Three Unique Tech Trends in 2017 and Implications for 2018

Minneapolis – 12/24/2017

Each year we like to review and commentate on the most impactful technology and business concepts that are likely to significantly impact the coming year. Although this list is incomplete, these are three items worth dissecting.

3. The Hyper Expansion of Cloud Services Will Spur Competition and Innovation:
Cloud computing is a utility that relies on shared resources to achieve a coherent economy of scales benefit – with high-powered services that are rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort via the internet (Fig. 1). It presently consists of these main areas: SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), and IaaS (infrastructure as a service). It is typically used for technology tool diversification, redundancy, disaster recovery, storage, cost reduction, high powered computer tests and models, and even as a globalization strategy. Cloud computing generated about $127 billion in 2017 and is projected to hit $500 billion by the year 2020. At this rate, we can expect many more product startups and consulting services firms to grow and consolidate in 2018 as they are forced to be more competitive thus bringing costs down.

The line between local and cloud computing is blurry because the cloud is part of almost all computer functions. Consumer-facing examples include: Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, GMAIL, and the iPhone infrastructure. Apple’s cloud services are primarily used for online storage, backups and synchronization of your mail, calendar, and contacts – all the data is available on iOS, Mac OS, and even on Windows devices via the iCloud control panel.

Fig. 1. Linked Use Cases for Cloud Computing.
Cloud Infra

More business sided examples include: Salesforce, SAP, IBM CRM, Oracle, Workday, VMware, Service Now, and Amazon Web Services. Amazon Cloud Drive offers storage for music, images purchased through Amazon Prime, as well as corporate level storages that extends services for anything digital. Amazon’s widespread adoption of hardware virtualization, service-oriented architecture with automated utilization will sustain the growth of cloud computing. With the cloud, companies of all sizes can get their applications up and running faster with less IT management involved and with much lower costs. Thus, they can focus on their core-business and market competition.

The big question for 2018 is what new services and twists will cloud computing offer the market and how will it change our lives. In tackling this question, we should try to imagine the unimaginable. Perhaps in 2018 the cloud will be the platform where combined supercomputers can use quantum computing and machine learning to make key breakthroughs in aerospace engineering and medical science.  Additionally, virtual reality as a service sounds like the next big thing; we will coin it (VRAAS).

2. The Reversal of Net Neutrality is Awful for Privacy, Democracy, and Economics:
Before it was rolled back, net neutrality required service providers to treat all internet traffic equally. This is morally and logically correct because a free and open internet is just as important as freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the free market concept. The internet should be able to enable startups, big companies, opposing media outlets, and legitimate governments in the same way and without favor. The internet is like air to all these sects of the economy and to the world.

Rolling back net neutrality is something the U.S. will regret in coming months. Although the implications of it are not fully known, it may mean that fewer data centers will be built in the U.S. and it may mean that smaller companies will be bullied out of business due to gamified imbalances of cost in internet bandwidth. Netflix and most tech companies dissented via social media resulting in viral support (Fig 2).

Fig 2. Viral Netflix Opposition to Rolling Back Net Neutrality.
Netflix Twitter

Lastly, it exacerbates the gap between the rich and the poor and it enables the government to have a stronger hand in influencing the tenor of news media, social norms, and worst of all political bias. As fiber optic internet connectivity expands, and innovative companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook turn into hybrid news sources, a fully free internet is the best thing to expose their own excesses, biases, and that there are legitimate conflicting viewpoints that can be easily found.

1. Amazon’s Purchase of Whole Foods Tells Us the Gap Between Retailer and Tech Service Company is Closing:

For quite a long time I have been a fan of Amazon because they were anti-retail establishment. In fact, in Amazon’s early days, it was the retail establishment that laughed at them suggesting they would flounder and fail. “How dare you sell used books by mail out of a garage”. Yet their business model has turned more into a technology and logistics platform than a product-oriented one. Many large and small retailers and companies of all types – employ their selling, shipping, and infrastructure platform to the degree that they are, in essence, married to Amazon.

Magazine Business Insider said, “The most important deal of the year was Amazon’s $13.7 billion-dollar acquisition of Whole Foods. In one swoop, Amazon totally disrupted groceries, retail delivery, and even the enterprise IT market” (Weinberger, 12/17/17). The basis for this acquisition was that grocery delivery is underserved and has huge potential in the U.S. as the population grows, less people own cars, and people value not wasting time walking around a retail store so much (getting socialized to a new level of service) (Fig 3).

