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"It's been a crazy year. There've just been so many incidents," said Hugh Thompson, chief security strategist at People Security. "There've been so many of these--whatever you want to call them--advanced persistent threats, advanced attacks. What does it mean for big businesses and how security has to change?"
That's the big question for this year's RSA conference, which is one of the country's largest gatherings of information security aficionados. Kicking off Monday in San Francisco, here are some of the hottest security topics on tap:
1. Securing Employees' Smartphones and Tablets
Mobile devices are highly portable and easy to use. Accordingly, it's a no-brainer that employees use them to store sensitive business information. But the devices, being small and portable, have a habit of getting lost or stolen. In addition, they're increasingly under attack from growing quantities of mobile malware.
That means securing mobile devices poses a massive headache for enterprise IT groups, as evidenced by the topic's conference-paper popularity. "We started a half track this year for mobile, thinking we'd get some good submissions," said Thompson, who serves as the RSA conference's program committee chair. "As it turned out, we couldn't contain it in that half track, and they've just spilled over everywhere."
[ Read about why APTs represent one of the most insidious challenges for your organization's security team. See Advanced Persistent Threats Get More Respect.]
2. Stopping Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
"We have quite a few sessions that are talking about advanced persistent threats," said Thompson. Attackers favor these APT attacks because they're "low and slow," meaning that with persistence and patience, they may be able to sneak by traditional security defenses and stay undetected for long periods of time.
To stop such exploits, security thinkers need a better understanding of how these attacks occur so that they can be spotted at the start. "It's raised some really interesting questions, such as: are folks who are interested in intellectual property different in what they do than the standard cyber-criminal?" said Thompson.
3. Curbing Social Animal Attacks Another hot topic is "the human element of security," said Thompson. "It's fascinating--as you go through some of these high-profile breaches and wind back the clock to the beginning of the story, you see a lot of intelligent, well-meaning, trusted employees who just made an unfortunate choice." Such choices may include dodgy downloads, opening seemingly real Excel spreadsheets, falling for a phishing site, or even divulging passwords to pretenders over the phone.
If social engineering attacks seem obvious in retrospect, their success rate--and their dubious distinction of being the primary APT attack vector--highlights how it's impossible for people to successfully avoid such attacks, at least not all the time.
Still, businesses can work to better the odds. Cue a keynote from journalist and New York Times columnist David Brooks, author of The Social Animal, which pulls from the fields of sociology, psychology, and biology to explore how people make decisions.
4. Securing Big Data The intersection of information security and so-called Big Data--in this case, massive amounts of security data--is another big concern. "What a lot of people are asking is: can we be smarter and more proactive about security? And that really comes down to not generating new data, but can we mine that data, and correlate it, and use it, and reuse it in interesting ways?" said Thompson. "In other words, is there a set of canaries out there that we can bring into our mine to get us smarter about vulnerabilities and attacks?"
5. Getting Better At Stopping Hacktivists Over the last year, hacktivist groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec have rewritten the rules for what attackers want from a security breach. So, how can they be stopped?
"The events of the last 12 or 18 months can't help but make people ask the question: can we be smarter? Can we anticipate these sorts of things? And when you look at hacktivist-types of attacks, are there indicators out there where businesses can say, are we a likely target?" said Thompson. In other words, if a business is about to make a decision that's likely to prove unpopular, should the risk management department put the security team on high alert--or maybe even veto the business move?
Plan to hear that question, along with numerous answers, detailed at this year's RSA.
It's no longer a matter of if you get hacked, but when. In this special retrospective of news coverage, Monitoring Tools And Logs Make All The Difference, Dark Reading takes a look at ways to measure your security posture and the challenges that lie ahead with the emerging threat landscape. (Free registration required.)