In a conversation with Dataquest, Sean Duca, Vice President & Regional Chief Security Officer APAC, Palo Alto Networks, talks about security transformation, GDPR and the growth Palo Alto Networks has been witnessing in India and globally. He shares his thoughts on how cyber criminals are exploiting vulnerabilities to launch attacks against businesses globally and provides tips on how businesses can help prevent such attacks.
How is the security landscape transforming?
I will take it from a threat landscape perspective. In the past decade, we’ve seen the number of threats grow exponentially, and we’ve come to the point where the number and scale of threats has become irrelevant. Today, there is no organisation immune to threats; both public and private organisations can be impacted. For example, if you look at some of the recent attacks like NotPetya and even WannaCry, the adversary right now is stringing a number of different threats together and launching that simultaneously. The objective is to try and cause damage and impact at multiple levels.
Generally, we estimate that 95% of all threats are ‘cybercrime’ or ‘information stealing’ in nature. The rest is usually made up from cyber espionage or cyber hacktivist activity.
Today’s cyber criminals tend to send out a malicious code, post it on the website and fake multiple distributions service. They lure you to those sites, click a link or open an attachment. And then they find and exploit you. They try to compromise your system and provide the ransom link, demanding, for example, a sum of $300 equivalent in Bitcoin within, say 72 hours. This is how the whole dynamics has changed.
Today, the intention is to do one of three things: they will either copy your information or prevent you from getting access to it or destroy the data that’s there. So, if I know their objective, I will work backwards from there and think about finding a way to prevent them from achieving this in the first place. Every organisation should be thinking about the path an attacker would take to reach their objective and the job is on us, network defenders, to prevent them from achieving this.
How do you see this overall regulatory framework around and do you see that governments have woken up of late to deal with cyber crime?
I think there are a number of elements involved. The government is really taking some big bold steps forward like Digital India. Some of the principles that Prime Minister Modi has come forward with are quite positive. The government is looking at how to take the traditional work as well as the intelligent knowledge workers in the IT sector in India and transform the way things are done in the future.
On the regulatory front, it’s a hard task to change anything overnight but regulation alone won’t stop cyber crime as (cyber) threats are dynamic and they keep evolving. We have to look at preventing as many attacks from being successful. This will come in the form of cyber diplomacy, to protect the nations interest while enhancing security of its citizens. We want more people to use essential services that are provided by the government as an example and secure them. And as we start to digitise our lives, we have to protect that data. The moment we start losing trust in those systems, people will stop using online banks and halt other online transactions. We need to understand that if we engrain these systems to our daily lives, we have to secure them too.
Taking a president from European Union where GDPR is going to be live in few months from now, how do you see the whole landscape changing?
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a GDPR-like regulation coming out in India. Right now, we are probably at a very early stage on data protection from a regulatory standpoint. I think what GDPR has done and probably will continue to do is to start that conversation and, have people think how businesses collecting and deal with data. Then we need to think about how to process that information and how we can ultimately protect it. I always advise people to think about the privacy principles.
Going back in time when Big Data was the buzzword, information was just collected and analysed without knowing the exact reason for doing so. Now the challenge is protecting such information. So, I think this is a wakeup call for us to stop thinking about protecting the information that has been collected. What we need to understand is about who has got access to the information, what they would do with it, how it is protected and its status currently.
Once we know these key principles, we can make an informed decision about how they should ultimately take the necessary actions.
What are the opportunities that you envision for the company? Where and what are the areas the company is willing to invest in?
We recently released our earnings. As a company, we have surpassed last quarter by more than $500 million in revenue. As a business, we have seen a year-on-year growth of 27% globally. In Asia-Pacific alone we have grown by 25%. For us, we see that the threats are not abating anytime soon. A lot of people are adopting our platform approach to solve their security challenges.
The platform is about connecting and converging multiple pieces together from the network, leveraging the end-point to cloud, which gives us the scale to help mitigate threats. Today we are servicing over 45,000 customers worldwide and a lot of those are from India. We are seeing amazing growth in the Indian market where people are challenging the status quo. People here in India are saying that the threat is global. It’s not targeting any specific country. We have seen things such as shipping lines closing down for weeks and impacting the global economies. So it’s not simply just an organisation that gets impacted, it’s the whole supply chain worldwide that could impact everyone. That’s why people want to stand up and say, ‘we have to do something about it’.