RFG Perspective: While the total cost of the cybersecurity breach at Target will not be know for quite a while, a reasonable estimate is that it could easily cost the company more than $500 million. The price tag includes bills associated with fines from credit card companies, other fines and lawsuits for non-compliance, services such as free credit card report monitoring for its impacted 70 -110 million customers, and discounts required to keep customers coming in the door. These costs far exceed the IT costs associated with better cybersecurity prevention. Target is not alone; it is just the latest in a long line of breaches that have taken major tolls on the attacked organization. Business and IT executives need to recognize that attackers and hackers will constantly change their multi-pronged sophisticated attack strategies as they attempt to stay ahead of the protections installed in the enterprises. IT executives need to be constantly aware of the risk exposures and how they are changing, and continue to invest in measured, integrated cybersecurity solutions to close the gaps.
The Target cyber breach represents a new twist to the long-standing cybersecurity challenge. Unlike most other attacks that came through direct probes into the corporate network or through employee social-engineered emails, spear phishing, or multi-vectored malware aimed at IT software, the Target incident was an Operations Technology (OT) play. One reason for this may be that the vendor patch rate has improved and successes of zero-day exploits are dropping. Of course, it could also be that the misguided actors were clever enough to try a new attack vector.
IT vs OT
Most IT executives and staff give little thought to OT software, usually referred to as SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) software. These are industrial control systems that monitor and control things such as air conditioning, civil defense systems, heating, manufacturing lines, power generation, power usage, transmission lines, and water treatment. IT (outside of the utilities industry) tends to treat these systems and the associated software as outside of their purview. This is no longer true. Cyber attackers are constantly upping the ante and now they have begun going after OT software in addition to traditional attack vectors. IT executives and security personnel need to become actively engaged in ensuring the organization is protected against these types of threats.
Incident Attack Types
In 2013 according to the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Quarterly 1Q2014, the top three disclosed attack types are distributed denial of service (DDoS), SQL injections, and malware. These three vectors account for 43 percent of 8,330 vulnerability disclosures while another 46 percent of attack types remain undisclosed. (See below chart from the IBM report.) The report also points out that Java vulnerabilities continue to rise year-over-year with them tripling in the last year alone. Fully half of the exploited application vulnerabilities were Java based, with Adobe Reader and Internet browsers accounting for 22 and 13 percent respectively. Interestingly, mobile devices excluding laptops have yet to be a major threat attack point.
Another common pressure point on IT organizations is keeping current with all the security patches authorized by software providers. The good news is that vendors and IT organizations are doing a better job applying patches. The overall unpatched publicly-disclosed vulnerability rate dropped from 41 percent in 2102 to 26 percent in 2013. This is great progress but still much remains to be done, especially by enterprise IT. The amount of patches to be applied on an ongoing basis can be overwhelming and many IT organizations cannot keep up, especially with quick fixes. Thus, zero-day exploits still remain major threats that IT needs to mitigate.
The challenge for IT CISOs and security staff increases every year as the number and types of actors attempting to gain access to IT systems continues to grow as do the types of attacks. Therefore, enterprises must reduce their risk exposure by using monitoring and blocking software that can rapidly detect problems almost as they occur and shut off attacks immediately before the exposure becomes too large. Additionally, staff must fine-tune access controls and patch known vulnerabilities quickly so as to (virtually) eliminate the ability for criminals to exploit holes in infrastructures. Security executives and staff should work collaboratively with others in their field and share information about attacks, defenses, meaningful metrics, and trends. IT executives should ensure security personnel are continually trained and aware of the latest trends and are implementing the appropriate defenses as rapidly as possible. As people are one of the weakest links in the security chain, IT executives should also ensure all employees are aware of company privacy and security policies and procedures and are judiciously following them.
RFG POV: IT executives and cyber security staff remain behind the curve in protecting, exfiltrating, discovering, and containing cyber security attacks and data breaches. There are some low-hanging initiatives IT can execute to close some of the major vulnerabilities such as blocking troublesome IP addresses at the perimeter outside the firewall and employing enhanced software monitoring tools that can spot and alert security of suspect software. Additionally, staff can improve password requirements, password change frequency, two-factor authentication, inclusion of OT software, and rapid deactivation of access (cyber and physical) to terminated employees. Encryption of data at rest and in transit should also be evaluated. However, IT are not the only ones on the line for corporate security – the board of directors and corporate executives share the fiduciary burden for protecting company assets. IT executives should get boards and corporate executives to understand the challenges, establish the acceptable risk parameters, and play an ongoing role in security governance. IT security executives should work with appropriate parties to collect, analyze, and share incident data so that defenses and detection can be enhanced. IT executives should also recognize that cyber security is not just about technology – the weakest links are the people and processes. These gaps should be aggressively pursued and the problems regularly communicated across the organization. The investment in these corrective actions will be far less than the cost of fixing the problem once the damage is done.