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MY TAKE: The back story on the convergence, continuing evolution of endpoint security

By Byron V. Acohido

No one in cybersecurity refers to “antivirus” protection any more. The technology that corrals malicious software circulating through desktop PCs, laptops and mobile devices has evolved into a multi-layered security technology referred to as ‘endpoint security.’

This designation change unfolded a few years back. It was a reflection of attackers moving to take full advantage of the fresh attack vectors cropping up as companies retooled their legacy networks – comprised of ‘on-premises’ servers and clients – to operate in the expanding world of cloud services, mobile devices and the Internet of Things.

Having covered the Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, Sophos, Kaspersky, et. al. since the nascent days of the antivirus market, I find in fascinating that the top dozen or so antivirus players have all managed to remain in the game. What’s more, they’ve all successfully grown into multi-layered full-service endpoint security suppliers.

I visited with Joe Sykora, vice president of worldwide channel development for Bitdefender, at Black Hat USA 2018, and asked him to put the remarkable staying power of endpoint security in context. In 1990, Florin and Mariuca Talpes parlayed a $300 stake borrowed from a relative into a company which would become Bitdefender in 2001. Founded in Bucharest, the company of 1,600 employees is in the thick of reshaping endpoint security.

For a drill down on my discussion with Sykora, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are a few big takeaways: …more

Q&A: Here’s how Google’s labeling HTTP websites “Not Secure” will strengthen the Internet

By Byron V. Acohido

In a move to blanket the Internet with encrypted website traffic, Google is moving forward with its insistence that straggling website publishers adopt HTTPS Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

Related: How PKI can secure IoT

Google’s Chrome web browser commands a 60% market share. So the search giant has been leading the push to get 100% of websites to jettison HTTP and replace it with HTTPS. The former – Hypertext Transfer Protocol – standardized the way web browsers fetch a web page from its host server and thus made the world wide web as we know it today possible.

But HTTP connections are carried out in plain text. This makes it trivial for eavesdroppers to snatch plain-text communications, such as when users fill out forms on web pages or use shopping carts or conduct online banking. This makes any personal information and details of financial transactions typed on HTTP web pages easy pickings.

So along came SSL and its successor, Transport Layer Security (TLS), the underpinnings of secure online transactions. SSL and TLS come into play in the form of digital certificates issued by Certificate Authorities (CAs) —  vendors that diligently verify the authenticity of websites, and then also help the website owners encrypt the information consumers type into web page forms.

The PKI (public key infrastructure) encryption protocol makes all this happen instantaneously, triggering a visual confirmation – the tiny green padlock preceding the HTTPS address in Chrome’s address bar.

With the release its Chrome 68 browser on July 24, any web page not running HTTPS with a valid TLS certificate will display a “Not Secure” warning in Chrome’s address bar. …more

Q&A: How your typing and screen swiping nuances can verify your identity

The recent data breaches at Timehop and Macy’s are the latest harbingers of what’s in store for companies that fail to vigorously guard access to all of their mission-critical systems.

Related podcast: Why identities are the new firewall

A common thread to just about every deep network breach these days is the failure of the victimized entity to effectively deploy multi-factor authentication (MFA) to at least make it harder for threat actors to access their sensitive systems.

Compromised accounts came into play in data breaches of Uber, Tesla, Gemalto, Aviva, Equifax and many others. Threat actors are authenticating themselves at numerous junctures in order to gain deep access and deliver malicious payloads without being detected.

And with “digital transformation” accelerating, there are so many more weakly-secured login accounts just waiting to be maliciously manipulated.

Generally speaking, companies have yet to fully address authentication weaknesses, with respect to their legacy on-premises systems. And yet they doubling down on public cloud services, as well as increasing their dependence on an entire new solar system of  software “microservices” and  “containers” that come and go.

The vast majority of these new, interconnected components and layers that make up digital transformation require login accounts, which translates into a fresh galaxy of attack vectors.

The good news is that this is a solvable problem. The Identity Access Management (IAM) space is one of the more mature subsectors of the cybersecurity industry. And IAM vendors are innovating like crazy. They are bringing data-analytics, machine-learning and behavioral biometrics to bear, to help companies more effectively manage account authentication, without slowing down digital transformation.

For instance, IAM supplier Optimal IdM recently  announced that it is partnering with TypingDNA to add “typing behavior analysis” as an added feature to its core MFA services. I asked Chris Curcio, vice-president of channel sales at Optimal IdM to set the wider context. Here are excerpts of the interview, edited for clarity and length. …more

National Cybersecurity Alliance advocates ‘shared responsibility’ for securing the Internet

By Byron V. Acohido

The targeting of Sen. Claire McCaskill by Russian intelligency agency hackers, as she runs for re-election, underscores the need for each individual and organization to take online privacy and security as a core part of our everyday lives.

Related: Using ‘gamification’ for security training

The National Cyber Security Alliance is a  non-profit group, underwritten by the top tech companies and biggest banks, that has been out there since 2001 promoting best practices and supplying programs to engrain this mindset in our society.  NCSA operates the StaySafeOnline website that provides a variety of cybersecurity educational resources and programs.

I sat down with Russ Schrader, NCSA’s new executive director, who outlined the terrific resources NCSA makes available. One program, for instance, puts on workshops for Congressional staffers and other federal employees on how to recognize and avoid nation-state backed hackers looking to interfere in elections.

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

LW: What is the National Cyber Security Alliance?

