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Hacking People:

January 30, 2017

Why Your Biggest Vulnerability Isnít in Your IT Department

Clinton Henry

Last week, “Chris” stopped off at his local coffee shop to have a chai before heading off to a trade show to deliver a keynote speech.


As he sat at his usual spot near the counter, a heated business discussion ensued next to him regarding the 3rd Quarter of 2017. In the middle of the morning’s caffeinated hustle and bustle, a marketing meeting was in progress.


Chris knew it was a marketing meeting because the three employees left the screens on their computers open to “Marketing Plans.” Much to his amazement, they had “abandoned” the table and were apparently in line (as well as online). They left two smartphones and a couple of memory sticks out in the open, plain as a Pumpkin Spiced Latte.


While reasonable predictions aren’t always correct, there’s a strong possibility that sooner or later their company will experience a security breach. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that anyone within the business or information technology (IT) has taken a serious look at how its users operate to protect from this sort of vulnerability. 


The Biggest Risk


Let’s review some of the socially engineered pitfalls that occur all too often:


Public Wi-Fi – Public Wi-Fi is to your computer network as Kryptonite is to Superman or garlic is to a vampire. Unless you are sending out information that is encrypted via a secured site, never conduct any business from an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot.


Public Places – In the space of two seconds, it would have been possible for a cyberthief to take screen shots of the 3rd Quarter plan with a smartphone, or to swipe the smartphones and stick drives or even one of the laptops. Any document, especially any document with links to your organization, is all a cyber thief needs to get going. Never leave documents unattended.


Ever hear of “visual trespass?” It is the practice of someone in any public space “looking over your shoulder” viewing your computer screen. Here’s an apt example:


Alison, the head of tax and audit for a publicly traded company, was traveling and noticed a stranger was trying to observe her computer screen in an airport while she was working on her corporation’s soon- to-be-public 10-k filing! While the stranger may have been rude (and not a cyberthief), the person working on those financials was misguided and careless.


Moreover, public conversations that should be held in private can undo a company quite easily. Recently, “Chris” was in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, while a man next to him was on the phone with a colleague who needed access to a file. The helpful companion, within earshot of Chris, decided it was a good idea to give his co-worker his personal password so he could access the file.


If Chris were an opportunist, he could have simply made conversation with the unsuspecting traveler later and traded business cards, giving Chris his username and company along with his password. The businessman would have been none the wiser.


Phishing – Phishing has not gone away. It has become so sophisticated that we believe it comes from our bosses or a supplier or a nonprofit we might support. The links in the email are typically malware that can infect the entire network and grab important files. Don’t fall for it. When in doubt, always verify. An interesting fact: Millennials are more prone to falling for phishing than older employees! Over-familiarity with and blind trust of technology can be a dangerous thing.


Vindictiveness – Remember the angry employee who was terminated? What precautions were taken to make sure that he or she was immediately shut out from the network? Terminated employees can sometimes be vindictive. Have a plan and protect your data so the recently fired sales executive can’t walk to your competitor with your latest leads or biggest accounts.


Vendors – Your computer network is only as good as who has access to that network. Many cyberthieves have successfully snuck in through a “back door” by going through the networks of your vendors. This is a potentially huge problem for any organization having a continuous relationship with suppliers. If your network is “secure” but your vendors have cybersecurity that is more like Swiss cheese, it can potentially create a huge vulnerability in your network.


Remember: While most internal IT departments often seek funding for the latest network security equipment or software to beef up cybersecurity, they often neglect to engage their users to harden the organization from social engineering attacks that are commonly used to compromise a company. Neglecting to offer sufficient training for their users leaves the business vulnerable to a hacker using a company’s own employees against it.


Senior IT executive Clinton Henry is a leading cybersecurity and identity theft expert. He’s known for his engaging keynote addresses and insightful perspectives on business and personal cybersecurity. Contact him through www.ClintonHenry.com. 



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