Attacks/Breaches
5/17/2017
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FireEye CEO Mandia Talks Rapid Rise of Nation-State Threats

FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia at Interop ITX discussed changes in the geopolitical threat landscape and how attackers target their victims.

INTEROP ITX - Las Vegas - The threat of nation-state attacks isn't new to cybersecurity experts, but it's becoming increasingly complex. Old players and newcomers are raising the stakes for unprepared victims.

Today's global geopolitical landscape was a core focus of FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia's keynote presentation at the Interop ITX conference here today. In the last 12 months, he said, the company has conducted more than 500 breach investigations.

In 90% of the breaches FireEye has investigated, "victim zero" was initially hit with a spearphishing attack and opened a bad link or attachment, which led to the intrusion. In 50% of those breaches, he continued, attackers used features of programs we use every day.

"Attackers are exploiting human trust," Mandia emphasized. The threats are coming from everywhere as threat actors around the world have realized there's no real danger in conducting criminal activity. A lack of consequences will cause cybercrime to escalate.

"There are no risks or repercussions to hacking companies," he explained. Both targeted threats, and "spray and pray" campaigns intended to hit several targets at once, are done with impunity.

Today's organizations face threats from all over the world: FireEye is responding to more state-sponsored intrusions than attacks launched by criminal actors looking for money, Mandia noted.

Major players in the cyberthreat landscape include the Middle East, Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea. He's also seeing a rise in developing nations growing as cyber actors. Vietnam, for example, is not typically considered a military actor but is "actually really good at what they do" in cyberspace.

It's difficult to tell whether an attacker is state-sponsored or a criminal. Nobody really knows what the international rules of engagement are, he said, and security experts are going up against more nation-states where there's no real deterrent for cybercrime.

"We're playing goalie," he said of security organizations building their defenses. "When a nation-state wants to get in, it's like Wayne Gretsky going in on a penalty shot. The puck is going to get in."

In the wake of last week's widespread and damaging WannaCrypt ransomware worm attack, Mandia said ransomware is an example of how today's organizations are not taking the basic necessary steps to face modern cybersecurity threats.

The fact that a server message block (SMB) exploit could spread to 200,000 machines is a sign "the hygiene still isn't there," he explained.

"I'm fifty-fifty on whether we'll figure out who did WannaCry," he continued, noting that whoever did the attack didn't want it to get such widespread attention. Now the culprit can't collect the ransom without being named for the attack.

"Cybersecurity has never been more important," said Mandia of current and emerging threats. People don't fully realize the implications of what could happen if their company was forced to go completely off the grid. The rise of IoT, especially with the integration of technology and physiology in smart health devices, will drive the spread of malware when it hits.

Cyberattacks are hitting, and will continue to hit, businesses in new and unexpected ways. Anyone working in a security-related role should have a worst-case scenario in mind, and be thinking about how an attacker would evade their organization's security measures, he said.

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Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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