Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

How to deal with the unpredictability of hackers

December 23, 2016

Things that weren’t easy to predict in 2016:

• The EU Referendum results

• The United States Presidential Election

• The sheer sense of joy you felt when watching Ed Balls Cha Cha Cha to ‘Love Potion No.9’ on Strictly Come Dancing

Things that were slightly more easy to predict in 2016:

• David Attenborough wowing us on cold winter Sunday nights with the return of his Planet Earth series.  Never has a baby iguana had more public support.

• Er….no, that’s it.  I can’t think of a second.  Answers on a postcard please.

If you’d placed a bet at the beginning of the year on the UK leaving the EU, Trump winning the Electoral College vote and Leicester City taking the Premier League top spot; having a Christmas turkey with all the trimmings would take on a whole new meaning for you this year.

Alas, if we’ve learnt anything in 2016, it’s that the words of former New York Yankees baseball player Yogi Berra (“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,”) have never been more true.

Looking at the cyber security landscape, we’ve seen some oddly shaped behaviour by hackers too.  It seems experimentation is at the forefront of their plans – and boy, do they have plans.  See data breach story 1,2 and 3 in this week’s newspapers.

To give you an example, last week we saw a strain of Ransomware called ‘Popcorn Time’ that not only encrypted the victim’s data, it offered them a conundrum as well.  You could either pay up in order for your files to be released, or nominate two other machines to get hit with Ransomware, and if both of those pay out, then you don’t have to.

Here we’re getting into morality levels…if you had a slightly spiteful aspect to your personality and you got hit with this particular type of Ransomware and Trevor from accounts has denied you some budget because you missed the deadline, would you choose to send the malware onto him?

It’s like a much more interesting episode of Deal or no Deal (RIP).

My colleague Graham has a theory on what type of person would be likely to send the attack on – and it’s the very same people who try and jump in the car queue for a certain lane when you’ve been sitting there for 5 minutes, following the DVLA code like the decent human being you are.

I encounter these types of people on the roads every day, so lord help the rest of us if that theory holds up.

Earlier in the Summer, we saw hackers attempting to use Ransomware to take down entire servers, not just endpoints.  I guess their thought process was; ‘Why target individuals when you can take down the whole company network in one fell swoop?’

Given that there’s a global shortage of security experts who are trained to meet and deal with hackers on the front line, it’s getting harder and harder to predict hackers’ behaviour by any mortal means.  Which means it’s time to bring in the machines (hey that rhymes…)

Cisco’s Managed Threat Defense uses machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics.  What that essentially means is that we detect possible threats in real-time with incredibly clever technology, designed to spot weird and, up until now, unpredictable behaviour.

If something just doesn’t look right, it gets immediately escalated to a trained Cisco security investigator in one of our security operations centres (I visited the one in Poland last month and wasn’t even allowed in; so strict are their security policies).  They then validate the actuality of the potential threat before partnering with the customer’s team to sort it all out.

The technology also incorporates our Cisco Security solutions such as Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) and Cisco Cloud Web Security.

What we’re most passionate about is protecting users on and off the network, and helping our customers stay vigilant at all times – not an easy feat for them.  Allowing your defenses to rest because you think you’re secure is an excellent way of opening the pathway of unpredictable hackers to step right back in.

Isn’t that how Crazy Horse defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn?  Custer’s scouts told him that there was a ‘gigantic’ army in the valley of the Little Big Horn River. Custer said ‘Poppycock’ and the rest, as they say, is history.

Read more about Cisco’s Managed Threat Defense here.

Leave a comment


  1. a great read Hazel – hope you are well. 🙂

    • Thank you David that’s very kind, glad you enjoyed the read!

  2. Great post – predicting the future doesn’t take a crystal ball but solid analytics and data. I personally predicted 2016 would be a wild and crazy ride – but even I was surprised at the roller coaster we experienced during 2016 professionally, personally and in the privacy and security sectors.

    • Many thanks for your kind comments on the blog 🙂 I agree it’s been an infamous year, but it’s interesting to see how much social media has played a part in amplifying and ultimately influencing people’s thoughts and feelings about what’s going on in the political and professional world.