Tag Archives: security breach

TalkTalk advised not to talktalk about their breach?

According the International Business Times, the Metropolitan Police advised TalkTalk not to discuss their breach. (you can read the article here)

Here, in conversation on the topic , is Advent IM Directors, Julia McCarron and Mike Gillespie and Security Consultant, Chris Cope.

Chris Cope small headshot

Chris Cope

“This is interesting as it shows the 2 different priorities at work.  For the police, the key aim is to catch the perpetrator.  This often means allowing an attacker to continue so they can be monitored on the network and their activities logged and traced without causing them to suspect that they are being monitored in such a way.  The Cuckoos Egg details how the Lawrence Berkeley Lab famously did just this in response to a hack of their system.  However, TalkTalk have a duty of care to their customers.  If personal information could be used to steal money, then they must weigh up the advice from the police, along with the potential impact of not publicising this attack on ordinary people. Its easy to see how a CEO can be caught in between trying to help the police, but also attempting to limit the damage to their customers.  Ultimately it’s a difficult decision, but one that could be made easier with correct forensic planning, i.e. working out how to preserve evidence of an attack, which can be provided to the police, whilst ensuring that normal services continue and customers are warned.  Making these decisions during an actual incident will only make a stressful time even more so; far better to plan ahead.”

Julia McCarron

Julia McCarron

“Totally agree … something to add…

This is a classic case of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. As Chris quite rightly says two different objectives were at play here and each had its merits. Ultimately it was a difficult decision to make but you can’t knock TalkTalk for once, as it appears to have been an informed one.

Whilst I also agree with Chris on the forensics front, experience has shown us that staff need to be aware of what to do ‘forensically’ in the event of an incident and this is often where the process falls down. Because such incidents are usually rare, the chain of evidence is often corrupted unintentionally because no-one knows what to do, or it’s no longer available due to the time lag in occurrence and detection.

Intrusion detection systems along with other technological measures will be an asset in reducing that time lag but key to success is scenario training. In the same way as we are seeing Phishing tests becoming the norm, especially in customer facing organisations like TalkTalk, is there a place for forensic readiness testing to ensure staff know what to do when a security attack occurs? Then vital evidence is at hand when hacks like this occur and the force awakens.”

Mike Gillespie_headshot

Mike Gillespie

“Totally agree, Chris. It’s a tough balance but the protection of the consumer should always come first in my opinion.

Forensic readiness planning is key and continues to be a weak area for many organisations – linking this with an effective communication plan is vital – and as with any plan it needs to be properly tested and exercised…….as do all aspects of cyber response…..using appropriate scenario based exercises.

All of this should be designed to drive continual improvement and to ensure our cyber response evolves to meet emerging threats.”

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Big Data …. Friend or Foe?

Delighted to have a post from Advent IM Operations Director, Julia McCarron.

Ellie has been asking me for a while now to do a blog piece on ‘big’ data, and I must confess to dragging my heels because I wasn’t really sure what it was. I guess if I had put my mind to it essentially it must have been the aggregation of information that made it ‘big’ and I’m not far off with that. But last night’s edition of Bang Goes the Theory made me think about what it means … and the fact that ‘big’ is probably too small a word to describe its reach.

 ID-100180473If we want to be specific about it, big data is defined as a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications.[1]  But it seems to me that this 2-D definition doesn’t do it justice. From what I can see, it’s about taking these large data sets and analysing them to find patterns – that’s what makes it ‘useful’. What you do with those patterns can be for good or bad and can range from diagnostic to research to marketing to preventative in nature, and affect people, places, processes, objects … you name it basically.

