The Wall Street Journal is the most recent in a long line of corporations that have fallen victim to intentional hacking events, but what sets the WSJ apart from some of the other victims is its quick response upon discovering the breach.
Despite not having much verification as to what information was accessed and how widespread the infiltration may have been, the paper’s parent company, Dow Jones & Co., took its major computer systems offline, including even its photo data base, in an effort to contain any possible damage.
According to sources like Forbes and PC World, the Wall Street Journal and Vice magazine were only the most recent victims of the same Russian hacker, a man who calls himself “w0rm.” This hacker also recently broke into CNET, with the same motive: selling user information from his own online store. His asking price for access to each of these companies’ databases? One Bitcoin, the digital cash currency that is currently valued at around $620US each.
To back up his statement, w0rm has posted screenshots of his handiwork to social media sites like Twitter and been found bragging on the site about his other cyber escapades.
But in this case, WSJ handled it correctly by taking down their systems the moment they learned about the breach. All too often, companies who’ve fallen victim to a hacker take weeks to investigate the issue before ever even telling their customers, the very people whose data was accessed. By then, the potential for serious damage has come and gone, and the victims were unaware that their sensitive and identifiable information had fallen into the wrong hands. This type of quick response from WSJ demonstrates that businesses are becoming more aware of the dangers of cybercrime, and have plans in place to respond.
A spokesperson for the newspaper has stated that there appears to be no threat to the WSJ’s customers; if anything at all, they believe the hacker seems to have only accessed the customers’ email addresses and blocked passwords. That wouldn’t be enough information for identity theft or other forms of fraud, but would make the overall databases valuable when sold to other hackers. These hackers then use those email addresses to distribute spam, malware, and viruses to a large user base, and they’ll happily pay people like w0rm for the privilege.
This is where the public comes in. By ensuring that they’re very careful with their online behaviors, users can help protect their computers and their accounts from harm if their information was sold.
First, making sure their anti-virus software is installed is only scratching the surface of protection. Those pesky little updates that request permission to run after the computer boots up are actually designed to block the most recent threats; these threats are created practically every day, so companies produce regular updates in response to new threats. By clicking out of the update without installing it, users are actually leaving their computers vulnerable to the latest hacking tools.
Also, smart users need to remember not to fall for emails that contain strange messages or links. Even emails that come from people they know could contain malicious links, since the hackers who purchase the names on the WSJ database will use those accounts to send spam to those individuals’ address books. The recipients of the resulting second-level emails will see a message that seems to have originated from someone they know, so they’re more likely to click on a harmful link.
Finally, users must remember to avoid clicking on popup messages that claim to clean up their computers or inform them that their computers have been infected. Those are typical adware and malware scams, and clicking on the button will only install and activate these harmful programs. As greater awareness of the risks associated with computer use spreads to various sectors, hopefully future cybercrimes will end the same way: with very little damage or inconvenience to the victims.
This blog is a part of the ITRC’s ongoing commitment to spreading knowledge and awareness of data breach issues. This work would not be possible without the generous support of IDT911 and their commitment to keeping the public informed regarding this issue. The ITRC Data Breach Report is available weekly and all information is free to the public.