Types of data hackers target and the best defenses

I want to highlight a crucial insight from Samantha Ann Schwartz at CIO Dive: in cybersecurity, “success is measured by silence.”  Which means failure is defined as making headlines for a data breach.

I can’t help but predict that this year will be pretty noisy.

Protecting critical data becomes more complicated every year (really every month), and bad actors get more sophisticated with their tools and techniques.  As McAfee warned last year, hackers these days more frequently join forces, pooling resources to develop stronger malware and more secure environments for cybercrime.  Such was the case for the developers of GandCrab, who hopped over to work on a new strain, REvil.  Hacker collaboration on the scale we’re seeing contributes to analyst predictions about ransomware’s growing power in the new year.

But what about the actual data cyber criminals desire?  For as many methods as they conjure to pilfer it, there are perhaps as many types.  Social Security numbers remain a prevalent target, as well as the data that can cause a person the biggest headache in the event of its theft.  Stolen SSNs (145.5 million of them) were part of what made the Equifax breach such a major incident.  Whoever this happens to has an increased risk of identity theft.  Bank account information also has its complications when compromised.  According to Alex Hamerstone at TrustedSec, “When a bank login is lost, that gives the criminal total control of the account.”  Ultimately, data breaches of this nature can really endanger people’s finances, in the worst case scenarios.

Of course, as we always harp on about, medical information is a tempting lure for hacks, as well.  Patient information remains some of the most profitable data for black markets, and the Internet of Things has increased the attack surface exponentially through a host of connected medical devices.  Compromised medical data carries with it not just the potential for identity theft but actual health risks as well.  Misdiagnoses, incorrect medication dosages or prescriptions: any function a medical device has, if a hacker gets a hold of it, it can pose a real danger to patients.

The best way for organizations to ensure this doesn’t happen to their users or customers is summed up nicely by the NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology) Cyber Security Framework: Protection, detection, identification, response and recovery.  Maintaining a comprehensive understanding of your network—its protocols, configurations and communicative pathways—is key to protecting your data before cyber criminals even set foot in the door.  Not only that, it can become invaluable preparation for rapid detection once they do set foot in the door, as well as identifying the type of attack and its goal.  All of these measures determine how quickly and efficiently you can respond (network segmentation can be another useful tool here).

If a thief does manage to carry out a breach, however, then the plan must deal with the next courses of action.  This can be the most damaging part of the process to any organization, as it inevitably involves reputational loss and often financial penalties.  Needless to say, don’t let the cyber thieves push you in that noisy direction.  Aim to achieve a silent victory.


By: Jonathan Weicher, post on January 8, 2020
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Copyright: NetLib Security