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How to make security count

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Traditionally, businesses have grown to see security as an unnecessary cost. But that needs to change as security is no longer a feature, but instead a necessity. NADER HENEIN outlines how CIOs can build a solid security spend case to present to their CFO.

As my boxing coach used to say, if you want to punch someone in the face you need to make it count and “aim for the back of the head” – follow-through is everything. This may sound like completely useless advice in modern-day information security, but let’s look beyond the concussion into the reasoning behind that bit of wisdom.

As an information security leader today, if you walk into your yearly budget planning meeting armed with statements like “heightened threat levels in cyberspace” and “preventing petabyte DDOS attacks,” you’d be lucky to get enough money to restock the vending machine outside the server room.

Traditionally, businesses have grown to see information security as a cost center – they know it’s needed, but they’re not quite sure why it costs so much. The information security person reports to the CIO, and the CIO reports to the CFO or maybe the CEO, but data security concerns are rarely at the leadership level unless there’s been a breach – at which point you’re the person most likely to be shown the door.

You may need headcount and appliances to achieve your goal, and to get those, you’ve got to “aim for the back of the head” the next time you’re planning your budget, demonstrate how these changes allow the business to achieve its goals.

Security is an enabler – not a feature or a product. It’s far more than just hardware and software that you’re protecting – it’s the wealth of the business and the livelihood of every employee.

This isn’t drama for drama’s sake. You’ve got to communicate those facts to get results.

Making the Case for Information Security Spend

Step 1: Ask, “What is the value of the data being protected?”

There is a fundamental flaw in most businesses: IT and IT security are tasked with protecting the data, while only the business is able to quantify its value. How could you possibly know how much to spend when you don’t know the value of the asset you’re protecting?

The first task is to value your assets – you might think of it in the same way that you would home owners insurance: your premium will be one thing if you have a Star Wars poster on your wall, but it’s a completely different ball game if you’ve got an original Picasso.

Third-party consultancies can help with this task, but if you want to undergo the challenge internally, start with a data audit, spend time with the business understanding the type of records you are storing, and then ask yourself the following questions:

·         If you were to re-acquire this information, how much would it cost?

·         If your competitors gained access to this information, what would be the financial impact on the business?

·         If this information were to be put up for sale on a dark market, what would be the lost value and the subsequent impact to the business?

Remember, you are looking for a defendable dollar value. This will be the cornerstone of your case when making budgetary decisions, and it will also be imperative when you’re allocating resources to protect different data stores (see Step 4). There is no point in protecting anonymized log files from your Exchange e-mail server with the same rigor (read: cost) as customer credit card data – it’s the latter that has the value.

Step 2: Ask, “What’s the cost of a breach if the data’s not properly protected?”

In a previous post entitled “Before the Breach,” I went through what you need to do to be prepared when your data is breached and how preparedness can make the difference between a bad day at work and the last day at work (see DigiNotar).

There’s no mathematical formula for this, but there are ways of getting fairly solid dollar estimates, by looking at the impact of public breaches and their subsequent effects. Ideally, you want to find numbers in your industry. (Geography, on the other hand isn’t very relevant in this case, so don’t worry about looking in the same country or region.)

If you’re a large supermarket chain, then you’re in luck – the impact of the Target breach and its costs, including reputation, regulatory fines and litigation have been made painfully public.

Target Breach snapshot

·         40 million credit and debit cards

·         70 million customer records

·         475 employees let go + 700 unfilled positions removed

·         $162 million ($90m covered by insurance)

·         Profit fell 46%

·         Stock dropped from $66 to $47

·         Regulatory fines (unknown)

·         140 lawsuits (ongoing)

·         CEO resigned

Step 3: Ask, “How much should be invested to protect these data assets?”

The field of cybersecurity economics is fairly new, but there’s a fair bit of research and literature already. My preference is for the Gordon-Loeb model, which shows it’s “generally uneconomical to invest in information security (including cybersecurity related activities)

more than 37% of the expected loss that would occur from a security breach.” This means your upper limit is 37% of the number you calculated in Step 2, and for that you don’t need to argue much with your CFO, since most insurance companies use the same modeling to

assess risk and exposure.

Step 4: Ask, “What’s the best way to get the most from the investment?”

Finally, you need to determine where to start allocating your hard earned cash, because this will also come up in a budgetary meeting.

If you’ve done your homework in Step 2, you’ll know exactly what proportions of your assets you need to allocate and where. If you’ve been very granular with these calculations, you should even be able to put a dollar value on users and user devices (laptops, smartphones,

and so on). This allows you to become hyper-aware of all your assets and risks, while maintaining a level of control proportional to the value of the information at the individual level.

Mastering the “Sweet Science”

There’s a reason they call boxing the “sweet science” — Outside of heavyweights, the “freight train” approach rarely works and can actually end up costing you. You’ve got to be tactical.

Merely defending your digital perimeter and reinforcing only that outer layer is a recipe for disaster. Do your math and build a case based on what security enables the business to achieve, in the same way that a better braking system on a sports car enables engineers to

ultimately make the vehicle go faster.

Have defendable dollar figures to back you up, make a business-driven case and become a business leader – not just another order fulfilment center.

“Change before you have to.” – Jack Welch

The Alternative

Sticking to the status quo where you continue to ask for budgets in the same way reinforces the “cost center” perception. While IT and IT security will not disappear, there will be a gradual shift where the line of business will have increasing control over IT budgets to satisfy their requirements. And since they are a revenue center, those requirements move to the top of the priority list.

The choice is yours – act before that is taken away from you.

And always “aim for the back of the head.”

* Nader Henein, from the Advanced Security Solutions division at BlackBerry.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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