Sharing is caring, but keep your botnets to yourself

Sharing economy apps are prime targets for malicious attacks

The boom of mobile applications has superseded traditional services, revolutionising customer experience as we know it. In Australia, peer-to-peer services are being embraced by millions of consumers. A 2017 report by RateSetter revealed, 65% of Australians used sharing economy services like Uber and Airbnb in the past 6 months, with that set to increase to 75% in the next six months.

With users willing to share personal details and financial information for the benefit of convenience or speed, these apps themselves are now a prime target for malicious attacks. These attacks paralyse services potentially for ransom, or worse, to unleash or amplify Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks to exploit users’ data. 

The very nature of DDoS attacks are changing to reflect the app boom. Old fashioned ‘network-layer’ DDoS attacks (the big bandwidth volumetric ones we read about) are being overtaken by smarter ‘application-layer’ attacks which interject the good application requests with the bad, harder to identify ones.

As sharing economy apps become prime targets for malicious attacks, so do the services they connect to – and digital transformation means that many of those services are now in the cloud, or were born there natively. Big brands that have a huge amount of consumer data like Airbnb or Uber are moving quickly to the cloud. Airbnb migrated almost all of its cloud computing functions to Amazon Web Services (AWS) only after a year of starting and Uber has been in talks with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

The underlying danger of DDoS

According to Neustar’s 2017 ‘Worldwide DDoS Attacks and Cyber Insights Research Report’, 84% of organisations surveyed globally were hit by a DDoS attack in the last 12 months, and 86% of these organisations were hit multiple times.

Within the broader spectrum of risks for corporate security and IT decision makers, DDoS attacks present a growing challenge for several reasons. Firstly, the number of vulnerable devices has dramatically increased and so too has the level to which DDoS attacks have become automated and commoditised. Where a connection to the Internet previously required something that was more traditionally like a computer, IoT and cloud convergence have enabled even light bulbs to be connected to a network – providing an increased number of sources generating traffic.

Secondly, according to Telstra’s 2017 cybersecurity report, 59% of Australian businesses experienced a DDoS attack on at least a yearly basis, with only 36% reporting a recovery time of within 30 minutes – and that’s a potential 30 minutes of app downtime in an economy where the patience of web and mobile users is measured in seconds.

Security must be embedded in company culture

Large scale DDoS attacks, like the Mirai botnet, gained significant media coverage after successfully impacting sites and services like Amazon, PayPal, Reddit and Twitter. If DDoS can disrupt giants like Amazon, then sharing economy apps like GoGet and Airtasker can become prime targets too, resulting in loss of revenue or customer loyalty.

Organisations should strengthen their stance against all types of attacks and invest in smarter cyber security solutions. An important first step should be to cultivate a culture of cyber security awareness to create on-going conversations across all business units and functions. Anyone who has low awareness of cyber security and does not embrace good digital hygiene can be a weak link.

Most importantly, security assessments must be an integral part of the application development framework, not an afterthought. Having securely coded applications will not only protect critical data at source, but will also enhance customer experiences and their confidence in an organisation.

Ultimately, these simple yet effective measures integrated into every aspect of the organisation will ensure that customer trust is retained and the organisation’s bottom line is protected.

Whilst the sharing economy is a prime target for attacks, with well-designed security infrastructure and best practices in place, we can be confident that it will continue to thrive and users’ personal data will remain secure. 

Rob Malkin is managing director of ANZ at F5 Networks

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Tags F5 Networkssecuritycyber security

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