"What doesn't make the news and is just as much of a problem--if not more, in volume--are the muggings, the crimes of opportunity," said Jeff Schmidt, founder and CEO at JAS Global Advisors, in an interview. "It's low-hanging-fruit economics from the bad guys' perspective."
That makes small and midsize businesses (SMBs)--particularly those that ignore even basic security practices--a mouthwatering mark for online crooks. According to Schmidt, while the Internet-age-old targets like social security numbers and banking credentials are still sought after, sensitive assets such as customer and supplier information, marketing databases, geolocation data, and other business records now carry increasing value to criminals.
"Data has never been easier [for criminals] to monetize," Schmidt said. "A very sophisticated, very liquid black market for all kinds of data has emerged."
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The core lesson: Don't be the easy pickings. The fundamentals of reasonable security continue to apply: Stay current on critical patches and downloads for Windows, Adobe, and any other software in use at your company. Use complex passwords--and don't reuse them across systems. The loss of physical media such as laptops, mobile devices, and external drives continues to be an issue; understand the risks if a finance manager's PC, for example, gets left in the backseat of taxicab.
Schmidt also notes that while some firms have trust issues with cloud applications, credible platforms will likely have stronger, more current security systems and practices than their SMB customers can support internally. "There's tradeoffs for everything, but when SMBs can outsource certain parts of their infrastructure they get the [security] advantages without having the investment in IT resources," Schmidt said.
Still, secure environments start internally. A key way for SMBs to avoid wearing bull's-eyes on their virtual backs: Be careful with personal and corporate information on social networks and other public domains.
Schmidt notes that a growing number of targeted attacks against SMBs begin with a crook gleaning information about individual employees online in hopes of finding a potentially profitable mark. This could include, for example, discovering the names of employees that might have banking or other financial authorization, network access credentials, and other data. This information can then be used to launch realistic spear phishing, social engineering, and other direct attacks intended to steal money, hijack systems, or conduct corporate espionage. In some instances, such an attack might involve compromising certain systems or data and demanding a ransom--bad kidnapping movie style--for its healthy return.
Executives and finance professionals continue to make prime pickings for financial scams, but Schmidt said that other roles have become targets as well. That's particularly true in industries like technology where product development roadmaps, source code, and other proprietary data might have external value. In those cases, developers, project managers, and other IT pros might get a longer look from prying eyes.
For SMBs that are already practicing smart security, the next step is a philosophical change: "In many cases, even technically sophisticated SMBs have a 'protect everything' mentality," Schmidt said, adding that this mindset treats security strictly as a technical problem to be mitigated with technical solutions: Firewalls, encryption, antivirus software, and the like. Those tools are all fine and well, but Schmidt advises a different approach for SMBs: Treat security as a risk management problem.
That involves determining the value of various data and other assets across the company, considering who might be interested in it and how they could get their hands on it, and which internal personnel have access to those potential targets. Then, you're able to better assess potential exploits and develop stronger policies and procedures for minimizing the risk of (and fallout from) a security breach. These could include human resources functions such as background checks, "two-man rules" that prevent any single person from having sole access to critical data or systems, and other prevention-minded policies.
"When you start going down those lines, security becomes as much of a policy problem as a technical problem," Schmidt said. "You start looking at it as risk management and the whole range of countermeasures available, not just technical countermeasures."