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MY TAKE: How ‘credential stuffing’ is being deployed to influence elections, steal Covid-19 relief

By Byron V. Acohido

What do wildfires and credential stuffing have in common?

Related: Automated attacks leverage big data

For several years now, both have flared up and caused harm at the fringes of population centers and our digital economy. And, now, in 2020, both have escalated to catastrophic proportions.

Just after Labor Day, dried out trees and shrubs combined with high winds to erupt into massive wildfires that swiftly engulfed rural towns and even suburban areas of California, Oregon, Washington and several other states. Millions of acres of land got consumed, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated and dozens lost their lives.

Meanwhile, all year long and continuing through the fall, opportunistic cybercriminals have launched wave after wave of automated credential stuffing campaigns. These bad actors are wreaking havoc in two arenas: Stealing Covid-19 relief payments on a massive scale as well as meddling, once again, in the election of a U.S. president.

The wildfires eventually subsided with calmer, damper meteorological conditions. However, massive surges of credential stuffing have persisted, fueled by a seemingly endless supply of already stolen, or easy-to-steal, personal information along with the wide availability of sophisticated hacking tools.

MY TAKE: Lessons learned from the summer of script kiddies hacking Twitter, TikTok

By Byron V. Acohido

Graham Ivan Clark, Onel de Guzman and Michael Calce. These three names will go down in the history of internet commerce, right alongside Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

Related: How ‘Zero Trust’ is compatible with agile computing

We’re all familiar with the high-profile entrepreneurs who gave us the tools and services that underpin our digital economy. However, Clark, de Guzman and Calce are equally notable as leading members of the Hall of Fame of script kiddies – youngsters who precociously shed light on the how these same tools and services are riddled with profound privacy and security flaws.

The trouble is Clark, 17, of Tampa, Florida, is teaching us much the same lessons in the summer of 2020 that de Guzman and Calce did in the spring of 2000. De Guzman authored the I Love You email virus that circled the globe infecting millions of PCs; Calce, aka Mafiaboy, released the Melissa Internet worm that knocked offline Amazon, CNN, eBay and Yahoo.

Judging from the success of script kiddies, the tech giants apparently have not learned very much about security in 20 years. Clark was arrested in late July and charged with masterminding the hijacking of the Twitter accounts of A-list celebrities, and then Tweeting from those accounts to pull off a Bitcoin scam. His caper is worrisome on two counts. First it shows how resistant companies continue to be with respect to embracing very doable cyber hygiene practices – measures that would prevent these sorts of hacks. And second, it reminds us how much capacity to wreak havoc truly malicious parties — not just script kiddies – possess. This is chilling considering the times we’re in. On the cusp of electing a U.S. president, with the world struggling to recover from a global pandemic, there are nuanced lessons we can learn from the Twitter Bitcoin hack. Here’s what all consumers and companies should heed going forward.

MY TAKE: Even Google CEO Sundar Pichai agrees that it is imperative to embed ethics into AI

By Byron V. Acohido

It took a global pandemic and the death of George Floyd to put deep-seated social inequities, especially systemic racism, front and center for intense public debate.

Related: Will ‘blockchain’ lead to more equitable wealth distribution?

We may or may not be on the cusp of a redressing social injustice by reordering our legacy political and economic systems. Only time will tell. Either way, a singular piece of technology – artificial intelligence (AI) — is destined to profoundly influence which way we go from here.

This is not just my casual observation. Those in power fully recognize how AI can be leveraged to preserve status-quo political and economic systems, with all of its built-in flaws, more or less intact.

Conversely, consumer advocates and diversity experts can see how AI could be utilized to redistribute political power more equitably, and in doing so, recalibrate society – including blunting systemic racism.

In late January, as COVID-19 was beginning to spread, the most powerful people on the planet flew to Davos, Switzerland to attend the 50th annual World Economic Forum. AI was prominent on their agenda. These heads of state and captains of industry even coined a buzz phrase, “stakeholder capitalism,” to acknowledge the need to take into account the interests of the economically disadvantaged and politically powerless citizens of the world as they bull ahead with commercial and political uses of AI.“AI is one of the most profound things we’re working on as humanity,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent holding company, told Bloomberg News in Davos. “It’s more profound than fire or electricity.”

MY TAKE: Remote classes, mobile computing heighten need for a security culture in K-12 schools

By Byron V. Acohido

Parents have long held a special duty to protect their school-aged children from bad actors on the Internet.

Related: Mock attacks help schools defend themselves

Now COVID-19 has dramatically and permanently expanded that parental responsibility, as well as extended it to ill-prepared school officials in K-12 campuses all across the nation. The prospect of remotely-taught lessons remaining widespread for some time to come has profound privacy and cybersecurity implications, going forward.

Overnight, those in charge must learn how to operate all of our elementary, junior high and high schools as if they were digital-native startups. Students, parents and teachers at each K-12 facility, henceforth, need to be treated as the equivalent of remote workers given to using a wide variety of personally-owned computing devices and their favorite cloud services subscriptions. And it must be assumed that many of them are likely ignorant of good cyber hygiene practices.

