Why Australian business needs to get serious about zero trust security in 2021

With malicious cyber-activity on the rise, it’s time for local enterprises to start thinking about a more robust protection model, writes Simon Howe, Vice President Sales – APAC, LogRhythm

Heard lots about high tech scams and hacks last year and worried it’s only a matter of time before your company’s number is up?

Your concern is justified. The COVID pandemic triggered an explosion in the number of recorded cyber-attacks, with global figures for the first half of 2020 up an extraordinary 273 per cent on the previous year’s count.

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Around the world, we saw bad actors behaving badly – seeking to capitalise on the fear, uncertainty and doubt caused by the virus, and the additional vulnerabilities a mass migration to remote working opened up.

In Australia, the victim list included a string of high profile organisations – dairy and beverage giant Lion, the University of Tasmania, Fisher and Paykel and BlueScope Steel, to name a few.

Unfortunately for under-siege businesses, the threat level is unlikely to decrease any time soon. Rather, industry experts expect hackers and cyber-criminals to amp up their efforts to disrupt operations and steal data for commercial gain in 2021.

The threat is real

The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Annual Cyber Threat Report July 2019 to June 2020 identifies cyber-crime as one of the most pervasive threats facing Australia and the most significant threat in terms of overall volume and impact to individuals and businesses.

‘Our growing dependence on new information technology platforms and interconnected devices and systems’ is making us ever more vulnerable to high tech hijackers, according to the report.

‘Australia’s relative wealth, high levels of online connectivity and increasing delivery of services through online channels make it very attractive and profitable for cyber-crime adversaries’, it states.

Ransomware attacks, made possible by the illicit acquisition of user log-ins and credentials, are a grave concern. The overwhelming majority originate with a phishing or spearphishing attempt and the bad news is, without comprehensive back-ups, they’re almost impossible to recover from.

Thinking differently about security

Protecting the enterprise against these real and rising threats represents an extraordinary ask for security teams, who must get it right, 24/7, 365 days a year. Their adversaries, meanwhile, need only strike it lucky once, in order to disrupt operations and access sensitive company and customer data.

The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that traditional cyber-security models, which provide perimeter-based protection for networks, have become increasingly unfit for purpose in an environment where mobile computing and remote working are ubiquitous.

That’s why, elsewhere in the world, we’re seeing organisations embracing zero trust methodologies to boost their capacity to prevent, detect and respond to incidents.

Coined by Forrester Research back in 2009, the term ‘zero trust’ refers to a philosophy that strict identify verification should be demanded from individuals and devices each and every time they access the corporate network. It applies even if they’re located inside the security perimeter, a domain traditionally regarded as the safe zone.

Advantages for businesses include improved visibility of the network, courtesy of the fact that each and every individual or device seeking access must have their own unique identity, and the opportunity to avoid additional expense-in-depth – the costs traditionally associated with strengthening cyber-security provisions by adding more tools to the technology stack.

Making the move

Multinationals including Google and FedEx have adopted the zero trust model to good effect but it’s not the exclusive province of big-name behemoths with cyber-security budgets to match. Implemented smartly, it can provide cost-effective risk reduction for organisations of more modest dimensions.

Why hasn’t it taken off in a big way, before now? Partly because ICT and security leaders in Asia Pacific are, in the main, a conservative cohort. Many won’t adopt new methodologies and technologies until their benefits have been demonstrated by other companies in the region.

But, faced with unprecedented threat levels, accelerating the adoption process may become an imperative for businesses that want to avoid becoming cyber-security statistics in the challenging year ahead. As always, prevention is better than cure.

Simon Howe has more than 20 years’ experience in the cybersecurity industry and is currently Vice President Sales Asia Pacific at LogRhythm, the company powering today’s security operations centres. Simon previously worked in sales management for companies including CommVault, Acronis and Symantec.