Why do Most Organizations Fail at Cyber Security?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


In a recent Capital One data breach, approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million customers from Canada were affected. Capital One reported that 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 linked bank account numbers of secured credit card customers were compromised along with one million Social Insurance Numbers of Canadian customers. Why was such massive data accessible for attackers? 

Attackers are after Financial Information


Attackers have been after financial information for a long time, and they will continue stealing such information. In this Capital One data breach, the largest category of information accessed included data of customers collected for application of credit cards from 2005 through early 2019. This included names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income of customers. Portions of customer status data, e.g., credit scores, credit limits, balances, payment history, contact information were also compromised, whereas attackers also compromised transaction data of 23 days from 2016, 2017 and 2018. The lodged complaint based on an FBI special agent’s sworn statement suggested that the intruder executed a command that retrieved the security credentials for the administrator account of a web application firewall.

This stolen data can be used to facilitate cyber-crimes like fraudulent withdrawal of money, opening lines of credit, committing identity theft, blackmailing clients, etc.

WAF Bypass

Web Application Firewalls do not absolutely block all malicious entities from entering your organization. WAFs can be bypassed. Therefore organizations must not rely solely on WAF and each underlying asset should have proper authentication in place. A data breach expert Troy Hunt says, “WAFs are great, but there should be an additional layer of security, and the underlying resources themselves need to be secure,”. Field CTO with security vendor Varonis, Brian Vecci comments that possibly Capital One had not refreshed the credentials of WAF Administrators regularly and the attacker could have possibly been an old WAF Administrator. However, when such large amounts of data were being accessed/copied by an administrator’s account, it should have generated alerts for abnormal activity. The lack of such alerts points at the lack of proper monitoring systems, adds Vecci. Therefore, organizations should regularly refresh credentials for WAF’s Administrator accounts, implement proper authentications on all assets/resources and install proper monitoring systems for any abnormal activity.

Data hoarding

Data hoarding is a growing cause of data breaches. With easy storage options, organizations tend to hoard sensitive data, which isn’t needed anymore but can be used by attackers to gain critical insight about the organization. Such data should be removed from existence as soon as it is no longer being used for the purpose it was collected for, and must be dealt with carefully.


Most security researchers are now raising the question of why an organization keeps data as old as one or two decades. The Capital One data breach also compromised information that was collected more than a decade ago, which is enough evidence of data hoarding. This practice should be discouraged because less and precise data means there’s less information to be saved. Brian Vecci also commented on data hoarding: “When it comes to file data security, people don’t delete anything, and that is a problem. It was a problem in the Sony breach, and it’s a problem now.”

Internal Glitches that lead to Data Breaches

Most data breaches are a product of two things, says IBM Security’s executive security advisor Etay Maor in an interview.

1.Somebody did something they shouldn’t have done in the organization

This includes insider threat by disgruntled employees or internal fraudsters who may be leaking out organization’s confidential data. In most cases, the insider threat is due to negligent employees who click on malicious phishing links through which credential theft or malware delivery occurs, serving as entry point in the target environment.

2. Somebody didn’t do something they should have done in the organization

Attackers need an entry point to enter the target environment. Many times, the access or foothold is gained by exploiting the vulnerabilities found in systems, software or applications being used in the target environment. To prevent this from happening, organizations need to reinforce the culture of timely patching of vulnerabilities. Maor adds that these vulnerabilities can be found via open source intelligence platforms like Shodan in a few clicks. Therefore organizations need to think like adversaries and patch their bugs and vulnerabilities before the attackers may find them.

Maintaining Proactive Cyber security

Building a proactive approach towards cyber security requires constantly challenging the security measures you have in place. Cyber security is not a once and done activity, adds Maor, it’s rather a continuous process like a cat and mouse game. He further insists that organizations should leverage threat intelligence for a better visibility to help safeguard their assets. If defenders think like adversaries, they’ll find many loopholes in their security posture and only then can they fix those loopholes. He suggests that organizations should also utilize red teams to check for ways through which attackers can penetrate their environment.

Organizations should therefore implement the following measures for a proactive cyber security approach:

  • Timely patching of vulnerabilities
  • Implementing Proper authentication on resources
  • Proper encryption of data
  • Leveraging Threat Intelligence for visibility
  • Periodically refreshing WAF credentials
  • Properly monitoring abnormal activities
  • Deleting unneeded information
  • Ensuring employee awareness for safe surfing

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