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IT security must become service

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Combating cybercrime cannot be done with technology alone, but requires a service model that prioritises intelligence, sharing and using technology to support this, says VENIAMIN LEVTSOV, Vice President, Enterprise Business, Kaspersky Lab.

There is a change in the corporate IT Security industry. Many believe it is driven by the ever-changing threat landscape and the urgency a business experiences during a targeted attack.

However, many companies become a victim of a successful cyberattack these days – and not because of some major breakthrough on the cybercriminal front. In fact, it’s the quantity, not quality of threats that is growing; and this, together with the complexity of corporate infrastructure as well as the lack of security intelligence, which makes businesses vulnerable. As a result, addressing these challenges requires a major perception change by both businesses and security vendors. We believe that technology alone is not able to solve all corporate IT security troubles. What is required is a service model that prioritises intelligence sharing, and uses technology to support this.

The challenge

Kaspersky Lab rolled out its first security products for businesses more than 15 years ago. That era was the golden age of traditional threat prevention products. Highly sophisticated campaigns like Stuxnet or The Equation did exist back then, but they remained invisible at the time, and it was possible to detect and block the majority of old-school malicious programmes. Despite all of this, a one-size-fits-all solution never existed in our industry. Every now and then we had to deal with a new attack, we had to adjust the various peculiarities of how our products interacted with corporate infrastructure, and we had to change our protection accordingly.

Eventually, the customisation of technology for businesses evolved into consulting on security strategy. Companies were happy if they were able to purchase a security solution to solve all their troubles, but that was no longer enough. Every day businesses face new challenges: mobility, cloud services and infrastructure, and social engineering, to name a few. New technologies like legal apps, for example, can now become part of complex multicomponent attack – and the traditional endpoint security approach does not work for this at all.

Our customers came to us and asked for a solution. But is it even possible to solve every corporate security challenge with new technology? Is there a definitive solution to prevent an employer from opening a suspicious e-mail attachment? Could we address, even with the most sophisticated know-how, all vulnerabilities in hardware and software, taking into account the numerous possible combinations? Two years ago we understood the need to find a way to deliver this intelligence to our clients in an actionable form.

The solution

Security is best understood as a process, and every company out there deals with four distinct, universal phases of it. Threat prevention is the better understood phase, and is mostly covered by technology: you have to block each and every one of the generic threats that are emerging at a rate of 310,000 a day.

Detection of sophisticated and targeted attacks is more complex: it requires advanced tools and expertise, but more importantly, this requires time to identify the indicators of attack, spot an incident, investigate it and mitigate the threat. The latter is covered by threat response, where the unique skills of forensic experts are needed the most.

Finally, the prediction of future attacks, and understanding the attack surface, defines the long-term strategic defense capabilities of a company. This is done through running penetration testing and other kinds of security assessment. We have found that non-IT tools – like security awareness campaigns delivered in a game format – can be more influential on employees than security policies or annoying wall posters.

Today a security officer and his team has to pursue all four phases simultaneously and each requires a unique set of skills. Mitigating the future threats means regular security assessment, training employees on general security hygiene, and the analysis of current and future attack methods. Detection is all about identifying anomalies in a regular corporate workflow, covering web, e-mail, network traffic and observing corporate user behaviour. Response is all about localising the incident and closing the initial attack vector.

It’s painstakingly hard to develop this kind of expertise in-house. It’s expensive too, and most times only larger enterprises can afford it. Another serious issue faces businesses that invest in an advanced training programme for their internal security experts. Experts are just people, and it’s natural for them to start looking around for a better job offer if training has increased their market value. There is no universal tactic to keep experts inside a company, other than to continuously raise their salaries. In these circumstances it seems much more reasonable to use an external service from a professional IT security consultant or global player. As a security vendor, we have grown a network of experts around the world with all the necessary skills. The question is how we share this expertise with our clients.

The service model is the only viable solution here. The service model prioritises the real problems of a company and applies the most appropriate measures to solve it. Our services start with online and on premise training programmes for employees and IT specialists, mostly based on the knowledge gathered in our virus lab and emergency response teams in digital forensic and malware analysis. In fact, we let some external frameworks to leave the lab room and start serving our customers. Predicting future attacks means knowing how other companies were hacked, and this is covered by extensive and actionable threat reports. The detection of targeted assaults, and the prevention of dangerous widespread attacks requires a technology and expertise-as-a-service, often a combination of both.

The service model is always focused on solving one security challenge at a time, in a form that is understandable for businesses. On the high level it’s just someone taking responsibility for solving a problem and assuming all corresponding risks. This is a complex model, but we believe it’s the only solution that actually works. The good old approach – when a security vendor could just ship a product license key though the channel and return in a year for renewal – is disappearing very fast.

Empowering a partner network

The model raises questions about how you can share your vast, but not infinite, expert resources with all of your customers around the world, whilst keeping up with response time commitments. Our business has always relied on our partner network and that’s not going to change. It’s not possible to save the world by yourself. We share our expertise with our partners, who in turn gain more capabilities to help their clients. This is especially important for incident response: often this service requires a specialist to start collecting crucial data on premise as fast as possible. Without partners operating locally in every country this would be impossible. The role of a service vendor here is to provide a general investigation framework and tool set.

Although we are taking a step towards the security services area, we are staying in the vendor camp. We still perceive our main role as the producer of effective software solutions, which become the tools for our partners to provide their own services across the globe.

We also see huge potential in delivering the Threat Intelligence to Managed Security Service Providers. This could be useful in different forms including threat data feeds, customer specific reports or notifications about suspicious criminal activity targeting a customer’s IT assets. This model is capable of protecting smaller businesses, who also frequently become victims of targeted attacks, during attempts to infiltrate larger companies.

Thanks to efforts from the industry and our customer demands, in the future we will find ourselves in a much more protected environment, where all flavours of security intelligence are easily accessible. After all, cybersecurity is not about computer algorithms fighting each other. On the other side there are people with malicious intent, tools and knowledge. To protect businesses from them, it is essential to have the right combination of experienced external and internal people, together with a high level of trust, shared intelligence and reliable technology.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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