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Alphonso Rivera

Hospital cyber attack a matter of life and death

By | business-journal

A computer virus that infected systems throughout the world earlier this year caused millions of dollars in damages to companies in nearly every industry. It also demonstrated that hospitals may be particularly vulnerable to such attacks.

The WannaCry ransomware, which targeted more than 300,000 computer systems in about 150 countries, caught the world’s attention when hospitals in the British National Health Service were infected. But this proved to be just the beginning. The attack spread like, well, a really bad virus, as hospitals in other countries reported intrusions.

In recent months, U.S. hospitals have made headlines as their computer systems have been held hostage by hackers and they have paid “ransom” to release the digital grips.

Hospitals are particularly vulnerable to these types of attacks because they often use old machines and outdated software to perform such vital functions as monitoring patients and dispensing medications. Consider, “health care hardware devices” — such as MRI machines, ventilators and even some microscopes — actually are just computers. They are no different than desktop and laptop computers and mobile devices when it comes to being hacked.

But because of the vital, lifesaving functions they perform and the expanded dependence on sophisticated “machines” that today are even performing surgery, they are often in use 24 hours a day. They often are not being taken offline for updating. And when expensive equipment grows old, it is often they are being used without the support of manufacturers.

Consider the incident Forbes magazine reported recently involving unnamed U.S. hospitals using sophisticated systems to deliver a “contrast agent” to patients undergoing radiology tests. A spokesperson for the system’s manufacturer confirmed it had received two reports from customers in the U.S. with devices compromised by the ransomware.

Hospitals and other businesses are being hit by hackers demanding ransom because it is a relatively easy way for criminals to make a lot of money.

Here’s how most ransomware attacks occur: Hackers infect malware into a computer. This malware, which is called ransomware, then encrypts the computer’s files until “victims” pay to have the files unlocked. The introduction of Bitcoin, a digital currency, has empowered hackers to demand increasingly large ransoms, with hospitals seen as lucrative targets. Because Bitcoin is traded anonymously, the transactions are difficult to track.

Hospitals, like all businesses, also are vulnerable to having customers’ or patients’ confidential information stolen and distributed. And hospital records are rich with the type of detailed patient information that criminals desire. Like other businesses, hospitals also must guard confidential, proprietary company information.

According to the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance, small businesses account for 81 percent of all cyberattacks and 60 percent of small companies that are victimized shut their doors within six months of a cyberattack because of loss in reputation and customer trust.

Whether it is a hospital or small business trying to protect itself from a cyberattack, these steps should be taken:

  • Train staff to recognize risks. While it seems hackers are always one step ahead of their prey, reminding employees not to open suspicious email attachments and to maintain secure passwords is a first line of defense.
  • Adhere to a schedule for updating software. That requires taking systems offline to perform updates that often address hacking vulnerabilities.
  • Harden systems. Remove equipment from networks when it is appropriate. Separate or compartmentalize systems to prevent one intrusion from infecting many operations.
  • Audit systems regularly for vulnerabilities and evidence of intrusion.
  • Make cybersecurity a priority. Do not become complacent.

Alphonso Rivera is the founder and CEO of Advanced Micro Resource Digital Forensics, a Bakersfield-based digital forensic company that specializes in digital audits involving cell phone and computer evidence for attorneys, private investigators, human resources consultants and companies.

Cyberattacks: Retailers risk loss of cash, reputation

By | business-journal

Hacking, data breaches and other types of cybercrimes are targeting more retailers, as both brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping websites increasingly rely on digital systems to conduct business.

Recent studies reveal millennials, people in the 23- to 34-year-old bracket, overwhelmingly prefer to shop online, using their smartphones, tablets and computers. As the boomer generation ages, the convenience of online shopping will likely lure an increasing number of older shoppers onto the internet. We are now seeing grocery stores promoting online shopping.

With this trend, retailers are being exposed to increasing risks of attack.

Retail digital exchanges with customers and financial institutions contain a treasure trove of valuable data, including the details of customers’ accounts and personal information. Retail has become such a lucrative, easy target that “discount” schools have popped up to train cybercriminals.

A risk management company recently reported discovering a Russian-language six-week online course for aspiring cybercriminals. For just 45,000 rubles ($745 in the U.S.), the course promoters boasted that would-be criminals could make $12,000 a month, based on a 40-hour workweek. That is about 17 times more than an average Russian can make working a legitimate job.

We mostly hear about the cyberattacks on big retailers, such as Home Depot, which had to pay customers a $19.5 million settlement for its 2014 credit card breach. While few of the major retailers have escaped attack, the small, locally owned shops also are vulnerable. Basically, no retailer is too big or too small to be targeted by cybercriminals.

And every successful attack is costly – in terms of actual losses and lost reputation.

A recent study revealed that the average, per record cost of a data breach was $172 in 2016. For example, a record is one compromised credit card. Costs associated with a data breach include investigation of the attack and its scope, damage to customers and fines imposed by banks for the breach.

