How Malwarebytes was founded PT2

How the Malwarebytes company started and grew.

How the Malwarebytes company started and grew.

What made Mrs Kleczynski initially more alarmed was that her teenage son had launched the business with a man in his 30s called Bruce Harrison. Marcin and Bruce had been writing software together for more than a year, after they first started talking on anti-virus forums.

“Here’s this 17-year-old kid… he’s this 35-year-old man. Imagine telling your mum?…” says Marcin.

Marcin and Bruce hadn’t actually met in person at the time. Bruce was a computer repairman in Massachusetts, and Marcin was at home in Chicago. They didn’t in fact see each other in the flesh until Malwarebytes was more than 12 months old.

“We didn’t meet until we made our first million about a year after we launched the product,” says Marcin. “Even that was kind of anti-climatic. It was just, ‘Hey, Bruce!’ – We had a handshake and moved on.”

Today Bruce, who is head of research, still lives and works on the US east coast, while Marcin is based in the head office in Silicon Valley. The company now has more than 750 employees, and overseas offices in the Republic of Ireland, Singapore and Estonia. Since 2014 it has secured $80m of investment funding.

Malwarebytes says its software now performs 187 million virus scans every month for individuals and businesses, and is installed more than 247,000 times every day. Like many antivirus companies it operates a “freemium” business model – the basic version is free, but you can then pay for more advanced protection.

While the company has consistently grown strongly, Marcin has learned some hard lessons along the way. The most difficult time was navigating the business through an almost catastrophic period in 2014 where the product glitched on a huge scale.

“We had a false positive which means we detected a piece of malicious software that wasn’t actually malicious at all,” he says.

“Our software ended up mistakenly bringing down hundreds of thousands of computers. We had 911 emergency centres go down, hospitals go down, it was bad. This has happened to every anti-virus company, by the way, but these mistakes can be company killing because you lose trust.

“But we fixed it and got through it. Even today, the system that we created to prevent this from happening again is called ‘The Malwarebytes Extinction Prevention System’ – our engineers have a great sense of humour.”

Carl Gottlieb, a cyber security podcaster, says that despite operating in the “notoriously hostile” antivirus industry “Malwarebytes is thriving”.

“With so many competing vendors, brand awareness is key, and that step which Malwarebytes took to offer a free product years ago is paying dividends, with so many customers knowing the name and already using it in their homes. What Marcin and his team have achieved is impressive to see.”

Still only 29, Marcin says his young age has been an advantage. He encourages other budding teen entrepreneurs to start their own business.

“You’ve heard my story, I started the company when I was living with my parents,” he says. “And then even at college, it was all paid for on a student loan, so I was getting fed. If you’re in college now, instead of going out and getting drunk with your friends, maybe take one night a week just to see if there’s anything you want to work on personally.”

He admits that his university years were harder than his friends’, that he barely passed his degree, and his social life no doubt suffered. However, he’s glad his mum forced him to go. “For one thing, I met my wife there,” he says.

GCHQ warns of cyber security scams on Black Friday

GCHQ has issued an warning of cyber security scams on Black Friday.

GCHQ has issued an warning of cyber security scams on Black Friday.

Black Friday sales could be targeted as easy pickings for cyber-crime, according to Cheltenham-based GCHQ.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, is advising shoppers of the risk of online threats. It is the first such official cyber security warning in the run up to Christmas.

GCHQ wants to start a “national cyber-chat” today (Black Friday), when billions are spent online. Known for working in secret, the agency wants to be open and engage with the public over the seriousness of the threat.

The National Cyber Security Centre has tackled more than 550 significant cyber incidents over the past year, and has taken down almost 140,000 “phishing” websites.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is giving tips for shoppers to avoid cyber-crime – and for the first time it will be publishing answers to questions from the public on Twitter.

The agency recently warned of a serious and sustained threat from elite hackers in other countries, which could include the theft of millions from retailers and attacks on the financial networks the shops depend on.

The British Retail Consortium is backing the calls for better cyber security during the Christmas shopping season, and retailers continue to invest heavily in protecting themselves against cyber-threats.

