cybersecurity world!


Netragard’s New Product: A Breach Detection Solution
Netragardian BDS
What’s Going on at DEF CON and Black Hat?
Hacking Medical Devices
Vendor Hostility Toward Researchers
Government Networks & the Vulnerability of Voter Information
Why Do People Feel Threatened By Research Hackers
Security Researchers Are Experts at Breaking Software
Finding Flaws in Software
More Episodes
Show Notes

What’s New in the Cybersecurity World With Adriel Desautels


Paul: Hello.

Adriel: Hey, Paul.

Paul: Hey, how are you?

Adriel: Doing quite well. I love the fact that even in this day and age we have continual technical difficulties.

Paul: Yeah, well, it keeps people like us in business, so…

Adriel: It does. Yeah.

Paul: So, where are we finding you in the dark, unreached places on Earth? Are you from your secret lair or…?

Adriel: Right now, yes. This is very much my secret lair, which is a library with a ladder that’s been converted into an office.

Paul: Alright. There you go. We’ll cut that out or encode it in way so that only certain people can listen to that.

Adriel: There you go. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

Paul: So, how are you doing now? How’s security in the world?

Adriel: It’s doing incredibly well. We’re becoming more and more and more well known for the level of service that we provide, the depth, the quality, and really the aggressiveness of it. We’ve also launched a product, and the product is selling faster than we can sell it. So it’s really quite remarkable.

Paul: Well, we’re talking with Adriel Desautels from Netragard, and we’ve talked with him once in the past, and he’s a great resource for technology and security, and we’re going to talk about that a little bit day.

Netragard’s New Product: A Breach Detection Solution

Paul: So, tell me about this product. What is this? Is it a shampoo or a floor wax or…?

Adriel: It’s a security shampoo.

Paul: There you go.

Adriel: It prevents malware from getting into your hair. No, no, we call it Netragardian VDF. It is a breach detection solution, and it is based on our own experience in breaching networks over the past two decades, really. What it is does at a very high level is it exploits the methods that hackers use to breach a network, whereby enabling you to identify their activity before they actually have a chance to move laterally throughout the network. So, it doesn’t prevent a breach, but it provides you with a false positive free method of detecting a breach. So, when you get an alert the alert is, in fact, real. And it’s so incredibly effective that you can use it to generate positive indicators of breach and respond to those positive indicators and quite literally completely avoid damage.

Because in this day and age the name of the game is no longer breach prevention. That’s just a known impossibility. The name of the game is damage prevention. So what the solution does from a higher level, is it allows you to see that people are breaching your infrastructure, and it allows you to respond to that event and block it before it has a chance to escalate into something damaging. The response window is minutes to seconds, depending on how fast you can move.

Paul: Wow.

Adriel: So it’s, it’s pretty cool.

Paul: So where do I find out about this product?

Adriel: We would have to tell you about it. You can contact us or website.

Paul: Well, that’s an interesting way to sell something.

Adriel: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: I have something you don’t know you need but you might want, but I’m not going to tell you about it.

Netragardian BDS

Paul: So, alright, so hold on. What’s the name of it? Spell it.

Adriel: So it’s Netragardian. It’s N-E-T-R-A-G-A-R-D-I-N. And then BDS. Bachelor, David, Simon.

Paul: Okay. Cool.

Adriel: Yep.

Paul: So, it’s a secret product. Only people with an invitation can buy it? Or, how does that go?

Adriel: Sort of. So right now, it’s a product that our clients are able to purchase. e don’t advertise it at all yet. We will be in the fairly near future, I think, mid-to-late 2019 when we start advertising it. But right now, we’re trying to push it out to our clients specifically, or they’re really picking it up from us.

Paul: Oh, very cool.

Adriel: That’s the first line. As soon as our clients have this up and running, then it’s going to be the next stage, which is to publicize it and really get people aware of this.

Paul: Well, excellent. Well, we’ll have to talk about that some more.

Adriel: Definitely.

Paul: Really, I’d be fascinated to talk about that.

Adriel: Yep. Absolutely. When we do talk about it and you hear about how this works, it definitely follows the keep-is-simple-stupid rule. It requires virtually no maintenance whatsoever. There’s no patching, no updates that are required. The agents that are associated with it do absolutely nothing of value, as far as the business is concerned. And so if there’s any kind of an outage or, or anything like that, it has zero impact on the business’ ability to function.

Paul: Cool.

Adriel: It is not an intrusion prevention system. It was not a network intrusion detection system. In fact, it has nothing to do with analyzing network data. So it’s a super-efficient and lightweight system that works.

Paul: Very cool.

What’s Going on at DEF CON and Black Hat?

Paul: So, I thought it would be cool to talk about what’s been going on recently. I imagine, just because I saw it on your feed, that you went to DEF CON and Black Hat.

