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Why big companies ignore SAP security patches — and how that could bite them, big time

By Byron V. Acohido

Threat actors in the hunt for vulnerable targets often look first to ubiquitous platforms. It makes perfect sense for them to do so.

Related article: Triaging open-source exposures

Finding a coding or design flaw on Windows OS can point the way to unauthorized to access to a treasure trove of company networks that use Windows. The same holds true for probing widely used open source protocols, as occurred when Heartbleed and Shellshock came to light.

There is yet another widely-used business platform that malicious hackers have turned their attention to. It is SAP’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.

SAP serves as the digital plumbing for dozens of multinationals; it is deeply embedded in 87 percent of the top 2000 global companies, enabling and integrating ERP functions, such as sales, production, human resources and finance, as well as other core systems.

SAP is no different than any other complex software. Vulnerability researchers, ranging from penetration testers to threat actors, continually seek out fresh security flaws which SAP subsequently issues patches for. The trouble has been that SAP patches can be troublesome to implement, and so very often get postponed.

In 2016 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) issued three separate security alerts warning SAP customers to install security patches, including one issued six years earlier that had gone widely ignored.

Many large enterprises have been lagging in SAP patches. This exposure is pervasive. And it is only a matter of time before threat actors pull off a high-profile data breach. (more…)

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Why the ‘golden age’ of cyber espionage is upon us

By Byron V. Acohido

Researchers at Cisco’s Talos intelligence unit have now expressed high confidence that the Russian government is behind VPNFilter, a malware strain designed to usurp control of small office and home routers and network access control devices.

If you doubt VPNFilter’s capacity to fuel cyber chaos on a global scale, please peruse the FBI’s recently issued alert about this very nasty piece of leading-edge malware.

Related article: Obsolescence creeping into legacy security systems

VPNFilter is precisely the kind of cyber weaponry nation state-backed military and intelligence operatives routinely deploy to knock down critical infrastructure, interfere with elections and spy on each other.

One of the top analysts on the daily use of malware across the planet is Dr. Kenneth Geers, senior research scientist, at Comodo Cybersecurity. His main duties at Comodo revolve around monitoring and analyzing malware spikes as they unfold on a daily basis, and correlating cyber attacks to global news and political events.

Geers recently walked me through the cyber attack trends and patterns he’s currently monitoring. Bottom line: cyber espionage is on the cusp of a golden age; and the only way to deter this is for the private sector to do a much better job of defending home and business networks.

Why so? Because vulnerable networks supply the communications channels and processing power made so easily accessible to cyber criminals and combatants.

For a full drill down on my fascinating chat with Geers, please listen to the accompanying podcast.  Here are excerpts edited for clarity and length. …more

Will GDPR usher in a new paradigm for how companies treat consumers’ online privacy?

By Byron V. Acohido

Back in 2001, Eric Schmidt, then Google’s CEO, described the search giant’s privacy policy as “getting right up to the creepy line and not crossing it.

Well, Europe has now demarcated the creepy line – and it is well in favor of its individual citizens. The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, elevates the privacy rights of individuals and imposes steep cash penalties for companies that cross the creepy line – now defined in specific detail.

Related article: Zuckerberg’s mea culpa reveals reprehensible privacy practices

Europe’s revised online privacy regulations took effect last Friday. European businesses are bracing for disruption – and U.S. companies won’t be immune to the blowback. There are more than 4,000 U.S. companies doing business in Europe, including many small and midsize businesses. All of them, from Google, Facebook and Microsoft, down to mom-and-pop wholesalers and service providers, now must comply with Europe’s new rules for respecting an individual’s online privacy.

The EU is expected to levy GDPR fines totaling more than $6 billion in the next 12 months, an estimate put out by insurance giant Marsh & McLennan. As these penalties get dished out, senior management will become very uncomfortable; they’ll be forced to assume greater responsibility for cybersecurity and privacy, and not just leave it up to the IT department.

This is all unfolding as companies globally are racing to embrace digital transformation – the leveraging of cloud services, mobile computing and the Internet of Things to boost innovation and profitability. In such a heady business environment, a regulatory hammer was necessary to give companies pause to consider the deeper implications of poorly defending their networks and taking a cavalier attitude toward sensitive personal data. …more

GUEST ESSAY: 3 key ingredients to stress-free compliance with data handling regulations

By Izak Bovee

The variety of laws and regulations governing how organizations manage and share sensitive information can look like a bowl of alphabet soup: HIPAA, GDPR, SOX, PCI and GLBA. A multinational conglomerate, government contractor, or public university must comply with ten or more, which makes demonstrating regulatory compliance seem like a daunting, even impossible, undertaking. But there are a manageable number of precautions you can take to secure customer data that will tick the boxes for many different regulations.

Organizations that have control of their information have an easier time demonstrating compliance with regulations. Passing a compliance audit boils down to proving to auditors that your organization has implemented three fundamental things:  adequate data security, …more

Mobile security advances to stopping device exploits — not just detecting malicious apps

By Byron V. Acohido

The most profound threat to corporate networks isn’t the latest, greatest malware. It’s carbon-based life forms.

