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5/3/2018
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RSA CTO: 'Modernization Can Breed Malice'

Zulfikar Ramzan predicted the future of cybersecurity, drivers shaping it, and how enterprise IT should react in his InteropITX 2018 keynote.

InteropITX 2018 — Las Vegas — In a room packed with business technology executives, RSA CTO Zulfikar Ramzan discussed the reality of today's cybersecurity landscape and the threats IT organizations should have at top of mind as they adopt new tech like machine learning.

"No organization exists as an isolated entity," said Ramzan in his keynote presentation. "The ripples of chaos can spread farther and faster now, as technology connects us in remarkably astonishing ways … in cybersecurity, they're quite prevalent."

To illustrate his point, he cited several recent security incidents that expanded far beyond players' expectations. The Target breach, one of the largest in history, happened because threat actors accessed a single password for a third-party HVAC system. Makers of baby cameras became entities in a massive DDoS attack that resulted in the takedown of major websites. An attack on the DNC caused people to question the foundations of democracy, he said.

Now, board members can see their careers fall apart following a cyber incident. In a world like that, Ramzan noted, we need to think less about security trends and more about the drivers: modernization of technology, malice of threat actors, and mandates forcing organizations to tie their business value to the strength of their security posture.

"Innovation can invite exploitation. Modernization can breed malice," Ramzan said.

Consider the evolution of ransomware, a comparatively old threat that has grown with the modernization of payment technology. The advent of digital payment systems has given attackers the means to collect more money from increasingly large groups of victims. Some hackers couple their attacks with 24/7 customer support to help their victims pay up.

"When threat actors start talking about customer support, we are in a brand-new world," explained Ramzan, who calls this mindset the "hacker industrial complex." It's not only the advanced actors his audience will have to worry about either, but the average attackers who are happy to do "a simple smash-and-grab" to generate a lot of money in a short timeframe.

Ramzan turned the conversation to artificial intelligence and machine learning, two hot topics of conversation among the InteropITX enterprise audience. AI has been around for a long time, and it has been used in the context of security for a long time, he explained. It's used to combat spam, online fraud, malicious software and malware, and malicious network traffic.

"But we're just at the beginning of what AI can actually do," he continued.

(Image: Interop)

(Image: Interop)

What worries Ramzan about AI and machine learning is putting all data in one place for technology to analyze it. It's not the theft of data that concerns him, but the manipulation of that data. If a threat actor can access and modify an organization's data, chances are nobody will notice it. Few people understand the mathematics of how these technologies work.

"Machine learning wasn't designed to deal with threat actors," he explained. "But if you're going to think about technology becoming ubiquitous, you have to think about the risks."

But how to address the risks? Ramzan warned of the danger in adopting a "no vendor left behind" policy when shopping for security tools. The industry "is effectively a hot mess," he said. With some 2,000 vendors in the security space, there is a need to consolidate and innovate. IT pros should figure out which vendors provide the most value, and focus on them.

He closed out his keynote by explaining how to react when security incidents occur. "Plan for the chaos you can't control," he noted, pointing to the "ABCs" of incident response planning.

The first: Availability. When forming an incident response plan, you should only use resources that are already available to your organization. "An incident response plan isn't a wish list," said Ramzan. "Don't put empty fire extinguishers in every hallway."

Budget is second. Security breaches come with unexpected costs, he noted. You may need legal help, for example, and if you don't have an in-house team you'll need to hire an outside law firm. "Response plans must have budget authority," said Ramzan. Without them, "effectively, it's just a fairy tale."

The final factor is Collaboration. During an incident, most areas of an organization can inevitably get involved. Security teams will be identifying the root cause of the attack while the IT team patches infrastructure and quarantines networks. If customers were affected then the sales team will be involved; if sales is involved, then the marketing team may be involved also.

Success in cybersecurity will depend on enterprise ability to gauge the risks that lie ahead, he concluded. "Adapt quickly and adopt technology in a way that fosters and fuels innovation."

Related Content:

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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