Georgia Tech warns of emerging threats in cloud, mobile

Companies will face next year emerging threats in cloud data storage that will demand security measures that go far beyond what is offered by service providers, a university report says.

[Raising awareness quickly: Avoiding problems in the cloud]

In addition, the Georgia Institute of Technology is warning that the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend among employees using their smartphones for work will present unique challenges that will need to be addressed.

The prestigious university recently released its 2014 Emerging Cyber Threats Report, giving its researchers take on the security landscape and how companies should respond.

Leading the report are the threats employees' use of cloud data services pose to corporate networks. Seven in 10 IT managers either confirm or assume employees are saving business data to the cloud, but few companies are tackling the problem, the report said.

Georgia Tech recommends figuring out how to track data and to have a policy in place for the use of cloud services in order to control risks. The threat of problems arising from data leakage is real, given that the average company's employees use more than 500 cloud services.

In addition, cybercriminals are using cloud services to pilfer data from inside the business or to download malware from a reputable Web site or file-sharing service. "Inventorying a business' cloud use is a good first step," the report said.

Two-factor authentication is recommended for securing sensitive data in the cloud. To protect against legal requests by a sovereign government, data should be encrypted before being exported to the cloud, Sasha Boldyreva, associate professor in the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech, said in the report.

Georgia Tech researchers have developed an encryption system called CloudCapsule that runs on a virtual server. The technology will encrypt sensitive documents and store them separately in Google Drive, Dropbox or other services.

Like other encryption systems, CloudCapsule bolsters security at the expense of making data less accessible, for example, by search engines. Georgia Tech researchers have proposed several secure searchable encryption schemes that enables the processing of encrypted data in the same way and at the same speed as unencrypted data. However, such technology does sacrifice some security, the report said.

[Mobile device management shifts to the cloud]

University researchers also covered the so-called Internet of Things, which refers to the ever-growing number of Internet-enabled devices, from embedded automotive systems and home automation to industrial control systems and consumer devices. In two years, as many as 25 billion devices will communicate across the Internet, analysts say.

Once on the Internet, any device is open to attack, yet manufacturers have failed to embrace security-by-design as a guiding force in the development process, presenting a threat to corporate customers.

[Still going rogue in the cloud]

Because many of these devices lack the sophistication to run security software, either manufacturers or their customers will have to monitor them for compromises, Raheem Beyah, associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, said.

Researchers are working on ways to fingerprint and profile devices on the network, listen to the traffic they generate and use network probes to determine if the architecture is compromised, Beyah said in the report. The idea is to spot traffic from a counterfeit or malicious device and then block communications.

While malware infection rates of mobile devices remain minuscule, the threat of cybercriminals entering a corporate network through an employee's smartphone is real. This is particularly true as the number of employees using their own mobile devices for work grows.

Companies that want to take advantage of the BYOD trend for its productivity gains and cost savings will have to take a variety of approaches toward security, Georgia Tech said. Those measures will range from compartmentalizing trusted apps and sensitive data in secure containers to using network access controls to lock out untrusted devices.

Employees that use only trusted online stores to download apps, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play, are highly unlikely to encounter malware. However, Georgia Tech researchers have shown that infection is possible.

At the USENIX Security Conference In August, four researchers showed how intentional vulnerabilities could be added to an application and go undetected by Apple's vetting process. Once in the app, attackers could exploit the flaws later.

"A number of countermeasures could help restore the security of the application marketplace model, including a more fine-grained permission system, control-flow integrity checking, or mandating that developers use a type-safe programming language," the report said. "How likely these security measures are to be adopted remains an open question."

For years, companies have approached security by building layers of technology between computer systems and attackers, This has led to the deployment of expensive technologies, such as security information and event management, identity and access management, application firewalls and more recently, mobile device management.

[SaaS vendors customers finding new ways to secure the cloud]

But with IT security budgets expected to rise as much as 10 percent this year and with the majority of security professionals expecting to spend more next year, companies are looking for ways to reduce costs.

Georgia Tech believes companies can hold down costs by taking a more data-driven approach to security. Rather than just trying to keep attackers out, companies should gather and act on so-called threat intelligence to get more bang for the buck.

Steps to take include identifying and mapping networks and assets and then prioritizing defenses based on value, vulnerability and criticality, the university said. Companies also should focus on attackers by using kill-chain analysis to figure out how intellectual property could be targeted.

"The goal is to quickly determine the current state of the network and assets, what the attacker may be targeting, and the pre-determined business impact if the attack succeeds," George Wright, a principal research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, said in the report. "The process should help defenders prioritize incident response."

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