Security Concepts for a Digital Workplace

We often have conversations about Cyber Security, even with those that are not focused on the protection of systems and data.  So little is known or understood that people are often unaware of the threats around them. Most people just don’t see them.  In a discussion regarding the compromise of a student records platform at a school, a general attitude of “So what if some student records are changed?”  How bad can that be?  If we consider that these individuals will become adults with a credit history, then we can see that this could be the origin of an Identity Theft exploit.  The focus of this white paper is to shed some light onto a very dark topic – Cyber Security.



A few decades prior to the creation of the public Internet, institutions such as Education, Military, and some R&D sectors created a foundation for a new way to communicate – Internet Protocol.  It certainly expedited our pace of communication but, like many communication methods available at the time, it lacked a security element.  Is the person sending the message known to be trustworthy?  Has the message been altered along the way?  Did prying eyes get a glimpse of co

nfidential or propriety information?  Through the decades, security has been evolving to address these shortcomings. Early improvements encrypted data in transit – preventing modification or theft of data.  It has continued to add additional layers such as guaranteeing the authenticity of the sender. 

As corporations adopted electronic, online business practices, the number of devices has grown exponentially. By the year 2020, there will be an expected 50 billion devices connected to the world-wide internet – over 7 times the world population of humans.  Every device can be a source, target, or unwilling accomplice in a security attack or breach.  The Internet of Things (IoT) is in large part the reason for this explosive growth.  We have transitioned away from human-to-human communication and now include variations such as human-to-machine, machine-to-human, and machine-to-machine.  A typical consumer will have a laptop, Smartphone, Smarttablet, plus wearable devices like health monitors, activity monitors, watches, etc.  All these devices are designed to create, store, transmit, and display information.  As we put our personal or corporate information on this global network, we open ourselves up to become a victim of activities ranging from identity theft to corporate espionage.

A recent, well known credit card theft activity didn’t actually originate with any banking, credit card bureau, Point of Sale, or related system.  The Attack Vector (the entry way) originated with the controls of a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning System. The attackers focused on a system that had very little security built into the system because of the benign nature of the system.  It did not process any personal data, financial transaction data, or anything of value to anyone but the facility managers.  Once penetrated, a sophisticated and focused attack on the Point of Sale system allowed the intruders to harvest credit card information for millions of shoppers.  If we look around us and notice the devices we use today - vending machines, parking lot payment systems, biometric monitoring systems, etc. – we can see that the attack surface is growing rapidly. These are just examples of human-machine related systems.  Manufacturing, Retail Space, Education, Healthcare, Transportation – almost any industry that can be conceived – depend on a similar communications framework.  We live in a connected world.

While the Attack Surface has and will continue to grow, we need to view security in a new light.  It needs to evolve from just trying to protect a business.  It needs to enable business.


Another area of explosive growth is the hacking community.  It has become a multi-billion dollar a year industry.  From 2013-2016, Business E-mail compromise generated over $5.3 billion in revenue.  Ransomware brought in over $1 billion in 2016.  The hacking community has developed into a mature supply chain model where code developers are no longer the attackers.  Anyone can purchase a hack and deploy it with minimal technical skills.  A $100K investment can produce millions in return.  Long gone are the days of a “lone attacker” working in isolation. Even nation states have joined the attack force.  Foreign states actively recruit hackers and invest to reach their end goals – whether they be financially or politically motivated. Given the growth in attackers, one may wonder if they can ever be truly secure. After all, the attackers only need to be correct once to execute a security attack.  The victim must be correct at all the times to successfully prevent an attack.  Conclusion – you will be hacked.  How you survive an attack will depend on how you prepare, detect, and respond.  The stated goals should be to:

  1. Limit the number of successful attacks
  2. Decrease the time to detection of a breach
  3. Gain visibility to files or data sets compromised in the breach
  4. Quarantine and remediate


A properly designed architecture helps protect every area of your business – From the datacenter and network edge, to cloud applications.  There are hundreds of security vendors in the market, each with a number of products to secure a portion of your network.  The network architecture should consist of solutions that are deeply integrated, working in tandem, and have the same security intelligence feed from a central research group.

 Below are key product types and their focus area: 

Firewall/Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) – The Firewall has been the single greatest threat protection for decades.  Its function is simple – only allow permitted traffic through.  As attack sophistication has increased, the Next Generation Firewall has emerged.  Not only does it permit specific traffic through, it further analyzes the traffic to ensure that it is safe.  For example, Web traffic may be permitted but malware from an infected Website would be denied. 

Advance Malware Protection – Building on the NGFW inspection capabilities, AMP continuously analyzes file activity across your extended network, so you can quickly detect, contain, and remove advanced malware.  The Firewall is not the only Attack Vector for malware so it cannot be the only enforcement point.  Portable drives and the use of laptops, tablets, and smart phones outside of the protected corporate network are common entry points for malware.

Email Security – Email is the most common Attack Vector for malware. It accounts for over 85% of malware entering an organization.  Two common threats are:

  1. Masquerading as a corporate executive to authorize payment of a fake invoice
  2. Ransomware – Ransomware is the act of encrypting corporate data and demanding payment prior to decryption.

An Email Security system is a key resource to prevent these attacks.

Network analytics – Not all networking devices have a specific security function. They do, however, see all the traffic passing through the network.  Think of these devices as “Sentries”, detecting a change in behavior that is congruent with an attack.  They can report this change in behavior to security management systems to take further action.  After all, you cannot manage what you cannot see. 

Policy and Access – The focus here is to determine who, what, when, and from where your network can be accessed.  It is not enough to just determine who a person is prior to accessing resources.  You should also determine what device they are using and if it meets corporate standards for Operating System versions, security patch levels, anti-virus signature, etc. You should have complete awareness, context and control of everything that is hitting your network.

Web – Keeping track of threats and vulnerabilities is a daunting task.  Advanced Web filtering allows an organization to stop vulnerabilities in real time.  It also allows for “back tracking” of vulnerabilities that were not yet classified when downloaded.  Tracking the destination of these files is key to handling Day Zero threats.  As they are identified as threats, you need to know where they went in order to quarantine and remediate.

DNS – The Domain Name System has been around for decades.  Its function is simple – it helps people navigate the internet.  You enter a URL in your browser and DNS gives you directions to reach that resource.  Filtering out responses that are known to direct people to malware infected sites or unauthorized content sites like gambling, social media, pornography, is a key first step in securing your network.


You are probably realizing that security is not a “set it and forget it” activity.  It takes planning, preparing, responding, and a constant re-evaluation of threats.  Most organizations do not have the resources for this level of activity so it is imperative that you select the proper products to be protected.