The Evolving Language of Cybersecurity

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Five years ago, any mention that you work in information security would have regular people rushing for the nearest conversational exit. Cybersecurity was considered to be something only large organizations might care about.

For the everyday man-in-the-street, the language of cybersecurity was a deep mystery that did not require much thought or effort. When infosec professionals talked together, as far as any non-infosec eavesdropper was concerned, we might as well be talking in fluent Parselmouth, Dothraki or Klingon.

Surprisingly for all of us involved in infosec, cybersecurity suddenly became trendy and fashionable.

Nation states raced to enhance their offensive and defensive cyber-capabilities, criminals made cybercrime more prevalent than regular crime and the general public started to take the topic quite a bit more seriously.

Even C-suite board members now want to understand the basics of cybersecurity for fear of needing to stand up some day in front of hostile press to explain why the big data breach that just happened was not through their ignorance or any lack of planning and investment.

For diligent information security professionals, one of the most significant challenges is this; How do you remain up-to-date on your topic? Security technologies, threats and processes are all continuously evolving – and those changes are resulting in a rapid evolution in the language of cyber.

In 2014, I started compiling a dictionary of cybersecurity terms in the back of the very first edition of Cybersecurity for Beginners. The dictionary itself soon became a separate and larger publication and has steadily grown with each new edition. By the time the third edition was released in early 2017, I only expected to need to provide very minor changes in a future update – but it turned out that I was way off the mark.

The recent speed of changes in the language used in cybersecurity has been astonishing. When terms start to fall into regular use, I always make a point of noting them down as candidates for a dictionary update.

We managed to detect some very clever single-use malware through our unified threat management system, even though it was fileless and attempting a cryptojacking exploit through an in-memory vulnerability in our edge computing landscape.

Show the statement above to an information security specialist from three years ago and most of them would think you were just making up terms – but all of those items have now fallen into regular usage.

With over 100 additional definitions being required in the latest edition of The Cybersecurity to English Dictionary, I thought it would be interesting to analyze just what is driving this evolution in the language of all matters infosec. Where are all those terms coming from?

Trends in Cybercrime

If there is one thing that criminals are better at than infosec professionals, it is sharing information. If they find a new tactic that works well for circumventing average security, they are quick at developing, using and sharing it.

Fileless malware, cryptojacking, digital skimming and single-use malware are just some examples of trends that have recently evolved across cybercrime. If you mentioned these terms back in early 2017 you would get a quizzical stare. Mention them today and they are right up at the top of the list of emerging risks.

Even the methods of phishing and social engineering have evolved. For example, spear phishing is now just a poor relation to the emerging approach of laser phishing.

The infosec community adopt new terms that help to concisely describe these criminal techniques.

Evolving Technologies & New Security Measures

Where once we spoke of firewalls and anti-virus, you are now more likely to hear people talking about security gateways, unified endpoint management and even self-healing networks.

Automation and orchestration of defenses have become more sophisticated. Quantum computing and quantum cryptography are clearly visible on the horizon – and as for artificial intelligence-driven security and items like SOC (Security Operations Centre) automation – these are already widely being adopted.

Fog computing, edge computing, grid computing, cloudlets – these have moved from being twinkles in the eye of marketing companies into real things that many large enterprises have and need to keep appropriately secure.

Geo-Political Espionage & Reconnaissance

About six months ago, most of us had not heard of terms such as psychographics, microbehavioral targeting and even pixel tracking – but following the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations, they are a regular topic of infosec conversation and news articles.

Fuzzing used to only be a way to overload an application. Now fuzzing a user to get their consent to a cookie permission box is a real thing. All you need to do is make the path to achieving the consent settings the user really wants so difficult that they concede to an ‘accept all’ action.

Where Next for the Language of Cyber?

The direction for cybersecurity is clear; there will be more types of everything – cybercrime, state espionage, new technologies and defenses. Each of those changes will be accompanied by new terminology, resulting in a continuing expansion of the language of cybersecurity.

The Cybersecurity to English Dictionary: 4th Edition is released September 24 2018.

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