A Barrage of Breaches Later, Cybersecurity Requires a Rethink

Cybersecurity needs an upgrade.

It’s a good time to bet against cybersecurity when everyday headlines are made of breached dating websites; stolen federal employee records; pilfered private health care records of patients – all of which affects millions of people. It’s time, perhaps, that fundamental cybersecurity policies in corporations, the government and other predictable targets vulnerable to hackers, requires a rethink.

An example as recent as the $100 million insider trading ring involving Wall Street traders and Ukrainian hackers looking into corporate press releases addresses the vulnerabilities in no uncertain terms. In an age where companies can distribute information through corporate websites, social media outlets, and mailing lists, one might assume newswires are outdated and offer little value. Still, newswires are necessary. Companies are mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to put out press releases in the interest of fair disclosure. Hence, PR agencies are predictable targets for opportunists and hackers for their ill-gotten gains.

press releasesThe FBI dismantled the illegal insider ring and released their own press release, claiming the accused had stolen approximately 150,000 confidential press releases since 2010. It’s baffling that, with such massive stakes, PR wire agencies and companies aren’t investing in a better cybersecurity infrastructure.

Rick Spurr, Chairman and CEO of Zix Corporation – an email encryption services provider, says that companies and services that are not prioritizing the latest security measures risk embarrassment and are jeopardizing customer trust.

“Anyone in security shouldn’t be surprised by incidents like the hack of newswire services. Data breaches are common and have occurred for years, but often they’ve gone undetected,” Spurr told Hacked.

“These incidents show that all companies – both public and private – have valuable data that is vulnerable to theft and, therefore, require data protection.”

While certain industries like healthcare and finance adopted security solutions early, a majority of the rest were slow to implement protection, adds Spurr.

The Greatest Vulnerabilities Are Also the Most Obvious Ones

The reality is that no corporation, government or person is truly secure against the threat of hacking. Mitigation strategies and cyber-defenses are routinely the focus of cybersecurity experts, and yet the biggest vulnerabilities in companies remain its employees.

“Employee behavior risks” remain the greatest concern as a vulnerability facing companies, asserts Spurr. Social engineering scams such as email and phone spear phishing,  lack of encryption binding sensitive data sent outside the corporation and other routine errors contribute to failing cybersecurity.

There has been a concentrated focus on embracing encryption by trendsetting tech giants recently. The U.S. Govt recently mandated that all federal websites are required to adopt HTTPS encryption by Dec 31, 2016. At the time of writing this, only 29% of federal websites are compliant with the mandate. Small business owners have also expressed concerns about current cybersecurity and encryption measures.

The other significant vulnerability stems from the “interception of unencrypted data as it travels across the public Internet,” Spurr contends.

There are many insecure channels of communication being used to send confidential information. Unencrypted email and file sharing services are the first that come to mind. Communication via mobile devices should also be a concern for business executives.

Immediate Solutions for Curbing Threats

The human element in any situation always represents the probability of error(s), and it is no different in companies. Even the best employees will inevitably make mistakes, explains Spurr. The best course of action would be to embrace and prioritize automated cybersecurity systems that are further elaborated upon here and here. Email encryption is a necessity and recommended because it is automated to scan instantly and secure data in real-time.

Furthermore, Spurr notes that it is imperative that employees are educated about the dangers of targeted spear phishing schemes. Regular training routines are also recommended to understand and be vigilant against social engineering schemes that will always better the best-automated security and encryption possible.

The Bigger Picture

While HTTPS encryption and better cybersecurity practices will help with greater safety, the means to combat or even resist the threat of state-sponsored hacker groups is a far more daunting task. For instance, the latest State of the Internet report (Q2 2015) indicates the originating source for the highest number of DDoS attacks is China.

State-sponsored hackers from China have long been suspected and accused of targeting U.S. institutions by breaching records of over 30 million federal employees; infiltrating universities; stealing airline manifests by hacking United Airlines; performing cyber espionage on Forbes among other clandestine operations.

It isn’t all one-way, either. Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. targeted and hacked Chinese Universities and mobile phones. In what is essentially a high-stakes game of cat and mouse to preserve their self-interests, the subject of cybersecurity, state-sponsored hacking, and cyber espionage were discussed at length during bi-lateral talks between the two nations earlier this year.

It has to be reiterated that every security system, company or government can be hacked. However, better standards of cybersecurity will ensure that the privacy and confidential information of millions that are stored online are better preserved. Otherwise, it’s one long and open season for malicious hackers.

Images from Shutterstock and Pixabay.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.