Your biggest online concern these days might be those embarrassing nude selfies suddenly appearing on the web, but AT&T Chief Security Officer (CSO) Ed Amoroso is here to tell you that there are far worse things lurking in cyberspace.
Amoroso highlighted one of the key security areas that CSOs should be concerned about as a new wave of advanced persistent threats (APT) loom, and they're aiming to do more than just swipe thousands (or millions) of credit card numbers.
"The next step is probably terrorists trying to destroy critical infrastructure," he told Light Reading over breakfast Wednesday morning, "with the emphasis on destructive," he added, as he demolished a "broken yolk sandwich" (which looked a lot better than the name suggests).
Amoroso doesn't seem like a man given to idle fear-mongering, despite his job title. In fact, he's one of the more informative and jovial speakers you're likely to see on the often sawdust-dry tech conference circuit. (See AT&T's Ed Amoroso on Mobile Security for proof of how entertaining he can be.)
An advanced persistent threat is one organized by a specific group, sometimes using multiple methods, to break into a particular target. Recent examples would include data breaches at Home Depot and Target.
Amoroso says the APT pattern started with nation states and the military, moved on to criminal gangs, and is shifting to terrorist groups. "The one thing you won't be able to rationalize is the destructive stuff," he suggested in his keynote at the AT&T Cyber Security conference in New York City Thursday.
This is not, of course, an unknown concept. Former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has long warned of a "cyber Pearl Harbor." Even if the idea of what constitutes cyber terrorism is still somewhat cloudy, the broad idea is that groups could attack critical communications, energy and water networks and cause damage and wide-scale disruption.
Where Amoroso may differ is that he isn't suggesting that there is a pure technological solution to widespread security problems. The basic thrust of his keynote Thursday was: Be safer by training your employees not to do dumb stuff.
Advanced firewalls and network appliances are useful tools but people are the weakest link in the chain, he suggested. "All the times I've been hacked in my career, it was because of something that was off my radar," he said at the keynote, adding that systems are just too complicated to be 100% secure.
The focus cannot just be on technology, he suggested: People also have to be involved. Which, in the corporate environment, means pumping up the security awareness team.
"We've kind of punted on that before," he told Light Reading Wednesday. "A typical awareness document will put you to sleep."
In AT&T's case, the new approach meant using video to show employees what not to do. The funny, cutesy videos that Amoroso showed at the Thursday keynote targeted phishing attacks. They emphasized that people should not open attachments from suspicious senders, that they should run their mouse over URL links to see where they actually lead, and be very careful about information shared on social media.
AT&T has been working on this during the past six months. The amount of employees now not clicking on the faux phishing email tests that the security office sends out suggests that awareness about phishing attacks is up by 54%.
"Making the video doesn't have to be expensive," Amoroso said. The animated AT&T videos were made in-house: Firms could even use interns from film school for great results, he suggested.
"They'll love it," he said.
For more insights from Amoroso, see:
- AT&T's Amoroso: Perimeter Security No Longer Enough
- AT&T's Amoroso: LTE, Virtualization & Cloud Mean New Security Challenges
- Security in a 4G, M2M World
- AT&T's Ed Amoroso on Mobile Security
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading