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Peter Farrelly, AUCloud: "all organizations benefit from cloud services, irrespective of size, digital maturity, or sophistication"

Experts increasingly warn that ransomware can result not only in financial and data losses but also in disrupted operations across critical industries, including entire hospitals or power grids coming to a halt.

Over the last few years, a range of global events has highlighted the growing importance of cybersecurity. Radically increased remote work, online shopping, and sensitive data storing and sharing have made cybercrime easier than ever.

In the initial stages of the pandemic, the VPN usage in the US increased by 124% within two weeks. Given the sophistication of cyber threats, it’s fair to say that online safety is now the priority.

The Cybernews team invited Peter Farrelly, the Chief Information Security Officer from AUCloud, to provide some insights into AUCloud’s approach to security.

Would you like to share a little bit about your story? How did AUCloud come about?

We commenced operating around 3 1/2 ago as an Australian-owned sovereign cloud service provider. We support a range of sectors, with a focus on organizations that manage confidential information, which these days pretty much includes all government and most industry sectors.

Core to our business is assurance that all the services, solutions, and data we host remain in Australia in Australian-owned and operated Data Centres, certified by the Australian Government. This includes sovereign protection of all workloads and data – all customer data, account, support, analytical data, metadata, etc.

We fundamentally believe that data sovereign to a nation must be protected. Having understood the intersection of the rise of cloud computing technology; the increasing volume and velocity of data and it's underlying social, cultural, and economic relevance; combined with growing concerns about the vulnerability of data, we engineered security into our infrastructure, policy, and practices, literally from the ground up.

Responding to the growth of global, hyper-scale clouds whose business and technical models were not transparent in terms of where they host and how they move data, AUCloud was established to provide customers with two key assurances. First, any data hosted on AUCloud will never leave Australia – including less visible data such as account and support information, underlying metadata, etc. Second, because we are owned and operated by Australians, we are only subject to Australian laws and regulations – not those of foreign jurisdictions.

Can you tell us about what you do? Which industries do you mostly work with?

As I have mentioned, we are a sovereign Cloud Infrastructure as a Service provider. Our basic service suite includes computing, storage, backup, and disaster recovery as a service. We also provide remote and mobile working solutions such as Desktop as a Service and VMware’s Workspace ONE mobile work solution. We augment these with our SOC-as-a-Service offering. Importantly, our ecosystem of over 70 partners delivers mission-critical SaaS and PaaS services leveraging our highly secure cloud environments.

Protection of all data is important, but our specific target industries include all levels of government, defense and defense industries, and critical national infrastructure organizations. With the increasing focus on the need for robust data protection, recent changes to the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 have extended the list of critical infrastructure sectors to now include electricity, gas, water, and maritime ports sectors, communications, financial services, higher education and research, energy, and the food and grocery sectors.

Threats to data risk economic and social disruption and potentially undermine our national security. With our laser focus on sovereign data protection, supporting organizations in these sectors is a growing priority.

Importantly, we take pride in ensuring our customers benefit from sovereign data protection with the scale, automation, elasticity, and lower costs typically associated with global cloud offerings – with all data, metadata, etc., remaining on Australian shores.

What would you consider the most serious cybersecurity threats that emerged during the pandemic?

The biggest factor was the emergence of the remote workforce and the shift away from a traditional corporate network to a home-based working model. For many businesses, this also created a shift in their policies to ensure staff could access required information and applications to work, thus presenting a new level of challenge. Almost overnight, we shifted from a known working model to how figuring out how to secure your team's network while also allowing them to assist with things like homeschooling and their normal network usage. It moved the cyber landscape from the enterprise to the employees’ homes and vastly increased the attack surface of each individual and the business.

In addition, as we’ve come to expect, global events also quickly became key themes for the latest rounds of scams and ransomware. Therefore, it has been critical to continue to drive messaging about the need for all workforces to be constantly educated about being alert to new cyber threats.

With so many cloud solutions on the market, choosing the right one for your organization can be intimidating. Which services are better suited for small businesses, and which types are recommended for big enterprises?

All organizations benefit from cloud services, irrespective of size, digital maturity, or sophistication. Even when used at their most basic level, cloud services deliver tangible benefits.

