Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


11:00 AM
Steve Manzuik
Steve Manzuik
Connect Directly
E-Mail vvv

Has The Security Industry Failed Its Customers?

Short answer: Not really. But the odds of staying safe from a cyberattack go way up when you follow these six tips for security hygiene.

In the modern era, IT is turned inside out. Most cyberattacks target users and their devices, making standard security practices from the past decade ineffective.

Consider this: the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report claims that 63% of all data breaches are caused by stolen credentials. And with the advent of bring-your-own-device policies, businesses often no longer have control over the devices people use to access their corporate networks. This leads to employees, typically thought of as a company's biggest asset, becoming the biggest liability because of phishing attacks.

These days, APT might as well stand for average phishing technique instead of advanced persistent threat. Many of the high-profile breaches in the last year were due to phishing attacks, including those aimed at Target and Snapchat. Essentially, cyberattacks don't need to be that sophisticated to cause millions of dollars worth of harm to businesses. And despite the substantial amount of money spent on new security products and solutions, the number of breaches occurring each year is still rising.

This situation raises the question, "Has the security industry simply failed?"

Many consumers and organizations have the misconception that attempts to secure information and data are futile — that it's not a question of if they'll be hacked, but when. As a result, when it comes to security, IT professionals often proclaim, "There's nothing we can do. We're screwed." This industry standard of fear and defeat is ridiculous; no one should have the expectation that their information will eventually be hacked.

Back to Basics
Instead of spending a huge security budget on more appliances and other security solutions that claim to solve all your problems, organizations need to remember that the most effective way to block a breach is a simple, back-to-the-basics approach to information security. Before spending on those so-called "advanced" security solutions, make sure your organization is effectively doing the following:

  1. While we still have passwords, make them strong and unique. We get that passwords can be annoying, especially when you have to satisfy some crazy policy that was designed to encourage security but instead ends up in the form of a sticky note on a computer monitor, among other bad practices. Until we figure out a better way to authenticate users, the password is all we have. Organizations need to educate users and implement policies that are easy to follow while encouraging strong and unique passwords across all sites.
  2. Solve the password problems for your organization by providing users with an easy-to-use password manager. This helps users ensure they use both unique and strong passwords while removing the need for them to be remembered along with all the associated bad habits. Password managers, such as the one offered by LastPass, integrate with the Web browser and automatically generate and save passwords for users. This means that users only need to come up with one strong password to protect their vault. Many also offer enterprise-class options that allow for administrative account recovery and other must-have features.
  3. Use two-factor authentication. As we've already outlined, most major breaches come via compromised user credentials. It's time organizations made passwords only part of the access scenario. Raise the bar on what it takes to access enterprise resources by adding a second authentication mechanism. Note that National Institute of Standards and Technology warns users to stay away from SMS-based solutions and urges the implementation of a solution that doesn't introduce unneeded friction to the authentication process.
  4. Patch everything. Most organizations are good at keeping servers and traditional workstations patched. That said, the days of having complete control of what's connected to your network are long gone. Users will bring their own devices and connect them to work networks and applications and, in many cases, the patch level of these devices is unknown. Therefore, why not control access to sensitive data and applications and prevent the use of outdated devices and endpoints?
  5. Review your backup strategy. The recent outbreak of ransomware attacks has proven that many organizations don't have an effective data backup strategy because, if they had, recovering from a ransomware-type attack would be as simple as wiping systems and restoring data from backups. If your organization would be down for days — not hours — from a massive data loss, then your backup strategy has major gaps that need to be addressed. Consider leveraging proven cloud technologies as an easy and secure way to ensure almost constant backup of important user data.
  6. Finally, make your users paranoid. Not wearing tinfoil hats paranoid, but paranoid enough to trust but verify emails, documents, and other communications. The only effective way to combat the threat of phishing attacks is user education. I recommend that organizations routinely run internal phishing campaigns that are focused on educating, not shaming, users who fall victim. Of course, before you even think of running a phishing campaign, make sure you have covered the previous five security hygiene basics and verify there is a mechanism that users can use to report suspected phishing to security.

It's time to get real and go back to basics. Don't immediately invest in the most complex IT solutions for business. In fact, having several disjointed security layers often makes it easier for attackers to leverage outdated software and security vulnerabilities found in your security software. Businesses can protect themselves, and it starts by securing users and encouraging basic security hygiene.

