Home Global-ICTGlobal-ICT 2012 Is it possible to be secure in the cyber world?

Is it possible to be secure in the cyber world?

by david.nunes
Dick WilliamsIssue:Global 2012
Article no.:12
Topic:Is it possible to be secure in the cyber world?
Author:Dick Williams
PDF size:871KB

About author

Dick Williams is president and CEO of Webroot Inc.

Most recently Mr. Williams served as CEO-in-Residence at venture capital firm Accel Partners.

Article abstract

Information security companies need to redefine how they deliver and define protection. Traditional security approaches contain three critical flaws that give cyber criminals the edge. Innovations are required in order to keep users safe.

Full Article

The cyber security industry is broken. That statement might sound surprising coming from the CEO of a security company – but frankly, I’m amazed the industry has gotten away with what it does. We sell you security, have you spend time installing it, and then make you do the job of keeping yourself safe. Deploying, updating, patching, remediating and reimaging … how is this acceptable?

The fact that the security industry is broken isn’t up for debate. One look at the headlines and the grim statistics on data breaches and malware attacks tells the story. What is up for debate, however, is how to fix the problem. It’s not just a matter of patching holes; it’s a matter of changing the underlying way that information security companies have been doing things for years.

Look at the way Apple redefined music distribution with the iPod and iTunes, or how Amazon redefined retail by taking online shopping to a whole new level. Can the security industry undergo a similar transformation? Today’s cyber world is not what it once was, and neither are the threats users face. It’s time for cyber security companies to redefine how we deliver and define protection.

Three critical flaws

A number of infections and breaches can be traced back to three critical flaws with traditional security:

Flaw 1: Relying on malware’s “most-wanted list.” Traditional security works by finding known malware files, creating signatures to protect against them, and then delivering the signatures to users in the form of massive file updates. Security providers now have signatures for more than 14 million pieces of malware. That sounds like good news – until you compare it to the 60 million+ malware files that were released in 2010 alone. Relying on signatures to protect your computer is the equivalent of saying, “Well, you’re not on the FBI’s most wanted list, so here’s all my personal information because you must be safe.” That’s obviously a flawed approach.

Flaw 2: Holding your computer hostage. Did you know that, on average, a business endpoint security program takes up more than 400MB of space on a computer? It monopolizes a machine’s CPU, consuming 120MB worth of RAM during a scan. And it doesn’t just hog space; it drains time. On average, it takes almost three-and-a-half minutes to install, and some programs take as long 10 minutes. That may not sound too intrusive for an individual, but for an IT administrator who is managing an entire network of machines, it quickly adds up. Then, once the program is installed, it takes another two to three minutes to run an antivirus scan, with machines often left unusable during that time.

Ask yourself: How much space does Google Docs take up on your hard drive? Today’s computer programs live and work in the cloud; that’s how security needs to work too. Security solutions should keep users safe – instantly, seamlessly, and automatically.

Flaw 3: Overlooking your mobility. As a society, we’re more connected than ever before. If you own a smartphone or a tablet, there’s hardly a minute when you’re not connected. Everyone is sending emails, sharing information on social media sites, online banking, purchasing goods, and booking travel from multiple devices. Hackers know this, and are increasingly targeting mobile devices with Trojans, malicious apps, SMS scams, and other types of attacks. And that’s not to consider the physical risks that mobile devices are exposed to because of their inherent nature.

While this constant connection is good for business, it creates an information-rich target that’s very hard to protect. A recent Webroot survey showed a majority of employees use some type of mobile device for work purposes, yet only 28 percent of IT managers reported they currently have a mobile security solution in place. The fact that today’s Internet users are mobile can’t be an afterthought; it must be an integral part of the solution.

Fixing the flaws

Cyber criminals are way ahead of us. They adapt rapidly, flooding the Web with up to 100,000 new threats a day. The security industry isn’t keeping up – so it’s time to change the game.

It’s not enough to check and see if a file is on a list of known malware. We must innovate beyond that. We can leverage the power and speed of the cloud to analyze files in a more dynamic way. If a file is known to be malicious, it should be blocked – but if the file is unknown, protection can’t stop there. What is the file trying to do? What are its characteristics? The good guys have to be smarter than the bad guys, with the ability to intelligently look at all the information available and then deliver protection.

And it’s not acceptable to put the burden of protection on customers; security should be nearly invisible. It shouldn’t wait for users to run updates before protecting against new threats. That lag time between a piece of malware getting discovered and then a set of signatures getting created and sent to the customer is a crucial time when vulnerability is at its highest. It could be days, in some cases even weeks, and during that time all of a company’s employees could be exposed.

Finally, protection can’t stop at the PC. Users should be protected wherever they’re online. That means your phone is protected, and your tablet, and whatever other devices you’re using to connect to the Internet.

A call to arms

In the world of cloud-based computing, everything I described above is possible. So why is the old approach still the status quo? Customers have settled for a very long time. They might have tried switching from one security company to another, but they were likely to find that things weren’t much different. Honestly, they haven’t really had a choice. It’s like being unhappy with your electricity company. What can you do?

This is a call to arms. It’s time for security companies to step up our game. We are the Internet’s law enforcement: it’s our duty to serve and protect. Delivering incremental updates and patches is not good enough. We need to fundamentally transform our industry. And at the rate cyber criminals are innovating, we can’t do it moment too soon. The bad guys are quick; we need to be quicker.

See you on the battlefield.


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