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Active Threat Analytics: Easing the Burden of Threat Management

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a trickster king cursed with the eternal torment of fruitless labor. As punishment for his hubris and wile, Zeus condemned this hapless figure to the unending task of pushing a boulder up a mountain. Once he reached the top, the boulder would fall back down. And he would begin again. And again. Every day. Forever.

I suspect that it will not be a great imaginative leap for those of you in the in the information security industry to empathize with this unfortunate soul. Cyberattacks are continuously growing in frequency and sophistication. Threats are ever-present. New technologies and changing business models are always forcing you to change your tactics. Protecting your organization’s sensitive information seems like a Sisyphean undertaking: constant and unceasing.

I hear this from our customers all the time. IT security feels like an uphill battle, and the struggle to guard against ever-evolving threats seems interminable. As innovative social, mobile, analytics, cloud, robotics, and Internet of Everything (IoE) technologies transform every organization into a digital organization, the prospect of maintaining a strong security posture amid such rapid and widespread change can be daunting. We hear you, we get it, and we are ready to help. Just as Cisco is helping organizations become digital, we are also deeply committed to ensuring that security is the bedrock upon which the successful digital enterprises of the future will stand. For that to happen, organizations will need security solutions designed for the world of tomorrow. To help organizations transform securely, we have created Cisco Active Threat Analytics – a suite of next-generation managed security services that will help customers to detect threats in their environments with great speed, accuracy, and focus.

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Responsive Security in Action

In 2013, our internal Information Security team carried out a series of controlled anti-phishing exercises. The purpose was to raise employees’ awareness of potential spear phishing attacks through emails. Spear phishing has been a common first step for Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks to gain access to a user’s system before launching further attacks at internal targets. As such, if employees are vigilant against such attack patterns, we should effectively reduce the risk of successful APT attacks involving email phishing.

Through a series specially designed phishing emails executed over the four quarters, at one to two emails each month, the team captured an average “click” rate of 26%. The lowest click rate was 5%, and a highest was 61%. However, month over month, there was no discernible trend, as some months were low and others suddenly shot up. What was the data telling us? Did the users’ awareness rise or remain indifferent because of this exercise?

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Getting More Responsive Security by Learning From Disaster Responses

Editor’s Note: In the two previous blogs, we discussed some of the issues and dilemmas found within information security knowledge and practice domains. Those challenges arise fundamentally from the traditional approach that many organizations have adopted to address information security requirements. In this fourth installment, we look at how good preparation can improve security outcomes, as illustrated in a few case examples.

As the Dutch philosopher Erasmus once said, “prevention is better than cure.” Most organizations’ security approaches have focused primarily on erecting defensive systems to prevent attackers from compromising information and systems through exploiting security weaknesses associated with technology, process, or people in the organization.

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Issues and Dilemmas in Information Security Practices

Editor’s note: In A Circular Problem in Current Information Security Principles, we highlighted one of the challenges in our knowledge domain that contributes to the ineffectiveness of today’s information security practices. In this third installment, we review the issues and dilemmas that are common in our practice environment.

One of the challenges information security management teams face is justifying their value proposition to the business to ensure that security requirements receive adequate resource allocations. The paradox here is that if security management within an organization is effective, the results typically show no observable outcome (i.e., no security incident). Interestingly, even if a security incident is not present, it does not necessarily mean that good security management practices are in place. They might be missing because of a security detection mechanism flaw, or simply because the attacker has no interest in carrying out an attack during that time period.

On the other hand, when a security breach occurs, the security manager is often questioned for failure to anticipate and prevent the incident. Security managers therefore often fall back on past or external incidents as a form of justification. Business managers frown on these explanations because they normally do not believe they are no better than their peers or competitors in the industry. Read More »

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Understanding and Addressing the Challenges of Managing Information Security – A More Responsive Approach

Just like bad weather conditions found in nature, such as typhoons, hurricanes, or snowstorms, technology system defects and vulnerabilities are inherent characteristics found in a cyber system environment.

Regardless of whether it’s a fair comparison, weather changes are part of the natural environment that we have little direct control over, whereas the cyber environment is fundamentally a human creation. Despite these differences, the choices we make do have a direct implication even if they are not obvious. Take for example the use of lead-based or diesel fuel in vehicles, or controlled burns in the forest to clear land for agricultural use. Both have negative effects on air quality. The same is true for information technology developers, whose actions in designing software programs may unknowingly create software bugs or potential security risks because of their interactions with other non-tested, non-secure network systems and cyber environments.

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