The National Cyber Security Centre’s advice to reduce the risk of cyber crime is:

  • Install the latest software and app updates
  • Type in a shop’s website address rather than clicking on links in emails
  • Choose strong and separate passwords for accounts
  • Keep an eye on bank accounts for unrecognised payments
  • Avoid over-sharing unnecessary information with shops, even if they ask
  • Make sure all your home gadgets are secure

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UK business in the dark on impact of cyber security attacks

UK businesses so not understand the resilience required to withstand cyber security threats, a study shows.

UK business in the dark on impact of cyber security attacks

While 99% of UK business leaders believe that making technology resilient to business disruptions is important, only 54% claim their organisation is as resilient as it needs to be, a study has revealed.

In recent years, the security industry has increasingly recognised the importance of focusing on resilience to ensure that when defences are breached, organisations are able to reduce the impact on the business.

A fifth of more than 1,000 UK business decision makers polled by security firm Tanium admitted they would not be able to calculate indirect costs from lost revenue and productivity following a cyber attack.

The Tanium resilience gap study also found that there are more barriers to achieving the resilience that 97% of respondents believe to be important, with 38% of respondents blaming their organisation’s growing complexity as one of the biggest barriers to building business resilience, while 21% blame siloed business units.

Asked about their team and tools, 35% of respondent said the issue lies with the hackers being more sophisticated than IT teams, 21% claim that they do not have the skills needed within the company to detect cyber breaches accurately in real time, and 27% said poor visibility of entry points is a barrier to resilience.

Business resilience is fundamental to any strategy for long-term growth, yet the findings suggest that many UK businesses still have a long way to go.

The study also revealed gaps in accountability and trust across organisations.

One of the main reasons organisations are unable to achieve business resilience against disruptions such as cyber threats is due to growing confusion internally on where the responsibility for resilience lies.

More than a quarter (28%) believe it should be the responsibility of the CIO or head of IT, the same proportion said every employee should be responsible, while 13% said full responsibility lies with the CEO alone. One in 10 (11%) believe it falls to senior leadership.

Businesses are becoming entirely dependent on their technology platforms. But if that technology stops running, the business will too, with potentially serious consequences for sales, customer confidence, and brand equity, not to mention productivity.

To deliver resilience, a new discipline needs to be instilled across governments and enterprise organisations. This discipline is more than prevention. It’s more than recovery. It’s a shared practice that should unite IT, operations and security teams to ensure strong security fundamentals are embedded across the entire company network. Only then can organisations act and react in real time to threats.

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Money transfer frauds are top aim of business email cyber attacks

Tricking recipients into transferring money to cyber criminals is the top objective of business email compromise (BEC) attacks.

Tricking recipients into transferring money to cyber criminals is the top objective of business email compromise (BEC) attacks.Business email compromise is increasingly popular with cyber criminals to steal money and information as well as spread malware, security researchers find

The second most popular objective is to get the recipient to click on a malicious link aimed at stealing information or spreading malware, according to an analysis of more than 3,000 BEC attacks by Barracuda Networks.

BEC attacks are also known as whaling or CEO fraud because attackers typically compromise the email accounts of CEOs and other top executives so those accounts can be used to send messages to more junior staff members, tricking them into taking some action by impersonating the email account holder.

This tactic is extremely effective in manipulating employees as well as partners and customers of targeted businesses because few organisations have processes in place for checking or verifying instructions ostensibly received from a top executive in an email message sent from a genuine account.

In most cases, cyber criminals focus efforts on employees with access to company finances or payroll data and other personally identifiable information(PII).

The study shows that PII is another top target for BEC attackers, accounting for 12.2% of the attacks studied. Another 12.2% were aimed at establishing a rapport with recipients, which in most cases was followed up with a request for a money transfer.

The effectiveness of this attack method has made it extremely popular with cyber criminals, as is indicated by an 80% increase in the number of BEC attacks in the second quarter of 2018 compared with the first quarter, according to a recent report by email management firm Mimecast.

The Barracuda study reveals that in 46.9% of the cases studied, the objective was to trick employees into transferring business money into accounts controlled by the attackers, while in 40.1% of the cases, the aim was to trick them into clicking on a malicious link.

According to Barracuda, email is the top threat vector facing organisations due to the growing number of email-related threats, which include ransomware, banking trojans, phishing, social engineering, information-stealing malware and spam, as well as BEC attacks.

