Tag Archives: data security

Don’t Lower The Drawbridge: Defending Your Procurement Kingdom From Cyber-Attackers

Protect your company against cyber-attacks by learning how to detect, defeat, and defend against criminals.


Cybersecurity issues are a massive threat to supply chains.

Just last year, there were 290 cyber-attacks that specifically targeted supply chain companies, according to a report from DHL.

“Increasingly, these attacks are hitting technical infrastructure, such as industrial control systems, in addition to their more traditional targets in corporate IT networks,” the report says. 

“Managing the cyber risk for supply chain operations will require greater collaboration both within the organisation and across the entire supply chain network.”

What will collaboration look like? That all depends on how the industry chooses to respond.

But everyone in the supply chain has a role to play in thwarting cyber-attacks, including procurement teams.

Here is your guide to detecting, defeating, and defending against cyber crime.

What is a cyber-attack?

Let’s take a step back to understand cyber-attacks.

IBM defines a cyber-attack as a “deliberate exploitation of computer systems and networks using malicious software (malware) to compromise data or disable operations.”

And they are certainly common. In fact, there’s a cyber-attack every 39 seconds according to the University of Maryland.

There are many ways hackers steal data, but two of the most common are exploiting IT system weakness and employee error.

Why do hackers launch cyber-attacks?

By far the biggest motivation is money. Criminals steal your information and use it to:

·  sell on to other criminals

·  steal your identity (credit card info, etc)

·  blackmail you by controlling your computer, demanding a ransom

These criminals are looking for the quickest and easiest ways to make money. Much like a thief that checks all the doors in a neighbourhood trying to find one that’s unlocked, says security expert Lillian Ablon.

Ablon was asked to give testimony to the US House Financial Services Committee about cybercrime structure and motivation.

“These [cybercrime] markets are dispersed, diverse, and segmented—rapidly growing, constantly changing, and innovating to keep pace with consumer trends and prevent law enforcement and security vendors from understanding them,” Ablon explained. 

“They come in many forms.”

Who are these hackers?

Forget the stereotype of a lone hacker in their mother’s basement; these criminals operate a highly-sophisticated business structure. 

They often work in a coordinated pyramid, from the top-dog administrators through to brokers and mules. 

There are even vendors so you can buy criminal applications as-a-service. That means the end-buyer doesn’t have to be a tech genius to exploit companies and individuals.

“Cybercriminals are always looking for exotic ways to use or monetise stolen data in ways that law enforcement and security vendors are not looking for or have not yet figured out,” Ablon said.

And they’re only getting sneakier, which is why you need to make sure your drawbridge isn’t lowered.

What happens when your company is cyber-attacked?

Cyber security attacks in procurement generally result in one of two outcomes, says Nigel Morris, Director of Technology Advisory Services at accountancy firm BDO.

“A full or partial shutdown of systems resulting in an organisation being unable to operate as normal, or a hacker gaining access to corporate or personal data,” Morris says.

“Examples of the former are customers and suppliers being unable to process orders, shipping lines being unable to move containers and logistics service providers being unable to manage warehouses and distribution,” Morris says.

He explains the most frequent cause of the system shutdowns is data being encrypted or erased. Then the systems have to be rebuilt by reinstalling applications and restoring data from backups.

And stealing data can include the “loss of customer or supplier bank or credit card details, leading to fraudulent financial activity,” Morris says.

That’s why he encourages organisations to use cybersecurity best practice, ensuring software is kept up to date, anti-virus/malware tools are deployed, data is encrypted, and staff are consistently trained to recognise and avoid cybersecurity threats.

How do you know if you’ve had a cyber-attack?

It’s really hard to tell if you’ve had an attack. In fact, it’s not uncommon for attacks to go unnoticed for months, says Robert Schifreen, an IT security consultant.

And he would know. He notoriously hacked UK royal Prince Philip’s emails back in the 1980s.

As an ‘ethical’ hacker, Schifreen kindly told the email provider about their security blunder – only to be arrested and sent to court.

His trial led to the first ever UK law against hacking. Now Schifreen helps companies prevent and detect attacks. 

“If you’re lucky, there will be tell-tale signs,” Schifreen says. 

“I always tell my clients that the ideal sort of hack is when someone defaces the front of your web site and fills it with something offensive. Because you’re going to find out about it within seconds of it happening. You then simply wipe the server, restore from backup, change all your passwords, and job’s done.”

But often, it’s a lot more subtle. “It might be months before you notice it as part of a routine audit,” Schifreen says. “There probably won’t be any signs on the server that this has happened, unless you look carefully.”

He says your IT team should be monitoring key files on your servers, looking for unsuccessful attempts to log in. They should also revoke user passwords when a staff member leaves the company.

