2015 Predictions: Companies Will Be in the Cross-Hairs of Nation-State Cyber-Attacks

Written by: Art Coviello

Executive Chairman, RSA & Executive Vice President, EMC

Nation-state cyber-attacks will continue to evolve and accelerate but the damage will increasingly effect the private sector.

In 2014, nation states around the world continued to push the boundaries of cyber assault to control their own populations and spy on other nation-states.  As there is no one actively working on the development of acceptable norms of digital behaviour on the global stage, we can expect this covert digital warfare to continue.  It is also interesting to note that companies in the private sector will be increasingly drawn into this war either as the intended victims or as casualties in attacks on other companies.

I made this prediction in my annual end of year letter published late last year.  What we didn’t know at the time was that officials at Sony Pictures Entertainment and the FBI were in the middle of tirelessly working to determine what happened in a cyber-attack that was later attributed to North Korea.

The Sony attack where nearly 100 terabytes of data were taken without authorisation and millions of dollars in damage was done, was a wake-up call for everyone.  Suddenly, all companies realised that the list of threat actors was much bigger. They now also face threats that include nation-states that have much bigger resources and capabilities than hacktivists or even well-funded, global criminal organizations.

The incident response team that helped Sony determine what had happened after the attack said that it was such a complex attack that no company “could have been fully prepared” for it.

While the attack was very serious and created a big challenge, I don’t agree with that analysis.

We are not helpless in the face of these attacks.

There is something that companies can do today to prepare for them. They can move beyond traditional, perimeter-based security strategies to a more modern security strategy that comprehensively looks into activity within our digital environments and thoroughly analyses this.

Leveraging big data perspectives, processes, and technologies enables us to spot even the faintest signal of an attack and allows quick, well-informed action to stop it.  While breaches are inevitable, losses are not.  A big data driven security strategy will stop even the most unique and complex attacks because regardless of how crafty an attacker might be, at some point they will have to do something unusual to achieve their goals, they will be identified, and they will be shut down.

The second thing that we can and should do as individuals, enterprises, and industries is push for the world’s governments to begin approaching cyber weapons with the same care and concern as they do with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The damage of the Sony attack is just the beginning of what is possible and we need to take that seriously.

Another thing to learn from the past few years is that unlike physical weaponry that has physical limits and re-usability issues, cyber weaponry can be used anywhere and can also be used over and over again.  Cyber weapons that are developed by nation-states will eventually fall into the hands of other non-governmental people with no restrictions.

We need to take this thought seriously and demand that the world’s leaders sit down and come to an agreement to take cyber weapons out of our nation-state arsenals. If we don’t, movies and e-mails won’t be all that we lose.

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