Cyber-attacks seem to be picking up in frequency. In the mainstream news, attacks are reported on what seems to be a weekly basis. This subject is not something anyone gives too much thought to, until you start seeing big brand names getting hacked. Then the collateral damage becomes obvious; individual stories of ordinary people hit hard, having their credit card information used by fraudulent parties.
A few weeks ago, there was an interesting interview on 60 Minutes featuring the head of the FBI, James Coomey, who has been tenured at the Federal Bureau of Investigations for a year. His thoughts on cyber security and the threats faced by individuals and U.S. companies were eye-opening; he stated that too many attacks to count occur every day. He described the Internet as the connection to an individual’s life; between pictures of family, financial information, friendships and hobbies, once a hacker is able to crack the front door of a computer they have access to an individual’s life, in its entirety. He equated this to a dangerous parking lot where nation states, organized hackers, terrorists and criminals prey on the public. Before the advent of the Internet, an individual’s most personal information was never so easily accessible in a single place, nor so vulnerable to threats originating on the other side of the world.
With the subject so prominent, and, in some cases, fear spreading through individuals, companies and communities, a bit of research was needed in order to focus on this growing trend, and which companies could possibly help protect personal or corporate data. In an independent study conducted by the Ponemon Institute (an independent research facility specializing in information security policy, privacy and data protection) in June 2014, detailing the number of companies who have become prey to cyber security breaches and that 62% of the respondents did not trust the security of their cloud infrastructure. Their data indicates that number is expected to keep climbing every year. Indeed, the figure the Ponemon Institute published represents a rise of 10% from the previous year.
Companies who have experienced security breaches include some of the largest businesses in the United States, such as:
- JPMorgan – The attack perpetrated against JPMorgan Chase & Co. was first made public in July. This attack compromised small business and regular household information; roughly 76 million small businesses were affected, while more than ten times that number of regular households had their information compromised. While no money was apparently stolen, internal information and personal information (not including social security or account numbers, birth dates or passwords) held by JPMorgan on its customers was exposed. There is speculation that this attack was a precursor to a larger future action.
- Home Depot – A breach of information was verified by Home Depot on September 8. It caused 56 million cardholder accounts to be put at risk and affected anyone who may have made a payment at any Home Depot from April through September. In response, Home Depot implemented a very large payment security project to offer their customers better security through more advanced data encryption.
- Target – The security breach suffered by Target during the 2013 holiday season was revealed by Target in January but had already been reported in mid-December by an independent cyber-security expert. Information for 70 million customers was breached, including name, address, email and phone numbers. Another 40 million suffered loss of data for debit and credit cards used at the retailer before and during the 2013 holiday season.
Predictably, sales have fallen following revelations of security breaches. Stock prices can also be tipped into responding unfavorably, leading to huge losses and other detrimental impacts felt for several quarters following the breach. Target’s sales have only recently begun to recover; after the breach was revealed, sales for the chain slid 2%-6% from the prior year.
Growing Cause for Concern
Breaches are increasing in both scale and frequency. Cyber-attacks are now capable of affecting anyone who uses debit or credit cards, or holds an account with any business that requires name, address, phone, email or other identifying information. They’re not confined to the US, either.
During the early part of 2014, a data breach occurred, which affected over 70% of South Koreans between the ages of 15 and 65. Their personal data and credit card information was compromised and stolen in a breach which affected more than 25 million South Koreans. The Korea Credit Bureau worked with Korean credit card companies to provide them with credit scores for Korean consumers; a worker there caused the breach.
While the numbers have improved, more than a quarter of companies still don’t have a team in place for responding to data breaches, nor do they have a plan for such a situation. Last year, nearly four in ten companies were lacking such precautions. Even when prepared for attacks, only 30% believed their company was adequately prepared or well-equipped to handle a cyber-attack. Many companies with plans in place have not reviewed them on a quarterly basis, and most have not been updated or reviewed since they were implemented.
As an individual trying to protect personal computers and information, or a corporation trying to protect computers and information at work, the advice has long been that the following should be put into practice:
- Don’t open attachments from people you don’t know.
- Don’t open attachments from people you know, but from whom you are not expecting to receive a particular type of file.
- Don’t follow website links from unknown email senders.
- Check the naming convention of website links to ensure that you’re being directed to a legitimate site.
At this stage, nearly everyone knows to conform to these basic rules. However, hackers and cyber threats always seem to get more elaborate, as with the NBC attack last winter. In that case, hackers hijacked NBC.com to be the delivery method of a malware virus; a cyber-criminal imbedded invisible malicious elements across some of the NBC websites, rotating the files periodically to avoid detection.
What happens when malware finds its way onto your computer? Depending on which “exploit kit” is used, various outdated software and plugins are found and targeted. When users have not installed all relevant updates, the exploit kit is able to reside in the system until it finds personal financial data, which is then sold on the black market.
To limit the risk of your company’s websites being attacked by drive-by malware, it is important to monitor payloads. Monitoring payloads makes it possible to detect indicators of an ongoing attack at an earlier point during the attack. It is one of many continuous diagnostic programs an organization should perform in order create a more appropriate layer of security.
Many companies are now hiring cyber threat teams, which are comprised of some of the world’s best former military and government high-profile individuals. These teams help the company build a more secure infrastructure. For companies, though, it is equally important to have correct methods and procedures in place to continually monitor against cyber threats and enforce compliance.
If you do not have the expertise or money to hire full-time individuals to perform this function, there are companies out there that can help you. Below are some that have high marks and are performing well in the security marketplace.
Telos offers consulting services, from penetration infrastructure testing and understanding of asset vulnerability to application software assurance. The company provides consulting services and solutions to many government agencies including: the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, federal agencies and many commercial enterprises. Telos provides extensive services for cybersecurity and solutions for risk management. Some of these services include:
- Security management, engineering, testing and assessment, as well as assessments of compliance with security protocols.
- Automation and process enforcement for the management of security risks and compliance.
- Continuous monitoring and management of security risks with necessary corrective action.
- Mapping and streamlining assets, along with mapping of vulnerabilities and controls in order to enable security protocol compliance which is continuous in nature.
The information assurance services of Telos are intended to give clients the most reliable and robust security protocols and protections available today. Their services are employed by a wide range of both civilian and governmental agencies, as well as financial sector agencies. Telos is also accredited by US government agencies working in the cybersecurity industry.
For companies that are looking for secure cloud hosting, FireHost is one of the best available companies. FireHost has taken the same approach by hiring some of the best military and government cyber experts and bringing them to the private sector. It has developed a proprietary cyber-threat perimeter which surrounds their cloud infrastructure. It contains an artificial intelligence module that pro-actively looks for, and updates in real-time, the latest cyber-threat tactics. By deploying a perimeter system and updating it in real time, FireHost is protecting its clients and their infrastructure better than most companies can do on their own.
FireHost is the leading secure cloud provider, emphasizing security and compliance in order to reduce risk and protect information. Their services are widely used for healthcare and HIPAA compliance, as well as payments and PCI. FireHost’s unique Payment Island also gives companies a secure and compliant way to handle credit card data and payments, allowing them to separate themselves from the risk of security breaches.
While cybersecurity has become a major concern for any company using cloud computing or storage, there are many ways companies and individuals can protect themselves from malicious attacks. Keeping information safe has become the new holy grail of businesses operating online or using any type of payment service or information service where customer information needs to be secure. Without taking the correct steps to ensure their information is safe, companies and individuals alike face the daunting prospect of being hacked and losing valuable information. Ensuring that any cloud or other kind of information storage is safe and secure should be the top priority of every business and individual who does any business, online or off.