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Cyber arms race escaletes

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In the ongoing, constantly-escalating security arms race, what do new vulnerabilities in our networks and data-centers look like?  Doros Hadjizenonos, country manager, Check Point SA offers his predictions.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s famous line resonated back in the 19th century Parisian literary circles, and it resonates today in the 21st century cyber security industry. With every new tool and technology introduced into the business IT environment, new vulnerabilities follow — ripe for cybercriminals and hackers’ hopes of making either a dishonest dollar or cause disruption, fear, uncertainty and doubts in the minds of the general public.

In this ongoing, constantly-escalating security arms race, what do new vulnerabilities in our networks and data-centers look like?  Here are Check Point’s predictions for 2018.

Ransomware & Malware Multiply

Ransomware has been a cash cow for criminals, as well as a disguise for more destructive purposes; for example, Petya looked like ransomware but caused damage by locking up data.  All types of users – from consumers to corporations – have fallen prey to ransomware, causing reasonable suspicion that it will continue to grow.  We can expect to see large, orchestrated worldwide outbreaks along the lines of the early 2017 WannaCry attack.  We can also expect to see criminals getting creative in their extortion tactics, tactics such as “if you infect two contacts, we’ll give you your data back at a lower cost.”

Overall, as operating systems beef up their security, we expect to see a decline in the use of exploits to target vulnerabilities, in favor of an increase in the use of human-error driven basic hacking techniques. However, targeted attacks using sophisticated, nation-state sponsored weaponized tools are emerging, and the rate of attack is likely continue to rise.

Cloud Concerns

Utilization of server-less computing and data storage in the cloud is becoming more widely adopted in business. However, it’s worth remembering that cloud technology and the infrastructure that supports it is relatively new and evolving, and that there are still serious security concerns that provide a backdoor for hackers to access enterprise systems and spread rapidly across networks.  Misconceptions about the responsibilities and level of security needed operate safely within a cloud environment are common – as are misconfigurations – which leave the door open to breaches.

During 2017, over 50% of security incidents handled by Check Point’s incident response team were cloud-related, and more than 50% of those were account takeovers of SaaS apps or hosted servers.  With the increased use of cloud-based file sharing services, data leaks will continue to be a major concern for organizations moving to the cloud. This was seen most recently when a breach at consultancy firm, Deloitte  enabled hackers to access confidential records of several clients.

The growing adoption of SaaS-based email such as Office 365 and Google’s G-Suite makes for attractive cybercrime targets, and we expect cybercriminals to ramp up their cloud attacks during 2018.

Mobile mishaps

Mobile devices are part of the business IT fabric everywhere, yet they continue to be rarely, if ever, secured appropriately, in light of the vulnerability risk they present. We’ll continue to discover flaws in mobile operating systems that highlight the need for organizations to take a more serious approach to the protection of their mobile infrastructure and end-point devices against malware, spyware, and other cyber-attacks.

Mobile malware will continue to proliferate, especially mobile banking malware, as Malware as a Service (MaaS) keeps trending upward.  MaaS allows threat actors of lower the technical barriers to launching attacks.  Cryptominers also gained prominence in 2017, and we can expect to see more cryptomining malware being dropped onto mobile devices to harvest cryptocurrencies for criminals in the near future.

Critical Infrastructure

The majority of critical infrastructure networks were designed and built before the threat of cyberattacks. Whether the target involves telephone/mobile phone networks, electrical grids, power plants, or water treatment plants, it speaks to our good luck that there hasn’t been a large-scale, successful attack on critical infrastructure that impacts millions of people… yet. The DDoS attack against domain directory service DynDNS in 2016, which caused an internet outage affecting users of large web businesses such as Netflix and Amazon, provides a glimpse of what is possible in critical infrastructure cyberattack.  An attack of this type and scale will happen, and it would not be surprising to see it happen in the next 12 months.

Internet of (Insecure) Things

As more smart devices are built into the fabric of enterprise networks, organizations will need to start using better security practices for their networks and the devices themselves.

The potential attack surface expands with the growth of IoT device usage, and attacks on compromised IoT devices will continue to grow. We will see more variations of the Mirai and BlueBorne attacks coming our way in 2018.    Better security practices in IoT will be critical for preventing large-scale attacks – and may even need to be enforced by international regulation.

For every business opportunity that our hyper-connected world is creating, that same hyper-connectivity creates criminal opportunity for cyber attackers. Every environment is a potential target:  enterprise networks, cloud, mobile, and IoT connected devices.   Defending these networks require proactivity: pre-emptively blocking threats before they can infect and damage.  By using threat intelligence to power consolidated, unified security measures, businesses can automatically protect against new and emerging types of attack, across all environments.  Proactivity coupled with innovation marks the path to winning the cybersecurity arms race.

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How to rob a bank in the 21st century

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In the early 1980s, South Africans were gripped by tales of the most infamous bank robbery gangs the country had ever known: The Stander Gang. The gang would boldly walk into banks, brandishing weapons, demand cash and simply disappear. These days, a criminal doesn’t even have to be in the same country as the bank he or she intends to rob. Cyber criminals are quite capable of emptying bank accounts without even stepping out of their own homes.

As we become more and more aware of cybersecurity and the breaches that can occur, we’ve become more vigilant. Criminals, however, are still going to follow the money and even though security may be beefed up in many organisations, hackers are going to go for the weakest links. This makes it quintessential for consumers and enterprises to stay one step ahead of the game.

