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How white hat heroes are safeguarding your digital frontiers

The recent cyberattack on Air India highlights the vulnerability of citizens in a digitally connected country like India. Ethical hackers, known as white hat hackers, collaborate with organizations to identify and fix security flaws.

By: NAVANWITA SACHDEV
Updated on: Dec 26 2023, 13:57 IST
Citizens are vulnerable to cyberattacks in today's interconnected world. Air India's recent cyberattack exposed the personal data of millions of customers, highlighting the need for robust cybersecurity defenses. Ethical hackers, known as white hat hackers, play a crucial role in identifying and fixing security flaws. Innovative technologies such as AI, machine learning, biometric authentication, and endpoint security solutions are also important in fortifying digital defenses. (Pixabay)

As a citizen of today, you enjoy several digital systems, be it smartphones, email, voice AI like Alexa, or IoT. If you are part of any digital system, you are vulnerable to a cyberattack. In an era dominated by interconnected systems, the constant threat of cyberattacks, and businesses and individuals increasingly relying on digital platforms, the need for robust defenses against cyber threats has never been more critical.

In 2020, Air India, the country's flagship airline, fell victim to a cyberattack that compromised the personal data of millions of its customers. The breach affected users registered between August 2011 and February 2021, exposing sensitive information such as names, dates of birth, contact details, passport information, and credit card data.

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This breach had severe implications for both the affected individuals and the airline, and is an example of the vulnerability that a common consumer faces in a digitally connected country like India.

Also read: Looking for a smartphone? To check mobile finder click here.

Nenad Zaric, CEO and Co-founder of Trickest, a cybersecurity platform that employs ethical hackers, says, “India's dynamic economy is flourishing, and a rapid digital transformation comes with this growth. However, this transformation brings challenges, particularly an uptick in cyber threats. But India is not just witnessing these threats passively; it's actively innovating in cybersecurity across various security industries and not only in the private sector.”

White Hat Heroes Save the Day

Unfortunately, the days when a simple antivirus program sufficed to protect against digital threats are gone. Today's cybersecurity challenges demand sophisticated solutions that can adapt to the evolving tactics of malicious actors.

Enter the white hat heroes.

In this digital battleground, white hat hackers, also known as ethical hackers, have emerged as the unsung heroes of cybersecurity. Unlike their black hat counterparts who exploit vulnerabilities for malicious purposes, white hat hackers use their skills to identify and fix security flaws, working in collaboration with organizations to bolster their defenses.

One notable example of white hat heroism is the case of Tsutomu Shimomura, who became famous after aiding the FBI in capturing high-profile and criminal hacker Kevin Mitnick.

Ethical hacker Ben Sadeghipour explains how a white hat hacker collaborates with an organization: “Companies can work with the ethical hacking community in several ways. The most common and easiest will be to set up a communication channel with hackers by either setting up a bug bounty program or a vulnerability disclosure program (VPD).”

A bug bounty program enables companies to pay hackers for their findings. It has proven successful in attracting top-tier talent to scrutinize software and networks for weaknesses.

“It typically requires more of a lift on the company end to set up due to its nature, validating vulnerabilities, remediating, payment processing, and over-communication with hackers,” he says.

On the other hand, a VDP is more of a “see something, say something” approach.

“If someone stumbles upon a vulnerability in your assets while browsing the Internet, researching, or using your products. This model doesn’t pay hackers but acknowledges their work and creates a channel to receive vulnerabilities,” he adds.

Both methods can be self-hosted by organizations or by leveraging a third-party platform tailored to cover these programs more effectively.

The Role of Innovative Technologies

In tandem with the efforts of ethical hackers, innovative security solutions powered by advanced technologies play a crucial role in fortifying digital defenses. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms analyze vast amounts of data to detect anomalies and patterns indicative of potential threats. Behavioral analytics, meanwhile, can identify unusual user activity, helping to thwart insider threats and sophisticated attacks.

“To effectively navigate the complex cybersecurity landscape, it's essential to categorize solutions into offensive and defensive buckets as their main abstraction. This classification helps understand the proactive and reactive measures within the security domain,” Zaric explains.

