The events of the last few years have highlighted the world’s vulnerabilities and shown the importance of building resilience into organisations, supply chains and the global economy. COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have exposed issues we’d chosen to ignore, thought we’d fixed forever or hadn’t even considered before. Growth is no longer guaranteed. The global economy’s increasing reliance on technology to enable the world to function extends the attack surface and opens up new cyber security threats.
The need for cyber security to protect sustainable growth
Governments are struggling with plans for sustainable economic growth against a background of conflict, continuing supply chain problems, climate change, rising prices and interest rate increases. Typical sustainable development goals include; economic growth measured by GDP; business innovation and infrastructure renewal; creating sustainable cities and communities; and responsible consumption of products.
From smart cities, to renewable energy, financial infrastructures and driverless transport, cutting-edge technology is at the heart of our drive for sustainable growth. This provides exciting opportunities but has also exposed existing systems’ weaknesses and created new vulnerabilities to malicious actors. Sustainable development goals are all put at risk by the increased threat from cyber attacks.
Organisations have become familiar with safety and security measures which protect their physical environment such as installing early warning sensors, security cameras, fire safety equipment and intruder alarms. There’s a need for a cultural shift for executives, investors, employees and regulators to recognise the increasing importance of cyber security. The war in Ukraine has brought into sharp relief the importance of having both strong physical and cyber defences. Cyber resilience is absolutely necessary for modern civilisation to survive and flourish.
How big is the cyber threat?
Recent research and headlines point to cyber crime being very big business indeed. One study showed cyber criminals raking in $1.5 trillion every year. To put that in context that’s exactly the same amount proposed for the US Congress’ bipartisan package to help Ukraine and finance federal agencies for the second half of 2022. Another study from Cybersecurity Ventures expects global cybercrime costs to reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. This led Steve Morgan, Editor-in-Chief at Cybercrime Magazine to comment, “This represents the greatest transfer of economic wealth in history, risks the incentives for innovation and investment, is exponentially larger than the damage inflicted from natural disasters in a year, and will be more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs combined.”
Innovation is a growing target for cyber criminals
Innovation and invention are seen as good things for businesses and the wider economy. They power economic growth and prosperity around the world but by their very nature they can open the door to cyber criminals. Innovation is all about new technologies, products and ways of working. The cloud gaming sector is a prime example of an industry that has attracted the attentions of hackers, due to its constant growth, developing new platforms and introducing new products almost daily. As the industry transitions to cloud infrastructures, the market size was estimated at $609.67 million in 2021, and is expected to grow to $7.382 billion by the end of 2028 according to research by Brandessence. Change, as in this case, often comes at dizzying speed. This means that procedures, controls, security and monitoring may lag behind. Ripping up the rule book to innovate can have huge positives but organisations need to watch for the negatives too. Indeed, some of the largest cyber security incidents in 2022 were targeted at the gaming sector, with breaches reported by such behemoths as Rockstar, Roblox and NVIDIA, to name just a few.
Rapidly expanding sectors and businesses naturally also attract huge investment. This makes them even more attractive for wily cyber criminals as the rewards from attacks can be particularly lucrative. Another pertinent example is the renewable energy sector. This growing industry promises great things for our hopes of preserving the world we live in. Massive investment means it is also shaping up to be a very attractive market for cyber criminals.
Jim Guinn, global managing director for cyber security in energy, chemicals, utilities and mining at Accenture has noted, “The cybersecurity conversation in the renewable energy engineering and construction business is almost nonexistent today.” It is imperative that such industries underpin their expansion with the appropriate focus on defence against cyber attacks.
Protecting your software stack
The way today’s technology solutions are created using a jigsaw puzzle of multiple pieces including published APIs, integration with proprietary products, cloud applications from different vendors, open source components all combined with in-house developments means that many organisations are unsure about their complete Software Bills of Materials (SBOMs). This means vulnerabilities are literally built into critical systems introducing undocumented threat vectors which can be used by hackers to gain access to proprietary systems and data.
