Chart­ing Threats in the Cloud


HWM (Singapore) - - Q&A - by Mar­cus Wong

What’s your worst per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with viruses?

It was a long time ago, but I was do­ing an ex­per­i­ment at home, putting a bare­bones ma­chine on­line to see how it took for to get com­pro­mised (Less than 30 sec­onds). That part was fine, but then I got a call from my ISP say­ing that they were shut­ting me down, be­cause what I didn’t re­al­ize was that the ‘ran­somware’ was launch­ing at­tacks from my com­puter and us­ing it as a gate­way to at­tack the net­work!

That just shows how easy it is for at­tacks to hap­pen, and the im­por­tance for both en­ter­prises and in­di­vid­u­als to have some level of pro­tec­tion.

How can in­di­vid­u­als pro­tect them­selves in the age of cloud com­put­ing?

When you talk about the cloud, servers are def­i­nitely the num­ber one source of en­try for hack­ers. Un­for­tu­nately it’s very dif­fi­cult for in­di­vid­u­als to pro­tect their data be­cause you might just be talk­ing to the app, but the app could be talk­ing to the server in the back­ground, and that’s where in­tru­sions can oc­cur. You just have to en­sure that you’re al­ways do­ing the right thing. That the right tech­nolo­gies are be­ing used, that you’re us­ing the right en­cryp­tion, and that your de­vices are clean so you don’t com­pro­mise the cloud. The data us­age poli­cies that would ap­ply in a café set­ting, should ap­ply to what you do in the cloud.

What’s the big­gest les­son the com­put­ing com­mu­nity as a whole learnt from the Heart­bleed bug?

That there are flaws in the soft­ware! And when there are flaws in the soft­ware, your server can be­come vul­ner­a­ble very fast and in a very big way, and that could lead to a lot of bad things. I think people are be­gin­ning to re­al­ize that both ap­pli­ca­tions and servers are vul­ner­a­ble, and ad­e­quate mea­sures need to be taken to en­sure the se­cu­rity of those as­sets.

Things like Heart­bleed just point out the chal­lenges; they’ve ex­isted for a while, and there will al­ways be new chal­lenges. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily help us grow as se­cu­rity ven­dor, but they do bring vis­i­bil­ity to the is­sues we try to tackle.

How do you get people to keep their pro­tec­tion soft­ware up­dated?

Well, by go­ing into the cloud! If your sig­na­ture up­dates are com­ing from the cloud, and you keep the up­dates small enough, then the only other thing to work on is the tim­ing. For ex­am­ple, in the vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment a lot of times your vir­tual ma­chines are sleep­ing. If your soft­ware is set to run the up­dates ev­ery time a ma­chine comes back up, then you have a chal­lenge, as that will bog them down.

So you need so­lu­tions that are de­signed in a way that take in ac­count the ac­tiv­ity of these vir­tual ma­chines. Even in the phys­i­cal world, you need sig­na­ture up­dates which are small and down­loaded only as and when needed.

What are the main se­cu­rity chal­lenges com­pa­nies face?

Gen­er­ally, the three se­cu­rity chal­lenges we face are con­sumer­iza­tion, cloud and vir­tu­al­iza­tion, plus ex­ter­nal cy­ber threats.

Con­sumer­iza­tion es­sen­tially refers to how in­stead of just one op­er­at­ing sys­tem in the workplace, you have three or four. Em­ploy­ees are bring­ing their own de­vices to work now and there is sim­ply just a lot more holes for the IT ad­min­is­tra­tors to plug.

With data cen­ters go­ing from phys­i­cal to vir­tual servers when they move to the cloud, there ex­ists a tran­si­tion pe­riod where the data is placed on an un­se­cure server be­fore se­cu­rity mea­sures are up. This too opens up the pos­si­bil­ity of it be­ing com­pro­mised.

Fi­nally, ex­ter­nal cy­ber threats are now more so­phis­ti­cated, stealthy and so­cial. In­stead of just tar­get­ing servers, they tar­get in­di­vid­u­als through their so­cial net­works, and the com­mand & con­trol cen­ters of servers them­selves. Also, they take a longer term ap­proach to min­ing data of in­ter­est so are harder to de­tect.


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