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A dismal industry: The unsustainable burden of cybersecurity

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cybersecurity panel at Finn Partners in San Francisco.

Cybersecurity is finally a cool industry, claimed Brian Bertacini of BSI America, speaking on a panel of computer security experts in San Francisco this week.

Foremski’s take

Cybersecurity is not cool; I see it as a dismal industry for several reasons. If your product works, nothing happens, and nothing was stolen, and there’s nothing to report. 

But you haven’t invented a new technology or innovated a new business process. You’ve just plugged known vulnerabilities, and there’s nothing to prevent future unknown attack vectors. It must be a very unsatisfying situation — especially since there are huge numbers of undiscovered vulnerabilities in every IT system. Durgesh Gupta, VP of Information Security at NASDAQ, said his team discovers 40,000 new vulnerabilities in their software every month. 

NASDAQ’s 100 million attacks

Gupta said that NASDAQ detects more than 100 million attacks per month. Every three months, its senior executives go through a mock-attack and figure out what responses should be if this were real. And it regularly meets with Homeland Security experts, who offer advice, help, and warnings of attacks. 

But not every company can rely on government help. Sony had a massive breach that was blamed on North Korea, and it asked for US government help but received none. And the FBI won’t open an investigation unless more than $500,000 of losses have been reported.

Ray Rothrock, chairman of RedSeal, said that total protection is impossible because attacks will be ever more sophisticated. He believes the best response is a fast response: Catch the attack and close it down as quickly as possible. And report it — don’t cover it up.

Multi-cloud attacks

Gary Sevounts CMO at Kount says the attack vectors are multiplying because of the use of cloud-based IT and multi-cloud based IT applications which add further complexity to the security problem.

David McNeely, chief strategy officer at Centrify, says that with the rise of cloud-based IT the use of multi-factor authentication is one way to seal vulnerabilities. But app developers need to take more responsibility because security has to be designed into the product and cannot be added effectively later.

A passwordless future

Andrew Shikiar, executive director at the FIDO Alliance, criticized the widespread use of passwords as a key weakness. The members of his industry association say that there are other far more secure ways to authenticate users.

Craig Lurey disagrees about passwords. He is the co-founder of Keeper Security, which focuses on password-based security. He says passwords won’t go away because encryption relies on passwords. It’s better to work with password-based security. For example, his company will warn clients if their passwords have been spotted on the “dark web” and are compromised.

Rothrock says that a lot of attacks are preventable by following basic security guidelines and educating staff. This is not being done because there is no accountability.

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Board responsibilities

He says the way to improve security is to make the company boards accountable, and they will pressure the executives to take the right steps — in a similar way that the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation made directors accountable for company financial reports.

However, a lot of companies had trouble finding board members following Sarbanes-Oxley. This could happen again if board members are made accountable for cybersecurity breaches, which seems like an impossible task given the media coverage of larger, more disturbing attacks.

Fear, uncertainty, and disaster is a traditional marketing tactic in the IT industry, and cybersecurity companies are happy to focus on the dire need for more spending on their wares and their services. 

The scare tactics have been effective, with significant rises in cybersecurity budgets of around 15% annually, says Rothrock. But this takes away money from other IT projects — projects that could improve revenues.

It’s an ever-larger black hole of money and human resources that cannot be invested in productivity.

The drain on productivity even affects computing performance. The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities in Intel microprocessors require fixes that drag down computing performance by 15% and more. 

Unsustainable trends

The industry has become a massive tax on all businesses. We are spending more money on cybersecurity, yet the criminals are getting away with more loot and doing more damage.

We are spending more while losing even more. It’s an unsustainable trend. This is not cool.

It’s a huge tax on all businesses. At least with other taxes, we get schools, roads, police, vital infrastructure, and military defenses that work.

But the cybersecurity tax gives nothing back and cannot defend against future attacks while demanding even more expenditure. It’s a dismal industry in my humble opinion.

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The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security

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This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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