A move towards cyber resilience in a world without borders

Author: John Ellis, Chief Security Strategist for APJ at Akamai

Late last year, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairperson, Greg Medcraft called for Australia to focus on "cyber resilience" to prevent destabilisation of financial markets. Coincidentally, a day later, the Australian Government announced the formation of a cyber security expert panel to review the nation’s cyber security efforts. This came in the wake of the Australian Signals Directorate reporting a 37 per cent increase in cyber security incidents on the previous year.

Cybercrime and cyber attacks are real, increasing in their degree of sophistication, frequency and intensity. In fact, Akamai’s latest State of the Internet -Security Report found that the number of Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks – where multiple compromised systems are used to target a single system - doubled compared to the same period last year.

With the media announcing some form of a breach almost everyday, news about cyber attacks is at risk of becoming white noise. The frequency of these security incidents is also causing many government agencies and businesses to put the breaks on cloud adoption, and in some cases, the use of shared services is frowned upon - creating a significant disadvantage for those organisations.

However, with the increased awareness of cyber attacks, why are businesses still struggling to prevent or even detect a security incident until way after the fact? For me, the answer is a complete misalignment in thinking as to how security is viewed. Certainly it is an admirable goal to avoid being breached; the reality however is that this is an unrealistic goal as we can see from the frequency, diversity and apparent ease of breaches occurring each and every day.

Consequently, today’s security landscape calls for a shift in executive thinking in Australia and around the world. Generally speaking, there are two broad attitudes, which currently exist in response to increased cyber security threats. One centers on the pursuit for perfect security with zero breaches or incidents. The other takes on the view of ‘you’ve already been breached’. Neither view however, provides meaningful direction to senior executives and stakeholders. A change of voice and attitude is required. We need to focus on cyber resilience and move away from viewing investment in security systems and solutions as “insurance”, and towards a resilient business environment that through sound risk management enables the business to confidently take advantage of technology for innovation and growth.

Cyber Resilience

Cyber resilience means implementing a level of preparedness and ability to respond and adapt to events that threaten an organisation’s ability to meet its operational objectives – whether it’s a DDoS attack or a data breach. Understanding the real risks companies are faced with in today’s world – decoding the facts from fiction that the media flash at us everyday - is the first step. Organisations also need to develop a holistic approach to architecting a resilient environment, throughout the full organisation, which can then cope with any situation, irrespective of what is thrown at it. This approach takes the conversation away from a specific set of technologies countering specific threats, but a design goal / philosophy that talk about a resilient business and technology operations.

Importantly, we also need to move this discussion to the executive suite. No longer is it the sole responsibility of the IT team but an imperative consideration for all key business executives. We know organisations feel unprepared to deal with cyber attacks. A recent survey from Akamai found that only one third of Australian companies rate themselves as 'very experienced' in fighting against DDoS attacks. So making sure all key stakeholders have a clear view of what’s happening in their organisation and their role in creating a resilient environment is vital.

The Internet has become a core enabler of technology in today's modern world. Without it, we would not have so many things today that we take for granted, and this has all happened in under 20 years. While the Internet has enriched our lives, created entirely new industries, enabled greater learning and education, and entertains billions daily; it is inherently susceptible to hacks, threats and attacks and suffers from performance issues. While we are currently faced with an arms-race between attackers and defenders, taking the same approach to security will likely result in the same outcomes. We’re dealing with a very fluid and dynamic environment, so we need to reflect this in our approach and mentality towards cyber attacks. After all, having a resilient environment is beneficial to everyone – organisations, consumers and society as a whole.

The survey examined the security concerns and challenges facing the Australian business community. It was conducted in 2014 on behalf of Akamai by

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