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The Choice Is Yours: Staying Safe in a Continuously Connected World
Oct 24, 2016

Twenty-four hours. That’s all it took for an 18-year-old to exploit two day-zero bugs in iOS 10 and jailbreak an iPhone. As an iPhone user, I’ve always appreciated what Apple does for us – provides a reasonable (and to most imperceptible) decrease in file access between applications, which yields significant benefits in security. However, the recent iOS exploit illustrates that even the “safest” devices are not immune to the hacking culture we live in today. The cool kids are no longer kicking 53-yard field goals in high school, they’re rooting the mobile operating system of a $620 billion company that has an estimated one billion devices in use. Evolution is occurring right in front of our eyes.


Although most of us are just now realizing the importance of cybersecurity, the reality is that this hacking mindset and community has existed for as long as there has been a need for security. Just look at the decades-old story of Alan Turing, which has just now become widely known due to the recent release of a movie based on his decoding of Enigma. Cryptanalysis was the granddaddy of cyber-hacking and now, for better or for worse, hacking is becoming mainstream and the highest orders of national power are taking notice. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Admiral Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, commented, "We're entering a world where literally nothing seems to be beyond the reach or intent of someone out there to try and access it, and often for a variety of purposes."


Connected devices have become the norm, both in our personal lives and in business. The next step is for information sharing across these devices to proliferate, enabling predictive services and capabilities to be created bespoke for the user. Enter digital cohesion. Just recently at NXTWORK, Juniper’s annual customer summit, CEO Rami Rahim explained this phenomenon stating, “Digital cohesion is an era in which applications connect and self-assemble to deliver compelling mega-services that enhance our lives. Such services represent a move from point-in-time static service approaches that are user-initiated to new predictive, autonomous and adaptive services." 


Digital cohesion represents the new era of IoT. The notion of smart devices on the “network” or cloud-based service offerings for business-to-business and business-to-consumer users is yesterday’s news. These devices will move to predictive offerings and machine-to-machine traffic will increase along with the amount of data being gathered at the individual device level. We’re smack dab in the middle of the age of predictive analytics. Have you ever shopped at Amazon? Have you looked at the “Other Customers Liked” or “Other Users Bought” suggestions? This is a very basic example of predictive analytics put to simple use.


Unfortunately, with information sharing and predictive capabilities comes concern around maintaining the integrity and security of data as it traverses across devices in today’s borderless network. Does security need to come with a lock or are there other ways to reduce your risk?


As a consumer…


Rewind a decade and remember how excited you were when you got that cutting-edge Motorola Razr. Maybe you put it to use by browsing the web for the restaurant you already knew you wanted to go to, but couldn’t remember the number to make a reservation. I mean after all, who used 411 anymore? That was so last decade. When you'd get to the restaurant, you would check-in… with the receptionist. Maybe you took a pixelated photo with your friends to capture the moment and texted it to everyone.

Fast forward to today and now you pop open an app that not only guides you based on where you’ve eaten most and the types of cuisine you like, but also lets you make a reservation, updates your calendar so you don’t forget the date, and shares the information with your friends that will join you. Upon arrival you check-in on Facebook, take a few group photos (you have to get the perfect shot, right?) and post the best one to your wall for everyone to see. Behold… the power of the smartphone! It’s a fantastic world we live in where technology exists to make life so much simpler. Something that used to take several steps is reduced to just a few simple clicks. And life is easier, right? But now everyone knows your personal preferences, where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with, and how often you’re out. That’s a lot of information that can be used for marketing, sales or potentially malicious activities. That’s why our mindset needs to evolve with the evolution of these life-changing capabilities in a few different ways:


