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MY TAKE: PKI, digital certificates now ready to take on the task of securing digital transformation

By Byron V. Acohido

Just five years ago, the Public Key Infrastructure, or PKI, was seriously fraying at the edges and appeared to be tilting toward obsolescence. Things have since taken a turn for the better.

Related: Why PKI is well-suited to secure the Internet of Things

PKI is the authentication and encryption framework on which the Internet is built. The buckling of PKI a few years back was a very serious matter, especially since there was nothing waiting in the wings to replace PKI. Lacking a reliable way to authenticate identities during the data transfer process, and also keep data encrypted as it moves between endpoints, the Internet would surely atrophy – and digital transformation would grind to a halt.

The retooling of PKI may not be sexy to anyone, outside of tech geeks. Nonetheless, it is a pivotal chapter in the evolution of digital commerce. One of several notable contributors was DigiCert, the world’s leading provider of digital certificates and certificate management solutions.

I had a chance to interview Brian Trzupek, DigiCert’s senior vice president of emerging markets products, at the company’s Security Summit 2020 in San Diego recently. For a full drill down on our discussion, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are a few key takeaways:

PKI’s expanding role

PKI revolves around the creation, distribution and management of digital certificates issued by companies known as certificate authorities, or CAs. In the classic case of a human user clicking to a website, CAs, like DigiCert, verify the authenticity of the website and encrypt the data at both ends.

Today, a much larger and rapidly expanding role for PKI and digital certificates is to authenticate devices and encrypt all sensitive data transfers inside highly dynamic company networks. We’re not just talking about website clicks; PKI comes into play with respect to each of the millions of computing instances and devices continually connecting to each other – the … more

MY TAKE: Iran’s cyber retaliation for Soleimani assassination continues to ramp up

By Byron V. Acohido

Less than 48 hours after the killing of Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin calling out Iran’s “robust cyber program,” and cautioning everyone to be prepared for Iran to “conduct operations in the United States.”

Related: Cyber warfare enters Golden Age

In fact, strategic cyber operations essentially pitting Russia and Iran against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been steadily escalating for at least the past decade, with notable spikes in activity throughout the course of 2019.

The Soleimani assassination simply added kerosene to those long-flickering flames. Since the killing, there has been a marked increase in probing for vulnerable servers – focused on industrial control systems in facilities in both the Middle East and North America. This escalation of reconnaissance is being closely monitored by the global cybersecurity and intelligence communities. Jeremy Samide, CEO of Stealthcare, a Cleveland-based cyberthreats intelligence gathering consultancy, is in the midst of it.

Samide and other experts say what’s coming next is very likely to be a series of varied attacks as combatants on all sides leverage footholds gained from ongoing intelligence gathering and malware planting. Evidence of this gelling scenario are called out in a recent report from Dragos, a Maryland-based supplier of industrial controls security systems, and also in a technical report issued earlier this month by Saudi Arabia’s National Cyber Security Center.

“This isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight,” Samide told me. “Iran’s response will be long and drawn out. There will very likely be a number of smaller and medium-sized attacks, culminating in a larger attack that will be highly coordinated and strike at just the right time. And it might not be Iran directly retaliating alone. It could involve multiple state actors, adversarial to the West, joining forces to co-ordinate an attack, or even multiple attacks.”

There has been plenty of news coverage of certain high-profile Iranian and Russian cyberattacks; … more

MY TAKE: Why we should all now focus on restoring stability to US-Iran relations

By Byron V. Acohido

As tensions escalate between the U.S. and Iran it’s vital not to lose sight of how we arrived at this point.

Related: We’re in the golden age of cyber spying

Mainstream news outlets are hyper focused on the events of the past six days. A Dec. 27 rocket attack on a military base in northern Iraq killed an American contractor and a number of service members. Protesters attacked the US embassy in Baghdad. President Trump then retaliated by ordering a drone strike that killed a top Iranian military leader,  Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

The open assassination of a top Middle East official has ignited a social media frenzy about how we very well may be on the brink of World War III. I very much hope cooler heads prevail.

