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The Case of the Department of Justice vs. Apple

In case you’ve been living on an island, there is a case with enormous repercussions brewing in the courts right now… it’s a showdown between the Department of Justice vs. Apple on iPhone privacy.

The Story – FBI vs Apple

For those with an interest in privacy/encryption as well as the role of private industry in supporting law enforcement, there is a potentially precedent-setting case being fought right now in federal court and in the court of public opinion. The issue? Whether the United States Government can compel Apple to “hack” its own iPhones. Well, specifically one iPhone: the iPhone 5c in question was used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two shooters in the Dec. 2 San Bernadino attacks that killed 14 people and wounded 22.

You may remember one Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed the extent of the US Government’s spying on technology users. Pursuant to the consumer/industry reaction to this, in 2014, Apple released iOS 9 for its mobile devices (iPhones, iPads), which is arguably their most secure and was designed from the ground up to provide unparalleled security and privacy to the owner. This version of the iOS “marries” the user’s chosen password with a hardware key built into the device, creating a key that is stored only on the iOS device. There is no known way, even for Apple, to obtain that key without guessing.

But guessing has its limitations. Apple is fighting a recent federal court order compelling it to design software that would disable a feature on the phone that wipes all the data after 10 incorrect tries at guessing the password. The court order further orders that Apple modify the phone’s software to allow passwords to be attempted through an electronic connection, rather than through the keypad, so that the FBI can more easily “brute-force” the process of guessing the password (there are potentially 1 million combinations of letters and numbers).

For you nostalgia fans, the DOJ actually used the All Writs Act, a law relating to law enforcement searches passed in 1789, to compel Apple.

A Very Public Fight

The fight has gone “public,” with Apple claiming in an open letter that they should not be required to weaken their own device security and that, although this request is for one phone only, that this potentially opens a “backdoor” for other spying activities. The FBI responded that they have no interest in “breaking anyone’s encryption” and that Apple is putting its marketing in front of law enforcement concerns. There was another volley when it was revealed that the Government changed Farook’s iCloud password in order to access the data in it, which may have inadvertently prevented Farook’s iPhone from syncing its data to the cloud (something iPhones can be configured to do). Apple took the Government to task on this, and the Government responded by saying that there is even more data on the iPhone than is ever backed up to iCloud.

One to Watch

The case could set enormous precedents and is evolving day-by-day, minute-by-minute. It’s possible that Congress could pass emergency legislation to further compel Apple. Battle lines have been drawn, with privacy advocates taking Apple’s side and law enforcement/antiterrorism personnel supporting the Government’s side. Of course, politicians and aspiring presidential candidates are weighing in as well. What side are you on? An informal survey taken by InfoStructures among industry colleagues and clients indicates that this issue elicits strong responses on both sides. Keep an eye out for this as it evolves.

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Three Myths about Data Breaches Debunked

Most data breaches are the result of cyberattacks, right? Well, not really. A researcher has debunked this common myth and several others.

When it comes to data breaches, it can be hard to sort fact from fiction. Fortunately, a Trend Micro researcher scrutinized a decade’s worth of data breach information in an effort to debunk the myths. Knowing the facts about data breaches can help you develop better strategies to defend against them.

Here are three common myths that have been debunked:

1. Most Data Breaches Are the Result of Cyberattacks

The Myth: If you were to ask people about the leading cause of data breaches, they would likely tell you that cyberattacks are to blame. After all, the news is full of stories about cybercriminals stealing millions of data records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Anthem, Premera Blue, and other organizations.

The Truth: Most data breaches are not due to cyberattacks. The leading cause of data breaches is the loss or theft of portable devices (e.g., thumb drives, laptops), physical records (e.g., files, receipts), and stationary devices (e.g., desktop computers, servers). They account for 41 percent of all reported data breaches between 2005 and 2015. In comparison, cyberattacks are to blame for only 25 percent of the data breaches during this timeframe. Other causes include sensitive data being accidentally exposed through mistakes or negligence (17.4 percent), insider leaks (12.0 percent), and payment card data stolen with physical skimming devices (1.4 percent). The cause was unknown in the remaining 3.2 percent of the data breaches.

