Data Breaches Big and Small: What Can We Learn?

Data Breaches Big and Small: What Can We Learn?

Author bio

Dan Fries is a freelance writer and full stack Rust developer. He looks for convergence in technology trends, with specific interests in cybersecurity, micro mobility, and smart cities. Dan enjoys snowboarding and is based in Hong Kong with his pet beagle, Teddy. His website is danfries.net.


 

If you own an online business or website, you need to actively take meaures to prevent a data breach. If you are considering selling your online business, you should make sure your across the best security practicesYou’ve probably heard that those who don’t learn the lessons from history will repeat its mistakes. In the world of cyber-security, failing to heed that advice could have devastating effects on your reputation and bottom line. 

 

That’s exactly what seems to have happened in 2018, which smashed all records set in 2017, itself a jaw-dropping year for data breaches. Not only was there major chaos in terms of financial loss and damaged reputations for corporate giants, about 60% of reported breaches targeted small businesses. Those are the ones that rarely make the news.

 

Only 10 percent of cybercrimes are even reported, so imagine how the actual numbers add up. 

 

Digging into Breaches

 

What kind of malfeasance are we talking about? More than half of the leaks exposed customer information, and a whopping 46% or more leaked credit card and other financial records, including account numbers. 

 

One of the most dangerous times for small companies is during a merger. With so many larger companies buying up smaller businesses and online properties changing hands like it was a poker game, all parties involved need to take care they don’t inadvertently release privileged data in the process

 

What can you learn from big and small data breaches in order to prevent future grief? 

 

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are a few of our “favorite” breaches of 2018 and a handful of case studies to provide context and additional insight.

 

1. British Airways

From August 21 – September 5, hackers were able to access credit card payments of 380,000 travelers on both the airline website and mobile app. 

 

2. Orbitz

The travel aggregation portal experienced a database hack that exposed the credit card information of 880,000 travelers who booked through their website between January 1, 2016 and December 22, 2017. The hack wasn’t discovered until a year later.

 

3. SingHealth

Singapore’s health care information system was hacked in an attempt to gain information about the Prime Minister’s health. In the process, the hackers exposed the patient histories, names, and addresses of 1.5 million other citizens.

 

4. T-Mobile

On August 20, 2018, the telecommunications giant was hacked via an API interface. Encrypted passwords and billing information of two million customers was exposed. 

 

5. Saks/Lord and Taylor

On an undisclosed date (because no one is sure when) the credit card information of five million customers was accessed. The hacking group JokerStash claimed responsibility.

 

6. Timehop

From December 2017 to July 2018, names, addresses, and some phone numbers of 21 million Timehop members were left vulnerable due to insufficient authentication in their cloud computing environment.

 

7. Ticketfly

The online ticket seller was hacked by someone calling themselves “IsHaKdZ”. Personal information of 27 million customers was exposed. 

 

8. Facebook

It was a banner year for the social media giant. In addition to their problems with third-party data sales and congressional hearings, the accounts of 29 million users were exposed when hackers gained access tokens to their accounts. This occurred from July 2017 to September 2018.

 

9. Chegg

Personal information, shipping addresses, user names, and passwords of 40 million customers were accessed by an “unauthorized person” between April 29, 2018 and September 19, 2018. The eCommerce website is an online retailer selling such brands as EasyBib.

 

10. Google+

Personal information of 52.5 million account holders, including employers and job titles, was exposed due to a software glitch. This happened from March 2015 to 2018, and again from November 7 to November 13, 2018. Google has since shut down this platform for good.

 

One of the most dangerous times for small companies is during a merger. With so many larger companies buying up smaller businesses and online properties changing hands like it was a poker game, all parties involved need to take care they don’t inadvertently release privileged data in the process.

Data Breach Case Studies

Behind each data breach or leak lies a personal story of a company that didn’t pay attention to details. Taking a deeper dive into a few of them might more seriously demonstrate the gravity of what can happen when security isn’t emphasized. Does your business have the resources to withstand a million-dollar leak? How about $100,000? Most companies don’t. In fact, most small companies will go out of business within six months of a data breach, even without the negative publicity. Almost as bad as the difficulty you’ll likely encounter trying to sell a website with a data breach history.

