Businesses must learn how to defend against cyberattack, says McAfee

Cybercrime has thrived over the past decade according to recent reports from security firm McAfee, but business can expect even more dramatic change in the next ten years, researchers say.

Cybercrime has thrived over the past decade according to recent reports from security firm McAfee, but business can expect even more dramatic change in the next ten years, researchers say.

But what should businesses learn from the past to help them better cope with IT security threats in the future?

Considering the pace of change detailed in McAfee's retrospective report entitled, "A Good Decade for Cybercrime", many businesses fared well, says Greg Day, director of security strategy at McAfee.

Many businesses held their own as the internet grew in sophistication and revenue opportunities. "With its rich landscape of e-commerce sites, paid services and online banking, the internet became a treasure trove of money and information," the report says.

The businesses that came out on top in the past, according to Greg Day, recognised change and embraced it by looking for new business opportunities rather than resisting change, which is the more traditional approach, particularly with security.

Another key strategy, says Day, will continue to be focusing only on the most relevant threats, as McAfee saw an average of 60,000 new threats a day in 2010.

"It is impossible to respond to all of them, so the most savvy companies are looking only at what are most important and relevant threats to them," he says.

Botnets continue to be prevalent and in 2010 McAfee saw an average of six million new botnet infections each month, the report says.

Just as no country would go to war without intelligence about their enemy to give them guidance on where and how to direct their defences, says Day, no company should draw up an IT defence strategy without gathering the necessary intelligence about the threats they face.

"It is about knowing what is likely to have the most impact on your business and then ensuring that you have the right controls in place to be able to mount a quick and sustained response to those particular threats," says Day.

This is one of the most valuable lessons to be learned from looking back over the past decade and analysing why some businesses have been more successful than others in protecting their information systems, Day says.

Having a sound strategy for the next decade is vital, according to Day, as the barrier to connections into the corporate network will continue to fall dramatically as the current number of IP-enabled devices is set to increase at least ten-fold.

"This is particularly worrying, as most of these devices will be managed by people who are not necessarily aware of the security risks involved," he says.

As the number of mobile applications reach into the billions, the potential for abuse by cybercriminals is enormous. McAfee researchers expect 2011 to be a turning point for threats to mobile devices. By targeting applications, cybercriminals can potentially steal enormous amounts of personal and banking information, the report says.

"The increasing ability to share things online will have a profound effect on the threat landscape in the coming decade," says Day.

In the face of great and rapid change, business organisations will have to continually look to making sure their security strategy is keeping pace, which includes ongoing awareness training of users, particularly as the lines between personal and professional online profiles continue to blur with increased use of social networking.

The arrival of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter in the past decade added another incredible opportunity for thieves to target personal and identity information, the McAfee report says.

Looking ahead to future cybercrime trends, McAfee researchers expect the continuation of social networking scams and tricks, such as malicious links, phony friend requests and phishing. The researchers also foresee more Twitter abuse, where cybercriminals post tweets on hot topics lure people to click on malicious links.

New technologies will continue to introduce new demands on security strategies, says Day, with things like geo-tagging and location-based services such as Foursquare, Google Places and Gowalla adding the need for users to be mindful of their physical as well as electronic security.

"Above all, businesses will need to gather intelligence to move beyond generic controls to provide real and meaningful defences," he says.

Only in the light of this intelligence, that provides an accurate real-world view of the particular threats to specific businesses, says Day, can they hope to embrace the coming changes and realise the business benefits without compromising on security.

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