The Takeaway: While defending against cyberattacks is important, you need to implement other types of security measures as well. Creating policies that govern how employees should handle sensitive data and educating employees about those policies can go a long way in preventing data breaches caused by lost or stolen devices, mistakes, and negligence. It is also a good idea to take advantage of data encryption software, remote wiping technologies, Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking, and other tools to protect data on mobile devices.

2. Most Cybercriminals Seek Personal Information Because It Is in High Demand

The Myth: Cybercriminals mainly try to steal personal information because it pays the most in the underground markets where criminals purchase breached data.

The Truth: In the underground markets, personal information is commonly sold on a per-record basis, where each line contains a victim’s name, address, birthdate, identification number (e.g., Social Security number), and other information. Criminals often purchase these lines to commit identity fraud. Cybercriminals are not getting much money for this personal information anymore. The price has dropped significantly, from $4 a record in 2014 to $1 a record in 2015. A big surplus of this type of data is responsible for the drop in price.

Bank account credentials command some of the highest prices in the underground markets. The credentials for one bank account can cost between $200 and $500 if they come with the account’s balance. The larger the available balance in an account, the higher the selling price. Other account credentials are also desirable, including those for PayPal, FedEx, and Google Voice.

The Takeaway: While protecting personal information is crucial, you also need to protect the credentials you use to access systems, services, and bank accounts. For maximum security, you and your staff should use strong account passwords and change them periodically. Using a password manager will help everyone avoid the temptation of writing them down.

3. Retailers Are at the Highest Risk for Data Breaches

The Myth: Retailers experience the most data breaches because they handle a lot of credit and debit card transactions.

The Truth: Between 2005 and 2015, many prominent retailers have experienced data breaches, including Target, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, Staples, and eBay. However, it is the healthcare sector and not the retail industry that has experienced the most data breaches during this time. Here is the breakdown of the data breaches by sector:

  • Healthcare (26.9 percent)
  • Education (16.8 percent)
  • Government (15.9 percent)
  • Retail (12.5 percent)
  • Financial (9.2 percent)
  • Service (3.5 percent)
  • Banking (2.8 percent)
  • Technology (2.6 percent)
  • Insurance (1.6 percent)
  • Media (1.4 percent)
  • Other industries (6.8 percent)

The Takeaway: Organizations in just about every sector are susceptible to data breaches. Thus, you need to take data breaches seriously and develop strategies to defend against them.

More Myths Debunked

Learn about other data breach myths in the Trend Micro researcher’s report “Follow the Data: Dissecting Data Breaches and Debunking the Myths.” The researcher analyzed data breach incidents that occurred between January 2005 and April 2015. Information about these incidents came from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This nonprofit group compiles this data from a variety of sources, including media coverage, Office of the U.S. Attorney General press releases, company press releases, and privacy websites.

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Fitness Tracker Vulnerabilities and How to Deal with Them

Cybercriminals have successfully hacked Fitbit user accounts. Learn about the vulnerabilities related to fitness trackers as well as what you can do to keep your data secure.

If Fitbit Charge users were wearing their fitness trackers when they heard the news about Fitbit user accounts being hacked, they probably saw their heart rates increase. On January 6, 2016, BuzzFeed News broke the story on how cybercriminals hacked multiple Fitbit user accounts. They changed email addresses and usernames as well as tried to swindle Fitbit out of replacement items under warranty.

The cybercriminals also gained access to Fitbit users’ data, according to BuzzFeed News. The data includes activity-related metrics, such as the number of steps taken and calories burned. It also includes where users are performing those activities and what time they usually go to sleep if their devices have Global Positioning System (GPS) and sleep-tracking functionality.

This cyberattack begs the question: What are the fitness trackers’ vulnerabilities and how can you deal with them? To answer it, you first need to know how they work.

How Fitness Trackers Work

Fitness trackers use various sensors that continuously generate data about the wearer. Because the devices need to be small and lightweight, they do not store or process this data. Instead, they typically use short-range wireless transmissions to send the data to smartphones (or computers) for storage. Apps on these devices analyze the data and display the results. Oftentimes, these apps also send a copy of the data to cloud-based servers hosted by the fitness tracker vendors. Besides storing the data, the vendors sometimes offer additional services, such as more detailed analyses.

