AI has not advanced enough to offer conclusive results: Tarek Kuzbari, Bitdefender
Kuzbari talks about reinventing security by drafting a growth trajectory through talent, partnerships and people
Traditionally, network and endpoint security involved a more reactive approach, with security professionals constantly monitoring alerts. This was a long and tedious process filled with false positives, missed alerts and wasted effort on inconsequential tasks, while the actual threat remained untouched.
“This laid back approach has changed to a more proactive one that begins with the assumption that a breach may have already happened. Security specialists are now looking at ways to predict and prevent attacks rather than struggling in the aftermath,” says Tarek Kuzbari, recently appointed regional director – Middle East, Bitdefender.
According to Gartner, undetected malware infection and insider threats are two use cases where enterprises commonly don’t notice and so don’t act. This allows attackers to infiltrate data, including an enterprise’s intellectual property, much before it is detected. So, enterprise clients face new security challenges and must take advantage of the new technologies that enable an entirely different approach to fighting threats. What remains challenging is selecting the right technology and creating a solution around it that actually works.
Is AI the solution?
Clearly, security providers need to address the gap in the regional market by meeting the growing demand of enterprise clients for holistic and intuitive cybersecurity offerings. This has given rise to a new breed of vendors that are using artificial intelligence to reinforce their security offerings.
While fighting cybercrime with AI sounds both exciting and a possible solution to restrain the increasing number of sophisticated attacks, AI itself has not developed to be sophisticated enough to achieve total security.
Kuzbari emphasises that AI has not yet advanced enough to be able to offer conclusive results, and that software based on artificial intelligence alone struggles with false positives. “Even if we ignore this, installing a product with only AI means that after installation it will take around 6 to 8 months to really start seeing results.”
Network traffic analytics (NTA) is a technology that has been in use since the invention of networks. With the proliferation in the number and sophistication of attacks, its reactive approach to security is not able to cope with the tactics employed by today’s attackers. However, NTA is evolving to offer new approaches to attack detection and prevention.
Today, NTA solutions can leverage threat intelligence, statistical analysis, content inspection, machine learning or a combination of these techniques to detect suspicious activities on the enterprise network, essentially, listening to traffic and highlighting interesting clues. This enables the security analysts to spot attacks with a higher degree of certainty, facilitating prioritisation of actions, while reducing the breach to detection gap.
Market research organisation, Stratistics MRC forecasts that the global network traffic analytics market is expected to reach US $2993.84 million by 2026.
In order to expand its Middle East presence and market share, Bitdefender has decided to capitalise on the growing market for NTA products and grow its enterprise business in the region.
Bitdefender has applied multiple technologies, like artificial intelligence, threat intelligence and behaviour analytics, in a single product to get higher detection rates, greater predictability and lower false positives. The NTSA is a network monitoring and traffic analytics solution that hunts for attacker network activity and uses automated IntelliTriage to reduce alert fatigue for cybersecurity team members. It uses machine learning and behavioural analytics to automatically detect threats for managed and unmanaged entities as well as encrypted and unencrypted network traffic.
“NTA technologies can drastically decrease the time between infection and detection; consequently, the cost of a data breach will be reduced. Today over 500 million endpoints are protected by Bitdefender technology. I believe that the addition of network traffic security analytics to an already strong portfolio of EPP, EDR and threat intelligence solutions, gives Bitdefender a vital competitive advantage over the options available in the market,” explains Kuzbari.
Another thing that differentiates Bitdefender from others is its ability to provide both endpoint security and network security from a single console. The new product makes Bitdefender one of the most advanced network traffic analytics players in the market today, claims Kuzbari.
Bitdefender boasts a strong channel ecosystem that consists of four key distributors - Ingram Micro (business & MSP distributor), Oxygen (business distributor), BPS (MSP distributor) and Al Hosani Computer (consumer products) for the GCC and Levant region. The second tier consists of reseller partners and the company is now aiming to recruit more resellers throughout the Middle East.
“Our go to market strategy is to work through channel partners. We believe our success lies in building a strong and enabled channel. We will continue to invest in building a stronger partner ecosystem through different initiatives,’ says Kuzbari.
To support its regional expansion plans and broadening channel ecosystem, the company has strengthened its leadership team to include skilled industry veterans with relevant expertise in channel, sales, marketing or with technical know how.
