Cyber Warfare: The next Cold War
Cyber Warfare: The next Cold War

And now, mobile and cloud

Mandiant's Bejtlich says that despite the best intentions of CISOs and IT staffs, it is nearly impossible to keep a network of a 1,000 or more endpoints safe from outside attacks.

Today, Bejtlich says, IT staffs need to address not only the needs of a company's primary computer systems, but also non-standard systems, such as smartphones and other mobile devices. While cyber espionage is normally thought of as an attack against a large computer system, many corporate executives and engineers have confidential data on their devices that might be useful to attackers.

Companies that believe they are too small or insignificant to be targeted are wrong, and do not necessarily understand how and why attacks work, says Erin Nealy Cox, managing director and deputy general counsel at Stroz Friedberg LLC and a former federal prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney. While technology firms are obvious targets for attackers after intellectual property, small companies may be considered stepping stones.

Cox says security education is essential in companies of all sizes. Large organizations with established policies and procedures need to educate their employees on a regular basis not only about sound computing practices, but also about data and office security policies. For example, she says employees need to be reminded not to insert thumb drives they find in the parking lot or those handed to them at a trade show into a company computer. Such devices could be plants with malware on them.

“Typically,” she says, “security comes at the price of convenience.”

Even data security companies can fall prey to sophisticated attacks, she says. Within the past year, there have been several online raids on companies that specialize in data security. The reasons for the success vary, she says, but it generally falls into the category of an exploit that was allowed because someone was not paying attention to details. It might have been faulty website code or a misconfigured network, but generally the vulnerabilities could have been caught.

Scott Crawford, research director for security and risk management at Enterprise Management Associates, with corporate headquarters in Boulder, Colo., agrees that companies of all sizes could be targets. While smaller entities might not provide the breadth of information that a multinational corporation offers, it still could have secrets worth stealing, he says.

Crawford views this kind of cyber theft, be it from a state-sponsored or industrial source, to be similar to espionage conducted during the Cold War. There could be value in stealing information, he says, but “you don't want to kill the market.” One purpose for this type of espionage is to build a country's or company's own ability to compete against existing players in the field.

If it costs $50 million to develop a product, but only $2 million to steal it, some will opt for the less costly approach. This is particularly true for emerging nations that might have technical resources, but are not necessarily competitive enough to develop their own intellectual property.

Defense is all about managing a company's or a country's risk, Crawford says. Some organizations look for fast fixes to potential weaknesses without fully understanding their risk profile or the impact of their actions. A layered approach to security is necessary.

Crawford also blames guidance or regulations that do not match the threat. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), for example, is prescriptive and specifies to security officers how to maintain compliance, but this is only a point in time, he says. A company's compliance “can be passé or irrelevant” immediately after passing the audit. 

This article originally appeared as an SC Magazine ebook. For more information about ebooks from SC Magazine, contact Illena Armstrong, vice president, editorial director, at