Archive for Data Security

£183 Million Fine (Biggest Ever) For BA Data Breach

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has imposed a £183 million fine on British Airways, the biggest fine to date under GDPR, for a data breach where the personal details of 500,000 customers were accessed by hackers.

The Breach

The breach, which involved criminals using what is known as a ‘supply chain hack’ took place between 21st August and 5th September 2018.  The attackers were able to insert a digital skimming file, made up of only 22 lines of JavaScript code, into the online payment forms of BA’s website and app. The malicious page in the app (identified by a RiskIQ researcher) was built using the same components as the real website, thereby giving a very close match to the design and functionality of the real thing. The skimming file meant that payment details entered into the malicious page by customers were intercepted live by the hackers who are believed to have been part of the Magecart group. Encryption was ineffective because the details were stolen before it reached company servers.

The fact that CVV codes were taken in the attack, which are not meant to be stored by companies, was a strong indicator of live skimming ‘supply chain’ attack.

Magecart is also believed to have used a similar digital skimmer hidden in a third-party element (chatbot) of the payment process to hack the Ticketmaster websites where 40,000 UK users were affected.

500,000 Affected In BA Breach

A staggering 500,000 personal and customer payment details were stolen in the BA Breach including names, email addresses, and credit card details including card numbers, expiry dates and the three-digit CVV codes.

Why Such A Big Fine?

The record-breaking £183 million fine was imposed because, under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a company can be fined 1.5% of its worldwide turnover and a maximum 4% of its worldwide turnover. In the case of BA, the £183 million equates to 1.5% of its worldwide turnover in 2017. 

The largest fine previous to this was imposed prior to GDPR under the old Data Protection Act where Facebook was fined £500,000 for its role in the sharing of customer data with Cambridge Analytica.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This enormous fine is a reminder of the powers granted to the ICO under GDPR and of just how seriously matters of data protection are now viewed, particularly where large companies which should have the protective measures in place are concerned. Even though BA has expressed surprise at the size of the fine it is worth remembering that 500,000 customer details were stolen including credit card numbers by what was actually a well-targeted and tailored but relatively simple method of attack.  This exposed vulnerabilities in the payment systems of a big company that should really have been picked up earlier.  

Despite the fine being £183 million at 1.5% of BA’s worldwide turnover, it could have been worse since the maximum fine is 4% of turnover. The fine for BA should send a powerful message to other corporations that they need to make the data protection of their customers a top priority.

1000+ Android Apps Harvest Our Data Without Our Permission

Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute have reported that up to 1,325 Android apps are gathering data from devices after people have denied them permission, and Google claims that it will address the problem with the introduction of the new Android “Q” Operating System.

Apps Finding Way Around Privacy Restrictions

According to the ICSI researchers, who presented their findings last month at the Federal Trade Commission’s PrivacyCon, 1000+ apps are finding their way around privacy restrictions and are able to gather geolocation data, phone identifiers, and other data from users who may be thinking that they have successfully denied apps access to such data.

For example, in the study of 88,000+ apps from the Google Play store, the researchers were able to identify 1,325 apps that violate permissions on Android by using workarounds hidden in their code that can enable personal data to be taken from multiple sources including Wi-Fi connections and metadata stored in photos.

Which Apps?

The researchers highlighted apps such as Shutterfly photo-editing app which gathers GPS coordinates from photos and sends the data to its own servers, even after users have declined to give permission to access location data, and Baidu’s Hong Kong Disneyland park app and Samsung’s Health and Browser apps were found (like 13 other apps) to be able to piggyback off other apps that had been granted permission in order to obtain data like phone identifiers and IMEI numbers.

Android Q Could Help

It is thought the introduction of the latest (17th) version of Android’s Operating system, Android Q, released as a beta on March 13th and due for wider release later this year may be able to address many of these privacy concerns thanks to more stringent security features.  For example, users will be able to definitively choose and control when apps have permission to see their location i.e. never, only when the app is in use and running, or all the time when in the background. With Android Q, background apps won’t be able to jump into the foreground, and there will also be new permissions relating to the accessing of background photos, video, and audio files.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With mobile and app use being a normal part of everyday life, and with most people unable and unlikely to spend the time checking permissions and T&Cs on everything, we have to take on trust that when we deny it permissions, an app will abide by our decisions.  It may be a surprise, therefore, at a time when GDPR is in force and data privacy and security is a topic that many users think about and actively try to protect that so many apps are able to find workarounds that enable them to keep gathering data about us. It appears that it may be much more difficult to stay private online than many of us believe.