“Not only do these cyber bank criminals get away with the cash, they also end up damaging an organisation’s reputation and the integrity of its infrastructure,” says Indi Siriniwasa, Vice President of Trend Micro, Sub-Saharan Africa. “And sometimes, these breaches mean they get away with more than just cash – they can make off with data and personal information as well.”

Because the cyber criminals operate outside bricks and mortar, going for the cash register or robbing the customers is not where their misdeeds end. Bank employees – from the tellers to the CEO – are all fair game.

But how do they do it? Taking money out of an account is not the only way to steal money. Cyber criminals can zero in on the bank’s infrastructure, or hack into payment systems and even payment documents. Part of a successful operation for them may also include hacking into telecommunications to gain access to one-time pins or mobile networks.

“It’s not just about hacking,” says Siriniwasa.. “It’s also about the hackers trying to get an ‘inside man’ in the bank who could help them or even using a person’s personal details to get a new SIM so that they can have access to OTPs. Of course, they also use the tried and tested method of phishing which continues to be exceptionally effective – despite the education in the market to thwart it.”

The amounts of malware and available attacks to gain access to bank funds is strikingly vast and varies from using web injection script, social engineering and even targeting internal networks as well as points of sale systems. If there is an internet connection and a system you can be assured that there is a cybercriminal trying to crack it. The impact on the bank itself is also massive, with reputations left in tatters and customers moving their business elsewhere.

“We see that cyber criminals use multi-faceted attacks,” says Siriniwasa. “This means that we need to come at security from multiple angles as well. Every single layer of an organisation’s online perimeter need to be secured. Threat isolation is exceptionally important and having security with intrusion protection is vital. Again, vigilance on the part of staff and customers also goes a long way to preventing attacks. These criminals might not carry guns like Andre Stander and his gang, but they are just as dangerous – in fact – probably more so.”

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Beaten by big data? AI is the answer

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by ZAKES SOCIKWA, cloud big data and analytics lead at Oracle

In 2019, it’sestimated we’ll generate more data than we did in the previous 5,000 years. Data is fast becoming the most valuable asset of any modern organisation, and while most have access to their internal data, they continue to experience challenges in deriving maximum value through being able to effectively monetise the information that they hold.

The foundation of any analytics or Business Intelligence (BI) reporting capability is an efficient data collection system that ensures events/transactions are properly recorded, captured, processed and stored. Some of this information on its own might not provide any valuable insights, but if it is analysed together with other sources might yield interesting patterns.

Big data opens up possibilities of enhancing internal sources with unstructured data and information from Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Furthermore, as we move to a digital age, more businesses are implementing customer experience solutions and there is a growing need for them to improve their service and personalise customer engagements.

The digital behaviour of customers, such as social media postings and the networks or platforms they engage with, further provides valuable information for data collection. Information gathering methods are being expanded to accommodate all types and formats of data, including images, videos, and more.

In the past, BI and Data Mining were left to highly technical and analytical individuals, but the introduction of data visualisation tools is democratising the analytics world. However, business users and report consumers often do not have a clear understanding of what they need or what is possible.

AI now embedded into day to day applications

To this end, artificial intelligence (AI) is finishing what business intelligence started. By gathering, contextualising, understanding, and acting on huge quantities of data, AI has given rise to a new breed of applications – one that’s continuously improving and adapting to the conditions around it. The more data that is available for the analysis, the better is the quality of the outcomes or predictions.

In addition, AI changes the productivity equation for many jobs by automating activities and adapting current jobs to solve more complex and time-consuming problems, from recruiters being able to source better candidates faster to financial analysts eliminating manual error-prone reporting.

This type of automation will not replace all jobs but will invent new ones. This enables businesses to reduce the time to complete tasks and the costs of maintenance, and will lead to the creation of higher-value jobs and new engagement models. Oracle predicts that by 2025, the productivity gains delivered by AI, emerging technologies, and augmented experiences could double compared to today’s operations.

According to the IDC, worldwide revenues for big data and business analytics (BDA) solutions was expected to total $166 billion in 2018, and forecast to reach $260 billion in 2022, with a compound annual growth rate of 11.9% over the 2017-2022 forecast period. It adds that two of the fastest growing BDA technology categories will be Cognitive/AI Software Platforms (36.5% CAGR) and Non-relational Analytic Data Stores (30.3% CAGR)¹.

Informed decisions, now and in the future

As new layers of technology are introduced and more complex data sources are added to the ecosystem, the need for a tightly integrated technology stack becomes a challenge. It is advisable to choose your technology components very carefully and always have the end state in mind.

More development on emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, virtual reality and others will probably be available on cloud first before coming on premise. For those organisations that are adopting public cloud, there are opportunities to consume the benefits of public cloud and drive down costs of doing business.

While the introduction of public cloud is posing a challenge on data sovereignty and other regulations, technology providers such as Oracle have developed a ‘Cloud at Customer’ model that provides the full benefits of public cloud – but located on premise, within an organisation’s own data centre.

The best organisations will innovate and optimise faster than the rest. Best decisions must be made around choice of technology, business processes, integration and architectures that are fit for business. In the information marketplace, speed and informed decision making will be key differentiators amongst competitors.

¹ IDC Press Release, Revenues for Big Data and Business Analytics Solutions Forecast to Reach $260 Billion in 2022, Led by the Banking and Manufacturing Industries, According to IDC, 15 August 2018

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