Splunk Hackathon for the Big Data Conference 2017

I’m hosting (along with my employer ECS) a Splunk focused Hackathon as part of the Big Data Conference for Cybersecurity next month!

It’s shaping up to be a cool event where attendees will be given a number of challenges in a CTF (Capture the Flag) style over a few hours. We have re-developed our custom Splunk App to have a great selection of security and cloud-focused data sources which should present lots of opportunities to show off some cool data analytics using the Splunk platform!

Then later on in the afternoon, I’ll be presenting a session on ‘Deconstructing the SIEM Platform’ in which I’ll discuss what makes a ‘modern’ SIEM, break out its component parts and discuss the important of frameworks to hold it all together.

Hackathon Registration: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ecs-splunk-hackathon-cyber-academy-international-conference-on-big-data-in-cyber-security-2017-tickets-33455759076

Big Data Conference Registration: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/international-conference-on-big-data-in-cyber-security-2017-tickets-30453302648

Event Blub: 

As part of the Cyber Academy’s International Conference on Big Data in Cyber Security, ECS and Splunk are holding a Hackathon based around the Splunk Platform that will test your skills and logic against other like-minded technologists and in the end the team with the best analytical skills, use cases and dashboards will prevail and take the prize! You will first receive a brief overview of the big data platform (Splunk) and an introduction to starting your data analytics using this powerful software.
This event provides an opportunity to not only demonstrate your technical and analytical know-how using the Splunk technology, but also to win prizes (Amazon Vouchers & Splunk T-Shirts)!
Our Hackathon presents a challenging scenario for attendees to work as part of a team in a fun and relaxed environment.
Even if you don’t have deep technical skills we’ll make sure your team does is well balanced for the challenges.
(Complimentary refreshments will also be available!)


Splunk Hackathon

This month ECS (my employer) and I hosted a Splunk Hackathon at Napier University in Edinburgh. We aimed the event at 3rd-year students and above (including recent graduates) and had a great turn out.

The challenges we set are below:

Overall it was a great experience and we felt the attendee had some fun and learned a bit about data analytics and big data too!



Machine Learning to Stop Whistleblowers

Interesting take by  on how Machine Learning might inadvertently become a dangerous tool in organisations trying to identify whistleblowers using anomaly detection (references a previous ML presentation of mine for Insider Threat purposes).


“The point for journalists is that collections of small actions – including those which protect the whistleblower – can be just as compromising as obvious oversights like a lack of information security.”


Original Link: https://onlinejournalismblog.com/2017/01/16/the-machine-that-learns-how-to-stop-whistleblowers/#comment-253097



Included on the Tech 100 for Scotland

Very happy that I have had something published in the Holyrood Tech 100 magazine! I have included the original piece below, but highly recommend viewing it on their site!

2016 has been notable for some fantastic events, like Andy Murray winning his second Wimbledon title and, of course, the Rio Olympics.

But it has also been notable for a remarkable number of malicious events, for example, the sheer volume and scale of the security breaches suffered by some of the world’s most high-profile firms.

Disturbingly, some of the breaches that made the headlines actually occurred months or even years earlier but were only discovered recently.

Today’s cyber security technologies and processes are designed to flag up anomalies and causes for concern in real time, so these delays in identifying breaches shouldn’t be happening in 2016.

Unfortunately, this trend is unlikely to cease without considerable investment in new tools to detect and adapt to these mounting threats.

It doesn’t take an expert to predict that cyber attacks are set to become even more commonplace during 2017 and the types of threats – external attacks, malicious insider attacks or fraud – even more sophisticated.

In this environment, legacy passive security monitoring is no longer fit for purpose.

Fortunately, these depressing newspaper headlines have kickstarted a counter movement. Business leaders are waking up to the very real risks to the company bottom line and reputation, and are ready to take proactive steps to counter these threats.

In practice this means adopting a new, flexible cyber security strategy that uses big data to facilitate ‘always on’ monitoring, fast incident response and the ability to detect and respond to known, unknown and advanced threats.

During my time with ECS I have helped some of the UK’s largest businesses prepare themselves against cyber threats in this way.

