Increasing Interconnection and Its Potential Cybersecurity Dangers

Posted on May 29, 2015

Discussions of cybersecurity can sometimes assume that a business or organization can effectively and completely keep its servers and sensitive data separate from others, sealing them off in case of an attack. It's true that strong, thorough software and a focus on organizational best practices can limit the frequency and severity of attempts to penetrate a system. However, it's important to remember that nearly all networks are interconnected in some way, shape or form.

The domino effect
Ray Rothrock, a cybersecurity industry veteran, described the domino effect concept as it relates to protecting networks in a recent Forbes article. He used the domino metaphor directly and mentioned how that same concept had been used to explain the actions of the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In simple terms, the actions of both sides of the conflict were viewed with the mindset that a relatively small incident could easily set off a chain reaction far beyond the original or intended scope. This is part of the reason why the Cold War is distinguished by proxy battles in small countries and nations that sometimes lacked strong, direct ties to either of the superpowers.

"No one company truly stands alone in terms of cybersecurity."

How does the idea apply to cybersecurity?
Rothrock said the interconnected nature of business servers, and the fact that the vast majority of companies have to interact with customers, clients, vendors and other stakeholders, means that no one company truly stands alone. He provided the high-profile example of the 2014 Target consumer data breach as one that embodies these dangers. While much of the discussion of that attack centered around the fact that so many customers had their financial details compromised, the method of access used by the hackers deserves some consideration as well. The attackers gained entrance through a service portal used by a maintenance company contracted to work for Target.

This vulnerability didn't come directly from the actions of Target in terms of its own internal practices and systems, but from a smaller partner that didn't have the same level of sophisticated defenses. With such systems prevalent in the business world, it's important for midsize and large companies to understand the cybersecurity domino effect and proactively address potential problems.

Experts believe significant gaps exist
Other cybersecurity industry veterans and experts don't have a particularly positive view of the current state of affairs. According to a survey from nonprofit security organization ISC, those in the field are split over the progress of efforts to improve cyber defense capabilities at their organizations. The poll of 14,000 staff involved in various aspects of data security efforts found that approximately half of the respondents thought their companies' actions to better protect sensitive information were stagnant and hadn't improved much in the past 24 months. Additionally, 17 percent of those responding said they believed their cybersecurity efforts were actually worse than they had been in 2013. The major issues cited were an inability to keep up with the changing nature of cyberthreats, a lack of understanding in regard to risk management, insufficient funding and a dearth of talent to fill necessary roles.

Becoming more self-sufficient
There are some positives associated with the current state of affairs as it relates to the interconnection of many businesses and protecting those links. The cybersecurity bills working their way through Congress both contain information provisions that could make a significant impact on the current state of affairs. NC4's Cyber Threat Exchange solutions offer a more focused version of this principle, enabling businesses to share in-depth threat information among a network of vendors, clients, partners and many other stakeholders.

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