Many ISPs are strongly placed to play a valuable role in educating their customers as to the nature of the threats they face, and the techniques and tactics they can use to mitigate these.
Businesses are coming under increasing attack from cyber-criminals. A recent report found that the volume of cyber-attacks in the second quarter of 2019 was 179 percent higher than in the same period the previous year; it revealed that organisations were experiencing attacks at an average rate of one every 50 seconds.
These sustained levels of attack led the Bank of England’s supervisory risk specialist director, Nick Strange, to call for a "collective solution" to fighting cyber-security breaches to help make the financial sector "better at weathering their impacts".
Such an approach has proved successful elsewhere. Germany’s Cyber Security Strategy, for example, is built around the cooperation of state, industry and research organisations in developing and implementing protective measures. The same level of infrastructure isn’t in place in the UK when it comes to supporting businesses facing the threat of cyber-crime. While it’s true that security vendors will often be on hand to provide guidance in addition to their software and solutions, one could argue that ISPs could do more to advance the security posture of the organisations they serve.
A wealth of knowledge and experience
Many ISPs are strongly placed to play a valuable role in educating their customers as to the nature of the threats they face, and the techniques and tactics they can use to mitigate these. The more established players, especially, have the benefit of a wealth of knowledge and experience built up over many years through relationships with both consumer and business customers.
For the latter, dedicated ISPs will also have been helping these business customers navigate the compliance headache that comes with siloed security systems across any IT environment. Indeed, during this time, they will have experienced – and overcome – a range of attacks on their networks, and those of their customers.
Of course, things don’t always run smoothly. The WannaCry ransomware attack that brought the NHS to a standstill in 2017 also affected several ISPs across the globe, although swift action on their part prevented it from causing any significant harm. ISPs are no stranger to dealing with DDoS attacks either. Indeed, according to one report, they’re becoming an increasingly popular target.
ISPs should leverage this experience - and the operations that have subsequently arisen from it - along with their respective standards and accreditations, and work more closely with both customers and security vendors to advance the cyber-security capabilities of the UK’s businesses and citizens alike.
There are mutual benefits to be had from such an approach. Businesses will achieve greater security and peace of mind, while the ISPs themselves will enjoy an enhanced reputation and greater support from existing and new customers. What’s more, the involvement of ISPs will help enable more widespread sharing of threat information among the business community, particularly important when faced with the danger of an increasingly fractured geopolitical landscape.
Obligation for anonymity
Cyber-criminals don’t discriminate when it comes to geography. Without a cross-border information sharing network, though, this means they can often escape being caught. Such networks do exist, of course. Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, for instance, is part of a Europol cyber-crime task force and works with IT experts within different countries to expedite international investigations.
But many business leaders are reluctant to share details of threats their own organisations have encountered, concerned that even a small snippet of information could allow attackers to identify a potential vulnerability.
The introduction of the GDPR in 2018 may help overcome this issue, however. The regulations put a considerable onus of responsibility on ISPs when it comes to protecting their customers’ data, thereby making it easier for those customers to share that data anonymously.
Under the GDPR, data processors – the operators and service providers across whose network and on whose forums threat information is shared – have direct liability for sanctions if they fail to meet their prescribed obligations. One of these obligations, as outlined in Article 32, is to take reasonable steps, such as encryption or pseudonymisation, to secure data.
So, while businesses may have concerns over the implications of sharing threat information outside of a trusted community, the means exist – and are, in fact, obligatory – for ISPs to share that data while ensuring the anonymity of those businesses.
Part of a collective solution
Cyber-attacks on businesses are growing in volume, scope and sophistication and no organisation should have to face these threats alone. After all, there is strength in numbers. Nick Strange’s announcement was effectively a call to arms, for the business community to work together to help combat the persistent threat of cyber-crime.
ISPs can play a key role in this. Their many years of experience of working with different businesses, in different situations, facing different challenges, makes them ideal trusted advisors when it comes to matters of cyber-security. What’s more, their obligations under GDPR and other similar data privacy regulations means they’re perfectly placed to share anonymous threat data across borders, providing businesses with the intelligence they need to keep pace with attackers.
Indeed, this united, multi-pronged approach is where ISPs can really show their stripes. With networks and requirements endlessly changing, ISPs can shine a light for their customers who might be confused about the dangers posed by a cyber-attack and issues surrounding compliance, as well as safeguarding society as a whole.
By adding cyber-security to the services they provide, ISPs can become a valuable part of a collective solution. Services can range from network-scanning, vulnerability-scanning, and specific pen-testing for industry systems. Moreover, as compliance should be at the core of all digital transformation, another priority should be technology that equips organisations with a real-time view of their compliance status. Ultimately, it is only by working together can cyber-security knowledge gaps can be plugged and lessons shared for the greater good.
Contributed by Mark Belgrove, head of cyber consultancy at Exponential-e.