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Ransomware has easily become one of the most notorious enterprises of the 21st century – and has enjoyed unprecedented success over the past 24 months by targeting vulnerabilities in the cloud and across the software supply chain, attacking industrial processes and targeting unsuspecting victims on holidays and weekends.
What’s worse, as our hyper-connected world breeds new and emerging threat vectors daily, we know that today breaches are inevitable and cyber attacks are the new norm – they’re happening as we speak. Research shows that 76% of organizations have been the victim of a ransomware attack in the past two years, and 82% have paid at least one ransom.
Cybersecurity spending is higher than ever, but we’re still suffering losses from ransomware—and not just financially. Attacks like Colonial Pipeline and SolarWinds confirm the societal and economic implications of ransomware, and we continue to witness one devastating attack after another on US critical infrastructure and other vital civilian sectors (think education and healthcare).
Too many organizations are still sitting in the eye of a cyberstorm, so apathy and lack of action is unacceptable. Business leaders must act proactively to strengthen cyber resilience before it is too late.
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Anticipate breaches, improve resilience, control impact
A decade ago, it was enough for business leaders to focus solely on strengthening prevention at the perimeter defense (VPNs, firewalls). Now, in the wake of accelerated digital transformation efforts—spurred in large part by the pandemic and today’s era of hybrid work—the attack surface has expanded significantly, leaving more endpoints, cloud environments, and potential avenues of exploitation open and accessible to bad actors.
With organizations now managing a hybrid workforce, dispersed hybrid IT estates and extended supply chains, it is no longer a question of if bad actors will defeat perimeter defenses; it is a question of when. Therefore, today’s industry-wide focus on “strengthening resilience” has never been more timely or important.
One of the resilience frameworks that has been thrust even further into the online spotlight over the last 24 months is zero trust. This cybersecurity approach was first introduced by Forrester over a decade ago. It is a framework based on the principles of “assume violation” and “least privilege”.
Under a zero-trust approach, organizations are encouraged to limit access to a select and necessary few (least privilege) and assume that everything will inevitably be broken (assume breakage). The duality of the zero-trust mindset recognizes the security of a breach, while ensuring that organizations rigorously safeguard access and proactively mitigate exposure. We like to call this “fracture risk reduction.”
With zero trust practices, technologies and policies in place, organizations are better positioned to deal with cyber incidents quickly (reducing downtime) and reduce accompanying business and operational impacts. But there are still steps that agencies, organizations and the federal government must take to help the private and public sectors maximize resilience.
Zero trust resilience starts with education and alliances
In today’s hyper-complex, dynamic, cloud-based world, cyber resilience will not work unless we come to a collective agreement on our best way forward.
There is still a lot of confusion in the federal government regarding cybersecurity mandates and best practices. While President Joe Biden mandated a federal transition to a zero-trust architecture in his executive order last May (reiterating the importance of the zero-trust framework earlier this year), several agencies, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the National Institute of Standards. and Technology (NIST), and the US Department of Defense have all adopted separate and varying zero-trust best practices.
Organizations are increasingly recognizing cyber security as a critical imperative, but there is no uniform agreement on what zero trust should look like in action. The lack of a single plan creates confusion and inhibits our ability to educate, which ultimately hinders resilience in general. To become more resilient in cyberspace, we need to build consensus on an effective plan—a playbook of sorts—and present a unified front for organizations to follow as they seek to improve fundamental resilience without trust.
Further education in cyber security, at a more general level, is also essential to continue ongoing resilience initiatives. In June, President Biden signed into law the State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act of 2021, which requires the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) to provide training, conduct exercises, and promote cybersecurity education and awareness across all lower levels of government. . Additionally, earlier this year, the Cybersecurity Grants for Schools Act of 2022 was introduced, which allows CISA to provide grants for cybersecurity education and training programs at the K-12 level.
This is the federal cyber momentum we need. As the hybrid attack surface around us continues to evolve and expand, we must continue to take steps in the right direction—and we must move faster. The enemy of a good plan has always been a perfect plan. While we search for perfection, the attacker is always on the move. While we discuss, they attack. We must gradually become safer and build resilience daily.
The way forward
Ransomware and cyber attacks are not going away. Indeed, the threat landscape is changing, with bad actors rebranding and innovating more aggressively than ever. But companies, public institutions and other organizations can catalyze resilience by continuing to educate themselves on cyber security best practices, issuing formalized guidance on zero trust and other core resilience frameworks – and ultimately taking action.
As our world becomes increasingly hyper-connected, resilience initiatives like Zero Trust are only as strong as the weakest link in our global chain. And as our adversaries continue to move more aggressively in cyberspace, there’s never been a better time for all of us to get on the same page and strengthen our resilience than right now.
Andrew Rubin is the CEO and co-founder of Illumio
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