CSOs must talk openly with staff, partners about social-media threats and how to avoid them

Gather use cases and real-world examples to breed suspicion in online confidence games

Security executives should build up an arsenal of use-cases and real-world examples rather than talking in vagaries when educating employees about the threats that social-media channels have opened into modern organisations, a local IT-industry channels specialist has warned.

Those real-world use cases are often lost in non-specific warnings about the dangers of social media channels that continue to be exploited by cybercriminals keen to capitalise upon their large and often non-technical user bases. This left today's workers exposed and regularly compromising their systems – and those of their employers – through careless use of social media.

Many users attitudes toward security and privacy are “probably a bit more lax than people of my generation,” CompTIA director of channel dynamics Moheb Moses told CSO Australia. “I was brought up that you don't share information about yourselves, but these days people post very intimate details. This has a cultural and attitudinal impact that can have ramifications for security because people may post information about their business through social media and release information the organisation may not often want released. They often don't even realise that it is a security breach.”

Inadvertent sharing of confidential information – even through throwaway comments such as noting when a boss is away on holidays or commenting on the mood of employees after the internal announcement of staff cuts – can have serious implications by conveying information about the state of the business to cybercriminals and others that can use it to their advantage.

Statements about staff movements may, for example, help attackers hone whaling campaigns so that a message calling for a funds transfer appears to be sent from an executive while they are on holidays; this adds to the perceived urgency of the message and can prevent sceptical employees from contacting the executive to confirm the instructions.

“Social media is being used as a vehicle for phishing,” Moses said, noting that cybercriminals are using automated tools to extract information about targets' peer networks from the likes of LinkedIn and Facebook.

“With a big-data platform that can analyse connections, they just have to think about it in a point-to-point direction, and it captures this data to determine relationships. In cases of commercial espionage where a tender is worth a few million dollars, this kind of thing is worth the effort.”

A member survey at a recent CompTIA meeting found that 86 percent said they were suffering from a security skills gap, with social-media platforms a common concern and security-related expertise most important in areas such as cloud (named by 60 percent), mobile security (50 percent) and email (45 percent).

Security managers should proactively engage with staff, suppliers and partners to ensure that there is no confusion about the many ways social-media use can lead to security breaches – particularly since minimising risk is often about encouraging circumspection about what is shared rather than simply warning users not to click on potentially malware-laden attachments.

“It's an educational effort aided by use cases,” Moses said. “It's about giving people examples of where somebody has managed to breach the perimeter or some level of protection by doing something really clever – and giving people those use cases early so that they understand the risks before they act.”

Recent figures from the US FBI suggested that whaling attacks alone had netted $US2.3 billion ($A3.1b) over the last three years, with a 270 percent increase in reported losses since the beginning of 2015. Networking-technology company Ubiquiti Networks last year admitted being taken for $US39.1m ($A52.1m) from an email business fraud incident, while grain-handling giant Scoular lost $US17.2m ($A22.9m) in another incident.

The details of such scenarios should be shared with employees during social-media education to show how multi-stage attacks are being orchestrated by online fraudsters.

“These issues are not just something we talk to IT about, but something they should talk with HR about,” Moses explained. “It's a different conversation with different stakeholders within the company – and about communication and reaching people that may otherwise be difficult to reach.”

“Tell employees that if there is even the slightest bit of suspicion in their mind, before they click, that they should do some homework and go to the site rather than just responding to the email they received. This is not a technology attack; it is completely a social-engineering attack.”

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