I know this kind of analysis goes on because I have a ‘loyalty’ card that regularly sends me money off vouchers for the things I buy on a frequent basis/ I know internet banner ads show me handbags for a reason, usually because I’ve just purchased another one online. I understand that it’s the accumulation of data about my buying habits that is profiled to appeal to me; but I hadn’t realised just how far this can go. On the programme in question a big data collection company said that as a result of the release of DfT data on bicycle accidents, someone had within days written an app for people which told them where to avoid riding their bicycle and therefore minimise the risk of having said accident. Who would have thought that was possible? Rolls Royce engines contain computers that analyse their activity, whilst in the air, and report in real time on peaks and troughs outside the ‘norm’, which enable airlines to do maintenance work before a problem occurs.

But if you think about it big data isn’t new. Einstein’s Theory of relativity came about because he carried out hundred of experiments and analysed them painstakingly by hand. Intelligence services cracked Hitler’s codes by looking for recurring patterns, first totally reliant on the human brain before that human brain created freecrumpetsmachines to make the analysis easier and quicker. I only get 100 free ‘bonus’ points with my next purchase of Warburton’s crumpets because a computer looks at my buying habits and has identified that I buy them every week. (Other crumpets are available – actually no they aren’t). All that has changed is the scale, speed, selectiveness and sensitivity of the collection and review of that data.

The issue comes though when that big data is also personal data, and this is probably where most of us start to question whether it’s a good thing or bad thing. The BGTT Team demonstrated how easy it is to profile individuals from their online data footprints. It’s not just about what you put on various social media but it could also be an innocent publication of contact details by your local golf club. I’m a security conscious person, for obvious reasons, but I’m sure if someone really wanted to they could find out more about me than I thought was possible, just by running a few scripts and analysing trends. I’m a genealogy enthusiast and within minutes I could potentially find out when you were born within a 3 month window, the names of your siblings, your mother and father …. and those all important security questions; your mother’s maiden name and town of your birth.  So should we attempt to simply lock everything down?

 At the same time as all this personal big data is being analysed its also being put to good use.  Researchers are creating medical devices that can analyse brain activity and detect when a second brain trauma is occurring … and they’ve done this by analysing patterns and trends from hundreds of thousands of scan outputs to create a simply, non intrusive device that monitors pressures, electrical current and stimulus. If I opt out of my having my NHS patient record shared, I could make it that bit harder to find a cure … or be cured.

Ultimately, we wouldn’t be where we are today without big data but there is no doubt that in a digital age big data will just keep growing exponentially. I don’t think we can avoid big data and I don’t think we should, but from a security perspective I think we all just need to think about what we post, what we agree to make available, what we join up to and what we are prepared to say about ourselves in public forums. If a field isn’t mandatory don’t fill it in, don’t agree for your location to be published and maybe tell a little white lie about your age (girls we are good at that!). We can never be 100% secure – it’s not possible. Even our fridge can go rogue on us now and order food we’ve run out of but don’t actually want to replenish. But having a security conscious mind can protect us, whilst still providing a big data contribution. 

[1] Wikepedia

some images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday Times – Mike Gillespie on SME Cyber Security

Excerpt from The Sunday Times dated 16th February 2014

Small firms can be targeted for their clients’ data as well, said Mike Gillespie, director
of cyber research at the Security Institute, the industry body. “Look at the number of
small businesses that are suppliers or subcontractors to government and big business,”
he said.

 

Read the article in full here

2013 over the shoulder

Time for a bit of a look back…sort of

The rise and rise of BYOD, the discovery that Ebay is not the appropriate place to divest yourself of NHS Patient data and the increase in malware and not just any malware – mobile malware. These were a few of my (least) favourite things of 2013.

