Internet Service Providers: The unlikely heroes in preventing cyber attacks

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Internet Service Providers

The unlikely heroes in preventing cyber attacks

Once upon a time, speed, data capacity and coverage were the forces customers used to decide which ISP they were going to patronize for Internet service; now security is fast becoming the next factor for success. ISPs can increase the lifetime value of her customers by providing security protection thereby increasing revenue and impacting customer loyalty.

Cybercrime has emerged as the default front-page article in various publications around the world. As a new enemy battling an unprepared army, a fire brigade approach is mostly employed by both public and private organizations worldwide to tackle its vices. Regulators in their attempt to manage cyber risk encourage and enforce compliance with various information security standards. Though their goals may be noble, this has pushed in the compliance-check-box mentality. What we now witness is that organizations are racing to get compliant as opposed to having a culture that promotes continuous improvement of their security processes.

In any crime, there has to be a perpetrator, a victim and an avenue that brings both the perpetrator and victim together. For example, a bank customer that gets robbed at an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), the victim is obviously the customer, the perpetrator is the person that steals from the bank customer while the avenue that brought them together is the ATM. For such a scenario one might blame the bank customer for not being security conscious especially if this happened at night. However, the flip side is, what if this is a recurring issue at this ATM point? I’m sure the bank responsible for providing the ATM needs to be questioned as well. One would expect the bank to put certain measures in place such as have security guards, security cameras, proper lightning when it is dark and if possible have Police protecting the area in other to satisfy its customers going forward. The same should apply to cybercrime. There has to be a perpetrator, a victim and an avenue. For cybercrime, the avenue is usually the Internet. The anonymous and faceless nature of the Internet does not help in this regard as normal face-to-face interaction or physical evidence during regular crimes is often lost. The good news is that the Internet does not just appear; it is provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

As internet penetration increases and more businesses and social activities come online, Internet users would clamor for increased speed at reduced cost. A lot has been done is this regard; we have moved from the era of dial up modems to broadband connections. In some parts of Lagos, there are options to have fiber optics cables directly to people’s home from their ISPs. There is still a long way to go while we also try not to forget the several challenges of doing such a business in Nigeria. This won’t be discussed in this article rather what I hope to bring to bear is the role of ISPs in the cyber security landscape. ISPs have ample opportunities to contribute to cyber security improvements based on the advantage of their positioning in the Internet’s ecosystem.

Regulation is important as we need to have an agile approach to cybersecurity, constantly updating our laws to both reflect and anticipate realistic threats. However, regulation may not be as fluid enough to tackle the onslaught of cyber security attacks and threats. This is where ISPs nationwide need to approach cybersecurity from a responsibility perspective. Regulation is usually too slow to create and implement in such a rapidly evolving world. As at 2012, ISPs in the U.S. voluntarily committed to taking steps to combat three major cyber security threats, based on recommendations from their Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advisory committee. This included implementing measures to fight botnets, domain name fraud and Internet route hijacking. Also, Internet customers in the UK are prohibited from accessing a range of web sites by default, because they have their Internet access filtered by their ISPs. Categories of content blocked across the major ISPs range from Drugs, File sharing, Gambling, Pornography, Weapons, Criminal Skills to Hacking tools and techniques. It is worthy to note and stress that the mentioned examples were voluntary actions even though there have been a number of attempts to introduce legislation to move it onto a mandatory footing.

Organizations with the exception of non-profit ones are in business to make profit and ISPs should not be left out. There are incentives for ISPs to secure the traffic of its customer by offering this as an added value service for additional fees. This security protection could be expanded for which new revenues will be generated. Once ISPs begin touting security as a value added service, this changes the market dynamics as consumers will be faced with the option of being protected versus not being protected. I’m optimistic that customers will be willing to pay a premium for services that deliver more value, ensure the integrity of data, and help protect them.

With the popularity of the Information Security Standard and other IT Governance processes being promoted by the Central Bank of Nigeria, most Financial Services Institutions such as Banks and Merchant Banks are demanding their third party suppliers or vendors to pay particular attention to information security in their organizations. The Banks will require their vendors to demonstrate or show proof of a level of measures taken to ensure information security processes within their organization. If such measures are lacking or not up to par, the banks will either accept the risk or search for an alternative vendor with better measures so as not to violate the standard’s requirements. These vendors include various third parties of which ISPs are inclusive. Hence once banks start switching vendors or ISPs based on their security measures, this will be a tipping point for ISPs to take security issues and consumer protection seriously.

There is currently no legal obligation for ISPs in Nigeria to take further steps in securing internet traffic that passes through its network, hence no liability on their part but when security becomes a focus of market and economic forces, strategic moves from ISPs in actively improving security measures and protecting their customers will become paramount. There are however many opportunities for service offering differentiation and for ISPs to differentiate themselves in the market and raise the bar in consumer protection. An example would be if ISPs could provide early security notification to its customers once a threat is identified. Protecting consumers, governments and businesses is a priority and there is a responsibility for ISPs at the ‘center’ of the Internet ecosystem to ensure the networks are secured. According to the Cybercrime Act 2015, the Nigeria national Computer Emergency Response Team (ngCERT) coordination center has a mandate to manage cyber incidences in Nigeria and all companies under a cyber-attack must send reports to the center. It will be in the best interest for the ngCERT to share classified information and raw lessons from incidences with companies involved. This way, all ISPs become part of a collective responsibility.

Once upon a time, speed, data capacity and coverage were the forces customers used to decide which ISP they were going to patronize for Internet service; now security is fast becoming the next factor for success. ISPs can increase the lifetime value of her customers by providing security protection thereby increasing revenue and impacting customer loyalty.

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