Can you imagine life without your laptop, tablet or phone? Today more than at any time in the past we are committed to using such devices to facilitate almost all our business and social needs. Sending and receiving mail, contacting friends and family, arranging business meetings. Never before have we been so interconnected on such a global scale. Whilst on the one hand this has been enabling and incredibly convenient, it has on the other hand exposed us to the risk of fraud or other forms of malicious use of our computer systems on a scale previously unheard of.
You may have been lucky to date. You may have never suffered at the hands of the cyber criminal, but this is no time to be complacent. There have been numerous surveys and reports issued over the past two years spelling out the financial cost of security breaches. The average annualised cost companies could face was reported, in one such report from the Ponemon Institute, as £2.1 million a year, with a range of £0.4 million to £7.7 million. In the past year we have seen many high profile companies fall fail of organised cyber attacks;
These are just some of those affected. And then of course there is the usual and persistent attack on Microsoft Windows users. All targeted by cyber criminals. These are not just isolated incidents. In 2011 there were around 50 million SQLi (SQL injection) attacks on web based applications. This is an almost unbelievable figure, that as far as this writer is concerned, if it had not been reported by such a trustworthy source (Hewlett Packard) it would have been disregarded as an over exaggeration.
Limiting the Risk
Our networks generate numerous opportunities for cyber attack. We are constantly sending and receiving code using a variety of devices. If we could limit these movements to merely data we would mitigate the risk substantially. However the boundary between what is seen to be data rather than executable code is shifting constantly. In some cases code that would be seen as banal can be delivered over several days even weeks and then be assembled as a malicious program by utilising the normal operating processes of the OS or other legitimate programs.
Criminal Not Hacker
Should your company or organisation be targeted by a Cyber Criminal it becomes a real battle of wits between the criminal and your IT security department. I use the term Cyber Criminal in preference to hacker since it describes what they do more accurately. The targeted cyber criminal attack is the hardest to defend against, since the method and code used may be unique to your attack. Or at the very least, your network might be the first to encounter this attack. As such many of the conventional defence mechanisms will be rendered useless in detecting or preventing the attack.
What Can You Do?
Sandboxing and quarantining techniques offer some of the best defence when considering these targeted attacks. By allowing the possible threat to penetrate into a controlled environment before it has access to your network proper, you have the time and the opportunity to analyse and monitor the code for unexpected activity. Vigilance is paramount more than ever as the attacker profile shifts further towards the organised criminal rather than the criminally minded individual. The good news is that there are now well developed, advanced academic courses on offer from leading Universities such as London University’s Royal Holloway College. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has just (May 2013) granted the Royal Holloway £3.8 million to host a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in cyber security.
It is essential that you deploy the expertise of properly trained experts to advise and construct the barriers necessary to defend your cyber world. When seeking external advice be sure to shop around, find those with individuals who are independently certified as qualified in this area. I think we are all agreed that it would be disastrous if we failed to keep up research and innovation in the area of cyber security.