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Steps forward

 

MY TAKE: Why new tools, tactics are needed to mitigate risks introduced by widespread encryption

By Byron V. Acohido

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It was just a few short years ago that the tech sector, led by Google, Mozilla and Microsoft, commenced a big push to increase the use of HTTPS – and its underlying TLS authentication and encryption protocol.

Related: Why Google’s HTTPS push is a good thing

At the time, just 50 % of Internet traffic used encryption. Today the volume of encrypted network traffic is well over 80% , trending strongly toward 100%, according to Google.

There is no question that TLS is essential, going forward. TLS is the glue that holds together not just routine website data exchanges, but also each of the billions of machine-to-machine handshakes occurring daily to enable DevOps, cloud computing and IoT systems. Without TLS, digital transformation would come apart at the seams.

However, the sudden, super-saturation of TLS, especially over the past two years, has had an unintended security consequence. Threat actors are manipulating TLS to obscure their attack footprints from enterprise network defenses. The bad guys know full well that legacy security systems were designed mainly to filter unencrypted traffic. So cyber criminals, too, have begun regularly using TLS to encrypt their attacks.

TLS functions as the confidentiality and authenticity cornerstone of digital commerce. It authenticates connections that take place between a smartphone and a mobile app, for instance, as well as between an IoT device and a control server, and even between a microservice and a software container. It does this by verifying that the server involved is who it claims to be, based on the digital certificate issued to the server. It then also encrypts the data transferred between the two digital assets. …more

NEW TECH: CyCognito employs offensive bot network to put companies a step a head of attackers

By Byron V. Acohido

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When it comes to defending their networks, most companies have had it drilled into them, by now, that it’s essential to erect layered defenses.

Related:Promise vs. pitfalls of IoT

For small- and mid-sized businesses, firewalls, antivirus suites and access management systems  represent the entry stakes for participating in today’s digital economy. Security-mature SMBs go the next step and embrace incidence response and disaster recovery planning, as well

Meanwhile, large enterprises pour tens of billions of dollars annually into next-gen firewalls, EDR, DLP and IDS technologies, each system generating a fire-hose of threat feeds, with all of this threat intel flooding, hour-by-hour, into SIEMs, UEBAs and other analytics platforms.

And yet, after a couple of decades of piling up layer upon layer of defenses, catastrophic breaches persist — they’re occurring as often as ever, and causing more harm than ever. Threat actors simply seek out the endless fresh attack vectors arising as an unintended consequence of digital transformation. In short, layered defenses have turned out to be cheesecloth.

Acknowledging this, a few cybersecurity innovators are taking a different tack. Instead of offering up more layers of defense, they’ve slipped on the shoes of the attackers and taken an offensive approach to defending IT assets. One of the most single-minded of these security vendors is startup CyCognito.

The company was launched in Tel Aviv in 2017 by a couple of former Israeli military cyber ops attack specialists, Rob Gurzeev and Dima Potekhin. Gurzeev and Potekhin set out to mirror the perspective of threat actors — and then help companies tactically leverage this attackers’ view to shore up their porous networks. …more

GUEST ESSAY: Cyber insurance 101 — for any business operating in today’s digital environment

By Cynthia Lopez Olson

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Cyberattacks are becoming more prevalent, and their effects are becoming more disastrous. To help mitigate the risk of financial losses, more companies are turning to cyber insurance.

Related: Bots attack business logic

Cyber insurance, like other forms of business insurance, is a way for companies to transfer some of numerous potential liability hits associated specifically with IT infrastructure and IT activities.

These risks are normally not covered by a general liability policy, which includes coverage only for injuries and property damage. In general, cyber insurance covers things like:

•Legal fees and expenses to deal with a cybersecurity incident

•Regular security audit

•Post-attack public relations

•Breach notifications

•Credit monitoring

•Expenses involved in investigating the attack

•Bounties for cyber criminals

In short, cyber insurance covers many of the expenses that you’d typically face in the wake of cybersecurity event. …more

MY TAKE: Why it’s now crucial to preserve PKI, digital certificates as the core of Internet security

By Byron V. Acohido

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For decades, the cornerstone of IT security has been Public Key Infrastructure, or PKI, a system that allows you to encrypt and sign data, issuing digital certificates that authenticate the identity of users.

Related: How PKI could secure the Internet of Things

If that sounds too complicated to grasp, take a look at the web address for the home page of this website. Take note of how the URL begins with HTTPS.  The ‘S’ in HTTPS stands for ‘secure.’ Your web browser checked the security certificate for this website, and verified that the certificate was issued by a legitimate certificate authority. That’s PKI in action.

As privacy comes into sharp focus as a priority and challenge for cybersecurity, it’s important to understand this fundamental underlying standard.

Because it functions at the infrastructure level, PKI is not as well known as it should be by senior corporate management, much less the public. However, you can be sure cybercriminals grasp  the nuances about PKI, as they’ve continued to exploit them to invade privacy and steal data.

Here’s the bottom line: PKI is the best we’ve got. As digital transformation accelerates, business leaders and even individual consumers are going to have to familiarize themselves with PKI and proactively participate in preserving it. The good news is that the global cybersecurity community understands how crucial it has become to not just preserve, but also reinforce, PKI. Google, thus far, is leading the way. …more

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

By Byron V. Acohido

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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

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

By Byron V. Acohido

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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

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

By Byron V. Acohido

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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