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Ted Harrington on Security in the Industry

by Debra Kaufman

Security has become an area of great concern in the media and entertainment industry, since the Sony hack in 2014. This year, TheDarkOverlord hacked Larson Studio and released most of the fifth season of “Orange Is the New Black,” and later hacked ABC’s “Good Morning America” Twitter accounts. How worried should you be? And what can you do to protect your company? HPA spoke with security expert Ted Harrington, executive partner at Independent Security Evaluators to find out.

Awareness about security is indeed increasing.  It is important to note, however, that the threats to M&E aren’t necessarily increasing, but rather awareness about those threats. These challenges have existed all along. The Sony breach was a catalyzing event that heightened the urgency for organizations to approach security proactively rather than reactively.

Security is a business problem, not just an IT problem, and executives are starting to recognize it as such. Every major attacker category is interested in stealing content assets, and all for different reasons, which makes it an immensely difficult position for defenders to handle. That was actually a primary motivator for Independent Security Evaluators when we committed to working here years ago, because we love solving complex problems.

One of the most crucial cybersecurity areas is surrounding applications.  Adoption of applications is very rapid, and is fundamentally changing the business of content creation and distribution. Applications also entail a vast collection of attack surfaces for adversaries to pursue.

Ransomware has gotten a lot of attention. According to Forbes, cybersecurity firm SonicWall reported about 3.8 million ransomware attacks in 2015, which skyrocketed to 638 million attacks in 2016. The best way to protect against ransomware criminals is proper offsite backup, and it’s critical to note that many organizations don’t set up backups at all. Or if they do, they do so improperly, and so the primary data and the backup data often get compromised in the same event.

Although some people still fear the putting content in the cloud, this fear is irrational. We find that most people fall into one of three categories: irrationally confident in the cloud, irrationally afraid of the cloud, or somewhere in between. We advocate that everyone should be in that third category. A healthy dose of skeptical paranoia combined with a reasoned approach to risk-taking is how executives should consider pretty much any business decision, including whether to adopt cloud services.

Content assets are more at risk in a cloud environment than in physical media, because the attack requirements are lower. However, it is worth noting that the only “unhackable” system is one that is disconnected and buried in concrete – and how usable is that system?  All aspects of any business make tradeoffs, and there are ways to utilize cloud services that are effective in minimizing risk.

The primary risks of utilizing cloud services are the same risks as not using cloud services: exploitable design flaws, exploitable implementation flaws, improper configuration, broken trust models, and so on. Fundamentally, the only difference between cloud and on-premise is that someone else owns the hardware. The manner in which an organization must consider adversaries, architect systems, and protect assets are essentially the same whether or not they own the hardware.  Cloud actually even offers some security upgrades: while the primary tradeoff of utilizing cloud services is that an organization entrusts the data to someone else’s hardware, the benefit return is that the cloud service providers are constantly investing in hardware upgrades, have extreme physical security measures in place, and have the latest and greatest of everything. A company that manages their own equipment on premise usually tends to not invest as heavily or as frequently in upgrades.

All studios require their technology vendors to undergo some sort of security testing prior to approval to access content, and most require the vendors to pay for it. In many cases, all organizations on both sides of that equation do not understand the assessment methodology that is required, and there is usually a drive towards cheap pricing rather than through assessment. But security is not overhead to be reduced, it is a business enabler to be invested in.

Bigger companies tend to be the more common targets, but smaller companies tend to be lesser able to defend themselves or afford adequate security measures. At the same time, smaller companies tend to be the engines of innovation, and the bigger companies (such as the studios) partner heavily with smaller companies (such as many of the technology vendors). Attackers know this. Malicious campaigns are often organized around what is known as a “stepping stone attack,” which is targeted at the smaller vendor companies that have lower defenses but the same access to the extreme valuable content assets. In the event of a compromise, both the small company and the big company thereby get hurt.

Steps companies should take right now to protect themselves are to understand and adhere to principles of secure design. I recently wrote a whitepaper on this topic, which you can read here. My advice is to invest in a proper security assessment, and avoid more cursory approaches like black box penetration testing, automated scaring, or reliance on compliance. Investigate your systems for weaknesses from the perspective of the adversary. Because, whether you do or do not approach your security weaknesses thoroughly, make no doubt about this: the adversaries will.

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