Cybersecurity, an asset with intrinsic value

The increase in data production: an irreversible path towards digitalization

The fact that today the amount of data produced throughout humanity is produced in a single day should suggest that an irreversible path has been underway for some time towards extreme digitalization, the benefits of which for the individual and for the progress of the human species are unquestionable. Being more efficient in improving a diagnosis can mean saving the life of someone who just a few years earlier would have had no chance of being treated in time.

However, the fact that a share of this data, estimated in billions, has already been stolen leaves us perplexed to say the least. One has the feeling of having in one’s hands a machine of extreme beauty and effectiveness, but that this machine is not safe. That it may collapse at any moment, when you least expect it.

According to the latest Clusit report, the 2018 cyber attacks around the world with significant impact in terms of economic loss, damage to reputation, and theft of personal and non-personal data, amounted to 1552, up 38% compared to 2017.

Data protection: the target of hackers

Protecting the data through cybersecurity has therefore become a priority for individuals, institutions and companies. But which data should be protected? Obviously there are regulations and technologies that help, but in an extremely interconnected world, where identifying a perimeter to defend is increasingly difficult. How can anyone be sure that the data they have randomly left during the day, if collected and linked by others, might not be used to their disadvantage by someone who has an interest in doing so?

Information left on social networks, a boarding pass left lying around or thrown in the garbage bin: and that is when it becomes possible to reconstruct a person’s ways and habits. It is no secret that hackers use social engineering techniques to develop attacks that can be extremely complex, too.

Protecting data with cybersecurity actions must be a priority for everyone, regardless of whether or not they are generated by a human being, a sensor, an intelligent device, or, better yet, millions of intelligent devices interconnected with one another. To be precise, today we are talking about 20 billion intelligent devices, interconnected with each other, according to the most recent estimates. Devices that have changed our habits but also industrial processes. If, indeed, up to a few years ago industrial systems communicated using proprietary protocols, nowadays, more and more often, control units (PLC) communicate with sensors and actuators using standard, open protocols, and they are often also displayed on the Internet. As a result, accessibility and efficiency are improved, but as regards safety, things must be carefully evaluated.

Another aspect to consider is that having millions of devices and an unlimited perimeter available has considerably changed the motivations of a hacker. Hackers often attack in order to capture a device and take control of it, and then use it for an attack. Obviously the IoT devices are the most exposed: since they are produced in millions of units and used by non-specialized personnel, they are extremely attractive.

The Mirai case

In 2016 the case of Mirai, a malware that transforms network devices that use Linux into remote controlled bots that can be used as part of a botnet in large-scale network attacks, surfaced. Mirai mainly targets online consumer devices such as IP cameras and home routers.

During the Mirai attack, extremely popular video surveillance cameras were “captured” to be used in a DDoS-type attack (that is, millions of transactions were sent from the cameras to the same target, making it unusable).

Protecting the perimeter is therefore no longer sufficient because it is the very concept of a perimeter that has failed. Cybersecurity is not something that concerns professionals, but is rather a global necessity. Paradoxically, cybersecurity is something that rather concerns what happens outside of a data processing center than within it.

Another element to take into consideration is that cybersecurity cannot be considered an issue that concerns the individual company, person or institution, but the entire ecosystem. In fact, having an inadequate posture not only puts the individual at risk, but all the other subjects to whom the individual is connected. In the case of Mirai, the victim was a totally unwitting target, but those who were attacked are the owners of the cameras.

This malware incident suggests that we can no longer invest in cybersecurity with only the value of the service and the asset as a reference. The cameras involved did not provide a million dollar service neither were they worth millions of dollars. However, the fact that these cameras were attacked made it possible to compromise a service provided by a third party that had an overall value of millions of dollars.

We will therefore have to consider cybersecurity as something that has its own intrinsic value, such as oxygen, air and water. Something that we cannot overlook, even though it is often not easy to carry out a study on return on investment in cybersecurity systems and solutions.

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