The Industrialisation of Hacking

A new era in IT security

The Industrial Revolution transformed four key aspects of society—innovation, transportation, communication and financial markets—changing the world forever. Although it began more than 200 years ago, there are surprising some parallels between this historically transformative period and IT security. The dynamics of the threat landscape and the increasing complexity of IT environments have given rise to a new era: The ‘Industrialisation of Hacking’.

Just as the Industrial Revolution created faster, better and more efficient sectors of the economy, the Industrialisation of Hacking has created faster, more effective and more efficient malicious group of hackers who seek to profit from attacks to our IT infrastructure. This era has profound influences on how CIOs should direct the protection of IT systems today and the future-proofing strategies to employ to safeguard them tomorrow.

Visibility, control and protection must all be central to the architecture of any effective network security solution. As an IT business defender, you must understand the baseline of your environment before you can protect it. You cannot protect what you cannot see. And, of course, once you ‘see it’, then you can control it and protect it. Modern security architecture should also have the flexibility to be readily adaptable to evolving security needs. It is crucial that you are able to adjust your protection, as both your IT environment and the threat landscape evolve. Moreover, it is important that these adjustments can be done economically, without ripping and replacing existing systems.

The Industrialisation of Hacking is a useful lens through which CIOs and IT managers can view and explain to lay stakeholders the complexity of the dynamics between constantly evolving IT systems and the threat environments which can undermine them.

Innovation was a key driver behind the Industrial Revolution and it helped to drive cheaper, easier and faster ways to produce textiles, cast iron and steel, transforming industries and creating new markets built on the proliferation of these materials. While hacking used to be a hobby, it's now a nefarious activity of people worldwide who realise there is value to be gained, and the work has become more standardised, mechanised and process driven. Stealthy new methods to circumvent protection have evolved. Port hopping, tunneling, droppers and botnets have made it easier, faster and cheaper for hackers to break into systems, and it’s increasingly difficult for defenders to see them and keep them out.

Transportation also underwent significant change during the Industrial Revolution. The steam engine afforded more effective ways to transport raw materials and finished goods across continents and throughout the world. Today, a breadth of new devices, infrastructure and networks are providing new, efficient mechanisms to transport malware and avenues for attacks. Personal and mobile devices; the cloud, SaaS and virtualised assets; Wi-Fi and Mi-Fi; 3G and 4G; and Bluetooth have all provided new inroads into your IT systems and new pathways that must be defended. Just as transportation connected the world and made it ‘smaller’, so too has technology. Groups of hackers can be found in any country and their targets may be halfway around the world or just across town. Controlling who and what has access to corporate networks seems almost insurmountable.

The telegraph set in motion a wave of changes to the communication landscape that continues today. While mobile devices and applications enable instantaneous, anytime/anywhere connections, social media, websites and Web-enabled applications continuously create new ways for businesses and individuals to connect. These factors also expose individuals and organisations to new inbound and outbound security threats. Personal information, like birth dates, is now publicly accessible and, through social engineering, hackers regularly dupe users into unwittingly sharing sensitive or inappropriate information or clicking on malware that penetrate networks and can exfiltrate data over time. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend is exacerbating these challenges as IT security administrators have little visibility or control over the devices and applications accessing the corporate network, and limited ability to keep pace with new threats.

New financial markets including the creation of stock exchanges, more banks and industrial financiers helped fuel and finance the dramatic changes of the Industrial Revolution. Likewise, today the organised exchange of hacker exploits is growing in strength and financial reward. The end game used to be the notoriety that came with discovering and publicising a new vulnerability exploit, but now there are significant financial incentives to be the only one who knows. We’ve gone from showboating to secrecy as the market for zero-day exploits has evolved and the potential economic or political stakes have become so high.

The Industrialisation of Hacking has created a global ecology where threats are increasingly sophisticated and are constantly evolving. CIOs need to turn the tables to stay ahead of hackers, while in today’s economic reality, being mindful of resource and budget constraints. CIOs should employ a contemporary security strategy which first addresses the fundamentals of visibility, control and flexibility. While there are some tectonic forces driving the Industrialisation of Hacking, the ever-evolving security threats are not insurmountable and no organisation can afford to underestimate them.

Chris Wood is regional director at Sourcefire, Australia and New Zealand.

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