Related Content:

Steve Manzuik is the Director of Security Research at Duo Security's Duo Labs. Steve has over 20 years of information security experience, having worked as Senior Manager of Security Research & Engineering at Juniper Networks, Research Manager of eEye Digital Security, ... View Full Bio

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Ninja
12/26/2016 | 1:29:55 PM
Re: SMS for Two Factor Authentication
SMS typically requires cell service and for the general public cell service is freakishly expensive in the US. I'd be all over two factor authentication when there was a common implementation that makes use of other avenues, such as landline phone through automated calls. I'm one of those who cannot afford spending as much as a week's groceries on what is essentially an overpriced toy. Other countries fare much better with two factor because their cell services are not grossly overpriced. That is the key reason why the Social Security Administration ended the mandatory two factor authentication before it even was really put in place. Securing systems by providers cannot be cost-prohibitve for the users.
User Rank: Ninja
12/20/2016 | 10:53:56 AM
Who is Failing Who?
I might be stepping into it with this analogy, but while the article isn't taking its title literally, I do have strong feelings about the idea the Security Industry isn't doing all it can.  I liken the role of Security in IT to parenting.  You do all you can (or all you know how to do) but ultimately your kids still have free will to not listen to you at all (yes, I'm a parent).  Some of the most innovative ideas in network tech and software coding standards erupted from talented hackers pushing boundaries and the Security Industry answering.  And like parents, no InfoSec company or individual can know everything; it's an evolutionary process - stumbling here and there and having to catch your balance again is not failure by a long shot.  Failure would be walking away and doing nothing in the face of new waves of cybercrime and the truth is, it's often the customer doing nothing, not the InfoSec community.  Business models need to catch up with modern tech and start making Security a top priority.  Like I tell my kids, after I tell you what's going to happen twice, you can't act surprised when the thurd time we talk what I said was going to happen does.  Here's to all the parents out there, and to their counterparts in InfoSec.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2016 | 9:22:18 PM
Two Factor Authentication is better than single factor authentication
But it also be a big problem if the 2nd factor issuer machine got hacked.

So, software with password/passphrase stealing attack detection capability is the way to go.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2016 | 12:28:04 PM
SMS for Two Factor Authentication
Hello Sir, As a provider of SMS in the U.S. we know that most connections to and from cell carriers are made out of band and are encripted. The 60 minutes program that showed the SS7 network being hacked was not the way a bank in the U.S. sends a pin code to it's users. It is very difficult to intercept these messages.  Please don't get me worng, I'm not saying it's impossible but really hard to do.   
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2016 | 12:27:43 PM
SMS for Two Factor Authentication
Hello Sir, As a provider of SMS in the U.S. we know that most connections to and from cell carriers are made out of band and are encripted. The 60 minutes program that showed the SS7 network being hacked was not the way a bank in the U.S. sends a pin code to it's users. It is very difficult to intercept these messages.  Please don't get me worng, I'm not saying it's impossible but really hard to do.   
NSA Appoints Rob Joyce as Cyber Director
Dark Reading Staff 1/15/2021
Vulnerability Management Has a Data Problem
Tal Morgenstern, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer, Vulcan Cyber,  1/14/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This is not what I meant by "I would like to share some desk space"
Current Issue
2020: The Year in Security
Download this Tech Digest for a look at the biggest security stories that - so far - have shaped a very strange and stressful year.
Flash Poll
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
COVID-19 has created a new IT paradigm in the enterprise -- and a new level of cybersecurity risk. This report offers a look at how enterprises are assessing and managing cyber-risk under the new normal.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-20
OpenMage is a community-driven alternative to Magento CE. In OpenMage before versions 19.4.10 and 20.0.6, there is a vulnerability which enables remote code execution. In affected versions an administrator with permission to update product data to be able to store an executable file on the server ...
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-20
Weave Net is open source software which creates a virtual network that connects Docker containers across multiple hosts and enables their automatic discovery. Weave Net before version 2.8.0 has a vulnerability in which can allow an attacker to take over any host in the cluster. Weave Net is suppli...
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-20
A vulnerability in the CLI of Cisco SD-WAN vManage Software could allow an authenticated, local attacker to read sensitive database files on an affected system. The vulnerability is due to insufficient user authorization. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability by accessing the vshell of an af...
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-20
Multiple vulnerabilities in Cisco SD-WAN products could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to execute denial of service (DoS) attacks against an affected device. For more information about these vulnerabilities, see the Details section of this advisory.
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-20
Multiple vulnerabilities in certain REST API endpoints of Cisco Data Center Network Manager (DCNM) could allow an authenticated, remote attacker to execute arbitrary SQL commands on an affected device. For more information about these vulnerabilities, see the Details section of this advisory.