Hacking doesn’t happen only to other people.
While last spring’s notorious Sony hack may have implied that the biggest targets are the most vulnerable, any organization can be a victim — and, perhaps surprisingly, an unwitting perpetrator.
I’m talking to you, IT infrastructure companies. As a class of business, IT providers may be hip to risk as a matter of course, but they aren’t exempt from the rules of the game and, given their special position in the information security ecosystem, attacks directed their way can be enormously consequential.
Deploying appropriate security protections, with technologies such as clustered firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), doesn’t come cheap. The fact is, many of the smaller players in the hosting business can’t and don’t make that investment.
At the other end of the hosting spectrum, one of the industry’s largest providers was recently attacking a mid-range player from thousands of servers each night — and the big provider’s security detail couldn’t even see the ongoing attack emanating from its own environment. Which raises the really big question: if they couldn’t discern the attacks going out, can they see them coming in?
It’s not alarmist to recognize that these scenarios have become distressingly common. Organizations — provider and user alike — aren’t defenseless, but there’s no longer an excuse for being caught napping.
As important consumers of IT services, small and midsize manufacturers must do due diligence within their own organizations and with the providers they retain. Here are just a few words to the wise (and to those who may need to wise up):
- Treat security as a process, not an event. Achieving some measure of security requires a specific mindset that every organization needs to understand and then internalize. It doesn’t matter if you’re VISA or a neighborhood bank or a specialty manufacturer — every organization is more and less secure over time, since the nature of cyberattacks constantly evolves. The process of security means adjusting and learning accordingly. A head-in-the-sand approach ensures that an organization will become less secure.
- Corollary to No.1: If your policy isn’t dynamic, you don’t have one. Security isn’t like filling out loan application; it’s not a matter of checking boxes and moving on. The dynamic extends to asking questions — lots of them. Where are threats coming from? Are we looking at our environment in a holistic manner? Are we conducting a quarterly analysis of what’s secure, what’s not, what could be more secure, and then implementing a framework for how to deal with it?
- Beware the unwitting perpetrator. Like crimes in the non-virtual world, Denial of Service attacks and cyber hacks rarely come with calling cards. Those with ill intent find honeypots of oblivious organizations they can commandeer easily, with a single password. In the incident referenced earlier, the mega-provider didn’t even have an abuse team. So, at the very least, manufacturers need to insist that their hosting company assign a unique password to every server — and have an abuse team at the ready… just in case.
- Patching is for sweaters and tires, not firewalls. Piecemeal approaches to security simply don’t work. Patching a hole or fixing a bug, and moving on — that’s hardly the stuff of which effective security policies are made. Because security is a moving target, scattershot repairs ignore the hundreds or even thousands of points of vulnerability that a policy of ongoing monitoring can help mitigate.
- The perfect is the enemy of the good. Perfection in countering cyberattacks is as elusive here as it is in any other endeavor. Even so, that can’t be an argument for complacence or anything less than vigilance backed up by state-of-the-art technology. Consider a strategic approach to security as a form of corporate physical fitness. Sitting ducks, after all, can’t move nearly as swiftly as hawks.
It was William Osler, the 19th Century physician who co-founded Johns Hopkins, who said, “Security can only be achieved through constant change, adapting old ideas that have outlived their usefulness to current facts.” Where IaaS is concerned, Osler could hardly have been more prescient.
Adam Stern is founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual.