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Top 5 Cyber Attacks of 2018

Some recent news on the Internet related frauds and cyber attacks, and the figures relating to the catastrophic outcomes highlight a bigger than ever problem of the world wide web. Take a look:

·     Detailed personal information of more than 60,000 Australians was exposed to a massive cyber attack on Facebook last year

·     Politicians in the UK have speculated and have demanded an investigation into the wide-scale cyberattacks in the elections. They allege that Russia has been behind interfering in political affairs including elections from as early as 2016 EU referendum

·     New research suggests that smaller companies are more prone to cyber attacks and frauds than big companies

The list can be really long and unending. This means that cybersecurity threat is something that not shakes up all - nations, political leaders, common folk, the rich, the poor, the big companies and small companies. No one is spared! 

Defined as an attempt to steal or gain access to someone else’s personal information by breaching computer networks, personal devices or computer information systems, a cyber attack today is an organized crime running through the alleys of an unorganized and secret world. Hence, cybersecurity is put in place to stop these attacks and safeguard the personal information of individuals as well as companies.

Cybercrime can have larger ramifications. While cyber attacks have been happening since the late 80s, the past few decades and more specifically, the last three to four years have seen a rise in the malicious activities. In 2018, there were a number of breaches in cybersecurity. However, five major ones that shook the world were remarkably different and had a greater impact than others:

The compromise of data at Facebook

With a user base of around 2.3 billion people, Facebook is the largest social media platforms in the world. Being so, even Facebook could not protect its user accounts from being compromised. While, like every big company, the breach was initially denied, CEO Mark Zuckerberg later did admit that the unidentified attackers used an exploit that gave them access to the personal information of around 50 million users.

The exploit that the attackers used was the “View As” button which allowed users to view their profile as someone else. Using this, the attackers gained access to the profiles and were able to see the names, localities and genders of the users.

It came to the company’s attention when around 90 million users were logged out of their personal devices. The investigation also revealed that the company only spotted unusual activity in September of 2018 but the vulnerability was added back in July of 2017.

Breach of transactional data on British Airways

 In September of 2018, approximately 380,000 booking transactions were stolen from the British Airways website and mobile application by the notorious group, Magecart Group 6. The transaction details included bank card numbers, their CVV codes and expiry dates. It was found that the attackers used a modified JavaScript to go through the payment page on the website before it was submitted. The modification also stayed undetected and the brilliance of this hack was that it was just 22 lines of code, according to head threat researcher at RiskIQ, Yonathan Klijnsma. Later, the Company’s CEO, Alex Cruz gave a public apology on BBC television. A month later in November, it was found that this stolen information was being sold by the Russian hacker group on the black market.

Data breach into the Aadhaar card ecosystem

The Aadhaar card system (an identity card like system) was introduced in 2009 in India to give all the citizens of the country a unique identification number that has all the necessary basic details including the mobile number, PAN card number as well as biometric data. But in 2018, a massive data breach took place which allowed anyone to get access to anyone else’s Aadhaar number.  

In the same year, it was revealed that 210 government websites have leaked data of 1.1 billion records of Indian citizens and the data became so easily accessible that a Google search could reveal all personal information like names, names of parents, Aadhaar numbers, PAN numbers, the status of applications, mobile numbers, IFSC codes and bank account numbers, along with other vital information. The situation had reached a point where anonymous sellers over Whatsapp, another Facebook platform, was giving out Aadhaar card details for just INR 500. As a bonus, if someone paid just an addition INR 300, they could get an Aadhaar card printed.

The Quora breach

Quora is the most popular question and answer website where individuals, as well as, professionals can post questions and receive answers from people across the globe. As reported in 2018, the portal has a user base of more than 200 million. Sensitive information for around half of them was compromised. The unidentified hackers were able to get their hands on the personal emails, social media accounts, comments, IP address, questions and answers, direct messages as well as their encrypted passwords.

As a precaution, Quora logged out all of its users from their accounts and demanded a change in password. According to the portal, the breach was discovered on November 30th last year and it also sent out a warning email to the affected users.

Data breach at Marriott Hotels

Marriott is a hospitality brand run by Starwood Group and is among the premium hotels' chains in the world. When it comes to the scale of people affected, the 2018 Marriott data breach was one of the biggest ones. A massive breach that was detected in September. It could have started all the way back in 2014 and compromised the personal data of 500 million hotel guests. The Starwood guest reservation database was hacked and personal information including names, phone numbers, passport numbers, addresses, dates of birth, email addresses, gender, reservation information and Starwood loyalty program account information was stolen.

It was also reported that for some guests, the payment card numbers, as well as, their expiration dates were also stolen. This breach affected the anyone and everyone between 2014 and prior to September 2018, which, is an astonishingly huge window.

The Company set up a call center specifically to answer people queries regarding the breach and also gave the customers a chance to opt for a free service that would keep a tab on the websites used by criminals and hackers for a year and alert the customers if their personal information surfaced there. 

All through these breaches, the theft of the user base and their personal data was a common factor. Data, as they say, was the key for all the attack! However, in all these cases, there is a fair chance that companies could have avoided these attacks by way of some measures. What could have been these measures then?

In all these cases, it is essential to know what can be done to steer clear of such incidents. It is also important to know that no matter how big an organization may be it can’t be invulnerable. Thus, regularly updating cybersecurity is an absolute must. The sooner the bug or the hack is identified, the easier it is to save the personal information of the customers or users.

 One of the ways to better tackle breaches is to train their employees on cybersecurity so that they can identify on the ground level if something suspicious occurs. Stronger internet security should also be implemented that blocks download and installation of unauthorized software that may lead to a leak. Email security programs can also help in blocking access to websites that may be malicious in nature. Also, having a regularly updated backup is also necessary for allowing quick rollback to a safe state.

What companies also need to understand is that only depending on security products and services is not the ultimate solution. They need to invest more time, money and effort into strategies that focus on detection and response. They should monitor for threats continuously regardless of the investment.

The CEO of MIRACL, Brian Spector, believes that the username and password system should be replaced with a multi-factor authentication system in all areas. This system needs to be integrated throughout all online locations where digital transactions take place. It is more secure than just entering a username and password for access, even though it may be more tedious. A number of companies have already done dual step login.

The future is all about evolving and we continue to learn as technology continues to advance.
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