What to do if you discover a security breach

If you realise your company has experienced a security breach, there are a few actions to take immediately.

Nadia Kadhim, a legal advisor and co-founder of cybersecurity company Naq Cyber recommends these steps:

– Contact relevant law enforcement

– Tell senior leadership and staff what happened, the suspected cause, and any other relevant information 

– Let customers and other external people like suppliers know if they could be affected

– Analyse what happened

– Contain the spread

– Resolve

– Review

Kadhim also says when a potential data breach occurs, you should immediately start collecting data. Not only is this important for your own records, but you might need it if you’re legally required to tell authorities about the breach.

“You have to create a report that analyses the situation and really sets out in detail what has happened, what the possible cause is, what you’ve done to contain it, solve it, and prevent it for future reference,” Kadhim explains.

“On the basis of this you have to decide whether you will have to report externally. After that, you will do an in-depth (technical) analysis and put that into the final report, but for the external reporting, you have to act quick, so you can’t wait for this.”

How to avoid future attacks

It’s impossible to fully protect against an invasion, even with all the best technology defences in place.

As legal advisor Nadia Kadhim says, companies often focus too much on the tech and not enough on the people.

“Most cyber-attacks happen because of human behaviour; whether it is reusing passwords, leaving laptops unlocked, sending and storing personal data through and in email, clicking on dangerous links, or visiting “those” websites,” Kadhim says.

And it’s true. Just over half of data breaches are caused by employees using IT resources inappropriately, according to research from security firm Kaspersky.

That’s why training and awareness is crucial.

“This way, cyber security becomes part of day-to-day business, and drastically reduces the exposure,” Kadhim continues.

That culture of security can also encourage staff to be open if they mess up, leading you to detect breaches sooner. It’s important because in 40% of businesses globally, employees hide a security incident when it happens.

“Only when awareness is created throughout the entire company, and is combined with the necessary technical measures and legal safeguards and documentation, [companies] can really protect themselves and [minimise] legal repercussions following cyber-attacks,” Kadhim says.

Teach staff

Part of staff awareness is knowing the sudden jump in remote working makes companies more vulnerable.

Nigel Morris, from accountancy firm BDO, says: “There is no doubt that remote working increases the cyber-attack surface area; put simply, there is more technology for a hacker to attack.”

If employees are often the weak link, what do your teams need to know?

Morris advises:

– Do not open attachments from unknown sources or follow links to unknown websites. Doing so will frequently activate malware (software designed to damage your computer).

– Be aware of the various forms of phishing (when you’re sent an email or text that looks like it’s from a legitimate, well-known company, but it’s actually from a criminal trying to persuade you to hand over personal info like log-in details). More on how to spot phishing.

– If in ANY doubt, don’t click the link or open the attachment. Contact your IT team who can check the validity of the email content.  

The crimes don’t always happen on your own soil.

Employee accounts can be compromised by huge data breaches at other global companies. Like the infamous 2017 Equifax hack where criminals stole personal details from 147 million Americans and 15 million British citizens.

That’s why your employees should change passwords often.

They may want to use the site “Have I Been Pwned” to check if their accounts have been compromised.

Protect info

Put simply, your company is a target because it stores valuable information that criminals want. They don’t care if you’re a big company or small.

One cyber-attack could be enough to shut down your operations until you get to the bottom of it.

That’s why it’s so important to guard your information, says Michael Rösch, Senior Vice President of Customer Engagement Europe at procurement software provider JAGGAER.

“In procurement, price information could be very valuable if you as a supplier participate in an online auction for a multi-million euro deal in the automotive sector,” says Rösch.

On the other hand, commodity products like pencils, notebooks and other office supplies aren’t of interest so the information isn’t as sensitive, Rösch adds. He recommends classifying data carefully and protecting accordingly.

Procurement teams are responsible to defend against attacks by understanding weaknesses across the supply chain, says Jon Hansen of the Procurement Insights Blog.

“As supply chains become more global and extended, the potential breach points will also increase,” Hansen wrote in Supply Chain Professional.

“Being able to identify said breaches is critical to security your network proactively.”

The cost of an attack

Attacks don’t affect all companies the same.

In 2019, the average cost of a data breach was USD $3.9 million (£3.1 million or AUD$5.6 million).

And there were 8.5 billion records breached last year – three times more than 2018, according to IBM.

Which might be fine for larger companies that can withstand a huge financial blow like that, but it could ruin smaller companies.

10% of SMEs went out of business after experiencing a cyber-attack, and 25% filed for bankruptcy, reports the US National Cybersecurity Alliance.

So it’s hugely important to take precautions by getting your systems and processes in place, and training employees on how to avoid falling victim.

