Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Operations

9/10/2015
10:30 AM
Mohan Koo
Mohan Koo
Commentary
100%
0%

What Ashley Madison Can Teach The Rest Of Us About Data Security

For a company whose offering can best be described as discretion-as-a-service, using anything less than state-of-the-art threat detection capabilities is inexcusable.

Thanks to its very public hack and sensationalized dump of full customer data, Ashley Madison has become a household name in a matter of weeks. While the negative attention doesn’t bode well for the company’s long-term viability, Ashley Madison claims “hundreds of thousands” of new users are still signing up each week.

Whether or not you believe that statistic, it’s clear the company’s security failures have shined a spotlight on what not to do when given the task of protecting sensitive consumer data. The fallout from this scandal could forever change the way organizations strategically view and approach security. Ashley Madison’s entire business hinged on its commitment to anonymity, trust, and discretion, and its trumped-up security claims were the cause of its public humiliation.

Although the hacking collective known as the Impact Team targeted the extramarital affair matchmaking site for misleading customers with a bogus “full delete” user privacy feature, the group didn’t hesitate to out the site’s 37 million users as collateral damage to bring down the organization. Ashley Madison must face the consequences for its security negligence.

[Read Ashley Madison Guilty Of Hard-Coded Creds, Weak Bot Detection for the latest details on the breach.]

Before the breach, the company boasted about airtight data security but ironically, still proudly displays a graphic with the phrase “trusted security award” on its homepage. In a Q&A with MOTHERBOARD, the Impact Team asserted that Ashley Madison not only employed substandard security measures but also had a complete disregard for security across the board:

"We worked hard to make a fully undetectable attack, then got in and found nothing to bypass.... Nobody was watching. No security. Only thing was segmented network. You could use Pass1234 from the internet to VPN to root on all servers.”

In the aftermath of the breach, Ashley Madison’s inability to identify the culprit confirms a gaping hole in its security infrastructure. Although former CEO Noel Biderman suggested to Brian Krebs in an interview that the breach was an inside job committed by a trusted third-party contractor, the $500K reward Ashley Madison’s parent company is now offering for intel raises serious doubts. The fact that the company cannot produce a data audit trail to unequivocally determine the perpetrator of this attack only underscores that it did not have proper monitoring and visibility into its own organization.

With its user base now exposed to the world, it's hard to imagine the company won’t face ramifications for its poor security infrastructure and total lack of a forensic framework. For a company whose offering can best be described as discretion-as-a-service, using anything less than the most state-of-the-art threat detection capabilities is inexcusable. Ashley Madison should have had systems in place to detect and flag suspicious behavior from within the network before a hack could occur. In the case of a swift-moving attack, it could have created an irrefutable data trail to decisively name a suspect immediately. Without these measures in place, a bad actor can go unnoticed for months within a company’s network and make off with the “crown jewels” without a trace.

On top of individual class-action lawsuits, Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner is also conducting an investigation, however current Canadian privacy laws don’t allow the Commissioner to levy fines and lack legal teeth when breaches like this come to light. Many privacy advocates hope this event will result in a reevaluation or bolstering of recent privacy laws.

At the organizational level, data security is also moving to center stage for regulators. As more scandals unfold revealing lax corporate policies that place customers in the crosshairs, government entities like the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have been empowered to ensure consumer protection and hold individual organizations accountable for careless security practices.

The notoriety of the Ashley Madison case all but demands public action by regulators to send a message to organizations across the globe. This is an opportunity for the FTC and other legislators to educate businesses about safeguarding data and making honest promises about what’s being done to ensure consumer protection. Companies unable to prove they have the appropriate security measures in place will find themselves in the hot seat—where Ashley Madison is sitting now.

Regardless of the legal ramifications Ashley Madison will face, this breach should serve as a wake-up call to organizations across industries. Every firm—whether they handle high-risk data or not—opens themselves up to the risk of losing customer trust if they are not effectively defending against threats from both outside and inside the business. Any CEO who isn’t vigilantly protecting his or her company’s assets with systems designed to track user behavior and identify malicious activity is acting negligently and putting the entire organization at risk. And as we’ve seen in the case of Ashley Madison, leadership all the way up to the CEO may very well be forced out when security isn’t prioritized as a core tenet of an organization.

As a co-founder of Dtex Systems, Mohan has been primarily responsible for growing the Dtex business in new vertical markets and geographies, with a strong focus on the cross-sector acquisition of new customers and partners. Over the past 15 years, Mohan has led the Dtex team ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 4:33:46 PM
the lesson...
...sadly is that people don't care about security until they get hurt.
AI Is Everywhere, but Don't Ignore the Basics
Howie Xu, Vice President of AI and Machine Learning at Zscaler,  9/10/2019
Fed Kaspersky Ban Made Permanent by New Rules
Dark Reading Staff 9/11/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-16354
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-16
The File Session Manager in Beego 1.10.0 allows local users to read session files because there is a race condition involving file creation within a directory with weak permissions.
CVE-2019-16355
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-16
The File Session Manager in Beego 1.10.0 allows local users to read session files because of weak permissions for individual files.
CVE-2019-16353
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-16
Emerson GE Automation Proficy Machine Edition 8.0 allows an access violation and application crash via crafted traffic from a remote device, as demonstrated by an RX7i device.
CVE-2019-16349
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-16
Bento4 1.5.1-628 has a NULL pointer dereference in AP4_ByteStream::ReadUI32 in Core/Ap4ByteStream.cpp when called from the AP4_TrunAtom class.
CVE-2019-16350
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-16
ffjpeg before 2019-08-18 has a NULL pointer dereference in idct2d8x8() at dct.c.