  1. Really think about whether or not you need an application or service. Any app that is downloaded onto your device should be so valuable to your lifestyle that it “earns” the right to have access to your information. Remember, nothing is ever free and for this reason I often find myself turning off capabilities in applications I use. Call me old fashioned but I don’t need my navigation app tracking everywhere I go and suggesting I stop for an ice cream or notifying my “social network” of my latest stop. When it comes to giving away information, it is often a case of less is more. Think of this as reducing your attack surface area.
  2. Read the End User License Agreement (EULA). No really, I’m not kidding. While most of them have become long enough to appear as though they are some lawyer’s idea of a joke, or torture, the reality is you are giving a company permission to access and potentially use your data. At a minimum you should educate yourself on the corporate privacy position of the company; many organizations have come out and taken public stances on how they intend to use information. However, you should also understand that positions change, and every time they do, so does the EULA.
  3. Stop thinking ignorance is bliss, it’s just ignorance. In security, the price for ignorance can be high. Educating yourself on common best practices is the best defense. Use strong passwords. Change them periodically and make them uniquely different per account.

As an organization…


Back in the day, the first thing you did to protect your organization from cybercrime was to establish a firewall perimeter and add anti-virus software to protect your users. You focused on traffic from specific places outside your network by using access lists and policies to control users and traffic. You thought your business was secure. And back then it was.


Then breaches happened. And they happened again. And again. Sometimes from within your own organization. Then you layered on more security capabilities within your “next-gen” firewall. Then a security event and information management console and maybe a sandbox, resulting in a “security paella” made up of products from multiple vendors and a hefty library of manually created policies, many of which were outdated. Lots of information with lots of complexity, very little visualization, correlation or insight.


Times have changed. The conversation is now about the “rapidly evolving threat landscape,” inside-out threats and the challenges with mobile devices. But the answers to these challenges may lie in a few different directions that aren’t as widely discussed:


  1. You must intimately know your ecosystem. More importantly, reduce it. It has been said that the average enterprise has 32 security vendors. That is too many to manage. When something goes wrong, the question becomes “are we vulnerable?” Conceptually, the more types of devices and vendors you have in your network, the more potential for vulnerability gaps and increased complexity. The security industry is rampant with bespoke solutions, many from startups, where every vendor believes they have “the solution” to a given problem. The reality is that the problem is too large to truly solve and certainly adding more complexity will almost guarantee failure. I view security similarly to treating a long-term health condition. You start with a solid foundation, fitness, diet, rest, and when something arises you treat it, and continue to live during treatment. Security is no different. No one will argue that a comprehensive solution shouldn’t be implemented. But there is a way to be comprehensive without being complex by choosing solutions that are:
    1. Open, allowing interaction across products from different vendors in a broader ecosystem. These products should also enable threat exchange and threat intel sharing and allow customers to customize threat feeds, signatures, and support information gathering from devices manufactured by other vendors. 
    2. Simple to operate. The goal should be to make the network simple to operate and make it easier to detect and act on threats in the network. Visualizing is key. Ensuring the right groups have access to the correct areas and devices in the network is critical. 
    3. Not tied to legacy thinking. Be open to looking at vendors you may have not previously considered. The most thoughtful and effective solutions often come from the most unexpected places.
  1. Your next-gen firewall is no longer “next-gen.” It’s just the firewall as it exists today. And it’s table-stakes. The firewall is not enough to protect your network from the varying types of threats. The strategy has to evolve to include capabilities that enable the ability to adapt policy dynamically and update policy throughout the infrastructure to protect the users, information, and the business. A behavioral or intent-based solution that will someday eventually evolve into a more predictive solution.
  1. Automating your infrastructure is no longer an option, it’s a requirement. Automation is key to the next evolution of productivity increase. Think the Ford Model T assembly line for networking infrastructure and compute. The reality is, the simple tasks have to be automated to free up valuable time for the important ones. Consider this the gateway to the next major wave of productivity enhancement and growth. Simple and repetitive tasks can be automated, often with minimal effort and investment.

The digital cohesion era is upon us and is making its way into our everyday lives at an unprecedented rate, enabling innovation and driving technological advancements. The notion of information sharing and the benefits that digital cohesion bring are only just being realized and in the future there may even be new ways of sharing information, including personal information that we haven’t yet conceived. This is just the beginning. But rather than fight the change, let’s embrace digital cohesion and our continuously connected lives with a foundation of knowledge and a prescriptive strategy to manage cybersecurity risks.