The week in security: Contractor security clampdown as NSA, PCI concerns grow

In the wake of the leaks perpetuated by Edward Snowden, many companies are starting to clamp down on contractors' IT systems access. Some of this change is being facilitated by CSOs who are enjoying increasing business clout and increased responsibility as security threats have increased over time. Interestingly, the resources to implement your vision may already be there – if, that is, you can overcome executive resistance and a lack of vision that, figures from PwC suggest, are more problematic in the Asia-Pacific region than in other parts of the world.

Despite concerns that compliance with PCI credit-card protection standard is a big challenge for most companies, the head of the PCI Security Standards Council said he's confident the standard remains an adequate safeguard for personal information and should remain free from government intervention despite the recent hacking of Target – and suspected data breaches at Holiday Inn and Marriott hotels.

Target and Nieman Marcus continue to protest their innocence even as figures suggest one in three customers compromised in the breach could find themselves dealing with fraud. Yet retailers face another more common weakness, in the form of Windows XP – whose pending support discontinuation will affect the XP-based systems used by many retailers. They and many others – including the Target air-conditioning subcontractor that says it was hacked too – may want to study up on the eleven surefire signs you've been hacked.

Ditto banks, which face a “significant” DDoS threat as hacktivists and criminals try to manipulate markets with DDoS attacks. The Bank of England led a pre-emptive exercise to evaluate information-sharing structures between banks, highlighting concerns over how they would handle a real-life attack.

Such concerns, fuelled by a report that warns of cyber risks for UK critical infrastructure, have led the UK government to pressure telecoms, banking, energy and other critical infrastructure companies to adopt robust cybersecurity measures. Small businesses in the UK are also concerned, and the government is doing its part too: a report said that British intelligence agency GCHQ has been infiltrating hacktivist groups and disrupting their activities.

Google expanded its bug bounty program and enhanced Chrome with pop-up settings to prompt Windows users whose browser settings appear to have been hijacked, although Google Play itself was subject to varying security assessments depending on which security technology you use. Little wonder mobiles joined human error in CompTIA's list of the biggest security threats that businesses face.

Legislators in the US state of California moved to propose a bill that would require a 'kill switch' be built into every phone sold in the state. Meanwhile, Tumblr moved to improve its own security by offering users an SSL option and the Electronic Frontier Foundation released an Android version of its HTTPS Everywhere data-encryption browser plugin.

Such protections will become increasingly important to mobile users over time, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region that is, according to the latest projections from Cisco Systems, bound to dramatically increase its security exposure through staggering mobile-usage volumes.

A study found that software vendors had improved their patching response times during 2013, although US legislators were questioning why financial institutions had failed to implement more robust cybersecurity measures. The pressure was doubly on because US vendors are losing trust in the wake of the NSA surveillance revelations, while over 4000 citizen action groups have signed up in support of a national day of protest – Tuesday, 11 February – against the NSA's activities.

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