Adriel: Yep. Absolutely.

Paul: How was the weather?

Adriel: It was hot.

Paul: So that’s about all we want to cover today. We heard lots of different things about hacking, voting machines and a few other little things — some drones stuff. What was the interesting things that you saw there?

Adriel: So, when we were at DEF CON and Black Hat, honestly, not a lot of the presentations that were there this year were particularly interesting. What was more interesting were the side conversations that were going on and sort of the private parties that we got ourselves invited to. There is a lot of research that’s been going into not just voting machines, but the government infrastructures that house voters’ data, the State of Kansas and things like that.

Hacking Medical Devices

Adriel: Particularly interesting too is the medical devices and critical infrastructure. There’s actually a pretty big emphasis on doing research against those things as well.

And the, the good news is that largely, it’s the good guys doing the research right now, but as the trend would be, if the good guys are looking into this, then you can rest assured that the bad guys are also looking into this.

Paul: Yeah.

Adriel: To kind of give you an understanding of scale and impact, hacking medical devices is something that can be done from afar. So, if you end up using pacemakers from specific vendors or insulin pumps from specific vendors, it’s entirely possible and realistic to cause those things to malfunction in lethal ways from as much as 90 meters away. There’s right now a general consensus that, oh, you have to be close to the device so you can program the device. But that’s not entirely true. There has been research done that demonstrates that fact.

And then, looking more into the medical devices too, these devices are running operating systems that are the equivalent, when it comes down to security, of a Windows desktop or a MacBook Pro. Their operating systems are buggy. In fact, if you look at the vulnerability databases that exist, you could find vulnerabilities that are perfectly exploitable for these.

Then, to make matters even worse, a lot of the manufacturers that are producing these devices are, frankly, hostile to researchers rather than embracing research and researchers, and saying, “Hey, we really like the work that you’re doing. Thank you for doing this. We realize you’re doing it, probably for free…” They’re saying, “Why would you look at our device? What’s your angle? Let’s quash you, and let’s threaten you with legal action and so on.”

So, the general consensus around researchers in general is, yes, we want to do this because we care about this, the big problem, but we’re very nervous about the approach with the vendors and how to handle the vendors and so on. So there’s that.

Vendor Hostility Toward Researchers

And then, of course, when it comes down to critical infrastructure, the approach is very similar. When it comes down to critical infrastructure, we see the companies who make SCADA technologies and other kinds of similar technologies, we see them also respond with hostility as opposed to sort of “Yeah, come do the research. Help us find things” —that welcoming embrace. That bug bounty-type mentality.

What that tells me is their mindset is antiquated. Right? They’re stuck back in the late ’90s, early 2000s when most vendors were really hostile, and they had yet to realize the researchers aren’t there to hurt them. They’re there to help. So I think, that one of the things that I’ve seen is that that still exists, and I think these vendors really do need to move forward in that capacity.

Government Networks & the Vulnerability of Voter Information

Now you look at government networks. Kris Kobach in the State of Kansas. We actually offered — I believe it was Kansas. It was a free penetration test because we were called out by Gizmodo, and we were asked to do a quick reconnaissance project against the state network. And we did, using open source intelligence technologies. Nothing intrusive and all that. And we found that their network was massively vulnerable. We found that they didn’t have two-factor authentication anywhere. They had VPN endpoints that were very likely brute forcible that were exposed to the internet. They had printers that were exposed to the internet. All kinds of things were just publicly accessible. And these networks were the networks that contain voter data!

We offered, we said, “Hey, guys. You know, we recognize that this is…” This was in relation to Cross Track, actually. This was the Cross Track Network. And so we said, “Hey, guys, we recognize that there’s some really sensitive information here, and we recognize that this approach of being really called out by the media about your vulnerabilities is not that great. So we’ll offer you a free test to help you harden these things.”

They never responded to that offer, despite the fact that it was being pushed by various different people. There was somebody from the Democratic side that called. We created a proposal. We issued a proposal to them. Never heard anything back, even though it was free. They said, “Hey, we were going to go with the Department of Homeland Security and gets things hardened,” but according to the sites like Census.io and other kinds of open source sites, their network hasn’t really changed posture at all. So, when it comes down to the voting information, voter information is massively vulnerable because the people that are responsible for it are not taking their security seriously. What they’re doing is they’re saying, “Hey, yes, this is hardened. This is secure. This is safe.” But it isn’t.

Paul: Right.

Adriel: And that’s really, unfortunately, the way things are on a lot of fronts when it comes to security.

Why Do People Feel Threatened By Research Hackers

Paul: So you sort of talked about the old-school mentality and the mental approach to things or the way people think about things. Let’s try and put ourselves in their shoes and why they feel so threatened by these hackers that are out there who just do all this stuff. Now, I think it’s helpful to role play this a little bit because this is the issue. So, go ahead. What do you think of that?

