Technological Damnation 92: Data Loss

It is the information age and data is the life blood of the company and the supply chain. The financial chain is controlled by data. The physical flow of goods is dictated by data. People communicate electronically through data packets. It’s all data. And losing that data is a damnation. Not just because data is lost, but because:

Lost Intellectual Property data is a loss of competitive advantage

Sometimes the only edge a company has is it’s intellectual property that it can use to create a slightly better product, do better in a foreign market, or lower its costs enough to undersell the competition when its products are no better. If that gets stolen, and one or more competitors get their hands on it, the advantage is gone and all of a sudden the product is no better, the edge in the foreign market is lost, and there is no cost advantage to exploit in the end product.

Intrusions that result in lost or stolen data are hard to trace

If your systems or networks get hacked, and your data is stolen, good luck figuring out who got your data, because chances are that not only will you not be able to figure out who hacked you, but you will not even be able to figure out where the hack came from. Right now, there are free hacking toolkits for every major OS on the deep web that can bounce packets off of dozens of anonymous proxy servers, fake TCP/IP headers, and exploit dozens upon dozens of security holes that can be launched successfully against the average system by budding script kiddies — so imagine what real black-hats can do if this is what they give away for free. Do you know how many zero-day exploits are in your systems? They do!

Even if the intrusions are traced, loss is hard to recover

Let’s say you are able to afford, and hire, the best white-hat trackers from the top security firms on the planet and they trace the hack to, let’s say, a rogue hacker in China or Russia. Do you think you’re going to recover anything? Nope. And even if you can trace the hack to your country or a country that you operate in, do you think suing a hacker who got an untraceable payment to a Swiss or Cayman Islands account is going to net you anything? No way!

Data loss prevention requires very powerful, expensive, digital vaults

The only protection your organization has is to install the best systems with the best encryption configured by real security pros. This is not easy to do. Considering that most web sites are full of security holes that are easily uncovered by open source products like PortSwigger’s Burp Scanner, imagine how hard it is to properly secure a database, an ERP, an OS, and the communication lines between them. So not only do you have to buy a top of the line system with embedded security, but then you have to find a real security expert to properly configure and harden the system — who is extremely pricey if you manage to find that person.

And loads of security training, awareness, review, and enforcement.

The majority of data thefts are not the result of hacks, but the result of disgruntled employees with access or social engineering. That’s why you need good policies, training, and enforcement. An admin should not grant carte-blanche access to data in a system to an employee who does not need it just because it’s too hard to set up the roles based security, even if the employee is happy and trust-worthy. Chances are that security will never be reviewed and if, in two years, the employee gets disgruntled or falls on hard times, that’s an exploit waiting to happen.

But the biggest risk is the average employee who writes her password on a post it inside her drawer, a receptionist who does a system test when asked over the phone, or an office admin who grants a workman access to the server room because they look like they should be there. The most common way a hacker gets access to your system is by posing as the janitorial staff who gets to go into every cubicle to empty garbage (and check desks for password post-it notes), as the vendor rep who wants to test the server connection (and has the rep go to a site that looks like the vendor portal admin screen and login for a speed / reliability test when all it does is capture the authentication data before passing through to a real site), or by dressing up as an IT shop employee there to fix the server — because once you’re on the live system, you can suck all the admin codes you want for a remote access later. Poor security practices opens holes bigger than the Vredefort crater.

And the average person does not understand this, even after repeated instructions and explanations as to why writing the password down is dangerous. So this damnation will be with us for quite some time.