Cryptocurrencies, Botnets and Innovation at the Edge

In the age of digital disruption, innovation requires real courage but courage is not the same as recklessness.

Innovation, more than ever, is about the quest for the “edge”—the leading, sometimes bleeding edge, where everything can appear disconcertingly chaotic or even downright lawless. This may be a melodramatic way to describe the world of contemporary hackerdom but larger companies are expected to uphold high ethical standards and meet copious regulatory requirements. And aside from all that, they have lot more to lose than young startups.

The problems many enterprises have finding the edge are, therefore, quite understandable. But companies that hope to survive the age of digital disruption cannot afford to ignore goings on in the wild west of software. Firstly, this is the breeding ground for many of the innovations that will come to disrupt the market over coming years. Secondly, the wilder, more lawless fringe of this world is where tomorrow’s security threats will be coming from.

So, when you hear about cybercriminals attacking cryptocurrencies, don’t shrug your shoulders and say those guys deserve each other. Pay attention. You could learn something important.

Tomorrow’s Threats, Today

The realm of cryptocurrency miners may seem particularly obscure to many people working in enterprises. But look at the sheer scale of a recent botnet attack that targeted this very realm: 1.65 million computers were infected. You’d be forgiven for finding the details of cryptocurrency mining confusing. But it clearly can’t be dismissed as an insignificant pass-time—particularly when it may be acting as a testing ground for sophisticated botnet attacks.

Botnet attacks, in themselves, are a major concern for digital enterprises, particularly in the context of IoT. We’ve recently seen genuinely catastrophic botnet incidents, including the infamous Mirai attack, so the threat is clearly present. But it is also developing quickly, so staying ahead of the botnet game should be a major IT security priority for enterprises and any new developments in botnet-based hacking should be of interest to enterprise security pros.

Furthermore, it would be wrong to assume that cryptocurrencies are of no interest to enterprises. The strength of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance shows that interest in the much broader applicability of the blockchain technology underlying cryptocurrencies is bringing a convergence between the two worlds. Attacks of this sort should be examined by any enterprise interested in leveraging cryptocurrency-related infrastructure.

Courage, Not Recklessness

The key point here is that staying at that bleeding edge of digital innovation can inevitably lead your organization into some risky places. But playing safe by hanging back and letting your competitors take the risks on your behalf is hardly an option. To remain competitive in this context, therefore, means you must also operate at the leading edge of security technology. In this approach, security is not a precautionary afterthought, it’s a proactive business enabler.

The real frontier here is identity. Prioritizing identity to combat botnet-based threats may seem counterintuitive but it’s important to remember that every connected device is also an identity. In the age of IoT, this means literally billions of identities that could be hijacked for nefarious purposes. Attacking these identities is complex but clearly, botnets are up to the task. Can you say the same of your access management systems?

Thankfully, the leading edge of access management technology is developing quickly to meet these emerging threats, with sophisticated threat analytics able to detect malicious activity that could never normally be spotted among the extremely complex activities of today’s connected device networks. Only by adopting this kind of automated security can enterprises venture safely onto the exciting but sometimes frightening digital frontier.

Sam Macklin
By Sam Macklin | September 29, 2017

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