 

Case Study: Aadhaar

Customers affected: 1.1 billion

What Happened?

 

Aadhaar is the national database that contains all Indian government identification cards. The database not only holds names and ID numbers but also biometric information like iris scans and fingerprints. Although registration in this database isn’t mandatory, some 1.1 billion Indian residents are enrolled. 

 

The system is used for everything from registering a sim card to obtaining government benefits. It was accessed via a leak from the state-owned utility company, Indane, allowing anyone with access to their website to download customer ID numbers. It was due to a vulnerable endpoint, something that is easily patched. 

 

This isn’t the first time the Aadhaar system has had security issues. The company has suffered numerous breaches, and the government did nothing about this latest leak for weeks, calling it fake news when the public learned of the breach. 

 

Key takeaway: Digging deeper into the breach, we find that the problem can actually be traced to Indane, an Indian LPG gas company with vendor access to Aardhaar but which was leaking data through unsecured website endpoints. Whether Indane specialized in incompetence or simply tried to cut website hosting costs related to development is unclear, but the bottom line lesson remains that a government database is only as secure as the vendors allowed to access it.  

 

 

Case Study: Starwood Hotels

Customers affected: 500 million records

What happened?

 

As we can see from numerous cases, hotels are a prime target for hackers and breaches. They hold credit card information for reservations and the dates that people will be away from their homes. This is an open invitation to various means of theft. 

 

In the case of Starwood, parent company of the Marriott chain, the guest database experienced “unauthorized access” that was only discovered on September 10, 2018, but the leaks may have been ongoing as far back as 2014. The database contained not only guest names, addresses, and phone numbers, but credit card information, reservation dates, and passport numbers. What a treasure trove for thieves!

 

Key takeaway: Starwood failed to implement even basic security strategies. Though the company has been short on details, it seems hackers were basically living on their servers. One method of entry was infiltration of a POS system. For a nominal fee, the best VPNs available today would have encrypted their POS network, ensuring that any leaked customer data stayed private. 

 

Additionally, in the case of Starwood, the guest database was not protected until November 2018, two months after the breach was discovered. Security suite software and a robust firewall might have prevented THIS unauthorized ingress. Since the company has hotels all over Europe, it’s also left itself open to potential fines of up to 4% of gross revenues under the new GDPR regulations

 

Case Study: PATCO Construction 

Customers affected: The company

What happened?

 

A Trojan Horse virus was slipped into the company’s system, allowing thieves to access their corporate account and drain it to the tune of just over half a million dollars in less than a week. The company was able to recoup just under $200,000 of the money, though they initially failed in a lawsuit against the bank that handles ACH transfers, which they believe didn’t use reasonable security during wire transfers. They won on appeal, but still had to pay interest on hundreds of thousands in overdraft fees.

 

Key takeaway: Before you conduct any business electronically, make sure that the bank and any third-parties involved in conducting transfers and other financial business use adequate security. You should also ask how they handle data breaches in the case that any occur.

 

How to Protect Yourself and Customers

 

What happened to Volunteer Voyages demonstrates that small business owners don’t have much recourse after the fact. If the banks won’t reimburse you and police have trouble catching cyber criminals, what’s left?

 

We’ve touched on the idea that a data breach can make it hard to sell an online business. At the very least, expect it to drive down the valuation to the point that your profit potential is downright depressing. Consider the following steps to boost site security for a reasonable expense. The money spent will likely be far less than the financial hit you’ll take in the event of a data leak or breach. 

 

The most important thing you can do is learn about data protection, and make sure that all of your employees and subcontractors understand the process and necessity. The second step is to perform a thorough assessment of where your network stands on cybersecurity. If you don’t have qualified personnel on-staff, outsource an audit to a reputable security consulting firm. However, the knowledge you gain is meaningless unless you use it, which is step three. 

 

The most relevant data security measures you can employ are:

 

  • Install a firewall

 

  • Buy security tools like an anti-virus software that are made especially for small businesses.

