External DDoS protections don’t reduce CSO collaboration onus: Akamai

Akamai's Francis Trentley

Network infrastructure providers may be able to keep high-intensity security attacks away from end users, but CSOs must focus on building collaborative security teams inside their organisations to ferret out the far more subtle threats they face every day, the global head of Akamai’s information security strategy has warned.

Having built its global content distribution network (CDN) from the ground up with security in mind, Akamai already has a robust set of tools to detect and deal with traffic spikes from DDoS attacks – with previous surges including the July 2009 W32.Dozer cyber attacks pounding Akamai’s network with around 200Gbps of attack traffic.

That was around 20 per cent of the total botnet traffic at the time, but subsequent attacks have pummelled the Akamai network with many times that much traffic – and the network’s design helped it prevent an impact on Akamai’s more than 1000 ISP customers in Australia and around the globe.

The relatively few number of ingress points into Australia’s Internet mean Akamai’s network effectively acts as a circuit breaker between the global Internet and Australia’s ISPs. With traffic dynamically rerouted depending on measured network performance every 20 minutes, the company has been able to sidestep some of the worst traffic floods in recent years – and help keep them from flooding Australia’s links to the outside world.

Akamai’s recent State of the Internet report noted security threats as a global phenomenon, with attack traffic originating in 177 different countries and 768 DDoS attacks reported by Akamai customers, and requiring human intervention to resolve, during 2012.

Of these, 269 (35 per cent) were targeted at companies in the commerce sector; 164 (22 per cent) at media and entertainment companies; 155 (20 per cent) at operating enterprises; 110 (14 per cent) at high-tech companies; and 70 (9 per cent) at public sector organisations.

Despite the protections external network providers can offer, increasing dependence on external cloud-hosted applications means Australian CSOs need to become far more proactive in implementing security monitoring and controls to ensure security is preserved, Francis Trentley, the company’s senior director for global security and government services, told CSO Australia.

“Those Web applications that used to be a nice-to-have are now mission critical,” Trentley explains. “They’re many to many, and businesses rely on them to add value to consumers. And, now that companies have to protect those applications, it’s more important than ever for them to keep those applications up and available.”

For CSOs charged with defending the borders and the associated risk profile of the enterprise, this cloud-driven mandate is given added gravitas thanks to the increasing vulnerabilities from mobile devices – and the key to meeting both these challenges is to focus on developing internal security credentials and building proactive security teams.

Such teams must inevitably involve partnerships with customers and other security experts, who Trentley says must work together to build “collaborative, cooperative” security models around shared interests and constant adaptation to the “punctuated equilibrium” in which security providers “come up with mitigations, and [hackers] come up with different tactics”.

“The majority of attacks we see now are against Web infrastructure, and the majority of those Web attacks are hitting multiple parts of your infrastructure from multiple vectors,” he adds. “Our adversaries are collaborating through the speed of the Internet, and we’re going to have to do that or we’re just not going to be able to keep up.”

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