Feeling vindicated? Security pros everywhere rejoiced when proof that external adversaries really are targeting companies to steal intellectual property led the 10 o'clock news. Government and military agencies have been dealing for years with these attacks, but cries for help from enterprise IT groups often fell on deaf ears.
Until January. That's when Google announced that for half of 2009 it was attacked using a zero-day Internet Explorer exploit originating in China. Other companies, including Adobe, Juniper, and Rackspace, said they were also targeted with same techniques during that same period. Dubbed "Operation Aurora" by McAfee, this wide-ranging cyberassault attempted to steal the source code of applications developed by these--and possibly other--leading vendors.
As word spread, CISOs everywhere got copies of the standard "Could this happen to us?" e-mail from management and struggled to answer questions about how they could hope to fend off such exploits if Google, which employs hundreds of top security pros, had to withdraw from the largest emerging market and leave many millions of dollars on the table.
Security researchers group these attacks under the advanced persistent threat, or APT, category. We see APT as shorthand for a targeted assault, where the attacker's skill level and resources are advanced. When they get in, often via social engineering techniques, they seek to stay undetected and tunnel deep into the network, then quietly export valuable data. Cleaning up the mess is an expensive nightmare.
Fact is, after several years of both our budgets and our data being under siege, few companies have the means to fight off world-class attackers. In every security survey we deploy, a percentage of respondents say they long for a major breach to wake business leaders up. Finally, you got your wish, albeit via proxy.
Now, are you going to let a good crisis go to waste?
Early indications are promising. Companies are spending more time learning about the underlying components of APT, such as worms and bots, as shown by the 30% of the 1,002 respondents to our 2010 InformationWeek Analytics Strategic Security Survey who say they spend a great deal of time on virus and worm detection and research. This is a 25% increase over 2009.
But APT isn't only about the constant malware battle; that's just the front line of this war. Incident response is required to properly counter attacks, and enhanced security awareness is needed to keep users from infecting themselves. Our poll showed increases in those dedicating a great deal of time to both these activities, 14% and 22%, respectively.
Download the May 10, 2010 issue of InformationWeek