Eugene Kaspersky argues that as well as investing in talent, the cyber security industry needs to promote transparency and global cooperation
Cybersecurity agencies and companies have the technologies and products to beat hackers – but what they don’t have enough of is cybersecurity experts. Experts who can utilise these technologies and products effectively, to protect the world from cybercriminals.
For both technological and geopolitical reasons, the global cyberspace is becoming increasingly lawless – like a virtual Wild West – which poses a stark threat to the public, governments and enterprises. Consequently, the number of active cybercriminals is rising drastically too, which is becoming more costly for nation states and enterprises.
No nation in the world currently has the resources required to implement requisite technologies and systems effectively, and this is the crux of a wider set of challenges that are leaving the world vulnerable to cybercrime. Governments especially need to commit real investment in expertise, training and skill development to start tackling the problem, while businesses need to recruit and develop enough cyber-defenders to protect our increasingly digital world.
A global opportunity, and a global pathway
Rises in cybercrime are nothing new. The general curve has been pointed upwards for the best part of 30 years now. It’s a less savoury staple of the global digital infrastructure that has evolved. However, this trend has traditionally increased on a steady curve according to the general progress of digitisation.
This year has seen a much more pronounced leap in crime figures, though. The reason: COVID-19. A recent Teiss report revealed that, between February and March, a private sector partner of Interpol saw a 569% growth in malicious registrations, including malware and phishing, as well as a 788% growth in high-risk domain registrations.
It’s quite logical, and it was predicted early on in the pandemic, but the figures are still alarming. More people are at home using devices that may not be protected. There’s been an even greater rise in people working from home, exposing any gaps in corporate infrastructures as workers move to siloed networks.
Achieving the same levels of security in these new environments, at a moment’s notice, inevitably presented a large security gap. And opportunist cybercriminals pounced. In April, there was around a 23% rise in brute force attacks on database servers, while our virus lab reported around an 8% increase of new malicious applications and code. By July, that latter figure had also risen to 25%, meaning that Kaspersky’s everyday catch of new malicious applications was topping 400,000, as opposed to 300,000 pre-pandemic.
The fact that COVID-19 has had a global impact isn’t detached from those statistics. While cyberthreats have certainly increased over the course of this year, collaborative defences certainly haven’t. Cybercrime doesn’t have borders, and criminals often hack victims in other nations.
Conversely, cyber police are often limited by national borders, and there’s very little cooperation between respective law enforcement right now as nations try to get a handle on their own state security. The result? Criminals have been afforded a global opportunity and a global pathway at the same time.
We have the technology, but not the manpower
The answer in part is heightened collaboration and a more cohesive defence plan, and this is already being combated at the highest level virtue of the World Economic Forum’s Partnership Against Cybercrime initiative.
“To truly solve the problems that are not only happening out 'in the wild', but are escalating and intensifying, we must partner with law enforcement. This includes organizations like the FBI and INTERPOL, as well as local agencies and departments, and the lawyers and prosecutors that make up the criminal justice systems of countries around the world,” the Association stated in early October.
However, in addition to the collaboration issue, what events of this year have more immediately exposed is the mismatch between those who would attack, and those available to defend.
We anticipate there are hundreds of thousands of active cybercriminals in the world today, most of them only junior who may well be caught. But many will evolve, become smarter and more experienced, and eventually carry out highly complicated attacks. To add to the aforementioned perfect storm of 2020, this wouldn’t have been seen even five years ago. But now we see several independent, ‘mercenary’ hacker groups who are able to make big impacts on a global scale. Junior hackers are just the bottom of a pyramid that continues to rise. Individual, corporate and critical infrastructure are all under threat from this pyramid, even before you get to the state-sponsored assortment.
The mismatch derives from the fact that we do actually have the technologies and products to overcome the threat. We just don’t have the manpower. In order to implement all required systems in the right way, we need engineers and cybersecurity experts. And there is no nation in the world that currently has enough resources to cater for that need.
The global problem of not finding enough security experts and engineers, at face value, is not having a strong team of blockers – of those who can protect mere civilians. It goes deeper than that, though. What an increase in manpower could really fulfil is a dire need for education. More widespread promotion of IT security education would facilitate a more population-driven defence to cybercriminal activity, but most countries don’t have the resources or the infrastructure to enable such a response.
Transparency across borders
Of course, education and the sharing of information would ease the challenge to an extent, but this once again sheds light on the geopolitical side of the situation. Despite each individual nation not having the requisite manpower to offset criminal threats, and those criminals taking a very international approach to attacks, the collective response is still far from united.
National data generated through everyday products and digital use manifests as information about you – about transportation, urban facilities, infrastructure, production. And all of this data becomes critical if misused. Critical for the individual implicated, for businesses, and ultimately for national security and its core structures.
This has resulted in an instinct to store data within national borders in a bid to limit overall impacts on the state. To localise hackers’ impacts. While that is understandable from a civilian perspective, it then leads to localized protection efforts, too.
Compounding the manpower issue that we already know is there, domestically, we then have more of an international transparency issue; something which Kaspersky has looked to rectify and assist since 2017 via our Global Transparency Initiative. Created to provide risk-minimisation measures for citizens, businesses and – as a result – states, it’s an initiative that promotes more open and visible adherence to security and protection standards. Our Transparency Center and Data Processing Center in Zurich epitomise these efforts and hopefully represent a step in the right direction.
While countries and companies need to invest more seriously into the manpower side of the equation, enhanced transparency and collaboration across borders can at least stem the tide of international hacking trends that have sky-rocketed this year. The hope in the future is that these two facets come together to mitigate cyber-vulnerabilities at any time.
Eugene Kaspersky is CEO of cybersecurity and anti-virus provider Kaspersky
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com