School district officials will have to adapt and embrace a bold, new paradigm – and they’ll have to do it fast. The stakes are very high. Organized hacking groups will be quick to single out — and plunder — the laggards. Here’s what all parents and school officials need to spend the summer thinking about and planning for:

Zoom-bombing lessons

“Zoom-bombing” entered our lexicon soon after schools began their first attempts at using the suddenly indispensable video conferencing tool to conduct classes online. Attackers quickly figured how to slip obscenities and even pornographic videos into live classes.

This was an early indicator of how far most schools have to go in adopting an appropriate security posture. No one enforced the use of passwords, nor insisted on strict teacher control of those lessons. To Zoom’s credit, password protection and a “waiting room” feature,

MY TAKE: Technologists, privacy advocates point to flaws in the Apple-Google COVID-19 tracing app

By Byron V. Acohido

If the devastating health and economic ramifications weren’t enough, individual privacy is also in the throes of being profoundly and permanently disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The tech giants are partnering on a tool for public good, but critics worry it will ultimately get used for predatory surveillance.

Related: Europe levies big fines for data privacy missteps

Apple and Google are partnering up to bring technology to bear on COVID-19 contact tracing efforts. The tech giants are laudably putting aside any competitive urgings to co-develop a solution that combines mobile operating system, Bluetooth and GPS technologies to help us all get past the burgeoning health crisis.

However, in an apparent effort to live down Google’s abjectly poor track record respecting consumer privacy, the Apple-Google partnership is treading lightly to avoid anything that might hint at an undue invasion of individual privacy. In doing so, their proposed solution has a number of glaring technical and privacy-protection shortcomings, according to several technologists I spoke with.  In fact, the Apple-Google project has exacerbated a privacy controversy that flared up in Europe in the early stages, one that has more recently been picking up steam in the U.S., as well. Here’s how technologists and privacy experts see things stacking up:

Bluetooth-based tracing

Infected persons will be able to use their iPhones or Android devices to make their status known to a central server, which then correlates an anonymized identifier of the infected person to anonymized IDs of non-infected persons who happen to be in close proximity. The server then alerts the non-infected persons to self-immunize.

MY TAKE: COVID-19 cements the leadership role CISOs must take to secure company networks

By Byron V. Acohido

Chief Information Security Officers were already on the hot seat well before the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, and they are even more so today.

Related: Why U.S. cybersecurity policy needs to match societal values

CISOs must preserve and protect their companies in a fast-changing business environment at a time when their organizations are under heavy bombardment. They must rally the troops to proactively engage, day-to-day, in the intricate and absolutely vital mission of preserving the security of IT assets, without stifling innovation. And they must succeed on executive row, with middle management and amongst the troops in the operational trenches.

That’s a very tall order, made all the more challenging by a global health crisis that has slowed the global economy to a crawl, with no end yet in sight. One new challenge CISOs’ suddenly face is how to lock down web conferencing tools, like Zoom, Skype and Webex, without gutting their usefulness.

Cyber criminals have discovered Zoom logons, in particular, to be useful for carrying out credential stuffing campaigns to probe for deeper access inside of breached networks. Thanks to the sudden rise in use of Zoom and other video conferencing systems by an expanding work-from-home workforce, their logons are begin targeted by threat actors; underground forums today are bristling with databases holding hundreds of thousands of recycled Zoom logon credentials.

I had the chance to discuss this state of affairs with Vishal Salvi, CISO of Infosys. In its 2020 fiscal year, ending March 31, Infosys reported revenue of $12.8 billion, with $7.8 billion coming from North America, $3.1 billion from Europe, $333 million from India and $1.5 billion internationally

MY TAKE: COVID-19’s silver lining could turn out to be more rapid, wide adoption of cyber hygiene

By Byron V. Acohido

Long before COVID-19, some notable behind-the-scenes forces were in motion to elevate cybersecurity to a much higher level.

Related: How the Middle East has advanced mobile security regulations

Over the past couple of decades, meaningful initiatives to improve online privacy and security, for both companies and consumers, incrementally gained traction in the tech sector and among key regulatory agencies across Europe, the Middle East and North America. These developments would have, over the next decade or so, steadily and materially reduced society’s general exposure to cybercrime and online privacy abuses.

Then COVID-19 came along and obliterated societal norms and standard business practices. A sweeping overhaul of the status quo – foreshadowed by the sudden and acute shift to a predominantly work-from-home workforce – lies ahead.

One thing is certain, as this global reset plays out, cyber criminals will seize upon fresh opportunities to breach company and home networks, and to steal, defraud and disrupt, which they’ve already commenced doing.

Yet there are a few threads of a silver lining I’d like to point out. It is possible, if not probable, that we are about to witness an accelerated rate of adoption of cyber hygiene best practices, as well as more intensive use of leading-edge security tools and services. And this positive upswing could be reinforced by stricter adherence to, not just the letter, but the spirit of data security laws already on the books in several nations.

There is an urgency in the air to do the right thing. Several key variables happen to be tilting in an advantageous direction. Here’s a primer about how cyber hygiene best practices – and supporting security tools and services – could gain significant steam in the months ahead, thanks to COVID-19.