Countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa have noted that the European Commission plans to establish a joint cyber unit to respond to large-scale cyber attacks. The Saudi Arabian government established the National Cyber Security Agency to strengthen the country’s cyber security posture. The African Union has identified cybersecurity as part of the 2063 Africa Transformation Agenda.
To explore the challenges facing cybersecurity teams today and the strategies they must employ to protect the attack surface-the sum of points that unauthorized users can use to access the organization’s systems-MIT Technology Review Insights and Palo Alto Networks’ comments on 728 Business leaders. The survey is global, with 38% of respondents from Europe and 13% from the Middle East and Africa. Their response and input from industry experts provide a solid framework to guard against the growing number of bad actors and fast-moving threats.
But organizations themselves can also take key steps to better understand attackers’ entry points in their information technology (IT) environment in a data-driven, intelligent way.
Vulnerabilities in the cloud environment
The cloud continues to play a key role in accelerating digital transformation. And for good reason: the cloud provides reliable benefits, such as increased flexibility, cost savings, and greater scalability.However, cloud-based environments account for 79% of observed exposureAccording to the “2021 Cortex Xpanse Attack Surface Threat Report”, local assets are 21%.
This is worrying because 53% of European respondents and 48% of Middle Eastern and African respondents said that more than half of their assets are in the cloud.
Amitabh Singh, chief technology officer of Cortex Europe, Middle East and Africa, Palo Alto Networks’ security operations platform division, said: “Many companies have started their cloud journey because it makes sense.” But he said there are pitfalls.
“With the cloud, the walls surrounding the organization’s core assets and infrastructure have melted. Therefore, some assets that the company considers safe may face vulnerabilities.”
Of course, some technologies can enhance cloud security. But Singh said that many organizations in Europe are making slow progress in adopting more innovative tools. “I still see companies struggling with old antivirus and anti-malware platforms,” he said.
Remote work also increases the network security risks of the cloud environment. Remote workers rely on the cloud to complete their work, whether it is communicating with colleagues, collaborating on projects, or conducting video conferences with customers. When IT is now in a state of physical relocation and cannot meet their needs, remote workers can easily purchase their own online problem solutions. This is the so-called shadow IT: it bypasses normal cybersecurity practices and opens up a worrying world for the IT team.
Just ask Chris Sandford, Director of Industrial Cyber Security Services at Applied Risk, a Dutch industrial cyber security consulting company. Sandford said that although work-from-home arrangements have long been common in Northern Europe, when the 2020 coronavirus pandemic forces many employees to work from home, “there are many companies that are not ready to deal with remote work and its related challenges. And vulnerability”. For example: the majority (53%) of respondents in Europe and 35% in the Middle East and Africa stated that they have experienced cybersecurity attacks originating from unknown, unmanaged or poorly managed digital assets.
Sandford provided a hypothetical example in which the employee used an insecure cloud server to access business applications without taking necessary authentication or authorization measures. “How do you know that someone hasn’t traced back from that cloud to your own network?” he asked. “The visibility or understanding of the cloud service is very limited.”
Strong action plan
Fortunately, organizations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa can take some steps to minimize the risk of cybersecurity threats and control their cloud environments. Most survey respondents in Europe (70%) and the Middle East and Africa (89%) rely on continuous asset monitoring technology for protection. Gone are the days when companies can take ad hoc methods to identify security risks.
“In the past, when we managed vulnerabilities, we often scanned our infrastructure regularly, found vulnerabilities, and then patched them,” Singh said. “Right now, we don’t have enough time. If there are loopholes and we hardly manage them immediately, then criminals can take advantage of them.”
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This content was produced by Insights, the custom content division of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editors of MIT Technology Review.