Because fitness trackers work this way, there are security vulnerabilities on several fronts:

  • When the data is sent to the smartphone
  • When the data is sent to the vendor’s cloud servers
  • When the data is stored in the cloud

Problems That Can Occur When the Data Is Sent to the Smartphone

Just about every fitness tracker uses a Bluetooth connection to send its data to the user’s smartphone. If fitness trackers do not take the appropriate measures to secure this connection, problems can arise.

To see whether fitness trackers were taking the necessary precautions, AV-TEST researchers tested the Bluetooth connections on nine fitness trackers. They discovered that two of the fitness trackers adequately secured the connections, but the rest fell short. Common problems included no authentication process or an inadequate one between the fitness tracker and smartphone. Another common problem was that the Bluetooth connection was always active and thus visible to other Bluetooth-enabled devices. The worst offender let any Bluetooth-enabled device connect to it. Once the connection was made, it voluntarily handed over the user’s data, which was not encrypted or protected in any way.

While the AV-TEST researchers pointed out common Bluetooth vulnerabilities, other researchers have proved that those vulnerabilities can be exploited:

  • A Kaspersky Lab researcher proved that it is possible to connect to fitness trackers, execute commands, and even extract data when the devices have inadequate authentication methods.
  • A Fortinet researcher developed a way to deliver malware to a fitness tracker through its Bluetooth port. However, only a small amount of malicious code (up to 17 bytes) can be delivered, according to the NewsFactor Network. This limits the types of attacks that could be carried out.
  • Symantec researchers proved that fitness trackers using Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) connections were susceptible to location tracking. When in use, a Bluetooth LE-enabled device broadcasts a signal to advertise itself to nearby devices. The Symantec researchers built Bluetooth scanners to find these signals. They then successfully used the scanners to locate some fitness trackers and track their owners’ whereabouts at a major European running event and in public areas in Dublin, Ireland, and Zurich, Switzerland.

Problems That Can Occur When the Data Is Sent to the Vendor

Just like any other type of application, fitness tracker apps are susceptible to attacks if they are not properly secured. One major area of concern is how the apps send data to the vendor’s servers.

AV-TEST researchers found that all nine of the fitness tracker apps they tested properly secured any data sent through the Internet. Besides using a secure connection, the apps encrypted the fitness data as well as the users’ credentials.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. When Symantec researchers analyzed some popular smartphone health and fitness apps, they found that 20 percent of them transmitted users’ login credentials in plain text. This gives cybercriminals the opportunity to access users’ account information as well as their health and fitness data. If the app users re-use their login credentials for other online accounts, the cybercriminals could potentially gain access to those accounts as well. Further, transmitting credentials in plain text makes users more susceptible to other types of attacks, such as Denial of Service (DoS). In a DoS attack, cybercriminals try to prevent users from accessing a service by overwhelming it with service requests.

Problems That Can Occur When the Data Is in the Cloud

Fitness tracker vendors commonly store users’ fitness data in their cloud-based servers. This can be problematic in two regards.

First, if the vendors do not properly secure their servers, there could be data breaches. Cybercriminals will likely be interested in this data, particularly if it is collocated with other personal information such as payment card data.

Perhaps a more imminent threat is the sale of fitness data. In the United States, there are currently no federal regulations preventing vendors from selling fitness data to marketing firms, employers, health insurers, and other third parties. They can even sell it without the users’ consent or knowledge. One U.S. senator has asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to institute regulations that require fitness-tracker and fitness-app vendors to inform users of such sales and give users the chance to opt out. In other words, these vendors would need to post a privacy policy.

When Symantec researchers were researching smartphone health and fitness apps, they found that 48 percent of the app vendors had posted privacy policies. Most of these policies used generic privacy statements with vague promises of keeping user data private.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Fitness Data

Although fitness trackers have security vulnerabilities on several fronts, you can take some precautions to keep your data secure:

  • Do some research on the fitness tracker to see if there are any known problems.
  • Make sure there is an adequate authentication process used in the communications between the fitness tracker and the smartphone.
  • Verify that the fitness tracker sends out a Bluetooth signal only when needed.
  • Confirm that the fitness tracker app uses secure protocols (e.g., HTTPS) when transmitting data over the Internet.
  • Use full encryption if available.
  • Check to see if the fitness tracker vendor has a privacy policy that states it will not sell users’ data to third parties.
  • Make sure that the fitness tracker vendor uses adequate security measures to protects its servers.
  • Use strong passwords for your online accounts.
  • Do not use the same password for different accounts.
  • Install updates for your smartphone’s operating system and fitness tracker app as soon as they are available.
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What You Need to Know about Dorkbot to Keep Your Organization Safe

More than 1 million computers running Microsoft Windows have been infected by the Dorkbot botnet. Here is what you need to know about this threat so that you can keep your company’s online account credentials safe.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) — a division within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — issued a security alert about Dorkbot in December 2015. This botnet has infected more than 1 million computers running Microsoft Windows in over 190 countries, according to Microsoft. A botnet consists of a large number of computers and other devices under a cybercriminal’s control. Cybercriminals use botnets for a variety of nefarious reasons. By learning what cybercriminals hope to accomplish with Dorkbot and how Dorkbot infiltrates computers, you can better understand how to protect your computer from this threat.

What Cybercriminals Hope to Accomplish with Dorkbot

Cybercriminals are mainly using Dorkbot to steal online account credentials and other types of private information. This is possible because Dorkbot monitors and intercepts communications between web browsers and various websites.

In an effort to keep the infected computers under their control, cybercriminals sometimes instruct Dorkbot to block access to certain security software websites. That way, the computers will not receive any anti-malware definitions that might rid them of the infection. Some cybercriminals also have Dorkbot install additional malware on victims’ computers.

Cybercriminals even use Dorkbot-infected computers in denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. These attacks prevent people from accessing a service by overwhelming it with service requests.

How Dorkbot Infiltrates Computers

Dorkbot can be spread multiple ways. One method uses phishing emails that try to get the recipients to click a link that will lead to a Dorkbot infection.

Another method uses drive-by downloads, which exploit known vulnerabilities in web browsers, plug-ins, and other components that work within browsers. Cybercriminals create exploit kits that infect computers with Dorkbot through these vulnerabilities. They place the kits on websites they build or legitimate websites they hack into. If computers connecting to these websites have not received the patch that fixes the exploited vulnerability, Dorkbot will be automatically installed on those computers without the users knowing about it.

After Dorkbot infects a computer, it automatically tries to spread to other machines. One way it does this is through social engineering attacks. For example, Dorkbot might send instant messages to the Skype contacts listed in an infected computer. The messages usually try to trick them into clicking a link that will download Dorkbot onto their computers. Similarly, Dorkbot might carry out social engineering attacks through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

A further way Dorkbot tries to spread to other machines is through removable drives, such as USB drives. If users of Dorkbot-infected computers plug a removable device into their computers, Dorkbot copies itself to the device. When the device is plugged into a different computer, Dorkbot will automatically spread to that computer. Fortunately, this method is not very effective anymore due to changes in how the Autorun feature in Windows works, according to Microsoft.

How to Protect Your Computer from Dorkbot

To help protect your computer from Dorkbot and other malware, follow these recommendations:

  • Use anti-malware software. Anti-malware software providers regularly update their product to protect computers from the most current threats.
  • Install software updates promptly, such as those for Windows and web browsers. If you keep your operating system, web browser, and other software up to date, cybercriminals will not be able to install malware like Dorkbot through known vulnerabilities.
  • Be cautious when you receive instant messages, social media messages, and emails that contain links, even if they are from a trusted source. If possible, verify that your contact actually sent you the link before you click it.
  • Do not download software from websites other than the software developer’s website if possible. The software might have been modified so that it infects your computer with Dorkbot or other malware.

If you want to make sure that your computer is not infected with Dorkbot, ensure your anti-malware software is active and up-to-date. If your computer was infected, be sure to change your online account passwords immediately, as they might have been compromised.

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Before getting rid of an old computer, you need to make sure that all the personal and sensitive data on the hard drive is irretrievable. If personal or sensitive data falls into the wrong hands, your business could incur staggering direct and indirect expenses. The average total cost of a data breach in 2015 was $3.8 million, according to the Ponemon Institute’s report, “2015 Cost of Data Breach Study: Global Analysis”.