Not surprisingly, the analysis shows that CEO email accounts are the most commonly impersonated (42.95%), followed by other C-level account holders (4.5%), including the CFO (2.2%), and people in the HR and finance departments (2.2%).

CFOs are among the top recipients of BEC emails, representing 16.9% of recipients in the attacks studied, on a par with the finance and HR departments in general and compared with 10.2% received by other C-level execs.

However, the analysis shows that most recipients of BEC emails are in more junior roles, with 53.7% holding roles outside the C-level, underlining the need for regular, ongoing user awareness training.

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Small business needs to reduce cyber security threat to payment card data

Small business’ cardholder data is a prime security target for cyber criminals – which is only likely to increase in the coming year.

Small business' cardholder data is a prime security target for cyber criminals - which is only likely to increase in the coming year.

Despite investment in security and compliance, 2018 shows no signs of high profile hacks slowing down, with most security suppliers predicting the ransomware attacks that dominated 2017 will continue, driven by an increase in the providers of ransomware as a service (RaaS).

This cyber criminal business model is expected to increase the potential for even non technical attackers to target poorly secured organisations and consumers – which means businesses will need to step up their cyber defences more than ever before.

However, this rising threat can be mitigated with the introduction of controls required to secure this data under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), according to secure payments firm PCI Pal.

Breached organisations demonstrated lower compliance with 10 out of the 12 PCI DSS key requirements, according to the Verizon 2017 payment security report.  Whilst compliance does not guarantee an organisation will not be breached, the data shows that failure to comply almost certainly means they will be breached.

“Businesses may not be able to reduce the number of incoming threats but, by ensuring PCI DSS compliance, they can certainly reduce the success rate,” said James Barham, chief commercial officer at PCI Pal.

To date, he said, the vast majority of security investment has focused firmly on keeping cyber criminals out, but that only works to a certain extent. “Because there is much greater impetus for the hackers to devise new methodologies to gain access and the security industry at large is only ever playing catch up, but we expect 2018 to see a step change in the mentality of data protection from trying to keep people out, to simply ensuring there is no data for them to take,” he said.

If businesses can remove the valuable data from their environments, said Barham, it no longer matters if there is a breach. “De-scoping PCI data will increasingly become the method of choice for businesses augmenting their intrusion prevention positions next year,” he said.

Businesses typically reduce the scope of their PCI DSS compliance by reducing or eliminating the cardholder data they store and switching to third party payment service providers.

Similar strategies can be used to reduce the likelihood of failure to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) after the compliance deadline of 25 May 2018.

Due to the significant financial penalties that will be imposed in the event of a breach, non-compliance will not be an option for the vast majority of businesses,” said Barham.

Another reason he believes businesses are likely to de-scope is that another round of changes to the PCI DSS is scheduled for July 2018.

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Digital identity needs to be cyber security priority in 2018

Protecting digital identities and protecting employees are key cyber security challenges for 2018.

Protecting digital identities and protecting employees are key cyber security challenges for 2018

The issues of protecting digital identity, gaining data visibility and protecting employees are key cyber security challenges for 2018 according to the cyber security 2018 predictions report by security firm FireEye.

“The idea that you can get someone’s date of birth, and their Social Security number and steal their identity and do fraudulent tax refunds, or try to get a loan or credit card – that has to change,” FireEye said.

“This has to happen. Otherwise, every five months, we’re going to have another huge data breach,” they warned.

In addition to the imperative of finding a better way to manage identity, RedEye said it was also important to find a way of dealing with international privacy.

On the topic of nation state actors in the cyber realm, RedEye considers Iran the most interesting country to watch, rather than Russia, China or North Korea.

RedEye said while Iran started “acting at scale” in 2017, the extent of that activity was not really known. “We don’t know if we are seeing 5% of Iran’s activities, or 90% – although I’m guessing it’s closer to 5% – but they’re operating at a scale where, for the first time in my career, It feels to me that the majority of the actors we’re responding to right now are hosted in Iran, and they are state sponsored,” they said.

On the topic of cloud security, RedEye claimed better visibility was of paramount importance. I know that a lot of people are depending on the cloud, and we need visibility.

“Many of these cloud providers are providing it, but we don’t always have security operations that can take advantage of that visibility and see what’s happening,” he said.

