A Scoville Heat Scale For Measuring Cybersecurity

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Scoville Scale Chart (https://picturelights.club/galleries/chili-pepper-scoville-chart.html)Picture Lights Club Gallery, enhanced by CogWorld

The Scoville Scale is a measurement chart used to rate the heat of peppers or other spicy foods. It can also can have a useful application for measuring cybersecurity threats. Cyber-threats are also red hot as the human attack surface is projected to reach over 6 billion people by 2022. In addition, cyber-crime damage costs are estimated to reach $6 trillion annually by 2021. The cybersecurity firm RiskIQ states that every minute approximately 1,861 people fall victim to cyber-attacks, while some $1.14 million is stolen. In recognition of these alarming stats, perhaps it would be useful to categorize cyber-threats in a similar scale to the hot peppers we consume.

I have provided my own Scoville Scale-like heat characterizations of the cyber threats we are facing below.

Data Breaches: According to Juniper Research, over The Next 5 Years, 146 Billion Records Will Be Breached. The 2017 Annual Data Breach Year-end Review (Identity Theft Resource Center) found that 1,946,181,599 of records containing personal and other sensitive data that have been in compromised between Jan. 1, 2017, and March 20, 2018. The true tally of victims is likely much greater as many breaches go unreported. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans (65%) have already personally experienced a major data breach.  On the Scoville scale, data breaches, by the nature of their growing exponential threat can be easily categorized at a “Ghost Pepper” level.

Malware: According to Forrester Research’s 2017 global security survey, there are 430 million types of malware online—up 40 percent from just three years ago. The Malware Tech Blog cited that 100,000 groups in at least 150 countries and more than 400,000 machines were infected by the Wannacry virus in 2017, at a total cost of around $4 billion. Malware is ubiquitous and we deal with it. It is a steady “Jalepeno Pepper” on the scale.

Ransomware:  Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that ransomware damage costs will rise to $11.5 billion in 2019 with an attack occurring every 14 seconds. According to McAfee Lab’s Threat Report covering Q4 2017, eight new malware samples were recorded every second during the final three months of 2017. Cisco finds that Ransomware attacks are growing more than 350 percent annually. Experts estimate that there are more than 125 separate families of ransomware and hackers have become very adept at hiding malicious code. Ransomware is scary and there is reason to panic, seems like a ”Fatali Pepper.”

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS):   In 2016, DDoS attacks were launched against a Domain Name System (DNS) called Dyn. The attack directed thousands of IoT connected devices to overload and take out internet platforms and services.  The attack used a simple exploit of a default password to target home surveillance cameras, and routers. DDoS is like a “Trinidad Pepper” as it can do quick massive damage and stop commerce cold. DDoS is particularly a frightening scenario for the retail, financial. and healthcare communities.

Phishing:  Phishing is a tool to infect malware, ransomware, and DDoS. The 2017 Ponemon State of Endpoint Security Risk Report found that 56% of organizations in a survey of 1,300 IT decision makers identified targeted phishing attacks as their biggest current cybersecurity threat. According to an analysis by Health Information Privacy/Security Alert, 46,000 new phishing sites are created every day. According to Webroot, An average of 1.385 million new, unique phishing sites are created each month. The bottom line it is easy anyone to be fooled by a targeted phish. No one is invulnerable to a crafty spear-phish, especially the C-Suite. On the Scoville Scale, Phishing is prolific, persistent, and often causes harm. I rate it at the “Habanero Pepper” level.

Protecting The Internet of Things:  The task of securing IoT is increasingly more difficult as mobility, connectivity and the cyber surface attack space grows. Most analysts conclude that there will be more than 20 billion connected Internet devices by 2020. According to a study conducted in April of 2017 by The Altman Vilandrie & Company, neary half of U.S. firms using The Internet of Things experienced cybersecurity breaches.  Last year, Symantec noted that IoT attacks were up 600 percent. Analysts predict 25 percent of cyber-attacks in 2020 will target IoT environments. Protect IoT can be the “Carolina Reaper” as everything connected is vulnerable and the consequences can be devastating.

Lack of Skilled Cybersecurity Workers: Both the public and private sectors are facing major challenges from a dearth of cybersecurity talent. As companies evolve toward digital business, people with cybersecurity skills are becoming more difficult to find and more expensive for companies to hire and keep. A report out from Cybersecurity Ventures estimates there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021. A 2017 research project by the industry analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG ) and the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) found that 70 percent of cybersecurity professionals claimed their organization was impacted by the cybersecurity skills shortage. On the Scoville Scale, I rate the skills shortage as a “Scotch Bonett,” dangerous but perhaps automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence can ease the pain.

Insider Threats: Insider threats can impact a company’s operational capabilities, cause significant financial damages, and harm a reputation. The IBM Cyber Security Index found that 60% of all cyber- attacks were carried out by insiders.  And according to  a recent Accenture HfS Research report 69% of enterprise security executives reported experiencing an attempted theft or corruption of data by insiders over one year. Malicious insider intrusions can involve theft of IP, social engineering; spear-phishing attacks, malware, ransomware, and in some cases sabotage. Often overlooked, insider threats correlate to a “Red Savina Habanero.”

Identity Theft: Nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft, according to a 2018 online survey by The Harris Poll. The reason for the increased rate of identity fraud is clear. As we become more and more connected, the more visible and vulnerable we become to those who want to hack our accounts and steal our identities. We are often enticed via social media or email phishing. Digital fraud and stealing of our identities is all too common and associated closely to data breaches, a “Chocolate Habanero.”

Crypto-mining and TheftCrypto poses relatively new threats to the cybersecurity ecosystem. Hackers need computing power to find and “mine” for coins and can hijack your computer processor while you are online. Hackers place algorithm scripts on popular websites that people innocently visit.  You might not even know you are being hijacked.  Trend Micro disclosed that Crypto-mining malware detections jumped 956% in the first half of 2018 versus the whole of last year. Also, paying ransomware in crypto currencies seems to be a growing trend. The recent WannaCry and the Petya ransomware attackers demanded payment in bitcoin. On The Scoville Scale, it’s still early for crypto and the threats may evolve but right now a “Tabasco Pepper.”

Potential Remedies: Cybersecurity at its core essence is guided by risk management: people, process, policies, and technologies. Nothing is completely invulnerable, but there are some potential remedies that can help us navigate the increasingly malicious cyber threat landscape. Some of these include:

  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • Automation and Adaptive Networks
  • Biometrics and Authentication Technologies
  • Blockchain
  • Cloud Computing
  • Cryptography/Encryption
  • Cyber-hygiene
  • Cyber Insurance
  • Incident Response Plans
  • Information Threat Sharing
  • Managed Security Services
  • Predictive Analytics
  • Quantum-computing and Super-Computing
  • And … Cold Milk

The bottom line is that as we try to keep pace with rising cybersecurity threat levels, we are all going to get burned in one way or another. But we can be prepared and resilient to help mitigate the fire. Keeping track of threats on any sale can be useful toward those goals.

Chuck Brooks is the Principal Market Growth Strategist for General Dynamics Mission Systems for Cybersecurity and Emerging Technologies. He is also Adjunct Faculty in Georgetown University’s Graduate Applied Intelligence program.

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