Tag Archives: USA

Identity Theft on the Increase

The number of identity theft victims in the USA increased to 13.1million in 2013 from 12.6 million in 2012. This is an increase of 500,000 cases and shows that thieve are becoming more sophisticated with their methods to illegally obtain confidential data.

The statistic have been gathered and presented by Javelin Strategy & Research who conduct an annual survey. The results for 2013 are the second highest since the start of the survey in 2004 with the greatest number of identity theft victims being 13.9 million in 2009. However, something to keep in mind is that this survey was completed in October 2013, before the retail company Target was successfully attacked by cyber thieves.

The study by Javelin Strategy & Research concluded that data breaches were one of the main sources of fraud in 2013. In total, one in three people who received notification of a data breach resulted in their identity being used for fraudulent activities.

Alphonse Pascual who is a senior analyst of security, risk and fraud at Javelin believes that there has been a shift in method of attacks where large organisations are being targeted more frequently.

Pascual stated, “Rather than a large number of smaller breaches as was more common in the past … we are now seeing larger retailers being targeted on a much more consistent basis.”

Pascual was also very critical of the larger organisations who are keeping confidential data belonging to thousands of people and their security measures which seem to be getting successfully bypassed on a more regular basis.

Pascual claimed, “This data clearly exposes just how ineffective current security practices have become. The businesses we trust with our personal information have become easy targets.”

As the number of victims of identity theft has increased in 2013, the amount of money that was stolen actually decreased. A total of $18 billion was stolen in 2013 which is a reduction of $3 billion in 2012 which totalled $21 billion. This reduction has been largely credited to financial institutions as they are now detecting fraudulent activities at a much quicker rate and are therefore closing down accounts much sooner.

Adam Levin who is the chairman of Identity Theft 911 believes that despite the reduction of money being stolen, the number of identity theft victims is very worrying due to the consequences that it can have on the victim.

Levin stated, “It’s not just about dollars and cents; it’s about the victims. ID theft disrupts your life. It creates real havoc and sometimes the consequences are horrendous. We need to keep these criminals from breaking and entering databases in the first place.”

By following a few simple steps, you can significantly reduce the possibility of becoming another victim of identity theft and identity fraud.

By ensuring that security software is installed on all computers and mobile phones and keeping them up to date by ensuring the latest security updates have been downloaded and applied helps significantly. These devices should be protected by strong passwords which should be changed on a regular basis. Monitoring bank account and credit card statements regularly and ensuring that all personal documents that are no longer needed are shredded and disposed of appropriately will also go a long way to ensuring that you don’t become a victim of identity theft and identity fraud.

Technology Firms Demand Change in Surveillance Reform

Some of the leading technology firms in the USA have come together and formed an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance group.

The group consists of eight companies, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Yahoo with their main aim to persuade the US government to drastically change its surveillance programmes.

The group has been formed after Edward Snowden who is an ex US intelligence contractor revealed the extent of the surveillance that is carried out by the US government. Such surveillance methods involved tapping fibre-optic cables, collecting phone records and hacking networks.

In an open letter to Washington which can be found on their website, the group stated, “We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

Members of the group believe that the level of surveillance that is going on has got out of hand and needs to be controlled.

Mark Zuckerberg who is the chief executive of Facebook stated, “Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.”

Since Snowden revealed the extent of the surveillance methods, the Reform Government Surveillance group is campaigning to have the permission to publish details of data requests. At the moment, some companies such as Apple and Google have revealed that they have had requests from the US authorities to hand data over but they are unable to detail just how much user data has been handed over to the authorities.

The Reform Government Surveillance group stated, “Transparency is essential to a debate over governments’ surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers. Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly,”

Are you concerned about how much data has had to be shared with the authorities?

Millions of PCs are left unprotected

A study that has been carried out by McAfee has revealed that 1 in 6 computers that are connected to the internet do not have adequate security software installed. This staggering statistic suggests that people from all over the world still have a lax attitude towards data security and continue to put their data at an unnecessary risk by having a blasé attitude towards data security.

The results of this study were collected through a free diagnostic tool, McAfee Security Scan Plus. This tool scanned the user’s PC for security threats, antivirus and firewall defences. This included Windows PC users from 24 countries with between 27 and 28 million users on average participating in this study each month. The results revealed that 17% of all the computers that were involved in this study either had no firewall and antivirus software installed or they have been disabled.