An area many companies are still overlooking, RedEye said, is protecting employees from cyber attack.

He said companies needed to consider whether hackers could access corporate accounts through hacking employees’ private accounts, or if they could make it appear as though they have hacked the enterprise.

“There are hackers out there who will hack an employee at a company, and they will post any document they can get, and they will say they hacked the company even if they haven’t. It’s a reputational thing – while it’s hard to gauge the public response to these types of incidents, right now many companies are being deemed irresponsible or negligent or compromised when they are none of those things,” he said.

RedEye said all security professionals should be thinking about what employees are doing when they go home, how they can be secured, how they can be helped, what policies are needed and how those policies could be enforced.

They advised that all organisations moving into the cloud should know everything that is going on.

While there are bound to be new, interesting attacks in 2018, organisations should be preparing for modified versions of current attacks

“For instance, do you have places where documents are getting uploaded and then going into your back office? That’s a good place to ensure there is some high-grade detection, beyond an antivirus scanner. Because you essentially have unauthenticated input going directly into the key parts of your organisation.”

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UK needs urgent response to online fraud, says NAO

Online fraud is the most common crime in England and Wales and needs an urgent response according to the Parliament’s public spending watchdog.

Online fraud is the most common crime in England and Wales and needs an urgent response according to the Parliament’s public spending watchdog.

While tackling online fraud is complex, the Home Office’s response is not proportionate to the threat, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Although the City of London Police is the national lead force for online fraud and runs the Action Fraud national centre for reporting fraud, police and crime commissioners and chief constables are responsible for policing in their local areas.

Despite the fact the face of crime is changing, the NAO’s report said police forces take different approaches to tackling online fraud and for some it is not a priority. Only 27 out of 41 police and crime commissioners refer to online fraud in their most recent annual police and crime plans.

“For too long, as a low value but high volume crime, online fraud has been overlooked by government, law enforcement and industry,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.

“It is now the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales and demands an urgent response. While the Home Office is not solely responsible for reducing and preventing online fraud, it is the only body that can oversee the system and lead change.

“The launch of the Joint Fraud Taskforce in February 2016 was a positive step, but there is still much work to be done. At this stage, it is hard to judge that the response to online fraud is proportionate, efficient or effective,” he said.

In the year ending 30 September 2016, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that there were 1.9 million estimated incidents of cyber-related fraud in England and Wales, or 16% of all estimated crime incidents.

Online fraud includes criminals accessing citizens’ and businesses’ bank accounts, using their plastic card details, or tricking them into transferring money.

“Hidden” crimes require new and different responses yet, despite the level of economic crime, statistics suggest police forces remain more focused on traditional crimes, the report said, highlighting that in 2016, one in six police officers’ main function was neighbourhood policing, while only one in 150 police officers’ main function was economic crime.

According to the NAO, the Joint Fraud Taskforce set up by the Home Office to raise awareness of online fraud, reduce card not present fraud and to return money to fraud victims is a positive step. But the report said the Home Office faces a challenge in influencing other partners such as banks and law enforcement bodies to take on responsibility for preventing and reducing fraud. The report said £130mis held in banks that cannot accurately be traced back and returned to fraud victims.

In addition, without accurate data, the report said the Home Office does not know whether its response is sufficient or adequate.

Measuring the impact of campaigns and the contribution government makes to improving online behaviours is challenging, according to the NAO.

According to the NAO, the growing scale of online fraud suggests that many people are still not aware of the risks and that there is much to do to change behaviour. In addition, the report said that different organisations running campaigns, with slightly different messages, can confuse the public and reduce the campaigns’ impact.

While educating consumers is sensible, the NAO said government and industry still have a responsibility to protect citizens and businesses. The report said the protection banks provide varies, with some investing more than others in educating customers and improving their anti-fraud technology. The ways banks work together in responding to scams also needs to improve.

Although there are examples of good practice in protecting people against online fraud, such as Sussex Police’s initiative to help bodies such as banks and charities identify potential victims, the NAO said there is no clear mechanism for identifying, developing and sharing good practice to prevent people becoming victims.