It is good news, therefore, that Android Q may provide a way to offer us greater protection and provide more of a challenge to companies and organisations that want access to our data e.g. to help target us with advertising, even though app developers may argue that they are simply using the gathered data to help enhance and personalise our experiences of their apps (to keep us using them).  App developers are in a highly competitive and crowded market and although gathering and using customer data to make their apps more indispensable may seem legitimate, most of us value our online privacy, would object to having our data permissions effectively ignored, and may feel frustrated that we still have so few tools and cues to help us effectively control our privacy.

Googlemail’s Tracking of Your Purchase History

CNBC research has highlighted how Googlemail creates a (difficult to delete) page of your purchase history by tracking your purchase receipt emails, and perhaps details stored in locations other than the inbox.

Not Obvious

Back in May, CNBC researchers highlighted how your Googlemail account creates a page of your purchases, which it was believed was created by tracking the purchase receipts that arrive in the email inbox.  According to Google, the feature is included as a way of organising things “to help you get things done”.  In Google’s account help section, Google states that “Your Google Account includes purchases and reservations made using Search, Maps, and the Assistant, as well as your order confirmations from Gmail”.

In the announcements of the results of CNBC’s research back in May, it was noted that this “private destination” purchases page wasn’t mentioned on the Data & Personalization page in a Google Account and as such, it may have been inconvenient for users to have to search for it.  It was also noted by researchers at the time that the only way to ensure that purchase data was deleted from the page was to go to the time and trouble of finding the digital receipt in the Gmail account and deleting it.

Hard To Delete

In the latest CNBC research findings, it has been claimed that, even though researcher Todd Haselton deleted each single purchase email from his Gmail inbox in order to clear the purchases page, on returning three weeks later, he found that all of his purchases (over years) were again listed on the purchases page.  This has led to the assumed conclusion that the listing of our purchases may also be stored in another location other than the inbox.

How To Delete From Your Purchases Page

In Google’s help section here https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/7673989 and in the subsection ‘delete your purchases and reservations’, Google provides instructions on how to delete them i.e. sign in to your Google account, go to the Purchases page (for which a link is provided),  view your purchase details and select ‘Remove Purchase’, and follow the on-screen deletion instructions.

Privacy?

Some commentators have expressed the view that automatically collecting and storing online and offline purchase details in this way may appear to be at odds with Google’s public position of being focused on privacy.

This is certainly not the first time that Google has faced criticism over privacy matters.  For example, Google recently faced criticism over its reCaptcha V3 bot-detecting login system apparently requiring a Google cookie to be installed on a user’s browser which could potentially put the user’s browsing history privacy at risk.   Other examples of Google making the news over privacy concerns include a microphone was discovered in Google’s Nest Guard product that was not listed in tech spec (which was put down to an erroneous omission by Google), and in December last year, research by Internet Privacy Company DuckDuckGo reporting evidence that could show that even in Incognito mode, users of Google Chrome can still be tracked, and searches are still personalised accordingly.

Chrome Browser Alternatives

If you’re concerned about having aspects of your online behaviour tracked by Google’s Chrome browser, Wired recently compiled a list of anti-tracking web browsers which you may like to try.  These include new privacy-enhanced browser Brave, Ghostery which available as a standalone browser on mobile, Tor which provides layers of encryption and routing through various locations to protect your identity, DuckDuckGo for mobile devices, and FireFox Focus.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Google’s Chrome may be the most popular browser, but there may be many features about it that users may not be aware of and may be a little surprised about, the purchases page being one of them.  It’s a shame that users seem to have to actively seek out elements such as the purchases page and how to delete things from it rather than it being made more obvious and easily accessible with a Google account.  Even though Google has said that only the user can see it and that the details on the purchases page aren’t used for targeted advertising, it may still be of concern to many that data about their purchases over years is being collected and being stored, and that it may not be a simple task to delete it.  It is not surprising, therefore, that some users may be turning to privacy-enhanced browser alternatives as they feel less sure that tech giants such as Google are demonstrating that a real commitment to the kinds of privacy matters that are important to users.

