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11/28/2016
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Q&A: SonicWall CEO Talks Rise Of Ransomware, IoT

Bill Conner discusses security risks at top of mind as the newly appointed leader of SonicWall, a company becoming independent for the second time.

Bill Conner is a networking and security professional with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. His leadership roles include nearly 13 years as president and CEO of Entrust, which was followed by terms as CEO of Silent Circle, Inuvo, and FWC Consulting. He was appointed to lead SonicWall in November 2016, when the company was spun out by Dell.

Dark Reading Associate Editor Kelly Sheridan recently spoke with Conner to discuss the security risks he has at top of mind as he leads SonicWall into its second term as an independent company.

(Image: Bill Conner, President and CEO of SonicWall)

(Image: Bill Conner, President and CEO of SonicWall)

Dark Reading: What are some of the most important security trends you're watching as we move into 2017?

Conner: There are six areas I'm zeroing in on: ransomware, cloud and management, hardware and operating systems for deep packet inspection and performance, global grid network threat capabilities, IoT, and email security.

Dark Reading: Which of these risks do you view as most important to businesses, and why? Which will pose the greatest risk if not addressed?

Conner: Bad actors are actively using ransomware to hold businesses, institutions, and individuals hostage. The rise of ransomware can be attributed to how quickly attackers can capitalize on thousands of victims in a short period of time as opposed to a targeted attack, which requires more work and time to monetize from a single breach.

In a survey of SonicWall channel partners, we discovered ransomware is the single topic they currently need more information on to serve their customers. It's the number-one issue their customers are asking about right now.

Dark Reading: How has ransomware evolved as an enterprise security risk?

Conner: Ransomware is still alive, but the trends are changing. Consider the start of the holiday shopping season. In stores, credit card chips have helped reduce the point-of-sale (PoS) risk factor; however, more people are now shopping online.

This is causing issues on the consumer side. Are shoppers accessing legitimate sites? Is their software updated? Criminal activity that once targeted the PoS is going right to consumers, but it could also expand to hit BYOD and work networks. Not all online shopping is done at home.

Businesses must figure out how to address this risk. Should they manage some of their bandwidth so workers aren't streaming video? Should they limit bandwidth to lunch hours or before/after work? Should they enable content filtering to monitor and manage websites?

Dark Reading: You're leading SonicWall as it becomes an independent company for the second time. What are your security priorities during this transition?

Conner: My priorities align with the trends we discussed before: ransomware, cloud and management, hardware and operating system, global grid network threat capabilities, IoT, and email security.

Pulling back, the big picture is about returning SonicWall to the speed and innovation this space needs. We were an ingredient brand in a large company, and Dell's roadmap of innovation is different from what it is when you're defending against the bad guys every minute of every day. Ours requires a different pace. 

Dark Reading: Where do you see the future of SonicWall going in 2017 following the Dell spinoff?

Conner: Prior to the spinoff, SonicWall had not been moving as fast with its channels and products relative to the market. In 2017, we expect to be at a market growth rate of 10% on average, and we plan to grow more than our fair share in the market next year. 

Key focus areas include customer and channel support. We see an unmet need in the market, and I think we can differentiate our level and brand of service to channels and end users. This will include providing more transparent service and making it easier for customers to contact us through social media, video, phone, etc. 

Dark Reading: How has the Internet of Things evolved as a security risk?

Conner: The IoT is only starting to make its way to the corporate security space. There are more devices out there connecting to consumer laptops and being deployed in business networks. ISIT departments are seeing this and saying "Hey, what kind of vectors is this opening up?"

Businesses don't want their networks compromised. We're in the early infancy of actually being able to filter these networks because a lot of them have been open. Security has been considered, but most of it is pretty rudimentary. 

Dark Reading: What are some of the specific security threats you see in using IoT devices? Are businesses addressing these threats now?

Conner: Businesses are using more IoT devices than ever before, and these connections mean more doorways to protect. 

Consider, for example, convenience store chains. They may have dozens of WiFi or Ethernet-connected devices in each store, including cash registers, cameras, soda machines, and refrigerators.

With recent malware variants like Mirai, these IoT devices are being targeted and used in concerted DDoS attacks. Obviously, businesses don't want their IoT devices being hacked, so it's important to have a next-gen firewall with sandbox technology to detect and prevent zero-day threats, as well as SSL inspection to decrypt and inspect SSL connections. 

Dark Reading: What are some of the best practices businesses can implement to protect against these risks as the IoT continues to grow?

Conner: For one, make sure employees' applications and operating systems are current. Ensure all new patches are in place and latest software is being operated. This isn't only relevant to the ISIT world, but on the endpoints where employees are.

With BYOD policies, the apps people use during the day are not controlled by ISIT. Whether or not your company allows this, keeping software current is critical. Employees should know to access legitimate websites to update their apps.

Some small organizations have a common laptop to provide a convenience. Public devices on these networks tend to get infected at alarming rates; keeping them clean is virtually impossible. Have employees use Apple platforms or Android devices protected with the right technology.

 

Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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