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

By Byron V. Acohido

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

GUEST ESSAY: Addressing DNS, domain names and Certificates to improve security postures

By Vincent D’Angelo

In 2019, we’ve seen a surge in domain name service (DNS) hijacking attempts and have relayed warnings from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, U.K.’s Cybersecurity Centre, ICANN, and other notable security experts. Although, the topic has gained popularity amongst CIOs and CISOs, most companies are still overlooking important security blind spots when it comes to securing their digital assets outside the enterprise firewalls—domains, DNS, digital certificates.

D’Angelo

In fact, most organizations, regardless of geographic location or industry, are exposed to these risks. Our most recent Domain Name Security report featuring insights from the defense, media, and financial sectors illustrates the risk trends.

•Do you know who your domain name registrar is (the domain name management company that holds the keys to the kingdom)?

•What do you know about your domain name registrar’s controls, security, policies and processes?

I like to think of this topic like the electricity that powers our homes. Everyone expects their lights to work, but then, what happens when the power goes out? In the enterprise environment, domain names, DNS, and certificates are the lifeline to any internet-based application including websites, email, apps, virtual private networks (VPNs), voice over IP (VoIP) and more. …more

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 …more

SHARED INTEL: How ‘memory attacks’ and ‘firmware spoilage’ circumvent perimeter defenses

By Byron V. Acohido

What does Chinese tech giant Huawei have in common with the precocious kid next door who knows how to hack his favorite video game?

Related: Ransomware remains a scourge

The former has been accused of placing hidden backdoors in the firmware of equipment distributed to smaller telecom companies all across the U.S. The latter knows how to carry out a  DLL injection hack — to cheat the game score. These happen to represent two prime examples of cyber attack vectors that continue to get largely overlooked by traditional cybersecurity defenses.

Tech consultancy IDC tells us that global spending on security hardware, software and services is on course to top $103 billion in 2019, up 9.4 percent from 2018. Much of that will be spent on subscriptions for legacy systems designed to defend network perimeters or detect and deter malicious traffic circulating in network logs.

However, the threat actors on the leading edge are innovating at deeper layers. One security vendor that happens to focus on this activity is Virsec, a San Jose-based supplier of advanced application security and memory protection technologies. I had the chance to visit with Willy Leichter, Virsec’s vice president of marketing, at Black Hat 2019.

“There are multiple vectors, lots of different ways people can inject code directly into an application,” Leichter told me. “And now we’re hearing about new threats, throughout the whole supply chain, where there might be malware deeply embedded at the firmware level, or at the processor level,  that can provide ways to get into the applications, and get into the data.”

For a full drill down of our discussion, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are a few key takeways:

Firmware exposures

Firmware is the coding built into computing devices and components that carry out the low-level input/output tasks necessary to enable software applications to run. Firmware is on everything from hard drives, motherboards and routers to office printers and smart medical devices. …more

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

SHARED INTEL: What can be done — today — to keep quantum computing from killing encryption

By Byron V. Acohido

There’s little doubt that the shift to quantum computing  will open new horizons of digital commerce. But it’s also plain as day that the mainstreaming of quantum processing power will profoundly exacerbate cybersecurity exposures.

Related: The ‘post quantum crytpo’ race is on

This isn’t coming as any surprise to IT department heads. In fact, there’s widespread recognition in corporate circles that the planning to address fresh cyber risks associated with quantum computing should have commenced long ago.

That’s the upshot of a survey of 400 large organizations across critical infrastructure industries in the U.S., Germany and Japan. The study, sponsored by DigiCert, Inc., a Lehi,Utah-based supplier of digital certificates, found 71 percent of global organizations already see the emergence of quantum processing power as a material security threat.

Their trepidation is focused on the potential undermining of a core security component of classical computing systems: encryption. In a nutshell, when quantum processing power becomes widely available – whether that be three years or 10 years from now — threat actors will gain the ability to decrypt everything companies have been protecting with classical encryption.

To its credit, the global cybersecurity community is not asleep on this. A major public-private effort is underway to revamp classical cryptography, and ultimately replace it with something called post-quantum-cryptography, or PQC. DigiCert happens to be in the thick of this effort; I recently had a wide-ranging discussion about this with Tim Hollebeek, DigiCert’s industry and standards technical strategist. …more

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 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