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Clint Boulton
Senior Writer

CIOs will thwart cybersecurity threats with behavioral analytics in 2017

Dec 28, 20165 mins
CybercrimeIT LeadershipSecurity

Software that detects and alerts companies to anomalous behavior are on CIOs' purchase lists for the New Year, when spending on cybersecurity tools is expected to increase.

green illustration of man and cybersecurity icons
Credit: Thinkstock

Companies are investing more money in emerging technologies that can help anticipate and detect a variety of threats, including phishing scams and advanced persistent threats, both of which are weighing heavily on the minds' of corporate board members. For 2017 CIOs are eyeing tools that use anomaly-detecting analytics and machine learning algorithms to protect their companies' data.

"Our level of investments is increasing because of the increasing capabilities of the threat actors," says Bob Worrall, CIO of Juniper Networks, who spent 12 percent more on cybersecurity tools in 2016 that he spent in 2015. His budget will increase more in 2017 as he purchases tools to shield Juniper's corporate data and intellectual property. "As the bad guys get smarter we have to as well."

Cybersecurity spending has seen a significant uptick since the watershed 2013 breach at Target and has continued throughout massive breaches at Home Depot, Anthem and Sony Pictures. The latest high-profile corporate victim is Yahoo, which reported in September that hackers had pilfered account information of more than 500 million customers and revealed last week that hackers made off with information on 1 billion users in 2013. The distinct hacks leveraged flaws in Yahoo’s defenses, including a cryptography standard many experts deemed insufficient.

[ ALSO ON CSO: What 2017 has in store for cybersecurity ]

The omnipresent threats, in which perpetrators sometimes burrow into networks and quietly steal information for several months or years, are why Gartner says cybersecurity spending will top $82 billion in 2016, an 8 percent hike from 2015. Concerned CIOs are imploring corporate boards to let them invest in cutting-edge technology that protect and thwart attacks.

Proactive protection is the key

Worrall says he currently uses three predictive analytics tools that detect anomalous network access, such as when someone using an employee's valid Juniper credentials accesses information they don’t normally access for work.

Such digital forensics can also determine whether the malicious actor was pinging the network from another country, as well as other details that help “stitch together various events and detect anomalous behavior humans couldn't detect,” Worrall says. Each of Juniper's behavioral analytics tools fills a gap in network protection, says Worrall, who declined to name the tools because he did not to invite hackers to probe his security defenses.

Using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies will help companies take a more proactive approach to corporate defense, says Mike Kail, chief innovation officer at startup Cybric, which focuses on integrating security as software is created.

But Kail, who was Yahoo’s CIO when the first hack purportedly tool place, says that companies must integrate such tools with technologies and business processes for validating user authentication and authorization. He says that such a solution could leverage blockchain, the digital ledger software that ensures trust between parties exchanging cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, will emerge in 2017.

Boards free up budget but expect proof of protection

It's no secret that boards are loosening the purse strings for cybersecurity but CIOs will continue to struggle to balance their cyber investments against managing risks to their businesses. Put another way: The choice between what to buy, implement and tune first — the shiny new behavioral analytics platform or the latest and greatest business email compromise stopper — poses prioritization challenges many CIOs aren’t accustomed to in this age of cyber warfare.

Worrall says that even if their boards allocate more funds for cybersecurity, CIOs need to beware of budget abuse. Those who take the "sky is falling" approach become chicken little, he says. One advantage Worrall has working for a networking technology company is that his tech savvy board grasps the intricacies of cyber defense.

“I can have a conversation about risks at a technical level many of my CIOs peers can't at other organizations,” Worrall says. He says he is fortunate that he can discuss business risks with his board that focus on mitigating risks to the point of immateriality rather than the cost of cyber tools.

Evidence that boards have become more attuned to cyber risk has materialized in executive recruitment, where companies are looking for savvy leaders who can articulate security risks in a way that business leaders can easily grasp.

Gerry McNamara, global managing director of the information officers practice at executive recruiter Korn/Ferry International, says that his corporate boards are interested in finding CIO and CISOs candidates who can help accelerate their businesses' cyber profiles relative to their peers.

"The boards are really engaged in digital and cyber right now, asking: Where are we on cyber? Are we protected? Are we keeping our information private? How do you know that it is? Prove to me that it is," McNamara says. "We have a lot of work going on in cyber mapping of talent."

Unfortunately, even the best talent and the latest technologies aren't enough in an era when politicians such as John Podesta and the other folks at DNC as well as top executives can be duped to click on a malicious email whose origin and content appear innocuous, or a user puts the wrong USB into their PC.

"What we've all learned unfortunately is that humans are the weakest link in security," Worrall says. "You can put up the biggest castle wall but as soon as one person connects an infected laptop to the network, it's game over."