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Regulators must make an example of British Airways following its massive data breach

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regulators must make an example of British Airways

Analysis carried out by risk consulting firm Kroll revealed earlier this month that reports of data beaches submitted by British organisations to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) rose by 75% over the course of the past two years, suggesting businesses across the country were gearing up for a new era of transparency ushered in by Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force at the end of May. Under the terms of GDPR, organisations must report personal data breaches to the relevant local authority within 72 hours of becoming aware of any such incident, or face a large fine of up to €10 million ($11.7 million) or 2% of global turnover, whichever is greater.

This is intended to prevent companies from covering up major breaches in order to protect their corporate image or brand. Just how seriously businesses are taking the new rules was made clear earlier this month by the speed with which British Airways (BA) went public with news that hackers had managed to steal the credit card details and personal information of nearly 400,000 of its customers. But while the airline may have avoided being hit with a fine for failing to go public quickly enough, it could still face a significant financial penalty if the breach is found to be a result of its failure to secure its customers’ information properly.

The company was quick to claim it had been hit with an extremely “sophisticated malicious criminal attack”, and issued the usual platitudes about taking customers’ data security seriously that companies typically fall back on in these types of scenarios, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. What made the BA breach particularly damaging for the firm was the fact that hackers managed to obtain full sets of customers’ credit card details, including CVV numbers. This would have meant that cyber criminals with access to the data would have been able to use it immediately to make purchases from pretty much anywhere on the internet, a fact that prompted a number of banks to take the unusual step of pre-emptively cancelling cards belonging to customers whose information may have been compromised.

As companies are not allowed to store CVV data on their systems, it is thought the hackers behind the attack harvested data from the firm’s checkout page in real time while customers were entering their card details. BA has said it is investigating the breach “as a matter of urgency”, and the UK’s National Crime Agency and National Cyber Security Centre are also assessing the attack. But regardless of their findings, it is vital the company faces a severe financial penalty for allowing its customers’ data to be compromised.

Firms the size of BA have the resources to ensure they stay one step ahead of cyber scammers, be they sophisticated or not. If they choose not to do so, they should face serious consequences. Online security experts from RiskIQ have said Russian hackers were responsible for the breach, pointing specifically at the Magecart group, which is said to have been behind a similar attack on the Ticketmaster website in June. RiskIQ researcher Yonathan Klijnsma, who analysed code from BA’s website and app, claimed to have discovered evidence of a “skimming” script designed to steal financial data from online payment forms.

“This particular skimmer is very much attuned to how British Airway’s payment page is set up, which tells us that the attackers carefully considered how to target this site instead of blindly injecting the regular Magecart skimmer,” Klijnsma wrote, seemingly suggesting the hackers may have taken advantage of weaknesses in BA’s IT infrastructure. Either way, it is alarming that the breach was allowed to continue for two weeks before it was detected and reported.

It is likely that BA will claim it was targeted by a hacking organisation so sophisticated and cunning that it would have been next to impossible for it prevent the attack, and that it should face no regulatory punishment as a consequence. However, if GDPR and similar legislation in other parts of the world are to stand any chance of forcing organisations to take better care of consumers’ data, it is surely in cases such as these where punishment should be applied. Major corporations will only start truly taking the security of their customers’ information seriously if they are forced to do so.

Allowing BA to wriggle off the hook after the latest in a long and sorry line of major data breaches at other companies simply sends the wrong message, and suggests GDPR will have no real impact. While most BA customers who had their details stolen might have been lucky enough to avoid having money taken from their credit cards after the breach, their personal details will now be doing the rounds on the dark web, leaving them exposed to identity thieves. Many could be dealing with the consequences for years to come, which is one of the main reasons BA should be made an example of. The ICO can and should make full use of its GDPR powers and hit BA where it hurts.

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Google boasts of efforts to tackle online piracy in new report

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Google boasts of efforts to tackle online piracy

A new report from Google has revealed what the search giant is doing to prevent pirates from using its tools to make money from copyright infringement and the theft of intellectual property.

In the study, Google explains how it evaluated material published on 882 million webpages last year after receiving reports of intellectual property theft from rights holders.

The search giant said it took down 95% of these URLs, noting that it rejected some 54 million removal requests that were either incomplete, mistaken or abusive.

The company said it rejected more than 10 million search adverts last year due to concerns over copyright infringement, and noted that 98% of copyright claims on YouTube were made through its Content ID system in 2017.

Content ID allows creators to control their work without having to send takedown notices, Google said in the report, noting that over 90% of all claims made through the system result in monetisation, “generating significant revenue for YouTube partners”.

Explaining how it is working with governments and policymakers across the globe on new ways to tackle online piracy, Google lists a number of partnerships and voluntary agreements it has entered into over the past year with groups that protect rights holders’ interests, including the Centre National du Cinema and the French anti-piracy association ALPA, the Motion Picture Association and the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA).

