Hackers come in many shapes and forms. Many of them are located thousands of miles away working for criminal gangs, or even as part of some state-sponsored army bent on stealing your secrets. Those remote hackers will always be there, and you will never come into physical contact with them.
But there are also the hackers who wheedle their way into your organisation and undermine your security from the inside. They are potentially the more dangerous, because they work inside your firewalls. However, they are also the people you have some chance of identifying and stopping – if you know what to look for.
We collected a group of people whose job it is to do just this, and asked them to give their advice to our readers.
This is a flavour of what they said…..
Jenny Radcliff, who specialises in penetration testing, observed that many malicious insiders begin as normal employees, but slowly become disenchanted with the organisation and it treats them. “Organisations end up growing their own hackers,” she said. “They have employees who are not fans of the company itself, and even if these employees don’t become hackers themselves, they will feel no obligation to resist a hacker.”
She said that organisations needed to work harder to show their appreciation for their workers, and listen to their complaints. “People will complain and they will want to unload about what they think is wrong. If you allow them to do that, it can stop resentment building up,” she said.
Peter Wood, chief executive of FirstBase Technologies, is also an experienced penetration tester. He said that some employees turn rogue when trust breaks down between them and their employers. Once that happens, they may either try to damage the organisation, or make little effort to defend it from attack.
The experts also explained how they go about their pentesting exercises, and revealed some of their tricks of the trade.
Neil Hare-Brown, CEO of STORM Guidance, said he was amazed at companies that took the view that “we’ve got it covered”, because that betrayed a level of arrogance which made those very organisations open to threat.
He explained that by looking through publicly available information – such as LinkedIn, Facebook, 192.com and so on – it was easy to steal an identity and begin fraudulent activity. He said companies were often very shocked to see how easy it was to gather the information together.
Peter Wood revealed that ‘helplessness’ had worked very well for him in extracting information from companies during pentests. For example, he might call a helpdesk sounding in a panic and in need of some information to get a very urgent job done quickly. Within 20 minutes, he said he usually gathered the information he needed to gain access to systems.
He said he also sometimes wears a buttonhole camera to record his conversations with people as he talks his way through security, in order to prove how easy it can be. “There are some devious sods out there, and so I have to show them what they are up against,” he said.
Jenny Radcliff said she employed four factors – fear, flattery, greed and timing (eg just before Christmas, or summer holidays) – to get through security in companies and to get the information she wanted. “I never have to use technology, I just use human factors to get what I want,” she said.
The lesson from them all was that security awareness is not enough. For security to be effective, employees need to be motivated to protect the organisation and their fellow workers. Low morale or unresolved grievances can sow the seed for malicious actions, or make those employees prime targets for hackers.
All three pentesters also encouraged a culture of openness in organisations. “Don’t have a blame culture,” said Neil Hare-Brown. “If something bad happens, encourage people to report it so everyone can learn from the experience.”
The panel of experts were speaking at the IT Security Guru CISO Debate, which took place in June.
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