Cisco dealing with change in the threat landscape

We've all heard the same story recently – malware developers and distributors are becoming far smarter and commercially minded than ever before. The days of disgruntled teenagers hacking from their dimly lit bedrooms are behind us with corporatised criminal gangs now working as organized syndicates intent on stealing identities and extorting money.

Chris Young is the Senior Vice President of the Security Business Group at Cisco Systems. In his discussions regarding security with senior IT officials, he conducted an informal survey as to what the biggest issues facing the IT industry are. The answer came down to one significant issue.

"Number one was complexity and fragmentation," said Young. "They've got some many products and so many devices and so many tools that they really don’t know how, in many cases, to focus their efforts".

Young suggested taking a similar approach to that of Cisco's CSO, John Stewart. "Make sure you've got the basics covered. Make sure you have the right foundation".

Cisco's approach is to simplify the portfolio of products so that some of the complexity is reduced, at least from Cisco's end.

"We're codifying a model that we believe is the new and better way of thinking about security. It's from the customer's perspective. It's very simple. It says 'Take the attack as the focal point, not the place in the network, not the device, not the perimeter, not an endpoint – think about the attack.' If you think like an attacker how would you mitigate what that attacker is going to do?".

This is an approach we've seen right across the security business over recent months. The focus has shifted to what happens before an attack to managing an attack during the event and post-attack remediation. Young noted that we are now being attacked "all the time". That means we better be good at what we do during an attack.

Despite this, Young noted that this shift in how we think about security is not being reflected in security spending.

"Our estimates are that 60% to 70% of security spend is still in the 'before'. But the migration is happening. We think 20% to 30% is spent on the "during" and maybe 10% on the "after'. But we expect that the shift is going to happen".

As we recently reported Cisco acquired Sourcefire and is now adding that advanced malware protection and integrating into a number of devices that they develop and sell. That's part of Cisco's strategy of dealing with security issues before, during and after an attack.

Cisco's main focus, during the entire Cisco Live event was the Internet of Everything. Clearly, security is a major consideration when the number if devices connected to the network increases.

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Connecting lots of devices and collecting large volumes of data is not a new phenomenon – although you'd never know that given the amount of air-play given to big data. However, many large organisations, such as utilities, have been using SCADA to collect data. The difference between SCADA and the Internet of Everything is that the end-point sensors are also active devices that can react.

For example, home automation devices that can control appliances and lighting can now connect to your mobile devices over the Internet. However, when a security vulnerability is detected, such as the recent issue with Belkin's WeMo products , it results in a far larger threat surface than ever before. Belkin issued a fix for the issues but it then remains the responsibility of users to keep abreast of the potential problems and resolutions.

The problem is that users are not accustomed to having to manage this level of complexity.

"Every company needs to think of themselves as a security company – not that security is somebody else's responsibility. This is where taking on the responsibility of providing connected devices is going to require that we make security more simple for the user. In fact, we might take security out of the hands of the user and don’t rely on the user to do the update. We'll push the update to the user," said Young.

Young made a point of mentioning another recent Cisco acquisition, Meraki. The model used for managing updates in that product line is what Young calls a "true cloud model". Updates are pushed to all devices on the network automatically without any operator intervention.

"It extends all the way to the devices that operate in the network. That's the kind of model we have to get to. We have to have the ability to take some of those basics out of the hands of users who may or may not be educated".

The challenge remains – with the complexity that the Internet of Everything introduces, is it possible to secure our devices and data?

"It's exactly what we believe you have to focus on looking for the attacks," says Young. "You can’t lock down everything. You will have domains – not everything will be necessarily connected to everything else."

Young's view is that as things become more complex there will be many opportunities to simplify, citing the example of the iPhone. "There's an infinite number of applications for the iPhone but we've simplified the delivery and consumption through the interface of the phone and the App Store".

Part of Cisco's response to the changing nature of security is an acknowledgement that new approaches will be needed. This is why the launched their Grand Challenge.

"We have to think about this problem differently. Instead of saying how do we evolve all the stuff we've got today, I want to put some markers out there to go after some really crazy ideas to really try to solve some of the problems that are going to exist. Everything is going to be completely different. We may not even be correctly imagining how things are going to end up".

Cisco and their co-sponsor NineSigma are inviting proposals from the global security community for innovative solutions to secure the “Internet of Things”: to deliver intelligent cybersecurity solutions for the real world, addressing threats before, during, and after an attack. Specific focus areas for the Cisco Security Grand Challenge include malware defense, security credential management, and privacy protection.

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Tags big data#ciscoliveCisco LiveBelkin WeMomalwarethreat landscapeJohn StewartsourcefireCisco SystemsSCADAInternet of ThingsChris Youngcisco

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