In 2018, as in previous years, cybersecurity incidents made the news on a regular basis, and there's no shortage of predictions for the ways in which bad actors may grab the headlines in 2019. Behind these prominent incidents and modus operandi is a continuous background level of cyber-activity that is the inevitable result of organisations failing to monitor and protect their networks, and of users neglecting basic security hygiene.
How should businesses respond to the clear, present and ever-evolving threat of cyber-attack? Completely locking down their IT systems isn't an option, but neither is complacency. Vulnerabilities will almost inevitably be discovered and exploited, and once security breaches have happened they're usually expensive and time-consuming to remediate, often resulting in lasting damage to the victim's reputation and bottom line.
The trick is to work out the attacks you're most likely to face, guard against them to the best of your ability, and review this process regularly. Where to start? Well, no military commander would charge headlong into battle without a clear strategic picture of the conflict, and the same applies in the cyber theatre. That's where business risk intelligence (BRI), or cyber threat intelligence (CTI), comes in. Here's BRI company Flashpoint on the subject, for example:
"Having a robust BRI program puts these threats into context for an organization and its risk management efforts. Cybercrime, fraud, insider threats, physical security, M&A security assessments and third-party risk can all be minimized with an adequate handle on intelligence."
Flashpoint's high-level summary of the 2017/18 global threat landscape -- a matrix of threat actors and key verticals -- looked like this (we've yet to see a 2018/19 update):
Threat actors are ranked on a six-point capability scale and a four-point potential impact scale, with Flashpoint's cast ranging from Tier 2 capability/Negligible potential impact (Jihadi hackers) to Tier 6/Catastrophic (China, Russia and Five Eyes). Cybercriminals -- the main adversary of most businesses -- are ranked as Tier 4/Severe:
Tier 4 capability
"Attackers are part of a larger and well-resourced syndicate with a moderate-to-high level of technical sophistication. The actors are capable of writing custom tools and malware and can conduct targeted reconnaissance and staging prior to conducting attack campaigns. Tier 4 attackers and above will attempt to make use of publicly available tools prior to deploying more sophisticated and valuable toolkits."
Severe potential impact
"Cyber attacks at this level have the capacity to disrupt regular business operations and governmental functions severely. Such incidents may result in the temporary outage of critical services and the compromise of sensitive data."
Looking at the vertical industries targeted by these threat actors, financial services and government/military are the most threatened -- bad actors tend to follow the money or the power, after all. Eight out of the nine categories of 'bad guys' have these sectors in their sights:
Flashpoint's mid-2018 update to its BRI Intelligence Decision Report noted that political and social instability around the world is now affecting businesses, which must "contend not only with hackers targeting valuable corporate data, but also how geopolitical conflicts will affect the reliability of digital networks supporting commerce, how policy is formulated and enforced, and how investments are executed."
See: Cyberwar predictions for 2019: The stakes have been raised
Although businesses need a lot more detail before they can create their cybersecurity policies and deploy specific measures, it's essential to have a consistent company-wide view of the threat landscape. However, February 2018 research from security provider Centrify and Dow Jones Customer Intelligence suggested that CEOs and their front-line technical officers (CIOs, CTOs and CISOs) often have different perspectives.
Centrify's report was based on a survey of 800 senior executives in companies with at least 1,500 employees, covering 19 industries in the US and UK. Over 50 percent of the companies represented had over 10,000 employees. The key finding was that CEOs are focused on malware -- perhaps influenced by headline-grabbing cyber-attacks -- while their technical officers (TOs) cited identity breaches as the biggest threat.
A clear majority (62%) of CEOs pointed to malware as the biggest cybersecurity threat, compared with only 35 percent of TOs. Meanwhile, 68 percent of executives from companies that had at least one serious breach said it would likely have been prevented by either privileged user identity and access management or user identity assurance. By contrast, only eight percent of companies said that anti-malware endpoint security would have prevented the breaches.
"The disconnect between CEOs and TOs is resulting in misaligned priorities and strategies, as well as mis-investments in cybersecurity solutions, which are weakening security," the report concluded.
So how can companies avoid such misalignments and mis-investments?
A coherent cybersecurity program requires a template or framework containing all of the important components. Organisations then need to work out which components are most applicable to their particular circumstances, a process that should point them towards the most appropriate security measures.
A number of industry-standard frameworks are available to guide organisations' cybersecurity policies, including AICPA, CIS, COBIT, ENISA, ISO 2700, NIST and -- for those that handle payment card transactions -- PCI DSS. There are also industry-specific frameworks such as those relating to the protection of healthcare data under the US HIPAA legislation.
Using these and other sources, security consultancy Mandiant (a FireEye company) developed a 10-component framework for creating a comprehensive cybersecurity program:
Different industries will tend to focus on different framework components, depending on the nature of their business and the particular threat landscape they face. Here's a summary of how Mandiant sees the security priorities for ten vertical industries:
|Aerospace & defense|
|Governments & agencies|
|Media & entertainment|
GCO = Governance, Compliance and Organization, DP = Data Protection, SRM = Security Risk Management, IAM = Identity and Access Management, IR = Incident Response, TP/VM = Third-Party/Vendor Management, HEP = Host and Endpoint Protection, ADMP = Application, Database and Mobile Protection, NCDCP = Network, Cloud and Data Center Protection, SAT = Security Awareness and Training
As you might expect, the most commonly cited focus areas across these vertical industries are data protection and incident response, closely followed by identity and access management:
Cybersecurity has risen ever higher up the corporate agenda for the very good reason that incidents and breaches result in significant costs -- money or intellectual property stolen, valuable data compromised, business disruption, impaired brand reputation, reduced revenue and/or lowered share price. Considerable research effort is expended every year to quantify those costs, a leading example being the IBM/Ponemon Cost of a Data Breach Study.
