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#SecuringEnterprise: Facing Threats Then and Now

At today’s Securing the Enterprise Cybersecurity Conference hosted by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and BT Security in Cambridge, MA, industry experts joined together to discuss the challenges of the changing threat landscape. 

Moderator Andy Ellis, CSO, Akamai Technologies, noted that the things attackers do today are not fundamentally different from what they were doing two decades ago. Given that, Ellis asked panel members what advice they would give themselves now after their years of experience in the industry. 

“I was in data analytics and usability engineering when I started out in IT,” said Michael Figueroa, executive director at the Advanced Cyber Security Center. “One of the things that was most challenging in the past that many are still struggling with is that attacks haven’t changed much, but we often think that if we don’t solve ‘that’ problem today, the sky is going to fall. History has shown us that the sky isn’t falling.

“The advice I would give myself is to keep a strategic mindset of the problem of today within a broader perspective and don’t panic.”

The panel agreed that while attackers are smart and adaptive, the attacks themselves have not really changed. “We can put up huge barriers, but attackers don’t have to overcome that barrier. They can go around,” said Dr. Hamed Okhravi, senior staff, cyber analytics and decision systems, MIT Lincoln Laboratory

“We are just shifting one threat to another, but we need to understand how much gain we will have and how much we are shifting the landscape and the adversary, then look at whether it is the right type of shift.”

That not every single threat is a phenomenon seemed to be the pervading theme in response to the question. In large part, defenders can benefit from seeing their work as a game, Okhravi said.

FBI special agent Scott McGaunn said that he sees cybersecurity as a game as well, ”a very important game. The crime is all the same. We still have bank robberies, we still have wire fraud. We have ransomware instead of ransom.

“Human nature is the same, and the need to commit criminal acts is the same, but the distance to be able to reach out and touch someone has changed. Instead of nation-states and spies, they get online and leverage the internet,” McGaunn said.

In recalling a conversation with her colleague about the ways in which her own approaches have evolved, Jen Andre, senior director, orchestration and automation at Rapid7, said, “I remember my colleague saying, ‘Once Windows fixes all the bugs, we will all be out of work.’” The absurdity of the statement evoked laughter from the audience, but to Andre’s point, that was the thinking years ago. The advice she offered after having gained experience is not to focus on fixing things one at a time.

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