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News & Commentary

2/1/2017
10:10 AM
Curtis Franklin Jr.
Curtis Franklin Jr.
Curt Franklin
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Cisco Report: They're Coming for Your Servers

Cisco's Annual Cybersecurity Report 2017 said that organizations suffered serious cybersecurity losses in 2016 – and the bad guys are coming for your server in 2017.

Cisco has released its annual Cybersecurity Report and the picture it paints isn't rosy. According to the report, organizations are feeling real pain from cyber attacks, even if those attacks aren't large enough to make the evening news. Among the findings of the 2017 Security Capabilities Benchmark Study (on which the report is partially based), 23% of organizations reported that they lost business opportunities because of attacks, while 22% said they lost customers and 29% reported losing revenue.

In a telephone interview, Steve Martino, VP and CISO for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), said that the impact of cybercrime is not limited to the largest companies -- companies of all sizes are feeling the impact. The reason is that the cybercriminals are getting better at their jobs. "Hacking has become a real industry," Martino said. "They're replicating supply chain processes and career specialties to duplicate IT discipline on the dark side."

This more professional criminal contingent is exploiting a landscape that is growing richer in targets. The report estimates that global internet traffic will triple between now and 2020 to a total of 2.3 zettabytes. Of this, 66% will spend at least part of its journey in radio form, going to or from a mobile or WiFi device. Speaking of devices, Cisco estimates that, by 2020, 82% of all consumer traffic on the Internet will be from connected devices, rather than connected people.

The reduced footprint of humans on the Internet might be just as well because 2016 saw a rise in human-facing attacks, especially SPAM email, as part of the criminals' arsenal. Franc Artes, an architect in Cisco's Security Business Group, said that cyber attacks go through cycles similar to those followed by fashion or business management. "Spam went down for several years but now it's back to near what it was in 2010," said Artes, explaining that, "65% of email coming into organizations is spam. 8% of that is malicious."

Once inside the perimeter (an increasingly fuzzy concept, according to the report, because of mobility and cloud services), 2016's malware tended to make a beeline for the server. While vulnerabilities exploited in networks and on end points each went down in 2016 (by 20% and 8%, respectively), vulnerabilities exploited on servers were up by 34% in the year. The reason, said Martino, is simple.

"If I attack an endpoint, I can get a certain amount of money, I can get more from a server attack," he said. "From a cost/benefit perspective, ransomware on a server is more valuable." Exploiting the vulnerabilities on multiple servers isn't really any more difficult than exploiting those on a single server, Martino explained, because, "IT teams aren't managing their infrastructure. We saw Apache servers that were running software that was, on average, 5.2 years old."

It seems obvious that IT teams should update their software on a regular basis, and that's one of the recommendations that Cisco makes in its report as part of a key point -- make security a priority. Many teams feel that they're already acting on this advice because 58% of IT professionals responding to the survey said that they were highly confident in the effectiveness and security of their infrastructure. At the same time, more than four out of every ten security alerts goes un-investigated. Why? The single most frequent reason given is lack of budget.

The un-investigated alerts are concerning, Martino said, because malware time-to-evolve is dropping rapidly. Fortunately, time-to-discover malware also dropped in 2016, from 15.19 hours in May of last year to 6.05 hours in October.

Aside from making security a priority, what does Cisco recommend in the action section of the report? There are four broad recommendations:

    <li
  • Measure Operational Discipline -- Security isn't just "set it and forget it." Review practices and make necessary changes
  • Test Security Effectiveness -- Don't be afraid to find your weak spots
  • Adopt Integrated Defense Approach -- From architecture to policy, technology to practice, build security in to everything you do.

— Curtis Franklin, Security Editor, Light Reading

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