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Cyber attacks: 7 key things businesses need to know

Just two days ago, the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, which organised last week’s Saudi National Day celebration, announced that it had been the victim of a cyber attack “from outside the Kingdom”.

This is just the latest in a spate of hacks, data breaches and other forms of cyber attack on Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East. In fact, in April this year, the UAE telecom regulator revealed that it had foiled more than 1,000 cyber attacks on government and private websites this year.

All of these probably pale into comparison when one takes into account the May 2017 hack of Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency – something that has since been dubbed one of the worst security breaches ever.

In the below article, Rick Holland, VP Strategy at Digital Shadows, discusses the seven lessons all companies can learn from such a breach.

The Equifax hack

Equifax experienced a data breach that occurred in mid-May 2017, was first discovered on 29 Jul 2017 and was publicly disclosed by the company on September 7, 2017.

The breach affected 143 million individuals in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Immediately after the disclosure, Equifax faced widespread criticism from the media, researchers and customers.

There have also been allegations of insider trading and legal implications. In our paper, Equifax Breach: Lessons Learned for Your Organisations, we outline how the events surrounding the breach demonstrate several important learning points organisations can use to inform their own security posture.

Immediate consequences

The largest immediate impact to Equifax was loss of investor confidence; the share price dropped 34 per cent within eight days after the breach disclosure.

The company also risks revenue loss resulting from reduced business, especially considering customers’ loss of confidence in the company to secure data. As with all data breaches, Equifax will also incur financial losses through its responsive investigations and, likely, costs resulting from lawsuits.

Swift public criticism followed around Equifax’s security posture, its handling of the breach and the exposure of the sensitive customer data. Some employees have been accused of insider trading and others have reportedly left their positions, such as the chief security officer and chief information officer.

Reputational damage may have a mid- to long-term effect on the company’s revenue generation and a prolonged impact on its finances.

7 important strategies

The key lessons organisations can learn from this event are:

  1. Maintain an external view of your digital footprint to be aware of what an attacker can access, what is vulnerable to attack and what methods attackers are using against your sector.
  2. Establish and maintain a threat intelligence programme and act on the intelligence; Digital Shadows provided clients with multiple alerts about exploitation of the vulnerability that affected Equifax, prior to the intrusion.
  3. Implement and follow general cyber-security good practice measures, such as defense-in-depth and including vulnerability management. Plan as if an attacker will compromise your network and ensure your sensitive information will be protected.
  4. Assume a breach will occur and plan for this outcome. Ensure people, processes and strategy are in place in advance of it.
  5. Control knowledge of a breach to trusted individuals and prepare for announcements by analysing the possible consequences of decisions.
  6. Communicate clearly when a breach happens, stating the knowns and unknowns publicly. Speculation from media and researchers can damage reputation.
  7. Look for your compromised data online, to try to discern the attacker’s motive. Understanding whether the motive was financial gain may help mitigate against prolonged malicious activity.

Rick Holland, VP Strategy at Digital Shadows