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How a Leading Cybersecurity Expert Witness Helps Achieve Justice for Cybercrime Victims | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Cybercrime-related civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions are packed with complicated details that can make delivering justice challenging. That’s where Newsweek Expert Forum member Joseph Steinberg steps in.

Dig into cybercrime cases, and you’ll often find a complex web of events that are tough for people without technical backgrounds to fully comprehend, appreciate and evaluate—even advanced judiciaries can find it challenging to deliver justice in cybercrime-related civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

That’s why attorneys retain cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg. Steinberg is there to make sense of nuanced details and plays several roles in the quest for justice.

Explaining the Intricacies of Technical Concepts

First, Steinberg simplifies the understanding of complex technical concepts and evidence so that he can help lawyers, judges and juries make the right calls. In some ways, his role as a cybersecurity expert witness is akin to that of medical professionals during personal injury and malpractice court proceedings. Similar to the way that doctors break down medical facts to audiences without formal medical training, Steinberg makes it easy for people without technology backgrounds to understand both important elements of cybercrime-related cases and the consequences of various factors as they relate to both ascribing liability and recognizing the extent of the damage suffered by victims.

Likewise, he helps judges and jurors understand why they should dismiss or discount what he refers to as “technical red herrings” often introduced by liable parties to misdirect the attention of those tasked with delivering justice, thereby confusing them into misascribing liability.

Nearly all of Steinberg’s work happens behind closed doors. Cybercrime-related cases often involve highly confidential and court-protected information, sometimes including highly-sensitive details about cyber vulnerabilities that criminals might still be able to exploit.

Sifting Through a Complex Web of Events

Steinberg’s work begins well before he enters the courthouse. In fact, he says that nearly all cases in which he is involved ultimately settle before a trial even commences; part of his role is often to help encourage adverse parties to settle by helping them understand the potential consequences they’ll face if they don’t do so.

Early on, Steinberg strategizes with the legal team that has retained him to determine what evidence to search for and which collected materials to focus on. In nearly all cases, he writes a detailed report explaining why the relevant evidence supports a particular ruling by a judge or jury. Cases often settle based on his reports, but sometimes, matters proceed, and he ends up testifying to help those involved understand “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Steinberg notes that, in many cases, one or more parties to a lawsuit often introduce extraneous cyber-related evidence that may seem reasonable to people without technical backgrounds. But, he explains, such evidence can be misleading, irrelevant or both—and part of his job is to convince judges and juries of the extraneous, irrelevant and misleading nature of such “evidence.”

“I’ve had cases in which one party presented all sorts of evidence related to a particular security failure and pointed to that failure as the cause of significant data leaks and financial losses,” he says. “But, when I reviewed the relevant evidence, I determined that those factors were not the proximate cause of any of the damage and, in fact, could not possibly have had any real-world impact unless much more serious security failures had already occurred.”

In such scenarios, the attorneys Steinberg works with typically convince the court to compel the relevant party or parties to provide all sorts of additional information.

“I ultimately use that information to help the attorneys either obtain a favorable settlement or prove the case in favor of their client,” says Steinberg.

Steinberg explains that many cyber cases involve more than two parties and, as a result, snowball into complicated ordeals.

“Consider a situation in which one party hires a second party to set up a particular computer system, and that second party hires a third party to perform some role in the process, using a fourth party’s product,” says Steinberg. “When something goes wrong, each of the parties will likely be pointing at one or more of the others as bearing responsibility.”

Things can get even more complicated, Steinberg adds. Unnamed parties may suffer damage, too.

“If seven other organizations also hired that third party, for example, those entities may be in danger of suffering similar losses as the first company,” he says. “As you can imagine, determining which party or parties are responsible in such cases, and for what share of the damage each party should be held liable, is often a non-trivial matter.”

Tackling Injustices As Threats Increase

While Steinberg has a wealth of knowledge about cybercrime-related laws, he stresses that he is not an attorney—and has no plans to become one. His interest in serving the legal community stems from his desire to see the world become a more just place, which is why he is highly selective about the cases he gets involved in.

“There are more lucrative ways for someone with over 25 years of cybersecurity experience to earn a living,” he says. “But, there is great satisfaction in helping people who have been severely wronged and seeing those wrongs get corrected. I’ve been involved in cases in which people were wrongly deprived of their life savings, their ability to purchase a home, or the rightfully-earned fruits of their many years of hard work.”

Unfortunately, cybercrime-related injustices are becoming increasingly commonplace, says Steinberg, who also serves in cyber advisor roles on various boards.

“Cyber is the number one area of catastrophic risk to many organizations today,” he explains. “In the modern world, thanks to insurance, fire prevention codes, suppression systems and other factors, the chances of a business of significant size failing because of, say, a plant fire are close to zero. On the other hand, the chances that a series of major cyber incidents at the same company could inflict irreparable damage that threatens the entity’s viability are not insignificant.”

And breaches are growing increasingly common, with increasingly devastating results. Consider this: 2022 research conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored, analyzed and published by IBM found that 83% of the organizations examined “had more than one data breach.” What’s more, according to Microsoft’s October 2021 Digital Defense Report, in a time of heightened political tensions, “nation state actors have largely maintained their operations at a consistent pace while creating new tactics and techniques to evade detection and increase the scale of their attacks.” The report indicated that from July 2020 to June 2021, the United States was the most targeted country (46%); among cyberattacks, government was the most targeted sector (48%). The report also examined attacks by the “country of origin” during that period; not surprisingly, Russia came out on top (58%).

Additionally, data breaches are becoming increasingly expensive. According to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the “average cost of a data breach reached an all-time high in 2023 of USD 4.45 million. This represents a 2.3% increase from the 2022 cost of USD 4.35 million. Taking a long-term view, the average cost has increased 15.3% from USD 3.86 million in the 2020 report.”

Steinberg notes that cyberattacks are ideal methods of attack for governments, terrorist groups and criminal organizations because such attacks are often hard to trace, cost little to launch and can potentially unleash devastating consequences while providing “plausible deniability”—that is, allowing the attacker to deny having launched the relevant attack, with the victim unable to prove conclusively to the contrary in the court of public opinion.

Cyberattacks aside, Steinberg also warns that people should think twice about sharing details of their lives on social media and understand that foreign governments, particularly China, gather such information en masse.

“There is little doubt that some countries are presently gathering as much information as they can about as many people as they can,” says Steinberg. “They’re in this for the long term. You might wonder why they care about this information. Well, someone who is currently a teenager will likely grow up to become a Supreme Court justice, and someone else who is in school will likely grow up to become president. Foreign governments know that there may be information shared today that can be used as political blackmail in the future.”


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