Let a U.S. Secret Service Agent offer local strategies to combat borderless cybercrime

Jason B. Brown explains how simple steps could be taken immediately to reduce at least some of the IT security threats facing Canadian companies


U.S. Secret Service Agent Jason Brown could tell you specific details on the world’s biggest cybercrime threats — but then he’d have to kill you.

Just kidding, but his pointed request that no recording devices or photographs be taken at his “Globalization of Cybercrime” keynote during the recent SecTor 2015 IT network security conference in Toronto illustrated the clear and present danger today’s hacker and malware issues represent to companies and the security professionals tasked to combat them.

In the world of cybercrime prevention, Brown is sort of a big deal. As the Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge in the Secret Service’s Criminal Investigative Division — say that five times fast — he manages the Cyber Intelligence Section which targets, identifies and apprehends the most prolific and profitable cyber criminals affecting the United States. This includes developing and implementing the latest in cyber-forensic and criminal investigation techniques to tackle global threats.

High profile security breaches in the news — such as those that affected retailers Target and Home Depot — reflect the reality that corporations have increasingly been losing businesses confidential and sensitive data to well-organized cybercriminals — taking a hit to brand reputation in the process.  Make no mistake, cybercrime continues to evolve into a truly transnational phenomenon with perpetrators lurking in online forums (such as cybercrime message board ShadowCrew) and in the dark web, said Brown, adding that the individuals perpetuating these threats are highly technical and keenly organized individuals with clear financial intentions on targeting the world’s financial, retail, and service sectors.

Security-as-a-priority

To say that security should be a priority for security pros is a no-brainer and should naturally represent a fundamental component of any IT strategy — it’s all about creating a proactive security, he offered.  Recently, research firm IDC, in its worldwide cybersecurity predictions for 2015, noted that “by 2017, 90 per cent of an enterprise’s endpoints will utilize some form of hardware protection to ensure that endpoint integrity is maintained.” Both private and public sector should be keeping a watchful eye on emerging technology exploits and also on the underground economy is selling data and services using virtual currency such as Bitcoin, he added.

Brown would go on to outline specific real-world cybercrime incidents encountered by his department — tawdry types including point-of-sale scammers selling ill-gotten credit card data, online money launderers, hacktivism, ransomware, remote access of malware and related organized cybercrime espionage overseas. Without getting into the specifics of each case, Brown relayed that these are “borderless crimes” and all organizations, regardless of location, are potentially at risk.

Simple Cybersecurity Tips

Brown offered simple tips around threat management starting with encouraging safer computing and Internet network practices among end users — no-brainer stuff like stronger admin rights and complex passwords —across the board. Malware such like CryptoLocker — that pesky ransomware trojan which targets computers running Microsoft Windows and encrypts data via infected email attachments — is a particularly irksome technique that bad guys have been effectively using to exhort funds from unsuspecting companies, he noted.

“Do you pay or not? Obviously we don’t advise you to pay,” said Brown. Even law enforcement can’t really guarantee that you will get your data back even if you do pay, he added. From a general standpoint, Brown noted that large network intrusions are becoming a fact of life — and developing a proactive security strategy is vital: “Back up all your data, and have your data backed up offline so you can easily restore it. Take your computers offline, wipe them, and update your security settings,” he said.

“My biggest advice is to be ready ahead of time.”

Image courtesy of sritangphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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