New York Times attack demonstrates power of phishing, hacktivism: Websense

Security vendor views the last attack as part of a long list of compromises suffered by media organisations

The volatile nature of the Internet was demonstrated once again last week when the New York Times was brought down by hacks.

The site was take offline after the DNS records were altered by a pro-Assad hacking group known as The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which has a reputation of targeting media organisations

Websense security research director, Jeffrey Debrosse, said that the SEA showed once again that phishing for user credentials is a powerful method.

“The successful attack shows that not only should organisations be concerned about protecting their employees from phishing, but also must look at their entire digital supply chain, anyone who has credentials that are valuable to the organisation,” he said.

The SEA has already carried out attacks on The Onion, the Associated Press, Washington Post and CNN in the past, and Debrosse expects hacktivism to likely continue “as long as there are shared agendas.”

“Hacktivism like this has become a strategic means for individuals who share a common interest to unite in digital dissent,” he said.

“As long as users are left unprotected against phishing, successful attacks like this will persist."

Protecting the DNS

The attack on the New York Times demonstrates how quickly a site can be pulled down, but Debrosse said there are measures a business can take to prevent an attack.

The first step is to consider both the “technology and human element” when securing important assets.

“For example, every organization with a web presence should initiate what is known as a Registrar-Lock that can prevent unauthorised changes to your account,” Debrosse said.

Hosting a dedicated DNS in a separate zone from the network behind additional security protections is another option secure operational and physical control of DNS servers.

However, Debrosse admits that planning and deployment will require a “significant investment."

Education also plays a big part in the equation, with Debrosse recommending that companies educate their employees.

“They are often the weakest link in an organisation and the biggest target for cyber criminals,” he said.

Debrosse adds that anti-phishing training and evaluation should be supplied to employees, as the New York Times attack demonstrated that “the most damaging attacks can start with just one phishing email.”

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.

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