Jonas Caino wonders whether AI is a data centre’s greatest ally against the increasing threat of attack.

We don’t talk about it. If mentioned it’s a little over a whisper. The dirty little phrase that no CIO wants to ever hear but everybody knows is here to stay: ‘We’ve just been hacked’. The threat and cost to businesses are very real. How real, first came to my attention when in 2015 Talk Talk announced they had been hacked with 100,000 customers going into a panic and leaving, costing the company over £60 million.

That loss is minuscule compared to what Equifax suffered thanks to their security breach last year – a whopping $4 billion according to Time Magazine. We are still yet to know how much the latest cyber security breach will cost British Airways.

The way data enters, computes, is stored, and then leaves the data centre has changed immeasurably over the years

The 2018 Cyber Security Breaches Survey found that in the UK, 43% of businesses had reported cyber security breaches or attacks in the last 12 months rising to 72% among large businesses. It’s so pervasive yet companies don’t speak up in fear that they are seen as vulnerable thus affecting confidence vin their brands (BA only made their breach known due to UK’s GDPR-aligned legislation).

This scenario reminds me of mob racketeering in the 1930s, most businesses had to pay ‘protection money’ of some sort in order to stay in business but nobody talked about it and just accepted it as the norm. In this case however, commercial war for corporate survival is the new normal and one of the frontiers of that
war is the data centre.

Vulnerability

The way data enters, computes, is stored, and then leaves the data centre has changed immeasurably over the years. The humble website that was little more than a shop window has now become complex interfaces with customers and markets; the internet of things multiplies the vulnerability exponentially; BYOD (bring your own device) policies aren’t helping matters; the over-reliance on mobile devices, all of which leads onto the sheer volume and complexity of information flow in and out of the data centre.

Within the data centre, attacks are commonplace. At the application and server level, hackers try to push their way in through areas like distributed denial of service (DDoS), DNS infrastructure and SSL induced blind spots all this fuelled by the high demand for complex data sets.

Commercial war for corporate survival is the new normal and one of the frontiers of that
war is the data centre

The vulnerability doesn’t stop at the server level within data centres. According to Symantec, 2017 brought a 29% Increase in industrial control system-related vulnerabilities. In a bid for data centre managers to control the physical infrastructure within their data centres, control systems are in place to run and monitor the mechanical and electrical equipment via protocols such as SNMP and ModBus, yet these systems are relatively weak compared to the ever-increasing sophistication of would be hackers.

Though today’s focus is protecting the data and information housed within the servers in our data centres, CIOs may be missing a trick if they don’t extend that same focus of protection to the very infrastructure that keeps the data in place to start with.

Assuring Victory

With the ever-present risk of being hacked coupled with the complexity of distributed systems companies rely on alongside the sheer volume of data being utilised, can we really win this war alone? According to a recent survey of 400 security professionals by Wakefield Research and Webroot (a US Cyber security firm), 99% of US respondents believe AI (artificial intelligence) overall could improve their organisations’ cyber security. And 87% report their organisations are already using AI as part of their cyber security strategy. In fact, 74% of cyber security professionals in the US believe that within the next three years their companies will not be able to safeguard digital assets without AI.

At the application and server level, hackers try to push their way in through areas like distributed denial of service (DDoS), DNS infrastructure and SSL induced blind spots all this fuelled by the high demand for complex data sets

Simply put, there are ways that machines can protect our data centres that human beings with normal software simply can’t. For example, rather than manually changing firewall rules when things change in the data centre, AI can make those shifts so much quicker. AI can also be used to model hardware temperatures and compare them to typical activities or even compare individual users’ access times to their peers to spot suspicious anomalies.

All of these point to the fact that the data centre is at the heart of the war for survival of businesses, their brands, and our entire way of living; we all have a duty to do our bit to assure victory.


This post originated at Data Centre Management magazine, from the same publisher as The Stack. Click here to find out more about the UK’s most important industry publication for the data centre space.