The government wants the police and judiciary to make greater use of existing laws, but the NAO found that stakeholders had mixed views on the adequacy of current legislation. The international and hidden nature of online fraud makes it difficult to pursue and prosecute criminals because of the need for international co-operation and an ability to take action across borders, the report said.

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WannaCry biggest incident to date for National Cyber Security Centre

The WannaCry ransomware attack that started on 12 May 2017 is the biggest single incident that the new UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has faced.

The WannaCry ransomware attack that started on 12 May 2017 is the biggest single incident that the new UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has faced.

Although the global ransomware attack that heavily affected the NHS was unwelcome, it has provided an opportunity to test systems and raise awareness on key issues, according to Alex Dewdney, director for engagement and advice at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

“If you wanted to mount a national communications programme to make people sit up and take notice, you couldn’t have designed one better than this,” he told the Security Innovation Network (Sinet) Global Cybersecurity Innovation Summit in London.

“I never thought I would hear so many ministers using the word ‘patch’, which has now become part of everyday conversation, so we need to take that opportunity and to build on that.”

Dewdney emphasised that the NHS was not targeted specifically, although NHS networks were affected significantly in the UK. Other UK organisations were affected, but the diversity of victim organisations was much greater in other countries around the world, including Russia.

Although the spread of the ransomware has slowed, it spread initially very quickly by using a specific vulnerability in the Microsoft file sharing protocol sever message block known as SMB to propagate in and between networks.

“In March 2017, Microsoft issued a patch for supported operating systems, and following the attack they issued emergency patches for unsupported operating systems as well,” said Dewdney, noting that while these patches prevent the spread of the infection, they do not help organisations to get back encrypted data.

Dewdney confirmed that the attackers behind the ransomware are still unknown, but he said the level of sophistication is well within the reach of “criminal entities” requiring the NCSC to work at an extremely high tempo. “It is easily the biggest and most complex cyber incident the NCSC has had to manage so far,” he said.

In response to the attacks, the NCSC’s incident management function was called into action. The initial focus was on understanding the technical characteristics of the attack, how it was spreading, and who the victims were.

The incident management team was also working to establish who was behind the attack and what the initial attack vector was, but these questions remain unanswered to a high level of confidence five days after the attack.

The NCSC also started looking at ways to protect victims and potential victims in terms of publishing advice on how to immunise against the ransomware and contain its spread, as well as what to do if already a victim. The NCSC was also working directly with some victim organisations to help put guidance into practice and help remediate.

The incident underlined the importance of partnerships for the NCSC, said Dewdney, including partnerships that were formed to scale the response and make inroads into this problem in a way that the NCSC could not have done on its own.

“We are still working very closely with the National Crime Agency (NCA), which has staff embedded in our teams. The NCA was able to deploy on the ground with victims at scale. They are also a vital source of information and forensic data, as well as analytic and investigative effort,” he said.

The NCSC is also still working with NHS digital and Care Cert. “The size and complexity of the health sector meant that we needed that central docking point to work with, and they did a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances,” said Dewdney.

The role of the NCSC’s industry partners was also absolutely critical, he said. “I cannot emphasise enough how grateful we are for the extent to which our partners in the cyber security industry really leaned in to help and pool the information they were gathering.”

According to Dewdney, the Cisp cyber information sharing platform “really came into its own”, both as a platform for sharing information and for discussion. “We need to build on that as a really key way of getting stakeholders to have live discussions about this kind of problem,” he said.

There was an international aspect too, said Dewdney, including the information that was provided to the international computer emergency response network and collaboration with the US.

At the same time, he said it was a truly national response, with the NCSC quickly establishing contact with authorities in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Dewdney also highlighted the importance and the challenges of the media. “I think we did pretty well at pace in briefing senior politicians to speak, preparing ourselves directly in broadcast media, and using our web presence and social media to get the right messages across at the right time.

“LinkedIn proved to be a really important and useful platform, but we didn’t really engage in that, and that is an important lesson for us,” he said.

Overall, Dewdney said the NCSC bringing various organisations together under one roof also really proved its worth.

“There was a lot of consistency in what government was saying – officials, ministers and across our platforms. We achieved a greater consistency and therefore a greater sense of authoritativeness in what we were saying than we would have achieved before the NCSC was set up. We were able to get the messages out quite quickly and provide the assurance that patients’ confidential data had not been stolen,” he said.

