eBay forcing users to change their passwords after systems were compromised earlier this year*, shows that all retailers need to up their game when it comes to the operation of security best practices.

Traditional, basic IT security measures are no longer sufficiently effective, and in 2014, it is no longer forgivable if a breach occurs due to corner-cutting on what should be considered minimum standards of security

For example, every website that requires customer details to be stored for on-line accounts represents a potential risk.

Standard best practice for the handling of customer data is to encrypt user data, but even then because there are only so many methods for encrypting data, it is possible to decrypt passwords through iteration and reverse engineering.

In this example, eBay report that the breach has been perpetrated through use of employee access credentials to the customer database concerned, though it is not clear whether this was an 'inside man' hack or an external criminal that has acquired the necessary usernames and passwords. It highlights why security best practitioners call for a layered approach to procedural and technological defenses and why all corporate governance or regulatory mandates require organizations to operate within compliance of prescribed security controls.

In fact there is little difference between the controls within PCI DSS and SOX with respect to password policy, requiring users to regularly change passwords. Likewise any STIG or NERC CIP policy will mandate the need to monitor user activity for unusual patterns of behavior. And all GRC standards are in line with HIPAA regarding the need to only provide access to data on a strict needs must basis, and only ever provide users with 'lowest privilege necessary' access.

Website providers need to recognize that threats are more effective than ever and there can be no shortcuts when implementing measures to protect customer data, for instance, don't just rely on anti-virus, use file integrity monitoring too.

In this instance, the big risk to the public is where individuals have re-used the same email address/username and password for other website accounts. This would provide anyone in possession of their eBay account details with access, not just to eBay, but any other website where the same username and password has been used.

For website users, take data security seriously. Have a range of passwords for services, and make sure that the password is longer than 6 characters and is as unique as possible by using punctuation symbols and numbers; consider self-salting these to provide some extra strength.

The simple fact is that every business is at risk at all times and defenses and change detection mechanisms must be implemented now.


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