Acknowledging that security technologies to prevent cyber attacks are insufficient, several vendors at the RSA Conference in San Francisco urged companies that are making security plans to assume that at some point, they will be breached.
Rather than pouring resources into stopping all attacks, the better strategy is to acknowledge that some attacks inevitably will get through their defenses, they said. Therefore, the goal of any enterprise security strategy is not to focus on attack mitigation alone, but also on quick detection and response.
"The typical focus today is on trying to prevent malware from getting in through the front door," said Bret Hartman, chief technology officer at RSA. "The problem with that approach is that there's always a percentage [of malware] that does make it through," he said. "There's been an over-emphasis on infiltration. The goal is to shift focus and assume that you have been infiltrated," Hartman said.
Such advice signals an epiphany of sorts in an industry where vendors have always insisted that their technologies, if properly deployed, would protect companies from attacks. Events over the past year, such as the attacks on Google and those tied to Stuxnet have highlighted what many say is the near impossible challenge companies face in fending off determined adversaries.
The vast and growing volumes of data that companies need to manage and the innumerable ways in which that data can be accessed have greatly heightened the need for companies to look beyond traditional defense strategies. While such defenses are useful in blocking about 75 percent of the threats out there, new approaches are required for dealing with the remaining threats, they said.
Exacerbating the problem is the increasing sophistication of attack tools and approaches, vendors said. Many of the malware tools that companies need to deal with these days have been explicitly designed to evade detection and to remain hidden for long periods. Once such tools infiltrate a network, they are almost impossible to detect and eliminate using traditional detection and removal tools, said Gary Golumb, principal security researcher at Netwitness.
"The industry is, for many reasons, only now beginning to see the warning signs that we are not as effective as we thought we were" in dealing with security threats, Golumb said. In many cases, industry assumptions about the effectiveness of attack mitigation technologies and approaches have been "horribly off base," he said.
Companies such as RSA, Netwitness and several others argue that rather than looking to block specific malware threats, the better approach is to look for the telltale signs of malicious activity that these programs are designed for. Almost all malware tools cause subtle changes in network traffic and behavior that are fairly easy to isolate from the regular "good" traffic on a network.