Cybersecurity and Cyber insurance in the era of 5G and IoT

Nicolai Solling, Chief Technology Officer, Help AG, speaks with Security MEA about the dramatically changing threat landscape and the importance of cyber insurance in the Middle East region.

With the disruptions due to the pandemic continuing, how do you perceive the threat landscape in the Middle East?
COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of cloud adoption and digital transformation like never before, and this introduces cybersecurity challenges that require fundamental shifts in an organization’s security approach. In addition, the evolution of consumer needs has brought about new digital habits, hence leading to an increase in e-commerce and application development, and cybersecurity needs to keep up with these changes.

In terms of the threat landscape, we anticipate a possible increase in ransomware attacks which target user devices to compromise infrastructure. Also, we saw in our Digital Risk Protection report late last year that there has been a significant increase (500%) in carding; the illegal usage of a credit or debit card by unauthorized individuals to buy a product.

Impending industry challenges also include an increase in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Our research has revealed that the region has been witnessing a tremendous growth in DDoS attacks – in frequency, volume, new attack vectors and multifaceted tactics. In Q3 2020, we captured many DDoS attack types among which we detected 24,386 high-volume Total Traffic attacks; attacks based on total traffic volume exceeding the defined threshold. This growth is expected to increase as people worldwide continue working remotely, relying on VPNs, and using unsecure networks and devices.

Of course, the region also faces everyday threats such as phishing, data breaches, third-party security risks, application security risks, and the usage of unsecure electronic gadgets and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to conduct transactions. The unique nature of the region makes it susceptible to classical hacking and a hot target for remote code execution attacks, which is why it is critical for governments, businesses, and individuals to constantly be aware and treat cybersecurity as an integral part of every step in their digital journey to achieve optimal security.

With 5G rollout happening across the Middle East, what security challenges can it bring along?
The implementation of 5G networks presents both an opportunity and a challenge for organizations. 5G holds a lot of capabilities as it will allow us an unprecedented connectivity on our platforms, sensors, and connected systems that is bound to increase dramatically as we leverage those capabilities in the future.

On the other hand, 5G introduces security challenges that need to be addressed by organizations. With 5G and the increase in compute power on devices, we are certain that there will be a change in the frequency and size of resource-depletion attacks or DDoS attacks. While DDoS attacks already pose a huge challenge in any digital transformation, the capability of a device with potential Gigabit(s) of throughput will create a whole new set of capabilities for attackers.

The lack of visibility when it comes to 5G poses another risk. If an organization does not have visibility into its own network, it becomes more vulnerable to potential breaches. Moreover, the rapid increase in the number of unsecure IoT devices in the workplace will only exacerbate the risks, as these devices will dramatically increase network traffic. 5G will also enable various surfaces that we did not have in the past, as it provides unlimited bandwidth and low latency for mobile infrastructures, thereby creating a network of connected surfaces.

How can organizations secure their data with an increase in IoT gadgets and BYOD plugging in to access their network?
One of the fundamental challenges for IoT and BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) is security. Expansion in the number of personal and IoT devices connecting to an organization’s network means that the attack surface will grow dramatically, and we are bound to see a number of challenges in dealing with this.

It is imperative that CIOs and business leaders acknowledge these challenges and begin to evaluate solutions. The challenges should be addressed rather than ignored, and they should not be a deterrent to implementing IoT or BYOD in general.

When considering the utilization of IoT devices and BYOD, it is crucial to focus on functionality and security jointly. Organizations need to perform a risk assessment of this process and understand the way these devices operate, the nature of the data they collect, the security risks they could potentially present and how to protect business assets against them through different services and solutions that include ring-fencing.

The challenges posed by the new normal has put organizations’ cyber defenses to the test, which calls for a paradigm shift in security to ensure their continuity and cyber resilience in the perimeter-less era. One of the best ways an organization can safeguard itself against the risks introduced by IoT and BYOD is by implementing a Zero Trust security model. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) removes the excessive trust once required to allow employees and partners to connect and collaborate safely.

In 2020, we launched our Help AG Secure Private Access (HPA) service – a scalable and locally delivered Zero Trust Network Access service providing businesses with holistic security, visibility, and control across environments.

It is also important to enact suitable BYOD and IoT policies in the workplace. These policies should take into account the cyber risks and costs of connecting the devices to the organization’s network, as well as employees’ needs, and the organization’s IT resources. Specifically, organizations should ensure that BYOD policies related to corporate Wi-Fi and guest Wi-Fi are effective, as this is one of the main ways security breaches and data leakages can happen through BYOD. These policies should address how visibility and security can be maintained when guests, clients, and other non-employees connect their devices to the organization’s network.

Finally, organizations should provide education to employees on the organization’s BYOD and IoT policies to ensure employees complement the company’s cybersecurity measures and do not detract from them.

Can you elaborate on the importance of having a Cyber Insurance?
Cyber Insurance can help organizations prevent financial and legal losses incurred as a result of a cyberattack, as well as minimize business disruption after an attack.

I believe that any organization considering cybersecurity insurance will benefit from the process. The reason is that insurance companies require a level of cybersecurity maturity, and customers may even be able to limit the premium if they can demonstrate processes, procedures, and technology in the cybersecurity sphere. To meet the security requirements of qualifying for cybersecurity insurance, organizations will have to potentially make investments into improving their current security posture and practices, which will consequently provide their incident response and overall cybersecurity with a much more solid structure. Moreover, cyber insurance companies can strengthen their clients’ ability to mitigate cyber risks by providing them with competent, skilled resources in case of an issue. However, it is important to note that having a cyber insurance will not make organizations become less of a target. Instead, it will enable them to be better prepared for the next threat.

Help AG is the Premier Incident Response Co-ordination and Technical Services partner in the MENA for Munich Re, a leading global provider of reinsurance, primary insurance, and insurance-related risk solutions. Leveraging this partnership, we assist the clients of Munich Re with incident response assistance in case of an issue. With our strong partnerships with the leaders across various domains, we are ensuring that we deliver on our promise of an end-to-end security service for our clients.

How serious are the organizations in the Middle East in perceiving the concept of Cyber Insurance?
Organizations in some Middle Eastern countries have become much more serious about cyber insurance over time and have begun to see the necessity for it. Countries like the UAE and KSA are making digitization a priority and embracing the fourth industrial revolution. They recognize that cybersecurity is crucial to achieving their goals and understand the importance of cyber insurance in reducing the potential financial and legal costs of a cyberattack.

Being the Premier Incident Response Co-ordination and Technical Services partner for Munich Re in the MENA has allowed us to notice a considerable increase in activity, meaning organizations in the region are starting to increasingly consider the adoption of cyber insurance.

Which sector in particular needs to go for the Cyber Insurance, considering the current threat landscape persisting in this region?
All sectors that are undergoing rapid digitization should strongly consider cyber insurance – particularly banks and financial institutions, as they face a higher risk of cyberattacks and have much to lose if an attack takes place. In fact, according to a 2019 report from Boston Consulting Group, “Financial services firms are 300 times as likely as other companies to be targeted by a cyberattack.”

The financial sector has always been a major focus area for Help AG due to the risk-averse nature of financial organizations and the specific requirements they need to have fulfilled to ensure their security, especially in light of digital transformation. We provide dynamic cybersecurity solutions that protect financial institutions – and institutions in a plethora of other sectors – particularly as they undergo digitization. Working in tandem with the right cyber insurance policy, our solutions help prevent cyberattacks and their resulting business disruption, financial losses, legal fees, and reputational damage.