Schrader: We are a leading nonpartisan, nonprofit group that’s very involved as a convener of experts to talk about a number of the top issues in cybersecurity. We also have a lot of educational programs that reach far beyond the insular, cybersecurity expert areas.

LW: How did this organization get started?

Schrader

Schrader: The legacy is a group of CISOs from companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Mastercard, Visa, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and a lot of others. They built a very robust  group of committed cybersecurity professionals in their own businesses. But they also realized there was a greater good in encouraging safety and security of the Internet, as it becomes more and more an important part of people’s lives.

LW: Your high-level mission, as I understand it, is generally to build the level of awareness across the board?

Schrader:  Absolutely. We have a lot of programs geared toward education at a lot of different levels. In addition to the consumer levels that we’re doing, we also work with people on the Hill,  and try to help them during this election time, or when there may be unfriendly actors trying to hack into their e-mails or hijack their social media accounts. …more

MY TAKE: Here’s why identities are the true firewalls, especially as digital transformation unfolds

By Byron V. Acohido

Was it really that long ago that company networks were comprised of a straightforward cluster of servers, data bases, applications and user devices corralled largely on premises?

Related article: Taking a ‘zero-trust’ approach to authentication

In today’s digitally transformed environment, companies must monitor and defend systems housed on-premises and in overlapping public and private clouds. And they must account for employees, partners and customers using their smartphones to log in from Timbuktu.

This presents a convoluted matrix to access the company network —  and an acute exposure going largely unaddressed in many organizations. Massive data breaches continue to occur because companies caught up in the swirl of digital transformation continue to unwittingly authenticate threat actors — and allow them to take a dive deep into mission-critical systems.

The good news is that the identity management space is chock full of strong vendors innovating at a furious pace. I sat down with Mark Foust, Chief Product Evangelist at Optimal IdM, a leading supplier of Identity Access Management (IAM) systems, to get a better sense of what’s unfolding.

We discussed the leading-edge solutions being designed to help companies make much more precise judgements about each and every user trying to access sensitive assets. For a full drill down, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are the key takeaways:

Fresh vectors

Here’s the rub: accelerated use of cloud services, DevOps, software containers and microservices may be giving companies amazing agility and scalability; but they’ve also created a vast new attack surface, rife with fresh attack vectors. …more

How ‘digital transformation’ gave birth to a new breed of criminal: ‘machine-identity thieves’

By Byron V. Acohido

There’s a new breed of identity thief at work plundering consumers and companies.

However, these fraudsters don’t really care about snatching up your credentials or mine. By now, your personal information and mine has been hacked multiple times and is readily on sale in the Dark Web. This has long been true of the vast majority of Americans.

Related article: 7 hacks signaling a coming global cyber war

The identities most sought after by cyber criminals today are those associated with machines. This is because the digital wizardry driving modern society relies heavily on machine-to-machine communications. And guess what? No one is really watching authentication and privileged access, with respect to those machines very closely.

It’s my belief that every consumer and every company will very soon come to realize that a new breed of criminal – machine-identity thieves – will soon become all-powerful, and not in a good way. Here’s why:

Fresh attack surface

 If you haven’t heard, we are undergoing “digital transformation.” Digital advances are coming at us fast and furious. Consumers have begun accustomed to conveniently accessing clever services delivered by  a sprawling matrix of machines, and not just traditional computer servers.

The machines enabling digital transformation include virtual instances of computers created and maintained in the Internet cloud, as well as myriad instances of software “microservices” and “containers” that come and go as part of the dynamic processes that make all of this happen.

Each machine must continually communicate with countless other machines. And as the number of machines has skyrocketed, so has the volume of machine identities. From a criminal’s perspective, each machine represents an opportunity to slip into the mix and take control. And each machine identity represents a key to get in the door.

 Machine-identity capers

The creation of this vast new attack surface isn’t just theoretical. It’s tangible and threat actors are on the move. “Hackers are stealing machine identities, and using them in attacks, and it’s happening more and more,” says Jeff Hudson, CEO of security supplier Venafi. …more

MY TAKE: These 7 nation-state backed hacks have put us on the brink of a global cyber war

By Byron V. Acohido

Nation-state backed hacking collectives have been around at least as long as the Internet.

However, evidence that the ‘golden age’ of cyber espionage is upon us continues to accumulate as the first half of 2018 comes to a close.

Related podcast: Obsolescence is creeping into legacy security systems

What’s changed is that cyber spies are no longer content with digital intelligence gathering. Military operatives and intelligence units today routinely hack to knock down critical infrastructure, interfere with elections, and even to exact revenge on Hollywood studios.

Recently, one of the most powerful and notorious cyber spies on the planet, North Korean General Kim Yong Chol, stepped from obscurity into global celebrity status.

Last month President Trump invited the heretofore obscure General Kim into the White House for an impromptu state visit. For about two hours, Trump exchanged pleasantries with the man who orchestrated North Korea’s devastating hack of Sony Pictures in 2014, the aforementioned revenge caper. The tête-à-tête unfolded as Trump prepared for his summit in Singapore with General Kim’s boss, North Korean despot Kim Jong-un.

Rise of North Korea

It’s notable that, since the Sony Pictures hack, General Kim has steadily gotten more powerful and adept at the cyber spy game. Today he commands a cyber army, some 7,000 hackers and support staff strong, that has emerged as a potent and disruptive force. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that North Korea is cultivating elite hackers much like other countries train Olympic athletes.

Meanwhile, Iran-sponsored cyber operatives are making hay, as well. Trump’s decision …more