The Best Defense


As the pandemic accelerated a push to digital, hackers have ramped up efforts as well. Here, Michael Bartlett speaks with Continent 8 co-founder and CEO Michael Tobin about plans for continued expansion as the North American market blossoms.

The pandemic-related shutdowns of 2020 forced millions to work from home, and many others to rely on the internet to order necessities ranging from food to toilet paper. So naturally, criminals took advantage whenever possible.

Michael Tobin, co-founder and CEO of Continent 8 Technologies, the hosting, cloud and security services company with offices in Florida and Virginia, said in Q2 2020,as countries around the globe entered lockdown, that his company saw a 55% increase in cyber attacks compared to the same period in 2019.

“When considering the continuous shift to digital, which was accelerated by the pandemic, it probably won’t surprise many to know that cyber attacks were significantly up year-on-year in 2020,” Tobin told Gaming America. “As a society, we have become increasingly reliant on remote interaction, causing global traffic to increase by 30% and, of course, creating new opportunities for cyber criminals.”

A significant proportion of the attempts seen in 2020 and2021 have been “old school” techniques such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Tobin said Continent 8 is taking a number of steps to combat these and newer forms of cyber attacks.

“DDoS attacks were by far the most common events we observed last year, a trend set to continue,” he reported.“Although the digital threats are increasing, at Continent 8 we have tailored our services and suite of products to keep our customers’ risk levels at an absolute minimum.”

The company provides its clients a layered defense, Tobin explained. He said businesses need a series of layers that protect both cloud-based services and those running on physical infrastructure. As such, web application firewall (WAF) services, network level DDoS detection, and network level DDoS protection all play an essential part.

In addition, endpoint protection and security information and event management (SIEM) also are important given the remote working situation the world still finds itself dealing with. Tobin said if something untoward happens, such as a breach, the appropriate teams are notified immediately.

“Although the types of attacks we’re seeing are increasingly growing in complexity and strength, we have many years of experience backing us up,” Tobin said. “Staying at the forefront of technological trends and continual investment in our security product range enables us to keep our customers’ systems fortified.”

America, the beautiful (market)

In the American Gaming Association’s recent State of the States report, commercial gaming revenue for US casinos plummeted 31% in 2020 from 2019 as they lost more than 45,600 business days to pandemic-related closures.

However, as legalization of sports betting spread to numerous new states last year, the segment saw significant growth, with Americans legally wagering more than $21.5 billion in 2020, compared to $13 billion in 2019.

Tobin said with more states continuing to legalize both sports betting and online gaming, Continent 8 is opening new data centers in the US while continuing to monitor the growth of gambling in Canada and Mexico.

“North America is an exciting market and offers a myriad of growth opportunities for us and our customers,” he assessed.

Continent 8’s investment in the US began in 2014 in response to regulation of online gaming in New Jersey. This led to the company building a state-of-the-art, Tier 3 data center within the Atlantic City Convention Center, which opened June 2019.

“We have grown significantly since, as we now are live in more than 20 states with additional sites going live this year,” he adds.

2021 will be a pivotal year in the US, Tobin continued, with 19 states set to decide on legalizing online sports betting. “This rapid regional expansion has been a continual challenge, but we pride ourselves on our first-to-market capability for our customers. With new markets switching on very quickly, we have to act fast to ensure operators can maximise the growth opportunities. Our customers can be reassured that Continent 8 will be present in every suitable regulated state. And with that, our on-the-ground team has expanded significantly to best service our customers’ needs.”

Fighting fraud at online signups

Among the challenges posed by the pandemic, many sports betting operators had to change their account-opening procedures from in-person to online. From one perspective, that means more people are able to sign up more quickly and start playing, but as head of a security firm, Tobin sees vulnerabilities.

“As with most things, there are two sides to this coin. The shift to online player acquisition has boosted sign ups, but unfortunately this means that they will be, of course, open to more cyber attacks.”

Tobin said operators should be using one of the many know your customer (KYC) software suppliers. To do so, operators will have to interface their betting platform with the KYC platform via an API, which opens up potential attack vectors for cyber criminals.

To mitigate the risk, Tobin advised operators to allocate significant resources to API protection and ensure their network is regularly checked for weaknesses using key techniques such as penetration testing.

“This process is absolutely critical to your systems protection, given the extremely sensitive information being transmitted, such as passport and driving license scans,” he says.

Internal breaches are an increasing risk too, Tobin added. As more processes are completed online, it gives rise to criminals seeking to exploit a company by falsely claiming to be from a legitimate organization. This is usually combined with a threat or request for information like that an account will close, a balance is due or information is missing from an account.

“Employees need to be continually trained in how to identify and address these malicious attempts from the early stages, minimizing any opportunities for a safety breach,” he warned.

Looking ahead to a new normal

Despite the pandemic, Tobin said 2020 was a truly successful year for Continent 8, and the company is ready to move ahead.

“We expanded our footprint, welcomed new customers, invested in our product range, forged additional partnerships with hyper scale providers and grew our team globally, ”he said. “Looking forward, our plan is one of continued strategic expansion across the globe. Just like everyone else, we will have to adapt to the new normal and navigate the evolving online gaming landscape from a fresh perspective.”

Tobin said Continent 8 is excited about new regions opening up and what that means for online gaming as an industry. Product innovation will play a big role in the company’s future, he said, as well as “developing already proven products and partnerships, such as AWS, and becoming an AWS Select Consulting Partner, tailoring them to market needs in real time,” Tobin continued. “Our customer centric approach is an aspect that will remain the same; this will always be a pillar of our company ethos, which is why we are so excited about coming out of lockdown, keen to get back on the road, see our customers face-to-face and build lasting relationships.”