Latest Windows 10 Update Causes Problems For VPN Enterprise Users

The latest update to Windows 10 could break the platform’s Remote Access Connection Manager (RASMAN) and, therefore, cause problems with VPN for Enterprise users with certain settings.

Potentially Millions

Given that the latest Windows update which contains the problem code accounts for 50 million users, it was initially thought that a problem may have been created on a massive scale. Microsoft has, however, said that the code problem will only impact Windows 10 Enterprise.

What’s The Problem?

With certain settings, the latest KB4501375 update for Windows 10 1903 contains code that appears to adversely affect the Remote Access Connection Manager (RASMAN), which manages how Windows 10 connects to the internet and, therefore, is affecting VPN services.  The interruption to VPN services happens for Windows 10 Enterprise and results from a non-default setting (the diagnostic data level being manually configured to the non-default setting of 0) when used in conjunction with a VPN profile being configured as ‘Always ON VPN’ (AOVPN).  This can result in an error “0xc0000005” being shown on devices as the RASMAN stops working, and reports indicate that users have also reported an error in the Application section of Windows Logs in the Event Viewer with Event ID 1000 listing “svchost.exe_RasMan” and “rasman.dll”.

VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) provides a secure, encrypted connection, between a user’s device and a server operated by the VPN service thereby meaning that apps running across a VPN benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network.

The VPN market has grown rapidly in recent years as users seek greater security, and the large number of mobile and wireless devices now used by businesses and organisations which need to access business applications from remote locations (employees securely accessing the corporate intranet while outside the office) has made VPN technology a crucial component across various business verticals.

What To Do

Microsoft is reported to be developing a fix for the problem with no timeframe as yet, but a workaround is shown near the bottom of the page on Microsoft’s support site here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-au/help/4501375/windows-10-update-kb4501375

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many businesses now have workers who need to access the company’s network securely from a variety of remote locations, and VPN has, therefore, become an important business tool.  Although there are many different VPN services, Microsoft is a big name, a trusted brand, and its Enterprise users (those with 500 or more computers and 250 for the public sector) may be those likely to be using Microsoft’s VPN.  The disruption to VPN caused by the update may, therefore, be significant and can’t help Microsoft in the highly competitive and growing VPN market. As well as being disruptive and potentially costly, having VPN problems could also pose a security and privacy risk to businesses. It may also be quite inconvenient having to wait for the fix to be developed, with no sign off it to date.

Visa Adopts Blockchain For Cross-Border, Bank To Bank B2B Payments

Visa is integrating blockchain technology with its core systems to enable participant businesses to make direct, cross-border, bank to bank payments to other corporate participants.

B2B Connect

The news system called Visa B2B Connect is being built using the Hyperledger Fabric framework from the Linux Foundation, and will mean that, rather than paying another corporate by cheque, automated clearing house or wire transfer, all of which require intermediary banks and exchanges, payments can be made directly and instantly from bank to bank of corporate customers.

This will mean cost and time savings, and the ability to pay and get paid 24-hours a day, regardless of location, local time differences, and other problematic traditional banking anomalies such as data truncation, payment delays and compliance issues.

Suite of APIs

The Visa B2B Connect system essentially provides a suite of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which allow participating banks to automate B2B, cross-border and cross-currency payments, by developing an end-to-end B2B payments solution to onboard customers, set up their suppliers, check Visa B2B Connect foreign exchange rates and submit payments. Alternatively, banks can choose to integrate just a subset of the APIs to address more specific needs e.g. checking on the status of certain payments through the Visa B2B Connect site.

Expansion Plans

Although the new system will only work for those corporates signed-up as participants to Visa’s pilot scheme, there are already plans to expand it so that it will cover more than 30 global trade corridors and 90 markets by the end of this year.

Benefits

The benefits that the blockchain-based B2B Connect system offers include cryptographically secured B2B transactions, transaction transparency and predictability, and the peace of mind and security of operating within a trusted network where all parties are known participants on a permissioned blockchain operated by Visa.

