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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

NEW TECH: Silverfort deploys ‘multi-factor authentication’ to lock down ‘machine identities’

By Byron V. Acohido

From the start, two-factor authentication, or 2FA, established itself as a simple, effective way to verify identities with more certainty.

Related: A primer on IoT security risks

The big hitch with 2FA, and what it evolved into – multi-factor authentication, or MFA – has always been balancing user convenience and security. That seminal tension still exists today even as the global cybersecurity community is moving to extend MFA as a key security component in much more complex digital systems spinning out of digital transformation.

One leading innovator in this space is Tel Aviv-based Silverfort. I’ve had a number of conversations with company co-founder and CEO Hed Kovetz over the past couple of years, and I had the chance to meet with him again at Black Hat 2019.

One thing I learned from Kovetz this time was that secure authentication seems destined to play a major role, going forward in verifying, not just human identities, but also machine identities. In terms of baking in security at a fundamental level of future systems, that’s very significant. For a drill down on why that’s so, give a listen to our full discussion in the accompanying podcast. Here are the key takeaways:

A machine’s world

Machines are taking over. A machine, in this context, is any piece of hardware or software that can accept and execute instructions. This includes the beefy servers humming along in vast data centers and providing the infrastructure for cloud services.

And it also include software: the modular “microservices” written by third-party developers; the software “containers” inside of which these microservices get mixed and matched; and the billions of APIs that enable two disparate machines to exchange data. In this realm, the identity of each and every machine must be verified, or chaos would rule.

Machine identities are verified by digital certificates that leverage the public key infrastructure (PKI), a framework for encrypting data and authenticating web entities. These identity certificates — and the encrypted keys to authenticate them – get issued bu Certificate Authorities (CAs) —  vendors that diligently verify the authenticity of websites. …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

SHARING INTEL: Why full ‘digital transformation’ requires locking down ‘machine identities’

By Byron V. Acohido

Digital commerce has come to revolve around two types of identities: human and machine.

Great effort has gone into protecting the former, and yet human identities continue to get widely abused by cyber criminals. By comparison, scant effort has gone into securing the latter. This is so in spite of the fact that machine identities are exploding in numbers and have come to saturate digital transformation.

Related: IoT exposures explained

I’ve conversed several times with Jeff Hudson about this. Hudson is CEO of Salt Lake City, UT-based Venafi, a leading provider of machine identity protection solutions. Each time I’ve come away with a better grasp of how machine identities have come to play such a pivotal role in the IT systems taking us forward – and yet how vulnerable they remain to attack in the current environment.

We had a chance to meet again at Black Hat 2019. For a full drill down of our wide-ranging discussion please give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are a few key takeaways:

Machines on the march

Cloud computing and DevOps have given rise to a whirlwind of new types of machines. A machine, in this context, refers to any piece of hardware or software that can accept and execute instructions. The hardware servers humming along in vast data centers are, indeed, machines.

And so are the modular “microservices” written by far-flung third-party developers, who specialize in mixing, matching and reusing microservices assembled inside of software “containers,” which are another type of machine. APIs, the interface coding that allows two different machines to exchange data – for instance, an IoT device and a command server — are machines as well. This is how cool new digital services are getting spun up at high velocity. …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

SHARED INTEL: How NTA/NDR systems get to ‘ground truth’ of cyber attacks, unauthorized traffic

By Byron V. Acohido

The digital footprints of U.S. consumers’ have long been up for grabs. No one stops the tech giants, media conglomerates and online advertisers from intensively monetizing consumers’ online behaviors, largely without meaningful disclosure.

Related: The state of ransomware

Who knew that much the same thing routinely happens to enterprises? A recent report by network detection and response vendor ExtraHop details how third-party security and analytics tools routinely “phone home” in order to exfiltrate network behavior data back to their home base, without explicitly asking permission.

It’s tempting to chalk this up to competitive frenzy – a simple case of third-party suppliers seeking whatever edge they can get away with. But there is a larger lesson here. ExtraHop’s finding vividly shows how, as digital transformation ramps up, companies really have no clue what moves back and forth, nor in and out, of their networks on a daily basis.

In one case, ExtraHop tracked a made-in-China surveillance cam sending UDP traffic logs, every 30 minutes, to a known malicious IP address with ties to China. It appears the cam in question was unwittingly set up by an employee for personal security reasons.

In another case, a device management tool was deployed in a hospital and used the WiFi network to insure data privacy, as it provisioned connected devices. But ExtraHop noticed that the tool also opening encrypted connections to vendor-owned cloud storage, a major HIPAA violation.

Getting to ground truth

I had a chance to discuss the wider implication of these findings with Raja Mukerji, co-founder and chief customer officer at ExtraHop. We met at Black Hat 2019. Mukerji and fellow co-founder Jesse Rothstein, ExtraHop’s chief technology officer, were colleagues at Seattle-based network switching systems supplier F5 Networks.

Launched in Seattle in 2007, ExtraHop set out to help companies gain an actionable understanding of their IT environments. Since then it has raised $61.6 million in VC backing, grown to more than 450 employees and now finds itself in the thick of a hot emerging cybersecurity space, Network Traffic Analysis (NTA,) as so declared by tech industry consultancy Gartner. ExtraHop refers to what it does as Network Detection and Response (NDR.) …more