An organization does not even need to experience a data breach to incur expenses due to the improper disposal of data on hard drives. In 2014, Visionworks failed to secure the personal information of more than 72,000 Maryland residents after it misplaced two old unsecured servers. They might have been accidentally taken to landfills. Both servers contained encrypted credit card data. They also contained customers’ names, addresses, birthdays, and purchase histories.

Even though there was no evidence that any of the data had been compromised, the Consumer Protection Division of Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General sued Visionworks. The company agreed to pay Maryland $100,000. It also agreed to provide identity theft insurance and an additional year of credit monitoring to Maryland customers requesting these coverages. Visionworks had already offered all affected customers a year of free credit monitoring immediately after the incident.

How to Make Sure the Data on an Old Hard Drive Is Irretrievable

When getting rid of an old computer, you might be tempted to simply reformat the hard drive. However, formatting a hard drive does not destroy the files on the drive. It only destroys the information that the operating system uses to find those files. Anyone can easily retrieve the files using a data recovery tool.

There are several proper ways to make sure the data on a hard drive is irretrievable. Common methods include:

  • Overwriting: You can use data destruction software to overwrite a hard drive’s data with a pattern of meaningless characters. You may need to run the software multiple times to fully overwrite a drive’s data.
  • Degaussing: You can erase data using a magnetic field. There are different types of degaussers, so you need to make sure you pick the right one for the job. The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) discusses the different types of degaussers in its Degausser Evaluated Products List. This document also lists the degaussers that meet the NSA/CSS requirements for erasing magnetic storage devices containing classified or sensitive data.
  • Crushing: You can use a hard drive crusher to pierce, bend, and mangle hard drives beyond physical repair. The data on the crushed hard drive is still intact, but it is difficult to retrieve.
  • Shredding: Similar to paper shredders, hard drive shredders cut hard drives into randomly sized strips. The data is still intact, but it is even more difficult to retrieve than the data on crushed drives.
  • Disintegrating: Disintegrators cut hard drives into smaller and smaller pieces until they are unrecognizable and not reconstructible. Disintegrating is usually done after shredding.

For even better protection, you can use more than one method. You might first degauss or overwrite the data. Afterward, you can crush, shred, or disintegrate the hard drive.

New Technologies – SSD

Newer technologies such as Solid State Drives (SSDs) pose new challenges to destruction since many of the old “wiping” approaches simply do not apply. Shredding or disintegrating of SSD drives are the most advisable approaches.

Factors to Consider When Deciding on a Method

There are several factors to consider when deciding how to make sure the data on your old hard drives is irretrievable. Two important considerations are cost and how many hard drives you need to get rid of.

Data destruction software is cheap. Some programs are even free. However, using this software can be time-consuming because you need to run the program several times to be effective. It is not uncommon for a single pass to take eight hours. So, if you have many drives to get rid of, this might not be the best option.

You can get the job done much quicker with a machine that degausses, crushes, shreds, or disintegrates hard drives. These machines, though, can be expensive. If you do not want to buy one, there are firms that offer hard drive destruction services. Some firms will transport a client’s hard drives to their facilities, where the drives are destroyed. Other firms will destroy a client’s hard drives at the client’s site.

Another important consideration is whether your organization falls under any industry or government regulations. Some laws call for the proper disposal of protected health information, such as names, addresses, social security numbers, and medical histories. Depending on the regulation, you may or may not be able to select who will dispose of the data — your employees or a hard drive destruction firm. If done in-house, the employees tasked with this job must receive training on the proper way to dispose of the data. Their supervisors must also receive this same training. If you hire a firm, you need to enter into a contract that requires the firm to safeguard the data during its disposal.

Other industry and government regulations may require you to properly dispose of data on old hard drives. Each regulation has its own requirements.

Qualified IT professionals at InfoStructures can help you determine the best way to meet all applicable requirements.

Do Not Assume Your Business is Too Small to Attract Cybercriminals

Many small businesses have a false sense of security when it comes to cybercrime. More than 75% of U.S. small businesses believe they are safe from it, even though 83% of them do not have formal cyber security plans, according to a study conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Symantec.

