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Hacking has changed – and so must you

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According to F5 data that tracks the 25 largest security breaches between 2000 and 2015, an astounding 72 percent of today’s attacks target identities and applications, not the network.

The changing face of IT security is seen in such factors of modern life as the pervasiveness of the Internet, the sheer abundance of mobile devices, the rise of social media, and dramatic shifts in web and cloud-based technology.  The Internet of Things (IoT) adds another layer of complexity in which applications are at the core of this changing landscape. According to F5 data that tracks the 25 largest security breaches between 2000 and 2015, an astounding 72 percent of today’s attacks target identities and applications, not the network.

This is according to Simon McCullough, major channel account manager at F5, who says, “This shift has come about because data is what hackers are after, and the most direct pathway to data is through user credentials and applications. In this complex and vulnerable environment, applications and corresponding data can be anywhere and everywhere.

“The traditional network perimeter has dissolved in this online, interconnected world, and so, in an attack on applications, traditional network firewalls are not enough of a defence. However, according to F5 research (specifically, marketing sizing estimates aggregated from global research firms), 90 percent of today’s IT security budget is spent on perimeter solutions, leaving minimal budget on protecting user identities and applications, where 72% of today’s attacks take place .”

McCullough says that in this new, borderless security landscape, it’s important to know your company’s threat profile. He clarifies, “In this regard, you need to understand the likelihood of exploitation at all of your network’s entry points – users, applications, data centres, and network infrastructure – and the resulting impact if these entry points get hacked. Your threat profile is a key element in determining that likelihood. Could your business be a target because of such factors, for example, as its geographic profile, industry, systems, software, or data?”

McCullough offers the following 10 useful focus areas to consider in order to help businesses strengthen their security programmes and risk mitigation strategies.

1. Understand the enemy

Although hackers today include less-skilled novices who are out to cause malicious chaos, as well as those who are driven by social and political agendas, the majority of today’s hackers are cybercriminals who are motivated by money. Although they have a reputation for sophisticated methodology, in fact, many of their methods are actually relatively unsophisticated, and they tend to take the path of least resistance, going after easy targets.

2. Sort out your cybersecurity budget properly, including cyber insurance

As outlined previously, applications and user identities form around 72 percent of today’s IT attacks, yet this is not generally reflected in IT budget allocations. Spend your security budget in the right way, and ensure that you have cyber insurance as part of your budget. Data breaches will cost you money, and insurance here is as necessary as household insurance for a homeowner facing the aftermath of theft.

3. Train all employees to understand that security is everyone’s responsibility  

Awareness training makes everyone more alert. Train your users to recognise and curtail factors such as spear phishing attempts and social engineering. Help them understand the importance of proper password management. Train developers in secure coding so that your web applications don’t have coding vulnerabilities.

4. Properly control access

·        Remember that access is a privilege. Strictly manage what your user identities are authorised to access, so that when an identity is compromised, a threat actor doesn’t have unlimited access within the network.

·        Manage your volume of user identities. Enable single sign-on to reduce the number of passwords that are stored insecurely or repeated across multiple critical systems.

·        Implement multifactor authentication (MFA) for accessing your network and applications, because identities get compromised and MFA will help to protect data from being breached in the event of user credentials being compromised.

·        Tighten up on username and password combinations: Don’t use weak or default combinations, and implement account lockouts after six failed login attempts. Also, implement stronger encryption methods on password databases.

5. Manage your vulnerabilities

·        Have a scanning solution for every network, system, and software type; don’t limit yourself to externally facing IPs.

·        Scan inside your network, and do black box and static code analysis of your apps. Layer your tools, because no single tool can universally find everything.

·        Scan, test, and scan again. Have a continual testing process aligned to your development cycles and patch releases of your vendors.

·        Implement a consolidated reporting platform that tracks all vulnerabilities by system and can produce valuable improvement metrics over time.

·        Prioritise web application vulnerability management. You can get extremely good guidance from the OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) Top 10, which describes today’s most critical web application security risks and how to mitigate specific types of attacks.

·        Automate web application vulnerability management. Allow Web Application Firewalls (WAF) to patch a vulnerability automatically. A WAF requires routine attention by an experienced engineer. Many organisations are opting for managed WAF services versus hiring in-house expertise.

·        Patch everything monthly, including desktops, laptops and servers, and especially if you are running Windows. Don’t skip important patches, as they will ultimately be required later in a queue chain of dependencies.

·        Keep it updated: Don’t allow end-of-life software or hardware in your network.

·        Force updates to Adobe Flash, Oracle’s Java, and don’t allow old versions of Internet browsers to run on company computer assets.

6. Ensure you have the required visibility 

You can’t manage what you can’t see. It’s particularly important to make sure you have the visibility you need into your critical data. It’s important to properly architect, implement and continually manage intrusion detection/ prevention systems (IDS/ IPS), Security Information Event Managers (SIEM), data loss prevention (DLP) systems, and others. These systems need to have access to all parts of your network, systems, data, and data centres, and encrypted and non-encrypted traffic. Pay special attention to visibility within new virtualisation software.

7. Consider embracing the dark side… at least briefly

If you have an application that could cause significant harm to your business if it were compromised, it’s worth hiring an engineer to try to hack it. If hiring a hacker doesn’t sit comfortably, implement a public bounty programme.

8. Use the experts to help you

Compliance and incident response are two key areas for using the guidance of experts.

·        Security as a service is a great option for effectively managing high-risk controls that require immediate response by highly skilled engineers.

·        Test the effectiveness of your controls and control operators. Don’t let poorly designed controls or inadequate operators become the culprit.

·        Get help in the event of a breach. Get the professional experience you need after a breach so that they can make the important decisions that could have a material impact on the outcome of the incident.

9. Have a DDoS strategy

The DDoS attack landscape has shifted rapidly. No longer are complex, expensive attacks launched only at high-value targets. Today’s reality includes bots with plug-and-play attacks that criminals can rent at low cost, as well as IoT botnets that are easy to make and capable of launching terabyte-per-second attacks. Having a DDoS plan is critical.

10. Tell the ‘big shots’ about the likelihood and effect of a breach

Communicate the possibility and subsequent effect of a breach to your board of directors, senior management and others who need to be in the know. They need to be armed with this information rather than being hit with the reality of a breach that they never imagined. Properly done, this should also support your budget requests.

Anton Jacobsz, managing director at Networks Unlimited, a value-added distributor of F5 in Africa, concludes, “Few organisations today have the internal resources required to fight cyber threats on their own. They need intelligence from outside sources, and this is where the Networks Unlimited partnership with F5 can help. F5 was founded 20 years ago and understands applications and the network at the deepest levels. Together with its threat research and intelligence team, F5 Labs, the company works to provide the security community with threat intelligence about current cyber threats and future trends to help them stay abreast of the security landscape.”

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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