Cyber Defense: Controlling Access and Controlling Costs

Keeping malicious actors and threats out of one’s network is the continual battle at the heart of the cyber challenge. It drives the massive spending that has spawned an industry, and enlists legions of workers who try to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. Over-taxed security teams employ a breadth of technologies and policies to control network access while keeping business moving.

Recent research we at Glasswall conducted shows that CISOs and other senior-level security leaders are imposing increasingly tight controls on what gets inside the network—or at least they’re trying to. In both the US and the UK, the same percentage of surveyed respondents say they impose some controls, such as blocking or disabling risky file features like macros or file types like .exe’s, or scanning and filtering files. Further, a nearly equal percentage of respondents say they’re informed about cyber protections used by their supply chain. Yet Glasswall’s Threat Intelligence data proves that attacks still get through. Something is not adding up.

Asking third parties questions about what they’re using doesn’t guarantee a reassuring answer. While security leaders may disagree with or even actively object to measures used by their organization’s supply chain partners, their hands are often tied when it comes to forcing a change. Resistance from those on the business side of the house, who may rightly be concerned with preserving certain relationships, often overrides security concerns founded on maybes. Organizations should have objective standards and strict policies on what is allowed within the perimeter. But that requires a meeting of the minds among business and security leadership, along with fool-proof enforcement measures for those well-meaning but harried employees who will seek the occasional work-around.

Equally frustrating is the near-ubiquitous but inadequate option of antivirus (AV) software. Only 9% of our survey respondents expressed complete confidence in their antivirus solutions. Others were lukewarm, having “some” confidence; but 19% expressed little-to-no confidence at all. Unfortunately, AV’s rather consistent failure against emerging and new malware threats that lack known signatures is a “dirty little secret” that’s not discussed in polite circles.

And yet, 96% of our respondents said they continue to invest in AV products, expressing a ‘just gotta have it’ mindset: AV offers a basic, value-driven layer of protection for known commodity threats, and/ or it’s a tick-the-box compliance requirement. The tepid-to-low confidence in antivirus products for protecting an organization likely contributes to respondents’ ongoing concerns around perimeter defenses, human error and hackers getting in to spy on or destroy their networks or steal their data.

These contradictions also demonstrate why cyber defense spending is spiraling up but breaches aren’t trending down. Our respondents already spend a great deal on cyber technologies; our data showed the percent of expenditures in the UK actually exceeding those in the US. The numbers will only increase in the next two years, with 75%+ of respondents indicating their security budgets will continue to rise in that timeframe. Yet endlessly increasing security spend is not sustainable for most businesses. 

So for the moment, the challenge of securing the network continues to frustrate and confound security leaders who are struggling to find the balance between risk and cost, minor disruption and catastrophe, and keeping pace with the demands of business while keeping their organizations safe. It’s very rare to find a technology that actually eliminates a risk. That reality underscores the need to invest precious resources where today’s truly smart hackers are executing highly sophisticated attacks. Leading-edge technologies like Content Disarm and Reconstruction on which Glasswall’s products are built go to the core of that requirement.

While old practices die hard, it’s time to take a tough, cross-organizational look at processes, habits and dated technologies that may keep near-term business churning, but that are elevating risk and the potential for longer-term pain.

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