It may seem churlish to poke a stick at the rise of the enormously populist BYOD but its actually connected to the concern around the rise of mobile malware. 2013 saw Blackberry drop off the business cliff and Android devices rise to start to fill the gap. According to the latest stats from Gartner 4 out of every 5 devices in the last quarter were Android powered (driven by growth in China). This proliferation has a knock on effect because this means more employees with be BYODing with Android devices and also more business are choosing them as their business issued device. At the same time, we are reading that Android devices are the top target for malware and malicious apps. I recently heard BYOD described as ‘anarchic chaos’. Let’s see what epithet we can come up with after another year of Android malware…

Looking at Ebay as the place to send your old drives full of (personal) data…hopefully everyone has learned some massive lessons from this incident in Surrey NHS and will be doing due diligence on whoever they procure/source to carry out the destruction of this kind of data in future. Remember, any organisation that has certified to a standard like ISO27001 will welcome an audit so they can prove to you how seriously they take IS processes. This can offer some kind of reassurance and form part of that due diligence.

‘Cyber’ has been a headline grabber all year for many different reasons. Some of the time has been related to the NSA and GCHQ revelations and so Cyber could also have meant privacy. Some of those headlines have related to Cyber Security and the Government commitment to getting UK PLC fully on board with knowledge, understanding and protection. Of course, “hacker” is another word rarely out of the headlines and previously on this blog I have taken issue with media use of both of these words. Largely because it can be misleading, I won’t bang on about it again and you can read the previous blog post if you choose. However, I do think that this continued laziness will encourage people to think that security is an IT issue and therefore, someone else’s problem as opposed to a business issue that needs to be addressed at C-Level.

Phishing and Spear Phishing continue to bleep away on every Security professional’s radar. Whilst scatter gun phishing may not be growing especially, its clear that targeted or spear phishing is increasing. This also relates to my previous point about ‘hacking’ and ‘cyber’ as frequently these can be pre-emptive strikes for a full on attack or part of a broader Social Engineering attack to facilitate or enable a hack or cyber attack. If you want to read more or hear more about that then you can read our posts here and see our presentation here.

The phishing issue is a serious business and employees need proper and regular training on what these attempts look like and how to deal with them. That is not just your standard phishing attempt from someone telling you your bank account is compromised (I had an amusing one recently from Honestly Barclays Security), but a sophisticated phish from soemone who has obtained your email address and is trying to pass themselves off as someone else in order to gain access of information. This requires bespoke training from an employer. Software or a firewall may not protect you from them…

Lastly how our physical world interacts with our cyberworld. 2013 saw Google Glass arrive and the invention of a whole new insult, Glassholes (not mine, don’t shoot the messenger). Some misgivings and some misunderstandings around Google Glass merely serve to remind us that though we are raising a generation that thinks nothing of handing over their privacy in order to get a free app or free wi-fi, there are still enough people concerned about the march of technology ahead of security to make pursuing secure progress worthwhile.

We also saw the mainstream expansion of household items that are web enabled and several furores over TVs that apparently spy on their owners. Add to the list fridges and cars for next year and lets see what else is either causing ‘spying’ headlines or is being hacked by cybercrims. In the business world, smart buildings with IP security and building management systems are becoming increasingly aware of the threat from cyberspace. You can watch our presentation on the topic here. You will need sound. Making sure we buy secure security systems sounds mad, but actually it isn’t happening enough. These systems are sat on networks, needing firewalls and patching and anti virus just like our other systems. We cannot assume because a system is a security system then it is inherently secure.

Remember, everyone in an organisation is part of that organisations’ security. An information asset might be an email or electronic document, but it might also be a fax, a cardboard file,a piece of paper or an overheard conversation about intellectual property. They all have to be protected and a firewall isn’t going to cover it all.

1. Christmas visuals

No doubt we will have some predictions for 2014 soon….

Data Protection and Temporary Workers – the Perfect Data Breach Storm?

This morning bought Security News stories from around the globe as usual. One jumped out at me, not because it was unusual but because the wording highlighted to me some dangerous assumptions and errors in thinking that we are guilty of.

advent IM data protection blog

oops there goes the sensitive data. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The story was about a temporary worker at a hospital who had sent letters which contained highly sensitive childrens data, to the wrong addresses. Apparently the temporary workers who had made this series of errors had not received any DP training. The story explained that the ICO had given a warning that  “even temporary staff should have Data Protection Training”

Bear with me. Last year another breach occurred in a hospital when a temp worked downloaded a large batch of patient data onto a data stick and took it home to work on. Apparently on this occasion it was assumed that Data Protection training had been done by someone else.