Blockchain Lacking Functionality

Recent research by Gartner showed that Only 11% of CIOs have deployed or are in short-term planning with blockchain, partly because of the fact that, at the moment, blockchain is a technology and not a complete, ready to use application, and therefore, lacks business-friendly features like a user interface, business logic, data persistence and interoperability mechanisms.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For corporates, Visa’s B2B Connect system appears to unlock some of the long-promised benefits of blockchain in terms of fast and easy cross-border payments, security, transparency, and the reassurance of a trusted name in the payments world.  Also, the fact that a suite of APIs are available to participants means that the system can be set up relatively easily, thereby tackling the issue (as highlighted by the Gartner research) of confusion among corporate tech heads about how best to incorporate blockchain and worries about there being few ready to use, complete applications available.

For smaller businesses the hope of being able to use blockchain to add value, reduce costs and gain competitive advantages is being boosted by a growing Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) market which offers the chance to deploy distributed ledgers without the cost or risk of deploying it in-house, and without needing to find in-house developers.  The cloud-based CRM platform ‘Salesforce’ for example, is adding a low code, blockchain-powered service that will allow enterprise users to share data with third parties in a secure, transparent, and auditable way.

Google’s reCAPTCHA v3 System Prompts Privacy Criticism

The widely used Google  reCaptcha V3 bot-detecting login system has come in for some criticism after two security researchers claimed that one of the ways that Google determines whether you’re a malicious user depends on whether you have a Google cookie installed on your browser, which could also mean that the privacy of your browsing habits may also be at risk in using the system.

What Is reCaptcha V3?

Google’s reCaptcha V3 is the latest version of Google’s bot-detecting login system, introduced last autumn, that can detect abusive traffic/malicious user-behaviour on your website without user friction i.e. without the need to tick an ‘I am not a robot’ box, or identify items in pictures.  With this version of the reCaptcha system, background monitoring assigns a risk score to a user, which then enables the system to decide how to handle that user e.g. if a user with a high-risk score tries to log in, they may then be required to use two-factor authentication. From Google’s point of view, the idea is to give users a better experience and avoid the kinds of interactions that can inhibit users from intuitively and painlessly reaching their goals within a digital interface. With reCaptcha V3, Google may be happy with the trade-off between the possibility of some inconvenience for legitimate users versus greater protection for websites.

Widely Used

It has been reported that 650,000 websites already use reCaptcha v3, including 25% of the top 10,000 sites.  This makes any concerns about the system a potentially serious issue.

What’s The Problem?

The concern suggested by the two researchers, Marcos Perona and Mohamed Akrout, who have studied reCaptcha V3 is that, being a Google product, not only does it appear likely to deem a user less of a risk if they have a Google cookie on their browser i.e. they have a Google account and are signed in, but that cookies like these can also pass on data which is unnecessary for login, about a person’s browsing habits, thereby posing a possible threat to privacy.

The research found, for example, that those who went to a website with reCaptcha v3 while logged into their Google account were given a low-risk score by the system, whilst those who visited using private browsers such as Tor or a VPN were scored as high risk. Also, the research found that to make the risk-score system work properly, web admins need to embed reCaptcha v3 code on all pages on the website.  This will enable reCaptcha to learn about how website users act on the site over time, thereby assisting the machine learning algorithm to generate more accurate risk scores. Unfortunately, installing reCaptcha v3 every page of a website could mean that those signed into their Google account are unwittingly passing on data about every web page they go to that has embedded reCaptcha v3, thereby potentially having their privacy compromised to an extent.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It should be remembered that these are the conclusions of pieces of research which may or may not have valid points, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Google has been accused of potentially causing concern in matters of user privacy. For example, a microphone was discovered in Google’s Nest Guard product that was not listed in tech spec (which was put down to an erroneous omission by Google), and in December last year, research by Internet Privacy Company DuckDuckGo reported evidence that could show that even in Incognito mode, users of Google Chrome can still be tracked, and searches are still personalised accordingly.

Users and businesses appreciate the value of frictionless interactions and positive experiences with websites, as well as both appreciating the need to keep introducing new versions of products with improved security to stay one step ahead of attackers.  Privacy, however, is also an important issue, both legally and personally, and the heightened concerns about it may mean that Google gets a little bad publicity where users feel that data may be unnecessarily gathered, or is collected in a way that doesn’t appear to be made entirely obvious.

Is CCTV Surveillance By Amazon Drones The Future?