Iran accord scuttled

A starting point for cooling things off would be for news pundits — as well as anyone who considers himself or herself a social media influencer, i.e, someone who fosters community discussions — to recall the hostile shove Trump gave Iran last May.

That’s when Trump scuttled the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which was the result of 10 years of negotiation between Iran and the United Nations Security Council. The 2015 Iran accord, agreed to by President Obama, set limits on Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.

For his own reasons, Trump declared the 2015 Iran accord the “worst deal ever,” and has spent the past several months proactively escalating tensions with Iran, for instance, by unilaterally imposing multiple rounds of fresh sanctions.

This, of course, pushed Iran into a corner, and, no surprise, Iran has pushed back. It’s important to keep in mind that Iran, as well as Europe and the U.S., were meeting the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, prior to Trump scuttling the deal.

Last Watchdog’s IoT and ‘zero trust’ coverage win MVP awards from Information Management Today

By Byron V. Acohido

I’m privileged to share news that two Last Watchdog articles were recognized in the 2019 Information Management Today MVP Awards. My primer on the going forward privacy and security implications of IoT — What Everyone Should Know About the Promise and Pitfalls of the Internet of Things — won second place in the contest’s IoT Security category.

In addition, my coverage of how the zero trust authentication movement is improving privacy and security at a fundamental level — Early Adopters Find Smart ‘Zero Trust’ Access Improves Security Without Stifling Innovation — won third place in the contest’s Hardware and Software Security category. I’ve been paying close attention to privacy and cybersecurity since 2004, first as a technology reporter at USA TODAY, then as Editor-In-Chief of ThirdCertainty.com, a corporate-underwritten news analysis blog.

Since 2017, I’ve been fully focused on independently producing original editorial content for LastWatchdog.com, my signature blog, which serves an audience of non-technical company decision makers striving to address emerging cyber risks.

I’ve never done stories to win awards. I find gratification communicating intelligible insights that foster understanding about topics that affect the way we live. That usually  happens every time I publish a story under my byline. That said, it is always nice to be recognized by my peers. Many thanks to Eve Lyons-Berg, editor of Information Management Today, for including my work in the contest – and for this recognition.

Cyber threats to privacy and security will continue to be a seminal issue that affects us all for the foreseeable future. I plan to continue illuminating the work being done in the trenches to make digital commerce as private and secure as it ought to be. So keep reading and sharing. And thanks for your support.

Acohido

Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Byron V. Acohido is dedicated to fostering public awareness about how to make the Internet as private and secure as it ought to be.

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 … 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.”

MY TAKE: The case for assessing, quantifying risks as the first step to defending network breaches

By Byron V. Acohido

It’s clear that managed security services providers (MSSPs) have a ripe opportunity to step into the gap and help small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) meet the daunting challenge of preserving the privacy and security of sensitive data.

Related: The case for automated threat feeds analysis

Dallas-based Critical Start is making some hay in this space — by striving to extend the roles traditionally played by MSSPs. The company has coined the phrase managed detection and response, or MDR, to more precisely convey the type of help it brings to the table.

I had the chance to meet with Randy Watkins, Critical Start’s chief technology officer at Black Hat USA 2019. Since its launch in 2012, the company has operated profitably, attracting customers mainly in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas and growing to 131 employees.

With a recent $40 million Series A equity stake from Bregal Sagemount, and fresh partnerships cemented with tech heavyweights Microsoft, Google Chronicle and Palo Alto Networks, among others, Critical Start is on a very promising trajectory. It wants to grow nationally and globally, of course.

Even more ambitiously, the company wants to lead the way in pivoting network security back to a risk-oriented approach, instead of what Watkins opines that it has all too often become: a march toward meeting controls-based checklists. We had a fascinating discussion about this. For a full drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and length:

LW:  What’s the difference between taking a ‘risk-oriented’ versus a ‘controlled-based’ approach to security?

Watkins: Security really is the art of handling risk. We used to enumerate the risks that exist inside of an organization, try to assign a value to the impact it would have, if that risk was exploited. And then we’d assign either mitigation or acceptance or transference of the risk, based on potential … more