Last week, I was in New York for two events: one for Lenovo’s Advisory Council, which I cannot talk about, and another for BlackBerry’s Security Conference, which I can and will discuss.
At the BlackBerry event, instead of doing his customary entertaining keynote, Blackberry CEO John Chen interviewed Victor Zhora, who shares responsibility for Ukraine’s cyber defense. It was a fascinating conversation.
What made it so interesting was that Ukraine has, due to its unfortunate conflict with Russia, become a malware and security analyst magnet. Not only are some of the most aggressive malware products being deployed there by Russia, but so are some of the best cybersecurity analysts. One thousand from BlackBerry are working to mitigate these attacks, spreading this knowledge worldwide so that other countries can benefit and providing a significant, but largely not talked about, reason for supporting Ukraine.
In short, while the conflict in Ukraine is horrible for those that live there, it is also making it so that we won’t be compromised in the future by similar attacks.
Let’s explore this unique security dynamic between Ukraine and BlackBerry this week because it should reaffirm BlackBerry as the go-to company for cybersecurity. Then we’ll close with my product of the week, my new favorite laptop, the incredibly unique Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 dual-screen laptop.
I spend a lot more time than I should on Quora, where we constantly discuss potential future wars and conflicts. Some of the military discussions on that platform are fascinating.
One of the common themes is that the U.S.’s current advantage in any conflict is actual war experience. We have fought many of them and, as a result, we have more people who have developed related skills. Simulation and training exercises are fine, but as Russia is finding out, how armies behave when real bullets are fired can be significantly different than how they behave in artificial conflicts.
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This is not just true of people. Defense systems created for one type of conflict, like tanks and fighter planes, may not perform well at all when technology advances or battlefields differ from what these systems were designed to do. Even when the designs are right, the processes surrounding them may not be adequate to support these systems once in conflict.
So actual battle testing becomes a game-changer when it comes to wars, and current wars are increasingly fought in cyberspace.
Ukraine and BlackBerry
BlackBerry stepped in to assist Ukraine early on, responding to the Russian threat aggressively because it already had substantial resources in the country. But while BlackBerry is a significant part of this effort, according to Victor Zhora, it’s backed by a vast number of volunteer security experts inside and outside of Ukraine and focused on better securing the country and protecting against an escalating rate of increasingly unsuccessful cyberattacks.
This massive cooperation between companies and countries has formed an unmatched cyber-defense collaboration, creating what may be the greatest long-term cyber defense worldwide, which is particularly critical right now because weapons don’t respect borders.
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Cyber weapons have a nasty tendency to transcend the conflict and infect governments and companies in other parts of the world. So, this unheard-of collaboration on defense provides far more robust protection than otherwise would be the case.
In addition, the teamwork between companies and countries potentially creates momentum for law enforcement to be better able to cross borders and hold hostile actors accountable. The inability to find and hold responsible the source of an attack is often the biggest problem in mitigating attacks, particularly ransomware. It reminds me somewhat of the Wild West problems in the U.S. Criminals could easily cross borders to avoid prosecution. There were similar issues in Europe before there was an EU.
In short, this tremendous effort is raising cyber resiliency in Ukraine — and globally — making us all safer by creating an unprecedented cybersecurity network and response system far more advanced and capable than if this conflict had not occurred.
Cybersecurity and Politics
After Victor Zhora, Rep. Tony Gonzalez, R-Texas, took the stage. Gonzalez, who was a leading cybersecurity expert in the military, said something I feel is worth repeating: There are two types of politicians in the U.S., those that put their parties first and those that put their country and job first.
Congressman Gonzalez is a big believer in cybersecurity. Rather than mistreating anyone on the other side, he spoke to the need to cooperate, collaborate, and realize that they are there to do a job, not abuse people in another party they need to work with to get the job done. I was impressed, and I’m not often impressed by U.S. politicians.
Another interesting thing he said was that in the U.S., the Department of Defense is both the best and the worst at cybersecurity. Best because it will invest massively in protections, but worst because it has a considerable number of policies that make responding rapidly to a threat impossible.
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The conflict in Ukraine provides a perfect example of why it is critical that defense organizations not only collaborate and invest but be agile and race to identify threats and mitigate them. As Tony Gonzalez is finding, policies that have been in place are exceedingly difficult to change.
One of the stories I heard when I was young was of the Zulu uprising and how a bunch of natives with spears took out a good chunk of the British Army with its then-modern weapons because the British Army’s policies crippled them.
The British Army had focused on cost containment. You had to fill out and submit an approved request to get ammunition. The officer in charge of the ammunition had to open a tin (very much like a sardine container) with a special key to provide that ammunition and, with thousands of Zulu warriors running at you, that process killed the entire army (I was told that one of the first casualties were the officers in charge of the bullets who got shot by their own people to get the ammunition quicker).
Ukrainians are fighting for their lives. Clearly, if there are policies that are hurting their effort, those policies have been discontinued. This provides the lesson of the Zulu war to countries that aren’t Ukraine — like the U.S. and those in Europe — that should be driving policy changes that will reduce these kinds of problems when it comes to worldwide cybersecurity.
It was fascinating to see how the close collaboration between BlackBerry and Ukraine significantly benefitted both entities and how this collaboration was far more comprehensive than I realized, covering a global army of volunteer cybersecurity experts.
Also, it was fascinating that this collaboration was changing behaviors and policies worldwide, potentially making the world much safer against cyber threats than it otherwise would be and, possibly, given the migration of technically capable Russians, reducing worldwide cyber threats originating from Russia.
BlackBerry’s work in Ukraine is raising BlackBerry’s profile significantly as it continues to focus on cybersecurity and IoT to a point where it’s hard to argue it’s the only company playing at the level necessary to defend against state-sponsored threats that, unfortunately, are a significant part of the world we live in now.
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 Laptop
My issue with a laptop, which is the case with the one I’m typing on now, is that I don’t have enough screen space. My primary monitor in my home office is a 49-inch monster from Dell. Obviously, I have serious issues shrinking down to even a 15-inch laptop.
The ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 has not only a huge screen but also a spare screen that sits next to the keyboard where you can put your social media feed, more easily use pen input, or extend what you are doing on the primary screen. Battery life, as is the case with all big-screen laptops, is limited, but this is a station-to-station product, and that’s how I work. I rarely work where there’s a plug, but I’ll take lower battery life in exchange for the larger screen.