Nov 13, 2020

Experts say AI is best weapon against cyberattacks

Risk Management
Critical Environments
Joanna England
4 min
Industry experts cite AI as a solution to halt future cybersecurity attacks
Industry experts cite AI as a solution to halt future cybersecurity attacks...

FortiGuard, the global threat intelligence and research organisation, says the weaponising of intelligent edge computing will have an impact on the scale and speed of future cyber-attacks.

The company’s predictions for 2021 and beyond, state that applying artificial intelligence to hasten threat prevention, detection and response, should be combined with actionable threat intelligence. 

Describing the move as “critical” in the fight to protect companies against attacks from cybercrime, the team released their latest intelligence threat predictions along with recommendations for enterprises to action. 

According to the report, cybercriminals will harness 5G enabled devices to create a new surge in advanced threats at extreme speeds and scale. Threats will also exploit emerging edge environments, such as a remote workforce. 

The report advises IT defence teams to plan ahead using AI and machine learning tools to better predict where system vulnerabilities are, and when attacks are likely to strike. 

Derek Manky, FortiGuard Lab’s Chief of Security Insights and Global Threat Alliances, explains; “2020 demonstrated the ability of cyber adversaries to leverage dramatic changes happening in our daily lives as new opportunities for attacks at an unprecedented scale.”

Manky says companies would need to be prepared for further vulnerabilities following the digital transformations enterprises have and are undergoing. 

He comments; “Going into 2021, we face another significant shift with the rise of new intelligent edges, which is about more than just end-users and devices remotely connecting to the network. Targeting these emerging edges will not only create new attack vectors, but groups of compromised devices could work in concert to target victims at 5G speeds.”

Manky adds; “To get out ahead of this coming reality, all edges must be part of a larger, integrated, and automated security fabric platform that operates across the core network, multi-cloud environments, branch offices, and remote workers.”

AI evolution

Artificial Intelligence, the report states, will need to evolve to combat new attack trends. AI technologies are effective because they can predict and build counterattacks against security breach attempts. 

Human operators will have to make sure the security systems have been provided with enough intelligence to counter attacks and anticipate future attacks.

The report adds that pooling resources against a common enemy will prevent breaches.

“Organisations cannot be expected to defend against cyber adversaries on their own. They will need to know who to inform in the case of an attack so that the “fingerprints” can be properly shared and law enforcement can do its work. Cybersecurity vendors, threat research organisations, and other industry groups need to partner with each other for information sharing, but also with law enforcement to help dismantle adversarial infrastructures to prevent future attacks.”

Future cyber attack trends

Connectivity: One of the most significant advantages for cybercriminals in Edge Computing, is the interconnectivity of enterprises that have sacrificed centralised visibility and control in favour of performance and digital transformation. Homeworkers are easy targets for cybercrime, while 5G and an increasing number of IoT devices on networks are becoming increasingly difficult to track. This leaves users and organisations vulnerable to Trojan infiltrations of advanced malware.

Swarm-bots compromise 5G devices to provide greater threat opportunities. Though swarm technologies need extensive processing power to enable individual swarm-bots and to efficiently share information in a bot swarm, once achieved, they can rapidly discover, share, and correlate vulnerabilities, and then shift their attack methods to better exploit the system they’ve infiltrated. 

Social engineering developments means smart devices or other home-based systems that interact with users, could become conduits for deeper attacks. Utilising contextual information about users habits, or finances could make social engineering-based attacks more successful. Smarter attacks might even result in security systems being disabled, or the hijacking smart appliances.

Ransomware is another threat. As it continues to evolve, and IT systems increasingly converge with operational technology (OT) systems, particularly critical infrastructure, there will be even more data, devices, and lives at risk. Ransomware could be responsible for extortion, defamation, and defacement. 

Processing power helps cybercriminals scale future attacks with ML and AI capabilities. Called advanced crypto mining, the process hijacks devices for their processing power, enabling cybercriminals to process massive amounts of data and learn more about how and when edge devices are used. Infected PCs being hijacked for their compute resources are often identified since CPU usage directly impacts the end user's workstation experience. But secondary devices can be less visible.

Satellites and telecommunications are vulnerable, as new communication systems scale and begin to rely more on a network of satellite-based systems. Cybercriminals can target this convergence and follow in pursuit. This could lead to compromised satellite base stations and the spreading of malware through satellite-based networks. Potentially, this would give cybercriminals an opening to target millions of connected users at scale or cause DDoS attacks that could hinder essential communications.