Why Is There a False Sense of Security?

Many small businesses assume their size will keep them safe from cybercrime. They often believe that cybercriminals will only go after large companies because those companies have more money, email addresses, credit card numbers, and trade secrets to steal.

However, large companies also have more security experts and IT administrators to guard their assets. Many small businesses do not even have an IT administrator. A third of all small businesses rely on a nontechnical employee to manage their IT systems, according to an AMI-Partners study commissioned by Microsoft.

In reality, cybercriminals often target small businesses because they usually do not have the expertise or resources to fend them off. In 2014, more than a third of all reported targeted attacks were against small businesses, according to Symantec’s 2015 Internet Security Threat Report.

How to Protect Your Small Business from Cybercriminals

There are many measures you can take to help protect your business from cyberattacks. Some of them are fairly easy to put in place, even without the help of an IT administrator. Others measures are more involved. For these measures, you might want to get help from an outside security expert if your business does not have the necessary expertise.

Use security software and a firewall: In 2014, cybercriminals created 317 million pieces of new malware, almost 1 million per day, according to the 2015 Internet Security Threat Report. So, one of the first measures to take is to make sure you have software that detects malware, viruses, and spyware. This security software needs to be updated often. You will also want to make sure you have an operational firewall.

Create and enforce a password policy: A simple measure that can help keep cybercriminals at bay is to create a password policy. You can use this policy to make sure that employees use strong passwords and change them regularly. You can also use it to make sure that different system accounts have different passwords. To make the password policy effective, you need to enforce it.

Provide security training: Employees will not be able to use strong passwords if they do not know how to create them. This is where security training comes in handy. Besides teaching employees how to create a strong password, you can educate them about security threats, such as how attackers use phishing emails that contain malware to infiltrate companies. You can then tell employees about the best ways to thwart attacks. In the case of phishing, you can tell them to verify links in emails before clicking them and not open email attachments that look suspicious.

Dedicate a computer for online banking: If you conduct financial transactions over the Internet, the FBI, American Bankers Association, and Federal Reserve all recommend that you dedicate a computer for this purpose. You should not use this computer for any other online activities that might expose it to vulnerabilities. For example, you should not use it for emailing and surfing the web.

Use two-factor authentication: Using two-factor authentication during logins adds an additional layer of security. With two-factor authentication, employees need to verify their identity with something they have and with something they know. For instance, you might have them swipe a card through a reader and enter a security code. If you have remote employees, you might have them enter a randomly generated number from an electronic token card and enter a password.

Encrypt and back up your data: You can use encryption to protect your data when it is being transmitted over the Internet and when it is sitting in a database or file server. Encryption protocols such as Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, enable you to protect your data as it is being transmitted over the Internet. Disk drives and databases usually include encryption technology that lets you encrypt data while it is at rest.

Encryption helps stop hackers from stealing sensitive data. It can also help prevent a ransomware attack. Ransomware is a type of malware that cybercriminals use to extort money from victims. They often use it to encrypt data and then demand a ransom to get the password needed for decryption.

There are other types of ransomware attacks. Cybercriminals sometimes use ransomware to lock a computer system and then demand a ransom to unlock it. The best way to defend against all types of ransomware is to regularly back up your data. That way, you can refuse to give in to the cybercriminals’ demands, knowing that you will be able to restore your systems and data if they cause harm.

Be Prepared for an Attack

The measures discussed here are only some of the ones you can take to fend off cybercriminals. Despite your best efforts, though, your small business might still fall victim to an attack. For this reason, you should create a contingency plan covering how to deal with an attack. You also might consider getting an insurance policy that protects you against any losses that you might incur from a cyberattack.

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Insider Threat Risks to Your Organization

Business owners and IT managers are well aware of the threats posted by hackers and cybercriminals to their networks, and most are taking steps to secure their organizations and to ward off these outside threats. However, sometimes the biggest threat to your company comes from within the walls of your office.

A recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service, and the CERT Insider Threat Center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute found that malicious insiders within the financial industry often get away with fraud for nearly 32 months before they are detected.

At a February presentation at RSA Conference 2013, Dawn Cappelli of the CERT Insider Threat Center presented several instances in which current and former employees damaged companies by planting malware, stealing corporate data, or colluding with outsiders to commit fraud. In fact, the center has tracked 800 insider threat cases since 2001.

