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Five steps for companies to respond to cyber attacks

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A dreaded issues an IT team has to deal with is that of ransomeware. However, PETER ALEXANDER, CMO, Check Point, offers five tips on how to avoid it.

It’s the call that IT teams dread:  an employee is reporting that their PC screen is flashing red, with a message telling them that their files are encrypted and that they need to pay a ransom to get them unscrambled.  What should they do next?

The actions that the organisation takes over the next few minutes, and hours, will be critical in determining just how big – or small – an impact the cyberattack will have.   What’s more, a cyberattack does not only negatively impact the company’s physical IT systems:  it also causes stress and puts employees under pressure too.

A recent paper from the University of Haifa found that cyberattacks have a strong psychological impact on all staff, increasing their levels of anxiety, stress and panic – which can then lead to mistakes being made, and in turn further damage.

So how should organisations go about eliminating these human, panicky and emotional reactions to cyber incidents, and develop a more coordinated, conditioned response?

Training is never in vain

A key example is the rigorous training that airline pilots are given in dealing with unexpected events:  they are provided with extensive checklists and procedures that cover virtually every eventuality, from running out of fuel, to engine failure, to structural damage.  And those procedures are practiced again and again, both in simulators and in flight conditions, so that in a real-time emergency situation, their response becomes an automatic reflex action.  The result is that when an incident happens, the first thing the pilot and co-pilot will do is turn off the warning alarm, so that they can think clearly and start running through the appropriate checklist.

Enterprises need to undertake similar, rigorous planning to help them respond quickly and accurately to breaches or attacks.  They should prepare an incident response (IR) plan, and assemble an IR team that includes all relevant internal stakeholders – such as IT and security specialists, HR and PR teams, plus in some cases, specialist external resources.   Also, preparation alone isn’t enough:  the execution of the plan needs to be practiced, through realistic training drills.

To help organisations develop faster, more effective responses, here are five key steps that they should follow, whether in a training exercise or in the wake of a genuine incident.

  1. Recognize the incident is happening

The critical first step is for staff to take the attack seriously and move swiftly, but without panic.  Think of the ideal response to a fire alarm in an office building:  everyone should immediately stop what they are doing and make their way to the exits without pausing to gather their possessions or empty their desks.   A cyber incident should be granted the same instant attention and focus.  As soon as it is identified, all staff need to be alerted, smoothly and efficiently, and given clear, calm instructions as to what to do next, whether that is simply stepping away from their desks, or shutting down their PCs or devices.

  1. Gather the resources you need

This means mobilizing the security tools and technology, as well as the trained staff which make up your organization’s security infrastructure, and getting them to focus on mitigating the incident.  Clearly, not all staff will need to be involved in this stage, so it’s all about pulling together the right experience and expertise – fast.  Your IR plan should set out which personnel need to be involved, and if any external security resources are to be used.

Of course, assembling the combination of tools and talent isn’t cheap.  But the investment and time required to build effective defenses is dwarfed by the real-world costs of cyberattacks, in terms of remediation of immediate damage and subsequent fallout.  The NotPetya ransomware attack of summer 2017 was estimated to have cost global logistics firm FedEx $300M in lost revenue and clean-up costs, and pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co stated that NotPetya cost it around $135M.  So with companies on average experiencing two cyberattacks per week which breach their defenses, it’s clear that it’s far better to invest in preventing attacks, than to pay the far higher costs for a cure after the fact.

  1. Execute your IR plan

This is the active stage, in which you should work through your IR plan step by step to determine what the nature of the attack is, how it breached your defenses, how it can be isolated, and how the damage can be remediated.  For organisations that do not have an IR plan to hand, it may be best to call in external specialist help at this stage:  but for the future, here’s a checklist of what the plan should include, and important do’s and don’ts to follow when preparing a plan for your organisation.

  1. Communicate

Too often, organisations stop at stage three. But communication regarding the attack is vital – not only to all your internal stakeholders and employees, but also where necessary to external stakeholders such as partners, customers and investors. This is becoming a regulatory requirement.  All stakeholders, both inside and outside your organisation, need to understand what has happened and what the implications are for them – in language pitched at their level of technical understanding.

This is a specialist stage, which should be left in the hands of your communications team.  The recent revelations about Uber’s 2016 cyberbreach and the subsequent cover-up are a lesson in how not to communicate – and the consequences that might follow.

  1. Learn

Once again, this is a truly crucial element of IR that is too often neglected.  Every cyberattack should generate serious lessons for the organisation in question. After an attack active steps should be taken to repair the vulnerability, modify and improve the exploited process, retrain any staff that may have made a mistake, and put in place, or update the existing IR plan.  Inability to learn from and take steps to improve cyber protection after suffering an attack leaves the organisation vulnerable to a similar attack occurring again.

