Data Security – Threats and Challenges in today’s world
In this blog series, we cover topics relevant to folks who are starting a career in cybersecurity. If you are one, you probably have had some exposure to cybersecurity best-practices in your personal life from a consumer perspective. Starting a cybersecurity career then challenges you to bridge your existing knowledge to your work life, and then expand it further to be an effective cybersecurity professional. In this first blog, we talk about some of the threats and challenges in today’s world that intertwine our personal and professional lives.
Security and privacy in today’s connected world
We certainly live in a very convenient world with information at our fingertips – what device are you using to read this post? That means machines influence our choices, connect us to others, and make us feel safe, secure, and powerful.
We have come to depend on technology, so much so that we overlook the risks and continue to wear the rose-colored glasses. But, we must stop and seek to understand the real cost of decreasing privacy and increasing data intrusions and security threats. In this blog, we focus on various threats and challenges we face today, solely due to technology making our lives more convenient.
How big is your digital footprint?
Whether or not we mean to share our personal information, our information is out there. Big companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have access to what we like, what we buy, and what we want to learn. In this world of interconnectedness and convenience, we unwittingly reveal a lot more about ourselves than what we mentioned above.
Companies have figured out how to offer free versions of products and services to gather information volunteered by those individuals. Most of the time, the data provides customized experiences, tailors shopping experiences to our likes, suggests nearby restaurants, and provides location services. Unfortunately, these seemingly benign tidbits of information can come at a price.
One seemingly innocent piece of information can be a slippery slope into a real data protection nightmare. When bad actors can pry on the interests of people, they can land on much more valuable information: medical information, bank details, credit card numbers, and other personally identifiable information. Though this risk is not new, it has grown exponentially as our number of connected devices rises.
As we increase ease of use and automate different tasks, we widen our digital footprint and create a map of who we are. When we are not careful about what information we share and how we share it, we become susceptible to cybersecurity threats.
Methods of attack
Security risks in software development
The computer security industry is growing, and will continue to grow at a lighting fast pace – it may even be the reason you have chosen to pursue a career in cybersecurity today. We can all depend on new software development, so much so that even malicious actors know they will play a role for years to come. With the lightning-fast growth comes lightning-fast development, filled the errors, backdoors, and misconfigurations. We move so fast, we may not have time to update code, double-check architecture, or even sunset projects no longer in use. These development hurdles leave people and companies at risk by providing access to private information.
Attacking the Code: stack smashing, sql injection
Data breaches – the intentional and unintentional release of private or secure information – happen all the time, enough for most people not to think twice about what they just heard. Some are the result of a malicious actor highjacking company (and sometimes consumer) data. Still, many times they are side effects of the software itself, such as poor coding practices, vulnerabilities with different languages, and misconfigurations. Let’s dive into a few examples.
Stack smashing and buffer overflow
Stack smashing or buffer overflow attacks are vulnerabilities created by software programs when a program’s execution stack grows beyond the allocated memory (stack smashing), or a program writes beyond the end of the memory allocated for any buffer (buffer overflow). Though these vulnerabilities are not as prevalent today, they used to cause a massive headache for those who had to work in C, ultimately causing C to start fading as a language.
SQL injections are lines of code that, when added to SQL databases that can bypass security measures. These vulnerabilities can be the result of database errors, allowing a malicious actor to go around all security measures and gain access to the entire contents of these databases and view, edit, and delete them.
IoT (the internet of things) is what enables smart devices, smart homes, and other products and appliances access to the internet so that we may remotely control them. This access to the internet means that a malicious actor can also gain unlawful entry into the device’s firmware if there is a bug to be exploited. As most IoT devices do not have a full security team addressing potential bugs and creating fixes, these devices are even more at risk.
We have come to depend on technology, so much so that many overlook the risks. As security professionals, it is our job to do better, work harder, and protect the information we are entrusted with. Security will continue to grow as technology grows. The advances with autonomous vehicles, blockchain technologies, and IoT will continue to skyrocket, and our personal lives will get easier. For the next generation of professionals entering the workforce, this is both a challenge and an opportunity.
I remember I was developing IT monitoring and helpdesk applications at Novell, when a brand new concept started to take shape: SIEM. This concept was of particular interest to me, as IT and enterprise security monitoring was a natural extension of what I had been working on. It’s been my career ever since.