Fig. 3. How Amazon Can Use Whole Foods to Serve High Potential Grocery Delivery.
Amazon Whole Foods

By Jeremy Swenson and Angish Mebrahtu

Mr. Swenson and Mr. Mebrahtu meet in graduate business school where they collaborated on global business projects concerning leadership, team dynamics, and strategic innovation. They have had many consulting stints at leading technology companies and presently work together indirectly at Optum / UHG. Mr. Swenson is a Sr. consultant, writer, and speaker in: business analysis, project management, cyber-security, process improvement, leadership, and abstract thinking.  Mr. Mebrahtu is a Sr. developer, database consultant, agile specialist, application design and test consultant, and Sr. quality manager of database development.

 

 

 

Lessons Learned From the Sony Hack

sony-hack-photo-3This article reviews the 2014 Sony hack from a strengths and weaknesses standpoint based on select parts of the SysAdmin, Audit, Network and Security (SANS) and National Institute of Standards in Technology (NIST) frameworks. Although an older hack, the lessons learned here are still relevant today.

Strengths – A Track Record of Innovation and Multilayered Information Security:
From early boom-boxes in the 1980s to the first portable disc player in the early 1990s.  To high-quality headphones, the first HD TVs, to high-quality speakers, a gaming system revolution called the PlayStation, and now a massive on-line gaming network, Sony has been creative and innovative.  This has made them one of the most respected and profitable Japanese companies to date.  Yet this success derived overconfidence in other areas including information security but they still have the potential and the money to be a security leader.   The managerial layering of Sony’s information security team was a good start even if their head count was too low.  One source stated, “Three information security analysts are overseen by three managers, three directors, one executive director and one senior vice president” (Hill, 2014).  Although contradictory, at least there was some oversight.

Failure 1 – Poor Culture and Lack of Leadership Support:
Sony’s leadership is on the record as not respecting the recommendations of either internal or external auditors.  A quote from an I.T. risk consultancy summarized it this way, “The Executive Director of Information Security talked auditors out of reporting failures related to Access Controls which would have resulted in Sony being SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) non-compliant in 2005” (Risk3sixty LLC, 2014).  Things like this trickle down the layers of management and become a part of the company culture.  Specifically, low level whistle blowers were silenced even though their I.T. risk arguments were solid.  “Sony’s own employees complained that the network security was a joke. (Risk3sixty LLC, 2014)”.  When this happened Sony’s leaders failed to execute their fiduciary duty to the board, shareholders, and customers.  They did this so they did not look bad in the short term yet it cost the company more in the long term.

Failure 2 – Not Understanding Their Baseline:
The baseline is a measure that determines when you have the right amount of security and security process in relationship to your required business objectives and risk tolerance.  Being below the baseline means risk is too high and an attack or breach is likely.  This is why the baseline changes often and needs to be closely monitored.  For example, when you are producing a very politically controversial movie about an unruly world leader who has a history of making war threats against his political opponents, you should have a higher baseline to be on guard from hacktivists.  Sony overly focused on their cash generating core competencies and security was at most an afterthought.  According to one source, Sony Pictures had just 11 people assigned to a top-heavy information security team out of 7,000 total employees (Hill, 2014).  For a technology company that is way too few people working in security.  It’s not enough people to collect and intelligently review logs, patch software, pen test, red team, and be available for one or more war room type projects which are bound to come up – all things prudent security would require.

Understanding your I.T. risk baseline requires testing and measurement and this has to be based on some framework, SANS, NIST, or some of the others.  One former employee described Sony’s failure to comply with any framework as follows, “The real problem lies in the fact that there was no real investment in or real understanding of what information security is.  One issue made evident by the leak is that sensitive files on the Sony Pictures network were not encrypted internally or password-protected” (Hill, 2014).  Had they conformed to the SANS or NIST framework they would have been required to encrypt the data – see conclusion.

Failure 3 – Weak Password Policies:
Sony’s password policy was embarrassingly weak.  In fact, so weak you might think they were deliberately trying to help hackers.  “Employees kept plaintext passwords in Microsoft Word documents” (Franceschi-Bicchierai, 2014).  Even very small companies from the 1990s would have policies against that.  Moreover, one source confirmed that the word files were named with password in the file name (Risk3sixty LLC, 2014).  Once in the network, all a hacker has to do is search for a file with password in the name and they have it.

