In the past decade the cybersecurity community has seen hackers progress steadily from breaching big box stores and the media industry to sensitive government files and even the White House. Breaches such as Target and Home Depot became so commonplace that new attacks were often greeted by the public with a collective yawn. Media breaches brought new headlines but the attacks on government files caused many to wonder if government files could be breached, was anything secure?
It turns out that apparently nothing is. The PR Newswire and Business Wire were victims of a cyber breach which resulted in insider trading activity as clever hackers were able to secure pending news of business activities….forecasts for stocks to rise or fall once the news was released. As we now know, hackers breached those services, gained the inside information prior to release, and acting in conjunction with a group of ‘shady’ traders in various countries made more than $100 million in profits. Sneaky people these hackers.
This breach may have been prevented if adequate precautions had taken by those newswire services. From available reports it appears there were numerous vulnerabilities in their digital systems. First, the pending reports were stored on the newswires servers….We have to ask….what precautions were taken to protect the data stored there? Was there adequate firewall protection, software protection, intruder detection software? Was the system monitored? Was the IT administrator properly trained, educated or certified…or just a promoted upward IT hack? Was the data stored there encrypted? Who had access to it? Were the principles of ‘least privilege’ access utilized? What level of passwords were utilized? Were employees given adequate awareness training for ‘social engineering?’ Sadly, it seems that once again the bad guys utilized social engineering techniques to bluff their way into the system. Most cyber breaches begin with innocent data that was ‘mined’ from social media sites. Using that data they ‘leveraged’ their way in and then used ‘brute force’ software to crack passwords. Once the passwords were obtained they could freely move about the wire system servers, read emails and collect data.
Now that the damage is done, the newswire services need to employ forensic experts to analyze the breach and determine exactly how the system was ‘infiltrated’, exactly what data was ‘taken’, exactly how the data was ‘exfiltrated’, and, importantly, if additional malicious coding was left behind for future breaches. Once that has taken place, controls can be put in place to prevent future breaches of that nature. Those ‘controls’ can take several forms…better configuration of firewalls, better intrusion detection, closer monitoring of what is transpiring over the system at any particular time, better control of ‘privilege’ access, and increased training to thwart social engineering techniques. But remember, it isn’t just about controlling that specific breach, it IS about tying to anticipate what may happen in the future and always trying to stay one step ahead and out guess where the next path of intrusion will be. Never ever underestimate how clever hacker are. PR services, entrusted with the data they have in their servers and so heavily dependent on technology, need to develop a cybersecurity culture in which every action by an employee is weighed with the question “Is what I am about to do in line with the cyber awareness training I have received?”
Where the wire service attack, and all these recent cyber breaches are leading up to is anyone’s guess, but the progression of attacks, increasing in their boldness and creativity is sounding alarm bells in all corners of the cybersecurity community. Not only are our wallets at stake each time a bank is breached, but our critical infrastructure and national security is increasingly on the line. Each step the hackers take, be they independent or state sponsored, moves them closer to a cyber Armageddon, or hopefully, the good guys….that’s us…a step closer to doing something concrete in dealing with these people.
Let’s face it, the use of technology and digital systems is not going to go away. We are far too entwined with computers to go back to pencil and paper transactions, and the reliance on technology in business, including the PR industry is only going to increase. We must do something to protect our assets! Once upon a time we relied on secure bank vaults to protect our assets and armored cars to guard it during transit. It’s time to find such protection, once and for all, to guard our digital systems and media platforms.
To date, cybersecurity has been a hodgepodge of efforts to secure data. Software and training organizations have enthusiastically been selling us their product(s) in an effort to stave off hackers and at the same time make their profits. However, evolving firewalls, software updates and more updates, intrusion detection systems, organizational awareness training and employee education have all been for naught. Despite all those efforts, and all the expenditures, despite all the assurances of corporate CIO’s that all is well…all is not well in the digital world. Time and again we have seen that as breach after breach has occurred.
So, if all the current technology isn’t working, what do we do? We certainly can’t go on this way…waiting for the next biggest shoe to drop when hundreds of millions, perhaps billions will be looted from institutions, or worse, the long dreaded ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’ occurs that brings our nation to its knees. It’s time we stopped making individual efforts to build cyber defenses and started making a collective effort to defeat, once and for all, the bad actors that have kept us at their mercy. It’s time to make a clarion call to all those with cyber knowledge, both in the private sector and in government, from all concerned nations, to come together and work towards a common goal putting differences and suspicions aside, to seek resolution to the issue of cyber security. A potential ‘Cybersecurity World Summit -2016’ may be just the answer we need. If we can harness the brainpower of the best and brightest from around the globe to ‘work’ out a solution instead of just meeting to ‘ponder’ the issue, we just might reinvent the elusive ‘bank vault’ that we need to secure our digital assets.
I call for the cybersecurity leaders from all venues, all nations, to join hands in a world effort to find a workable solution to our rapidly deteriorating situation. We can no longer waste time in talking, it’s time for action…before it really is too late.
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