How Our View of Information Security is Evolving with Technology

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I began my career as a young 20-year-old in the mid-1990s working in the copy, print and imaging industry. At the time, office technology was just in its infancy. Creating a duplicate copy of an image was cutting edge. Sending pictures via fax was innovative. Color prints were a luxury.

Then there were computers and email, which only people in high-profile positions appeared to have. Those without them relied heavily on paper-based processes. I was one of them. As a salesperson, my 3x5 card file boxes were the mainstay of successful client information and retention.

In the field, I made most of my prospect calls at a pay phone with a stack of quarters. That was until I went on to buy my first mobile phone in 1994. The device was so expensive that I would pretend to talk on it. The initial phone bill rivaled my first house payment.

As I look back on my career, I reflect on the tremendous strides we've seen in technology in 25 years. Technology has reshaped our lives, bringing with it advances in communication, efficiency and profitability.

However, like all good things, technology has some drawbacks and they threaten our security.

The Evolution of Workplace Technology 

The best technological breakthroughs strive to make our lives more convenient, and the technology we see in the workplace today certainly does that.

Office Mobility

In the mid-90's, personal computers and cell phones were beginning to make their way into the mainstream of business operations. Today, nearly three-quarters of American adults own a desktop or laptop computer, and 95 percent of U.S. adults own a cell phone.

With computers and smartphones being central to most businesses, we can now access every piece of information we have from our devices. With everything at our fingertips, we can extend beyond the office to working from home or on the road.

It's no surprise that the ability for employees to work remotely is now considered the norm rather than a fad or luxury. In fact, according to IWG, 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Technology has expanded far beyond computers and cell phones to a variety of sophisticated devices that connect to the internet, known as the Internet of Things (IoT). These devices have been developed to listen to our every word, and the adoption rate for these devices is growing fast.

What does as an IoT device look like in the workplace?

  • Security Solutions. IoT security devices — such as security cameras, smart locks, security sensors, and digital security badges — can help make an office safer.
  • Energy and Climate Control. Smart lighting and thermostats are designed for energy efficiency. These devices automatically adjust lighting and heating in an office; this allows for a reduction in power resources and a decrease in energy bills. 
  • Communication and Collaboration. These devices, including smart scheduling systems for meeting rooms, lead to increased employee productivity.
  • Imaging Devices. An IoT device commonly overlooked is the networked printer. However, modern printers and copiers typically connect to the internet and therefore are considered IoT devices.

It doesn't stop there. TVs, vending machines, video cameras, coffee makers, and a broad array of devices are considered IoT devices when they connect to the internet.

It’s estimated that the number of internet-connected devices will grow from 15 billion to over 75 billion worldwide by 2025. In 2020, the installed base of IoT devices is forecast to rise to almost 31 billion worldwide. While many factors are working together to drive the growth of IoT, there are a few underlying trends that are easy to identify: 

  1. Internet connectivity is expanding. Private and public investments have fueled the expansion of internet access to cities and suburbs in the U.S. for decades. Rural areas have also seen a boost, with internet usage in rural areas increasing from two percent to 61 percent between 2000 and 2015. 
  1. Technology is improving quickly. Rapid technological innovation has led to the use of remote and mobile devices, which are becoming more widespread.
  1. The price of technology is falling. As technology continues to become more advanced, the costs associated with them drops. This allows more people to adopt innovative products at a more affordable price tag. 

The Rise of Global Cybercrime

With everyone’s growing dependence on technology and interconnectivity, a new crime has appeared that takes advantage of our vulnerabilities as consumers and businesses alike — cybercrime.

Just a few short years ago, cyber hacking seemed like it only belonged in your favorite espionage movie. In these motion pictures, we had entertaining storylines about governments trying to hack each other. In real life, we would receive the occasional “I am a long-lost relative in another country, and I need to share some of my inheritance with you” spam email. 

Today, however, what was once only fiction has become a reality, and it is no joke. If you followed the 2016 U.S. presidential election, you were reminded regularly about the potential effects of information being hacked or compromised. And those far-fetched spam emails have become far more sophisticated, and it’s become increasingly more challenging to identify those email scams.

Year after year, the global cost of cybercrime continues to rise; this isn’t a surprise since cybercrime is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. and continues to intensify worldwide with no end in sight. Cybersecurity Venture’s 2016 Official Annual Cybercrime Report projects the cost of cybercrime globally will reach $6 trillion annually by 2021.

The continuous escalation of cybercrime activities will force an increase in global spending on cybersecurity products and services, with worldwide spending expected to exceed $5.2 trillion cumulatively from 2019 to 2024

Why Businesses are Vulnerable 

Why is cybercrime on the rise, especially for businesses? It’s simple. Companies have become dependent on internet-enabled business models that outpace their ability to apply adequate defenses that protect information. 

Printers are a perfect example of what happens when businesses introduce technology but fail to recognize the risks associated with those IoT devices that are connected to the internet. According to a survey by Quocirca, 61 percent of companies admitted to falling victim to at least one data breach in 2016 due to insecure networked printers.

In 2016, a hacker successfully exploited vulnerabilities in over 20,000 printers at more than a dozen major universities across the U.S. The hacker forced the networked printers to print thousands of inflammatory flyers.

Print devices are just computers disguised in a different costume. They have hard drives, processors, memory, and firmware, and most have open connections to the web at all times. An office’s network security can be compromised via the printer in many different ways, including:

  • Unclaimed printouts left at the printer
  • Dormant documents on the printer’s hard disk or removable drives
  • Unauthorized access to scan and email functions on the machine
  • Unauthorized access to the device’s configurations 

Moreover, as printers become smarter, their reliance on internet connectivity increases. This makes them even more vulnerable when there are no measures in place to protect them.

A typical IT thought is that firewalls will prevent these types of IoT endpoint breaches. However, firewalls are not the best (nor the only) way to protect networked devices like multifunction printers (MFPs). Devices can still be vulnerable to security breaches behind a firewall.

No Business is Safe from Cyberthreats

Typically, we hear about the major breaches that happen to Fortune 500 companies. In the past decade, we’ve seen companies from Yahoo to Marriott to Target experience data breaches. 

Don’t let the lack of media coverage surrounding small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) fool you. SMEs have taken the fall for some of the most expensive and disastrous hacks that put information at risk.

Everyone is susceptible; this rings especially true for businesses in the healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, and education industries. 

Layering Cyber Defenses Within Your Organization

It's difficult to imagine where we would be without the advanced technology we've grown accustomed to having. Our devices are smart and connectedbut they are also vulnerable. As technology evolves, the security layered around those devices must be capable of protecting our information.

That is why the methods and processes IT professionals employ should be ever evolving, just as the techniques hackers are looking for ways in are always changing. This can easily feel like a never-ending battle for organizations.

But you don't have to go at it alone. Companies today need partners, not vendors. Our team at Function4 employs security methods in everything we do. We continually re-evaluate the offerings we provide to our customers. We strive toward being a valuable partner that educates and learns with our partners for the future of our clients. 

Contact our team at Function4 today to learn more about how your business could be at risk and how we can help.

 

Originally published Feb 18, 2019 10:00:00 AM; updated Feb 19, 2019