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Attacks/Breaches

6/17/2015
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Time to Focus on Data Integrity

Information security efforts have historically centered on data theft. But cybercriminals who alter corporate records and personal information can also cause serious harm.

In today’s digital world, protecting business and consumer data is critical for many enterprises. The goal of cybersecurity attacks is often to obtain confidential information, which can be held for ransom or sold to the highest bidders. Subsequently, companies spend billions of dollars on solutions to defend against cybersecurity attacks.

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that financial firms plan to increase their cybersecurity spending by $2 billion, while banks plan to spend even more. In fact, Gartner estimates information security spending to reach more than $75 billion in 2015.

But if finding protected data is the goal for attackers, enterprises also need to be concerned about the integrity of their data, especially unauthorized changes, and how they can be alerted to those changes as they occur. Cybersecurity so often focuses on attackers stealing data, but altering data can also cause harm.

For airlines or travel companies, ensuring the integrity of schedules – from traveler information to engine maintenance – is critical to operations and brand reputation.

For financial institutions or public companies, even small, unauthorized changes in data can quickly create big problems, especially if those data are part of regular reporting to shareholders or filings with regulatory agencies. Forbes covered the release of a New York State Department of Financial Services cybersecurity report, noting that data integrity breaches were one of the top three “most frequent types of wrongful activity resulting from a cyber intrusion” at depository institutions.

For healthcare organizations, in light of recent medical record breaches, if someone steals data as well as changes records, the lives of patients are literally at risk. In its Top 10 Health Technology Hazards list for 2015, the ECRI Institute considered data integrity to be the second most critical hazard for healthcare organizations.

So how can a company more effectively tackle data integrity challenges? NIST’S National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) is considering a project that demonstrates and verifies data integrity. The NCCoE brings together experts from industry, government, and academia to demonstrate cybersecurity approaches that are cost-effective, repeatable, and scalable. By developing reference designs, the NCCoE provides businesses with roadmaps to real-world cybersecurity solutions based on commercially available technologies.

The proposed data integrity project, developed from conversations with more than 100 executives, hopes to determine:

  • What was altered in a breach?
  • What is the impact of the data alteration to traditional IT, mobile, cloud, and mainframe systems?
  • Which backup version should an organization restore after an alteration?

Ultimately, the NCCoE hopes to answer this question: what existing technologies enable business-to-consumer enterprises to maintain the integrity of their systems, applications, files, databases, and backups?

Do you work in a consumer-facing business concerned with data integrity? Is your organization already tackling this issue? To help define this project, share your thoughts on data integrity and its priority for your business. You can submit comments on our website. More information on this project, other potential cybersecurity projects for consumer-facing businesses, and a summary of the conversations with these executives, can be found in a recently released NIST report

Nate Lesser, Deputy Director, National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, NIST Nate Lesser is the deputy director of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The NCCoE collaborates with members of ... View Full Bio
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