Security Analyst Spotlight Series: Harrison Van Riper
July 10, 2018
Organizations rely on our cyber intelligence analysts to be an extension of their security team. Our global team of analysts provide relevant threat research, much needed context, tailored remediation advice and managed takedown support to make our clients’ jobs easier and more efficient. Crucially, by having analysts within the intelligence and collection cycle, we’re able to minimize the real-time false positives that cause nightmares for most organizations.
In our Security Analyst Spotlight Series, we bring our analysts out of the shadows and into the spotlight, showcasing their expertise and interests so you can learn a bit more about a “day-in-the-life” of a Digital Shadows Intelligence analyst.
Name: Harrison Van Riper
Team: Strategic Research
Title: Senior Analyst
Q: How did you get into the field of cybersecurity?
A: While I was earning my bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, I took a cybercrime class and it was like something clicked in my head: there was this whole other side of crime that was relatively understudied, but becoming increasingly important. So, when I decided to pursue my graduate degree in Information Technology, I chose to focus on cybersecurity.
One of my professors during my graduate program introduced me to the idea of cyber intelligence analysis, and that’s when I discovered that “cyber threat intelligence” was a relatively new function that businesses and governments were incorporating, and it seemed like a natural entry point with my background.
Q: What areas of cyber security are you most interested in?
A: I’m really interested in how geopolitics affects the cyber security threat landscape, so Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups that are linked to nation-states fascinate me. Usually, these groups are linked with espionage activity, driven by the objectives of their respective country governments. Government entities usually receive the brunt of media coverage, but all kinds of organization could be targeted by a nation-state group; for instance, Chinese APT groups have been observed conducting intellectual property theft to support the Chinese government’s manufacturing needs. While these types of actors are most famously linked to activity against Presidential campaigns (i.e. APT-28, Guccifer 2.0 and the 2016 United States Presidential election), political entities are not the only targets.
Recently, I have been looking into cryptocurrency, researching not only how and why criminals use it, but the risks that financial services companies take on by exposing themselves to this new technology. One of our financial services forecasts we put together at the beginning of 2018 incorporated the sudden rise of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology as well as the increased discussions regarding potential adoption by financial institutions. There are a lot of different threat vectors that exist within these areas, some of which aren’t fully understood yet even by the cybersecurity industry. But that’s why I am so interested!
Q: What has been your favorite online investigation to work on?
A: A customer came to us with a request for information regarding a publicly reported data breach. An extortion email was sent to the customer stating that as a result of the breach, the attackers had stolen several internal and confidential assets. I’ve done plenty of online investigation training, and I used these skills to analyse the email headers from the extortion letters for an IP address that was linked to infrastructure that had previously been used by a high-profile espionage threat actor. I also discovered that the usernames associated with the extortion email addresses were loosely linked to an identifiable individual through their social media accounts and other email addresses they used. From here we were able to do further profiling of the individual to determine whether they were a credible threat. That was definitely a great feeling to have a tangible and observable line of research that produced a good deliverable for a customer.
Q: What do you do outside work that helps with your job?
A: I try and stay as up to date with current events outside of the cybersecurity bubble as I can. A lot of research goes into cybersecurity reporting, but it’s important to remember that events don’t operate in a vacuum. I think it’s important to look at outside factors that could influence something like a corporate espionage campaign or a denial of service (DoS) attack – such as an increase in geopolitical tensions between states. I also try to work on my technical proficiency by improving my Maltego, Kali Linux, Wireshark skills.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while training as an intelligence analyst?
A: Be comfortable with receiving criticism for your writing, especially in the beginning. The job of an intelligence analyst is to produce reports that are (usually) heavily text-based, and it would be extremely rare to get something just right on the first draft. But that’s okay! You learn from criticism. I know that I am a better writer today because of the amount of feedback of received on all my reports. At Digital Shadows the analysts all receive specific training on how to produce intelligence reports, learning about the need to be concise and, crucially, precise. Clients don’t have time to read through streams of prose trying to work out what you might be saying.
Additionally, every intelligence shop will have their own “house style guide”. Different reports will be geared for different audiences; if I’m writing a report for a security operations centre (SOC) team then the content will be far more technical than a presentation for a Chief Information Security Officer or board member. The latter are more focused on the broader, more strategic business risks, and it’s important to frame your reporting along these lines so that they see the most value in it.
Interested in hearing more from our intelligence team? Check out our blogs or subscribe to our weekly threat intelligence podcast, ShadowTalk.
Harrison Van Riper is a Senior Analyst for the Strategic Research team at Digital Shadows. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Master’s degree in Information Technology and Management. Harrison is fascinated in the crossover between technology and crime and provides Digital Shadows’ clients with up-to-date threat intelligence.