The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) has launched a new free program to help private sector companies understand and defend against attacks by nation-state cyberattackers.
NCSC now offers a series of videos, brochures, and posters to raise awareness of the threat of foreign-sponsored cyberattack campaigns, and how to best protect against them.
"We made a determination to launch this campaign after a series of interactions with private sector representatives around the country," says Dean Boyd, the NCSC's chief communications executive. "While many corporate officials were well-aware of the threats to their businesses from foreign intelligence entities, many others were not and requested information and assistance. A key part of our mission at NCSC is to provide counterintelligence outreach to US private sector entities at risk of foreign intelligence penetration."
Security expert say it's not typical of the normally secretive NCSC - which reports to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - to make such a public splash.
"In many ways it's long overdue to a degree," says Drew Lydecker, president and co-founder of Avant Communications. "It's a reiteration of how huge a deal this is and how large an issue security has become. It's good they are talking about foreign travel and Wi-Fi [in the materials], especially for small and midsized businesses: they don't always take the threat as seriously as they should."
Jessica Ortega, a website security research analyst for SiteLock, notes that it's important that a federal intelligence agency has taken the lead.
"Small businesses especially have to understand that they are a valuable target for hackers," Ortega says. "Keep in mind that the average website gets 50 attacks a day … so small business owners shouldn't think they are too small not to get attacked."
NCSC's Boyd underscored that while all businesses can benefit from these new materials, SMBs are an important focus of the NCSC's effort. Many of these firms don't always have adequate resources for cybersecurity or even knowledge of the threats to their businesses posed by foreign intelligence organizations, he notes.
Some of these materials previously had been disseminated to the federal workforce to heighten awareness, he says, but after recent interactions with the private sector and the many recent cases involving nation-states targeting US businesses, the agency believed it was important to get these materials to the private sector as well.
The goal with this program up front is to provide companies both with basic information on the threats and simple steps they can take to mitigate risks.
Here are four areas the NCSC identified in its new program materials:
Corporate supply chains. Third parties have been an area of risk focus since the Target hack several years ago. NCSC says companies should know their suppliers, the equipment and services they provide, and their service providers. Start by asking the right questions before procuring their products or services. Get acquisition and procurement people involved with the company's risk management and security program.
Spearphishing emails. In October 2018, two Chinese intelligence officers and eight others were indicted for hacking US and European aerospace companies over five years to steal trade secrets on commercial aircraft engines. They allegedly used spearphishing to penetrate these corporate networks. Small manufacturers or banks in the Midwest or South think they are not at risk, but they are prime targets. Start by never clicking on suspicious links or attachments, particularly from unverified or unknown sources, the NCSC says.
Social media deception. China's intelligence services regularly use social media platforms to spot, assess, and target Americans with access to business or government secrets. Be sure to maximize your social media privacy settings and double-check the source before friending strangers, the agency recommends.
Foreign travel. NCSC says when traveling abroad, businesspeople should not expect electronic privacy. Wi-Fi networks overseas are regularly monitored by security services and others who can insert malicious software into your device through any connection they control. NCSC says it's best to leave electronic devices at home, but if you have to bring them, have them with you at all times.