Quantum Computing from a cybersecurity perspective, could create a new risk when it can challenge the effectiveness of encryption in the future. The massive compute power of quantum computers could leave some asymmetric encryption algorithms solvable. Enterprises should prepare to shift to quantum-resistant crypto algorithms by using the principle of crypto agility, to ensure the protection of current and future information. 

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May 14, 2021

3 ways crypto mining is impacting the data centre industry

4 min
Spiking prices of cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin and Bitcoin are driving a new subset of the data centre industry that’s as risky as it is lucrative

Around the world - particularly in Russia, Eastern Europe and China - the global rise of crypto currency values has been driving an en masse industrialisation of the mining process. The trend has been bubbling away for several years, as the home mining rig has largely found itself edged out by hyperscale server farms comprising some of the largest data centres anywhere in the industry - all designed to mine crypto. 

The demands placed on a facility built and run as a mining operation are somewhat different to those placed on a hyperscale cloud facility or enterprise data centre. Reliability isn’t so much of an issue; if a mine goes down for a few hours, money is lost, but your data centre won’t take half the websites in Western Europe down along with it. 

On the flipside, density and cooling are much, much more important. To make a crypto mining operation profitable, you need to be harvesting more crypto currency (be it Ethereum, Dogecoin, or the perennial Bitcoin) than you’re paying for electricity by a significant margin. As a result, some of the most efficient cooling and hyper-dense rack architecture from the past few years - like two-stage liquid cooling - has originated as a crypto mining solution. Now, hyperscale cloud operators in particular are recognising the benefits of these innovations and applying them to other aspects of the data centre industry. 

Getty Images
Getty Images

1. Liquid Cooling 

Crypto data centres have always been as dense as possible, with their racks running at maximum capacity all day, all year round. By contrast, the average enterprise or cloud data centre isn’t necessarily running at peak capacity 24/7; workloads fluctuate with demand. However, as that demand has skyrocketed over the past year in particular, cloud and enterprise operators have looked to crypto’s preference for liquid cooling as a way to run data centres closer to the ragged edge of performance than ever before. 

One example of this is LiquidStack. The Hong Kong startup makes a revolutionary two-phase liquid cooling solution for data centres, which was developed over a number of years inside Bitfury, one of the world’s leading crypto miners. “Bitfury is sharing our knowledge with the global data center community and we are excited that Microsoft and other internet giants can benefit from our years of experience and investment to best practice liquid cooling,” said Joe Capes, CEO of LiquidStack in an interview with Data Centre Magazine. 

Now, LiquidStack is going mainstream, with substantiated rumours that Microsoft is looking to adopt their DataTank solutions across its ever-expanding portfolio of hyperscale cloud regions. 

2. Denser HPC 

One of the issues that liquid cooling solves is how to create ultra-dense server racks that can function at high temperatures. Crypto miners have been grappling with this problem for about a decade now, and the lessons they’ve learned are being happily adopted by the burgeoning data centre HPC market - which is swelling in response to greater AI adoption and increasingly-sizable data sets. 

With the density that mining rigs can achieve, server architects are cramming hundreds of kilowatts into individual racks - although it should be noted that this is still relatively rare. A 2020 survey from the Uptime Institute still found that the average density of data centre racks was growing rapidly, however. 

“We expect density to keep rising. Our research shows that the use of virtualization and software containers pushes IT utilization up, in turn requiring more power and cooling. With Moore’s law slowing down, improvements in IT can require more multi-core processors and, consequently, more power consumption per operation, especially if utilization is low. Even setting aside new workloads, increases in density can be regarded a long-term trend,” said the report. 

In 2020, average rack densities of 20kW and higher became a reality for many data centre operator. 

3. Sustainability Concerns 

Now for the more worrying news. The industrial scale and massive power consumption inherent to the crypto mining business - and the negative attention that miners are now starting to receive from government - could point towards a concerning future for data centre operators in the wider industry. 

Last week, the Chinese government announced that it would open an inquiry into the participation of Beijing’s largest data centre operators - which include the country’s three largest telecom firms - in crypto mining. At a time when the PRC government is attempting a significant reversal of its approach towards sustainability, the significant power draw of crypto mining activities may be one more hurdle than China cares to deal with. 

The Indian government is mulling a blanket criminalisation of all crypto mining in the country and, in the US, the State of New York is also looking into tightening regulatory restrictions on the industry. 

While crypto mining data centres are not the same as cloud or enterprise facilities, operators should be careful lest the ire of lawmakers be the latest trend to make its way from the crypto sector into the mainstream. 


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