I popped in for a couple of stretches at Mandiant’s MIRcon incident response conference today and yesterday and was struck by a panel discussion on Tuesday about defenders going on offense. The gist was half a) it’s of dubious legality and wisdom and half b) you’ve got be an expert to do it properly. Now politics and economics being what they are, a) will ultimately be irrelevant without a prohibition and b) will govern the dynamics.
I recalled Mandiant’s model: they have a bunch of people constantly working on highly technical stuff in a field that changes rapidly—this level of expertise requires economies of scale. The same is true for black hat hackers: economy of scale drives the less skilled to leverage off-the-shelf capabilities, and it drives the more highly skilled to collaborate on the most demanding projects.
Because defense costs more than offense, “offensors” could benefit from the same economies of scale. I can imagine a future in which people not only pay for but subscribe to offense as a service, where a group of (nominally) white hatters have their own organizations that do nothing but attack designated black hatters, thereby raising the costs of doing malicious business. The economics might work for the white hatters in much the same way it does for insurance companies, and the product would not be entirely dissimilar. If this sort of activity were tolerated by authorities it might often be preferred by many hackers over black hatting, even if the latter gave bigger paychecks. This could further affect the economics in a good way.
If it will make sense for corporations to go on network counteroffensives themselves, it will make more sense for them to outsource that role if they possibly can. And they might end up being able to.