Failure 4 – Late Detecting the Hack and Data Exfiltration:
Right away the intruders easily walked into Sony’s internal network and began stealing unencrypted sensitive data with apparently no log alarms going off.  Sony had not followed data classification, retention, or governance plans – not even checkbox compliance.  If they did they would not have had all types of data mixed together.  One reporter described it this way, “Intruders got access to movie budgets, salary information, Social Security numbers, health care files, unreleased films, and more” (Hill, 2014).  Thus, their network segmentation here must have been weak or non-existent.  Health care data should not be near unreleased film files as they are totally different.  There is no business justification for this.  Segmenting and encrypting the data would have greatly reduced and delayed any data theft.

Conclusion:
sans-top-3-sony
nist-cyber-sec-framework-for-sony

References:
Baker, L., & Finkle, J.  “Sony PlayStation suffers massive data breach”.  Reuters.  Published 04/26/11.  Viewed 10/26/16.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/26/us-sonystoldendata-idUSTRE73P6WB20110426

Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo.  “Don’t believe the hype: Sony hack not ‘unprecedented,’ experts say.”  Mashable.  Published 12/08/14.  Viewed 10/20/16.  http://mashable.com/2014/12/08/sony-hack-unprecedented-undetectable/#359BD06aEkq6

Greene, Tim.  “SANS: 20 critical security controls you need to add.” Networked world.  Published 10/13/15.  Viewed 10/23/16.  http://www.networkworld.com/article/2992503/security/sans-20-critical-security-controls-you-need-to-add.html

Hill, Kashmir.  “Sony Pictures hack was a long time coming, say former employees”.  Published 12/04/14.  Viewed 10/20/16.  http://fusion.net/story/31469/sony-pictures-hack-was-a-long-time-coming-say-former-employees/

NIST.  “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security”.  Published 01/01/2016.  Viewed 10/23/16. https://www.nist.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cyberframework/Cybersecurity-Framework-for-FCSM-Jan-2016.pdf Risk3sixty LLC.

Risk3sixty. “The Sony Hack – Security Failures and Solutions.”  Published 12/19/14.  Viewed 10/20/16. http://www.risk3sixty.com/2014/12/19/the-sony-hack-security-failures-and-solutions/

Sanchez, Gabriel.  “Case Study: Critical Controls that Sony Should Have Implemented”.  SANS Institute Information security Reading Room.  Published 06/01/2015.  Viewed 10/20/16.  https://www.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/casestudies/case-study-critical-controls-sony-implemented-36022

Demystifying 9 Common Types of Cyber Risk

1)       Crimeware
This is designed to fraudulently obtain financial gain from either the affected user or third parties by emptying bank accounts, or trading confidential data, etc. Crimeware most often starts with advanced social engineering which results in disclosed info that leads to the crimeware being installed via programs that run on botnets which are zombie computers in distant places used to hide the fraudsters I.P (internet protocol) trail. Usually the victim does not know they have crimeware on their computer until they start to see weird bank charges or the like, or an I.T. professional points it out to them. Often times it masquerades as fake but real looking antivirus software demanding your credit card info in an effort to then commit fraud with that info.

2)       Cyber-Espionage
The term generally refers to the deployment of viruses that clandestinely observe or destroy data in the computer systems of government agencies and large enterprises – unauthorized spying by computer, tablet, or phone. Antivirus maker Symantec described one noteworthy example where the U.S. Gov’t made a worm to disable Iran’s nuclear reactors arguably in the name of international security (Fig. 1).

“Stuxnet is a computer worm that targets industrial control systems that are used to monitor and control large scale industrial facilities like power plants, dams, waste processing systems and similar operations. It allows the attackers to take control of these systems without the operators knowing. This is the first attack we’ve seen that allows hackers to manipulate real-world equipment, which makes it very dangerous. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before – both in what it does, and how it came to exist. It is the first computer virus to be able to wreak havoc in the physical world. It is sophisticated, well-funded, and there are not many groups that could pull this kind of threat off. It is also the first cyberattack we’ve seen specifically targeting industrial control systems” (Accessed 03/20/16, Norton Stuxnet Review).

Richard Clarke is the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the United States and he commentated on Stuxnet and cyber war generally in this Economist Interview from 2013.

Fig.1.

