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MY TAKE: What ‘fake news’ really is: digital disinformation intended to disrupt, manipulate

By Byron V. Acohido

President Trump’s constant mislabeling of mainstream news reports he doesn’t appreciate as “fake news” has done much to muddle the accurate definition of this profound global force – and obscure the societal damage this rising phenomenon is precipitating.

Related: The scourge of ‘malvertising’

Fake news is the willful spreading of disinformation. Yes, much of political propaganda, as practiced down through the ages, fits that definition. But what’s different, as we approach the close of the second decade of the 21st century, is that it is now possible to pull the trigger on highly-targeted, globally-distributed disinformation campaigns – by leveraging behavior profiling tools and social media platforms.

Like seemingly everything else these days, this is a complex issue, and it takes effort to decipher the bottom line. Here are three things it is vital for every concerned citizen to grasp about disinformation campaigns in the digital age.

Fake news is scaling.

There are plenty of factual articles  about how “fake news” influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election. What many citizens still don’t realize is that this was just one of the major elections jarred by this potent variant of disinformation spreading. This includes England’s Brexit vote and very recent cases in Brazil and India, where disinformation campaigns fueled some tragic outcomes.

In the 2016 US elections, Russia targeted Facebook users to receive incendiary ads and bogus stories, and used botnets to facilitate intelligence gathering and distribution. And human  “supersharers” – mostly Republican women older than the average Twitter user – got into the act, as well, Tweeting stories from ideological websites at a furious daily pace, according to a study by Northeastern University in Boston.

Meanwhile, in January 2016, during the heat of the presidential contest, some 39 percent Trump’s Twitter followers were faked.  A tally by Twitter Audit showed Candidate Trump with 22.7 million Twitter followers – 16.6 million real, and 6.1 million fabricated.

Fast forward to Brazil’s presidential election last October. WhatsApp was flooded with fake news about both of the leading candidates. And in India’s national elections, which are underway right now, disinformation has stoked emotions tied to India’s conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir. …more

MY TAKE: How ‘CASBs’ are evolving to close the security gaps arising from digital transformation

By Byron V. Acohido

The Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) space is maturing to keep pace with digital transformation.

Related: CASBs needed now, more than ever

Caz-bees first took shape as a cottage industry circa 2013 to 2014 in response to a cry for help from companies reeling from new Shadow IT exposures: the risk created by early-adopter employees, quite often the CEO, insisting on using the latest smartphone and Software-as-a-Services tools, without any shred of security vetting.

A wave of acquisitions absorbed a half-dozen early CASB startups. One company still actively innovating as an independent CASB is San Jose, CA-based security vendor CipherCloud. I had the chance to visit with CipherCloud CTO Sundaram Lakshmanan at RSA 2019.

We discussed how the basic notion of flowing all data coming into a company’s network — from whatever device or web app — through a cloud gateway for security scanning has become elemental. For a full drill down, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

Shifting role

As with almost any security solution, the bottom line for CASBs is all about protecting the data — without detracting from users’ experience, and thus eroding productivity.  This is especially important within the cloud. CASBs began by closing glaring security gaps created by the rapid  adoption of mobile devices and cloud tools. Quite naturally, that role is now shifting and expanding.

Now that CASBs have been around for half a decade, companies are figuring out how to utilize them to reinforce specific silos within their IT and security teams. More enterprises are rethinking their internal processes, seeking a more centralized, convenient approach to securing web apps, Lakshmanan told me.

“At the end of the day, it is about business productivity and helping users get their job done,” he said. Enterprises are starting to understand that as they pursue velocity and scale, …more

MY TAKE: Why DDoS weapons will proliferate with the expansion of IoT and the coming of 5G

By Byron V. Acohido

A couple of high-profile distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks will surely go down in history as watershed events – each for different reasons.

Related: IoT botnets now available for economical DDoS blasts

In March 2013, several impossibly massive waves of nuisance requests – peaking as high as  300 gigabytes per second—swamped Spamhaus, knocking the anti-spam organization off line for extended periods.

Three years later, October 2016, a DDoS attack, dubbed Mirai, topped 600 gigabytes per second while taking aim at the website of cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs. His blog, Krebs on Security, was knocked down alright.

