LTE For Business Use

Hi readers, good to be back.   Image

The past few weeks, we have been bugged by several questions on the feasibility of having to use LTE-4G on their corporate networks. Here is our take on this.

LTE-4G, is not an entirely new technology. LTE, for those who are not familiar with it means Long Term Evolution. It is previously marketed as 4G or HSPDA. I don’t know the hype behind it, but it would be the mid to long term communications channel for mobile networks. It still uses the cellular network as its main point of connectivity and will be the standard for data communications for mobile users.

With regards to the questions that we have been encountering, I don’t think it will be feasible for business users to have it integrated within their main network that will be used as their main protocol for network connection. It would be best to check first the following factors that need reliable connections on internal business networks like:

  1. Strength of signal
  2. High availability requirements
  3. Functionality of the network.
  4. Availability of other connection options
  5. Availability of equipment that can be used to integrate the LTE network externally going to the internal network.

Here in the Philippines, LTE is quite new and there are limited options available, based on carriers, signal strength and equipment. Yes, LTE would be best for mobile users going around the city using their LTE capable hand units or dongles, but I think that would be it. It may not be capable of transmitting high capacity data that is required in corporate networks as of the moment. It may not be that feasible in having your own internal T1 or even DSL networks to be migrated as of yet, sooner maybe, but now would not be the appropriate time until telcos have established stability and an appropriate service level standard for this method.

The Year of the Breach

As the year is coming to a close, news headlines were dominated by reports of high-profile security attacks, some launched by “hacktivists” such as Anonymous and LULZSEC.

But something  larger was brewing. Amidst hacktivists’ attacks on Sony, HBGary and NATO, highly sophisticated, clandestine attackers—the kind with the rarefied expertise, deep pockets and specialized resources typically only seen in nation-state adversaries—were actively infiltrating a broad range of targets.

These attacks were different: they were patient, stealthy and leveraged a potent combination of technical skill and social savvy.  Some used clever social engineering to get a foothold into their target organizations, while others used zero-day vulnerabilities—previously unknown holes in software—to penetrate defenses. 

While advanced attacks have happened for years, IT security experts observed recent attacks had grown bolder and more frequent. Recent attacks were also highly targeted, customized, well-researched and, in many cases, employed both technical and social

The term used to describe such complex, sophisticated attacks was
“advanced persistent threats” (APTs), but as IT security experts quickly pointed out, APTs were only as advanced as they needed to be to get the job done. A concrete definition is elusive and, as cautioned, “Defining it could limit us and lead us to be blindsided. We need to constantly revisit the characteristics because they’re always changing.”

Much of the day’s focus was on the techniques of highly organized attackers. such
advanced threats, which include APTs, span from corporate espionage to hacktivism.

This article distills certain key insights from those discussions and
aspires to advance the industry’s dialog on advanced threats, spur disruptive innovation and disseminate some of our learnings from some of the most seasoned professionals in information security.

From a Cookie-Cutter Approach to Adaptive

In 2000, the I LOVE YOU worm crippled more than 50 million Pcs. The delivery mechanism was simple but effective: an e-mail showed up in your in-box with a subject line of “iloveyou.” When people clicked on the e-mail’s attachment, titled “love-leTTer-Foryou,” they were infected with a computer worm. while the damage was significant, a
partial solution to this problem came in the form of antivirus software: a signature could be deployed to antivirus agents that would identify the file as malicious and arrest its actions.                                                                          
Today, generic malware is still profuse but signature-based defenses, at either the network or host layer, can greatly decrease the odds of infection. What makes recent
advanced threats different is their defiance of a signature. In the world of advanced threats, malware evolves quickly, and security experts have  described several cases of special-purpose malware custom-developed specifically for their targets. Some were
compiled within hours of launching the attack.

It became clear that enterprises targeted by highly organized attackers cannot depend on signature-based “bread and butter” security tools as a sole means of defence. While the payloads of some advanced threats were fairly standard, entry strategies were often custom tailored.

Attackers typically used social networking sites to gather intelligence and identify specific users within an organization. Some of the main infection vectors that cited were  e-mail, Skype and instant messages with malware payloads in the form of PDFs, compressed HTML, script files, executables and attachments.
customization of attack techniques extend through data exfiltration.

Advanced threats often use sophisticated methods for compressing, encrypting and transmitting data to other compromised organizations, leaving little evidence of the origin of the attack or the destination for stolen information. This move from generic to tailored, from cookie-cutter to adaptive, means that security organizations need to think beyond signatures and re-evaluate how effective their current defenses are.