The findings of the report revealed that PC owners in the USA are some of the worst for not protecting their PCs with an antivirus and firewall. The USA was ranked in the bottom five with 19.32% of those who were involved in the study, leaving their PCs exposed as they had no standard security settings in place.
The results from this study should not be considered as a conclusive trend as many of those who installed the diagnostic tool, McAfee Security Scan Plus, did so because they may have already had a problem with their computer. Considering this, the percentage of those who do not have adequate security measures in place is more than likely to be inflated. However, this data is still vital as it has revealed that many people still have a very relaxed attitude towards computer security and the security of their data.

McAfee believe that many people still do not have adequate security in place on their computers because the feel that they will not be affected and that they will not be hit by a virus. In a blog post, McAfee stated “Many consumers still believe that by simply sticking to known ‘safe’ sites, they’ll be protected from all forms of malicious content. The fact is: the prevalence of sophisticated attacks is rising at an alarming rate. Furthermore, with the adoption of smartphones and tablets, mobile malware has become an immediate threat due to easily accessible personal data like financial and credit card information stored on mobile devices.”

Rise in Global Disasters Means Rise in Data Backup Solutions

On November 18, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters, claiming that scientists are “virtually certain” the world will have more extreme heat spells. By 2050, heat waves could be in the range of 5 degrees hotter, and 9 degrees by 2100. This increase in global temperatures means that heavy rainfall will occur more often, and tropical cyclones will become more severe.

“By the end of this century, intense, heavy rainstorms that now typically happen only once every 20 years are likely to occur about twice a decade”, the report stated.

So far, the predictions made in the report seem to be accurate:  The last few years have seen a heightened level of natural disasters, prompting thousands of businesses around the world to reassess their continuity and disaster recovery plans. With more and more sensitive data being stored electronically, these companies have begun to take online data backup services seriously in a bid to reduce downtime and avoid extensive loss in revenue.

Last month, Thailand experienced its worst flooding in seven years. Bangkok – the center of commerce and trade in the country – was completely inundated, and hundreds of businesses lost a considerable amount of revenue as a result. Most businesses in Thailand had been slow to adopt cloud computing and backup data centers as part of a contingency plan, but in the wake of these historic floods, companies are taking their data backup seriously.

Monsinee Keeratikrainon, manager of global research firm Frost & Sullivan, said demand in cloud computing services was set to expand more quickly because of natural disasters like the flooding in Thailand.

“The cloud will likely get more attention from companies as they prepare business continuity plans for any future crisis,” she said.

So far, backup centers in Thailand have received a lot of attention:  Demand for offsite data storage centers in Thailand rose by nearly 300% during the floods, mainly from manufacturers who needed to transfer their data to a safe location.

“The cloud market in Thailand is expected to grow by 50% to 1.5 billion baht (USD $47,800,000) next year,” Keeratikrainon said. This growth has the potential to prompt an investment of at least 500 million baht (USD $15,000,000) in expanding online data centers to accommodate demand.

But the growth of the cloud market isn’t confined to Thailand. As natural disasters increase worldwide, the demand for backup data centers is increasing with it.  The United States has recently experienced one of its worst years in natural disasters. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US experienced over $55 billion in damages from natural disasters in 2011, the worst in US history.  This has prompted US businesses to embrace data backup and disaster recovery systems. IT companies that provide support and strategy services for small and medium-sized businesses have experienced significant growth, citing the rise in natural disasters as one cause. ProviDyn, one such company, has increased revenue by 75% in the past year, and recently expanded their staff by 25 percent.

“At its basic level, controlling data is about controlling risk, which means being prepared in the event of disaster so that you can restore your business without losing its most important asset – information,” said Blaine Rigler, general manager of US-based Iron Mountain Data Backup and Recovery. “The amount of information that needs to be protected is growing at an incredible pace, creating new data challenges every day.”

And no other industry feels these challenges more than the healthcare industry. Natural disasters can cause a healthcare facility more than financial loss; it can potentially affect the lives of its patients if their personal charts or prescriptions are lost. Having their data stored remotely is crucial to restoring the facility’s operating conditions. Last May, a tornado leveled St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., completely wiping out their Electronic Health Records (EHR). But, because their medical records were all stored in a remote data center, they were able to reduce the devastation of the tornado and quickly return to providing for their patients.