An Amazon patent from 2015 appears to indicate that Amazon may consider ‘surveillance as a service’ using a swarm of its delivery drones armed with CCTV, as a monetising opportunity in the future.

Patent

The details in the patent foresee customers paying for a tiered service that employs the onboard cameras of Amazon’s delivery drones visiting users’ homes in-between delivery routes and filming irregularities and potentially suspicious activities.  For example, the cameras could potentially be programmed to detect evidence of break-ins and lurkers on/near a property, and the onboard microphones could even be programmed to detect suspicious noises such as breaking glass.

Tiered Service

It is thought that such a service could offer different tiers of service (reflected by different pricing) based upon factors such as frequency of visits e.g. daily or weekly, monitoring type e.g. video or still, and alert type e.g. SMS, email, a call or via app ‘push’ notifications.

Privacy

There are likely to be some obvious privacy concerns with a private company using its drones to film an area where it has a customer. However in doing so, avoiding filming an area where it does not have permission to film would present a challenge.

The Amazon patent suggests a possible remedy in the form defining a “geo-fence” around the area that does have permission to be filmed so that the drone’s surveillance activities can be focused (to an extent).  The patent appears to accept, however, that some filming of the outside area of the fence could occur.

National Surveillance Camera Day

In a world first, last week the UK played host to an awareness-raising National Surveillance Camera Day on 20th June as part of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy. As part of the day’s events, an “doors open” initiative allowed the public to see first-hand how surveillance camera control centres are operated at the premises of signatories to the initiative in the UK e.g. local authorities, police forces, hospitals, and universities.

Drone Research Reveals Negative Perceptions Among The Public

For the most part, people accept that the presence of CCTV surveillance cameras in public areas, operated by local authorities, and the presence of CCTV on business premises are generally for the greater good as a crime-reduction tool.

The same cannot be said for drone-based surveillance.  For example, new research from the PwC has shown that public perception remains a barrier to drone uptake in the UK.  The results of the research showed that less than a third of the public (31%) feel positive about drones, and more than two-thirds are concerned about the use of drones for crime.  In contrast, businesses appear to have a much more positive perception of drone use with 35% of business leaders saying that drones aren’t being adopted in their industry because of negative public perceptions despite the fact 43% of those business people who were surveyed believed that their industry would benefit from drone use.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon is a company that has continued to grow and diversify into many different areas in recent years, embracing and pioneering many different technologies along the way, such as parcel delivery drones. It is not unusual for companies, particularly big tech companies to introduce many patents with many new ideas. In that sense, it’s difficult to criticise Amazon for wanting to get maximum (monetising) leverage from its delivery drones from a business perspective.

There remain, however, some serious challenges to the ideas in the drone surveillance patent including privacy concerns, and problems with current negative public perceptions of drones.  This will require education around case-use for drones, and re-assurance around regulation and accountability – this is a public company and could be one of many using the skies to offer the same service once the floodgates are opened.

For some businesses, however, as identified by the PwC and by Amazon’s patent, drones potentially offer some great new business opportunities.  It should also be noted that drones can offer some potentially life-saving opportunities, such as the human kidney for transplant that was delivered by drone, in the first flight of its kind, to a Medical Centre in Baltimore in May this year, thereby getting the organ to the surgeons much faster than by road.

For Drones it seems, there remains many opportunities and challenges to come.

Fraud Reported on Deliveroo and Just Eat App

Some Deliveroo and Just Eat customers have reported that their accounts have been used to buy food that they didn’t order, but both companies deny a data breach.

What Happened?

Several Deliveroo customers are reported to have been sent an email from the company stating that the email address linked to their account had been changed, after which it was found that food had been ordered through their account by using credit which an unknown person had obtained by claiming refunds for previous orders.

In the case of Just Eat, some customers also reported having their card details used to purchase food that they had not ordered.

Another Source

Both companies are reported to have denied that their systems had been breached and have said that the customer details used to fraudulently order the food were obtained from another, third-party source.

Password Sharing

Deliveroo is reported as saying that cyber-criminals know that people re-use passwords for multiple online services and that they can obtain login credentials gained from other breaches on other sites to try to access Deliveroo accounts.  This clearly indicates that Deliveroo believes that password sharing may have been a key factor in this fraud.

