Things just became really interesting.
The recent news is awash with worrying claims from a credible source of “hidden” spying chips embedded within the motherboard of a leading server manufacturer. As yet, no manufacturer has released a statement confirming their existence but the information illuminating the potential is compelling. Surely it forces us all to consider our own personal, personal and professional “digital state” in this heavily connected world. Do we technically appraise every computer based device we use at design and component level to determine the source, use and security impact of all of the minute elements that make the device work. Of course we don’t, not only would the majority of us struggle to find out how to even open the device (have you tried to open a modern mobile phone with the myriad of specialist tools and hidden pressure points to make things pop open), we no way of actually understanding the function and outcome delivered by the components (when they work in harmony).
Can we be sure the most innocuous of household device has no secret and potentially malicious embedded elements that whilst not explicitly installed to be utilized in a nefarious way in the right hands can’t be leveraged to invoke a surveillance, recording or tracking function? It is this total ambivalence to the likelihood of it, until possibly today that means the potential may be more likely that we ever dreamed.
The days of hardcoded firmware delivering static intelligence to all but the most expensive and programmable devices is from a bygone era. Even the simplest digital device consists of user or system driven remotely programmable aspects that in some cases are core to the function of the device. Whether it’s used from software updates, device troubleshooting or in the case of some advanced modern vehicles to deliver totally new functionality, device or system programmability is a fundamental aspect of modern IT that enhances the consumer or user experience by making it “personal”.
Could we be shifting to a position of worry so great that we “sweep for bugs” when entering a room or prior to switching a device on in true James Bond mode – highly unlikely. But I suggest the recent announcements will ensure many IT leaders and operational teams increase the priority of network based security visibility platforms, AI or machine learning systems that examine and re-examine the most granular elements of telemetry and security aware behavioral analytics platforms that understand things we can’t comprehend.
Ask yourself when considering the IT platforms that underpin your business (or social existence), what can you really see, are you sure you know how they work and do you really understand the security heart that beats within?
Who would have thought, we are not even close to the iconic year 2020 and already we may be worrying about the moral intent in the digital soul of our machines. The future ahead is likely to be way more interesting than we have ever previously dreamed.
Until next time.
LOB CTO UK – Computacenter Networking and Security
I haven’t scribbled a blog for a while. Rather than bombard the web with yet more content and conjecture to add to the mass already present, I need a “discussion catalyst” to compel me to write. And it arrived on the front page of the Times newspaper today proclaiming “500m users hit by the biggest hack in history” (due to recently released findings from a 2014 attack).
I mentioned in previous blogs and commentary that those no longer sensationalist, but instead factual headlines may sadly continue with each one correctly announcing a breach bigger than the last. It’s time to rethink information security because the rules of the game have fundamentally changed. As an IT industry with extremely competent security professionals the time has come for hard conversations, which discuss difficult problems that drive and deliver far reaching change. The legacy approach to design, implement and support information security platforms should not be fully jettisoned overnight but a failure to understand the efficacy of the whole solution to deliver “known, measured and maintained (or enhanced)” levels of security can no longer be accepted as valid or sound behaviour (I apologise if this is overly hard hitting).
There are numerous highly viable reasons why a multi-vendor security infrastructure and security software environment can deliver secure business / IT workload outcomes. But any environment with siloed platforms that do not inform or update each other via vendor proprietary, industry standard data exchange layers or leverage other platforms that correlate and represent actionable information may be as useful as no security layer at all. I am not advocating a single vendor security environment (although it can unlock a number of notable advantages) but I am leaning to a “greatly reduced” vendor environment as the complex web of devices pervasive across many enterprise IT estates, delivers a false sense of security can be the perfect landing zone for an attacker.
Add to that, the importance and non-negotiable educational requirement to formally enhance the knowledge of IT system and application users of the “responsibility and accountability” they personally hold to protect the digital assets they interact with daily. Almost without exception the major hacks and attacks originate from an inadvertently compromised user (tricked or bribed) with the end result a valid way in for an attacker to undertake the reconnaissance necessary to undertake the main attack. It’s time for all IT users to change their level of understanding and intimacy with IT security outcomes with the result a major step towards helping the wider enterprise security programme to operate effectively.
The Times newspaper headline displayed the passport picture and details of Michelle Obama – as we continue to discuss the growing importance of digital identity with a passport one indelible example of an identity deemed more important than most, a system attack that successfully obtained the personal details of one of the most highly protected individuals in the world highlights that no one is safe and everyone is a potential target.
IT security 2020 is required today and required now. It starts with an understanding of current IT and digital assets, gap analysis of posture aligned with compliance, platforms and systems that interact together, user education and greatly increased end to end visibility of the whole estate. I could go on as the steps required are many fold, but they are not steps we don’t already know or shouldn’t be undertaking today. No change is unacceptable, more of the same is unacceptable. Sadly we can be sure that the next big breach will be bigger than the last but ideally no one wants to the star of the headline.
Time for security change – change is now
Until next time
“Cybercrime may now be bigger than the drug trade”, quoted the City of London police commissioner Adrian Leppard.
Security breach announcements that were once a rarity in the non IT world are now BBC front page news on a regular basis. Whether it’s the attack and successful removal of data from a previous unknown (but now well known) dating site or the more recent attack and potentially successful data breach of a major consumer telecoms services provider, Cyber attacks are the norm. Is it time to accept them as a necessary by product of the relentless creation and consumption of digital data, sadly yes. But to accept they exist does not mean an acceptance that an attack should be effective when there are so many steps that can be taken to reduce the potential for success. Defending and securing IT systems are not an easy task as the approach includes people, process and systems. To keep all three security aware and congruent at all times is a challenge with that one “out of sync” moment the attack window for a hacker. Do nothing or “do something but slowly” is a sure-fire way to be the next big story on the front page of the BBC news broadcast. It’s time for new thinking, new skills and better visibility EVERYWHERE or the enterprise will NEVER be secure.
