You might not think of your typical IT worker as much of a soldier, but in a time where warfare and attacks are increasingly conducted via digital means, it’s the people who work in tech that are really taking the helm of businesses’ and even whole countries’ defences.
In 2017, the pace of cyberattacks picked up. In the first half of the year alone, 1.9 billion data records were stolen, digital security company Gemalto reports. With the cost of data breaches expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2019 (according to Juniper research), all businesses need to ensure their cybersecurity is up to scratch.
Although cybersecurity is at the top of many businesses’ to-do lists, it didn’t stop some extremely high-profile countries falling victim to serious breaches last year. Let’s take a look at the biggest cyberattacks of 2017 and see what we can learn from them moving forward.
International credit reporting agency Equifax was hit by perhaps one of the most far-reaching cyberattacks of 2017. In July, the company detected and blocked suspicious activity on its web portal. It turned out that the supporting application framework of this web portal – Apache Struts – was out-of-date and had severe security vulnerabilities. So many vulnerabilities, in fact, that Equifax later revealed 145.5 million U.S. customers were affected by a data breach. That’s nearly half the U.S. population.
There are two key lessons for businesses hoping to protect their own (and their customers’) data. Firstly, when you detect a vulnerability, apply the appropriate patch straight away. Equifax was alerted to the Apache Struts vulnerability in March. This was over two months after the breach started and a further two months before it was detected. While there are some risks associated with patches (worst case scenario they could take your system offline), this is still more desirable than losing the trust of millions of consumers.
Equifax also only used one vulnerability scanner, which failed to pick up the problem. Using several different scanning tools is much better, because then at least one might pick up the vulnerability.
Perhaps one of the worst ransomware attacks ever, WannaCry affected 300,000 computer systems during May 2017. This was most devastating for the UK’s National Health Service, where many hospitals were unable to access patient’s records and had to cancel surgery and other treatment as a result. The attacker encrypted files and requested a Bitcoin payment for the safe return of the data.
WannaCry spread because of a vulnerability that exists in almost every modern version of Windows. Microsoft issued a patch for this two months before the attack – again, we see the importance of applying patches and keeping systems up-to-date.
This attack actually occurred in 2013, but wasn’t uncovered until November 2016 and the full extent of it wasn’t realised until last year. The length of time it took for this attack to be detected led to all of Yahoo’s accounts (3 billion of them) being hacked, Reuters reports.
It’s not clear exactly how the hack happened, but outdated systems and easy to breach encryption all probably played a part. Once the hackers had customer contact details, they could use these to try and gather further information. For businesses, the importance of not falling for email scams and always authenticating senders is clear.
This isn’t just on IT professionals to deal with. What the Yahoo breach really shows is the importance of raising cybersecurity awareness throughout all levels of an organisation to ensure businesses remain safe.
Looking to protect your business? We’re here to help.
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