The author of Mirai used a sledgehammer to kill a fly: the DDoS bombardment was so large that it also wiped out Dyn, a UK-based internet performance vendor. And since Dyn routed traffic, not just to Krebs’ blog, but also to Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit and PayPal, those popular websites were offline for some 12 hours, frustrating millions.

I mentioned these attacks now because the cyber weaponry deployed in each of those attacks actually remain in high use today. That’s the upshot of a recent state-of-DDoS Weapons report from A10 Networks, a San Jose, CA-based supplier of advanced DDoS detection and mitigation systems.

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to discuss the wider implications with Don Shin, A10 Networks’ senior product marketing manager. For a full drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are the key takeaways:

Reflective attacks

DDoS attacks aren’t going to go away anytime soon. They are easier than ever to spin up; very powerful DDoS tools and for-hire services are widely available to anyone with modest technical skills – weaponry that is still very effective.

The Spamhaus attacker, for instance, noticed that there were literally millions of domain name system (DNS) resolvers that remained wide open all over the internet. DNS resolvers were the early building blocks of the internet: they resolved a domain names, such as spamhaus.org, to a specific IP address.

This threat actor figured out how to route requests to legitimate DNS resolvers in such a way that those servers would reflect and amplify responses to the targeted website — more than 50 times, swamping the site.

Today, the potential for so-called DNS reflective attacks has become pervasive. A10 Networks’ report found 6.3 million open DNS resolvers in position and available to be leveraged by anyone in a similar DDoS attack. …more

BEST PRACTICES: How to protect yourself from the enduring scourge of malvertising

By Byron V. Acohido

Malvertising is rearing its ugly head – yet again. Malicious online ads have surged and retreated in cycles since the earliest days of the Internet. Remember when infectious banner ads and viral toolbars cluttered early browsers?

Related: Web application exposures redouble

Historically, with each iteration of malicious ads, the online advertising industry, led by Google, has fought back, and kept this scourge at a publicly acceptable level.

However, malvertising has never been as dynamic, stealthy and persistent as it is today. Here’s what you should know about this enduring online threat:

Gaming the ecosystem

Malvertising has become enmeshed in the highly dynamic online advertising, shopping and banking ecosystem we’ve come to rely on. It has accomplished this by leveraging the openness of the browsers on our go-to computing devices, namely our smartphones and PCs.

Malvertising code often circulates in tiny iframes, the HTML element that enables objects to appear on a webpage without changing the page. This bad code comes and goes, circulating to even well-known, high-traffic websites as part of the flow of web ads being placed dynamically by the online advertising networks, of which Google is the largest.

Malvertisers game this ecosystem in several ways. There are endless ways for them to hack into websites and ad networks directly. Doors and windows are left wide open in the software applications being rapidly developed to support a swelling army of third-party contractors who supply shopping cart services, data management platforms, retargeting enablement systems, and the like.

“The bad guys are insinuating their malicious code as part of the code that renders on the victim’s device during fulfillment,” says Chris Olson, CEO of the Media Trust, a McLean, VA-based website security vendor. “If you visit a large retail website, you may encounter 100 or 150 third party companies that get access to your computing device. For the most part, no one is really thinking about the security of all of these third-party apps. It’s only lightly monitored.”

Another gambit favored by threat actors is to set up shop as an independent ad network, and then patiently behave as a model citizen in order to gain trust. Once good-standing is achieved, the attacker begins to slip malicious ads into the daily flow of the ecosystem.

…more

Web application exposures continue to bedevil companies as digital transformation accelerates

By Byron V. Acohido

As sure as the sun will rise in the morning, hackers will poke and prod at the web applications companies rely on – and find fresh weaknesses they can exploit.

Related: Cyber spies feast on government shutdown

Companies are scaling up their use of web apps as they strive to integrate digital technology into every aspect of daily business operation. As this ‘digital transformation’ of commerce accelerates, the attack surface available to threat actors likewise is expanding.

I had a lively discussion recently with a couple of experts from WhiteHat Security. The San Jose, CA-based security vendor has been helping companies protect their web applications since the company was founded in 2001 by world-renowned ethical hacker Jeremiah Grossman, who also happens to be a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a native of my home state, Hawaii.

