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BEST PRACTICES: Resurgence of encrypted thumb drives shows value of offline backups — in the field

By Byron V. Acohido

Encrypted flash drives, essentially secure storage on a stick, are a proven technology that has been readily available for at least 15 years. A few years back, it seemed like they would fade into obsolescence, swept aside by the wave of streaming services and cloud storage.

Related: Can Europe’s GDPR restore data privacy?

And yet today there is a resurgence in demand for encrypted flash drives. What’s happened is this: Digital transformation has raced forward promoting high-velocity software innovation, with only a nod to security. This trend has opened up vast new tiers of attack vectors – and threat actors are taking full advantage.

Security-conscious companies – the ones who are proactively responding, not just to threat actors having a field day, but also to the specter of paying steep fines for violating today’s stricter data privacy regulations – are paying much closer attention to sensitive data circulating out in the field, as well they should.

Highly secure portable drives make perfect sense in  numerous work scenarios; encrypted flash drives, specifically, are part of a global hardware encryption market on track to climb to $296.4 billion by 2020, up 55% as compared to 2015, according to Allied Market Research. …more

MY TAKE: How blockchain technology came to seed the next great techno-industrial revolution

By Byron V. Acohido

Some 20 years ago, the founders of Amazon and Google essentially set the course for how the internet would come to dominate the way we live.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google did more than anyone else to actualize digital commerce as we’re experiencing it today – including its dark underbelly of ever-rising threats to privacy and cybersecurity.

Related: Securing identities in a blockchain

Today we may be standing on the brink of the next great upheaval. Blockchain technology in 2019 may prove to be what the internet was in 1999.

Blockchain, also referred to as distributed ledger technology, or DLT,  is much more than just the mechanism behind Bitcoin and cryptocurrency speculation mania. DLT holds the potential to open new horizons of commerce and culture, based on a new paradigm of openness and sharing.

Some believe that this time around there won’t be a handful of tech empresarios grabbing a stranglehold on the richest digital goldmines. Instead, optimists argue, individuals will arise and grab direct control of minute aspects of their digital personas – and companies will be compelled to adapt their business models to a new ethos of sharing for a greater good.

At least that’s one Utopian scenario being widely championed by thought leaders like economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, whose talk, “The Third Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy,” has garnered 3.5 million views on YouTube. And much of the blockchain innovation taking place today is being directed by software prodigies, like Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, who value openness and independence above all else.

Public blockchains and private DLTs are in a nascent stage, as stated above, approximately where the internet was in the 1990s. This time around, however, many more complexities are in play – and consensus is forming that blockchain will take us somewhere altogether different from where the internet took us.

“With the Internet, a single company could take a strategic decision and then forge ahead, but that’s not so with DLT,” says Forrester analyst Martha Bennett, whose cautious view of blockchain we’ll hear later. “Blockchains are a team sport. There needs to be major shifts in approach and corporate culture, towards collaboration among competitors, before blockchain-based networks can become the norm.”

That said, here are a few important things everyone should understand about the gelling blockchain revolution. …more

NEW TECH: Can an ‘operational system of record’ alleviate rising knowledge worker frustrations?

By Byron V. Acohido

An undercurrent of discontent is spreading amongst knowledge workers in enterprises across the United States and Europe.

Related: Phishing-proof busy employees

White collar employees today have amazingly capable communications and collaboration tools at their beck and call. Yet the majority feel unsatisfied with narrow daily assignments and increasingly disconnected from the strategic goals of their parent organization.

That’s my big takeaway from a survey of 3,750 knowledge workers from mid-sized and large organizations across the US, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The State of Work: 2020 is the sixth annual poll of its kind sponsored by Workfront, a Lehi, Utah-based supplier of work management and project management systems.

These findings reflect knowledge workers growing increasingly frustrated that they can’t do more to advance strategically meaningful initiatives. It’s not that workers are cynical or apathetic; far from it. Some 89% of respondents said they believed their role matters, including 78% who said their job represented more than a paycheck.