Types of Insider Threats to Watch Out For

According to Cappelli, certain employees often are involved in a range of scenarios:

Cases involving intellectual property theft, such as business plans or source code, often involve a former employee who worked on the project. Often, these culprits save company information on a USB drive and are never caught.

In cases of sabotage, highly technical employees, such as system administrators who become disgruntled after being fired, often set up an attack before leaving the company.

Fraud cases typically involve lower-level support employees, such as help desk personnel, who conspire with outsiders.

Threats from untrained users or users that are not following procedures are also very real.

Potential Sources of Insider Threats

Companies that use file services like Dropbox and virtual machines should be careful, as employees can use these to exfiltrate information. One case Cappelli presented involved a product development manager who had access to clients’ trade secrets. He had access to information on two clients in the semiconductor industry and downloaded 80 documents before leaving the company and taking a job with one of these semiconductor clients. His new employer turned him over to authorities after learning about the breach, including the fact that 18 of the documents belonged to a close competitor. To protect your company from this type of threat, ensure that business partners protect information, audit their controls, and build it into contracts.

Another source of potential insider fraud is shared computers. Cappelli spoke of an instance at a university, where two students loaded malware onto publicly accessible computers so they could steal credentials and spy on student records.

In another situation at a hospital, a disgruntled security guard, who had a background in system administration, installed malware on systems. He was caught when he posted a video of his work, and another hacker reported him to the FBI.

Yet another instance involved a network engineer at a retail company who knew he was going to be fired. He created a VPN token for a fake employee before leaving the company, and then called the company’s help desk pretending to be a new employee requesting a credential activation. After lying low for a few months, the former employee deleted corporate email accounts and virtual machines, creating a major headache for the company. To protect virtual machines, companies can scan memory files and tie virtual environments into existing security systems.

Insider Threat Warning Signs

While these examples of rogue employees wreaking havoc on companies might be scary, they serve as a reminder that threats need not come from outside a business.

In a recent Tech Republic article, writer Tom Olzak shares a list of possible signs that an employee is about to go rogue, possibly creating a security risk for your company. His list includes the following:

  • Attempts to circumvent security controls
  • Unexplained, repeated absences on Monday or Friday
  • Pattern of disregard for rule
  • Long-term anger about being passed over for a promotion
  • Pattern of lying and deception of peers or managers
  • Frustration with management for not listening to what the employee considers grave concerns about security or business processes

Watch out for these signs that someone may become a threat, and communicate with that employee immediately to attempt to remedy the situation before it spirals out of control. Since employees often hide malicious behaviors from managers, training all employees to watch out for signs of discontent can help with prevention. Providing a way for employees to anonymously report peers can help them look out for your company without fear of being labeled a tattletale.

The “Accidental” Threat

While the threat of an insider intentionally compromising security to get what he or she needs is very real. industry statistics indicate that more than 52 percent of insider incidents are accidental or inadvertent. How do you guard against these? A multi-dimensional security approach is required that encompasses:

  • Education  — educate your users about the risks of phishing attacks, social engineering attacks, and high risk behaviors such as downloading and installing unauthorized or illegal software, or sharing passwords.
  • Security Tools — many organizations invest in tools that can monitor in a “trust but verify” manner; reminder emails and popups give users a chance to think twice about an action that may put the organization at risk
  • Policies/Procedures — ensure that your policies and procedures are not just in place for reference, but are actually followed. Audit them periodically to verify compliance. If users are circumventing them, establish user task forces to optimize and improve them. This will also result in more user buy-in.

Parting Thoughts

Protecting against insider threats, malicious or inadvertent, can be the difference in success vs. failure for organizations with key legal considerations or intellectual property to protect. Developing the right approach to managing risk is more than just good business, it is a necessity.  Owners and IT managers of organizations should identify their largest insider risks and develop “right-sized” approaches to mitigating them.

While the threat of an insider intentionally compromising security to get what he or she needs is very real. industry statistics indicate that more than 52 percent of insider incidents are accidental or inadvertent. How do you guard against these? A multi-dimensional security approach is required that encompasses: