IT security is national security -- but you're not alone

Managing the danger of cyberattacks has to involve all parts of an enterprise, speakers tell a Kaspersky conference

National security may be at stake as private businesses try to manage a growing number of cyberthreats, but IT professionals shouldn't have to bear that burden alone.

That was one of the messages from a conference earlier this week where threat experts from Kaspersky Lab shared the stage with corporate security chiefs and the former U.S. secretary of homeland security. There were also a few tips for facing up to the problem.

"If the private sector goes down, and critical infrastructure, [then] more often than not ... you have national security at risk as well," said Tom Ridge, who led the new Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Because government relies so much on critical infrastructure such as power grids, communications networks and transportation, and because of the way malware spreads, the line between attacks against states and attacks against companies is blurry.

Companies and governments face a broad range of active threats, some of which are probably being perpetrated by hackers with nation-states behind them, according to Kaspersky, which researches cybercrime and sells technology to counter it.

Large enterprises need to step up their game in dealing with cyberattacks, which are no longer preventable but are manageable, said Ridge, who now runs a consultancy. For their part, governments should share more information with the private sector, he said.

"Everybody has a role to play, particularly the private sector. And I'm not sure, today, that the focus from private enterprise is as clear and as direct as it is within our military and within our war planners," Ridge said.

Companies have to become resilient rather than just rolling out security tools, Ridge said. That involves internal governance, training, and awareness as well as technology, Ridge said.

Ellen Richey, Visa International's chief enterprise risk officer, agreed.

"If you don't have the support of the CEO, or the board, or the owners ... you will never get anything done. Period. It's amazing," Richey said.

No technology alone can make up for attention to security at all levels of the organization, she said.

"It's equally a business process problem," Richey said. "You have to be on it seven days a week, 24 hours a day," handling mundane tasks such as access controls, patches and passwords.

Then there are those employees who just tend to lose things. "Some people shouldn't really be asked to protect anything," Richey said. If you're one of them, you should deliberately keep as little sensitive data as possible around you, she said.

Companies trying to get a grip on security can turn to industry standards that have been forged and proven in previous incidents, said Steve Adegbite, who oversees security strategy at Wells Fargo. Those can be the baseline for a system tailored to their needs. He also recommends sharing information with peers. In the U.S., this can be done through Information Sharing and Analysis Centers for finance, health care, telecommunications, supply chain and other industries.

"Cybersecurity is a team sport. It takes everybody on the field playing," Adegbite said.

Having friends in the right places can also make a difference, according to Chris Rezek, an expert consultant at McKinsey.

"For smaller institutions, make sure you know your local FBI contact [and] which third-party service you're going to call when something happens, so they're not a stranger when you pick up the phone," Rezek said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Tags risk managementsecurityvisaWells FargoIT managementbusiness managementkaspersky lab

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Stephen Lawson

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