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Call for unity in cybersecurity

It is time to reimagine security, Cisco executives Jeetu Patel and Gary Steele told ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK at the Cisco Live expo last week.

The world faces an unprecedented level of cybersecurity threats, making it incumbent on all organisations involved in cyber defences to work together against common adversaries.

This call was made on Tuesday by Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and GM of security and collaboration at global networking leaders Cisco. He was speaking during a press briefing at the Cisco Live 2024 conference and expo in Las Vegas, where AI was matched by cybersecurity as dominant themes of the event.

Cisco Live came less than three months after the company completed its $28-billion acquisition of security and analytics software company Splunk. The result was that, unlike most tech conferences of the past year, it was no longer all about AI.

Patel and Gary Steele, the CEO of Splunk who presided over its sale to Cisco, and now head of “go-to-market” at Cisco, spoke exclusively to Business Times during the conference.

Patel said: “When we approached Microsoft with this idea (of collaboration), they were all in, and I appreciate that so much because the importance of this is so profound to society and to the safety of humanity. In order for me to win, you don’t have to lose. You can win and I can win. And when that happens, it’s better.

“They have a lot of telemetry on the operating system, and we have a lot of telemetry on the network. Those are fundamentally complementary. It is important to start from the customer’s needs and work backwards, ensuring that vendors cooperate to deliver the best possible outcomes.”

Coincidentally, Gary Steele became a key player in such industry cooperation in 2023, when he was elected co-chair of Aspen Digital’s U.S. Cybersecurity Group, a cross-sector, public-private forum that accelerates the pace of cybersecurity preparedness to drive greater cyber resilience around the world.

“Aspen brings together industry players, as well as many of the US government organisations, in an effort to focus on a set of critical cyber problems,” he said in one of his first interviews after being appointed go-to-market president of Cisco.

He acknowledged the tension between cooperation and profitability: “The challenge is when does collaboration impact profitability? That’s always the trick. There has been success where the government is facilitating, and people aren’t giving up proprietary information to support it. We’re all collaborating in a way that is mutually beneficial to all. “

The challenge lies in achieving that cooperation without giving away business secrets in a highly strategic area.

“If you look across the industry, where new kinds of threats come in that are incredibly complicated, typically competitors will still collaborate, and they’ll look at things collectively to figure out what the impact will be.”

Steele described collaborative efforts during the Ukrainian war, where industry players provided support to underfunded Ukrainian organisations facing cyber threats from Russia.

“When the Ukrainian war broke out, there was a set of industry players that got together just because they thought that was the right thing to do, and helped facilitate with technology to underfunded Ukrainian critical infrastructure organisations that needed help. Industry players like Splunk gave software to support underfunded agencies.

“There’s been active work to do similar things with other government organisations around the world where industry and governments come together. The US is a little further along in having a defined organisation and a structure that we can all engage in. Then we look more broadly around the globe, at how, as an industry, we can play a more active role in cyber protection.”

“Globally, if the industry can come together, it’s much easier when the governments are facilitating.

“These are just examples where there has been good cooperation. Does there need to be more? Yes. Does it need to cross more government boundaries? Yes.”

The kind of attacks that saw hackers breach the systems of South African government entities like its ports and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, aid Steele, could be prevented by “basic cyber hygiene”.

 “The biggest mistakes we see are people not doing the basics well. Are you patched? Do you have multi-factor authentication? All the normal security controls—are they in place and executed 100% across the entire digital footprint?”

Steele said that top leadership needed to prioritise cybersecurity due to the increasing sophistication of threat actors.

Patel agreed: “The most important thing in security is efficacy. And in order to have efficacy, you must have simplicity of the experience for manageability. Otherwise, you cannot get efficacy because there’s too many cracks in the system.”

He underscored the urgency by pointing out the real-world consequences of cyber breaches, from hospitals to financial services and power grids.

“Security is fundamentally a data game. How many companies in the world are good at data? Very few.  Every company is at a different level of maturity for a multitude of reasons, because of which they’re not sophisticated enough to know what you need to do to prevent a breach from happening. But what you need to do is make sure that you detect, respond and remediate a breach that’s in progress, and if you only do one and not the other, that doesn’t work.”

Patel said that, no matter how reliable a network is from a structural point of view, “it doesn’t matter if it’s not secure”.

“To help make the world a safer place, we need to reimagine security.”

During Cisco Live, new capabilities were announced across the Cisco Security Cloud to create a “unified, AI-driven, cross-domain security platform” that the company said tips the balance of power in favour of the defenders.

“Cisco Security has delivered more innovation in the past year than in the previous decade combined, and this year will be multiples of what we delivered last year,” said Patel in the announcement of new sources of Cisco telemetry as a result of integration with Splunk.

” Bolstered by our partnerships with other titans in the industry, strategic acquisitions and a commitment to an open ecosystem, we are reimagining security for our customers.”

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