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The security game changes when the bad guys are backed by foreign governments

By , Network World
August 13, 2012 11:12 AM ET
Fidelis CEO Peter George

Network World - Fidelis Security Systems has an interesting perspective on the world of security, working, as it does, with the U.S. government to keep other countries from prying into some of our nation's most critical networks. Now that many of those same countries are after intellectual property housed by enterprise shops, commercial customers are knocking at Fidelis' door looking for help. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix talked to Fidelis CEO Peter George about the shifting threat landscape and what companies are doing to cope.

Let's start with a baseline question. How do you sum up the state of enterprise security today? Are we winning or losing the war?

The conventional wisdom, which I agree with, is we're behind, the gap is getting bigger and we're at a critical moment where we need to find a different approach if we're going to protect intellectual property and the things we have at risk. And customers are really getting it now. A couple of years ago if you went to the RSA conference and talked to CSOs in the oil and gas industries about the problem of nation-state adversaries penetrating critical infrastructure, half of them would get it, but the other half wouldn't. That's all changed now. This year at RSA, that group of CSOs is huddled in a corner, not just together, but also with stakeholders from the federal government who understand the threat and the guys in ponytails and sandals who are really smart security guys trying to figure out how to get in front of the problem. It's a national security problem and everyone's very aware of it and budgets are being applied, which didn't happen a couple of years ago.

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Are you seeing responses from organizations across the board, or just in key industries like financial services?

This is an evolving thing, right? So a couple of years ago it was half the critical markets and now it's everybody in that, so that's moving downstream. But everybody in the Fortune 2000 that are concerned about their security posture are concerned about this particular problem -- a nation-state, an adversary, trying to steal something for financial gain. Which is really different from the old problem of a young kid trying to hack the network for fun. So the stakes are higher and it's a bigger issue. Smaller companies who may have less to lose or are not a primary target, are also looking for ways to manage the risk/reward. So a managed security service, for example, might be a good approach if they can't afford to buy the technology and the people to run it.

What's your take on advanced persistent threats?

When most people think about APT they think it's a "what" but it's actually a "who." And the "who" is somebody from a nation-state trying to steal something that's important for financial gain. That's the problem we're really focused on. So the "who" is a person or group of people. I was recently with a guy who ran security for a really important telco in New York, and he was saying that he just came back from a security conference and they were talking about how, for example, the Chinese are organizing. The Chinese are not a bunch of individuals trying to penetrate the network. It's 150 Chinese who, like a battalion, are told, "Here's what we're going after and here's the threat vector we want you to use, because the goal is to compromise this particular company or this particular critical infrastructure." They're moving in that way. So it's a "who" or a collection of "whos."

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