An ideal Bitdefender partner would be someone with security and networking expertise, but not necessarily both. They need to have experience working with customers in at least one of these segments, while also having the resources and operations ready to extend the reach of our products
With its detection capabilities NTSA IntelliTriage potentially opens growth opportunities for Bitdefender’s traditional endpoint security partners, as well as network security solution providers catering to mid-enterprise or enterprise space, adds Kuzbari.
Bitdefender has also revamped its MSP partner program to offer well-structured incentives, opportunities for increased profitability, and accelerated return on investment. It features multi-level architecture, which will give MSPs varying levels of access to marketing development funds, dedicated operational and business support and access to Bitdefender’s expert team of technical account managers.
“For our gold partners, our focus is to help them build on their existing capabilities in networking and security to close the gap and educate them to take our NTSA product to the market more ‘intelligently’. We are looking to develop a few key enterprise partnerships across the region and a larger number that focus on the SMB segment.”
To offer support to partners, Bitdefender has allocated a market development fund (MDF) for both existing and new partners. Any company that registers to the Bitdefender partner program gets immediate access to this fund, and its allocation is not dependent on the amount of business the partner brings in.
“We have a dedicated team working on developing these joint accounts. Our partners know the market and its requirements. They suggest the activities that may include roundtables, events and exhibitions or advertising avenues. We discuss this, agree on an action plan and budget to invest accordingly. Gold partners have different MDF compared to silver and the MDF is agreed based on the projected revenues and plans with the partner,” he explains.
One of the advantages of the Bitdefender MDF program is that the partner can immediately tap into this fund to develop the business forward, even if they have no revenue yet. Kuzbari emphasises that the purpose of this fund is to enable partners to grow from zero revenue to a million dollar business.
Another line of investment into the channel is through its enablement programs, where Bitdefender trains the sales team in how to sell the product, position it correctly in the market and address the competition. The company also offers technical training to partners that enlighten them on how to do proof of concepts (POCs) and implementation.
Finally, we also help them in lead generation and creating new opportunities, and for this we have our 70-20-10 model, he adds.
The first 10% of the enablement amounts to a three-day training program. The company has a dedicated team that works to make this program more engaging and useful. The training sessions are followed by regular engagement to understand the challenges that partners may face on a daily basis.
The next 20% is about guiding the partners on how to engage with customers. In the first phase, Bitdefender team accompanies the partner to show how the right pitch may look like. In the next round, the partner takes the lead in creating an opportunity, presenting the product, proof of concept and winning the account.
As a long term growth plan, the vendor would be doing an IPO or initial public offering and open the company’s shares to the public.
Helping develop talent
Bitdefender believes that tech labour market development would be the answer to the gap between the talent requirement and the lack of resources. However, for the proper development of the tech labour market, the private sector has to play a crucial role in the educational process and take the responsibility.
Bitdefender actively engages with Universities in Europe to develop the curriculum and manage talent.
“Cyber security skills are in demand, not just in the region but on a global level. What is interesting is that regional governments are particularly focussing on building talent through training workshops. As an example, the National Cyber Security Agency in Saudi Arabia have launched their own cyber security training programs.”
Considering that growth and innovation are critical for the private sector and that these can be accomplished only with very well trained professionals, Bitdefender has developed several partnerships with Romanian technical universities.
Such partnerships include, academic courses in cybersecurity designed and delivered by Bitdefender technical experts. Bitdefender has also designed and developed Master Degrees in cybersecurity in partnership with two of the most important Romanian technical universities - University of Math and Informatics in Bucharest and Technical University in Cluj-Napoca. The vendor also organises specially designed courses such as TechChallenge, a summer school developed in partnership with the University ‘Politehnica’ of Bucharest.
“It is also worth mentioning that Bitdefender empowers its employees to follow PhD programmes and also to teach specialised courses in technical and mathematics universities.
“When we look at bigger markets like the US and Europe, the maturity levels are almost similar among organisations of different sizes and sectors. However, the Middle East is unique because I have seen a number of small organisations employing some of the best security practices and expertise, while some large enterprises are still applying basic mechanisms and processes,” he adds.
The reason, Kuzbari explains, is that there are no regulations that are pushing organisations to disclose a breach to customers. What can be done, he adds, is to have qualified security professionals within the top management or at least a good line of communication between the management and security teams.