U.K. ISP Chief Says Team Confronts 4K Cyber Attacks Per Day

Dan Gunderman

It’s common knowledge in 2017 that cyber threats are growing – in both intensity and sophistication. Can response time, effectiveness and visibility improve as time goes on, though?

Internet Service Providers (ISP) could be in advantageous positions, in that their platforms could enable them to both stand guard and reduce the efficacy of certain threats (e.g., malware).

One ISP chief executive has spoken out intently on the matter. During the FT Cyber Security Summit Europe, British Telecommunications (BT Group) head Gavin Patterson said it is incumbent on ISPs to get out ahead of threats and continually monitor the security landscape. In doing so, Patterson suggested, ISPs could be prime contenders in combating attacks – and before they’ve truly taken hold.

BT operates a wide network, functions as an ISP and has a robust security operation. It has recognized that cyber-attacks have not only increased in frequency, but also complexity. That’s why, it seems, espionage and hacktivism are just a small part of the larger cyber security threat umbrella.

Despite the fact that these threats remain active – and governments are shoring up their networks and defense efforts – the scope of cyber security has deepened, meaning higher frequency and more potential to inflict damage on sensitive databases and bottom lines.

Patterson called these evolving threats “more pervasive and insidious,” according to Computer Weekly.

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A massive influx of internet-connected devices (via the Internet of Things, or IoT) is creating more of a headache for security professionals and network administrators. Also, as short-range network capabilities improve, more machine-to-machine (M2M) malware sharing and other attacks are possible.

Cyber criminals are looking to lift sensitive and profitable data, which is the new gold standard for enterprises and agencies around the world. With more touch points on a network, more access potential exists for a cyber thief – and with the surprising subtlety of some attacks, it’s easy to fly under the radar.

The BT chief executive said that his company’s security team sniffs out 100,000 unique malware strains and combats 4,000 attempted cyber-attacks each day. This is a combination of financial thievery, along with phishing messages, business email compromise (BEC) and denial of service. What’s more, in just a year’s time, the BT security team handled 5,000 phishing scams.

Patterson said that the C-suite is open to attack, too, with elaborate attempts to procure information from them via “whaling,” or BEC at the highest level.

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In staying alert, enterprise professionals should also keep tabs on the growing number of botnet-type mobilizations, which pose distributed denial of service (DDoS) threats. Patterson said that in manning posts on BT’s networks, the company encounters around 50 DDoS threats per day – mainly in its customer-facing websites.

Of course another element beneath the ISP’s security purview is monitoring ransomware attempts, where cyber crooks hold enterprises for ransom – to recover sensitive information. Patterson claimed that because of ransomware’s ease of entry, criminals are taking it up posthaste.

Such is the case with WannaCry, which targeted devices operating on Microsoft Windows in May 2017. Demanding bitcoin payments, the cryptoworm affected enterprises across the world, including the U.K., Spain, Germany, etc.

For Patterson, WannaCry appears to have been a sort of call to action, as he suggested each enterprise should be equipped to handle complex cyber issues (antivirus software, patches, etc.). This should be coupled with continual training.

WannaCry also highlighted the more immediate effects of cyber-crimes, including the harmful wedge it placed in the U.K.’s healthcare system. Patients were delayed treatment, diagnoses, etc.

For this network and ISP executive, simple investments won’t do the trick, either. Patterson said that there needs to be a thorough, well-established and frequently reviewed cyber security component to any enterprise.

To test for vulnerabilities, he suggested reviewing breach protocols and running red-team exercises to trace a firewall’s limits.

From a more macro view, Patterson said that ISPs and governments should be working hand in hand to eradicate cyber threats. To help curb them, the BT boss said ISPs can be diligent in spotting malicious software and content on the web.