Remember that people, not technology, were the Achilles heel in most defensive strategies.

People are the Weakest Link 
“People are the weakest link” is perhaps the biggest cliché in information security. Security experts have long understood that users make bad choices, click on links they shouldn’t and install malware through simple ruses.

Corporate IT departments deploy multiple controls to help deal with this threat: e-mail filtering solutions catch many attacks before they make it to users, malicious links are blocked by the network, network scanners look for malicious content, and host-based antivirus (the last line of defense) tries to stop what slips through the cracks.

This process works well for generic, shotgun attacks in that signatures can be updated quickly to immunize users. Advanced attackers, however, are now creating highly credible scenarios in which they convince users to click on dialog boxes warning of fake software updates, retrieve content from quarantined areas and act (unknowingly) on behalf of the attacker.

Attackers have become dangerously adroit at using our weaknesses and behaviors against us. Attackers are creatively leveraging people inside the company to help accomplish their goals. “Internet scams are supposed to be sloppy, but they work.”

Advanced threats defy that stereotype. Experts put a fine  point on it: “The perimeter is not a firewall; it’s our users. They don’t treat their computer as an adversary; they treat it as a tool—an extension of themselves—so they don’t question what it tells them.”

Addressing the people problem will take more than technology. Organizations need to
drive a sense of personal responsibility for security among employees.

Attackers Aim for Advantage, Not Infamy

Advanced attacks are typically not the product of hobbyists. These attacks often require months of planning, mapping out internal networks by looking at the fringes.

The reconnaissance can go much further: targeting key employees, deconstructing their life by scouring social media, custom-crafting an attack so that it is stealthy, patient, and very effective.

Cybercriminals, the ones who look to steal credit card numbers and other
commoditized and sellable data, have become increasingly sophisticated but advanced
attacks are different. Increasingly, they focus on espionage—stealing specialized data
that may be of high value and strategic importance to the commissioning entity, which
can be foreign governments, rival corporations and organized crime groups. The entities behind advanced attacks literally mean business.

Also, entities perpetrating many advanced attacks are substantively different from the
hacktivists groups that have attracted attention in recent times. Hacktivists want to
embarrass and expose their targets’ activities, taking pride in publishing their conquests.

Many advanced attackers, in contrast, have the goal of stealth. They do not want to be
discovered or seek publicity.

Now some advanced threats are now masquerading as hacktivist attacks, with the goal being to confuse forensics and place blame on groups that are often eager to accept it. This pattern makes it difficult to size the scale of advanced threats: a willing scapegoat makes post-incident attribution particularly problematic.

The New Normal: Act as Though You Are Already Hacked  

The events of the year have shown that determined adversaries can always find exploits through people and in complex IT environments. It’s not realistic to keep
adversaries out. Organizations should plan and act as though they have already been breached.

Three foundational principles of security are compartmentalization, defense in depth and least privilege. in combination, these three tenets dictate that if one system (or person) is compromised, it should not result in a compromise of the entire system.

While simple in concept, these tenets have proven complicated to implement in practice. Organizations have long relied on the notion of a “perimeter,” where a big thick wall—in the form of firewalls and gateway defenses—guards the organization, with good guys (insiders) on one side of the wall and attackers on the other.

Security perimeters are now considered a construct of the past. Boundaries are nearly
impossible to define in modern organizations. The inclusion of partially trusted users
such as customers, suppliers, contractors, service providers, cloud vendors and others
have made organization boundaries very porous. Beyond the eradication of traditional
organizational boundaries, the consumerization of IT has brought a rash of unmanaged
devices into the enterprise and exposed the organization to services (and suppliers) that are opaque.

IT consumerization has also blurred the line between the business lives and
the personal lives of employees. We have moved from the illusion of a perimeter-driven defense to living in a state of compromise.

Accepting that some systems, some people, and some services may already be under the control of attackers changes information security strategy. it forces a return to the core principles of compartmentalization, defense-in-depth, and least privilege.

Organizations need to focus on closing the exposure window and limiting damage through efforts to compartmentalize systems, stop sensitive data egress and contain malfeasance. This new model also demands that we rethink old habits of sharing sensitive corporate information—such as source code, product plans and strategic roadmaps—using collaborative processes that presume perimeter defenses can keep attackers out.

Security improves through greater situational awareness: gaining the ability to
understand what’s happening beyond our network boundaries to detect threats on the horizon. Organizations get smarter by looking beyond their infrastructure and observing  the ecosystem. The ecosystem approach to security relies on organizations actively sharing information with other organizations about threats. It also demands greater visibility into the security of suppliers and service providers within one’s supply chain.