For any business that has ‘better preparation against cyber threats’ on its list of New Year’s resolutions, here’s a handy checklist:

  1.  Assume that your computer network – and all devices attached to that network – have been, or currently are, compromised. This will allow you to keep one step ahead of a would-be attacker because you’re operating with the assumption that you’re fighting an active threat, not some old computer virus that just happened to flag up on your antivirus software for the 1,000th time.
  2. Keep a log of everything: every email, every voicemail and every iteration of a customer database. This applies to all data sources and all data types (audio/video/text etc.). This is important because you can’t predict what data will be lost or altered in a breach. If you suffer a breach, you will need to bring back the entire history of your computer systems and network to find out what happened when and hopefully pinpoint the perpetrators. This becomes even more important when would-be perpetrators are intentionally encrypting data for either ransom or destruction. This is often unrecoverable, so back-ups are also for mitigation.
  3. Store all of your data in a big data security hub (e.g. a data lake or pool). This will make it much easier to assess any attempted and successful breaches by giving you the ability to search across all of your data and business silos in real time.

Gain valuable, contextual insights from all of your data by using machine learning and behavioural analytics.

These techniques automate most of the legwork and offer up a detailed analysis of information on users, attacks, context, time and location. This leads to much faster threat identification, investigation and response.

The amount of data involved in the steps above gives a clue to the importance of big data in the fight against data breaches.

And this focus on big data analysis also has another upside: it can be used by line of business managers to help them make more informed business decisions, decisions that have a positive effect on the bottom line.

A recent example involved a national retailer who already had data from its website coming into a big data platform to detect security incidents.

After investigating this data, a number of additional (and more business-relevant) use cases emerged and were subsequently developed.

These included fraud detection on the e-commerce part of the website, and tracking and reporting on user stories as they moved through the website.

This enabled the developers to see and track errors in real time before users started complaining on Twitter.

By automating the collection, processing, enrichment and presentation of all this data – and with the right tools and training – line of business personnel will be motivated to analyse any data relevant to their roles themselves, reducing the burden on the IT team.

This self-service model is the key to a mature, agile, data-driven business, enabling businesses to respond quickly to market changes and so gain competitive advantage.

In summary, today’s threat landscape means that no business should assume it is immune to a cyber attack. In fact every business should assume it has been compromised.

Being at least one step ahead by putting in place a range of proactive processes and measures that instantly alert businesses to potential threats is crucial. Big data platforms offer a solid, data-driven approach to these problems.

Harry McLaren is a security consultant for ECS and won the Best New Cyber Talent at the first Scottish Cyber Awards, held last month in Edinburgh

Original Publication: http://www.holyrood.com/articles/comment/tech-100-%E2%80%98today%E2%80%99s-threat-landscape-means-no-business-should-assume-it-immune-cyber 



Awarded ‘Best New Cyber Talent in Scotland’ at the first ever ‘Scottish Cyber Awards’

On Wednesday (16th November 2016) I had the privilege of attending Scotland’s first ‘Cyber Awards’ which were hosted at The Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh. Having been nominated by my employer (ECS) for the category of ‘Best New Cyber Talent’ I was somewhat nervous being at such a well-attended event, which included many influential and great people throughout the computer security industry. Many familiar faces like Stu Hirst of Skyscanner and Bill Buchanan of Edinburgh University (both of whom were up for the same award!) were in attendance and it was interesting and somewhat inspiring to see how the computer security industry has been growing in Scotland.

The ‘Best New Cyber Talent’ category was the second to be announced, as it meant that once it was over I could enjoy the evening without feeling anxious about getting on stage and winning or not in front of 200 peers (which included ECS’s Operations Manager and my partner). There was a short speech from the award sponsor, Sophos (thanks guys!) and then, finally, the moment came and they said that the award had my name on it. I was a bit shell shocked, not only were my fellow nominee’s fantastic candidates for the award, but I guess part of me just assumed I wouldn’t win. The feeling slowly spread over me throughout the night until after an hour or so, I just started grinning.

I had won a national award and no matter how many times a day I sometimes feel out of my depth, no matter how many areas I still should learn and no matter my own self-doubt, I deserved to be nominated and to win. The only reason I could convince myself of this simple fact, of being deserving, is that the judges panel, organisers and managing director at my company could not all be wrong. I couldn’t have ‘deceived’ them all into believing I was good enough for this award. They saw something which I often find hard seeing in myself and that is the best part of this experience for me, the simple truth that no matter what areas of my brain tell me the opposite, I am a deserving in my field and I’m so very proud it has been recognised in the form of this nomination and award.

Thanks to Darren Brogan for taking so many pictures of the event (including the featured image of this post)!

Edit: Stu Hirst posted a great write up on his feelings of being nominated for ‘Cyber Evangelist of the Year’ and how much of an ‘imposter’ he sometimes feels. This really summed up my own feelings and I so happy he shared these feeling so publicly.


“Best New Cyber Talent in Scotland”