Many years ago a large IT company ran a brilliant ad campaign about the need to think differently. In the case of IT systems and Cyber security, thinking differently should include a rigorous appraisal of existing defences, a perspective on the most valuable digital assets within the organisation (and the additional protection they require) and most importantly the need for people to change the way they interact with digital systems (vigilance). To defend against an attack, it’s time to “think like an attacker” and not based on a viewpoint that attacks follow standardised behaviour, are seeking random targets and lack rigour and planning. Today’s attackers or attack teams are extremely well trained, often well funded and have razor sharp focus on the target and expected outcome. Old school thinking based on technology will fall short in this new digital age. It’s time for new school thinking based on the psychology of an attacker as that will surely deliver greater value (protection).
We are in the midst of an enterprise business landscape with an aging work population aligned with traditional IT skills needing to evolve to a revised “digital rich” skills portfolio. This new skillset is likely to be software influenced and will definitely drive the need to think differently, learn now and learn very differently. And to further compound matters the emerging work force of Generation Y and Z thinkers may not be viewing Information Technology as the “must join” profession of circa 25 years ago. Modern enterprises face the quandary of an old workforce with dated security skills, coupled with a new workforce with skills too new to make an impact – who then will solve the security challenges we currently face? Sadly the skills problem will not be resolved overnight with a major investment in academic level cyber awareness, new age security skills training on mass for existing networking and security personnel plus enhanced employee security education as a mandatory activity within all enterprises. It’s time for enterprise organisations to encourage everyone who embraces the benefits of IT to also part be of the solution to the cyber security challenge.
There has been an age old management quote highlighting the difficultly managing things that can’t be seen – so why believe it to be different with data and information technology outcomes. Digital data is now the DNA of modern enterprises with the potential to ignite ongoing success or collapse an organisation to failure. Full visibility of data from edge to core with the potential to preempt attacks or fast remediate breaches is now an essential element of the enterprise IT systems operational playbook. Breaches will occur in a digital data rich enterprise due to the challenge of continually appraising human, IT and non IT systems behaviour in context and in sync. However enhanced visibility leveraging optimised data analytics can highlight anomalies or areas for further investigation earlier with the hope it’s early enough for the correct intervention prior to a breach. And if an when a breach unfortunately occurs, “flight recorder” type data playback of the pre and post breach state will accelerate the time to triage and remediate plus reduce the potential for a mirrored attack. Many highlight “encryption everywhere” as one of the most impact full strategies for data protection and the emerging and very interesting “software defined perimeter (SDP)” approach (zero trust access control and data movement) as instant fixes. There is no doubt that both will be highly effective protection elements but only as part of a wholesale rethink of security defence, protection and breach remediation.
Enterprises MUST now change their approach and security solutions expectations. The increased use of mobile solutions, cloud computing and virtualisation are not creating a problem for security professions but instead delivering the potential to “reset” security protection and defence within the enterprise. The days of “adding more layers”, often bigger or higher than previously delivered are no more – instead it’s time to design a solution for an enterprise in a state of continual attack not in “comfortable defence”. Effective digital systems security WILL be a primary business enabler in the digital age as enterprises that fail to defend well, remediate quickly and understand attacks may not survive for long enough to fully recover.
Until next time.
Chief Technologist – Networking, Security, UC – Computacenter UK
At the start of the year I said to anyone who would listen (and that was a fair amount of people) that 2014 would be a milestone year for security and unified communications (UC). We will come back to UC another day, but security is really living up to the prophecy. 2014 is common to previous years with visible attacks, invisible attacks, well published breaches, hidden breaches and all of the above now carefully positioned under the Cyber Threat banner (the advanced persistent threat moniker of yesteryear now seems out of fashion).
And already as we cross into quarter two of the year we face the first “cause for concern” security breach that isn’t just affecting the IT rich major corporates, but has the potential to affect anyone who uses the internet in earnest. Heartbleed is that security breach and exposes vulnerabilities in OPENSSL, the security used to maintain secure encrypted conversations (passwords, usernames, etc.) by some web servers. OPENSSL gives informed users and laymen alike confidence to access the World Wide Web assured that a secure interaction is happening so a problem like Heartbleed potentially has major ramifications. We have always aligned with the view that the use of SSL, https, closed padlock signs on browsers, etc. should have signalled a “secure transaction” but sadly now that perspective is under scrutiny based on a vulnerability in OPENSSL that may have been evident for two years. That is two years when attackers “could” have been accessing hidden digital keys in those seemingly secure browsing or web interactions and “could” have been using those keys to hack the user/sites in question. A quick search across the web for a list of potentially vulnerable sites presents a “who’s who” of many of the biggest and best know destinations on the web.
Good news, the vulnerability was announced and highlighted last week (and most of the key sites have all but eliminated the vulnerability) – bad news, few know or are saying what or if the vulnerability has been used to attack to date.
So where does that leave us – thankfully informed and with that equipped with a “call to action” to ensure we are protected against the Heartbleed threat. But it shouldn’t stop there, if a threat of such magnitude has been hidden / secret for two years what else lies beneath your network, systems, and data – could that next “security threat alarm bell” ring for you. Do you know with confidence if your IT systems, company data, personal data are really secure? I rarely plug IT services and solutions on this blog but it may be time you gave us a call.
Until next time.