Samuel Visner & Beth Musumeci
The current managed security services provider model just doesn't work in our information-rich world. Time to shake things up.
Cybersecurity today has reached a turning point. Managing today's cybersecurity issues requires a new model with which to identify critical information that needs to be protected, a new model to identify the threats that jeopardize that information, and a new way to understand the corporate risk associated with that information's potential loss.
Today's cybersecurity management also requires a more effective way to keep the worst from happening. The current managed security services provider (MSSP) model, one in which a third party monitors the security on a client’s network, can't handle new, more sophisticated threats, more complex enterprise IT infrastructures, the connection of the Internet of Things, and the ever-increasing value of information.
How did we get here? The sophistication of today's threats can be seen in two ways. Nation-states and organized criminals possess sophisticated tools to probe networks, penetrate firewalls, find targeted information, and send home to their controller the information they’ve compromised and details about the network from which it was taken. But those who jeopardize our cybersecurity are also sophisticated operationally. They use social media to identify and gain access to users with privileged information. They conduct thorough surveillance of the networks they seek to penetrate, accumulating valuable intelligence regarding the information they want, how it's defended, and what vulnerabilities exist that they can exploit. We see a rising tide of threats, blending existing malware with new, persistent challenges to the security of our enterprises.
The past six years have seen breaches of banks and investment houses ranging from JPMorgan Chase to the Korean Investment Bureau. Retailers such as Staples and Carphone Warehouse have been compromised. LivingSocial, Adobe, and Walgreens have all suffered from the actions of adversaries intent on pilfering corporate and customer information. Reports suggest that electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois are being targeted. The threat, both in its sophistication and its purpose, has never been more serious.
Why is the problem growing? The value of information amplified by the use of that information to manage today's infrastructures and industry on the Internet of Things rises every day, making cybersecurity more important than ever and the compromise of information ever-more lucrative. For instance, one need only consider information as an organization's end product and the use of information to coordinate its delivery of physical products to understand how vital it is to improve security today.
In addition, many products have so much embedded information technology, they are almost inconceivable without it. Consider today's Boeing Dreamliner. The jet airliner uses computer-based "fly-by-wire" technologies to control critical flight systems. It possesses Internet-based architectures for other systems ranging from avionics to passenger entertainment subsystems. In many ways, the Dreamliner is a computer around which someone designed an airplane.
What needs to be done? Today's MSSP model lacks the power to protect the information vital to the design and delivery of today's complex products. It also can't safeguard our personal information or protect the IT-enabled infrastructures on which we depend. The model relies on "knowing what's bad," including the signatures of known malware and known exploits.
Detection of software known to be bad is useful, but it's not enough in a world in which new cybersecurity threats evolve and constantly challenge the systems on which we depend. Every new threat poses the possibility that an enterprise will be the initial victim of a breach. The bulk of today's intrusion detection/intrusion protection and endpoint protection systems rely on information one hopes will be up to date regarding known threats. But according to Gartner research, "44% of reference customers for endpoint protection solutions have been successfully compromised."
To be clear, this problem isn't going away. Statistics compiled by the AV-TEST Institute indicate that over 140,000 examples of new malware were detected in 2014 and 2015, with almost 100,000 examples collected by mid-2016. Dealing with known malware based on existing signatures isn't adequate.
A new approach is possible. Replacing efforts to block the "known bad" by allowing access to only the "known good" represents the next generation of managed security services. An emerging approach denies by default access into a network to all applications unless they are known, according to a trusted whitelisting capability, in order to keep out malware. All unknown or untrusted applications or executables are automatically wrapped in an isolated container that prevents any malware from gaining the access it needs to harm either a specific device or its network, blocking all new zero-day threats and advanced persistent threats. Working with a comprehensive whitelist of applications and executables that are "known good" allows this cybersecurity approach to become a reality.
The stakes have never been higher. A new model, one that protects by default our most valuable information and systems, provides the cybersecurity we need today and will need in future.
Image: Embry-Riddle Aeronautic University