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CISO proposes cybersecurity co-op to fend off hackers

Clint Boulton | Nov. 24, 2015
The CISO of Rockwell Automation thinks a cybersecurity co-operative, comprised of top information security engineers from several companies, could serve as a salve to the talent shortage and also offer and an improvement over managed security service providers.

Co-op could better protect privileged user accounts

One area the co-op would be well-positioned to protect is privileged user accounts, essentially valid credentials designed to be used by systems administrators to manage network systems, run services or allow applications to communicate with one another. With few network access restrictions, privileged user accounts are frequently seized by attackers to infiltrate corporate systems. Such accounts played critical roles in high-profile hacks at Sony Pictures, Las Vegas Sands casino and the Office of Personnel Management.

Protecting privileged user accounts is top of mind for Motes. Rockwell Automation has recently consolidated IT operations under a single outsourcing firm, whose staff require privileged access to, for example, provision and manage the Windows servers and network infrastructure required to operate the business. The outsourcer's access Rockwell's network both on site and remotely via virtualized connections. Extending the company's attack surface initially made the board of directors uneasy.

Rockwell uses software from CyberArk to sandbox privileged sessions and prevent the spread of malware from user endpoints to critical systems as well as to prevent users and their devices from ever exposing the privileged account credentials. It also generates an audit log to track any suspicious activity for both the outsourcer's staff and Rockwell's employees. "We don't want them logged in with that privilege without us tracking it, knowing who logged in [and] what they did and when," Motes says.

Things to make a security co-op hum

For the co-op to work, Motes says members would have to make sure their own security, including mitigating the privileged access control threat, is up to par. He envisions seasoned cyberprofessionals hailing from a variety of industries could train interns within the co-op to combat cyberthreats. “Nobody is as good as the team you grow and invest [time and effort] in training,” he says.

Motes has already received the greenlight for the co-op initiative from Rockwell Automation’s senior management, including the company’s general counsel. And he’s received a positive response from the Wisconsin state assembly, as well as fellow CIOs to whom he’s floated the idea. Some peers challenged the co-op premise, noting that their staff wouldn't want to move out of their current roles to go work for a co-op, which would essentially launch as a start-up. But Motes argued that staff would receive valuable cross-training, making them more valuable and well-positioned for advancement within the co-op, or elsewhere. “We’ll give them a career path, they won’t see [at their current company],” he says.

However, cybersecurity has always been a touchy subject between corporations. For that reason, perhaps the greatest opposition to the co-op will come from companies opposed to sharing cybersecurity insights for fear of exposing themselves to bad actors seeking the next big challenge. Motes will find out November 30.

IDG Insider


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