Cybersecurity breaches: It's time to break the silence and work together

The more we promote intelligence sharing and the tools and processes to enable it, the more we all benefit from shared situational awareness, improved security posture and greater defensive agility.

Sophisticated cyber threats against governments loom large, and demand a heightened state of awareness.  According to Dimension Data’s Global Threat Intelligence Report, cyberattacks on the government sector doubled from seven percent in 2015 to 14 percent in 2016 -- resulting in a first-place tie with the finance industry.

With rival nation-states such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran ramping up attacks, agencies must work together to be better prepared and change the current culture around communicating breaches. I believe there are three key elements that must be addressed to improve cybersecurity:

1. Shed the shame and speak up

Cyber attackers are predators. That’s an ugly term, but exactly what they are: individuals or groups that ruthlessly exploit others. When hackers are successful, the last thing they want is for the target to broadcast the methods used and the vulnerabilities exposed. They are hoping the victim keeps quiet so they can quickly move to the next target.

I understand why agencies are reluctant to speak up when breached. They don’t want to lose face. They don’t want to look weak. They are fearful of regulatory and legal repercussions. And in certain cases, they need the time to address patches and fix vulnerabilities.

However, we must break this culture of trying to sweep breaches under the rug and marching on with business as usual. We need to shed the shame associated with suffering an attack and recognize the power that comes with speaking up.  

With global annual cybercrime costs expected to potentially reach a startling $6 trillion by 2021 according to Cybersecurity Ventures, it’s absolutely vital that we take upper hand. By sharing cybersecurity stories, we all can learn from the event and better protect each other, making it harder for the hackers to win.

2. Better information sharing across agencies

Security experts agree: We are only as safe as our ability to share information about the nature and extent of breaches and cyberattacks. We are making progress on that front with many countries, with the U.S., European Union, U.K., Australia and Singapore formulating policies for information sharing around cyber events. In addition to that work, we must nurture an exchange of information in the U.S. across agencies and between governments and enterprises, particularly in light of serious threats of cyber war and data theft from the nation-state actors.

Traffic Light Protocols stipulate that industry and government share content based on sensitivity and need-to-know. This is sound guidance, but government organizations would be more secure if they had ways to share information about the nature and extent of breaches. 

Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, recently discussed the importance of this collaboration at the Rethink Cyber conference. He said, “My experience in dealing with some of these nation-state actors is their persistence and ability to go into the networks (makes it) almost impossible for a company to individually defend. It’s one of the prime reasons that government and industry must work together.”

In addition, a look at where the bulk of the breaches occurred last year further reinforces the need for enhanced information sharing and cooperation across industries. According to Forrester Research, 95 percent of breached records in 2016 came from three industries: government, retail and technology.

The more we promote cyber intelligence sharing and the tools and processes to enable it, the more we all benefit from shared situational awareness, improved security posture and greater defensive agility.

3. Expand cybersecurity beyond “cyber”

Research shows that the cost of cybercrime increases the longer it takes to detect it. According to the Ponemon Cost of Data Breach report, breaches identified in fewer than 100 days cost companies an average of $1 million less than those that take more than 100 days to be discovered.

Solutions and products that governments purchase to protect data today typically focus on four areas: endpoint, perimeter, application and network security. This creates a hard and secure outer shell, but leaves exposed a squishy middle where the data is, making it next to impossible for IT managers to get the breadth of activity information needed to do true threat, risk and compliance analysis.

Analyzing cyber threats is no longer just about looking at information traditionally thought of as “cyber,” such as log files. Agencies must take into account how advanced persistent threats interact with the highest value business entities, including accounts, customers, employees, transactions and privileges. If security events and potential indicators of compromise and advanced persistent threats can't be put in context with other business information, agencies will only see part of the problem.

Let’s work together to change how we think and communicate about cybersecurity. If your agency is breached, speak up quickly. Not because the regulations require it, but because it’s the right thing to do. Let’s push for formal rules to govern information sharing around the extent and nature of breaches. By expanding cybersecurity beyond the outer shell of the network, all agencies will be safer.  

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