Technology has changed all aspects of our lives, including the way we transact. In our digital economy, money is not the only currency consumers place value in as they also see trust, time and treasure as important drivers, writes Intel’s TREVOR COETZEE.
In the conventional economy, money is the only currency. But we are increasingly inhabiting a world comprised of the cloud, mobility, the Internet of Things and an infinite number of goods and services that are exchanged online.
In this so-called Second Economy, money isn’t the only currency. In this technological and social realm, trust, time and treasure are the new currencies – and one of them is worth a lot more to cybercriminals than money.
The Second Economy is built on the psychological currency of trust. When we transact online, we trust that the company we’re dealing with will protect our information.
But trust is under relentless attack and is the prime casualty of cyber conflict. Hacktivists aren’t after money. Rather, they want to embarrass their targets and reduce their brand value by sowing mistrust. Each attack serves to erode the trust of customers in a company’s ability to withstand future breaches and protect their interests. And when trust is lost, it can do as much damage as lost funds, if not more.
A cyber defence focused primarily on protecting financial assets is therefore insufficient. The problem, however, is that public concern about personal data loss is falling despite a rise in data thefts. Also, breach victims are not typically penalised, even when their own negligence contributes, which suggests that breach costs should be evaluated in the Second Economy.
In the Second Economy, time matters more than money.
On the one hand, cybercriminals, or black hats, have time on their side. They design their attacks at leisure, crafting carefully thought out and executed strategies that can sometimes go undetected within a network for months, even years.
They also use time to their advantage in ransomware attacks by attaching deadlines to ransom pay-outs for the safe return of data. Under such immense time pressures, victims are more likely to respond impulsively and pay the ransom.
On the other hand, victims, or white hats, are in a constant race against time and are always reacting under pressure. When a breach occurs, time is the ultimate weapon – detecting and remediating threats as quickly as possible becomes the goal in a race where every second counts and time most certainly is money.
The time it takes an organisation to respond to breaches depends on the tools, policies and political structures that are in place before the notion of a threat is even recognised.
But the status quo in most organisations is that separate divisions have separate security policies, which slows down their response times. An IT strategy that allows for new technology to be rapidly onboarded will ensure that new software releases will not hinder productivity and that software updates are not time-consuming.
In the Second Economy, money – or profit – is not the only treasure that black hats are after. When it comes to sowing mistrust, cybercriminals could be motivated by principle – as it often seen in attacks by ‘hacktivist’ group, Anonymous – while nation-states identify targets to expand their province.
Whatever their treasure, black hats have clear incentives motivating their next move, and with each attack, the trust economy is ultimately corroded. These fast-moving, fast-adapting black hats govern the terms of cyber conflict and control the pace of innovation and the nature and timing of assaults. Organisations play a perpetual game of catch-up, yet they consistently ignore or rationalise the risk.
This must change.
Gaining the upper hand
Individual users cannot shirk responsibility for helping safeguard the Second Economy and, at the strategic level, today’s siloed, reactive, barely collaborative defence posture must yield to a new white hat paradigm that is adaptive, aggressive, proactive, newly generous on information-sharing and unpredictable.
If we are to secure the now indispensable, Interned-based Second Economy, we have to reject conventional defence paradigms in favour of radical new thinking. Where we have relied on old playbooks, we must be newly unpredictable; where we have hoarded information, we must become collaborative; where we have undervalued cyber defence, we must prioritise it.
A good start is at the organisational IT level through adopting technology platforms that accept new security software quickly and result in a better-aligned ecosystem. We need to develop a whole spectrum of response plays and not simply plan for an unlikely worst-case scenario.
No single solution can eradicate all threats. We need a superior platform that allows for swift on-boarding of new technologies, over an architecture backed by common tools and workflows, along with automation and orchestration capabilities – one that doesn’t multiply operational complexity for already overburdened staff. An integrated platform also offers the benefit of tapping into aggregate innovative capabilities of hundreds of potential players, all connected over the same infrastructure. This gives white hats a fighting chance at making time their ally.
Cyber security professionals with a more simplified back office infrastructure, as provided by fewer vendors in their environment, report experiencing fewer threats, better detection times and more confidence in their security posture than those with a more fragmented, multi-vendor approach.
There also needs to be organisational change. CEOs must advocate for more strategic, proactive defence while end-users must develop better security consciousness.
Finally, we need bold information sharing. By hoarding information, we make the Second Economy more vulnerable. Better defence depends on better sharing impulses. Bold, perhaps altruistic information sharing gestures by cyber defence organisations can change the culture.
Our economy is no longer a physical one but one of connected networks and systems where cybercriminals have put us on the defensive. We now live in a world where more than money is at stake and where we’re fighting against time and working to justify trust.
If we’re going to win the race, we need to abandon old security playbooks to become more unpredictable and collaborative and make cyber defence a priority.
* Trevor Coetzee, regional director, South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, Intel Security
Which IoT horse should you back?
The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.
But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.
Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).
Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:
SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.
It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.
LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.
Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.
Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.
It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.
LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.
It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.
Key features include:
· Voice functionality via VoLTE
· Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over
· Low power consumption
· Extended in‑building range
Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.
NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.
The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:
1. Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations
2. The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies
3. A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again
So, which horse should you back?
I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.
The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.
So: do your homework. And good luck!
Ms Office hack attacks up 4X
Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.
Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.
The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.
The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.
After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.
For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.
“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.
Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:
- Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
- 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
- Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
- Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
- Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
- 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
- 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).
To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:
- Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
- Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.
· Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.
- Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.