As Logicalis’ Chief Security Technology Officer I’m often asked to comment on cyber security issues. Usually the request relates to specific areas such as ransomware or socially engineered attacks. In this article I’m taking a more holistic look at IT security.
Such a holistic approach to security is, generally, sorely lacking. This is a serious matter, with cyber criminals constantly looking for the weak links in organisations’ security, constantly testing the fence to find the easiest place to get through. So, let’s take a look at the state of enterprise IT security in early 2017, using the technology, processes and people model.
A brief, high-level look at the security market is all it takes to show that there are vast numbers of point products out there – ‘silver bullet’ solutions designed to take out specific threats. There is, however, little in terms of an ecosystem supporting a defence-in-depth architecture. Integration of and co-operation between the various disparate components is , although growing, typically weak or non-existent.
We’ve seen customers with more than 60 products deployed, from over 40 vendors, each intended to address a specific security issue. Having such a large number of products itself presents significant security challenges, though. All these products combined have their own vulnerability: support and manintenance. Managing them and keeping them updated generates significant workload, and any mistakes or unresolved issues can easily become new weak points in the organisation’s security.
The situation has been exacerbated by the rapidly increasing popularity of Cloud and Open Source software. Both trends make market entry significantly simpler, allowing new players to quickly and easily offer new solutions, targeting whichever threat happens to be making a big noise at the moment.
Just as poor integration between security products is an issue, so is lack of integration between the components on which they are built. Through weak coding or failure to make use of hardware security features – Intel’s hardware-level Software Guards Extensions (SGX) encryption technology is a good example – security holes are left open, waiting to be exploited.
The good news on the technology front is that we are seeing the early stages of the development of protocols, such as STIX, TAXII and CybOX, allowing different vendors’ products to interact and share standardised threat information. The big security vendors have been promoting the idea of threat information sharing and subsequent action for a while, but only within their own product ecosystems. It’s time for a broader playing field!
IT security is one of the most important issues facing today’s enterprise, yet, while any self-respecting board will feature directors with responsibility for sales, marketing, operations and finance, few enterprises have a board level CISO.
Similarly few organisations have a comprehensive and thoroughly considered security strategy in place, or proper security processes and policies suitable for today’s threat landscape and ICT usage patterns. A number of industry frameworks exist: ISO 27001, Cyber Essentials, NIST to name but a few; and yet very few organisations adopt these beyond the bare minimum to meet regulatory requirements.
Most organisations spend considerable sums on security technology, but without the right security strategy in place, and user behaviour in line with the right processes and policies, they remain at risk of serious breaches.
The hard truth is that some 60% of breaches are down to user error. Recent research obtiained through Freedom of Information requests found that 62% reported to the ICO are down to humans basically getting it wrong. People make poor password choices, use insecure public (and private!) WiFi, and use public Cloud storage and similar services without taking the necessary security precautions. They do not follow, or indeed even know, corporate data classification and usage policies. The list, of course, goes on.
Training has a part to play here, to increase users’ awareness of the importance of security, as well as the behaviours they need to adopt (and discard) to stay secure. However, there will come a point at which the law of diminishing returns kicks in: we all make mistakes – even the most careful, well trained of us.
We need to explore, discover and devise new ways in which technology can help, by removing the human element, where possible and desirable, and by limiting and swiftly rectifying the damage done when human error occurs. Furthermore, we need to leverage ever improving machine learning and artificial intelligence software to help augment human capability.
Enterprises need to work with specialists that can help them understand the nature of the threats they face, and the weak links in their defences that offer miscreants easy ways in. That means closely examining all aspects of their security from each of the technology, processes and people perspectives, to identify actual and potential weaknesses. Then robust, practical, fit-for-purpose security architectures and policies can be built.
For an outline of how this can work, take a look at Logicalis’ three-step methodology here or email us firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your cyber security needs.