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Forget about North Korea's Nukes - the PRNK Is Engaged in Cyber Warfare against Your Company

October 24, 2017  |  Posted By: Marty Abbott

North Korea’s recent antics involving ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons are scary.  While we seem to be edging ever closer to nuclear war – closer perhaps than any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis – the probability of such an occurrence remains relatively low.  Even an apparently irrational head of state such as Kim Jong Un must understand that the use of a nuclear device will turn nearly the entire world against him.  The use of a device against any nation would end his reign in relatively short order and end the People’s Republic of North Korea as we know it today. This then begs the question of why Kim Jong Un would participate in such brinkmanship?  Many politicians and strategists seem to think it is a strategy to force other nations to recognize the PRNK and reduce the onerous sanctions currently levied against it by the United Nations.  Perhaps, but maybe in addition to or instead, Jong Un is trying to take our eyes off the war he has been waging for many years:  a cyber war against many nations.

Both cyber warfare on the part of a nation state and cyber terrorism waged by stateless entities aim to attack our economic infrastructure.  Both North Korea and terrorists understand that attacking our economy, our businesses and our personal wealth are the most effective methods of causing harm to our nations and their citizens.  North Korea is likely behind many recent attacks on financial institutions, has ties to the WannaCry ransomware outbreak, was behind the attack on Sony pictures and was involved in a heist of $81M from the Bangladesh Central Bank.  Each of these were likely perpetrated by the formidable PRNK cyber warfare group “Unit 180”.

When not engaging in direct attacks to steal money from or otherwise harm business operations, both terrorists and nation states seek to use the products of a company for nefarious purposes.  Recent examples include ISIS using eBay’s marketplace to funnel money to an operative in the US, and Russia purchasing advertising on Facebook in an attempt to influence the US election.  Cyber warfare and terrorism are not just threats– they are daily occurrences.  The foregoing examples illustrate how the game has changed.  The question for you is - has your company changed enough to successfully protect itself against this growing and evolving threat?

The answer for most companies with which we work is “No”.  Security organizations seem oblivious to the changing cyber threat.  They continue to focus almost exclusively on barrier protection systems and cyber response processes.  Few companies outside of the financial sector have developed analytics systems to help identify emerging threats and nefarious activity.  Fewer still practice aggressive “patrolling” to identify threats outside of the perimeter of their digital operations.  Here are a few questions to help you evaluate whether your company has the mindset necessary to be successful in the world of cyberwarfare and terrorism:

Who means you harm and how do they intend to perpetrate it?

Military veterans know that a successful defense requires more than just “Alamo’ing Up” behind a wall and hunkering down.  You must patrol and reconnoiter the surrounding area to understand whence the enemy will come, in what numbers and with what capabilities.  If your security team isn’t actively attempting to identify threats outside of your organization - and by this I mean beyond your walls - you are most certainly going to be surprised.

How do you find new and emerging behavior within your product and operations?

Given the threat of using your product for nefarious purposes, how do you identify when new and behaviors or trends emerge?  What analytics systems do you have to identify that existing personas or users are acting in new or odd ways?  How do you keep an eye on new patterns or trends of usage by both existing and new users?  In very high transaction environments, how do you identify the less than 1 basis point of activity that may be nefarious in nature buried within 99.99% of valid transactions?  These questions aren’t likely to be answered by a “traditional” security team – they require teams with deep analytic skills and systems dedicated to analytics and machine learning.  Similarly, traditional analytics teams may not have the right mindset to seek out nefarious transactions.

Do you have the right people?

This is the most important question of all.  You don’t need to fire your CSSP folks – you still have a need for them within your security team.  But you also want folks with a proven record of being able to think like and use the tools of cyber criminals, terrorists, and warfare focused nation-states.  These folks are unlikely to be willing to wear suits and ties to work, preferring instead to wear shorts and Birkenstocks.  The traditional corporate mindset and tools will stand in the way of them being successful on your behalf.  They need to use TOR browsers and have access to sites to which you are unlikely to want the remainder of your employees going.  The biggest barrier to success here with most companies is fit with a company’s culture – but I can guarantee you that if you don’t have some of these folks on staff you are not going to be successful in this new era of cyber warfare.

How do you fare against the above questions?  Are you properly set up to defend your company and your shareholders against the today’s cyber threat?  If you are uncertain, reach out to AKF Partners – we’ll evaluate your security infrastructure and approach and help ensure that you can properly defend yourself against the growing threat.

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