I spoke with WhiteHat Security researchers Bryan Becker and Mark Rogan at RSA 2019. They supplied clarifying context as to why web application vulnerabilities continue bedevil companies of all sizes and in all sectors. For a full drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Key takeaways:

Myriad vault doors

Thanks to digital transformation, the attack surface available to threat actors, via web interfaces, is larger than many companies realize – and this exposure continues to steadily expand.

“Moving to the cloud, terms like agile development and container-based infrastructure — all of these are different ways to break a large process down into many smaller components which is easier for a management team and a development team to manage and to update quicker,” said Becker.

But what happens is that instead of having one giant application, you end up with a hundred mini applications, and in the long run, that means it is harder to monitor for vulnerabilities in the code. …more

MY TAKE: Get ready to future-proof cybersecurity; the race is on to deliver ‘post-quantum crypto’

By Byron V. Acohido

Y2Q. Years-to-quantum. We’re 10 to 15 years from the arrival of quantum computers capable of solving complex problems far beyond the capacity of classical computers to solve.

PQC. Post-quantum-cryptography. Right now, the race is on to revamp classical encryption in preparation for the coming of quantum computers. Our smart homes, smart workplaces and smart transportation systems must be able to withstand the threat of quantum computers.

Put another way, future-proofing encryption is crucial to avoiding chaos. Imagine waiting for a quantum computer or two to wreak havoc before companies commence a mad scramble to strengthen encryption that protects sensitive systems and data, the longer we wait, the bigger the threat gets.

Related: The case for ‘zero-trust’

The tech security community gets this. One recent report estimates that the nascent market for PQC technology will climb from around $200 million today to $3.8 billion by 2028 as the quantum threat takes center stage.

I had the chance to visit at RSA 2019 with Avesta Hojjati, head of research and development at DigiCert. The world’s leading provider of digital certificates is working alongside other leading companies, including Microsoft Research and ISARA, to gain endorsement from the National Institute of Standards for breakthrough PQC algorithms, including Microsoft’s “Picnic” and ISARA’s qTESLA.

Hojjati outlined the challenge of perfecting an algorithm that can make classical computers resistant to quantum hacking — without requiring enterprises to rip-and-replace their classical encryption infrastructure. For a full drill down of our discussion, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Below are excerpts edited for clarity and length.

LW: What makes quantum computing so different than what we have today? …more

NEW TECH: Exabeam retools SIEMs; applies credit card fraud detection tactics to network logs

By Byron V. Acohido

Security information and event management, or SIEM, could yet turn out to be the cornerstone technology for securing enterprise networks as digital transformation unfolds.

Related: How NSA cyber weapon could be used for a $200 billion ransomware caper

Exabeam is a bold upstart in the SIEM space. The path this San Mateo, CA-based vendor is trodding tells us a lot about the unfolding renaissance of SIEMs – and where it could take digital commerce.

Launched in 2013 by Nir Polak, a former top exec at web application firewall vendor Imperva, Exabeam in just half a decade has raised an eye-popping $115 million in venture capital, grown to almost 350 employees and reaped over 100 percent revenue growth in each of the last three years.

I had the chance to visit with Trevor Daughney, Exabeam’s vice president of product marketing at RSA 2019. He explained how Exabeam has taken some of the same data analytics techniques that banks have long used to staunch credit card fraud and applied them to filtering network data logs. For a full drill down on our conversation, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are a few takeaways:

Very Big Data

The earliest SIEMs cropped up around 2005 or so. Led by the likes of Splunk, LogRhythm, IBM and Exabeam, the global SIEM market is expected to grow to over $5 billion annually in 2022.

Related: Autonomous vehicles are driving IoT security innovation

Fundamentally, SIEMs collect event log data from internet traffic, as well as corporate hardware and software assets. The starting idea was for a security analyst to then sift meaningful security intelligence from a massive volume of potential security events and keep intruders out. Yet, SIEMs never quite lived up to their initial promise.

And now, Big Data is about to become Very Big Data. Consider that 90 percent of the data that exists in the world today was generated in just the past couple of years. That includes everything moving across the internet: email, texting, online searches, social media posts, entertainment streaming, global finance, scientific research and cyber warfare. And on the horizon loom a full blown Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G networks, which will drive data generation to new heights. …more