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Evolving Cyber Security – Lessons from the Thalys Train Attack in France

Gene LikinsBy Gene Likins

Earlier this year, I was privileged to facilitate a round table for forty seven IT executives representing sixteen companies in the financial services industry.  As expected for a gathering of FSI IT executives, one of the primary topics on the docket was security.

The discussion started with a candid listing of threats, gaps, hackers and the challenges these pose for all in the room.  The list was quite daunting.  The conversation turned to the attempted terrorist attack on the Thalys high speed international train, traveling from Amsterdam to Paris.  A heavily armed gunman had boarded the train with an arsenal of weapons and was preparing to fire on passengers.  Luckily, several passengers managed to subdue the gunman and prevent any deaths

Immediately following the incident, the public began to question the security measures surrounding the train and the transit system in general.  Many recommended instituting airport style security measures, including presentation of identity papers, metal detectors, bag searches and controlled entry points

Given the enormous cost and the already strained police resources running at capacity, some are now calling for a different perspective on security.  As former interior minister of France Claude Gueant said,

“I do not doubt the vigilance of the security forces, but what we need now is for the whole nation to be in a state of vigilance.

As IT professionals, this should sound familiar.   So what can we glean from this incident and apply it to cyber security?

  1. Share the burden of vigilance with customers.
    72% of online customers welcome advice on how to better protect their online accounts (Source: Telesign).  One way to share the burden with customers is to recommend or require the use of security features such as Two Factor Authentication (2FA).  Sending texts of recent credit card transactions is an example of a “passive” way of putting the burden on the customer.  The customer is asked to determine if the charge is real and notify the card issuer if it’s not.  Companies should begin testing the waters of just how much customers are willing to do to protect their data.  They may be surprised.
  2. Avoid accidentally letting the bad guys in. 
    One of the common ways that online security is breached is by employees unknowingly opening emails which contain information such as “know what your peers make” or “learn about the new stock that’s about to double in price”. IT groups should continually inform their internal constituents on the nature of threats so we can all stay vigilant and look out for “suspicious characters”.
  3. Contain the inevitable breaches.
    It’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when”. Network virtualization capabilities, such as micro‐segmentation, bring security inside the data center with automated, fine‐grained policies tied to individual workloads.  Micro‐segmentation effectively eliminates the lateral movement of threats inside the data center and greatly reduces the total attack surface.  This also buys security team’s time to detect and respond to malicious activities before they get out-of-hand.

Cyber SecurityBuilding a comprehensive security strategy should be on the agenda of all CIOs in 2016.  Cyber criminals are constantly creating new methods of threatening security, and technology is changing daily to counteract them.

VMware NSX, VMware’s network virtualization platform, enables IT to virtualize not just individual servers or applications but the entire network, including all of the associated security and other settings and rules.  This technology enables micro-segmentation and can move your security capabilities forward by leaps and bounds, but it’s only part of a holistic strategy for preventing security breaches.

To remain ahead of the threats, it requires a constant evolution of people, processes and governance, along with technology, to continuously identify and address security concerns for your organization and your customers.  For help building your security strategy, contact the experts at VMware Accelerate Advisory Services

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Gene Likins is the Americas Director of Accelerate Transformation Services for VMware and is based in Atlanta, GA.