Fully 91% of the workers surveyed said they were proud of the work they do and cared about the bigger picture. Yet an inordinate amount of time continues to get devoted to make-work activity or wasted scurrying down unproductive rabbit trails. Over the six years Workfront has conducted this poll, one stat has remained constant: knowledge workers on average spend just 40% of their work week on the job they were hired to do.

A similar earlier survey, conducted by tech industry research firm Forrester, found much the same thing. Some 71% of global knowledge workers polled by Forrester said their jobs required  deep concentration; yet 21% said they were unable to find or access the appropriate information they need to do their job – at least once a week. …more

SHARED INTEL: APIs hook up new web and mobile apps — and break attack vectors wide open

By Byron V. Acohido

If your daily screen time is split between a laptop browser and a smartphone, you may have noticed that a few browser web pages are beginning to match the slickness of their mobile apps.

Related: The case for a microservices firewall

Netflix and Airbnb are prime examples of companies moving to single-page applications, or SPAs, in order to make their browser webpages as responsive as their mobile apps.

The slickest SPAs leverage something called GraphQL, which is a leading edge way to build and query application programing interfaces, or APIs. If you ask the builders of these SPAs, they will tell you that the scale and simplicity of retrieving lots of data with GraphQL is superior to a standard RESTful API. And that brings us to cybersecurity.

APIs are being created in batches on a daily basis by the Fortune 500 and any company that is creating mobile and web applications. APIs are the conduits for moving data to-and-fro in our digitally transformed world. And each new API is a pathway to the valuable sets of data fueling each new application.

Trouble is that at this moment no one is keeping very good track of the explosion of APIs. Meanwhile, the rising use of SPA and GraphQL underscores how API growth is shifting into a higher gear. This means the attack surface available to cyber criminals looking to make money off of someone else’s data is, yet again, expanding.

I had a chance to discuss this with Doug Dooley, COO of Data Theorem, a Silicon Valley-based application security startup helping companies deal with these growing API exposures. For a full drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are a few key takeaways:

Cool new experiences

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and Alibaba Cloud supply computer processing and data storage as a utility. DevOps has decentralized the creation and delivery of  smart applications that can mine humongous data sets to create cool new user experiences.

Microservices are little snippets of modular code of which smart apps are made of. Written by far-flung third-party developers, microservices get mixed and matched and reused inside of software containers. And each instance of a microservice connecting to another microservice, or to a container, is carried out by an API.

In short, APIs are multiplying fast and creating the automated highways of data. The growth of APIs on the public Internet grew faster in 2019 than in previous years, according to ProgrammableWeb.  And this doesn’t account for all the private APIs business built and use. The services on that smartphone you’re holding makes use of hundreds of unique APIs.  …more

MY TAKE: How ‘credential stuffing’ and ‘account takeovers’ are leveraging Big Data, automation

By Byron V. Acohido

A pair of malicious activities have become a stunning example of digital transformation – unfortunately on the darknet.

Related: Cyber risks spinning out of IoT

Credential stuffing and account takeovers – which take full advantage of Big Data, high-velocity software, and automation – inundated the internet in massive surges in 2018 and the first half of 2019, according to multiple reports.

Credential stuffing is one of the simplest cybercriminal exploits, a favorite among hackers. Using this technique, the criminal collects your leaked credentials (usually stolen in a data breach) and then applies them to a host of other accounts, hoping they unlock more. If you’re like the majority of users out there, you reuse credentials. Hackers count on it.

A new breed of credential stuffing software programs allows people with little to no computer skills to check the log-in credentials of millions of users against hundreds of websites and online services such as Netflix and Spotify in a matter of minutes. The sophistication level of these cyberthreats is increasing, and there’s an ominous consensus gelling in the cybersecurity community that the worst is yet to come.