However, he admitted that producing specific, usable and helpful guidance was a challenge. “How do you get messages across that are sufficiently technically detailed to be of practical use, but also easy to understand and follow.”

The NCSC decided therefore to publish a set of guidance for enterprises and another set for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and consumers, which is continually being refined and updated in response to feedback from those communities.

“We are really in the market for feedback around how we are getting those messages across and how they can be improved and made more useful,” said Dewdney.

One of the key lessons learned, he said, was about the power as well as the limitation of advice and guidance.

Dewdney said people are continually told to patch and update the systems, “but the fact is that people don’t always do it, so what we have got to realise as cyber security practitioners is that advice and even instruction is much easier to give than it is to follow”.

“We have to recognise that in the real world competing pressures and hard choices can easily get in the way. So we will continue with those exhortations, but as we mobilise campaigns to really make this happen across government, business, critical infrastructure and for consumers, we need to find the right mix of the ‘stick’ on the one hand and help to overcome those hurdles on the other,” said Dewdney.

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ICO reports record number of data breaches and fines

The UK Data Protection privacy watchdog reports that it has dealt with more data breach reports and issued more fines in the past year than ever before.

The UK Data Protection privacy watchdog reports that it has dealt with more data breach reports and issued more fines in the past year than ever before.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has dealt with a record number of data protection incidents, nuisance marketing cases and individual complaints in the past year, according to its latest annual report.

The ICO’s annual performance statistics for 2016/17 also reveal that the regulator received more reported data protection breaches and fined more companies for unlawful activities than any previous year. The rpory can be found at:

It seems that from a hacker perspective, many organisations are still leaving the front door open and the windows unlocked. Failure to protect and handle data correctly can also result in punitive actions for companies participating in the digital economy.

Wake up and get the knowledge to heep your data protected.

The record numbers are in part ascribed to the fact that the ICO’s free telephone helpline, live chat service and online reporting tool all helped make it easier for the public to report their concerns to the regulator, and the fact that audits and new self-assessment tools helped increase organisations’ awareness of their responsibilities.

The statistics show that data protection complaint cases rose to 18,354, around 2,000 more than the previous year. Some 2,565 self-reported data breaches resulted in 16 civil monetary penalties totalling £1,624,500 for serious breaches across a range of public, private and voluntary sectors.

The ICO received more than 166,000 reports about nuisance calls and texts. The ICO issued a record number of 23 fines in this regard, totalling £1,923,000, and issued nine enforcement notices and placed 31 organisations under monitoring.

More than 5,400 freedom of information (FOI) cases were received and 5,100 closed during the year, with 1,351 decision notices, which was “broadly similar” to the previous year, the ICO said.

“We have continued to monitor compliance and raised the threshold for our intervention, taking action if fewer than 90% of their FOI responses fall in the statutory timescale,” the ICO said.

The statistics show the ICO received more enquiries about the legislation it deals with than in the year before.

“Although calls to our helpline were slightly down on last year at 189,942, this was more than made up by new channels including our live chat service, which received 18,864 contacts. Letter and email contacts remained similar to last year,” the ICO said.
People at heart of ICO, says deputy commissioner

The ICO expects its work to intensify next year in the run up to deadline for compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25 May 2018.

The GDPR introduces a more rigorous data protection regime and stricter penalties for breaches of up to €20m or 4% of annual global turnover, whichever is greater.

Deputy commissioner Simon Entwisle said: “We have advised and educated organisations to help them work within the law and we have taken action when they’ve fallen short of the mark.”

People will continue to be at the heart of what the ICO does as it looks to the future, he said, with the GDPR giving people greater control over their own data.

“We are working closely with organisations to help them understand their obligations and be ready for the new rules,” he said.

Entwisle said ICO staff at every level deserve credit for the contribution they have and continue to make. “Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s programme to strengthen the team – in both numbers and expertise – will equip the ICO to meet the challenges ahead.”

Testifying to the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee in a hearing on the new EU data protection package, Denham planned to expand the ICO’s staff to deal with the extra work burden to be imposed by the GDPR.

This includes plans to recruit 200 additional staff to take the total number to around 700 in the next three years, with the most pressing staff needs being in relation to the increased duties imposed by the GDPR and the need to educate people about the implications of the regulation.

