ABC hack a lesson for other companies: security experts

Customers' personal information should be encrypted, say experts

The ABC viewer data, which is now in the public domain, contains longitude and latitude information in each record which is presumed to be from the user's location services on the device they connected to the site with. 

Researchers from Trend Micro took the data, stripped any user and record identifiers and fed it into Google Maps. Photo supplied by Trend Micro.

The ABC viewer data, which is now in the public domain, contains longitude and latitude information in each record which is presumed to be from the user's location services on the device they connected to the site with.

Researchers from Trend Micro took the data, stripped any user and record identifiers and fed it ...

The data breach of 49,500 audience usernames and hashed versions of passwords from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) website Making Australia Happy should serve as a lesson for other companies that deal with personal information, according to security industry experts.

A hacker going by the Twitter handle of Phr0zenMyst claimed ownership of the ABC attack and said it was a response to the recent appearance on ABC's Lateline program of right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

"The aim of the hack was to hurt ABC for allowing Wilders to spread hate, apologies for any harm caused to others," tweeted PhrOzenMyst this week.

Senetas CEO Andrew Wilson said the main lesson from the ABC data breach is that companies can never expect data protection to be 100 per cent effective so all sensitive data should be encrypted.

“That gives the ABC and others a defence assurance that when the inevitable happens, no harm will be done because the data is meaningless,” he said.

According to Wilson, companies should use advanced encryption standard (AES) 128, which if properly implemented, could mean it would take up to 149 trillion years to decrypt data using today's most powerful computers.

“Australian TV networks also need to adopt a duty of care approach to the data rather than the traditional risk management approach,” he said.

“Duty of care makes them conscious of the ongoing damage such a breach causes their viewers and not just the momentary embarrassment the media company suffers.”

Trend Micro A/NZ strategic products senior manager Adam Biviano said companies such as the ABC need to carefully consider what information they are collecting from customers and apply appropriate controls.

He said that the ABC data breach exposed details including the longitude and latitude locations of viewers in Australia.

"Organisations should also do penetration tests by providing security people with the contents of the database and see what private information they can reveal,” he said.

Security and the media

Wilson disagreed that the ABC attack may deter news organisations in Australia from interviewing controversial figures such as Geert Wilders and said networks should tighten their IT security instead.

“For media networks, any business initiative or story that involves a controversial figure or topic that might stir up attacks of any type should be classified as a potential security risk,” he said.

Just like workplace health and safety, IT risk mitigation foundations should be set in place to manage controversial broadcasts such as additional manpower to monitor systems and use of encryption.

“People often rationalise their actions by claiming a moral high ground but those who conduct cyber crimes are just that, criminals and vandals,” Wilson said.

“They potentially hurt thousands of people in their quest to hurt one organisation. In this instance, stealing of sensitive information and releasing it into the public domain.”

Data breaches

According to Biviano, data breaches are “more commonplace” than people would like to admit. “With the commercial pressures to deploy online services quickly and cheaply, functionality often takes precedence to security,” he said.

“Security is not seen, therefore it sometimes hard to justify its inclusion to non-technical project stakeholders, especially if it means that a service may take longer to come online or cost more.”

Wilson said he was “not surprised” by the ABC data breach as employees of Senetas do not see a high adoption rate of encrypting sensitive data among commercial enterprises.

“However, there are some signs of slow change especially where the use of cloud and data centre services has grown.”

“The prevalence of data breaches and business accountability means that businesses are now starting to take the issue more seriously and put better preventative measures in place.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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