RSA CONFERENCE 2018 – San Francisco – The need to simplify security drove Microsoft to break its strategy into three distinct parts: platform, intelligence, and partnerships. It was the importance of data that CISO Bret Arsenault focused on during an interview with Dark Reading this week at the RSA Conference.
“Intelligence, in general, is a big differentiator in how we think about security now, versus what we could do five years ago or ten years ago,” Arsenault said. While Microsoft is securing everything in its Windows platform by default establishing partnerships in the public and private sector, it’s the company’s massive, diverse data store that’s shaping its strategy.
The effectiveness of artificial intelligence and machine learning, two of the biggest buzzwords circling the security industry (along with blockchain), heavily rely on data, Arsenault said. Threat intelligence became core to Microsoft’s plans fifteen months ago, following a $1 billion investment to integrate security across its products and services.
Throughout 2016, those funds went toward projects such as doubling the number of security execs and launching the Microsoft Enterprise Cybersecurity Group (ECG) and Cyber Defense Operations Center (CDOC). By the end of the year, Arsenault said, Microsoft had seen a shift away from the “spray and pray” approach to security and toward better detection and response, fueled by threat intelligence. The need for data has only intensified.
“What I know about artificial intelligence and machine learning is the accuracy of those things is very highly correlated to the amount of the data you have,” he explained. However, while the size of the dataset certainly matters – Microsoft’s data repositories more than double each year, he noted – even more important is the information’s quality.
Data Diversity vs. Inclusion
“A diverse workforce creates better products,” said Arsenault. “Diversity of data is equally, if not more important than the amount of data.”
Some companies mostly handle a single data type; he pointed to telecom companies, which primarily handle network traffic, as an example. Microsoft, with a large and varied portfolio of products and services, collects network data, device data, and identity data, Arsenault noted. The company has data on the one billion machines it updates each month. It gathers cloud data, which is pulled from Azure business services and varies across industries.
Yet it’s not enough to only be diverse, Arsenault pointed out. Having a rich set of data means little without inclusion, or putting it to practical use. “Diversity is interesting, but inclusion has created a whole new priority,” he added. Businesses often place more emphasis on diversity of data than inclusion.
Looking ahead, Arsenault touched on an idea that was top of mind for many security pros during RSA: the rise of cloud and disbanding of the traditional perimeter. As we operate in a client-to-cloud world, the idea of the network as a control point has eviscerated in its effectiveness, he explained. Now the most effective control point is users’ identities.
“You have to go really hardcore at the device piece, because the network is dissolving,” he said. One of Arsenault’s priorities is to eliminate passwords within Microsoft, where in the past year 66% of users log into Windows Hello for Business with biometrics or PIN. Employees are encouraged to shift away from passwords, which they are only required to change once a year.
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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial … View Full Bio