The aftermath of an attack

After all, cyber criminals thrive on fear, and a pandemic is the perfect backdrop.

Cyber security risk increased by 1.8 times this year over the same period last year, according to research from riskmethods. 

That’s because criminals can shift quickly and exploit chaos, says Danny Thompson, SVP of Market and Product Strategy at apexanalytix

Companies are particularly at risk when “normal controls aren’t in place or the key control personnel are out of pocket, or the backup controls don’t get the job done,” Thompson explained during a Procurious webinar in May

“Fraudsters know to strike at times like that and they take advantage.”

Interestingly, Microsoft says there hasn’t been a huge increase in the overall number of cyber-attacks this year.

These criminals are relying on the same old methods of stealing information (like phishing and malware). The only real difference is criminals swapping disguises – shifting to imitate a World Health Organisation official instead of a Nigerian prince for example.

Stay vigilant, educate staff on these common tactics, and you’ll have the best possible defences for your procurement kingdom.

Gone phishing – how to spot a fake email

Phishing is a common tactic used by cyber criminals to steal your personal information.

They send you a fake email or text that appears to be from a legitimate company. Then ask you to ‘confirm’ details like account numbers, passwords, etc

Even though these scams are becoming more sophisticated, it’s usually easily to spot a fake if you know what you’re looking for.

Kate Bevan, from UK consumer advocate site Which?, says there are common red flags in these phishing messages.

1) Urgency: A phishing email will usually have an urgent tone. It says things like “you must fill in your details/confirm your account/whatever immediately to avoid losing access to your account/to pay an outstanding bill/complete a failed payment.”

They are absolutely designed to get the pulse racing, so don’t fall for that. Check your account with the provider the email claims to be from by going to the website and signing in by typing the address into the browser: do not click a link in the email.

2) Not personalised: It almost certainly won’t address you by name. Instead, it’ll say “Dear Customer,” or something generic. A genuine email from a service provider will address you by name.

3) Bad grammar: Watch out for the language and how it’s written: a lot of these are written by people who don’t have English as their first language. Watch out for odd phrasing, poor spelling, and poor punctuation.

4) Weird links: Look at the link they want you to click. Ignore the text in the hyperlink; hover your mouse over it and see where it’s really taking you.

5) Leave it: If in doubt, don’t take any action. If it’s genuine the organisation will follow up.

What to do if you fall victim to a phishing scam

If you think you’ve given away your details to a phisher, change your password immediately and if you use that password on any other website, change it on those, too, Bevan suggests.

You might find this guide helpful from Which? on creating secure passwords.

And if you think a scammer stole your log-in details, keep a close eye on those accounts even after you change your password.

Cancel any debit or credit cards immediately if you suspect they’ve been compromised.

And if you do lose money, report it to local law enforcement and your bank.

Can you spot a fake?

Want to put your skills into practice? Bevan recommends trying out the phishing quiz from Google.

Cyber Criminals Could Hold Your Data Hostage

Password theft, identity theft, ransomware – in an age where hacking has become the career of choice for tech-savvy criminals, data protection must be a top priority for CPOs.

“Cyber criminals don’t need to even leave their house to do damage,” says Craig Hancock, cybersecurity expert and Executive Director of Telstra Service Operations. “One breach of trust and the consequences can be irreparable. These days, the traditional idea of criminals – think balaclavas, weaponry, a getaway car – has moved off the streets and into cyberspace.”

Are you prepared for cyber criminals? Do you have your business information secured? How do you manage the confidential information of your customers? And what do you have in place to mitigate risk?

Hancock will deliver a cybersecurity update at the upcoming 10th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum, where he’ll demonstrate how frighteningly easy it is to steal data from a computer by showing a live hack. “I’m planning on showing the group how easy it can be to hack a business, with basic tools and knowledge. I want to make sure everyone is aware about what goes on in the world of cybersecurity threats, and give them some understanding of what they should be doing to help mitigate these threats.”

“Mitigate” is a key word here, as Hancock predicts the cybersecurity challenge faced by businesses and organisations will continue to grow year on year. Notably, he says that any organisation offering a fix-all solution to “solve” your cybersecurity challenge should be avoided.

“It’s an ongoing challenge – cybersecurity has evolved enormously from five years ago, and is likely to look entirely different again by 2020. There’s no single ‘fix’ and there are plenty of bright, shiny objects to distract your security team. You would be wise to put in place some basic, common-sense measures and controls and partner with an organisation that understands the extent of the threat.”

What are the risks?