Denham said Brexit had also added work for the ICO’s policy staff to ensure they can give advice to government and to parliament about what the various impacts would be of different regulatory arrangements post-Brexit.

In addition to the new work related to the GDPR and Brexit, Denham said the UK is increasing the work it is doing internationally regarding data protection enforcement.

“The ICO is one of the largest regulators globally. We have 35 years’ experience in this space and we have a newly developed international strategy,” she said.

“We are going to continue to lean in and engage deeply in work with our European colleagues on the implementation of the GDPR, but at the same time we are engaging in global enforcement work beyond Europe, which involves building bridges with other regulators around the world.”

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How cyber warfare is escalating- machines v hackers

There is a gaping hole in the digital defences that companies use to keep out cyber thieves.

There is a gaping hole in the digital defences that companies use to keep out cyber thieves.


The hole is the global shortage of skilled staff that keeps security hardware running, analyses threats and kicks out intruders.

Currently, the global security industry is lacking about one million trained workers, suggests research by ISC2 – the industry body for security professionals. The deficit looks set to grow to 1.8 million within five years, it believes.

The shortfall is widely recognised and gives rise to other problems, says Ian Glover, head of Crest – the UK body that certifies the skills of ethical hackers.

“The scarcity is driving an increase in costs,” he says. “Undoubtedly there’s an impact because businesses are trying to buy a scarce resource. And it might mean companies are not getting the right people because they are desperate to find somebody to fill a role.”

While many nations have taken steps to attract people in to the security industry, Mr Glover warns that those efforts will not be enough to close the gap.

Help has to come from another source: machines.

That is a problem when the analysts expected to defend companies are “drowning” in data generated by firewalls, PCs, intrusion detection systems and all the other appliances they have bought and installed, he says.

Automation is nothing new, but now machine learning is helping it go much further.

The analytical power of machine learning derives from the development of algorithms that can take in huge amounts of data and pick out anomalies or significant trends.

These “deep learning” algorithms come in many different flavours.

Some, such as OpenAI, are available to anyone, but most are owned by the companies that developed them. So larger security firms have been snapping up smaller, smarter start-ups in an effort to bolster their defences quickly.

Simon McCalla, chief technology officer at Nominet, the domain name registry that oversees the .uk web domain, says machine learning has proven its usefulness in a tool it has created called Turing.

This digs out evidence of web attacks from the massive amounts of queries the company handles every day – queries seeking information about the location of UK websites.

Mr McCalla says Turing helped analyse what happened during the cyber-attack on Lloyds Bank in January that left thousands of customers unable to access the bank’s services.

The DDoS attack generated a huge amount of data to handle for that one event, he says.

“Typically, we handle about 50,000 queries every second. With Lloyds it was more than 10 times as much.”

Once the dust had cleared and the attack was over, Nominet had handled a day’s worth of traffic in a couple of hours.

Turing absorbed all the information made to Nominet’s servers and used what it learned to give early warnings of abuse and intelligence on people gearing up for a more sustained attack.

It logs the IP addresses of hijacked machines sending out queries to check if an email address is “live”.

“Most of what we see is not that clever, really,” he says, but adds that without machine learning it would be impossible for human analysts to spot what was going on until its intended target, such as a bank’s website, “went dark”.

The analysis that Turing does for Nominet is now helping the UK government police its internal network. This helps to block staff accessing dodgy domains and falling victim to malware.

There are also even more ambitious efforts to harness the analytical ability of machine learning.

At the Def Con hacker gathering last year, Darpa, the US military research agency, ran a competition that let seven smart computer programs attack each other to see which was the best at defending itself.

The winner, called Mayhem, is now being adapted so that it can spot and fix flaws in code that could be exploited by malicious hackers.

Machine learning can correlate data from lots of different sources to give analysts a rounded view of whether a series of events constitutes a threat or not, says Mr Tavakoli.

It can get to know the usual ebbs and flows of data in an organisation and what staff typically get up to at different times of the day.

So when cyber thieves do things such as probing network connections or trying to get at databases, that anomalous behaviour raises a red flag.

But thieves have become very good at covering their tracks and, on a big network, those “indicators of compromise” can be very difficult for a human to pick out.