Even as you are reading this, the Napoleons of cybercrime are probably going over their target landscape, combing it inch by inch, and prying open vulnerabilities as yet unknown. The cyber underground has cast its nets wide. The black hats of crime earn “high salaries” and depending on their rank in the hacker underworld they might be doing anything from installing spyware on a personal computer or throwing into disarray any nation’s key infrastructure. Nation-state-driven attacks against companies are putting jobs and economies at risk.
Hackers in India and Pakistan, for instance, have been repeatedly attacking each other’s computing database systems. This year cyber offenses against government of India organisations jumped 136% over last year. Indian hackers reportedly infiltrated the official website of the Election Commission of Pakistan in 2013 and tried stealing sensitive data. In a possible retaliation, Pakistani hackers reportedly defaced over 2,000 Indian websites on India’s Republic Day this year. As they grow more and more digital, Indian and Pakistani governments are taking steps to secure their websites against hacktivist operations.
Organisations are breaking away from traditional security methods and adopting a new wave of open-source tools to turn the tables on cyber-attackers. A new defence strategy model called “active defence” is catching on; this emerging technique has the most potential to transform cybersecurity in the near future. These defence systems use active deception techniques to provide a mechanism to stop an attacker from quickly detecting sensitive information. The system also alerts victims on security breaches. The technique looks to rigorously disrupt attackers but without crossing the line (by hacking back) and risking retaliation. Primarily, it frustrates the offensive model the attackers operate on. As a result, more organisations will likely adopt active defence techniques, like intrusion deception, to identify attackers in real time.
Intrusion deception systems actively recognise, intercept and divert attackers. For example, a machine will respond to a malicious request, by acting vulnerable and setting up a “honeytrap” to attract potential attackers, so their mode of operation can be studied very closely. It gathers all the information on the attackers, scanning their devices and recording their methods in an effort to quickly identify them. Attackers are often lured with files containing passwords and information that look legitimate, but are actually fake. When the attacker tries to obtain sensitive information, intrusion deception serves as a countermeasure for good. Attackers are forced to concentrate on areas that will deliberately waste their time. This, in turn, upsets the economics of hacking by making the hacker’s life harder than ever before.
Intrusion deception increases the cost of hacking because attackers now require more time to form an idea of how much the stolen information is worth. This would act as an effective counter step in the event of a repeat attack.
Security industry, government, legal communities and corporations are constantly under threat from emerging cyber-attacks. These cybercriminals try to get at confidential information and trade secrets to gain an undue advantage, in relation to their rivals, in the underground cybercrime market. In addition to infrastructure, medical and financial systems are vulnerable, potentially compromising life-critical systems.
The legal system is slow and ill-equipped to address issues around cyber-attacks. Deploying active defence methods is a bare necessity, not a luxury anymore, when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure such as control systems, energy resources, as well as telecom, transportation and water facilities.
Active defence holds the potential to free us from a life lived in the shadow of fear—the fear of unending cyber-attacks with no end in sight. This corrective action marks a new beginning and a break with the weak security systems of the past. By deterring criminals, limiting their activities, and eventually bringing down the rate of cybercrime, active defense is paving the way for a safer cyberspace.
By Ashish Dhawan
The writer is managing director, India & SAARC, Juniper Networks