You have a lot of mission-critical data to protect – from insights about their target audience, intellectual property rights, to countless bits of personally identifiable information. But if the recent reports of data theft and cybersecurity failure are any indications, keeping company information secure and away from unauthorized people is getting harder by the day.
To maintain your grip on your business’ data, you need to know who or what you’re up against. In this post, we will look at four of the biggest information security threats and how they put your entire organization at risk.
1. All-In-One Malware
These sophisticated malware programs spread like wildfire. They can infect end-users, websites, small office routers, and even IoT devices. They also come with management consoles which allow their creators to track and control the network of infected computers.
One such malware is w32.sality.
Sality uses a process injector to create copies of itself to ensure it stays up and running. The malware also lowers the security of a system by disabling security-related processes and services and setting up an IPFilter to block access to security vendor URLs.
But the complex malware doesn’t stop there. Sality also downloads and executes other malware and also integrates infected computers into a botnet. An all-in-one malware indeed!
After your company’s computers become part of a botnet, the malware owners will order them to do botnet things such as:
- Carry out DDOS attacks. The botnet bombards a target website with traffic to slow down its performance. Earlier this year, GitHub had to take its website offline for 10 minutes when it got hit with a massive 1.35 tbps DDOS attack. But days later, an unnamed US service provider took a beating from a world-record DDOS attack with 17 tbps of traffic.
- Send spam and phishing emails. Some botnets are built to send spam and malicious emails. Kelihos, for example, started in 2010 as a spam botnet with 45,000 computers. In 2017, the network has 100,000 infected machines and accounted for 51% of global botnet spam.
- Mine Bitcoins. Mining BTCs with your office computer is silly. The amount of BTC you can mine won’t break-even with the electricity and computing power you expend. But botnet owners don’t mind because you’re paying for their operational expenses and they keep 100% of the profit!
In the next section, we’ll meet another malware whose methods for compromising data and extorting money from businesses is much more direct.
Ransomware is a type of malware that kidnaps your files and prevents you from accessing them until you pay a ransom.
Not all ransomware are equal, though.
Some use scare tactics, such as pop-ups telling you that your computer is infected and you must pay up. Others will welcome you with a screen with the logo of the FBI, accusing you of downloading pirated software and demanding you pay a fine.
Ultimately, however, the threats are empty because you can still access your files by getting rid of the malware.
The most sinister variety of ransomware, however, blocks user access by encrypting the system’s documents, videos, images, and other files. The files can only be recovered by paying a ransom (in Bitcoin) to the perpetrator’s wallet.
This type of ransomware proved especially damaging to businesses. Losing $300 to $1000 may not qualify as a financial catastrophe for established companies. But the downtime that comes with a ransomware attack can have disastrous consequences.
In May 2017, ransomware WannaCry infected more than 400,000 machines and generated $142,361.51 for its creator. The attack’s biggest victim is the UK’s National Health Service. Whether the NHS paid up, we’ll never know. What we do know is that the attack:
- Disabled access to over 1,200 pieces of diagnostic equipment
- Cancelled 19,494 appointments
- Prevented 139 cancer patients, who needed urgent referral, from getting help
All because the NHS kept using an outdated operating system: Windows XP.
While we shall continue our tour of the biggest information security threats, let the NHS incident be a lesson to business owners like you.
Yes, the programs and applications you use in daily operations are an asset. They help you do your work efficiently and ship your deliverables on time. But they can turn to serious data security liabilities if you don’t update them as often as you should.
In particular, you need to update the operating system, antivirus software, and security-related applications of a computer soon after the release of a new patch.
Know, too, that business machines like printers work like computers. They can connect to the internet and use software to carry out printing and copying jobs. So make sure they’re all up to date.
If you have a managed print service provider, make sure they not only refill toners and cartridges when they run low on ink but also update your printer’s software right after the release of a new patch.
3. Third-Party Breaches
We think of our vendors, suppliers, and contractors as partners. But third parties can pose a huge information security risk to the businesses they work with.
According to a 2017 report by Ponemon:
More than 55% of businesses experienced a third-party data breach in the previous year. To make problems worse, 21% of the survey participants said no one person or department is accountable for such data breaches.
Third-party breaches and security failures are indiscriminate, costing businesses of all sizes anywhere from $150,839.27 to $2,134,518.00.
Target stood on the receiving of such an incident.
In 2014, attackers got into Target’s system using stolen credentials from the latter’s HVAC company, and installed their credit card-stealing software in a few cash registers. But only two days after the initial intrusion, the majority of the discount store retailer’s POS machines have been infected.
The wake of the attack saw 40 million debit and credit cards exposed, while experts estimate Target’s losses at a massive $420 million.
If a big brand is vulnerable to third-party breaches, then so is everyone else! Target still exists years after the privacy fiasco. But smaller businesses hit with a third-party data breach may not be as lucky.
4. Internal Personnel
Your employees are the biggest information security threat to your business.
About 60% of cybersecurity attacks are carried out by insiders. These types of attacks are especially harder to defend against as they come from a trusted source. Worse, rogue employees may erase their tracks and mislead forensic investigations.
On the other hand, not all data breaches and security failures due to internal personnel are intentional.
The employee in question may be an inadvertent actor who misclicked an email attachment or sent a company’s trade secrets to the wrong email address. Staff members may also lose company-issued smartphones and laptops, giving others unauthorized access to the company’s network and data.
Even more worrisome, however, is the fact that people in your company are also vulnerable to blackmail and intimidation. The Information Security Forum’s Threat Horizon 2020 report predicted that criminal groups will combine their digital acumen with real threats of violence to force organization insiders to share confidential information.
C-suite executives immediately come to mind as targets, but their personal assistants, software developers, and administrators are at risk, too.