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IT security professionals ‘secure society’ in fast-changing environment


Johannesburg, 21 Oct 2021
Read time 4min 40sec
Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer, F-Secure. Photo by Devin Armstrong.
Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer, F-Secure. Photo by Devin Armstrong.

The role of information security professionals has become a critical one as the world enters the second phase of the internet revolution, in which computers run everything and everything is connected. 

This emerged at the inaugural KB4-CON cyber security event for EMEA, where Mikko Hyppönen, Chief Research Officer at F-Secure and a worldwide authority on computer security and privacy issues, outlined the impact of the internet and changing cyber security risks.

Hyppönen said: “We are the first generation to live our lives partially in the real world and partially in the online world, and now we see that the internet will be part of mankind’s future forever.”

The first wave of the internet revolution – which took all the computers online – is already behind us, he said. “We are now living the second wave of the internet revolution, which will take everything else online. I’m not just speaking about IOT or smart devices, I’m speaking about everything. If we plug it into the electricity grid, we will also eventually plug it into the internet grid. It's going to happen whether we like it or not. This second wave will bring us great benefits and great new risks: It’s always a trade-off.”

Hyppönen highlighted how lucrative ransomware attacks are for criminals, noting that business e-mail compromise is even more so. “The amount of money moving around in these ransomware attacks is remarkable – there is a lot of money to be made in online crime. But even more money is being made with business e-mail compromise attacks. They always say crime doesn’t pay, but it obviously pays very well if criminals are driving around in a fleet of Rolls Royces.”

In this environment, the role of the information security professional has changed, he said. “We are no longer securing computers; we are securing society, because computers are everywhere and run everything.”

Complexity is the enemy of security

Hyppönen said: “Complexity is the biggest enemy of security. The more complex our systems are, the harder they are to secure. The more complex they are to use, the easier it is for people to make mistakes. The more complex the systems our users are using, the more prone they are to human error.”

While the solution to this should be to reduce complexity, systems were becoming more complex, he said. “If you look at the size on disk of Windows 10, it is 1 000 times bigger than Windows 95. If you look at the complexity of the code base, Windows 10 has 5.7 million source code files. So, we are just shooting ourselves in the foot as we build more and more complex systems which have more room for bugs, which then become vulnerabilities and which are more complex to use, which means our users are more prone to make human errors and mistakes. But we must not blame the users.”

Data is the new uranium

Pointing to changing attack methods, Hyppönen said: “People say data is the new oil, but it is more like the new uranium. Like oil, it is also expensive, but it is also very damaging, and some data – like medical data – stays dangerous forever when it is compromised. I don’t think we fully understood the challenge of this.

On changing approaches by criminals, he said: “We see a big shift from traditional V1 ransomware groups into ransomware V2. In January 2020, the Maze ransomware gang from Moscow innovated V2 by not only encrypting the files of the victim company, but also stealing the files and threatening to leak the stolen files if the ransom is not paid. This means that suddenly the backups don’t matter at all. Even if you have perfect backups of everything and you can recover them in an hour, the attackers still have your files and they can leak them out. This is the reason we have seen so many multimillion-dollar ransom payments – V2 ransomware has proven to be highly beneficial for the attacker.

“If we track down the root causes of any data breach, leak or malware, it’s always a technical problem or a human problem. Technical problems can be hard to solve, but once you find and fix the bug, you have solved the problem. However, patching human brains isn’t straightforward at all. You need to educate users and make sure people remember what they are taught, and whenever we teach users what to look out for, the attackers will look for new ways of going around what they have learned,” he said.

KnowBe4 boosts user training and awareness

Stu Sjouwerman, Founder and CEO of KnowBe4, announced during the event that KnowBe4 sponsored a new vendor-neutral certification by H Layer Credentialing – the Security Awareness and Culture Professional (SACP) certification for security awareness programmes.

KnowBe4 has also launched a set of 24 mobile-first training modules, and its Security Snapshots – a set of 12 standalone security ‘micro modules’ in 34 languages, which may be particularly interesting to organisations on the continent where many users consume training on their mobile devices. 

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