Avoiding expensive upfront capital investment in infrastructure is an obvious benefit, but what is less well known are the many other benefits-driven not only by cost efficiency but flexibility, agility, and time to value. For example, cloud providers achieve economies of scale that instantly lower the cost of infrastructure. Combined with more effective asset utilization, this translates to tangible cost efficiencies for users.

Infinitely scalable, the ability to configure cloud Infrastructure and use only what you need means that when you're not using the infrastructure (e.g., during business downtime), you're not paying for it. Automation capabilities also reduce the cost of maintenance and routine system and scheduling tasks.

Importantly, time to value is greatly accelerated using the cloud. Additional capacity is available on-demand, and using cloud ‘smarts’, new functionality and services can be developed, tested, and deployed incrementally, with end-users benefitting immediately.

There are also security advantages. By their nature, cloud providers need deep cybersecurity expertise to operate. This Is not the case for many organizations that host their own applications or data. Because they are regularly patched, use more pervasive and sophisticated security tools, and keep pace with contemporary security architectures, cloud providers, are also more resilient to security threats.

Bottom line – irrespective of your size, think about your business objectives and imperatives and how the cloud can make them easier and more efficient to achieve.

Why do you think certain business owners are unaware of the cybersecurity risks lurking in their own networks?

First – knowledge. As a small or medium-sized business owner, how do you know what cyber threats your business will face until ransomware has encrypted your files? Many of the organizations we speak to or work with still feel there’s no reason they’d be a target, so why invest in cybersecurity? While there are targeted attacks that have typically focused on larger companies, people need to realize that much of this is purely opportunistic. If they can identify a weakness in your network and potentially take something of value from you, i.e., your data, they’re likely to have a go.

The second factor – cybersecurity – requires financial investment. Like an insurance policy, you don’t get the benefit of it until something goes wrong, but by then, the damage is done. While we have things like the Essential 8, published by the ACSC, which focuses on good habits and cybersecurity hygiene as the simplest and most effective ways to protect your organization, it’s always a balance in terms of what else needs to be done. At the most basic level, organizations need to understand their own risk appetite. Good habits don’t cost a fortune when it comes down to efficient and effective processes that can be followed routinely or ensuring that features such as multi-factor authentication are enabled by default when using applications.

What would you consider to be the most serious issues that critical industries face today?

Ransomware and data-destructive malware is a threat for any business, but even more so for critical industries that rely on the business continuity of their operational systems. Ransomware has shifted from being a quick smash-and-grab-based attack to literally holding companies to ransom, locking their data and potentially resulting in entire businesses and their services grinding to a halt.

We’ve seen for several years now that the disruptive nature of targeted attacks not only has reputational and operational impacts for organizations but, in some cases, such as the healthcare sector, potentially devastating outcomes for consumers. Indeed, overall cyber threat mitigation and resilience are a priority for all organizations – but with a growing target on their back, even more so for our critical industry operators who drive our economy and social well-being.

It seems like remote work is not going anywhere, so what practices are crucial for teams to keep their workload secure?

cybersecurity awareness is more important than ever. Even with all the cyber defenses in place, it is important that all your staff are cyber-aware and can identify when something doesn’t seem right. Users/your staff always have and always will be your first line of defense so it’s important that you train them to identify suspicious or anomalous behavior, as well as how to appropriately report or respond to these. The earlier the notification, the quicker the security team can react. Cybersecurity awareness, alongside good cyber hygiene, will continue as the ‘best practice’ to protect a business, but it’s something you must continue to drive. If you don’t, the consequences are potentially dire for your business and, ultimately, your customers.

Share with us, what’s next for AUCloud?

At the end of last year, AUCloud announced a very significant $35 million capital raising and national expansion program. Over the next 18 months, AUCloud will be expanding its current footprint in NSW and the ACT across Australia.

From a technology perspective, we will be building on the sophistication of our micro-service and containerization capability and with partners, supporting a broader range of SaaS and PaaS services as cloud-native application development and take-up of cloud services continue to grow and mature.

We are also developing tools to assist customers, at whatever stage they are at in their digital maturity, to streamline their migration to and use of cloud services.

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