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Be cyber-safe: think like a criminal

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Cyberattacks on financial services institutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated and frequent, but where should IT teams start in better defending their networks? BRIAN FORSTER, senior director of Marketing at Fortinet shares his advice.

Cyberattacks on financial services institutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated and frequent. By using stolen legitimate credentials and malware to disguise criminal activity, these breaches can remain undetected for some time, making the financial impact irreparable.

Professionals in the financial services sector are well aware of such risks. The Financial Services Edition of the 2016 Vormetric Data Threat Report surveyed 1,100 senior IT security executives at large enterprises around the world, including over 100 U.S. financial services organisations. The report found that 90 percent of respondents feel vulnerable to data threats, and 44 percent have already experienced a data breach – with nearly one in five (19 percent) indicating they had experienced a breach in the last year. This just goes to prove the sentiment, “it’s not if you will get hacked, but when”.  To which we can add, “and how quickly you learn about it”.

So, where should financial services IT teams start in better defending their networks? From sports fields to battlefields, there’s an adage that has been used for centuries that states: “the best defence is a good offence”. The idea behind this theory is that having a proactive offensive attitude (rather than a reactive defensive posture) is the best way to keep the opposition occupied and limit their ability to conduct an attack.

This strategy can also be highly effective in the business world, specifically for cybersecurity teams at large financial institutions. Cybersecurity professionals who are able to step away from the defensive side of security and think like a cybercriminal will likely be better prepared to put solutions and strategies in place to protect their data.

Here are some questions financial services IT professionals should ask themselves to put them in the frame of mind of a cybercriminal in order to better their defence:

Which industries should I attack?

Before an attack is launched, cybercriminals will evaluate the landscape and identify areas where they can prosper the most. The financial services industry is consistently at or near the top of cybercriminals’ lists because, quite literally, it’s where the money is.

However, aside from seeking out customer information to commit fraud, cybercriminals see value in stealing data like bank employee e-mail addresses and passwords. With this information they are able to pose as an employee to infiltrate the bank and commit theft. By understanding the industries that are commonly attacked, and the ways attackers try to get in, cybersecurity teams will be better prepared to put an effective strategy in place and make the investments where necessary to match the capabilities used by criminals.

Where are the vulnerabilities?

As the network expands, so does the attack surface. With the proliferation of mobile devices in the workplace, for instance employees working from remote locations, today’s cybercriminals have more opportunities than ever before to find ways into targeted networks. Additionally, when financial institutions acquire a company to expand their presence, they typically acquire the disparate technology that comes with it, often adding complexity to the organisation’s security posture. All of these components equate to challenges that need to be addressed.

However, nobody knows the network and its vulnerabilities better than those who have put it together in the first place.

IT security professionals in financial services should look for openings in their own defence via white hat hacking and penetration testing. Since there isn’t a single piece of technology that will be able to stop every threat, those cracks in the system that are both easy access points and lead to sensitive data should be the ones focused on first. Remember, cybercriminals are just human beings looking for the fastest and most financially rewarding way to do their jobs.

It’s also important to remember that employees are a part of the system as well. An employee who is uneducated about security can be just as dangerous to data as any other digital or physical entry point. One way to test for employee vulnerabilities is to simply conduct test attacks. Many CIOs will send out fake phishing attacks to see if their employees will provide login credentials or click on malicious links. If a high number of employees fail the test, security teams know it is an area that demands added focus.

Cybercriminals are always looking for new ways to penetrate networks. IT security teams should be doing the same as well. By conducting threat intelligence research, cybersecurity teams will be able to better monitor existing vulnerabilities and identify new threats before they take hold within the network.