Looking at how it rewards genuine rights holders, Google said it paid out more than $3 billion to YouTube account owners who had monetised their content last year, and had handed over $1.8 billion to the music industry between October 2017 and September 2018 in advertising revenue alone.

Commenting on the contents of the report in a blog post, Google Head of Copyright Cedric Manara wrote: “We invest significantly in the technology, tools and resources that prevent copyright infringement on our platforms.

“We also work with others across the industry on efforts to combat piracy. These efforts appear to be having an effect: around the world, online piracy has been decreasing, while spending on legitimate content is rising across content categories.”

The report was published after the Australian government last month vowed to crack down on search engines such as Google and Yahoo! that facilitate access to pirated content.

Outlining the contents of a new bill designed to tackle online piracy, the Australian government said: “An injunction against an online search engine provider is a reasonable, necessary and proportionate response to the need to protect the rights of creators and their licensees from infringing material being distributed to, or accessed by, persons in Australia.”

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Microsoft takes down bogus Chrome ad after complaint from angry user

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Microsoft takes down bogus Chrome ad

Microsoft has taken down a fake Chrome ad from its Bing search engine used by hackers to target people looking to download Google’s popular internet browser.

The software giant pulled the ad after receiving complaints from users that clicking on it may have resulted in malicious software being downloaded onto their devices.

In a Twitter post last week, web developer Gabriel Landau explained how he used the ad to download Chrome onto a brand new Windows 10 device.

Having clicked on it, Landau found he was diverted to a fake website that appeared to be infecting his machine with malicious content.

The site was designed to look like Google’s Chrome landing page, and while it was not a precise match, it looked convincing enough to fool most users.

“Brand new Win10 laptop. Attempt to install Chrome. Almost get owned with my very first action,” Landau wrote. “Why is this still happening in 2018, @bing? Please explain.”

Buyers of Windows devices are routinely forced to search for Chrome using Microsoft products on account of the fact the search giant’s apps are not routinely bundled with machines powered by Microsoft’s operating system.

This has led to speculation that Microsoft might not be doing all that it could to block fake Chrome ads on Bing in an attempt to better compete with its rival’s browser, which is more popular than its own alternatives.

Ads placed on search engines such as Bing should go through rigorous inspection before they are allowed to go live to ensure they have not been placed by hackers.

On this occasion, it appears Microsoft’s processes allowed a malicious ad to slip past.

Google’s Chrome is said to have been blocking the malicious site for some time, but Bing and Microsoft’s Edge browser were allowing users to access it, potentially putting their devices at risk.

Microsoft said the ad had now been taken down and the user account behind it had been suspended.

In a statement, the software company said: “Protecting customers from malicious content is a top priority and we have removed the ads from Bing and banned the associated account. We encourage users to continue to report this type of content so we can take appropriate action.”

Bleeping Computer reported users complaining about the fake ads back in April, suggesting that Microsoft might have moved quicker to minimise the threat posed to users of its products.

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New Zealanders most likely to fall victim to tech support scams, Microsoft finds

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tech support scams

A study from software giant Microsoft has revealed that New Zealand consumers are the most likely across the globe to be targeted in technical support scams.

Technical support scams typically involve victims being contacted about fictitious problems with their computers or other devices by fraudsters pretending to work for companies such as Microsoft.

After making contact by phone, email, pop-up message or SMS, technical support scammers either attempt to trick victims into allowing them to infect their computer systems with malware, or take payment for the repair of non-existent computer problems.

The Microsoft study found that when to comes to being targeted by technical support scam phone calls and pop-ups, New Zealanders are leading the world.

Young New Zealand men are the most likely demographic to lose money in a technical support scam, partly on account of their reckless behaviour and overconfidence in their computer and cyber savviness, according to Microsoft.

Of the 16 nationalities polled for the Microsoft-commissioned TRG survey, New Zealanders reported being exposed to the highest number of technical support scams, with more than 75% of respondents from the country reporting having experienced at least one.

While over a fifth (21%) of New Zealanders who reported having been targeted in a technical support scam admitted to being tricked into continuing with an interaction, only 6% said they had suffered direct financial losses as a consequence.

Russell Craig, Microsoft New Zealand’s National Technology Officer, commented: “The common stereotype of scam victims is that they are elderly and less experienced with computers and software, but this is a case of a little knowledge leading to overconfidence.

“Because computer use is skewed towards younger generations and males, who are also more likely to engage in riskier behaviours such as visiting torrent download sites, they are more likely to encounter scams.

“Greater exposure plus greater confidence using computers makes under 40s and men more susceptible to clever scammers.”

Respondents to the survey said they believed the responsibility for tackling technical support scams lays primarily with consumer protection agencies, followed by law enforcement authorities and regulators.

Technical support scams typically target computer users in wealthy western countries, and are often run by organised crime networks from boiler room call centres set up in countries such as India.

Consumers should always be sceptical of unsolicited messages or phone calls regarding problems with their computer equipment, as technology firms tend not to contact their customers in this manner.

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