RSA 2016: A Long Road Ahead for Security


We recently attended the RSA Conference, held in San Francisco from February 29 – March 4, to speak with our European clients. Does that surprise you? Far more Europeans visit this conference than you might think. The RSA Conference is the largest trade show for security in the world, yet its main attraction lies not so much in what can be seen on the main floor. Of even more interest are the meetings with security officers from a wide array of organizations that coincide with the trade show. This is where the real action takes place.

Importance of Integrating Solutions

Every year, I’m struck by the enormous gap that exists between the claims made out on the trade show floor and what is found to work in the field. Conversations at the trade show are the only way to find out whether the claims are true, and whether there is even a need for them in practice. As you navigate the trade stands, you encounter a myriad of solutions that are perfectly capable of fending off a specific type of attack — or at least claim to do so. Given that there are all manner of attacks, one should therefore deploy multiple solutions for effective, high-level security. Well, naturally CISOs are not going to go for that. Rather, for them, the challenge lies in integration: using the security solutions you already have in place and processing their results in such a way that you enable your team to efficiently and effectively counter a broad spectrum of attacks.

Costs Rising for Hackers

This focus on integration is evident in, for example, the growing attention paid to the economics of hacking. There are even CISOs who are held accountable for how successful they are at raising the costs for a hacker to mount an attack, and who therefore go so far as set a specified amount as a personal target. This means that CISOs need resources that allow them to block the paths that are the simplest — and therefore the cheapest — for hackers.

Intelligence Hype

The concept of threat intelligence has been on the rise for a long time. If you know who is targeting you and how they operate, you can find them more readily in your network or systems. Meanwhile, the number of suppliers that furnish intel feeds, often consisting of no more than lists of ‘bad’ IP addresses or file hashes, has proliferated. This all leads to market hype. CISOs are drowning in information; one feed after another issues a torrent of information that is too cumbersome for them to work with. What I’m hearing from CISOs is that they would prefer to receive far less technical information, and would instead like more context: Who are the attackers? What are their motives? What are they targeting?

First Aid for Panic

Another increasingly common need is to receive help once a data breach has been discovered. Panic usually breaks out first, especially in the Netherlands now that Meldplicht datalekken, a Dutch law concerning the mandatory notification of data breaches, is in force. To fulfil this notification obligation, everything has to be set in motion immediately: Involved parties (such as users and patients) must be informed, the Dutch Data Protection Authority must receive the necessary information, and numerous technical measures must be taken. Owing to the panic and time pressures, there is a pressing need for expertise and tools that can support an organization. Examples include ensuring that the breached company can demonstrate its conduction of a thorough investigation of the incident and helping it to supply the required information on time. This overarching need is consistent with the idea that it is not possible to set up 100% foolproof security. Even when things go wrong, organizations need to be able to mount a swift and adequate response.

Major Cloud Providers Serious About Data Storage Location

Rules and regulations are also an issue in other areas. Following the issue around Safe Harbor, several major cloud providers now take seriously the fact that Europe has a different stance on privacy than the United States. These cloud providers realize that they need to be able to deliver hard guarantees about where data is stored. This clearly goes against the ‘cloud mindset’ that data location no longer matters. But the awareness is slowly sinking in that there is no way to avoid European regulations.

No Silver Bullet

The RSA trade show floor teems with promises of, if you will, security ‘silver bullets’, whether these involve machine learning, threat intelligence, APT defense, or some other term that’s trendy at the moment. Despite this, I have yet to find at RSA the panacea that would give security professionals a distinct advantage over their attackers. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that RSA is ultimately a marketing extravaganza. It’s an excellent place to get a feel for what’s ‘hot’, but it’s not likely to provide the most reliable information for your next security purchase. Fortunately, the security community surrounding the trade fair appears to understand this. No one doubts the importance of technology, but it is only useful insofar as it supports your security operations team and the professional management of your security.

Jeremy_ButcherJeremy Butcher, Fox-IT Director of Operations