IT Managers Struggling to Keep Up With Cyber-Threats: Security Experts

NEWS ANALYSIS: Security experts say building in-depth cyber-defenses is the best way to resist the increasingly sophisticated attacks on enterprise networks.

Cyber Defenses 2

DALLAS—Sometimes unanimity is refreshing, but not when panel after panel at the Metro Ethernet Foundation's GEN15 conference here delivers the same depressing news. Despite all the work that's been done to improve enterprise and network security, the picture is far worse today than at any time in the past.

Timothy Wallach, supervisory special agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigations Seattle field office cyber task force, said that the level of criminal activity attacking enterprises in the U.S. has reached an all-time high.

Wallach also said that despite the worries about insider attacks, "those are only a small percentage of the attacks we see." He said that the vast majority of attacks on businesses are criminal activity seeking to steal information from companies that can be used by competitors or that can be sold on the dark Web.

While criminal actors are the single biggest source of threats, there are plenty of others, Wallach said, including political activists who want to disrupt businesses for some political gain or to make a point.

He also listed nation-state actors who will attack an enterprise, frequently as a means of gaining access to some other company with which they do business. "No one is immune from these attacks," he said.

What makes the latest attacks so serious is that perpetrators are better funded and usually more skilled than they have been, but Wallach also noted that even relatively unskilled attackers have access to sophisticated tools to break into networks and to launch attacks. He said that it's not unusual for IT managers to find that their networks have been infected for years.

Stuart McClure, founder and CEO of Cylance, speaking on the same panel, said that once security managers start looking for threats that already exist on their networks, "It’s like turning on a black light in a hotel room, you have to be ready for what you're going to find."

He said that it's not uncommon to find that the hackers have penetrated far more of a company's network than anyone realized and may have been stealing information for years. "You might wish you hadn't looked," he said.

During an earlier panel discussion, Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe, said he's been trying to encourage better security for networking, saying that in some instances the Internet of Things was going to be a significant weak point. He said that better authentication should be designed into embedded electronics. Metcalfe noted that such security problems were going to be growing in importance as the IoT becomes more widespread.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...