The international accounting firm KPMP surveyed hundreds of customers last year regarding retailers’ data breaches. The company found that 19 percent of the people surveyed would stop shopping at a retailer that had been a victim of a cyber hack, even if the company took the necessary steps to remediate the intrusion. In addition, 33 percent indicated that fears of further exposure of their personal information would prevent them from shopping at a breached retailer for at least three months.

Retailers must have their guards up in this time of increasing threats. Small retailers, whose cybersecurity strategy is to “hope for the best,” must recognize that their time will come – likely sooner than later.

Some steps to take:

  • Set a high priority on implementing “chip systems.” While cyberattacks are decreasing involving point of sale exchanges, they will not disappear. Chip systems are working, but some retailers have not enabled chip scanners in their stores.
  • Use only high-quality, secure domain providers.
  • Train employees about cybersecurity, including the importance of cooperating across departments. Require employees to use strong passwords.
  • Update software regularly and patch vulnerabilities.
  • Install “firewalls,” to separate corporate, store and payment exchanges.
  • Vet third-party suppliers and vendors to ensure that their systems are secure.
  • Regularly audit your systems to determine if procedures are being followed and protection provided.

Instinctively, companies are tempted to hide or minimize the occurrence and scope of data breaches. But strength in combating increasingly clever and aggressive criminals will come from a united front. For the greater good, retailers should share information with each other about attacks.

Alphonso Rivera is the founder and CEO of Advanced Micro Resource Digital Forensics, a Bakersfield-based digital forensic company that specializes in digital audits involving cell phone and computer evidence for attorneys, private investigators, human resources consultants and companies.

Cybercrime: Farmers increasingly targeted by thieves

By | business-journal
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It’s an easy crime to commit and a hard one to detect. Cyber criminals are stealing millions of dollars a year from valley farmers and processors.

The high-profile thefts of valuable truckloads of California tree nuts have grabbed recent headlines and highlighted the reach of the organized crime networks that are behind them.

Consider that a truckload of pistachios, for example, may have a value of $500,000. Multiply that number by the increasing incidents of thefts and you get a real appreciation for the scope of the problem.

According to CargoNet, an organization that tracks transportation security issues, more than 30 truckloads of almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans and walnuts were stolen from nut growers and processors in central California in 2015. That was up from five truckloads in 2012. Thieves infiltrating the complicated supply chain linking farmers to retailers stole an estimated $10 million in product that year.

Cargo thefts are not new. But for a variety of reasons, agriculture is being increasingly targeted. And the use of cybercrimes to pull off these heists also is increasing. When you think of cargo being stolen, don’t just think of trucks being hijacked. Rather, think of clever cybercriminals hacking into vulnerable computer databases to obtain the “keys” they use to drive off with the goods.

There are a variety of scenarios in these thefts. Consider one of the most common: the “fictitious pickup.” In these cases, thieves may hack into a government agency’s shipping database. They will then lift information about drivers from the social media pages of shipping and trucking companies to create fraudulent documents. Posing with these documents, fake drivers will arrive at a processing plant and simply drive away with a valuable load.

Fake documents also often include “burner” cell phone numbers. When called, customers believe they are communicating with legitimate haulers. They learn otherwise when their cargo does not arrive at its destination.

Another scenario is for thieves to pose as a “customer” — a farmer or processor — and direct a “real” truck driver to deliver his cargo to an alternate, bogus location. By the time the theft is detected, the cargo has been scattered through a black market in the U.S. or overseas.

Nuts are particularly attractive targets for thieves because of their high value and the inability to track a stolen load. Nuts do not have serial numbers and are consumed, leaving little evidence to investigate.

And as hard as law enforcement agencies work to combat this crime, criminals are working harder to come up with more clever schemes.

The answers to foiling these crimes are found in the vigilance of farmers and producers.

  • Retain the services of a forensic computer consultant to examine the security of your online databases and identify vulnerabilities. Follow the consultant’s recommendations for increasing cybersecurity.
  • Communicate with law enforcement agencies and others in your industry to understand the scams that are targeting farmers and producers.
  • Screen your employees. Conduct background checks on drivers, warehouse workers and others who have shipping information.
  • Know your haulers. Double-check the identity of drivers. While resolving questions may delay a shipment, consider the delay when a shipment is stolen.
  • Create communications strategies, such as passwords or other devices, to assure the identity of a driver and the validity of delivery instructions.
  • Use technology to track cargo. This might include installing sensors and other devices into the cargo to assure that it is being delivered to the proper location.
  • Quickly report problems to law enforcement agencies. These crimes are hard to solve. They are impossible if the “trail” gets cold.
  • Develop a “risk management” plan that includes regular forensic audits of your company’s online systems.

— Alphonso Rivera is the founder and CEO of Advanced Micro Resource, a Bakersfield-based digital forensic company that specializes in digital audits involving cell phone and computer evidence for attorneys, private investigators, human resources consultants and companies.

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