This lack of knowledge about an organisation’s SBOMs means that even when a bug or vulnerability is identified in the open source community and patches created, the business can be completely unaware of the fact that it needs to take remedial action. There are many examples of this type of oversight resulting in huge costs and disruption for business.
Secure by default – building resilience
In 2023, developers and publishers of software must focus on Secure by Default principles if systems are to avoid the kind of failures due to poor security posture and an over reliance on end-users to act in a secure manner. The user experience is an integral part of the security features of a system, because if security makes software inconvenient to use, end-users will simply find a workaround. If security isn’t second nature then it’s no security at all. The UK Government has introduced tough new regulations in the Telecommunications (Security) Act which includes the requirement to have a deep understanding of security risks, including those within the supply chain. This builds on the premise that ‘edge’ devices such as radio masts, internet equipment, or wifi routers supplied to customers should be protected from cyber attack.
NCSC Technical Director Dr Ian Levy made the point: “We increasingly rely on our telecoms networks for our daily lives, our economy and the essential services we all use. These new regulations will ensure that the security and resilience of those networks, and the equipment that underpins them, is appropriate for the future.”
Online risks spill over into the physical world
Increasingly, online services are impacting people in the real world. A high profile example is the fall out from the 2017 Equifax data breach, which it is estimated to have cost the company at least $1.38 billion, with some sources suggesting the final bill could be closer to $2 billion. The root cause of the data breach was the failure to patch a known open source web application security flaw. This left the cyber doorway open for criminals to enter and cause havoc. Over 140 million U.S. consumers’ data was affected, putting them at risk of future financial instability—being unable to rent housing, being denied a loan, having to pay higher interest rates on credit cards or mortgages, and greater difficulty in getting a job, not to mention the distress and anxiety identity theft causes.
A more recent example, described as the biggest hack in history that affected telco Optus, led to one in three Australians at risk of identity theft or fraud. As a result, 10,000 victims have had their personal details published online and millions of people are scrambling to change their online driving licenses. T-Mobile data breach that affected 37 million accounts was detected in January 2023 but the weakness in the API had been exploited since November 2022.
Automating Development & Security Operations (DevSecOps)
As software development accelerates and the attacks of malicious actors continue to increase in speed and intensity, organisations must ensure their security operations are equipped to respond equally fast. Preventative strategies can be built into the development workflow to ensure that DevSecOps processes are efficient and maintain the appropriate vigilance without wasting human resources. Such processes become operationally effective if for every critical patch released, the security and development teams are ready with normal business practice to identify the threat, confirm its presence in their application software estate and remediate as quickly as possible as part of business as usual. Without DevSecOps, such operations can take days to weeks, but forward thinking teams will have worked this out so such incidents take minutes to hours, thus preventing unauthorised access or infiltration of malware via an open source vulnerability.
With some 64% of companies impacted in 2021 by supply chain attacks, mostly due to increased reliance on open source software components, organisations must be scrupulous about checking that underlying dependencies are safe from vulnerabilities. A further study showed such attacks were up 300% compared to the preceding year. Businesses that prepare thoroughly against such risks will be well rewarded. Not only are they underpinning their own operations, ensuring that their business can continue to grow and innovate without hindrance from malicious attacks, they protect their reputation by providing reliable products and services to their customers. In turn, customers know that they can trust their supplier, building loyalty in the business that transcends a purely transactional relationship.
Ensuring that technology works as it should has long been a given. Now it is an expectation that tech works securely, protecting personally identifiable information, while still providing a great user experience, so that people can get on with their lives, knowing that their trusted suppliers are looking after their data securely. It is a challenge for the entire technology industry, but one on which our very way of life depends.
Visit www.meterian.io to learn how Meterian can help secure your businesses’ open source components to reduce the threats of cyber attacks.