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4/12/2017
10:30 AM
Justin Somaini
Justin Somaini
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How Innovative Companies Lock Down Data

A mix of back-to-basics security and a set of new, data-centric best practices is key to defending against a future of growing and sophisticated cyberattacks.

In digital businesses, data is the fuel driving companies toward new business models and better business outcomes. Data plays both offense and defense at these companies, keeping them ahead of their competitors. No longer a bench warmer, data’s profile of high value, large volume, and vulnerability quotient is getting the attention of hackers like never before. These three components are at the root of why cyberattacks on business assets are becoming more sophisticated and more frequent.

Data holds incredible value—both for digital businesses and for hackers. McKinsey & Co. reported a $2.8 trillion GDP increase from data flows in 2014 as more trade and commerce shifts to online business models. According to the analysts, data flows of information, communication, transactions, and intracompany traffic is surging, and virtually every type of cross-border transactions has a digital component.  

The pace of data creation also impacts digital businesses. The combination of mobile data, Internet of Things data, and Big Data has created a very large and attractive data footprint for hackers. In fact, storage manufacturers are expected to ship 521,000 PB of enterprise storage capacity by 2020 to keep up with the rising volume of data.

And just as data value and the volume increases, so does its vulnerability. Digital businesses store data across hybrid infrastructures—on premise, in the cloud, and on endpoints. Each of these comes with risks, especially with the influx of mobile devices and the fast approaching IoT devices. Hackers view these endpoints as vulnerable and an easy entryway to business and personal data. Not surprisingly, they have already been testing the waters.

Attacks have become increasingly more sophisticated and persistent. In 2015, 65% of companies experienced a targeted attack and an average of 1.9 million records was breached every day. The increase of attacks is easily correlated back to the increase in the value of data, the volume of data and the vulnerability of endpoints.

[Check out the two-day Dark Reading Cybersecurity Crash Course at Interop ITX, May 15 & 16, where Dark Reading editors and some of the industry's top cybersecurity experts will share the latest data security trends and best practices.]

For digital businesses, the threat watch is real and the calls to protect data are coming from throughout the company. Conversations have changed from being a “bottom up” conversation to a “top down” one within organizations. Executive management is talking about security in terms of business impact—not technology. Something else that is unique in these businesses is that the individuals voicing concerns about security threats are not solely from the IT side of the company, they are also being voiced by the business side. CEOs and chief data officers want a security strategy that protects their brand and reputation. CFOs want protection from spear phishing. CMOs and HR managers are asking about multi-factor authentication and encryption. Security is as much a business discussion as it is a technical conversation.

A Mix of Old and New
Companies that are carving out a niche as digital leaders are finding the best approach to securing their business assets is to revisit proven security practices and throw in a set of new best practices born out of the current emphasis on data. The network perimeter still needs strong protection, but digital companies realize that mobile devices and IoT devices perpetually create holes in that very expensive wall as they connect to the Internet. With that in mind, security needs to move closer to the business apps, and in them.

Other security basics are also getting dusted off. Security teams are renewing efforts to prevent default passwords, weak encryption protocols, incorrect authorizations, and disabled whitelists, which are still common weaknesses that open businesses to successful exploits. On top of these steps, digital businesses are taking this back-to-basics approach to protect their business apps:

  • Ensuring that a consistent and regular process is in place for patches and updates. Unpatched software poses the highest serious security risk for businesses.
  • Encrypting communications between business systems with SSL/TLS and SNC.
  • Checking the interfaces to business systems to see if they are adequately secured.
  • Revisiting data backup plans and disaster recovery strategies.
  • Reviewing the business systems platform’s security configurations.  

There’s no new news here. These are fundamental to practicing good security, but still too many companies ignore them. A return to these basics is essential for companies going digital because in the next phase more processes will be automated, more services cloud-based, and more devices will be connected. Companies will need to add in these digital best practices to continue their transformation:  

  • Identify and prevent attacks from within the apps
  • Protect data with an all-encompassing strategy that covers the cloud, on premise, and mobile devices
  • Apply 360-degree correlation analytics across the network, endpoints, application, and data
  • Accelerate threat detection with real-time incident response and forensics to limit threat impact
  • Respond to threats in an adaptive manner with deep-learning powered cybersecurity analytics

Security Cornerstones: Products, Operations and Culture
To secure products, security must be incorporated into the applications, delivering the ultimate protection of content and transactions. Secure operations meets the security principles of “Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability,” providing a comprehensive end-to-end cloud and IT operations security framework. To create a secure company also means nurturing a well-established security culture and a secure environment with end-to-end physical security of business assets and business continuity for operational resilience, including employee training programs that teach everyone in the company about the latest threats and how to avoid them.

During the next few years companies will embrace new technologies such as predictive analytics, machine learning, and cognitive intelligence to keep their business assets secure. Companies that combine these future-oriented tools with tried-and-true best practices of the past will have the security they need to be a data-centric, automated digital business. 

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Justin Somaini joined SAP from cloud provider Box, where he was chief trust officer, having previously held a number of senior positions at both Yahoo and Symantec, and has accrued more than 20 years' professional experience in the IT security sector. View Full Bio
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