04
Dec

The Year in Review: 2012

Written by Andrew Jaquith. Posted in Blog Post

Greetings,

As the song goes, It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. It’s the time of the year we write out our holiday cards, buy presents, think kind thoughts of our friends and family, and wax nostalgic.

Security is a big enough deal that it, too, warrants reflection and (dare I say it), a little bit of nostalgia. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. In that spirit, let’s dig up some of the tastiest chestnuts from the preceding 11 months, and gently roast them where appropriate. Given my sense of humor it’s going to be, shall we say, a dry roasting.

Here’s what got our attention in 2012. As is customary and appropriate, we spent a lot of time worrying about malware. The cloud — with all of its opportunities and challenges — was the second most important topic on our minds, along with mobile security. As you might expect, given our customer base of over 1,800 banks and credit unions, we analyzed financial services topics in depth. A variety of other topics got our attention, notably October’s National Cyber-Security Awareness Month and Mac security.

Each of these topics take time to review. So, let’s get nostalgic.

Malware

In 2012, it was clear that malware continued to be a problem for many companies. Of all of the topics we wrote about in 2012, we wrote about malware the most. Malware concerns came in four categories: web malware, new attacks, legacy malware and administrator-targeting malware:

  • Web malware — because of the ubiquity and reach of ad networks, attackers have made it a priority to attempt to infiltrate and infect ad servers. My colleagues, analysts Evan Keizer and Grace Zeng, wrote extensively about a banner-add infection campaign that caused MLB.com to inadvertently serve malware. Unfortunately there are no easy fixes for banner infections; webmasters (and their colleagues in marketing) must be extremely vigilant.
  • New attacks — the Flame malware family, which some have called the most sophisticated malware ever discovered, was discovered by our friends in May at Kaspersky and widely covered. We thought it was notable enough to write about, too. Just to show that I don’t have a monopoly on bad puns, my colleague Rick Westmoreland asked, “Flame: Is it getting hot in here?
  • Legacy malware — we saw campaigns targeting old-school programs like Symantec’s venerable PCAnywhere. (If you are asking yourself, “do they still make that?” you aren’t alone.) Malware targeting Microsoft’s RDP protocol also spread rapidly; we felt it was dangerous enough to issue an advisory.
  • Administrator targeting malware — the most insidious malware campaign we saw in 2012 was one targeting Plesk, an administrative console for website operators. This was a little scarier than most campaigns because it obviously targeted people who have a high level of privileges already — your IT guy. This is the kind of thing that presages an industrial espionage campaign, a topic I covered at length in my webinar “The Hype and Reality of APTs,” something you should watch. (Ed: I am not joking. Really, go watch this; it deflates the APT hype balloon.)
In addition, we gently ribbed the anti-virus industry in an amusing post (Ed: to me, anyway) called “The Best and Worst Data-Driven Security Reports of 2011,” where I made fun of the silliness that comes with the periodic rash of AV “threat reports,” while celebrating the genuine good stuff, such as the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

Cloud security

In 2012, Cloud security topics were right up there with malware in our consciousness. Call me crazy, but to me “the cloud” is a fancy name for hosted services mashed up with virtualization, and juiced up with instant-on provisioning and elastic usage billing. It’s a new — and welcome — twist on an old concept. Companies want to use the cloud in areas where it makes sense — for hosted email, productivity, and sales automation — but they want to do it only when they can be assured that their data is secure.

My colleague, Grace wrote about a key class of cloud risks: the security of servers in the cloud. She performed experiments where she placed 12 unprotected servers in the Amazon cloud and watched what happened. The headline: on average, your new cloud servers will start seeing scans, probes and potential attacks within an hour! Scary stuff — if you haven’t already, you should read these posts.

On the positive side, Perimeter created a series of video blog posts called the Cloud Owners’ Manual that took strong points of view on how companies should think about the cloud, and what they should be asking their vendors. Looking spiffy in a suit, I spoke on camera about key customer concerns about the cloud, and gave prescriptive guidance on the cloud in general, customer fees, data protection, data privacy, contractual terms, and contract termination. As an analogy, I compared cloud security requirements to car safety belts. Did you know that since the advent of car safety technology, based on US DOT official statistics, people now drive faster and have fewer accidents? It shows how safety gear is a precondition for faster, safer driving. To put it differently: confidence requires security. And by analogy: so it is with the cloud.