The key is to know what digital assets are important to protect, where they reside, who
has access to them and how to lock them down in the event of a breach. This ability to
tighten the net before and during an attack is key, and it requires a mature process for
incident handling. Incident response should not be considered exclusively a security
function. Instead, it is an organizational competency that must be developed and
continually honed well before an attack occurs. if organizations are planning responses
as an attack unfolds, they are too late. A competency approach allows remediation
activities to kick in automatically—like a reflex.

The Road Ahead

The reality of advanced threats demands a disruptive approach to defense—one where
enterprises can be agile and thrive in a contested environment. This approach must be
applied holistically: approaching advanced threat defense not as a discrete function but
as a natural consequence of robust but agile security.

Many of the holes that exist today come from an unmanageably complex iT infrastructure. Given that information security is a “weakest link” problem, only through understanding our assets, processes and endpoints do we have a chance at effective defense. Unraveling complexity and fielding a successful defense means that we also need to think creatively about the range of attacker motivations, which can extend far beyond data theft.

With every new technology, we have the ability to weave security into its fabric, to begin anew. We are at the start of an industry-wide move to cloud-based services and systems. We stand on the precipice of a sea-change in technology. There is a new mantra that goes within the industry saying “If we can’t get it right with cloud, shame on us.”

Today more than ever, security is an ecosystem problem in which every constituent has a responsibility. Attackers are collaborating, sharing information, going after the supply chain, co-opting careless insiders and evading our long relied-upon defenses. we need disruptive collaboration and innovation in defense. Through collaboration, information sharing and increasing our agility, we can successfully fend off APTs and other advanced threats.

Happy Holidays! And a blessed new year to all!


Why Outsource?

Outsourcing can be viewed at different views, for each definition can be defined by a party which chooses to outsource, an outsourcing company and by by business concepts. But to be concise about it, outsourcing is merely contracting a business function that was previously done in-house to an external service provider. In this sense, two or more companies may enter into an agreement involving exchange of services and payments. There can be types of outsourcing namely: offshore outsourcing, which is defined as the outsourcing of services to an outside nation or territory, while inshore outsourcing is merely outsourcing the services within a territory or country. The past few years have bought in some new terms in outsourcing like nearshoring, multisourcing or organizational and strategic sourcing.

Outsourcing is not limited to Information Technology, but can cover various business functionalities like human resources, accounting and finance, training, customer services and marketing. We have seen how these services evolve for the better and have seen certain innovative providers during the past few years.

But why outsource? It has been a fact that outsourcing can be mostly beneficial to a business, on a business point of view. Here are a few reasons:

a) Cost benefits – outsourcing can save lots of money in terms of paying internal employees’ salaries, benefits and training.

b) Focus on the core business – outsourcing can leave business owners and decision makers more time to think strategically or focus on their core business. For example, instead of a business owner worrying about his or her information technology or accounting, he can outsource one or both of these processes and worry about product development and marketing.

c) Quality – outsourcing companies employ experts in their fields, so results would be better instead of having them done in house by employees who need more training. Not only that, outsourcing companies employ strict service level agreements to ensure quality of outputs.

d) Protection – since outsourcing services are covered by a legally binding contract, it can impose or state penalties. This cannot be done on an internal approach.

e) Projected operational expense – since these services are covered by a fixed cost, it can be easy to project operational costs on a short to mid term basis. This can’t be true on an internal approach where unnecessary costs are often encountered.

f) Knowledge – there can be access to global standards which can be hard to address if done inhouse.

g) Change catalyst – since there can be accessed to global standards, changes based on these standards can be applied easily. The outsourcer now becomes a change catalyst.

h) Innovation – a company can use external outsourcing companies to innovate based on current global standards. These innovations may come in via product development, customer services, information technology and other business processes.

i) Risk management – risk is shared by both the outsourcer and the outsourcing company, therefore risk management is balanced, instead of having the outsourcer carry the risks himself.

j) Scalable – depending on the work load, each outsourced service can be adjusted even in the midst of an existing agreement.

k) Taxation benefits – since it is part of operations, all outsourcing expenses can be done on a tax credit. Much more if outsourcing is done via offshoring where certain economic zone benefits can apply.

Sounds like a bed of roses? We do not think so. Each processes have its own pros and cons, and it is up to both the outsourcer and the outsourcee to balance the disadvantages. But based on the facts stated above, the pros outweigh the cons.