The Vegas Attack: Why Cybersecurity Should NOT be a Gamble

by Nick Shah
September 22, 2023
The Vegas Attacks and SRE

“Automation is the key to scaling any computer systems management task, including cybersecurity.”  

Dr. David Brumley, Professor of Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University 

 

In the last week, the lights of Las Vegas dimmed a bit as two of its most prominent entertainment giants, MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, succumbed to cyber-attacks. 

The news this week has been buzzing with reports of how MGM Resorts faced a massive disruption due to a cyberattack, rendering systems inoperative across multiple properties. For ten days, MGM properties were forced into a virtual standstill, resorting to issuing pen and paper receipts in some cases. 

This is still a developing story and, as of this writing, MGM has only just resumed normal operations.  

MGM hasn’t been alone in this plight; Caesars Entertainment also disclosed a cyberattack that may have compromised the personal information of millions of customers. Unlike MGM, Caesars was forced to pay a ransom of $15 million to get to safety. Some have suggested that Caesars may have gotten off lightly, with the predicted costs of MGM’s losses approaching $80 million.  

But, to quote security expert Christopher Graham, 

“The knock-on effect of a data breach can be devastating for a company. When customers start taking their business—and their money—elsewhere, that can be a real body blow.”  

Cybersecurity breaches, especially ransomware attacks, are now more than just sporadic events. They’re a regular occurrence and can be seen across sectors, from healthcare to telecom, manufacturing to retail. With global operations at stake, a single breach can cost companies millions, if not billions. And while some argue that these figures are a drop in the ocean for such companies, the collateral damage in terms of brand image and customer trust is irreplaceable. 

 

The role of automation in SRE and cybersecurity 

But why does this matter to Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)? SRE is all about maintaining service reliability, availability, and performance. Cyber threats directly impact these aspects. Given that MGM’s services were affected for days and Caesars had to pay a ransom, it’s evident that these giants faced challenges in both threat detection and response. 

This is where automation in SRE comes into play. Automated systems can quickly detect vulnerabilities, anomalies, or unauthorized access attempts. They can also instantly initiate preventive and corrective measures, ensuring minimal disruption. 

 

Automation offers multiple layers of defense 

The attacks on MGM and Caesars were intricate. MGM’s attack, attributed to Scattered Spider and potentially linked to a Russia-based operation, highlights the complexity of modern cyber threats. The breaching of MGM via Okta and the impersonation techniques used to hack into multiple systems underscore the significance of multi-layered defense systems. Automation can offer this. An automated SRE framework can orchestrate several layers of security checks, real-time monitoring, and auto-response mechanisms to handle threats proactively. 

Given the expansive digital ecosystems of today’s enterprises, manual oversight becomes practically infeasible. Automating allows consistent scanning and surveillance of every potential entry point, enabling alerts for anomalies and even self-directed isolation of affected sectors, much needed in situations like the MGM outage where one act of service desk social engineering was able to give them access to the entire system. 

Incorporating machine learning into SRE tools offers another layer of defense. Systems can be trained to recognize patterns from past intrusions, predict possible future threats, and adjust defenses accordingly. This adaptive approach would be invaluable against malevolent entities that evolve their strategies, as seen in the recent news. 

 

Predictive analytics makes cybersecurity proactive 

Moreover, with threats becoming more sophisticated, merely having defensive walls isn’t enough. Companies need predictive capabilities. Automated SRE solutions powered by AI and machine learning can analyze patterns and predict potential breaches, enabling companies to thwart attacks before they manifest. As cyber criminals employ increasingly sophisticated tactics, companies must counteract with equally sophisticated measures. 

One of the significant challenges in cybersecurity is the speed and unpredictability of attacks. In this cat-and-mouse game, defense is often reactive, kicking into action after the breach has occurred. However, with AI the paradigm is shifting towards proactive defense. 

Automated SRE solutions equipped with these advanced technologies can sift through vast amounts of data in real time. They can discern patterns, anomalies, and behaviors that might go unnoticed by human eyes. By analyzing past breaches, network behaviors, and even subtle changes in system performance, these systems can generate predictive insights about potential vulnerabilities and impending attacks. 

For instance, if a certain type of network activity historically led to a breach, the system can flag similar activities in the future, alerting the security team or even taking automated preventive measures. Moreover, these predictive models continuously learn and evolve. As they are exposed to more data and varied threats, they refine their predictions, making them more accurate over time. 

In essence, an AI-powered SRE system doesn’t just act as a watchguard—it acts as a forward-thinking strategist, constantly staying a step ahead of potential threats. By anticipating breaches and vulnerabilities, companies are better positioned to thwart attacks, ensuring not only the security of their data but also maintaining the trust of their stakeholders. 

 

Prioritize resilience over just defense 

Experts have long been emphasizing the need for robust cybersecurity, and recent events have shattered any lingering perceptions of invincibility.  

Christopher Budd of Sophos X-Ops points out the need for casinos, and in fact, all businesses, to move to the “highest defensive posture possible.” However, this isn’t just about defense; it’s about resilience.  

As Gregory Moody of UNLV rightly puts it, it’s not a question of if but when companies will be attacked. Hence, it’s about how quickly and efficiently companies can bounce back, ensuring continued service reliability. 

 

Read More: Cybersecurity 2023 Roundup: The Rising Threat of Data Breaches

 

Conclusion 

Companies must realize that in this age of digital warfare, automation in SRE isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Cyber threats are relentless, and manual intervention will always be a step behind. For industries that rely on real-time operations and instant customer interactions like casinos, downtimes aren’t just inconvenient; they’re catastrophic. 

To sum it up, under the lights and glamour of Las Vegas, a crucial lesson has emerged for businesses worldwide: Invest in automated SRE for cybersecurity, or gamble with fate. In this high-stakes environment, it’s a bet no company should be willing to make. 

 

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