In 2014, Australian police foiled an attempt by Russian cyber criminals to steal AUD 570 million from several Australian organisations. Other companies such as Telstra were less lucky. Cyber crime costs Australia as much as AUD 2 billion annually, according to the Australian Attorney-General's Department. And, the number of attacks is rising by 20 percent each year.
Meanwhile, collaboration has become the cornerstone of successful organisations. A Deloitte study found that quality improvement from collaboration in Australia added about $29 billion—almost two percent of the nation's economy—in 2014. But collaboration often comes with a risk. The number of cyber attacks will grow as employees increasingly use collaboration tools to maximise their company's productivity. This is because these tools can provide new points of entry for hackers looking to cause damage. This issue could become more serious as we will see more radical collaboration tools in the days to come. Fortunately, there are always going to be readily available solutions.
Here are three ways in which an organisation's security can be compromised due to increased collaboration.
1. A wolf in sheep's clothing: Companies collaborate with suppliers, vendors and customers in the cloud every day. Consider this scenario: A supply chain executive receives an automated weekly email with an MS Excel file from their logistics partner providing the estimated time of arrival for products. A cyber criminal somehow discovers this practice. The criminal then impersonates the logistics partner by using a similar email address. The executive doesn't notice and downloads the attachment—an executable (.exe) file masked as a MS Excel file. When the executive opens the file, a wolf in sheep's clothing enters the company's network to steal trade secrets, financial data, and customer information. This modus operandi, called spear phishing, is popular in Australia and in the rest of the world. By some estimates, 91 percent of all attacks begin with spear phishing (Wired.com).
2. A betrayal: With the advent of bring your own device (BYOD), collaboration has become fairly common. Employees can now access work files while away from the office and increase their productivity. On the other hand, disgruntled employees can easily expose information or even sabotage company files. What if an employee who is about to join a competitor were to print customer contact details from a remote location? And what if this employee took this information to the new workplace? This betrayal could lead to the company losing its competitive edge. Deloitte estimates that 14 percent of all data breaches in Australia are by insiders.
3. A foreign adversary: Even governments are not immune to cyber attacks from foreign state-sponsored adversaries. Government employees may visit certain websites frequently to collaborate with employees from other departments or with their citizens. Malware placed on these sites could exploit vulnerable end points and compromise the devices of any visitors. Malware can also morph into more serious advanced persistent threats (APTs) that can lurk in the victim's system for a long time. Using this vehicle, these adversaries could secretly keep a tab on issues of national security and international policy. When governments can face such threats, businesses are all the more at risk. Chinese hackers have been suspected to attack and spy on innovative Australian mining and natural resources firms.
To fight data breaches and defend their business, organisations must protect all entry points. Here are a few ways in which organisations can defend against each of the threats identified above.
1. Guarding the door: Application white listing, a method of checking applications against an approved list, is effective against criminals in disguise looking for an entry point. If an unknown program tries to run, it will be barred. This is very effective against spear phishing attacks. In addition, a log management system would help to collect logs on failed access attempts and decipher whether or not they are attacks.
2. Guarding from inside: A privileged password management process can help organisations protect against insider threats. All privileged identities and passwords are stored in a centralised vault and only approved devices are allowed to access information from remote locations. Furthermore, companies can video record all sessions, whether on-premise or remote, for a complete record of all actions.
3. Defending against international threats: Software applications that analyse packet flow can detect malicious traffic hitting the network in real time. In case of a sophisticated attack, the company can immediately view the offender's IP, the severity of the attack, and the time of the attack. A detailed forensic investigation will enable the company to detect patterns and identify the source of unwanted intrusions.
In the present age of heightened collaboration, the risk of cyber crime is very high. Organisations need to defend against techniques such as spear phishing, malware, and APTs, among others. Application white listing, privileged password management, and network behaviour anomaly detection is just three modes of defence.
And what happens in a future of radical collaboration tools?
Future collaboration tools will be even more powerful. For example, the combination of holography and brain decoding technology may create a society in which people have meetings between their virtual selves in the office. What if a cyber criminal impersonates a CEO's virtual self and compromises the business by giving wrong instructions during a meeting? In a scenario like this, even if a criminal were somehow able to project the CEO's hologram inside the office, the IT team could detect the deviation if there were inconsistencies with the CEO's known logic. There is no doubt that the future holds endless possibilities for collaboration, which we know to be integral for business success. We just need to make sure our security technology is well equipped to handle it. However sophisticated the attacks in an age of increased collaboration, a proactive ICT team will always prevail.
Read more: LinkedIn data uncovers security skills gap