Paradise papers data leak - what we should know and take forward
15 November 2017
Original content provided by BDO South Africa
A new set of data taken from an offshore law firm again threatens to expose the hidden wealth of individuals and show how corporations, hedge funds and others may have skirted taxes. A year after the Panama Papers, a massive leak of confidential information from the Bermuda law firm Appleby Group Services, dubbed the Paradise Papers, has shone another light on the use of offshore accounts.
BDO Cyber Lab specialists answer some questions on the nature of this data breach:
- What are your views / interpretation on / of the 'Paradise Papers' data leaks?
Appleby publicly stated that it was not the subject of a leak but of an illegal computer hack. Their systems were accessed by an intruder who deployed the tactics of a professional hacker and covered his/her tracks to the extent that the forensic investigation concluded that there was no definitive evidence that any data had left their systems. While the mechanics of the breach itself have yet to be revealed, this was clearly a targeted attack. Law firms are particularly susceptible to hacking as they house a treasure trove of sensitive data that, when compromised, can result in sometimes irrecoverable damage.
The paradise papers, like the panama papers is an excellent example of the reputational harm that attackers can cause, rather than financial. Here we saw many wealthy people shown to have offshore accounts in tax havens. Most of these transactions are perfectly legal but the implication is that these wealthy and often famous people are skirting their tax obligations. For the company that these documents were stolen from, this leak will most likely destroy the business.
This class of events demonstrates why law firms must protect their clients’ confidential information. No amount of cyber insurance, data backup strategies, nor business continuity planning can ever put this genie back in the bottle.
- In your opinion, should we concentrate on the content aspect of these leaks or the security aspect?
For Appleby, the concern is with the content because their clients will be far less likely to conduct sensitive business with them in the future. By releasing the Paradise Papers, the aim of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was to expose significant failures and weaknesses inside the offshore industry. As per ICIJ, “those stories and others they are pursuing serve the public interest by bringing accountability to the offshore industry, its users and operators. Other parts of the data are of a private nature and of no interest to the public. ICIJ will not release personal data en masse but will continue to mine the full data with its media partners.” The content released will certainly have far-reaching impacts for those affected.
For security specialists, the concern is with how this happened, and making sure we do everything possible to ensure that the same attack vectors cannot be used against our clients. This event, allegedly conducted by external hackers, could likely have been detected and mitigated. What ends in a business disrupting event often begins with the ‘click’ on a harmless looking link. Sometimes it involves complex social engineering, credential harvesting and clandestine operations inside the network to locate and slowly exfiltrate valuable data. Thus, considering heightened cyber risks, organisations have to make sure that they are taking reasonable steps to protect their clients’ confidential data. These include:
- Ensuring that software used is up-to-date and that available patches are implemented as soon as reasonably practical.
- Configuring Intrusion Prevention Systems and Firewalls policies to reject information gathering events
- Reviewing access controls regularly to ensure that they are up to date and that they restrict electronic data users to their necessary business functions.
- Utilising antivirus and malware detection software.
- Conducting periodic cybersecurity audits and penetration testing.
- Requiring multi-factor authentication for remote access into computer systems and for very sensitive internal access points.
- Requiring rotating complex passwords.
- Monitoring the activity of authorised users to detect any unauthorised file access, as well as, any large-scale downloading, copying or tampering with confidential information.
- Conducting regular cybersecurity awareness training together with phishing attacks.
- With 'Offshore Leaks', 'Panama Leaks', 'Paradise Papers' - what should we be aware of / conclude?
We are living in an age of internet activism or hacktivism, which is the subversive use of computers and computer networks to promote a political agenda or a social change. With roots in hacker culture and hacker ethics, its ends are often related to the free speech, human rights, or freedom of information movements. Hacktivists seek to expose social injustice. The hack is a reminder that cybercrime is sometimes motivated by loftier aspirations than making money.
- How come hackers can still obtain sensitive information when security conscious companies invest so much in safeguarding their data?
No matter how much a company invests in latest security technologies, the human factor remains the weakness link. The lack of effective cybersecurity training for all employees is the root cause of companies failing to keep their data safe. It is extremely pertinent to every organisation to protect its reputation, competitive advantage and operational stability against social engineering with effective company-wide security awareness. BDO’s cybersecurity education program sets employees up for success by instilling cutting edge knowledge and practical know-how into the workplace. Through integrated communication and hacker-led training, BDO helps organisation fight cybercrime strategically and beyond the scope of technology.
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