In conclusion

Effective incident response is about training and practice.  Developing an IR plan and keeping it updated involves work and investment – but during a cyberattack, that investment will pay dividends.  Whether you decide to handle your IR internally or draw on external expertise, it’s important to make a plan now, and test it against possible attack scenarios.  This will help to eliminate panic during an attack, limit the damage and fall-out from the incident and get your business ‘back to normal’ as fast as possible.

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Rain, Telkom Mobile, lead in affordable data

A new report by the telecoms regulator in South Africa reveal the true consumer champions in mobile data costs

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The latest bi-annual tariff analysis report produced by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) reveals that Telkom Mobile data costs for bundles are two-thirds lower than those of Vodacom and MTN. On the other hand, Rain is half the price again of Telkom. 

The report focuses on the 163 tariff notifications lodged with ICASA during the period 1 July 2018 to 31 December 2018.

“It seeks to ensure that there is retail price transparency within the electronic communications sector, the purpose of which is to enable consumers to make an informed choice, in terms of tariff plan preferences and/or preferred service providers based on their different offerings,” said Icasa.

ICASA says it observed the competitiveness between licensees in terms of the number of promotions that were on offer in the market, with 31 promotions launched during the period. 

The report shows that MTN and Vodacom charge the same prices for a 1GB and a 3GB data bundle at R149 and R299 respectively.  On the other hand, Telkom Mobile charges (for similar-sized data bundles) R100 (1GB) and R201 (3GB). Cell C discontinued its 1GB bundle, which was replaced with a 1.5GB bundle offered at the same price as the replaced 1GB data bundle at R149. 

Rain’s “One Plan Package” prepaid mobile data offering of R50 for a 1GB bundle remains the most affordable when compared to the offers from other MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).  

“This development should have a positive impact on customers’ pockets as they are paying less compared to similar data bundles and increases choice,” said Icasa.

The report also revealed that the cost of out-of-bundle data had halved at both MTN and Vodacom, from 99c per Megabyte a year ago to 49c per Megabyte in the first quarter of this year. This was still two thirds more expensive than Telkom Mobile, which has charged 29c per Megabyte throughout this period (see graph below).

Meanwhile, from having positioned itself as consumer champion in recent years, Cell C has fallen on hard times, image-wise: it is by far the most expensive mobile network for out-of-bundle data, at R1.10 per Megabyte. Its prices have not budged in the past year.

The report highlights the disparities between the haves and have-nots in the dramatically plummeting cost of data per Megabyte as one buys bigger and bigger bundles on a 30-day basis (see graph below).

For 20 Gigabyte bundles, all mobile operators are in effect charging 4c per Megabyte. Only at that level do costs come in at under Rain’s standard tariffs regardless of use.

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Qualcomm wins 5G as Apple and Intel cave in

A flurry of announcements from three major tech players ushered in a new mobile chip landscape, wrItes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week’s shock announcement by Intel that it was canning its 5G modem business leaves the American market wide open to Qualcomm, in the wake of the latter winning a bruising patent war with Apple.

Intel Corporation announced its intention to “exit the 5G smartphone modem business and complete an assessment of the opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices and other data-centric devices”.

Intel said it would also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business, sharpening its focus on a market expected to be dominated by Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.

Intel said it would continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but did not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020. In other words, it would no longer be supplying chips for iPhones and iPads in competition with Qualcomm.

“We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realise the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

The news came immediately after Qualcomm and Apple issued a joint announced of an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm, along with a six-year license agreement, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

Apple had previously accused Qualcomm of abusing its dominant position in modem chips for smartphones and charging excessive license fees. It ordered its contract manufacturers, first, to stop paying Qualcomm for the chips, and then to stop using the chips altogether, turning instead to Intel.
With Apple paying up and Intel pulling out, Qualcomm is suddenly in the pound seats. It shares hit their highest levels in five years after the announcements.

Qualcomm said in a statement: “As we lead the world to 5G, we envision this next big change in cellular technology spurring a new era of intelligent, connected devices and enabling new opportunities in connected cars, remote delivery of health care services, and the IoT — including smart cities, smart homes, and wearables. Qualcomm Incorporated includes our licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of our patent portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Strategy Analytics released a report on the same day that showed Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia will lead the market in core 5G infrastructure, namely Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, by 2023 as the 5G market takes off. Huawei is expected to have the edge as a result of the vast scale of the early 5G market in China and its long term steady investment in R&D. According to a report entitled “Comparison and 2023 5G Global Market Potential for leading 5G RAN Vendors – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia”, two outliers, Samsung and ZTE, are expected to expand their global presence alongside emerging vendors as competition heats up.

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