​When Hacks Are about Image instead of Money

Michael Sutton, Chief Information Security Officer, Zscaler

If you think fake news is a problem, how about the possibility of fake medical or financial information making the rounds with no way to verify its legitimacy?

Recent leaks, intelligence reports and the world’s response to them have set a new precedent. Cyberattacks are no longer just for the sake of siphoning data or extortion, but for discrediting their targets, be they large entities or individuals.

Incidents, ranging from the DNC hack to the record compromises of Yahoo, have been more than opportunistic — they’ve happened with full intent to mar and compromise the target’s image. Regardless of who did it, there was no ransom, there was no financial information stolen. Instead, there were seemingly purposeful leaks, timed breaches, and the expected public fallout.

And because these campaigns were successful, we’re likely to see an increase in cyberespionage and sabotage campaigns in the year to come.

Now, more than ever, we need to shore up our defenses or continue to suffer attacks on public image and reputation that could have impactful and long-term effects.

It's already Happening

The incidents I briefly touch on above are not the first of their kind. The Sony Pictures hack and the Ashley Madison breach are two prime examples.

At Sony, attackers destroyed data and leaked compromising emails, and they aired the dirty laundry of company employees and contacts. Monetary gain was never the goal of the hack; the goal was to bend the company into submission, allegedly so that it would not release the movie The Interview.

At Ashley Madison, the breach exposed the data of users looking for clandestine affairs via the website. If an important name was on the list and a malicious actor caught wind of it, it was certain to become a problem for that individual. It sent users into a panic. And the company itself was caught using fem-bots and other underhanded measures to entice users. The fallout was real.

Most hacks damage a target’s reputation, especially for not being able to protect itself. But something has changed, and now we see more high-profile hacks where the main objective is to damage the victim’s public image. And now, the trend has slowly grown to become a real problem we will have to deal with in 2017 — even if you are not a Presidential candidate or media megabrand.

Tampering and Tarnishing People

The biggest risks from these hacks is not the exposure of personally identifying information, but the erosion of trust in our organisations and notable figures. This is because cyberespionage and sabotage campaigns don’t just deal with leaked information. Once a hacker gains high-privilege access to a network, he or she can change internal data, public-facing assets and even insert fake data. If you think fake news is a problem, what about the possibility of fake medical or financial information making the rounds with no way to verify its legitimacy?

Unfortunately, like most issues in security, there isn’t a straightforward solution to the problem. It’s impossible to predict how extortion can take place, or what data will be used to tarnish the victim’s image.

There are the normal steps to safeguard sensitive data, for example, multi-factor authentication, segmenting networks, encryption, and training. But it will remain difficult when just one click on a phishing email by an inattentive user could mean it’s too late. And the slew of smart devices invading networks, often unbeknownst to IT, is another issue.

Still, there is good reason for optimism in new, automated technology that leverages machine learning and automated intelligence. These tools will help the human element in security address these higher level concerns, and perhaps do something about the attacks on trust we will continue to face.

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Tags hackerscyber attacksdata breachbreachesDNC hackssonydata protectioncyber securitynetwork securityFake newsAshley Madison hack

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