Expect To Lose Money To Online Fraud

Online fraud is now so prevalent that it appears that many people are resigned to the fact that they will be directly affected, and the message about the dangers of password sharing is not getting through.

For example, the UK National Cyber Security Centre research from April shows that 42% of Brits expect to lose money to online fraud by 2021.

The UK Cyber Survey found also that 70% believe they will likely be a victim of at least one specific type of cyber-crime over the next two years, and that 37% of those surveyed agree that losing money or personal details over the internet is unavoidable these days. The survey also found that fewer than half of those questioned used a separate, hard-to-guess password for their main email account.

1234 Still Most Popular + Dark Net

It’s not just password sharing that’s the problem but also that many people still appear to be choosing obvious passwords.  For example, the NCSC’s recent study into breached passwords revealed that 123456 featured 23 million times, making it still the most widely used password on breached accounts.

Also, recent Surrey University research showed that cyber-criminals now have their own invisible Internet on the so-called ‘dark net’ to allow them to communicate and trade beyond the view of the authorities, and that login details obtained from previous breaches are relatively cheap and easy to buy there.

Not The First Time For Deliveroo

It should be noted that, even though Deliveroo appears to have put the burden of responsibility elsewhere for these recent attacks, some customers had their accounts hacked and unordered food purchases were made back in 2016.  At the time the company also blamed the problems on passwords that had been stolen from another service in a major data breach, although some security commentators have suggested that Deliveroo should now look at whether its security systems are secure enough.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If Deliveroo and Just Eat’s claims are to be believed, users of these and many other services may be leaving themselves open to fraud by making bad password choices and/or may be unaware that they are using login credentials that have already been stolen or can be obtained by methods such as credential stuffing. Making good password choices is a simple but important way that we can protect ourselves, and Action Fraud suggests that we should all use strong, unique passwords for online accounts and enable two-factor authentication where it is available.

Ideally, passwords should never be shared between accounts because if one breach has taken place on one site, login details can very quickly be tried on other sites by cyber-criminals.  For example, in January a collection of credential stuffing lists (login details taken from other site breaches) containing around 2.7 billion records, including 773 million unique email address and password combinations was discovered being distributed on a hacking forum.

Websites such as https://haveibeenpwned.com/ enable you to check whether your email address and login details have already been stolen in data breaches from other websites and platforms.

Suspected Russian Disinformation Campaign Rumbled

An investigation by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) claims to have unearthed a widespread disinformation campaign aimed at influencing online conversations about several topics, that appears to originate in Russia.

Facebook Accounts

Sixteen suspected Russian fake accounts that were closed by in early May 2019 led researchers to an apparent campaign which stretched across 30 social networks and blogging platforms and used nine languages. The campaign appeared to be focused away from the main platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and was played out instead on blogging sites, subreddits, and online forums.

Even though the scale of the apparent disinformation operation appears to be beyond the abilities of  a small or ad hoc group (the scale has been described as “remarkable”), and that the operation appears to have been working out of Russia,  the DFRLab has pointed out that there is not enough real evidence to suggest that the Russian state / Kremlin is behind it and that the investigation is still ongoing.

What Kind Of Disinformation?

It has been reported that the broad topic areas of the disinformation appear to reflect Moscow’s foreign policy goals e.g. Ukraine, Armenia, opposition to NATO, although conversations have been started and steered around subjects relating to Brexit, Northern Ireland, the recent EU elections, immigration, UK and US relations, the recent turmoil in Venezuela and other issues. Some of the disinformation is reported to have included:

Fake accounts in 2018 of an alleged plot, apparently discovered by Spanish intelligence, to assassinate Boris Johnson.

Shared screenshots of a false exchange between Democratic Unionist Party leader, Arlene Foster, and chief EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, which appeared to show a secret negotiation behind Theresa May’s back. Also, false information was spread about the Real IRA.

The publishing of a fraudulent letter in French, German, and broken English, featuring a screenshot of a letter allegedly written by Italian-Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza was published on various platforms as an attempt to influence the European Parliament elections in May 2019.