Zero Trust Architecture

Innovative technologies enable the implementation of Zero Trust Architecture, where trust is never assumed, and verification is required from everyone, regardless of their location or network access. This model minimizes the risk of unauthorized access and lateral movement within a network.

“While Zero Trust solutions were more focused on only monitoring capabilities, in recent years we see an uprise in being reactive and creating sandboxed environments when managing new threats,” Zaric says.

Biometric Authentication

Traditional passwords are increasingly being augmented or replaced by biometric authentication methods such as fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, and voice authentication. These innovative technologies provide an additional layer of security and reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

“This innovation is now integrated into everyday products as part of Two-Factor or Multi-Factor authentication for critical systems,” he explains.

Endpoint Security Solutions

With the increasing prevalence of remote work and the proliferation of mobile devices, endpoint security becomes crucial. Innovative technologies provide robust endpoint protection, securing devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets against a variety of threats.

“The work inside the companies is done on individual devices of employees, which are called endpoints, so Endpoint Security Solutions are innovating by creating a more comprehensive check of the software used and installed. As one of the main priorities with this software is not to affect the performance of the employees, these started to have almost 0 effect on the devices on which they are installed,” he adds.

Network Traffic Analysis

Every software today has an internet connection, so Network Traffic Analysis is a way to monitor network traffic for any suspicious activity. As a general term, Network Traffic Analysis started to become an integral part of defensive monitoring such as Security Operations Centers, Intrusion Detection Systems, and more.

User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA)

UEBA tools analyze patterns of user behavior to identify anomalies that may indicate a security threat. By understanding normal user behavior, these tools can detect unauthorized access or suspicious activities, allowing organizations to respond promptly.

“Along with bot protection in most of the products today, the crucial role of this analytics system can be found in fintech solutions,” he explains.

Cloud Security Solutions

As entire countries and more and more traditional companies move towards the cloud, Cloud Security Solutions are tackling the challenges of it. CDR (Cloud detection and response), CIEM (Cloud infrastructure entitlement management), CNAPP (Cloud-native application protection platform), and CSPM (Cloud security posture management) emerged from this general term to cover specific customers' needs.

“Still, these measures offer only the defensive side of the story you are afraid to become a target of,” he warns, quoting Sun Tzu, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Threat Intelligence and Information Sharing

Advanced security solutions tap into threat intelligence feeds, aggregating information on known threats and vulnerabilities. This collaborative approach enables organizations to stay informed about emerging threats and bolster their defenses accordingly.

By doing both defensive and offensive work, companies can gain knowledge and understanding of the most advanced threats around them, says Zaric.

“Offensive security and threat intelligence are part of security that tries to understand the adversaries. In general, offensive efforts consist of finding the company's assets through Attack Surface Management solutions and then doing Vulnerability Scanning and Management. Alongside, Red Team operations are entering the adversary's shoes most deeply, trying to engage in real-world attacks,” he says.

The Future of Cybersecurity

The future of cybersecurity is characterized by increasingly specific and sophisticated cyber threats, necessitating a shift from generic security measures to tailored strategies focused on individual companies and infrastructures. This bespoke approach is crucial in a world where critical infrastructures are prime targets for malicious actors, says Sadeghipour.

“If we speak about new threats connected to AI and machine learning, they are double-edged swords; they offer advanced defensive capabilities and introduce new vulnerabilities. For the next year, we must try to solve the increase in security talent shortage, which has a consequence of bringing great workloads for current professionals. This situation underscores the importance of developing effective tools and strategies to manage these challenges and maintain global security,” he says.

In this age of interconnectedness, where data is the new currency, the collaborative efforts of organizations, ethical hackers, and innovative security solutions are essential to safeguarding the digital frontier. As technology advances, so too must our commitment to secure the digital world we inhabit. The white hat heroes, armed with their skills and a sense of ethical responsibility, stand as guardians in this ever-expanding realm of cyberspace.

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First Published Date: 26 Dec, 13:23 IST

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