Adriel: Yeah. So, I think it comes from a variety of things. First off, researchers are there to identify problems or faults in something. Or identify security issues with regards to…security researchers do that anyways. And these security issues are emotional for some people because we’re effectively saying, “Hey, your baby is ugly,” or, “You didn’t do a good job,” or, “You screwed up.”

And, and rather than hearing that and saying, “Wow, okay. That’s good. Thank you for the help,” what they’re saying is, “What are you attacking me? Why would you insult my capabilities?” Or maybe it’s, “Why are you threatening my job? What are you threatening my business? Why are you trying to make me look bad?”

And so the approach that a lot of the researchers have, especially today, they no longer take that kind of thought into consideration. And if you were to approach somebody else through a bug bounty program or Facebook, Google, whatever it might be, and you were to say, “Hey, there’s a vulnerability here,” what they say is, “Great. We understand that everybody is vulnerable. Everything is vulnerable. We understand that we’re going to make mistakes. So thank you for bringing this to our attention so that we can fix it,” as opposed to “Why are you trying to make me look bad.”

Paul: Sure.

Adriel: And the reality of it is we’re not trying to make anybody look bad, but we find critical flaws in technology. And the people that created those flaws are the vendors. They are the manufacturers, and they are the ones through deliberate mishap, mistakes, or maybe accidentally, most likely they’re the ones that create the vulnerabilities that are inevitably exploited that lead to damage. So they’re the ones that are, in the end, responsible for fixing the code and becoming aware of these vulnerabilities.

But I think that what’s happened is some companies have begun to realize that they really have to embrace the hacking community and allow hackers to do this research and say “Thank you” because it’s effectively it’s elevated quality assurance.

Paul: Oh, of course. Yeah.

Security Researchers Are Experts at Breaking Software

Adriel: And it should have been done. Right? But instead of, instead of doing that, they’re offended. I think a part of this comes into play. It’s not to say that software developers are imbeciles, because they’re not. But software developers are experts at developing software. Security researchers are experts at breaking software. So, we can’t expect every single software developers in existence to also be an expert when it comes to security. And that’s where the issue comes into play, because as a security researcher I can tear networks apart. I can tear technology apart. I can find vulnerabilities in almost — with the exception of one thing — I can find vulnerabilities in everything with the exception of one piece of technology. And that’s my job. That’s my expertise. I couldn’t go to a developer and say, “Hey, find vulnerabilities in all these different things.”

They’re going to say, “Well, that’s not what I do.”

And likewise, I couldn’t go and develop something that a developer could build. I mean, sure, I can write code. I can make something work, but it’s not going to be a professional-grade product if I develop it. It’s going to be a site that’s kind of hacked together. So, it’s a different expertise.

And, and I think that that is something that is somehow missing in the communication or the thought process. When a researcher approaches somebody, that somebody, in an ideal world, would think “Oh, great. This is an expert that’s trying to help me by telling me that I have a fault in this piece of technology.” But instead, they’re saying, “Who are you to come and tell me that I got this problem? I pay my developers a lot of money, and they do a really good job. And you want to insult their work?” And that’s just not helpful.

Finding Flaws in Software

Paul: Well, and then the counter question to that is, is that “Would you rather not know that this has a flaw?”

Adriel: Right. Well, actually, what we’ve seen in some cases with some vendors — not just critical infrastructure and medical but we have seen that they would not only rather not know that there is a flaw, but we have seen that after we tell them that there is a flaw that they would rather not tell their customers and just hide it altogether. And, that is terrifying. When you see a vendor that knows that vulnerabilities exist in technology, and they continue to sell that technology, they’re quite literally putting their clients at risk. And they’re doing it at some level, knowingly.

Paul: Well, sure.

Adriel: And then, of course, then you have ethical questions that come into play there and things like that. And we’ve seen this blow up. In the past, there have been instances. In fact, we were involved with a very first instance way back in the day with HP and Tru64 where, where vendors have tried to quash research, and then later, the research became exposed, and the community said, “Hey, what’s going on?”

And their clients say, “Wait a second. These guys come to you telling you about a critical vulnerability, and you try to hide it from us? What’s the deal?” That doesn’t make clients feel particularly good either.

The, the appropriate approach would be, like I said initially, “Thank you for telling us about the vulnerability. Let us fix this. Let us coordinate how to notify our clients and how to tell the world. And let’s do this in a way that really helps everybody.” And if they take that kind of approach, that’s great because clients get notified, patches get produced, and so on and so forth.

More Episodes:

This is Part 1 of our interview with Adriel Desautels. Be sure to listen to Part 2 here! We’re talking with Adriel about why hackers hack!

Show Notes: