How Are We Doing?

By: | September 2, 2014 • 2 min read

Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at [email protected]

Famed former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was noted for, among other things, frequently asking the Big Apple’s citizens for an informal report on his job performance as the city’s executive. “How am I doing?” Koch would ask at press conferences and, in his case, the answers were often positive.

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We would all do well to adopt the same approach when it comes to the cyber security of our enterprises, as well as the enterprises of our service providers and trading partners.

So when it comes to safeguarding the precious data of our companies and our customers, just how are we doing overall?

According to HP’s 2013 Cyber Risk report, there is both good and bad news.
The good news is that the total number of publicly disclosed cyber vulnerabilities remained at roughly the same levels seen in the previous three years, with the volume decreasing about 6 percent from 2012.

It goes without saying that more obvious targets tend to be better protected, but that leaves plenty of room for less obvious targets, such as insurance enterprises, as well as brokers, agents, third-party suppliers and countless small businesses.

The really good news is that “high-severity vulnerabilities continued their multi-year decline in volume, reflecting vendors’ use of newer security technologies.”

This is truly significant, because any kind of positive news on the cyber security front is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Still, we cannot afford to get too comfortable.

The bad news? HP reported that, “As organizations scramble to meld their mobile and desktop workflows … the hybrid development frameworks available don’t sufficiently address a number of issues already well known to desktop developers.”

The most pressing issue identified in the report is “missing or weak encryption in native mobile applications, thus carrying potentially high risks for related hybrid mobile applications.” HP Security Research found that nearly 46 percent of iOS and Android applications analyzed use encryption improperly.

It’s great that so-called “high-severity” vulnerabilities are down, but we can’t ignore the possibility and probability that cyber criminals are simply choosing to settle for less chaos (and a reduced chance of being caught) in exchange for easier access to systems and highly valuable data.

It goes without saying that more obvious targets tend to be better protected, but that leaves plenty of room for less obvious targets, such as insurance enterprises, as well as brokers, agents, third-party suppliers and countless small businesses.

In addition, the HP report noted, “Plenty of vulnerabilities already known on traditional platforms can be equally effective on mobile devices using the same attack techniques, vectors, and targets. Worse, users tend to trust their handy mobile devices more than they trust their desktops, making certain techniques (social engineering attacks, for instance) far more effective.”

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There can be little doubt that mobile devices are being pushed at both business and personal users as the most convenient and “coolest” way to go, so this challenge is likely to grow more difficult over time.

Further, said HP, “As the line between mobile and desktop usage blurs, and as users become more accustomed to having access to sensitive data on any platform they please, such [security] issues will rise in importance. In the meantime, organization defenders face the difficult task of socializing best security practices among their people, while waiting for the development community to hold up its end.”

Coming back, then, to our question of “How are we doing?” the answer is something like “slightly better, but not nearly good enough.”

In fact, it appears that the threats are simply changing their appearance and methods, keeping many of us off balance. This is something we cannot allow.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]