Cybercrime can be initiated through your head office, at weak point in your supply chain, or even through IoT-enabled devices with low-level protection. Among the types of crime that can take place, Hancock mentions:

  • Password theft: with the obvious prize being the password or access code to users’ bank accounts.
  • Identity theft: a customer’s date of birth and other key information (such as health records) enables criminals to assume their identity, or to sell on this information to others. This can be very expensive for the company that has suffered the breach.
  • Ransomware: Hackers can lock your company’s data in an encrypted vault and demand a ransom for its release. A famous example of this occurred last year when a cyberattack on a Los Angeles hospital left doctors locked out of patient records for over a week, with the hackers demanding a ransom of $3.7 million in Bitcoin.

Telstra’s Craig Hancock will deliver a cybersecurity update at PIVOT: The Faculty’s 10th Annual Asia Pacific CPO Forum.

Are Employees the Weak Link in Company Cyber Security?

Are your employees leaving the door open for cyber attacks? Here’s how to help them reduce the cyber security threat.

ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

Employees are a significant risk to their employer’s cyber security according to research by specialist global executive search and interim management company Norrie Johnston Recruitment (NJR).

The research forms part of NJR’s cyber security report, ‘How real is the threat and how can you reduce your risk‘. The report shows that:

  • 23 per cent of employees use the same password for different work applications.
  • 17 per cent write down their passwords.
  • 16 per cent work while connected to public Wi-Fi networks.
  • 15 per cent access social media sites on their work PCs.

Such bad habits and a lack of awareness about security mean that employees are inadvertently leaving companies’ cyber doors wide open to attack.

This research is supported by a report which incorporates the advice from fifteen experts in the field. In it, Benny Czarny, Founder of OPSWAT, discusses the top tips to avoid massive data breaches.

With Sony recently setting aside $15M to investigate the reasons for, and remediate the damage caused by, last year’s data breach, many of our customers—from large enterprises to small business—are wondering what they need to do to make sure they aren’t the next big data breach headline.

The good news is that most data breaches can be prevented by taking a common sense approach, coupled with some key IT security adjustments.

1. Employees’ security training is an absolute necessity. 

I cannot emphasise this point enough, as your network is only as safe as your most gullible employee. Even the most sophisticated security systems can be compromised by human error. The Sony breach started with phishing attacks.

And people still also use USB devices from unknown sources, which is allegedly how the Stuxnet worm was delivered.

2. Access to executable files should be limited to those who need them to complete their duties. 

Many threats are borne via self-extracting files. Therefore, limiting the number of employees who are allowed to receive this file type limits your exposure.

Your IT department absolutely needs the ability to work with executable files. Bob in accounting? Not so much!

3. MS Office documents and PDFs are common attack vectors. 

Vulnerabilities are identified in MS Office and Adobe Reader on a regular basis. While patches are typically released very quickly, if the patches are not applied in a timely fashion the vulnerability can still be exploited.

As an everyday precaution, document sanitisation is recommended to remove embedded threats in documents.

4. Data workflow audits are essential. 

Data can enter your organisation through many different points – email, FTP, external memory device, etc. Identifying your organisation’s entry points and taking steps to secure them is a critical step in avoiding data breaches.

At a minimum, scanning incoming and outgoing email attachments for viruses and threats, and implementing a secure file transfer solution, should be considered.

5. Store sensitive data in separate locations. 

Simple data segregation could have mitigated the impact of the Sony breach. The hack exposed both internal communications and unreleased video files.

Had the videos and emails been stored on two separate systems some of the damages may have been prevented.

6. Internal and external penetration tests are critical. 

Internal testing is a valuable tool, but hiring an outside party to attempt to breach your network will identify security holes your team may have missed.

7. Keep your security architecture confidential. 

You may be excited about your innovative networking solution or new cloud-based storage system, but think twice about making any of that information public!

8. Remember that traffic generated internally to your security system may still be suspect. 

For example, the Sony malware connected to an internal security system to impersonate legitimate traffic to disguise its malicious nature.

9. Multilayer defence is needed. 

I like to describe defence in depth by comparing it to the defence systems you might see at a castle. It could be defended by a large stone wall, followed by a deep moat, followed by a draw-bridge, followed by an iron gate, etc.

A single layer of defence is not sufficient for your data. It must be protected by multiple systems working in parallel. That way if one layer is breached your data is not exposed.

10. Finding your weakest security link is your top priority. 

Every office has one, and it will vary wildly from organisation to organisation. It might be the employee with their passwords taped to their monitor. It might be the deprecated Linux server everyone seems to have forgotten about.

You might not be looking for those weak links, but rest assured that cyber attackers are. The question is: Who will find them first?”

To read more useful and practical insights into topics including how to assess the scale of your risk level and managing the immediate aftermath of a security breach, download the full report.


Looking for an introduction to Cybercrime? Check out this article from Cloudwards.