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Botnets aim at World Cup

KEIRON SHEPHERD, Senior Security Specialist, F5 Networks, discusses why advanced application security is a match for today’s sophisticated cyber-attacks.

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Hackers across EMEA are warming up for the FIFA World Cup. As all eyes turn to the pitch, they’ll be booting up the botnets ready to take on the excitable businesses who are increasingly giving away the ball on app protection and data security.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the cyberspace equivalent of the omnipresent Video Assisted Referee – will also be making its presence felt this Summer. The penalty for a breach is 2% to 4% of global turnover or €10 to 20 million, whichever is the bigger hit. The GDPR supervisory body can also flash the proverbial red card by immediately suspending all data processing if the risk to an EU citizen’s privacy is deemed unacceptable.

According to the Ponemon Institute’s 12th annual Cost of Data Breach study, the global average cost of a data breach currently stands at $3.62 million. The ongoing reputational costs are harder to quantify, so it’s not worth being sent off over compliance complacency. Like any competition, every company must now train hard and be ready to take a stand against cybercrime with the goal of protecting data.

Bots take to the field

Football is a game of two halves, and so too is the Internet. Recent research by F5 Labs suggests that half of the Internet’s traffic comes from bots, 30% of which are malicious. Most bots search for vulnerabilities, scrape websites or participate in DDoS attacks. They can speed up password-guessing to break into online accounts, mine cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, and attack anything requiring a large network of computers.

Most botnet based attacks are designed for disruption and exploitation. Typical attacks include the creation of Spam email relays and Denial of Service (DoS) activities designed to prevent access to websites. Another concern flagged by F5 Labs is the inexorable rise of Thingbots: botnets which are built exclusively from IoT devices and are fast becoming the cyberweapon delivery system of choice for today’s attackers due to their poor security and ease of compromise.

Year over year (2016-2017), F5 Labs found that Telnet brute force attacks against IoT devices rose 249%. Moving ahead, IoT’s destructive arsenal is set to explode in scale. Gartner recently reported that there are 8.4 billion IoT devices in use and the number is expected to grow to 20.4 billion by 2020. Botnet risks rise significantly when moving to multi-cloud environments as many businesses are now doing out of operational necessity. In particular, many cloud consumers assume that security is inherently better in the cloud and do not realise the same vulnerabilities that plagued them in their datacentre are just as present in the cloud.

Tackling advanced app security

A threat defence is only effective if it safeguards sensitive data. Visibility is fundamental to understanding normal application behaviour, detecting anomalous traffic and being able to report data breaches to the relevant data protection authorities. Visibility means having insight into all traffic that passes between users and applications. It is essential that security systems understand the application, the protocols and can see into encrypted traffic. Context is equally important and the key to understanding the characteristics of an application’s environment, including behavioural insights that enable rapid adaptation where required. Incisive visibility and context are crucial to informing decision-makers, which means that robust security controls can be implemented to protect your apps and data.One of the best first lines of defence in the game is a web application firewall (WAF). The 2018 State of Application Delivery (SOAD) report revealed that 98% of F5’s surveyed customers protect at least some part of their application portfolio with a WAF. More than 40% protect half or more of their apps.

However, not all WAFs are capable of safeguarding against the full scope of today’s hyperactive threat spectrum. This is where Advanced WAF (AWAF) solutions are more effective. Capable of supporting a variety of consumption and licensing models, including a per-app basis, as well as perpetual, subscription, and utility billing options, AWAFs provide a new level of flexibility in both the cloud and the data centre. Important benefits include facilitating better collaboration between SecOps, DevOps, and NetOps teams to deploy app protection services in any environment.

Crucially, AWAFs provide powerful defensive capabilities against malicious bots going beyond signatures and reputation to block evolving automated attacks, prevent account takeovers (with encryption at the application layer), and protect apps from DoS attacks (using machine learning and behavioural analytics for high accuracy). AWAFs also provide comprehensive protection from mobile attacks through an Anti-Bot Mobile SDK rich security services, including application whitelisting (i.e. index of approved software), secure cookie validation, and advanced app hardening.

Blowing the whistle on cybercrime

Organisations need to prove they are responsible data custodians. Security and transparency are now essential attributes for customer service. It’s time to blow the whistle on cybercrime.

Investing in integrated security solutions protects what matters: your applications. The net result is that data are protected, the business upholds compliance standards and your customers remain enthusiastic, loyal fans – a world class winning combination.

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