Did you think the Ashley Madison data breach was mildly humorous? Did you think that it serves the people right for cheating on their husband, wife or life partner? If you did, you certainly didn’t have an account with the online cheating website. Those who did simultaneously broke out in a cold sweat when they realized the website had been hacked and the perpetrator was threatening to make the data public.

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Ashley Madison data breach exposed millions of confidential records

The Impact Team was the hacking group behind the Ashley Madison data breach. The company announced it had hacked the company’s database on the Tor network. The hackers claimed they would release details of the website’s patrons – people looking to have extra-marital affairs – if the company did not shut down its website. Avid Life Media Ltd., the company behind Ashley Madison, did not agree to close its business. The hackers then made good on their promise and started publishing data. A large data dump caused many of the website’s subscribers to panic.

The methods used by the attackers to gain access to the website have not been disclosed, although they were able to obtain the records of more than 30 million individuals in the attack. Unfortunately for the people who have had their privacy violated, there is little that can be done apart from take precautions with their financial accounts. Their data cannot be un-exposed and it is out there and can be used by whoever finds it. That will mean phishers, cybercriminals, identity thieves, and anyone who has taken an objection to their extra-marital activities may try to expose them.

A data breach can seriously damage a company’s reputation

This was a high profile breach due to the nature of the website and the total confidentiality that is expected and demanded by the company’s clients. A data breach such as this has potential to cause considerable damage to a brand with a marketing strategy and service that depends on privacy. However, brand reputation damage occurs following any security breach. Target, Anthem Inc., eBay, OPM. All have had their reputations damaged to varying degrees as a result of security breaches and data theft.

Many IT professionals believe that it is not a case of whether a security breach will be suffered, but when it will happen. A great many security professionals believe that most companies have already suffered a security breach. They just do not know yet.

Lessons learned from the Ashley Madison data breach

Consumers can learn lessons from the Ashley Madison data breach. They should be aware that disclosing any information increases the risk of someone else accessing that information.

The lessons for consumers are:

  • If you want to do anything in secret, the Internet is probably not the best place to do it
  • When disclosing information of a sensitive nature, ask yourself what the consequences would be if someone found out or exposed that information
  • Would you be able to recover from a breach of that information?
  • Is the service or product more or less important than it being kept a secret?
  • No matter how secure a website, service, or application claims to be, there is always a risk of a security breach being suffered
  • There is never a 100% guarantee of privacy online – All networks and systems are vulnerable to attack

Businesses must conduct a risk analysis

Businesses must also consider the risks to data security. Many security threats exist, and they must all be effectively managed. In order to determine what risks exist, an organization must conduct a thorough risk analysis. It is only possible to address and manage risk if a company knows what security vulnerabilities exist. Unfortunately, many hackers already know about the data security risks that are present, as well as how they can be exploited.

Once a risk is identified, unless state or federal legislation demand that the risk is addressed, a company must decide what measures to employ, and whether they are actually worthwhile.

To do that a company must calculate the annualized rate of occurrence (ARO) of a security breach via a given vulnerability, which means how often a vulnerability is likely to be exploited in any given year. Then the company must determine the repercussions from that vulnerability being exploited. How much the security breach would cost to resolve. That figure is the single loss expectancy (SLE). Once these figures are known it is possible to determine the annual loss expectancy (ALE) by multiplying those two figures. A decision can then be taken about how the risk can be managed.

Sean Doherty, Head of Research & Development at TitanHQ recently pointed out that “the notion of having ‘perfect security’ is ludicrous”. What must be done is to make it as hard as possible for systems to be infiltrated and data stolen. It is essential to implement good security measures which will be sufficient to repel attacks from all but the most skilled, motivated, and determined individuals. There is no such thing as zero risk, but it is possible to manage risk and get it down to a minimal level.