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MY TAKE: Remote classes, mobile computing heighten need for a security culture in K-12 schools

By Byron V. Acohido

Parents have long held a special duty to protect their school-aged children from bad actors on the Internet.

Related: Mock attacks help schools defend themselves

Now COVID-19 has dramatically and permanently expanded that parental responsibility, as well as extended it to ill-prepared school officials in K-12 campuses all across the nation. The prospect of remotely-taught lessons remaining widespread for some time to come has profound privacy and cybersecurity implications, going forward.

Overnight, those in charge must learn how to operate all of our elementary, junior high and high schools as if they were digital-native startups. Students, parents and teachers at each K-12 facility, henceforth, need to be treated as the equivalent of remote workers given to using a wide variety of personally-owned computing devices and their favorite cloud services subscriptions. And it must be assumed that many of them are likely ignorant of good cyber hygiene practices.

School district officials will have to adapt and embrace a bold, new paradigm – and they’ll have to do it fast. The stakes are very high. Organized hacking groups will be quick to single out — and plunder — the laggards. Here’s what all parents and school officials need to spend the summer thinking about and planning for:

Zoom-bombing lessons

“Zoom-bombing” entered our lexicon soon after schools began their first attempts at using the suddenly indispensable video conferencing tool to conduct classes online. Attackers quickly figured how to slip obscenities and even pornographic videos into live classes.

This was an early indicator of how far most schools have to go in adopting an appropriate security posture. No one enforced the use of passwords, nor insisted on strict teacher control of those lessons. To Zoom’s credit, password protection and a “waiting room” feature,

SHARED INTEL: How ransomware evolved from consumer trickery to deep enterprise hacks

By David Balaban

Ransomware is undoubtedly one of the most unnerving phenomena in the cyber threat landscape. Numerous strains of this destructive code have been the front-page news in global computer security chronicles for almost a decade now, with jaw-dropping ups and dramatic downs accompanying its progress.

Related: What local government can do to repel ransomware

Ransomware came into existence in 1989 as a primitive program dubbed the AIDS Trojan that was spreading via 5.25-inch diskettes. This debut was followed by the emergence of several marginal blackmail threats in the mid-2000s that never gained significant traction among online criminals. The epidemic went truly mainstream with the release of CryptoLocker back in 2013, and it has since transformed into a major dark web economy spawning the likes of Sodinokibi, Ryuk, and Maze lineages that are targeting the enterprise on a huge scale in 2020.

Although most people think of ransomware as a dodgy application that encrypts data and holds it for ransom, the concept is much more heterogeneous than that. It additionally spans mild-impact screen lockers, data wipers disguised as something else, infections that overwrite the master boot record (MBR), and most recently, nasties that enhance the attack logic with data theft.

The above-mentioned AIDS Trojan hailing from the distant pre-Internet era was the progenitor of the trend, but its real-world impact was close to zero. The Archiveus Trojan from 2006 was the first one to use RSA cipher, but it was reminiscent of a proof of concept and used a static 30-digit decryption password that was shortly cracked. None of these early threats went pro. In this timeline, I will instead focus on the strains that became the driving force of the ransomware evolution.

FBI spoofs

2012 – 2013. During this period, the ransomware ecosystem was dominated by Trojans that locked the screen or web browser with fake alerts impersonating law enforcement agencies. These warnings would state that the victim committed a … more

NEW TECH: Cequence Security’s new ‘API Sentinel’ helps identify, mitigate API exposures

By Byron V. Acohido

Application Programming Interfaces – APIs. Without them digital transformation would never have gotten off the ground.

Related: Defending botnet-driven business logic hacks

APIs made possible the astounding cloud, mobile and IoT services we have today. This happened, at a fundamental level, by freeing up software developers to innovate on the fly. APIs have exploded in enterprise use over the past several years.

However, API deployments have scaled so high and so fast that many companies don’t know how many APIs they have, which types they’re using and how susceptible their APIs might be to being compromised.

Cequence Security, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based application security vendor, today is launching a new solution, called API Sentinel, designed to help companies jump in and start proactively mitigating API risks, without necessarily having to slow down their innovation steam engine. I had the chance to discuss this with Matt Keil, Cequence’s director of product marketing. For a full drill down, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are key takeaways from our conversation:

API 101

Digital transformation took off when companies discovered that instead of developing monolithic applications that were updated annually – at best – they could tap into the skill and creativity of their developers. This was possible because APIs – the conduits that enable two software applications to exchange information – are open and decentralized, exactly like the Internet.

Q&A: NIST’s new ‘Enterprise Risk Management’ guidelines push cyber risks to board level

By Byron V. Acohido

Enterprise risk management (ERM) is a comparatively new corporate discipline. The basic notion is that in today’s complex operating environment, it is important for businesses to proactively identify operational hazards and have a plan in place to account for them.

Related: Poll shows senior execs get cybersecurity

A hazard is anything that can interfere with a company meeting its objectives; it could be something physical, such as a fire, a theft or a natural disaster; or it could  be an abstract risk, such as a lawsuit or a regulatory fine.

As part of its role promoting cybersecurity best practices, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has stepped forward to make sure complex and expanding cybersecurity exposures become part and parcel of evolving ERM frameworks.