The 2018 study, published in July, was based on responses from 2,200 IT, data protection and compliance professionals from 477 companies that had experienced a data breach in the previous 12 months; 17 industries were represented, the leading sectors being financial (16%), services (15%), industrial & manufacturing (14%) and technology (13%).
Headline findings were an average total cost per data breach of $3.86 million (up from $3.62m in 2017) with an average cost of $148 per lost or stolen record (up from $141 in 2017). The average number of records per data breach was 24,615 (up 2.2% from 2017), while the estimated probability that an organisation will have a 'material' data breach in the next two years was 27.9 percent (up from 27.7% in 2017).
The mean time to identify (MTTI) a data breach was 197 days (up from 191 days in 2017), while the mean time to contain (MTTC) a breach was 69 days (up from 66 days in 2017). Companies that responded rapidly, containing a breach in less than 30 days, saved over $1 million compared to those that took more than 30 days.
Two new cost factors were introduced in the 2018 report: security automation and the use of IoT devices. Fully deploying security automation lowered the average cost of a data breach by $1.55 million, while the extensive use of IoT devices increased the cost per compromised record by $5.
The 2018 study also quantified the cost of so-called 'mega' breaches involving over 1 million compromised records: a 1m-record breach cost $40m on average, rising to $350m for a 50m-record breach.
Among the many other useful findings in the IBM/Ponemon report is an analysis of the factors that influence the per capita cost of a data breach. A fully functional incident response team reduced the cost by $14 on average (down from $19.3 in 2017), while at the other end of the scale, third-party involvement increased the cost by $13.4 (down from $16.9 in 2017):
Cybersecurity incidents and breaches can seriously damage a company's bottom line and brand image, making it imperative that security risk management is integral to corporate governance.
Detailed analysis of the threat landscape for a company's particular business sector should lead to the adoption of an appropriate framework within which to develop a security policy, which in turn should suggest the best combination of security measures to deploy. Policies must be revisited and updated as the threat landscape evolves. Extensive use of IoT devices increases an organisation's attack surface, increasing the likelihood and level of breach-related costs.
As well as covering the basics, companies need to consider deploying advanced security technologies such as AI-driven automation, in order to give themselves the best chance against the ever-nimble 'bad guys'.
Numerous reports and surveys are published every year, analysing the state of the cybersecurity arms race and allowing interested parties to keep up to date with the changing threat landscape. The table below lists some of the most influential ones, summarising the key content areas and recommendations:
|Report||Key subject areas & findings||Recommendations, best practices & predictions|
|Verizon 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report||It will probably be you one day |
Most cybercriminals are motivated by cold, hard cash. If there's some way they can make money out of you, they will.
So who are you up against?
Almost three-quarters (73%) of cyberattacks were perpetrated by outsiders. Members of organized criminal groups were behind half of all breaches, with nation-state or state-affiliated actors involved in 12%.
People make mistakes
Malicious employees looking to line their pockets aren't the only insider threat you face. Errors were at the heart of almost one in five (17%) breaches.
Don't get held to ransom
Cybercriminals don't have to steal data to make money -- they can just stop you using it.
| Be vigilant |
Make people your first line of defense
Only keep data on a need-to-know basis
Encrypt sensitive data
Use two-factor authentication
Don't forget physical security
|Booz Allen Hamilton 2019 Cyber Threat Outlook||Companies in the crosshairs of information warfare |
IoT devices broaden state espionage operations
Chip and pin may fall short
The weaponization of adware networks
Deepfakes in the wild -- AI in information warfare
State-sponsored threat actors double-down on deception
Water-utility targeting bubbles to the surface
| States may use their burgeoning information warfare capabilities to influence consumers and harm companies, just as they already target voters and foment civil strife. |
State-linked groups could find new uses for Internet-of-Things (IoT) botnets, such as Tor-like communication infrastructure.
Adversaries might develop novel attack vectors that exploit the growing pervasiveness of non-WiFi wireless protocols, especially among IoT devices.
Adware networks, a long-standing security nuisance, could be leveraged for more harmful targeted attacks.
Increased adversary emphasis on misattribution will likely result in more examples of confident attribution by the private sector later being disproved, further undermining public confidence in attribution.
Government-backed adversaries may increasingly penetrate the industrial control systems (ICS) of water utilities to conduct reconnaissance and generate fear and uncertainty, mirroring their historical focus on frequent intrusions and rare disruptions at energy firms.
|EY Global Information Security Survey 2018-19||The future state of cybersecurity |
Protect the enterprise
Cybersecurity needs to be in the DNA of the organization / Build awareness around phishing and malware / Focus the security strategy and program on the entire eco-system of the organization / Increase cybersecurity budgets now (instead of after the fact) and focus the spend on threat detection and response.
Consider investments in analytical capabilities / It may be difficult to quickly build up forensic capabilities in house / Focus on where investment will be most effective / Be more open around security operations.
Put cybersecurity at the heart of corporate strategy / Cybersecurity must be an ongoing agenda item for all executive and non-executive boards / Focus on cybersecurity as part of digital transformation strategy / Continue the focus on emerging technologies.
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