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Growing cyber threats need an understanding of technologies that can defend against them

Last year, the UK Government urged businesses to better protect themselves after it revealed that at least two thirds of large organisations in the country had suffered a cyber breach or cyber attack in the past year. According to the 2015 Information Security Breaches Survey produced by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, the average cost of these breaches for a small company was anywhere between £75,000 – £31,000, whilst a large business could lose up to £3.14m; enough to collapse even the most financially robust enterprise.

These figures present a sobering fact: cyber security is fundamental to business continuity and the future prosperity of any company in the UK rests on its digital foundations. The technologies that a company implements underpin these foundations and must be an integral part of a business’s core processes and systems. If a business is to survive in the age of proliferating online threats, then its technology and how it is implemented must be part of the business’ DNA, not just an added extra.

Cyber security as part of an organisation’s DNA

The availability of hacking resources continues to increase and cyber criminals are constantly improving their digital arsenals with the latest weaponry available on the dark web. This shadowy underbelly of the internet in which hackers sell their wares is only going to expand and with it, so will the levels of threat that businesses face.

Companies need to evolve their defensive tactics in line with the threat landscape. Technologies that provide comprehensive security can be integrated into every aspect of an organisation’s operations, and should be future proofed not only to offer the best line of defence against the growing capabilities of attackers but to also allow companies to stay one-step ahead of the game. To give one example, new cyber security software is being developed which embeds sensors in lines of an application’s code, allowing the application to check itself for vulnerabilities and protect itself against attacks. This is a highly effective form of defence for companies that have either introduced, or are intending to introduce complex enterprise applications, such as payment processing, human resource management systems or sales force automation. Owing to their complexity, vulnerabilities can often be missed. The security technology becomes a fundamental part of applications across a network and therefore an organisation.

Other technologies that create such a dynamic security management posture involve the use of real-time analytics. This kind of data interpretation is becoming increasingly sought after in a wave of industries and cyber security is no different. Such technologies can provide a continuously updated risk profile based on a steady stream of data indicating current activity. Frontline defenders can see and stop a cyber attack at any point during the attack cycle, allowing them to address issues before a system can be compromised.

Machine learning technologies use and expand upon similar capabilities. These programmes sit within systems, adapting their behaviour based on what they experience within that infrastructure. The potential this technology has for defending businesses is phenomenal. By studying an organisation’s network the programme can determine what characteristics of the environment are abnormal. Systems using artificial intelligence will gather information about the network and connected devices and subsequently seek out anything that is out of the ordinary. Organisations with a large number of devices on their networks will find machine learning particularly useful. The technology can monitor incoming and outgoing device traffic to create a profile that determines normal behaviour of the ecosystem and react to the slightest irregularities in a way that traditional security software is unable to do.

These emerging technologies are allowing businesses to better defend themselves and mitigate the rapidly increasing number of cyber attacks they are forced to contend with, on what has now become a daily basis. At QinetiQ we are looking at these technologies and how they can be integrated into businesses at a core level, so that they span processes, systems and operations. According to the 2016 National Cyber Security Strategy, in order to secure networks and data against an evolving technological landscape and threat, businesses must “identify critical systems and regularly assess their vulnerability”. Ultimately, as the strategy states, “they must invest in technology.” The upcoming CyberUK should act as the starting point for this, bringing all aspects of industry, tech developers, cyber experts and OEM’s together under the umbrella of the new strategy, ensuring the UK creates a safe cyberspace for everyone.

Bryan Lillie is Chief Technology Officer, QinetiQ

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