Humans tend to be gullible and impatient. With our affiliations and preferences put in play by search engines and social media, we’re perfect patsies for social engineering. And because we are slaves to convenience, we have a propensity for taking shortcuts when it comes to designing, configuring and using digital systems.

Related article: Is your mobile device spying on you?

This hasn’t worked terribly well for defending modern business networks from cyberattacks. And now we are on the verge of making matters dramatically worse as smartphones and IoT  devices proliferate.

I recently had a chance to discuss this state of affairs with J.T. Keating, vice president of product strategy at Zimperium, a Dallas-based supplier of mobile device security systems. Launched in 2010 by a Samsung consultant who saw the handwriting on the wall, Zimperium has grown to 140 employees and attracted $60 million in venture capital from Warburg Pincus, SoftBank, Samsung, Telstra and Sierra Ventures.

The company is seeking to frame and address mobile security much differently than the traditional approach to endpoint security. “When you have billions of mobile devices that aren’t well protected, and the users are primarily responsible for controlling them, it makes for very ripe targeting,” Keating told me.

For a full drill down, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are excerpts edited for clarity and length.

LW: What’s most worrisome about mobile security?

Keating: If you’re a consumer, you should really care about malicious apps. The vast majority of the mobile malware we see is designed for fraud. A perfect example of one going around right now is called Bankbot. A user will …more

With passwords here to stay, a ‘Zero Trust’ approach to authentication makes eminent sense

By Byron V. Acohido

When I first started writing about technology for USA Today in 2000, reporters were required to use what at the time was a cutting-edge 2-factor authentication device to securely log into the newspaper’s editing and publishing network.

Related article: The case for rethinking security

It was an RSA SecurID token. I attached it to my key chain, and activated it to issue a one-time 6-digit code, each time I needed to log in to file a story.

Today that same functionality has been vastly improved. One-time security codes routinely get pushed to smartphones to affect a second factor of authentication in a wide array of scenarios. An approach referred to the “Zero Trust” model, takes it a few steps further.

Increasingly, behavior monitoring and machine learning are being brought to bear to assess details of each separate login to each service. This enables companies to make decisions as to whether any specific access request is routine – or suspicious.

Companies can tune such systems to automatically take a range of actions, from requiring a second-factor of authentication, to permitting only very limited access or even blocking access altogether. And they are able to do this at scale, in real time, while watching effectiveness improve as the machine learning algorithms crunch more and more data.

Last Watchdog asked Andy Smith, vice president of product marketing at Centrify, a leading supplier of identity and access management (IAM) technologies, to supply context for the Zero Trust model. One big takeaway was this: the Zero Trust model has come along in perfect timing to support stronger authentication requirements happening on the fly as part of digital transformation.

For a full drill down, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are excerpts of our conversation edited for clarity and length.

LW: Keeping track of identities and controlling access has always been a big challenge. Now the challenge is escalating, getting more complex. …more

Last Watchdog’s coverage of cybersecurity and privacy earns 4th Top Blog award

By Byron V. Acohido

Our daily mission here at Last Watchdog is to keep the public usefully informed about emerging cybersecurity and privacy exposures.

Related article: The road to a Pulitzer

Though we don’t spend any time seeking it out, one measure of our success is peer recognition. So I’m happy to let our audience know that Last Watchdog has been recognized for the fourth time in recent months as a trusted source of useful intelligence.

Threat Stack, a Boston-based security startup that helps companies stay protected in the cloud, and publisher of the informative Threat Stack Blog, has just included LastWatchdog.com on its lists of 50 Essential Cloud Security Blogs for IT Professionals and Cloud Enthusiasts.

Earlier, Watchdog Reviews selected LastWatchdog.com as …more

Security start-up deploys advanced AI, aka ‘deep learning,’ to detect malware on endpoints

By Byron V. Acohido

Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Deep Instinct was one of the more intriguing cybersecurity vendors I had the privilege of spending some time with at RSA Conference 2018.

The company lays claims to being the first to apply “deep learning” to a truly innovative protection system that extends machine learning and artificial intelligence down to the level of every computer and mobile device of each employee.

Accompanying podcast: Deep Instinct pioneers AI-infused endpoint security

The company has been doing something right. Launched in 2015, it has grown rapidly to 100 employees. It has attracted $32 million in venture funding and won a satchel full of industry awards, including being named by Dark Reading’s “most innovative startup” at Black Hat Las Vegas last summer.

Deep learning is an advanced branch of machine learning and artificial intelligence. It works by sifting through the oceans of data that course through a company’s network in a series of layers, referred to as a neural network. This layered, systematic approach to making cross correlations is modeled after the human brain.

Once it is switched on, deep learning never stops. The more data fed into its algorithms, the more accurately the system recognizes things it was designed to recognize, in this case fresh malware variants. If that sounds like a gargantuan computing task, it is.

Deep Instinct’s founders not only crafted proprietary algorithms to achieve this, they also innovated a way to distribute the results (malware alerts) down to the level of personal computing devices.

Kaftzan

Jonathan Kaftzan, vice president of marketing, walked me through how these breakthroughs are helping companies protect their networks. For a full drill down on our discussion, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are excerpts of our discussion edited for clarity and length:

LW: What’s deep learning all about? …more