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Cybersecurity during the holidays
Sophia screen shot. Sophia is a cybersecurity software tool that helps protect energy sector networks and control systems. INL developed it as an easy, elegant way to help network operators detect intruders and other anomalies. (Photo courtesy: Idaho National Laboratory)

By James Mejia

Earlier this year, data from 33 million users of the Ashley Madison website was stolen. The website is set up to facilitate out of wedlock affairs, so users were nervous that they might be discovered by a spouse and that their emails and phone numbers had been released to the public. The New York Times reported that the cost to the company would near $900 million dollars.

Cyberattack and stealing personal data is increasingly commonplace. According to the 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 79,790 ‘Security Incidents’ and 2,122 ‘Confirmed Data Breaches’ occurred in 61 countries last year. The industries most affected were the public sector, technology information, and finance.

The report details several concerns: the increase in incidence of data breach, the amount of time it takes to discover a cyberattack, and the number of attacks that are due to human error. Furthermore, defense that is developed for one firm often does not work for other companies; 70-90 percent of computer viruses, worms, and spyware are unique to the company that is attacked.

Effect on Small Business

According to a new survey of small business owners conducted by Nationwide Insurance Company, though 63 percent of small business owners have been victimized by cyberattacks, 79 percent do not have a cyberattack response plan. The country’s largest small business insurer released the report in anticipation of the year’s most active shopping season over the holidays. The most common attacks are computer viruses and phishing (emails sent to infect a computer with worms or spyware). Over 50 percent of small business owners say it would take at least three months to recover from a cyberattack.

A 2015 report from Symantec Security Response found that attacks on small business have risen for the past three years. Smaller information technology budgets and less training for employees on cyber security opens up smaller firms to attack.

Data breaches most often occur when employees are not following proper security standards and systems. Securing passwords, avoiding interaction with unknown and untrusted web sites from work computers, and early detection of online security threats by trained employees are all strategies outlined by Symantec.

Most small businesses balk at the high cost of employing information technology professionals to thwart cyberattack. Some more affordable, albeit minimal prevention techniques include purchasing and keeping updated malware defense software, protecting access to your Wi-Fi system, and putting into place data recovery capabilities.


2014-2015 cyber attacks:[1]

- 80 million patient and employee records stolen from Anthem.
- N Korean attacks on Sony Pictures leads to cancellation of “The Interview” movie release.
- Staples – Information from 1.16 million credit cards stolen.
- Data from 56 million payment cards stolen from Home Depot.
- Michaels – Credit card information from 3 million customers compromised over several months.


Preventable Attacks for Consumers

If there is any bright spot in the Verizon report, it is that many cyberattacks are preventable with consumer awareness. For those sent emails designed to infect a computer through phishing, 23 percent opened dangerous messages and 11 percent clicked on attachments. The easy solution – don’t open emails from unknown sources or organizations that are not trusted.

The majority of cyberattacks occur at the ‘Point of Sale’ – a whopping 28.5 percent. When handing over credit cards, the safe bet is to use a card with chip technology and to patronize those businesses whose credit card readers utilize credit card chip technology. Those chips create a new code for every transaction making it much harder to steal data.

Consumers should be careful to guard personal data and be wary when entering sensitive data online. Complex passwords should be employed on any and all online transactions and malware protection should be installed and updated on a regular basis.

[1] 9 Recent Cyberattacks Against Big Businesses, New York Times, Kevin Granville, Feb. 5, 2015

[2] 11 Data Breaches That Stung US Consumers,, Allison Ross





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