There's no 000 for IT security; do you have what it takes to build your own?

The “failing proposition” that perimeter defences are adequate for IT security means organisations need to make a “massive shift” in their investments in security solutions, one security expert has warned while noting that fierce competition for skilled security staff means a growing proportion of companies will struggle to get the right skills to make that happen.

Although they may have invested heavily in perimeter defences in the past, the lack of ongoing review and sufficiently skilled staff had taken a toll on corporate security, according to Andrzej Kawalec, chief technology officer with HP Enterprise Security Services.

“Emergency response mechanisms are in place for physical dangers such as fires or attacks,” Kawalec explains, “but that just doesn't exist in the cyber world. It's being left to organisations and individuals to provide that emergency response in the first instance.”

Widely varying investments in security defences, however, had left many organisations woefully underprotected and defenceless in the face of a growing swell of cybersecurity attacks.

“Everyone is trying to protect their little bit of the digital landscape, and protect every one of those interactions that take place every single day,” he says. “But it feels like a losing battle because they fear their organisation could just be picked off at any point.”

Worse still, research has repeatedly shown that many organisations have already been penetrated but may not know about it for months – leaving attackers to quietly monitor business activities and exfiltrate sensitive information as they choose.

An analysis published earlier this year, in the 2015 Threat Report of security firm and HP partner FireEye, found that it takes average of 205 days before victim organisations become aware that they have an attacker living on their networks.

“At the moment companies spend around 80 percent of their IT security budget trying to keep people out,” Kawalec says. “We should all accept that is a failing proposition. There needs to be a massive shift in how we invest in security solutions at the back end.”

While many organisations may understand this at an abstract level, their current vulnerability on cybersecurity issues means many simply don't know where to start. The problem is widespread: around half of the people Kawalec talks to “are in the uncomfortable position where they recognise that they don't know what's happening,” he says.

“They don't know if they are being attacked, don't know what their capabilities are, and they haven't got a response plan in place. They're not sure what to do and they are asking for help.”

The other half of people, by contrast, “have been working on these things for a few years, and they are asking for help in a different way,” he says. “They are asking to partner, work together, share intelligence, share capabilities, and help build the next generation of solutions.”

Those partnerships are seeing a significant investment in cross-developed threat-intelligence capabilities, which may go some way in helping close this gap. As increasingly intelligent and capable analytics tools help organisations better monitor the flow of information and activity on their networks, they will be able to pick out anomalies faster than they have been able to do in the past.

“New analytics solutions have taken a step beyond normal monitoring and pattern recognition,” Kawalec says. “They look at user behaviour, looking to pull intelligence around what users are doing on your network, and picking out different or anomalous behaviour.”

“They go to different parts of the Internet, pull together the information that exists there and on social media, and you get this really amazing composite picture of what users are doing. That's hopefully a big area that will help people detect what's happening.”

The ability to use modern tools to more rapidly detect and respond to security threats will help even less well-resourced companies shorten the time it takes to discover intruders on their network – yet even they may struggle to respond effectively given the paucity of skilled security professionals in the market.

Many of those professionals were flocking to larger services organisations that offer competitive working conditions and broad opportunities for career advancement, Kawalec says, noting that HP alone had built up a base of over 5000 security professionals to support its customers worldwide and has concentrated many of these in a Sydney facility.

“There just aren't enough cybersecurity-literate leaders and professionals in the world,” he explains. “They have consolidated in places where they can have a big career in security within a community of like-minded folks, and get all the tools or training that they need.”

“That obviously takes some of those skills out of the market, which means the routes of supply and demand are completely mismatched. We are getting better over time, but we need to churn out more people with security qualifications that understand risk; otherwise, we're not going to capture the brains and the passion that are out there.”