Understand Cybersecurity Before You Regret.

Earlier this week I went to an inaugural talk, at the Singapore Management University (SMU), called The State Of Cyber Threats And How To Fight Back. The main subject was cybersecurity and the inauguration of Professor Robert Deng for the AXA Chair Professor of Cybersecurity. Throughout the presentation and forum discussion, several trends were raised. I would like to share the highlights and my thoughts on those trends. These subjects are also related to my previous article on The Value Chain of IoT and security.

 

Increasing amount of cyber attacks

The number of cyber attacks is ever increasing, and not only by number but also by the amount of damage in money or company reputation. Take for example the 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist of $81 Million or the Ashley Madison data breach in 2015. Moreover, with help of the Internet of Things, we reached bandwidth levels of DDoS-attacks (distributed denial-of-service) in October 2016 (Dyn cyberattack) that were never imagined before, a staggering 1.2 Terabits per second, which was above all expectations.

Considering that the number of devices, apps, cloud services, and connectivity are increasing day by day, the number of cyber attacks will also increase, and likely exponentially.

 

Business models are more and more data driven

In the past, large businesses had physical stores, real estate, inventory etc. However, we are now making the transfer from those tangible assets to more and more intangible assets like data and algorithms. These intangible assets are no longer protected by premises or borders, they are accessible all over the world and 24 hours a day. This gives unlimited possibilities for the users but also for the cyber criminals. Moreover, international cooperation between companies, institutes, and governments is becoming a necessity.

 

Hackers shifted from whiz kids to criminals

The 24-hour arena of online services does not only change business models but also attracts criminal organizations. Hacking is no longer exclusively conducted by whiz kids that want to make name and fame for themselves, as a hacker to show off to their friends. But instead, organized crime is taking more and more share in cyber attacks and they are in the game for the money. This shift causes priority changes in corporate and governmental agendas.

So far we have been talking about causes, but are there also solutions? On a positive note, in which areas can we see progress?

 

User awareness

A quick win can be made in user awareness. The public should be educated in the awareness on cybersecurity and privacy. It starts with checking your browser’s connection with the bank, are you really dealing with the right website or is it fraud? Do you take proper action if certain account information is compromised, do you change your passwords? Did you ever check a website like Have I been pwnd? This website informs you about data breaches. Do you change default passwords on webcams, routers, and setup-boxes? And do not open attachments or links in emails that look suspicious or too good to be true. There is a lot to improve at the user awareness side, but if you consider that roughly 90% of the attacks is caused by lack of user awareness, it is worth it!

 

Cybersecurity and Analytics

Telephone Switchboard; By Joseph A. Carr, via Wikimedia Commons

Necessary advancements are made at the side of cybersecurity as well. Because the amount of data and attacks are increasing exponentially, only adding more cybersecurity experts will not solve the problems. Take for example the analogy of the manual telephone switchboard, at a certain moment in history, we would have more switchboard operators than phone users to support the ever increasing phone users 24 hours a day, so automation was a must.

The same holds for cybersecurity. Techniques like Artificial Intelligence (e.g. Machine learning, Deep learning) support in the analytics tasks of spotting cyber criminal behavior. A simple example of that is Gmail, that detects that you are in a different location or country than normal and asks for an extra verification step via your mobile phone. These kinds of systems take human behavior into account with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Moreover, AI can be used for pattern detection in data flows at data centers, if a certain pattern deviates from the norm a notification is sent out to an expert, which can take appropriate action. The next step would be to eliminate the need of the expert all together, to further automate the process. Research is increasingly interested in these subjects, to cope with the worldwide shortage of security experts. The current global estimations on the shortage of experts are 2 Million in 2 to 5 years from now. With automation and AI, this gap should become smaller.

Hope you realize now that we all should, in our own way, understand Cybersecurity before we regret it!

— Bob Peters (Embedded System Engineer), Embedded Systems Enthusiast

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