Over the last decade, our world’s digital landscape has evolved tremendously, allowing for real-time, borderless exchange of information and communication. The technology being created is pervasive and has become an integral part of our daily activities. From answering an email at work to sharing a file over the cloud, or even adjusting your home’s thermostat on your mobile device, we're tapping into a vast cyberspace with inestimable capabilities. With technology continually expanding its reach, a global crisis has emerged. Innumerable opportunities exist for individuals to become more connected, but the very devices that create these links have also exposed us to an ever-growing trend of cybercrime. With so many potential threats, it’s vital that we understand what cybersecurity is, the solutions available, and how to create a strong security framework for mitigating risks and keeping us safe.
What is cybersecurity?
Designed to protect information and communication technology systems, cybersecurity, also referred to as computer security or information technology (IT) security, lacks a clear definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as "measures taken to protect a computer or computer system (as on the Internet) against unauthorized access or attack." However, as the cybersecurity and threat environment continues to expand and advance, this definition isn't complete. The Congressional Research Service explains that it typically refers to one or more of these three things:
- A set of activities and other measures intended to protect computers, networks, related hardware and devices, software, and the information they contain and communicate (including software and data), as well as other elements of cyberspace from attack, disruption, or other threats.
- The state or quality of being protected from such threats.
- The broad field of endeavor aimed at implementing and improving those activities and quality.
While an ever-evolving cyberthreat ecosystem transforms and molds the functions of cybersecurity, the very core of cybersecurity always involves safeguarding information and systems from harmful cyberthreats.
The cybersecurity threat landscape
Governments, nonprofit organizations, and commercial enterprises around the world are facing data breaches from cyberattackers and financially motivated actors looking to exploit data obtained illegally during an attack. Many of these attacks are committed using ransomware, wiper attacks, data manipulation, intellectual property, and personally identifiable data theft, rogue software, and phishing. However, with the uptick in machine learning and new technologies continuously emerging such as the cloud, serverless apps, and internet of things (IoT), the variety of attacks are expanding rapidly, becoming more sophisticated, organized, and harder to detect. Many of the devices and technology we use for protection are now being manipulated and transformed into cyberweapons.
Cyberattacks can be deployed singularly or in combination for multiple reasons and carry varying degrees of damage severity. There are typically three main motivational categories of cyberthreats. The first is cyberespionage, or cyberspying, which involves attacks being committed to acquire illicit access to secret information stored in digital formats or on computers and IT networks. Using cracking techniques and malware, cyberespionage is most often used to gain strategic, economic, political, or military advantage, and typically targets governments or other organizations housing confidential data. The second category, cyberwarfare, is frequently motivated politically and involves nation-states penetrating other nations’ networks to cause disruption and severe damage. These types of attacks are normally committed by hackers for strategic or military purposes and cyberespionage. Cyberwarfare can also describe attacks by terrorist groups or hacker groups aimed at furthering the goals of particular nations. The third and final category is cyberterrorism, which involves the disruptive use of information technology to further the ideological or political agenda of terrorist groups. Attacks are usually targeted at networks, computer systems, and telecommunication infrastructures.
Developing a strong cybersecurity framework
While cyberattackers leverage their security-penetration skills, they rely mostly on human error. Simple oversights or minor blunders made by users can cause huge repercussions if it unleashes a cyberattack that quickly spreads to other endpoints. This means that everyone, not just the IT department, needs to understand how important cybersecurity is. Typically, cyberattackers don't require sophisticated hacking skills to penetrate corporate networks. They simply need to learn how to trick employees into opening unsecure email attachments and links. Thus, employees become major targets for cybercriminals since they are postured as the gateway into an organization's network.
Creating a cybersecurity culture
Employees hold a lot of power when it comes to protecting an organization's data. Notifications by employees are the most common way businesses have discovered cyberattacks. This reveals that employees need to be properly trained on how to identify attacks to combat incoming threats. Developing a strong information security culture can also help educate individuals on the necessary steps they need to take to keep their personal and work-related devices secure. They can become the first line of defense and not the organization's weakest link.
Building security into the vision and values of the company is an important first step to getting employees on board. Businesses must also deploy technologies that support rather than inconvenience employees. This will motivate them to make smarter decisions regarding computer and cyber safety instead of searching for easy, but potentially harmful, work-arounds.
Integrated information security solutions that work
Cybersecurity solutions work in layers to create a strong defense posture against potential risks. Therefore, these solutions need to be able to integrate and communicate with each other to have full end-to-end visibility into the threat landscape. Historically, organizations have taken a reactive approach to combating cyberthreats by using multiple, siloed security technologies. Unfortunately, this method is expensive, complex, and ineffective in the long run. Affecting multiple devices, people, and organizations globally, it is key to have an open and proactive cybersecurity infrastructure to protect, detect, correct, and adapt to the continuing evolution of cyberattacks. In non-integrated environments, threats can find the weakest link and instantly penetrate, spreading through the rest of the system. And, because these non-integrated environments fail to have common tools, management, and policy control, finding the threat before it infects other parts of the system is also problematic.
The McAfee advantage
McAfee has adopted an open architectural approach to cybersecurity, providing varying degrees of pre-integrated solutions to meet the needs of customers. These solutions include:
- ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) — Provides a single pane-of-glass management and unified workflows for pre-integrated, partnered solutions delivered through our Security Innovation Alliance (SIA) ecosystems.
- Data Exchange Layer (DXL) — Offers threat intelligence sharing in multivendor environments over a common messaging bus.
- Global Threat Intelligence (GTI) — Monitors millions of sensors for threats and automatically updates reputation information via the cloud, which allows the overall system to be continuously updated.