Email inboxes around the globe are filled though January with a flurry of IT market and technology predictions. I’ve been guilty of writing them in the past but chose not to this year. However, a few people have nudged me and requested at least a summary or a few ideas on a few significant IT security areas to consider through 2020 (not predictions). One thing I can convey with certainty, is that fact we actually don’t know what will happen in the security arena moving forward, we can assume and theorise but don’t really know. The business and technology landscape has never been more uncertain, with well skilled and financed attackers (at times more so than the defenders) due to the potential for immense rewards. To that end organisations need to be aware, pragmatic, agile with effective security controls and actionable remediation strategies to help them deliver “Secure IT”.
So, what might happen
The “Windows 7” platform will be a highly targeted attack vector (whether embedded, full function or other). Whilst many users remain emotionally and operationally wedded to the now reliable and robust legacy operating system, the end of operating system support and patches for Windows 7 software platforms means enterprises as a minimum must evolve away from Windows 7 to Windows 10 or to another secure and supported operating environment. If a move from Windows 7 cannot be undertaken in a timely manner, compensatory controls for example the use of virtual patching may add a layer of defence but that will very short lived. A move from the Windows 7 operating platform is the only outcome to maximise user and system security.
Next up, “connected things”. IOT is the collective term frequently used to describe connected devices, often without an interface for human input but “connected things” collect, process, transmit and sometimes store data. The sheer volume of connected things increases the security challenge with defenders requiring real time visibility, always on controls as they seek to minimise or eliminate the potential for attack. To make matters worse, many of the “things” become invisible to the human eye hidden in ceilings, behind walls or embedded in other devices. But they remain highly visible to attackers are easily located with simplistic scanning tools and can be used to launch highly damaging attacks (or as a beachhead to enter a networked environment). Visibility visibility visibility is everything – you can’t secure things you cannot digitally see. Connected device visibility platforms or advanced NAC systems help to determine the type, status, behaviour of all connected devices. This allows them to determine posture, grant and revoke access, supply data inputs to asset and CMDB databases but more importantly to help organisations to create and maintain a baseline of “normal or known good security”.
And last but not least, “the human vector” remains a key consideration in 2020. Un-informed users have the potential to become the weakest link in the security chain, but informed, engaged, security conscious users become one of the most significant elements of optimum security. Users have the power to make intellectual and dynamic decisions, interpreting situations in a way technology based controls cannot. With users as educated, security advocates and technical security controls working together in harmony, end to end optimum security becomes a reality not a dream.
As a recap, to maintain a security by design and by default in 2020 for users, business & consumers, three areas will be high on my list:
- Acceleration of the move from Windows 7 (or to secondary compensatory security deployed if a platform move is not possible)
- Optimum visibility of connected things (traditional connected devices and IOT) to ensure they can be located, patched, secured.
- Inspirational education of “the human” to intentionally become the strongest security link in the digital chain.
Through 2020 we must strive to make intentional security simple to consume, manage, operate and EFFECTIVE. This will help users, organisations and the industry to shift the current mindset and position security positively as the essential enabler of the digital world. Its time to start now, start today.
Until Next time.
Business Line CTO Networking and Security – Computacenter UK
Everyone loves a sequel – just look at how well the latest Toy Story instalment is performing at the box offices. But there’s one sequel that we could all do without: Ransomware 2. It’s back, and like the best horror movie villains, it’s nastier and bolder than ever before.
Ransomware 2 has already claimed a number of high-profile victims. At the end of June, two US cities paid around $500,000 each to get files and data unlocked following successful attacks. The bill for Norsk Hydro, a global aluminium producer, was even higher. It didn’t pay the ransom, but it still paid the price.
The entire workforce had to resort to pen and paper when ransomware took hold across 22,000 computers in 40 different countries – Norsk Hydro is still recovering nearly three months later. On average, a ransomware attack results in seven days of downtime.
Although the Norsk Hydro’s tough stance has boosted its reputation; it’s also damaged its bottom line – the cost of the attack has already topped £45 million. The company is not the first to end up with a multi-million dollar bill: the Baltimore City government was hit with a massive ransomware attack that left it crippled for over a month, with a loss value of more than $18 million.
The resurgence of ransomware is not surprising – it’s a proven business model and a repeatable one. It works not only at an enterprise level but a personal level too. Individuals can be just as willing to pay a ransom to unlock personal data, such as family photos and financial files, if they are the targeted by an attack.
So how do you avoid joining the ransomware ranks? Although ransomware is powered by malicious software, it still needs human interaction to succeed. Just one click on a spam email or an infected ad is all it needs for a ransomware attack to be initiated. Even a visit to a legitimate website can land you in trouble, if the site is infected with code installed to redirect users to a malicious website.
Better user education can help prevent ransomware being unleashed – whether it’s on a home device or a business computer – but it will never completely eliminate the risk. So organisations need to be ready to fight back when the ransomware ball starts rolling, which means they need robust protection from the DNS layer to the email and the endpoint.
Blocking spam and phishing emails along with malicious attachments and URLs is an important first step. But the need to balance employee flexibility with IT security means the net can never be fully closed.
Even if someone clicks on a malicious link or file, organisations can still supress an attack. If ransomware can’t connect back to the mothership, it can’t be activated.
With thousands of DNS requests being initiated across an enterprise every day, detecting which ones are genuine and which are malicious requires highly sophisticated technology. Instead of proxying all web traffic, intelligent ransomware defence solutions will route requests to risky domains for deeper URL and file inspection. They will also be able to draw on contextual security to identify unusual and potentially unsafe requests from individual endpoints.
These insights enable IT teams to make quick risk judgements that block threats without blocking genuine business activity. With new risks emerging all the time, ransomware defence solutions need to receive constant updates on the latest sources of malicious content.
If the call back to a command and control server is successful, there are still ways to contain a ransomware attack before it proliferates across an entire organisation. For example, dynamic segmentation can prevent ransomware from travelling across the network – helping to avoid a full-scale outage as experienced by Norsk Hydro.
By taking a layered approach to security, organisations and individuals can mount multiple defences against ransomware whether it’s launched via the web or email. And they will need every one of these defences because Ransomware 2 looks like it’s going to be a blockbuster. Ransomware damages are predicted to reach $11.5 billion in 2019.
Stay safe until next time.
Business Line CTO Computacenter UK – Networking and Security