When we think about cyber attacks, we usually think about the malicious actors behind the attacks, the people who profit or gain from exploiting digital vulnerabilities and trafficking sensitive data. In doing so, we can make the mistake of ascribing the same humanity to their methods, thinking of people sitting in front of laptops, typing code into a terminal window. But the reality is both more banal and more dangerous: just like businesses, governments, and other organizations have begun to index data and automate processes, the means of finding and exploiting internet-connected systems are largely performed by computers. There’s no security in obscurity if there’s no obscurity.
Retailers aren’t the only ones benefiting from increased sales around the holidays — scammers and hackers are seeing their own bump in business.
As the holiday season approaches, the world’s fraudsters, scammers, and blackhats can take no small measure of yuletide cheer from their work in 2016 - a banner year for hacking. Call it the dark side of technological innovation, an equal and opposite reaction to the increasing breadth and efficiency of the internet. 2016 was a record-breaking year for data breaches, powerfully affecting the spheres of life like never before - from a presidential election rife with electronic intrigue, to a business landscape increasingly shaped by hacking. But if there is a silver lining to be found, looking at the most damaging data breaches to actually occur in 2016, it is the depressing fact that some of the worst hacks exploited well-known vulnerabilities which could’ve been easily prevented.
On November 29th, after a high-profile year of published leaks and hacks targeting the Democratic Party, Wikileaks struck once more, albeit against an unexpected target: HBGary Federal, a now-defunct government contracting affiliate of the eponymous cybersecurity firm. It was not a name unfamiliar to online observers; in 2011, HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr had boldly claimed to have identified the leading members of internet hacking collective Anonymous, drawing attention from federal investigators eager to identify and arrest the culprits behind DDoS attacks in support of Wikileaks.
The election year is officially underway, but for non-voters and the apathetic—another reason not to register to vote has surfaced: on December 20th, 2015, a security researcher discovered a publicly exposed database of 191 million voter registrant records—names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, party affiliations, state voter IDs, and more—posted online and freely accessible.
2015 may have come and gone, but the effects of last year's data breaches are far-reaching—for both millions of consumers and internet users as well as the companies and organizations whose systems were breached. Such events are no less devastating in terms of brand damage, and 2016 will undoubtedly bring forth a heightened collective security awareness in both organizations as well as consumers.
What's the difference? The former offers no legal recourse, at least for now. Just in case you've been de-sensitized by the recent ongoing barrage of security compromises, the latest data breach involving electronics and educational toy manufacturer VTech is sure to instill new fear in the hearts of parental consumers, putting at stake the one thing they arguably hold nearest and dearest: the safety of their children.
There's a classic line (one out of many) in the movie Casino by DeNiro's character Ace Rothstein: "Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all.”
Cyber resilience is a fundamental change in understanding and accepting the true relationship between technology and risk. IT risk (or cyber risk, if you prefer) is actually business risk, and always has been. And the cybersecurity industry, for what it's worth, has generally avoided this concept because it goes against the narrative that their respective offerings—whether it's a firewall, IDS, monitoring tool, or otherwise—would be the one-size-fits-all silver bullet that can keep businesses safe. But reality tells a different story.