NIST has been getting positive feedback to draft guidelines it issued in late March which essentially serves as a roadmap for enterprises to account for complex cybersecurity exposures when implementing ERM strategies. The guidelines — NISTIR 8286, Integrating Cybersecurity and Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) – are specifically aimed at fostering the integration of cybersecurity risk management best practices and ERM frameworks.

The Internet Security Alliance (ISA) is a trade association and think tank whose members include prominent corporations in a wide cross section of industries. In February, ISA, in partnership with the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), published the 2020 edition of their Cyber-Risk Oversight Handbook for Corporate Boards.

ISA President Larry Clinton noted how well the trade groups’ handbook meshes with NIST’s new guidelines. “The NIST filing does an excellent job linking many of the principles directors have articulated as necessary for effective cybersecurity,” he says. “The NISTIR, like the NACD-ISA handbook, urges enterprises to utilize the modern models that are being developed to help organizations appropriately balance economic growth and cyber risk.”

I had the chance to drill down on this with … more

MY TAKE: Technologists, privacy advocates point to flaws in the Apple-Google COVID-19 tracing app

By Byron V. Acohido

If the devastating health and economic ramifications weren’t enough, individual privacy is also in the throes of being profoundly and permanently disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The tech giants are partnering on a tool for public good, but critics worry it will ultimately get used for predatory surveillance.

Related: Europe levies big fines for data privacy missteps

Apple and Google are partnering up to bring technology to bear on COVID-19 contact tracing efforts. The tech giants are laudably putting aside any competitive urgings to co-develop a solution that combines mobile operating system, Bluetooth and GPS technologies to help us all get past the burgeoning health crisis.

However, in an apparent effort to live down Google’s abjectly poor track record respecting consumer privacy, the Apple-Google partnership is treading lightly to avoid anything that might hint at an undue invasion of individual privacy. In doing so, their proposed solution has a number of glaring technical and privacy-protection shortcomings, according to several technologists I spoke with.  In fact, the Apple-Google project has exacerbated a privacy controversy that flared up in Europe in the early stages, one that has more recently been picking up steam in the U.S., as well. Here’s how technologists and privacy experts see things stacking up:

Bluetooth-based tracing

Infected persons will be able to use their iPhones or Android devices to make their status known to a central server, which then correlates an anonymized identifier of the infected person to anonymized IDs of non-infected persons who happen to be in close proximity. The server then alerts the non-infected persons to self-immunize.

MY TAKE: COVID-19 cements the leadership role CISOs must take to secure company networks

By Byron V. Acohido

Chief Information Security Officers were already on the hot seat well before the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, and they are even more so today.

Related: Why U.S. cybersecurity policy needs to match societal values

CISOs must preserve and protect their companies in a fast-changing business environment at a time when their organizations are under heavy bombardment. They must rally the troops to proactively engage, day-to-day, in the intricate and absolutely vital mission of preserving the security of IT assets, without stifling innovation. And they must succeed on executive row, with middle management and amongst the troops in the operational trenches.

That’s a very tall order, made all the more challenging by a global health crisis that has slowed the global economy to a crawl, with no end yet in sight. One new challenge CISOs’ suddenly face is how to lock down web conferencing tools, like Zoom, Skype and Webex, without gutting their usefulness.

Cyber criminals have discovered Zoom logons, in particular, to be useful for carrying out credential stuffing campaigns to probe for deeper access inside of breached networks. Thanks to the sudden rise in use of Zoom and other video conferencing systems by an expanding work-from-home workforce, their logons are begin targeted by threat actors; underground forums today are bristling with databases holding hundreds of thousands of recycled Zoom logon credentials.

I had the chance to discuss this state of affairs with Vishal Salvi, CISO of Infosys. In its 2020 fiscal year, ending March 31, Infosys reported revenue of $12.8 billion, with $7.8 billion coming from North America, $3.1 billion from Europe, $333 million from India and $1.5 billion internationally

MY TAKE: COVID-19’s silver lining could turn out to be more rapid, wide adoption of cyber hygiene

By Byron V. Acohido

Long before COVID-19, some notable behind-the-scenes forces were in motion to elevate cybersecurity to a much higher level.

Related: How the Middle East has advanced mobile security regulations

Over the past couple of decades, meaningful initiatives to improve online privacy and security, for both companies and consumers, incrementally gained traction in the tech sector and among key regulatory agencies across Europe, the Middle East and North America. These developments would have, over the next decade or so, steadily and materially reduced society’s general exposure to cybercrime and online privacy abuses.

Then COVID-19 came along and obliterated societal norms and standard business practices. A sweeping overhaul of the status quo – foreshadowed by the sudden and acute shift to a predominantly work-from-home workforce – lies ahead.

One thing is certain, as this global reset plays out, cyber criminals will seize upon fresh opportunities to breach company and home networks, and to steal, defraud and disrupt, which they’ve already commenced doing.

Yet there are a few threads of a silver lining I’d like to point out. It is possible, if not probable, that we are about to witness an accelerated rate of adoption of cyber hygiene best practices, as well as more intensive use of leading-edge security tools and services. And this positive upswing could be reinforced by stricter adherence to, not just the letter, but the spirit of data security laws already on the books in several nations.

There is an urgency in the air to do the right thing. Several key variables happen to be tilting in an advantageous direction. Here’s a primer about how cyber hygiene best practices – and supporting security tools and services – could gain significant steam in the months ahead, thanks to COVID-19.