The Ethical and Legal Dilemmas of Threat Researchers

Threat intelligence is mainstreaming into a de-facto everyday tool of cyber-defense. But all that intelligence must be collected, analyzed, and prepared by someone. Enter threat researchers, the advanced scouts of cybersecurity. They are becoming more numerous and conspicuous as more intelligence on illicit hacker activity is demanded. Threat researchers trawl through the dark web, pick apart malware, reverse engineer exploits, track outbreaks across the Internet, and set up honeypots to surveil attacker activity.

They also find themselves weaseling around in the slippery space between what is acceptable and what is forbidden. To get to the truth on the ground, they can find themselves using stealth, misdirection, and even outright deception. This is when threat researchers can find themselves in unpredictable legal and ethical situations with consequences that they and their employers never anticipated. I’m going to pose a series of scenarios based on actual threat researcher incidents to illustrate these dilemmas.

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