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Georgia Tech warns of emerging threats in cloud, mobile

Antone Gonsalves | Nov. 12, 2013
Study finds that threats call for security measures that are not currently offered by service providers.

Researchers are working on ways to fingerprint and profile devices on the network, listen to the traffic they generate and use network probes to determine if the architecture is compromised, Beyah said in the report. The idea is to spot traffic from a counterfeit or malicious device and then block communications.

While malware infection rates of mobile devices remain minuscule, the threat of cybercriminals entering a corporate network through an employee's smartphone is real. This is particularly true as the number of employees using their own mobile devices for work grows.

Companies that want to take advantage of the BYOD trend for its productivity gains and cost savings will have to take a variety of approaches toward security, Georgia Tech said. Those measures will range from compartmentalizing trusted apps and sensitive data in secure containers to using network access controls to lock out untrusted devices.

Employees that use only trusted online stores to download apps, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play, are highly unlikely to encounter malware. However, Georgia Tech researchers have shown that infection is possible.

At the USENIX Security Conference In August, four researchers showed how intentional vulnerabilities could be added to an application and go undetected by Apple's vetting process. Once in the app, attackers could exploit the flaws later.

"A number of countermeasures could help restore the security of the application marketplace model, including a more fine-grained permission system, control-flow integrity checking, or mandating that developers use a type-safe programming language," the report said. "How likely these security measures are to be adopted remains an open question."

For years, companies have approached security by building layers of technology between computer systems and attackers, This has led to the deployment of expensive technologies, such as security information and event management, identity and access management, application firewalls and more recently, mobile device management.

But with IT security budgets expected to rise as much as 10 percent this year and with the majority of security professionals expecting to spend more next year, companies are looking for ways to reduce costs.

Georgia Tech believes companies can hold down costs by taking a more data-driven approach to security. Rather than just trying to keep attackers out, companies should gather and act on so-called threat intelligence to get more bang for the buck.

Steps to take include identifying and mapping networks and assets and then prioritizing defenses based on value, vulnerability and criticality, the university said. Companies also should focus on attackers by using kill-chain analysis to figure out how intellectual property could be targeted.

"The goal is to quickly determine the current state of the network and assets, what the attacker may be targeting, and the pre-determined business impact if the attack succeeds," George Wright, a principal research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, said in the report. "The process should help defenders prioritize incident response."


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