Report: Breaches responsible for increasing amount of collateral damage

2015 was the "Year of Collateral Damage," according Hewlett Packard Enterprise

breach in the wall
Hanay (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

2015 was the "Year of Collateral Damage," according to a report released this morning by Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Attackers targeting companies or other organizations are not only affecting the lives of people who are customers or employees of those organizations, but also affect people who have no direct business relationships.

Take, for example, the Office of Personnel Management breach, said Jewel Timpe, senior manager or research communications for Hewlett Packard Enterprise Security.

In that incident, hackers were able to get their hands on the data of over 21 million current and former federal employees.

"I am not employed by the government," she said. "I never have been, and don't have a security clearance. I had no expectations that I was in the OPM database until I got a letter saying I had been breached. It turned out that I was a reference on a security clearance, and I gave them nothing but my name to do the interview. But because I was a reference on a security clearance, they had all my information."

People who go through security screening provide information about friends, family members and other associates. This kind of data is a treasure trove for social engineers -- or for the intelligence services of the foreign government allegedly behind this particular breach.

Another example was the Ashley Madison breach, said Timpe.

The stolen information provides insights into people's personal marital relationships, having negative effects on people completely unconnected with that dating site.

"You're finding out that your spouse is doing this, and now your life is out there for everyone to see," she said.

Before last year, a data breach was little more than an inconvenience for most people.

"You were hacked, and the bank sent you a new card," said Timpe. "However, this notion of stealing more private information, full identity information, is more disconcerting."

Another key theme of the report includes government interference with security research efforts.

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies is a multi-national agreement by 41 countries which -- in addition to regulating arms exports -- now also applies to a lesser or greater degree to some cybersecurity tools, such as those used for penetration testing.

Each country interprets the Wassenaar Arrangement differently, and U.S. legislators are still holding hearings about how the U.S. will implement it.

"Security researchers are motivated to find vulnerabilities and share that information on a global stage with vendors and peers to make us safer," said Chandra Rangan, vice president of marketing for Hewlett Packard Enterprise Security. "But there are legislations that various countries are looking at to prevent the sharing of that information."

The rules are already impacting security research, said Timpe.

HPE itself was unable to sponsor mobile Pwn2Own at PacSecWest in Japan last fall because of the complexities of obtaining all the necessary import-export licenses. Earlier that year, the company spent months working with trade lawyers and government officials to ensure that Canada’s implementation of the Wassenaar Arrangement was not violated during the Pwn2Own contest held at the CanSecWest conference.

It is also affecting bug bounty programs, she said, such as HPE's Zero Day Initiative, recently acquired by Trend Micro.

"The researchers would have to go to their government and get a certificate to export their work to another country, and the recipient has to get permission, and if the vendor is in a third country, we also have to get an export license," she said. "It just adds additional complexity and starts to drive researchers away. We have researchers all over the globe sending vulnerabilities to the U.S."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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