 

  • Evaluate and redesign security protocols to meet today’s threats.

 

  • Use a VPN with high-grade encryption and privacy protection on every network and connected device used by you, your employees, and vendors.

 

  • Educate staff about passwords. 

With a full 81% of breaches traced to weak or repetitive passwords, simply tending to this one area could greatly reduce your exposure to hacker mischief. Today’s acceptable passwords should be long and convoluted to evade ever-stronger cracking techniques.

Rather than try to manage passwords with faulty human brainpower, organizations should use password management software and two-factor authentication (2FA). This puts your computer to work creating and managing company passwords and forces a two-step login process that requires a second key generated to a different device (like your smartphone) in addition to the one you’re trying to log into.   

 

Final Thoughts

 

With a full 81% of breaches traced to weak or repetitive passwords, simply tending to this one area could greatly reduce your exposure to hacker mischief. Today’s acceptable passwords should be long and convoluted to evade ever-stronger cracking techniques. 

 

 

Don’t allow your company to become another statistic. You can avoid being the next hard-luck tech story by taking the offensive when it comes to data protection. 

 

Effective, enterprise-wide employee training, comprehensive security solutions, and automation are all best practices to incorporate without breaking your budget. Start today because tomorrow might be the day you get hacked.

6 security best practices leading up to a sale

6 security best practices leading up to a sale

Author bio

Dan Fries is a freelance writer and full stack Rust developer. He looks for convergence in technology trends, with specific interests in cybersecurity, micro mobility, and smart cities. Dan enjoys snowboarding and is based in Hong Kong with his pet beagle, Teddy. His website is danfries.net.


 

If there is any one thing that is absolutely essential to surviving the eCommerce landscape in today’s world, it’s data security.

 

Too often online businesses overlook data security by focusing more on marketing strategies to gain more sales, but the truth is that data security can have a huge effect on your sales as well (not to mention your reputation).

 

“Roughly 60% of online customers today say that they are wary of data breaches, and if they find businesses with compromised payment systems, they’re simply going to find somewhere else to spend their money.”

 

The most successful businesses right now are learning to incorporate the best security practices that lead up to a sale, and not just security that is a byproduct of their organization. With that in mind, here are the top security practices to follow leading up to a sale:

 

1. Migrating Servers & Content

It’s no secret that content gets migrated all the time, as part of a transfer of ownership or simply for a site redesign. Often a business starts with a server provider that is basic and unable to keep up with speed and performance as the company expands its online audience.

For example, many businesses struggle to choose between a website or blog and then start to outgrow the bandwidth and limitations provided. Making the transition to a larger, more reliable server is always a good thing for growing businesses. Unfortunately, it also comes with some significant security risks.

Imagine losing some or all of your important data in the transition. Or imagine personal customer information getting breached during the migration. As a result, you need to make sure security helps sales by making every migration to a more secure server, where it can be one hundred percent safe.

Microsoft’s Storage Migration Service can you help make the transition the most effectively and with as few of security vulnerabilities as possible. Once all the data is transferred, you can then rest more soundly knowing the information is now stored on a more reliable host.

 

2. Controlling Employee Permissions

The CISO or CSO of an organization is not only a guardian of personal data and keeping the company and its technological procedures safe, but is also a curator and custodian of the overall brand.

Security teams should have their hands in every single detail of day-to-day operations, with the goals of defending company assets, meeting market criteria and compliance, and implementing the right technologies at the right times.

Like a ranking order of a military, your employees should also have different permission levels when it comes to helping generate sales. Not every employee should have the exact same access to your systems.

Only the most trustworthy people should have access to the most sensitive information. Apps like Square Employee Management can constantly let your IT team adjust and monitor permissions.

Keeping control of your back end prevents unnecessary leaks and breaches, leading to safer day to day operations. Furthermore, it becomes a domino effect as it builds trust with your customers, knowing you are reputable and take security seriously, knowing they can trust their personal information with you.

 

3. Integrating to the Cloud

There is a reason why so many organizations have moved to the cloud: the cloud has allowed information, and especially sensitive data, to get stored more securely.