Firstly, assuming someone has had training in something is always dangerous. Surely if you are going to allow temporary workers access to such sensitive data it is a must have.  Secondly, is it appropriate for a temporary worker to have that access? Obviously this will vary by incident or role.

Its not just the NHS, businesses make this mistake too. I have seen temporary workers who have had no vetting, logged into networks by well meaning employees on their own login credentials. There they have been able to access any sensitive data they wished and the trusting employee has handed over that organisation’s data to someone who may well damage, steal or sell it.

Back to my original point, to say that ‘even’ temporary workers should have Data Protection training seems a bit like looking the wrong way down a telescope. Surely we should be saying temporary workers especially need Data Protection training?

Phishing, accountability and security awareness

Phishing – do employees recognise it when they see it?

Advent IM cyber security expertsIn the last week I have received around twenty phishing emails. These have varied from Linkedin connection requests, to Bank Account reset instructions and Paypal alerts that my security had been compromised…the irony of the last one did not escape me. In this period, I also took a worried phone call from a friend who had been called by someone who said they were working on behalf of Windows and that his PC needed to be remote cleansed and could they have access to it please…. they gave him a fake website address and refused a phone number for call back, then hung up. Its a scam that has been doing the rounds since about 2008  ( I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong!) He was working from home at the time and connected to his businesses network.

So in the first cases of the emails, it was fairly clear to me that these were phishing attempts. They were not targeted at me or at Advent IM specifically, just chancers doing what chancers do.  The Paypal email was the most disturbing because it was better designed than the others. In all cases though, a brief visit to my Linkedin inbox, online bank account and paypal account respectively (and not through the ‘helpful’ links offered in the phishing emails) proved that each were fake and I reported them. It made me wonder how many businesses actually train their staff in recognising them as security threats and how to subsequently deal with them.  I saw a debate on Linkedin recently about holding individual employees responsible for security breaches and terminating their employment as a result. It included a poll. Many felt that if adequate (no definition included, sorry) training were supplied and a properly enforced and educated policy were in place, the breach was felt to be a result of employee negligence and therefore they should be held accountable. ‘Adequate’ is a relative term I appreciate, I do feel however that it should include ‘regular refresh and update’ within it as well as regular review of the scope – threat changes.

The other part of the example I mentioned at the start was altogether more sinister. This was an individual actually picking up the phone and posing as an IT expert, offering a free service on behalf of a household name. It is easy to see how many people could be duped by this. Working at home in this case, means that the person was connected to their company’s email systems and information network. Luckily, the person concerned smelled a rat and asked awkward questions which resulted in the phishers exiting as quickly as possible. Not everyone might realise this was actually an attack and the result could be not only the loss of their personal information or even financial compromise but also potential compromise of their employers network. In this case, no training had been given in spotting an attack of this kind. If the individual involved had not realised this was nefarious, would it be fair to penalise them? After all this kind of attack was not included in the ‘adequate’ security awareness training they received.

This IT support approach was also employed in the recent attacks on Barclays and Santander, when an individual actually entered branches of those banks and installed or attempted to install desktop cameras to enable a hack. The individual was posing as an IT repair engineer in both cases.  It is far more targeted and part of a concerted campaign. Phishing emails are also sometimes targeted toward individuals, again normally part of a broader campaign and not a scatter-gun phishing expedition to see who bites. This is more aligned to the Social Engineering approach. Specific information or access will be the target and so it differs from the mainstream approach and by definition makes it far more difficult to quantify and therefore provide training for awareness. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. Particularly if we  are keen to move down the road toward individual accountability.

 Incidentally if anyone is interested in watching a video in which the ‘Windows/Microsoft” scammer tries it on the wrong person…..click here