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Q&A: A look at cybersecurity now and in the future

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Neustar principally protects organisations from DDoS attacks – and we’ve seen many of these large-scale attacks hit the headlines recently. How are attackers evolving the DDoS attack and how can businesses defend against these approaches?

“DDoS trends are changing, but their ability to debilitate an entire organisation or even a large area remains. Our most recent analysis from our security operations centre found that while the number of large-scale DDoS attacks continues to rise, smaller, more targeted attacks are growing at a faster rate, seeing a 303 per cent increase from the same period in 2018. In fact, these small-scale attacks – including growing numbers of application-layer incursions – accounted for 81 per cent of total attacks between July to September in 2019, up from 69 per cent when compared to the previous year.

“The reason for this is that many DDoS mitigation techniques are quickly identifying and defending against the more routine, larger attack-types. The smaller attacks I referred to are thereby directed at specific services, gateways and applications, which require less traffic to bring down.

“With the rise of these smaller DDoS attacks going under the radar, now is the time for organisations to deploy an ‘always-on’ DDoS mitigation service that is constantly monitoring traffic to ensure threats of all sizes are detected, managed and diffused.”

Given your role at Neustar and the conversations you regularly have with other industry experts, what do you see as the biggest threats in the cybersecurity landscape today?

“For me, the biggest threat is the ability for a cyberattack to create mistrust, and that mistrust can affect organisations of all kinds of different forms – from financial services giants to governments. With businesses across the board investing in connected ‘things’ – from office heating and lighting to industrial machinery – there are significantly more access points into an organisation if not secured properly. 

“Without proper and robust security hygiene and protocols, this proliferation of connected devices could represent a huge risk to our everyday lives. If a bank is hit by a major cyberattack, it could result in downtime and affect citizens’ ability to pay their mortgages or make critical transactions.

“Just recently, the City of Johannesburg in South Africa was reportedly the subject of a ransomware attack, and the authorities were forced to shut down their IT infrastructure resulting in websites, payment portals and other services being halted. So this isn’t a prediction or a future trend. These attacks are happening now and having a material impact on people’s everyday lives – and we need to get savvier as an industry about finding ways to defend against them.” 

Where does the supply chain come into this? How can organisations ensure they trust their suppliers in today’s threat landscape?

“Our recent research – conducted by the Neustar International Security Council – found that an overwhelming nine in ten security leaders are fearful of the risk of third party attacks and that they lack confidence in their own supply chains.

“This is extremely concerning, as regardless of size or sector, every organisation relies on third party service providers to support and enable their digital transformation efforts. Whether it’s a business intelligence tool, cloud platform or automation solution, the number of MSPs businesses work with is only set to increase as enterprises continue to chase agility and find new ways to attract customers. However, by multiplying the number of digital links to an organisation, the potential for risk also increases, with malicious actors finding alternative ways to infiltrate those networks.

“To ensure a safe and secure supply chain, businesses must adopt a “zero trust” approach with their providers. This means conducting a thorough risk assessment on your supply chain and making informed decisions based on evidence – including industry accreditations and standards – before bringing an organisation into your ecosystem. It is only through such rigour can you be confident that your suppliers take security as seriously as your organisation does.”

5G is no longer in the pipeline – it’s here and switching on across multiple geographies. Yet there has been much talk around its security implications. Are these concerns justified?

“The concerns around 5G are similar to those I’ve already mentioned, in that it enables even more connectivity between devices, and can be used as a platform to connect infrastructure within municipalities and large areas.

“The US government’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee – of which I am an SME advisor to – is looking into technologies such as 5G, augmented intelligence, quantum computing and biometrics as part of a 10-year plan to “make the Internet safe and secure for the functioning of Government and critical services for the American people by 2028.” Defined as a ‘Moonshot’ initiative – named after NASA’s Apollo programme to send a man to the Moon – the plan calls for “collective national action towards an ambitious goal”.

“The fact that 5G is earmarked in this paper as a technology that requires careful attention is evidence that we need to ensure any 5G networks are manufactured securely and robustly, protecting the organisations, devices and systems connected to the network.”

Rodney Joffe, Senior Vice President, Security CTO and Fellow, Neustar