“We’ve observed significant growth in credential stuffing and account takeovers for several years. It’s hard to see a short-term change that would slow attempts by attackers,” Patrick Sullivan, Akamai’s senior director of security strategy, told me. “Significant changes to authentication models may be required to alter the growth trajectory of these attacks.” …more

NEW TECH: ‘Passwordless authentication’ takes us closer to eliminating passwords as the weak link

By Byron V. Acohido

If there ever was such a thing as a cybersecurity silver bullet it would do one thing really well: eliminate passwords.

Threat actors have proven to be endlessly clever at abusing and misusing passwords. Compromised logins continue to facilitate cyber attacks at all levels, from phishing ruses to credential stuffing to enabling hackers to probe deep inside of a breached network.

Related: The Internet of Things is just getting started

The technology to get rid of passwords is readily available; advances in hardware token and biometric authenticators continue apace. So what’s stopping us from getting rid of passwords altogether?

The hitch, of course, is that password-enabled account logins are too deeply engrained in legacy network infrastructure. For most large enterprises, it would be much too costly and too disruptive to jettison the use of passwords entirely.

That said, we may very well be in the early adopter phase of weaving leading-edge “password-less authentication” solutions into pliant areas of legacy networks. I recently had the chance to drill down on this trend with Trusona, a 3-year-old Scottsdale, AZ company that is pioneering a password-less multi-factor authentication platform.

I interviewed Sharon Vardi, Trusona’s chief marketing officer, about what the path forward looks like, in terms of someday eliminating passwords from digital commerce. For a full drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways.

History lesson

A couple of thousand years ago, Roman troops used passwords to decipher friend from foe as they patrolled the empire. In 1960, an MIT computer scientist named Fernando Corbató introduced the use of passwords in a mainframe computing project, not really to lock any intruders out. Corbató sought a simple way to let his colleagues store private files on multiple terminals – and passwords fit the bill.

As computers shrank in size, and then pervaded into our homes and everyday workplaces, passwords stuck around. Username and password logins emerged as the go-to way to control access to network servers, business applications and Internet-delivered consumer services. Passwords may have been very effective securing Roman roads. But they quickly proved to be a very brittle cybersecurity mechanism. …more

MY TAKE: Local government can do more to repel ransomware, dilute disinformation campaigns

By Byron V. Acohido

Local government agencies remain acutely exposed to being hacked. That’s long been true. However, at this moment in history, two particularly worrisome types of cyber attacks are cycling up and hitting local government entities hard: ransomware sieges and election tampering.

Related: Free tools that can help protect elections

I had a deep discussion about this with Todd Weller, chief strategy officer at Bandura Cyber. We spoke at Black Hat USA 2019. Bandura Cyber is a 6-year-old supplier of  threat intelligence gateway technologies. It helps organizations of all sizes but has a solution that is well suited to enable more resource constrained SMBs, tap into the myriad threat feeds being collected by a wide variety of entities and extract actionable intelligence.

Weller observed that local governments are under pressure to more proactively detect and deter threat actors, which means they must figure out how to redirect a bigger chunk of limited resources toward mitigating cyber threats. Current attack trends add urgency, and catching up on doing basic security best practices isn’t enough. For a drill down on my interview with Weller, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

Ransomware run

We’ve recently learned just how easy it is for ransomware purveyors to either extract huge extortion payments from local agencies, or worse, cause tens of millions of dollars of damage.

Baltimore city officials declined to pay $76,000 for a ransomware decryption key – and the city ended up absorbing an estimated $18 million in recovery costs. Atlanta refused to pay a $51,000 ransom, and ate $17 million in damage.

Meanwhile, officials from Riviera Beach, Fla., population 35,000, saw fit to cough up a $600,000 payment, and Lake City, Fla., population 12,046, paid $460,000, respectively, for ransomware decryption keys. In each case, after weeks of having city services disrupted, and facing pressure from constituents, city leaders viewed paying a six-figure ransom as the least painful, quickest resolution. …more