Of course, this is a gigantic element of many businesses that care about safety and security. So if your business has not already made the transition, the cloud needs to be your answer if you want to cut costs and improve security. More than 70% of companies in the U.S. now use some form of cloud software — don’t be left behind, and left vulnerable.

Sensitive information that is stored on a computer is no longer the best method. If the computer gets hijacked, lost, or stolen, then everything is compromised. Cloud-based data is encrypted, making it extremely secure and reliable.

 

Are you looking for a premier cloud service? Dropbox, Nextcloud, Google Drive, iCloud, SpiderOak and OneDrive are among the most popular.

 

4. Compliance and Data Privacy

Due to the massive amount of information that is stored and transferred digitally these days, requirements to keep customers information is not only a thing that any company should do to remain ethical but also a legal matter.

More of the developed world is creating compliance procedures and other regulations that businesses must follow. So you’re also supporting and following the law when you act compliant.

Online forms, for example, are a great means for collecting customer information. However, you need to adhere to certain procedures in order to remain compliant. GDPR and CCPA are two examples of compliance measure that are implemented to help protect consumer privacy.

Depending on the industry you operate in, you may have additional measures you need to take. For example, an insurance company has to notify customers what personal data is being tracked and what is not.

Companies that work in the healthcare industry must stick to HIPAA compliant forms and utilize security practices provided by HiTRUST. Failure to secure sensitive data can end up costing a company heavily, including potentially the closing down of the business permanently. The fines can range from $100 to $50,000 per violation, depending on the violation and the severity of the security breach.

 

5. Implement Employee Security Protocols

What you can control the most about your sales is not external, but rather internal matters. In addition to many of the other security practices that help build a client vs. customer trust, organizations much also build management vs. employee trust where you know every single employee, regardless if they are IT or not, are mindful of the best security practices.

 

Even salesman need to understand the basics of cybersecurity in order to contribute to the overall growth and well-being of the company.

Questions you can ask yourself include:

 

  • What are the best practices for accepting credit cards online?
  • What changes in the online payment technology are evolving and how are you adapting?
  • What are the latest security threats and vulnerabilities that target customer credit card and bank account information?

 

All of your employees need to understand that they are responsible for maintaining security protocols in every interaction. According to a study done by Kaspersky, 46% of the businesses surveyed stated that data breaches only happened after irresponsible employees did not follow security protocols. If there isn’t a protocol in place, this is the best time to implement one.

 

6. Transferring SSL Certificates

SSL certificates are a website’s best friend and when it comes to business practices you need to have one in order to expect any reasonable and logical person to entrust you with their personal or financial information.

When a domain gets transferred it must remain secure either with an existing SSL certification or by setting up a new one. In the first security practice section, we covered migrating servers. This is where it becomes applicable.

According to a report from AccuRanker, SSL is not only a ‘nice security feature’ but mandatory if you want to rank well on Google and other search engines. Google now has mandates that require all websites it lists as having to provide an SSL.

Rankings sometimes get impacted negatively when an SSL certificate is changed or updated. It may result in a temporary drop in rankings for your business, although within a few days it should recuperate. Your web host can also help you troubleshoot the problem if it’s still affecting rankings (and therefore sales).

 

Conclusion

Wrapping everything up, we can see that:

  • eCommerce security must be one of your top priorities.
  • Migrating data can put your data at risk.
  • You need to train your employees on proper security protocols.
  • Not all employees are the same; limit their access and permissions.
  • The cloud is great but can be dangerous if not properly secured.
  • There might be more security compliance codes you need to follow.
  • A website MUST have an SSL certificate for any financial or customer sensitive information.

 

In order to keep sales strong and build up trust with customers, consider all of the security practices listed above and implement them immediately if you have not done so already.

 

While it may seem trivial at the moment, it is better to address these issues before something and/or someone messes up. Unfortunately, the human element leads to too many cyber breaches each year. You can work on reducing that in your company through proper security protocols and training. Now is the time to make sure your data is secured properly.