Mobile security

From iPhones to iPads to Galaxies, mobile devices continued to move to the top of IT security managers’ list of concerns. Beyond the sheer proliferation of devices, we observed four key trends:

  • Bring your own device. When I was an analyst at Forrester, my then-colleague Natalie Lambert coined the term BYOD and wrote quite a bit about it. That was four years ago. Now, it’s the hottest thing in IT. What do companies do about it? For our part, Perimeter answered the bell in September when we unveiled our Cloud MDM service in partnership with AirWatch. In the service, we included strong default policies and a unique BYOD Kit that provides prescriptive guidance for all of the areas employers need to worry about: data rights, support, confiscation, and many other topics. We think the right solution to BYOD is holistic, and encompasses the domains of policy, technology and law.
  • Developer ecosystem concerns. In September, developer Blue Toad had 12 million Apple unique identifiers (UDIDs) stolen. This shined a spotlight on a fragmented, shadowy part of IT: the thousands of smallish, contract mobile app developers, very few of whom are likely following mobile app security best practices. Watch for this topic to explode in 2013 as the Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) category heats up.
  • Data privacy. In the first quarter, we saw a controversy erupt over the Path app, which was uploading customer address book records to their servers unbeknownst to customers. I called Path an example of “nosy apps” and characterized data privacy as the “third rail of mobile.” These kinds of negative stories had an immediate impact on handset makers. Apple, for example, added significant opt-in controls to iOS6 that require customers to explicitly authorize app access to address books, photos, calendars, tasks, FaceBook account information and much more.
  • iOS has been a benefit to security. Speaking of Apple, did you know that iOS is now over 5 years old? In that time, customers have gotten used to the idea of vendor-controlled app marketplaces, digitally signed and trusted operating system runtimes, and locked-down devices. We have Apple to thank for popularizing the concept, building on the kinds of concepts RIM and Symbian had initiated. See my in-depth 5-year iOS security retrospective for details about why I think iOS is overall an huge net win for companies and consumers alike.

Financial services

Banks, credit unions, broker-dealers and other financial institutions continue to be a significant part of Perimeter’s customer base. We noted many, many threats to financial services customers in 2012. The rash of denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in September prompted us to issue a critical advisory to our customers. We followed up on the DDoS story in October; my colleague Rick Westmoreland called it “the new reality” for financial services firms.

In July, we inaugurated our first-ever Financial Services Threat Report for the first half of 2012, which described the most important threat trends our customers were facing in the year to date. We will be doing more of these reports, and our second-half report will be coming out after year-end. To help our credit union customers, Andrew wrote a three-part series on credit union security topics.

Other

Beyond these four main themes, Perimeter noted several other trends. We weighed in on this newfangled concept called “cyber security,” which is what happens when government-type people get their hands on an otherwise perfectly acceptable phrase — that thing that most of us used to call “information security” — and dumb it down. I suppose cyber-security is, to paraphrase Deng Xiaoping, Security With Government Characteristics.

Whatever you choose to call it, we helped celebrate National Cyber-Security Awareness Month in October with four posts by my esteemed colleague Mr Mike Flouton:

Midway through the year, Perimeter E-Security CEO Tim Harvey and actor/entrepreneur/restauranteur Robert De Niro hosted an exclusive New York event for 75 select partners and customers. The event featured an inspiring talk by two active duty Navy SEALs about building a high-performance, elite team capable of executing the most difficult missions. Tim’s summary of the event is here — in which he describes the key ingredients for success. For the record, I spoke at the event as well, but let’s face it: De Niro and the two Navy SEALs were hard acts to follow. It was a great event, though!

Lastly, Perimeter wrote about those devices your executives and developers are probably now carrying: Macs. In October, we released a survey showing that Mac usage is up, and that security concerns are increasing. Earlier in the year, alerted customers to something rather rare but important: real-life Mac Trojan outbreak in the wild: the Flashback Trojan.

Wrapping up

As I noted at the top of this post, security is the gift that keeps on giving. That’s good and bad. It’s bad for the obvious reason because the threats, concerns and challenges that got our (and the industry’s) attention affect companies and their customers everywhere. If security were a solved problem, we wouldn’t need to spend the time, attention and effort that we do.

I choose to be positive, though. Security threats and challenges are also good things. They remind us that, as professionals, we need to keep upping our game. New business frontiers such as mobile cause us to expand our horizons, become more involved with our colleagues and take the longer view.

As we look ahead to 2013, we are thankful for the continued support of our customers, colleagues and families. We at Perimeter wish you, dear reader, all the best this holiday season.

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Andrew Jaquith

Andrew Jaquith is the Chief Technology Officer of Perimeter E-Security. Before Perimeter, he was a senior analyst with Forrester Research and Yankee Group.

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