“Within seven days, we had the EHR system up and running again, having retrieved the data from a mobile medical unit,” said Michael McCreary, chief of technology services for Sisters of Mercy Health Systems,  the organization in charge of St. John’s rebuilding efforts.

“We were lucky to have a paperless system that could be restored fairly quickly,” McCreary continued. “Some of the hospital’s old paper records got blown 70 miles away.”

The Cloud As An Evolving Model

Laurianne McLaughlin, editor in chief of US publication Information Week, highlighted this month the issue of journalists writing headlines about moving to the cloud.  McLaughlin insisted that you do not move to the cloud because the cloud is not a place in computing terms, ‘it is an operational model (with many variations) that you adopt—and then continue to adapt.’

Her point of view is exactly right and McLaughlin supported this idea with a fitting analogy that ‘you don’t get to simply load your old enterprise IT problems on a truck and arrive at a new place.’ The operations and staff are changed to accommodate the cloud model in order to refurbish the business environment.  After the transition, the business should continue to work on developing a very current cloud model.

In considering her analogy, McLaughlin vowed a new change to the reporting style on cloud-related stories on Information Week.  She decided that they would never again refer to the idea of ‘moving’ to the cloud. Instead, reporting would focus on observing how the cloud evolves as a process and what makes it successful for its users.

McLaughlin’s idea makes excellent sense about how Backup Technology works with the cloud.  Many new clients are adopting cloud backup with us for the first time, and we either assist them with its implementation, or implement it on their behalf. Some new clients had already adopted cloud backup and have approached Backup Technology to develop a more reliable and robust solution. Other clients have preferred to outsource their cloud backup to us entirely.

This raises a key observation.  Adopting the cloud is bespoke process with tailored results depending on the organisation and so, a successful process will look different for every organisation.  McLaughlin recommends that businesses should consider very practical points, such as what is currently in action for legacy applications.  Management should thereafter, move onto more visionary points such as: What kind of IT environment do you want? Does the cloud model mean that the business should reduce the amount of hardware used? Shorten IT delivery times? Stick only with those trusted vendors who speak SaaS?

But for those enterprises at the forefront of cloud processes, according to McLaughlin, the key question is now what stays private and what can be public, and when.

Source: http://www.informationweek.com/news/cloud-computing/infrastructure/231902670

US Water Facility Hacked

It has been revealed that a water utility near Springfield, Illinois, was successfully attacked by hackers. The incident is now being investigated by US homeland security and FBI officials.

As a result of the attack, a water pump motor burn’t out when it was continuously switched on and off. This is the first time that a foreign hacker has successfully targeted a US industrial facility and gained access to controls. Fortunately for the people living in Illinois, who are dependent on the water from this pump, no supply issues were experienced. However, this hack has proven that the industrial facilities in the US can be breached and has prompted the US authorities to conduct a high-level investigation.

On the 8th November, a technician revealed that the system had been hacked from a computer in Russia. Joe Weiss, a cyber-security expert, made the incident public knowledge and summed up the attack in the Washington Post stating “This is a big deal.”

It has been reported in the US press that the hackers managed to compromise the company’s database by retrieving thee supervisory control and data acquisition (Scada) software. The hackers turned the Scada system on and off which resulted in the water pump motor burning out.

Peter Boogaard, the Homeland security spokesman, has told news agencies that officials have yet to confirm that the water pump burn out was a result of a cyber-attack. Boogaard stated. “At this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety.”

The Scada systems are vital to the functioning of the US industrial sector as they control water treatment facilities, railway switches, chemical plants and nuclear reactors. As a result of this, they are a prime target for attackers. The devastation that could be caused if the Scada systems are breached again could be on an unimaginable scale.

Scada Systems vulnerability was exposed last year when centrifuges at a uranium facility in Iran were attacked by Stuxnet. This is a virus which targets Scada Systems. US experts came to the conclusion that the virus Stuxnet increased the speed of uranium centrifuges to breaking point, while shutting off safety monitoring systems. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, did confirm that the system had been breached and that the virus had “managed to create problems for a limited number of our centrifuges.”

In 2007, researchers at the US government’s Idaho National Laboratories identified a weakness in the electricity grid’s defences and demonstrated the potential damage that a cyber-attacker could inflict on a large diesel generator.

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