Best practices for better security

Once IT teams begin to like cybercriminals they are better prepared to pro-actively and offensively implement robust strategies to defeat attempts at compromising their networks:

  • Identify weaknesses: How do you address cloud and IoT vulnerabilities? Have your employees been trained in safe e-mail management and other everyday security issues? Utilise penetration-testing services to find out where your greatest liabilities are and start there.
  • Focus on compliance, data privacy and regulations: The financial services industry is so heavily regulated specifically because of the high value of its data and dollars and the vulnerability of its customers and clients. Violations can be expensive and destroy credibility. Conduct regular, and even automated audits to ensure that all regulations are being met, and if not, find solutions to quickly shore up these weak points.
  • Meet with the C-suite: The role of the C-suite with regards to security has transformed. Cybersecurity threats put a company’s finances and value at risk, and increase the need for mature strategies to safeguard a company’s data, resources, reputation, and brand. As a strategic business and risk management executive, the C-suite should have significant oversight and guidance in these areas. They can no longer be IT-only considerations.
  • Implement an end-to-end security strategy that provides:
  • Operational visibility at scale; an effective solution should provide the ability to run multiple security applications without degrading performance.
  • The ability to integrate an adaptive architecture that’s designed to incorporate multiple security vendors’ products to enable security against threats from IoT to the perimeter, across the network, and into the data centre – both on premises and in the cloud.
  • Advanced threat protection, which provides up-to-date defences against the latest attacks. Many of the recent data breaches have fooled or evaded legacy security solutions.
  • Unified threat intelligence and management. In this way, all components – networks and other elements of the infrastructure – can be easily managed from one place.

Final thoughts

For the financial services sector, cybersecurity is one of the primary business imperatives that firms must put front and centre to not only safeguard their clients’ financial data, but to also serve as a business enabler and drive innovation to stay ahead of the growing threat landscape.

Financial services IT teams that think like cybercriminals will be able to take an offensive approach to security. Understanding what makes the organisation an attractive target and how malicious actors will attempt to gain entry, will lead to a more secure network and reduce the number of costly data breaches that impact the organisation. Implementing these best practices will enable secure services that deliver the peace of mind that their networks are secure and protected from even the most sophisticated attacks.

Cars

Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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LG rethinks portable speakers

LG adds three sizes to its XBoom Go portable speaker line in a portable revision, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Portable Bluetooth speakers are fairly commonplace at a pool party because they’re battery-powered. The only issue is that louder speakers usually distort the music or break the bank. The LG XBoom aims to change this.

LG has partnered with Meridian Audio to produce great sounding speakers that can go loud without distorting the audio. Meridian Audio is an expert in high-performance, high-fidelity audio experiences. The company is best known for producing the industry’s first audiophile-quality compact disc player and provide audio equipment to McLaren and Jaguar Land Rover.

The Bluetooth software in the XBoom Go is Qualcomm aptX HD compatible, meaning that 24bit vinyl-quality audio can be played through this speaker over Bluetooth instead of standard-fidelity audio.

The major phone assistants feature on these speakers, with tethered Google Assistant or Apple Siri functionality from one’s smartphone. This makes it very convenient to use the voice assistant button to skip tracks and change music when one’s hands are wet.

Three models of the XBoom Go series – the PK3, PK5 and PK7 – offer different audio functions depending on the audio needs of the user. Best fits for these speakers are:

  • PK3 – The Pool Friendly Speaker: The PK3 is IPX7 water resistant, up to 1 metre for 30 minutes, making this speaker accident proof at pool parties. Boasting up to 12 hours of playback from its built-in battery, this speaker will last as long as the party.

  • PK5 – The Party Friendly Speaker: Even if the lunch braai turns into a midnight feast, this speaker will play throughout as its battery lasts up to 18 hours. Clear Vocal technology is added to the PK5, which reduces audio imperfections from the music for a sharper sound. It is also water and splash resistant and has a handle, allowing for it to be easily carried. Built-in LED lights which pulse with the beat of the music on this speaker provide a light show for any song.

  • PK7 –  The Audiophile’s Speaker: With a battery life that lasts for up to 22 hours, the PK7 also contains an LED light to the rhythm of the sound. The speaker integrates a convenient handle grip that allows for it to be transported securely. The powerful PK7 Bluetooth speaker also distributes its high frequencies across two separate tweeters for more precise sonic detail.

Overall, LG’s XBoom PK portable speakers are a phenomenal set of high-quality wireless speakers.

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