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How realistic is the phrase "Cyber-War" and what is Ransomware?

James Lyne, Director of Technology Strategy at Sophos talks us through how serious the "cyber war" around information security is for businesses. Including an explanation of "ransomware". Here he gives us an insight into, threats, the motivation behind them and how companies can protect themselves. James Lyne's offers thoughts on whether the global recession has increased the number of attacks on business. James Lyne also offers some background on Sophos and the solutions they offer.

Give us a brief overview of Sophos and your services?

Essentially Sophos is a security company who are focused on protecting our customers from a myriad of different types of attack from the Internet everything from malicious computer viruses through to some of the hacks and attacks you might have seen in the media for a while. It attacks about 150 million computers around the globe and that does seem to keep us quite busy.

I notice mentions of "Cyber War" around your Infosecurity Europe stand, is it really that serious for businesses?

It is a massive buzzword challenge, you cannot win this kind of a cyber war game. If you talk about cyber then people go I know what that is security is important we should do the cyber thing. If you do talk about cyber thing you are also cursed that a lot of people in the profession. So the issue of cyber war is a pending massive explosion of nuclear reactors and flames are about to fall out of the sky which a little bit of an over dramatisation the majority of these attacks quite simply want your credit card details, it doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to the potential severity of the issue with more and more targeting the physical infrastructure but right now we need to learn to draw a distinction between mainstream malware intelligence and actual war. People are not getting shot that is the key distinction.

Is security something that organisations are taking seriously as they develop their infrastructure or are security measures an afterthought bolt on?

It is huge challenge security has been a major challenge for many many years but when you actually look at the stats today right now you will see about 250,000 new pieces of malicious code just today, about 30,000 websites will get infected and about 80% will be small businesses. The horrifying challenge of t his is that 99% of it does not happen due to some clever high end zero day exploit in some cyber war. It happens because people have bad passwords, they don't patch their computers and they don't run effective security control. So whilst all those scenarios are absolutely true we need to be worried about the nation state on line. We need people to realise they need to act at home from the dangers of the cyber war banner because it makes people think it is out of their control, it's government business and it makes them personally want to do less to protect their computer which is how it will have the biggest impact.

On a bigger scale governments must be quite worried about the threats posed not only to government information but also to data from the general public that if accessed en-masse could be equally as harmful?

Absolutely, you have got to imagine the kind of increase in activity between the physical and digital world now it is quite staggering and most of us know someone who is 3 or 4 years old who knows how to use an ipad you know it is quite an incredible world and that obviously comes at a cost of potentially a greater exposure to cyber criminals. We are giving them more power in the physical world through that traditional attack channel. Governments are definitely recognising that and putting a huge focus on it. In the UK we have seen multiple awards of £600 -£700 million to organisations like GCHQ to develop in the area of cyber we have got initiatives like the UK Cyber Security Challenge with Sophos participating which is all about generating the next generation of talent to help secure the internet and make sure we are ready to combat that next generation of cyber criminals. It is a huge concern.

Of course all of this does end up costing businesses money. Have you seen the effects of the global recession playing into the hands of the hackers and those posing security threats in any way?

There are two interesting threats (1) since we entered the recession there has been some acceleration above kind of what we predicted as the norm in terms of malicious code. You could argue that hard times have bred a temptation by criminality, particularly when you look at how easy it is get yourselves set up as a malware author to steal money it is astonishing some of these toolkits they come with nice documentation and click through interfaces and you don't have to be that spotty teenage geek that everyone likes to try and imagine as the hacker sitting there trying to get the information. So that has definitely been one thing and the other is frankly strictly reduced spending on security control. People will take more risks and they will narrow their investment and that has been a key tenant of our strategy in trying to protect small and medium businesses offering them more out of that same budget making it easier to use and being respectful that there are just less resources and less money to go around in an area where the threat is escalating and not in remission.

A buzz word that has been thrown at me whilst I have been on the Sophos stand has been the word "Ransomware" explain what is meant by that?

Yes it is a great buzzword isn't it. A very scary group of mowware a lot of the traditional code over the last few years was focused on stealing your credit card details. The good thing about this as a consumer of small business you get your money back. Someone would recognise it was fraudulent and block it you would get your money back. There is a new category of mow and it has been around for a few years and actually one of the original copies goes back nearly 20 years but recently has massively escalated in its complexity and proficiency and what it will do as you are browsing the internet because you are not patching up to date this malicious code gets into your computer and starts encrypting your files, so imagine pictures of your first born child, corporate accounts sensitive stuff even the backups potentially of those files get encrypted the problem is you don't have the password the cyber criminals do, they then pop up a message demanding that you pay them money to get access to your data again, which is a horrifying ransom to get your data from your files. Imagine that you are a CEO with access to all the company's recourses and property and even though you are not an administrator you could wipe out the entire business with one foolish click. So this is definitely a category of mow you have got to watch out for and if you get it you cannot clean it up. Definitely a good reason to invest in security proactively.

You are here demonstrating aspects of the Sophos product range. Tell us about some of things you employ to protect your clients from these threats?

We have got a wealth of things going on here. It's really exciting. As I mentioned earlier we have a mass of different solutions everything from data protection through to anti malware solutions a huge spectrum, even to protecting mobile devices. Two things that are particularly new. We are running demonstrations of our new Sophos Cloud beater which is a platform built with channel and small and medium businesses particularly in mind. It makes it really simple with very little infrastructure at all to run a security platform at all. Hitting to the core of the recession question earlier. We have also released a protection for our mobile devices picking up on that huge trend of cyber criminals targeting android and mobile phones platform. We have built anti spam capabilities like the PPI text messages so we can deal with those issues for you and are available on our website. So lots of exciting things going on here.