In a recent news show, the times in which we live were characterized as sufficiently perilous as to merit the battle cry — “Shields Up!” In the minds of those who grew up watching Star Trek, it was easy to summon images of the deft manner in which the shields of the Starship Enterprise deflected the effects of photon torpedoes. Today, nothing is more reflective of a “Shields Up” engagement than to leverage the predictive, prevention-first capabilities of AI-supported math models — stopping or interdicting before the malware equivalent of those torpedoes has a chance to inflict irreparable damage.

As I reflected on that futuristic call to action, a parallel action came to mind — this one harking not from the future, but from the battlefields of Rome’s past, where it is said that just before engaging their enemy, Centurions would yell to their armies not only “Shields Up!”, but also “Lock Shields!” This added action and punctuated the importance of not only getting one’s shield up, but also assuring that between it and that of one’s neighbor, there wasn’t a gap through which an adversary might strike.

In this ever-more connected world of the Internet of Everything, boundaries between classic realms of delineated interests grow increasingly porous, attack vectors become more numerous, and the possibility of kinetic and cyber “spillover” from warring nation-states is a threatening reality. Thus, cybersecurity leaders must pay particular attention that our shields are not only up, but also interlocked. In our connected world, the weakest link or gap is that through which our interests might be undermined.  

In today’s global marketplace, those weakest links present themselves consequentially in the form of numerous third-party partnerships and attenuated supply chains. Recent compromises of SolarWinds and Okta have highlighted the challenges associated with these realities — the membership of which is composed principally of the small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that now represent the bulk of global commerce.

President John F. Kennedy is famous for having popularized the phrase, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In a security context that would be true if everyone had a hale and hearty boat. Today, millions of SMBs, if they have “a boat,” are quietly struggling just to keep the leaky thing afloat or are already treading water with nothing more than proverbial driftwood to grasp. Those that have the semblance of a sea-worthy barge are finding the scarcity of talent, made prohibitively expensive by that scarcity’s associated market forces, an insurmountable barrier when it comes to implementing any aspirations they may have entertained when it comes to bettering their situation.

The arrival and growing acceptance of the managed security service provider (MSSP) paradigm couldn’t have happened at a more fortuitous time. Time-sharing the services of a virtual chief information security officer (CISO) by a SMB that might otherwise have to settle for nothing can open the door to an affordable option to sustain them until their revenues can allow them a more proprietary solution.  

Even large enterprise operations who are growing tired of the never-ending challenge of staffing SOC operations 24/7 are turning to MSSPs for assistance. Adversaries have discovered the power of such a model, as they’ve embraced the logical equivalent in the form of Crimeware or Malware as a Service.  

In a connected world, entertaining notions on how security leaders protect the technologically impoverished among us is something the industry needs to consider more fully. Providing such a service may prove to be an inextricable aspect of not only raising our collective shields, but also ensuring they’re appropriately interlocked. Given the sophistication of cyber adversaries, doing one without the other will not secure the protected posture and ultimate victory that businesses seek.