Skip to main content
The Right Stuff

Statistics, they’re everywhere, the plankton that feeds the voracious appetite of the Internet. Being an aviation historian, I was fascinated to stumble across a Website, last week, where one person is devoting his energy to recording the scores of every ranking fighter pilot of the Second World War, Allied and Axis.

What surprised me is that the top one hundred German aces were, between them, responsible for the loss of fifteen-thousand allied aircraft and this statistic, sparked a comparison in my mind with the results of the latest Symantec Internet Threat Report, which, for the first time, consolidates data from the company’s recent acquisition of RipTech and SecurityFocus.

The report, which is quite possibly one of the most detailed the industry has yet seen, illustrates how Internet threats have intensified and evolved in many ways, while remaining relatively stable along other criteria. Although the number of overall attacks decreased last year the overall number of vulnerabilities rose alarmingly. Symantec documented 2,524 new vulnerabilities in 2002, up a whopping 81.5 per cent from the previous year, which was bad enough in its own right.

The report argues that despite this decline, many organizations, such as those in the financial services sector, experienced a sharp rise in attack volume and relative attack severity, while other companies, such as tenured security monitoring clients, substantially reduced their risk profile. Attack volume by country of origin was mostly consistent with past studies. 80% of attacks were launched from systems located in only 10 countries, and the United States was by far the largest source of attacks.

Approximately 60% of the documented vulnerabilities were easily exploitable either because sophisticated tools were widely available for use by the ‘wannabe hacker’ community’ or because exploit tools were not required at all. As you might expect from this news and by leveraging the vast supply of vulnerabilities, the more malicious of these ‘code weasels’ introduced several successful blended-threats over the past six months.

In the silent warfare of cyberspace, the potential for the introduction of entirely new, and potentially more destructive, forms of malicious code and cyber attack tools represent a substantial future risk to business. Ironically, a number of companies have fled to Open Source in the hope that this will offer better security, but Symantec reveal that a number of widely used open source applications were ‘trojanized’ with backdoors over the past year. The attacks targeted high profile distribution sites that had taken significant efforts to protect themselves. The report comments:

This may serve as a warning not only to other open source projects, but also to commercial software vendors. Rather than targeting individual systems, attackers are clearly exploring alternative ways of impacting a large number of systems in a short period of time”.

Certainly, like the 100 or so top Luftwaffe pilots of the Second World War, a relatively small percentage of exploits and vulnerabilities appears to account for a disproportionate amount of damage to Enterprise business across the globe and more than a few big companies have gone spiralling down in flames as a consequence of poor patching.

One interesting comment on the problem of constant patching arrived from a reader last week, who, in the light of Slammer, commented:

“Apathy may be the cause of a certain percentage of the unpatched SQL Server boxes. However, IT understaffing and fear of managerial reprisals for patching a production SQL Server installation and taking it out of commission are more likely to be the culprits for Slammer infections.”

It all rather sounds to me like the modern equivalent of Bomber Command stripping the armour plating from our Lancaster bombers in the last war. The lessons of history never stop repeating themselves but human nature remains sadly very much the same and Symantec’s research clearly shows where we should be placing our defensive efforts in future.


Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.

In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Big Steal

I’m not here to predict the future;” quipped the novelist, Ray Bradbury. “I’m here to prevent it.” And the future looks much like one where giant corporations who hold the most data, the fastest servers, and the greatest processing power will drive all economic growth into the second half of the century.

We live in an unprecedented time. This in the sense that nobody knows what the world will look like in twenty years; one where making confident forecasts in the face of new technologies becomes a real challenge. Before this decade is over, business leaders will face regular and complex decisions about protecting their critical information and systems as more of the existing solutions they have relied upon are exposed as inadequate.

The few real certainties we have available surround the uninterrupted march of Moore’s Law - the notion that the number of transistors in the top-of-the-line processors doubles approximately every two years - and the unpredictability of human nature. Exper…