Ransomware

Mining data is daunting but crucial

The cybersecurity industry seems addicted to research but isn’t all that good at it. Mining the massive amount of data produced is daunting but crucial to everyone.

Surveys and studies are an important part of marketing form the cybersecurity industry. Cyber Protection magazine receives a lot of them. We read them all. In the two months before the RSA Conference, more than one a day came into our inbox. However, they are not a great source of independent data and insight.

Ignoring the cherry-picked data highlighting a particular company’s product or service, there are a few nuggets that, taken together, produce some interesting insights. Out of 60+ reports, we took a pass on any that were repetitive, were suspect methodologically, or effectively plagiarized from another source. We chose to look at seven with a solid methodology, representation of industry-wide concerns, and originality. The reports came from Dynatrace, Black Kite, SlashNext, Metomic, Originality AI, Logicgate, and Sophos. We found three common themes: The impact of AI on security, government regulation compliance, and understanding of security concerns on the C-suites and board levels.

Understanding security issues.

Almost every study has a common complaint. CISOs say application security is a blind spot at the CEO and board levels. They say increasing the visibility of their CEO and board into application security risk is urgently needed to enable more informed decisions to strengthen defenses.

However, Dynatrace’s study said CISOs fail to provide the C-suite and board members with clear insight into their organization’s application security risk posture. “This leaves executives blind to the potential effect of vulnerabilities and makes it difficult to make informed decisions to protect the organization from operational, financial, and reputational damage.”

Recent news shows the study may have a point. Marriott Hotels admitted that a 2018 breach was the result of inadequate encryption of customer data. In 2018 the company claimed their data was protected by 128-bit AES encryption when customer identity was only protected by an outdated hashing protocol. One can imagine the discussion between the CEO and the IT department:

CEO: is our data encrypted?
IT manager: Yeah, sort of.
CEO: OK, good enough

If the CEO doesn’t understand the difference between a hash and AES encryption, that’s a problem.

And there many be evidence that ignorance is widespread. Apricorn reported that the number of encrypted devices in surveyed companies had dropped from 80 percent to 20 percent between 2022 and 2023. Some of that could be attributed to work-from-home (WFH) growth in companies. It is also likely that companies over-reported what was encrypted simply because they did not understand what “encryption” meant. Once they learned the meaning, adjustments were made.

That lack of a foundational security technology could be a reason for the devastating growth in ransomware in the past two years.

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RSAC Reporter’s Notebook: Change is coming

The cybersecurity industry is just absolute chaos, and rightly so.  This is the industry charged with plugging dikes during the Class-5 hurricane that the internet seems to be today.  Nowhere is that chaos more evident than at RSAC just from a marketing perspective. Everyone has “ground-breaking”, “industry-leading”, and “first ever” product offerings and this year was no different.  But if you can look past the Macho-man impersonations, Formula One cars, and the mesmerizing miasma of the website and show floor, you can see an order forming in the chaos. Change is coming.

Back to step one

RSA CEO Rohit Ghai, said we have missed a step in AI development.  “We’ve seen it first as a co-pilot alongside of a human pilot and then see it taking over flying the plane.”  He said the first step is making it an advanced cockpit making it easier for less trained and experienced people to do the work.  He pointed out that cybersecurity is an industry with negative employment making it difficult to find experienced technicians to do the work.

Last year, any discussion of ethical development was met with confused stares. This year, the need for ethical AI development is taken seriously but few can see a profit in it. Cybersecurity VC Rob Ackerman (DataTribe) and Carmen Marsh, CEO of the United Cybersecurity Alliance, were open to suggestions,

“From the perspective of (companies like OpenAI), I understand the reasons to go as fast as they can to develop a true artificial intelligence, the question is, who are the people in the room guiding the process?” said Ackerman. “Once you get a diverse set of advisors working on the problem, then you do the best you can to create something ethical.  But right now, we aren’t even doing the best we can.”

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Third-party security is almost impossible

There are many themes arising for the RSA Conference next week including tools and services to protect against originating with unsecured third parties in the supply chain. That is a crucial issue in every industry especially with almost every company doing business with a supplier in the cloud. But the scope of the problem is almost impossible to resolve. The reasons are myriad.

With every Fortune 1000 business and government agency doing business with tens of thousands of third-party suppliers, the odds of finding one chink in the security protocols are very good for the criminals and state actors looking to do damage.

Social engineering can easily bypass the strongest technical defenses. It only takes a single lapse in digital hygiene to open the door to man-in-the-middle attacks, invite malware injections, and launch credential stuffing. It is also the favorite strategy of ransomware gangs.

Ransomware grabs headlines and remains highly lucrative for ransomware gangs. When compared to other forms of cybercrime, however, ransomware is really a minor issue. There are more than 33 million small businesses (under $100 million in revenue) operating in the United States alone representing 99 percent of all businesses. However, according to a study produced by the Black Kite Research and Intelligence Team, less than 5000 of them experienced a successful ransomware attack in the last 12 months...

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