Failed and Discovered

The main reasons why the disinformation essentially failed and was discovered were that:

  • Communications were generally not sent via the main, most popular social media platforms.
  • The campaign relied on many forged documents and falsehoods which were relatively easy to spot.
  • So much trouble was taken to hide the source of the campaign e.g. each post was made on a single-use account created the same day and not used again, that the messages themselves hardly saw the light of day and appeared to lack credibility.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The fact that someone / some power is going to the trouble to spread disinformation on such a scale with regard to influencing the politics and government of another country is worrying in itself, and the knowledge that it is happening may make people more sceptical about the messages they read online, which can help to muddy the waters on international relations even more.

If messages from a foreign power are used to influence votes in a particular way, this could have a serious knock-on effect on the economy and government policy decisions which is likely to affect the business environment and therefore the trading conditions domestically and globally for UK businesses.  Some have described the current time as being a ‘post-truth’ age where shared objective standards for truth are being replaced by repeated assertions of emotion that are disconnected from real details.  This kind of disinformation campaign can only feed into that and make things more complicated for businesses that need to be able to have reality, truth, clear rules, and more predictable environments to help them reduce risk in business decisions.

Florida Town Pays £475,000 To Hackers To Restart Municipal Computer Systems

Hackers who shut down the municipal computers of Riviera Beach (a suburb of Palm Beach) in a ransomware attack have just earned themselves $600,000 (£475,000) when the local council decided they had no choice but to pay them.

What Happened?

An email containing a virus was opened by an employee.  The result was that the ransomware (malware) shut down Riviera Beach’s computer systems and encrypted the files.  This meant that the email system, the system that allowed 911 dispatchers to be able to enter calls into the computer, water pump stations, and staff pay systems were all seriously disrupted.  Staff were forced to revert to a manual, paper-based admin system.

Vote

The local Council, which has since voted to spend $1 million on new computers and hardware to prevent further hacks, voted to pay the hackers their $600,000 (£475,000) ransom demand to unlock the computer systems and prevent file deletions.  The money was paid in the bitcoin crypto-currency and the payment has been covered by the town’s insurance policy.

No Guarantees

One of the problems of paying hackers who have acted dishonestly in the first place is that there is no guarantee that they will honour their agreement and turn systems back on, which is why many online security experts advocate never paying hacker demands.  Also, if, as in this case, a large ransom is reported to have been paid, this may embolden other hackers to keep using this method of attack e.g. on other council systems.

Fastest Growing Malware Threat

In the US, the Department of Homeland Security has reported that ransomware is the fastest growing malware threat, with City governments in Atlanta, Newark, N.J. and Sarasota all being hit by ransomware schemes. Ransomware attacks have caused major problems with baggage displays and email at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, computers at the Port of San Diego, (back in 2018) the 100-bed Hancock Regional Hospital in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and threats have even been made to entire towns and cities e.g. city of Leeds, Alabama was attacked and a $55,000 ransom was demanded.

Other Examples of Ransomware Attacks

Back in 2017, guests at the Brandstaetter hotel at the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt resort in Austria were locked out of their rooms and other areas of the hotel including the bar after the hotel was targeted by a ransomware attack.  The hotel paid the €1,500 demand.

This month in the UK’s biggest private forensic company, Eurofins Forensic Services, which carries out DNA testing, toxicology, firearms testing and computer forensics for UK police forces was hit with a ransomware attack which has caused disruption to its IT systems in several countries.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Ransomware is a popular attack tool because it is often relatively cheap to create and use, it can spread easily (like WannaCry), the attackers can remain anonymous, and it yields the main motivation for many attacks – financial gain. In the case of Riviera Beach, the attackers focused on local government networks as they were most likely to be easy to penetrate and attack, in this case using a phishing email and relying on human error of staff to open it.

UK businesses and other organisations should, therefore, be warned that all staff should be made aware of the threat of suspicious emails and updates, how to spot them, and what to do (and not do) if they identify one.  Keeping security software up to date and regularly backing up critical data is important, as is assessing the possible danger and false economy of staying with old operating systems as long as possible.

In order to provide maximum protection against prevalent and varied threats businesses should adopt multi-layered security solutions and accept that there is a real likelihood that they will be targeted, thereby helping them to make better preparations.  Businesses should implement the most up to date security solutions, keep up to date with virtual patching, and education of employees in order to mitigate risks from as many angles (‘vectors’) as possible.

Having workable and well-communicated Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place is also an important requirement.