3)       Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks
A DoS attack attempts to deny legitimate users access to a particular resource by exploiting bugs in a specific operating system or vulnerabilities in the TCP/IP implementation (internet protocols) via a botnet of zombie computers in remote areas (Fig. 2). This allows one host (usually a server or router) to send a flood of network traffic to another host (Fig. 3.). By flooding the network connection, the target machine is unable to process legitimate requests for data. Thus the targeted computers may crash or disconnect from the internet from resource exhaustion – consuming all bandwidth or disk space, etc (Fig. 3.). In some cases they are not very harmful, because once you restart the crashed computer everything is on track again; in other cases they can be disasters, especially when you run a corporate network or ISP (internet service provider).
Fig. 2.                                                                Fig. 3.Botnet and TCP image
4)      
Insider and Privilege Misuse
Server administrators, network engineers, outsourced cloud workers, developers, I.T. security workers, and database administrators  are given privileges to access many or all aspects of a company’s IT infrastructure. Companies need these privileged users because they understand source code, technical architecture, file systems and other assets that allow them to upgrade and maintain the systems; yet this presents a potential security risk.

With the ability to easily get around controls that restrict other non-privileged users they sometimes abuse what should be temporary access privileges to perform tasks. This can put customer data, corporate trade secrets, and unreleased product info at risk. Savvy companies implement multi-layered approvals, advanced usage monitoring,  2 or 3 step authentication, and a strict need to know policy with an intelligible oversight process.

5)       Miscellaneous Errors
This is basically an employee or customer doing something stupid and unintentional that results in a partial or full security breach of an information asset. This does not include lost devices as that is grouped with theft – this is a smaller category. The 2014 Verizon Enterprise Data Breach Investigation Report gives an example of this category as follows:

“Misdelivery (sending paper documents or emails to the wrong recipient) is the most frequently seen error resulting in data disclosure. One of the more common examples is a mass mailing where the documents and envelopes are out of sync (off-by-one) and sensitive documents are sent to the wrong recipient” (Accessed 02/21/16, Page 29).

6)       Payment Card Skimmers
This is a method where thieves steal your credit card information at the card terminals, often at bars, restaurants, gas stations, sometimes at bank ATMs, and especially where there is low light, no cameras, or anything to discourage the criminal from tampering with the card terminal.

Corrupt employees can have a skimmer stashed out of sight or crooks can install hidden skimmers on a gas pump. Skimmers are small devices that can scan and save credit card data from the magnetic stripe (Fig. 4.). After the card slides through the skimmer, the data is saved, and the crooks usually then sell the information through the internet or if they really want to be secure the Darknet which is a secure non-mainstream internet that requires a special browser or plug-in to access. After this counterfeit cards are made, then bogus charges show up, and the bank eats the costs which unfortunately drives up the cost of banking for everyone else. Also, some skimmers have mini cameras which record the pin numbers typed at ATM machines for a more aggressive type of fraud (Fig. 5.).  Here are two images of skimmer technologies:

Fig 4.                                                                       Fig 5.
Card Skimmer and Camera

7)       Physical Theft and Loss
This includes armed robbery, theft by accident, and/or any type of device or data lost.  Although some of the stolen or lost items may never end up breached or used for fraud sometime they are depending on what device and/or what data is on that device and/or if it was encrypted or not, or if it the data could be deleted remotely, etc.

8)       Point of Sale Intrusions
See my 2014 post on the Target Data Breach here for a good example.

9)       Web App Attacks
These incidents were carried out primarily via manipulation of vulnerabilities in input validation and authentication affecting common content management systems like Joomla, Magento, SiteCore, WordPress, and Drupal.

According to the 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report these types of attacks are not only a reliable method for hackers, but also fast with 60% of the compromises taking a few minutes or less(Accessed 02/21/16). With web applications commonly serving as an organization’s public face to the Internet, the ease of exploiting web-based vulnerabilities is alarming (Accessed 02/21/16, 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report). According to The Open Web Application Security Project these are two common types Web App weaknesses (Accessed 02/21/16, 2013, OWASP 10 Most Critical Web Application Security Risks):

“i) Injection flaws, such as SQL, OS, and LDAP injection occur when untrusted data is sent to an interpreter as part of a command or query. The attacker’s hostile data can trick the interpreter into executing unintended commands or accessing data without proper authorization.

ii) XSS flaws occur whenever an application takes untrusted data and sends it to a web browser without proper validation or escaping (Fig. 6.). XSS allows attackers to execute scripts in the victim’s browser which can hijack user sessions, deface web sites, or redirect the user to malicious sites access unauthorized pages”.

Fig. 6.
RXSS
Jeremy Swenson, MBA is a seasoned, Intel certified, retail technology marketing and training representatives on assignment at Best Buy for clients including Intel, Trend Micro, Adobe, and others. He also doubles as a Sr. business analyst and project management consultant. Tweet to him @jer_Swenson.