The Dangers of Convenience

We live in an always-on, digital world. Information is at our fingertips. Mobile devices are pervasive.

Interactive websites, allowing users to comment on posts, and social networking are de rigueur. All these things encourage us to consume—and share—information continuously and often without regard for the consequences. Criminals are increasingly using this information, often detailed about personal lives, to their advantage in social engineering exploits that specifically target individuals and that attempt to exploit the trust that they have in the technology, applications and websites that they use.

Ransomware was distributed through Dropbox, with attackers demanding users pay a ransom to have their files, which have been encrypted and are hence unusable, returned to them.

In recent years, consumers have flocked to file sharing sites that allow them to upload and share very large files such as photos and videos with friends and family. Seeing just how convenient such sites are, many users are increasingly adopting their use for business purposes as well, using them to upload information so that it’s available to them from any device that they wish to use, wherever they are. It has been recognized for some time that this creates security risks for organizations regarding sensitive data being placed on file sharing sites that are outside of the control of the IT department—often without their knowledge. Bloor Research has recently published research that discusses the problems surrounding unsanctioned use of file sharing sites in organizations and that provides pointers as to what organizations can do to provide employees with the convenience and flexibility they demand, but in a way that safeguards sensitive information and shields them from the perils of data loss.

But a relatively new problem with the use of file sharing sites is currently in the news. Criminals are turning to the use of such sites for hosting and spreading malware and viruses. In one such campaign, the Dropbox file sharing service has been targeted, with an estimated 500,000 users affected. In this case, ransomware was distributed, with attackers demanding users pay a ransom to have their files, which have been encrypted and are hence unusable, returned to them. It’s believed the attackers have so far netted $62,000 from this campaign alone.

Such attacks have been known about for some five years or so, but appear to be increasingly common. Just this month, an emerging practice came to light in terms of using file sharing sites for high-value, low-volume attacks against high-profile, lucrative industries that include banking, oil, television and jewelry businesses. Discovered by Cisco, these attacks are attributed to a group calling itself the “String of Paerls” group, which has been flying under the radar or security researchers since 2007, constantly changing their tactics to avoid detection.

These attacks highlight the problems many organizations are facing with the use of consumer-oriented services. Many organizations are still grappling with the issue of controlling the deluge of personally owned devices that are connecting to their networks—often outside of the purview of the IT department—as well as the use of cloud-based services by individuals or particular business units, many of which are not officially sanctioned by the organization. Now there is further evidence that they must add control of consumer-oriented file sharing services into the mix—not just to guard against the loss of sensitive information, but to prevent them being used as another vector for attacking the organization.

There are options available to IT that allow them to offer the same levels of convenience to users, but in a way that can bring back control over who is sharing what and with whom. Some of these options are discussed in the research published by Bloor Research referenced above. Centralized control and high levels of security are paramount. They must also be as easy to use as the consumer-oriented services employees are already used to if they are to gain widespread acceptance.

Today’s generation of consumers and employees demand convenience and the freedom to work as they wish. But that convenience brings many dangers to organizations if they cannot control where sensitive information is being posted or transferred, and who is accessing it, or guard against the dangers employees might be exposing the organization to through the use of unsanctioned services. There is a fine line to be tread between ensuring employees are satisfied and productive, and guarding the organisation from malicious exploits and data loss that could dent their revenues, brand and reputation.

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