Regulators must make an example of British Airways following its massive data breach
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.
Virgin Media customers could face sextortion scams after exposed database links them to porn
Security researchers have revealed that a database left unsecured by UK cable TV and telephone company Virgin Media contained information linking some of its customers to adult and gore-related websites.
Cyber security firm TurgenSec said earlier this month that the insecure database contained the details of some 900,000 of the firm’s customers, and that this had been accessed on at least one occasion by an unknown user.
Responding to TurgenSec’s findings, Virgin apologised to customers affected and said in a statement that the database contained only “limited contact information”.
“To reassure you, the database did NOT include any passwords or financial details, such as bank account number or credit card information,” the company said.
In a statement on its website, TurgenSec questioned Virgin’s description of the insecure database as containing only “limited contact information”, noting that it did in fact carry information linking customers to “[r]equests to block or unblock various pornographic, gore related and gambling websites, corresponding to full names and addresses”.
The database is also said by TurgenSec to have contained IMEI numbers associated with stolen phones and information relating to subscriptions to Virgin’s services, including “premium” components.
If the database was accessed by hackers, customers whose names were linked to pornographic websites could be targeted by sextortion fraudsters.
TurgenSec said Virgin’s characterisation of the contents of the database as “limited contact information” was “disingenuous”.
“This breach is an important case study in the wider debate of responsible disclosure and how companies should behave to encourage a positive cyber security research culture,” TurgenSec said.
Sextortion fraud involves online scammers contacting victims claiming to be in possession of compromising sexual imagery or film of them, or information linking them to pornographic websites or material.
The scammers then threaten to post the content or information online or send it to friends, relatives and associates of the victim.
Back in January, online security firm vpnMentor revealed that porn cam network PussyCash had exposed the details of thousands of “models” across the globe.
The leak exposed more than 875,000 files, which included photographs of models in which their faces were visible accompanied by personal information including full name, date of birth and passport information.
vpnMentor noted that some of the images that had been exposed in the leak were up to 20 years old, suggesting that some of the models might have left the adult web cam world behind.
ASEAN nations hit by data breaches, ransomware attacks and cryptojacking last year, Interpol says
Southeast Asia experienced “significant” levels of cyber crime in 2019, including major data breaches, crippling ransomware attacks and a huge rise in cryptojacking, according to a new report from Interpol.
In its ASEAN Cyberthreat Assessment 2020, the International law enforcement agency revealed that the region saw an increase in botnet detections and the hosting of Command and Control (C2) servers in the first half of last year.
Interpol also said phishing campaigns increased in both quantity and sophistication, using advanced social engineering techniques.
Data obtained by Interpol’s private partners for the report showed that the region suffered 5% of global business email compromise (BEC) attacks, with Singapore and Malaysia recording the highest BEC cases of all ASEAN countries (54% and 20%, respectively).
Over the first half of last year, Southeast Asia saw a 50% rise in banking malware attacks compared to the whole of 2018, with prominent malware families such as the Emotet16 banking Trojan shifting from banking credential theft to the distribution business.
Elsewhere, the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin resulted in the rise of crypto-ransomware and cryptojacking, the latter of which involves hackers exploiting unsuspecting computer users’ processing power and bandwidth to mine virtual currency after infiltrating their systems using purpose-built malware.
The Interpol ASEAN Cybercrime Operations Desk concluded its report by vowing to enhance cyber crime intelligence for effective responses to cyber crime in the region, strengthen cooperation for joint operations against cyber crime, and develop regional capacity and capabilities to combat cyber crime.
Commenting on the contents of the report, Interpol’s Director of Cyber Crime Craig Jones said: “In today’s highly digitalised world, the sooner countries are aware of a threat, the sooner they can take steps to mitigate the risk and minimise the cyber threats coming from all directions.
“To this end, we encourage law enforcement in all countries to be actively engaged in collective efforts against these threats, particularly through sharing intelligence and the formulation of a joint operation framework to effectively reduce the global impact of cybercrime.”
In January, Interpol teamed up with several Southeast Asian law enforcement agencies to crack down on cryptojacking.
They used intelligence obtained from police and partners in the cyber security industry to identify a global cryptojacking campaign facilitated by hackers in the region through the exploitation of a vulnerability in MikroTik routers.
Interpol’s Operation Goldfish Alpha also sought to raise awareness of what is a relatively unknown crime in the region, and teach local law enforcement agencies how to deal with it effectively.
Irish researchers use network analysis to help Brazilian police identify dark web paedophiles
A team of researchers from Ireland’s University of Limerick is helping police in Brazil disrupt the distribution of indecent images and videos of children on the dark web.
The group of mathematicians led by Dr Bruno da Cunha used network analysis to assess the effectiveness of Operation Darknet, a Brazilian Federal Police operation that targeted one of the largest dark web paedophile networks ever discovered.
The crackdown, which took place between 2014 and 2016, resulted in the identification and arrest of 182 users of the forum, 170 of whom were distributors, and the rescue of six children.
In research published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal, Da Cunha and his team explain how effective the police operation was at identifying offenders.
While examining this, the researchers identified patterns that could help investigators determine which paedophile offenders to go after when probing similar dark web forums in the future.
In a statement, Dr Pádraig MacCarron, a postdoctoral researcher who worked on the analysis, commented: “Network analysis has previously been applied to drug trafficking networks and terrorist networks to identify structural weaknesses and key figures in these illicit networks.
“The dark web network in this study, however, was much more dense – as in there were more connections between users than normal – making it more difficult to breakdown using traditional network methods. It was found that the 60% of those core 766 distributors would need to be removed to completely fragment the network. This makes the network highly robust.”
The collaboration is believed to have been the first between a Brazilian law enforcement agency and Irish mathematicians.
Operation Darknet, which was launched simultaneously across 18 Brazilian states and the federal district of Brasilia, marked the first time investigators outside of the UK and America had been able to crack a dark web paedophile forum.
Suspects detained during the operation were reported at the time to include retired police officers, civil servants, prison guards and youth football club managers.
The indecent material posted on the site by users in Brazil was shared with paedophiles in countries including Portugal, Italy, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela.
Speaking with Vice News when news of the site takedown first emerged, Rafael França, Coordinator of Operation Darknet, said: “This is the first time that the Brazilian police has done an operation like this, seeking targets in the darknet.”
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