The breach of data poses one of the most significant corporate threats to companies today, irrespective of the service they provide. Indeed, data breaches aren't necessarily high-profile financial services attacks but can also cripple sites that host social networking.
Good examples of the diverse targeted-audience of malicious attackers are the recent data breach at Heartland Payment Services, and the Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks on the South Korean government and Twitter. What all three of these breaches had in common was the huge amount of database information hosted by the various parties.
In the case of Heartland's it is estimated that tens of millions of credit and debit card transactions may have been comprised, making it one of the largest data breaches incidents ever reported. Twitter saw its service go down for several hours due to a data breach, while the South Korean government had to deal with the disclosure of sensitive information pertaining to thousands of individuals.
The above is vastly diverse and impacts not only large organisations but individual users; access to data can be paralysed and moreover exploited by malicious attackers set on using it for criminal activities.
Where is the silver lining?
Adding another layer of vulnerability is the emergence of cloud computing. Comments Guillaume Lovet, senior manager: threat response team, EMEA at Fortinet Technologies: "Organisational information now lies in the hands of third party providers which in turn means that huge data repositories are hosted on remote servers. If one or more of these remote servers experience a data breach the impact is far-reaching and can impact numerous organisations.
"Can you therefore accept that a cloud service can be hacked into and are you willing to take that chance? The reality is cloud computing has become extremely attractive to cyber criminals as it essentially enables them to gain access to a very wide and diverse database of information which can be used unlawfully."
A change in tactic
However, it is not only the physical technology infrastructure of a company that poses a corporate threat. Unfortunately, the actions of employees within the organisation can also lead to a data breach.
"The emergence of social networking compromises corporate networks. It provides a vehicle for cyber criminals to target organisations through their employees. What is a seemingly harmless hobby can ultimately lead to corporate breach with a severe security impact," says Amy Thomas, Fortinet product manager at Zycko, an official distributor of Fortinet Solutions.
And the methods are getting more sophisticated. Employees actually become the Trojan horses as their personal activities at home, whether browsing the web or receiving e-mails, are exploited to gain access to the corporate network. A simple exercise such as quickly accessing the corporate network to check something can lead to a data breach as the personal PC now contains a Trojan horse used to gain access to organisational information.
"There have also been cases of demonstration CDs delivered at organisations' offices and distributed amongst employees. These CDs actually contained Trojan horses which were used to access corporate networks. Again, the vulnerability of employees was exploited to the full."
In 2005, the Israeli business community was shocked to its core when the Israeli police uncovered a massive industrial spy ring that allegedly used Trojan horse software to snoop into some of the country's leading companies.
A wide range of businesses–including TV, mobile phone, car import, and utility companies–used a Trojan horse program, believed to have been written by two people living in the United Kingdom, to spy on their immediate business rivals with a high degree of success.
First and foremost employees need to be educated; simply loading a CD or sticking in a USB can impact more than just one PC or notebook – vigilance and caution should be employed whenever the source is questionable.
"Security at the edge of the network is not enough. Deploy automated security tools that empower users to not only protect their own assets but that of the entire organisation. Additionally, organisations need to manage their risks; you need to know what you are going to do when you are compromised. Furthermore, mitigate the window opportunities with a comprehensive security solution," says Thomas.
Adds Lovet: "Organisations have to deploy products that offer complementary protection, offering intelligent redundancy. For example, if a phishing attack occurs, various technologies will stop it at various levels. The phish letter will be blocked by the Anti-Spam service (AS), if not the Anti-Virus software will stop it or the phish site will be blocked by the web content filtering solution.
"Ultimately it is about employing a complete solution that protects the organisation at all security levels. Coupled with a management strategy the window of opportunity shrinks and with that the possible risk to the organisation."