What’s With All the Recent Security Breaches?


Q: Saks Fifth Avenue, the City of Atlanta, Boeing, Panera Bread, MyFitnessPal – what do these organizations, across a variety of industries, all have in common?

A: In just a one-week period, each one of these groups made the national news headlines by announcing a security/data breach.

For local Montana-based businesses, we read these headlines and often assume that we’re primarily “out of the spotlight” and not at risk to these hacking attempts like the larger national brands we read about.

However, these headlines should be interpreted as warnings. If enterprise-scale international corporations, with their full-time teams of IT staff, are able to fall prey to routine ransomware infections – you bet you can too.

Take the Boeing ransomware scare for example, which took place on March 28th. This was caused from the “WannaCry” virus, which you may remember from all the way back in May 2017. This widespread attack was designed to take advantage of a vulnerability in Windows 7, which Microsoft quickly released a security patch to mitigate. Did you apply this security patch? Well, it turns out Boeing probably didn’t!

We can only speculate, since Boeing has been very tight-lipped on the subject (they even refused to confirm their Boeing 777 aircraft production was shut down), but it’s also been suggested that Boeing may have still been using some Windows XP based systems for manufacturing equipment. Chris Morales, head of security analytics at cybersecurity management solution provider Vectra, noted that for major manufacturers, “tampering with a system that is always running might have a larger impact than patching that system.” Some systems, therefore, are too essential to interrupt, even for cybersecurity protections. Sound familiar?

The City of Atlanta also suffered a highly-publicized ransomware attack, which quickly spread to 5 of the city’s 13 local government departments. “The attack has had far-reaching impacts—crippling the court system, keeping residents from paying their water bills, limiting vital communications like sewer infrastructure requests, and pushing the Atlanta Police Department to file paper reports for days.” It’s been a devastating barrage—all caused by a standard, but notoriously effective strain of ransomware called SamSam. To unencrypt all of their files, the ransom was placed at 6 bit coins – or, roughly $51,000. It’s not known if the city of Atlanta was forced to “play ball” with the ransom keepers.

The message across all these cases is the same. “Ransomware is dumb,” says Dave Chronister, founder of the corporate and government defense firm Parameter Security. “Even a sophisticated version like this has to rely on automation to work. Ransomware relies on someone not implementing basic security tenets.” These cases all highlight the fact that ransomware/malware are only playing a bigger threat as our use and reliance on technology grows.

Are you and your business’s data protected? When you’re hit with a security breach, will you be ready to detect and respond?