TalkTalk cyberattack: who, what and why?

24 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 things you need to know about the TalkTalk cyberattack.

TalkTalk is facing increasing criticism after belatedly admitting it was the victim of a “significant and sustained” cyber-attack that has led to the theft of the credit card and bank details of up to 4 million customers.LONDON — TalkTalk, which provides mobile phone, broadband Internet and pay television services, has said private data from its 4 million British customers may have been compromised in a “significant and sustained” cyberattack on its website. The telecoms giant warned that the stolen customer data may not have been securely encrypted and that it had received a ransom demand from someone who claimed to have carried out the corporate hack. This wasn’t an attack aimed at interrupting its ability to do business or provide its services, this was an attack the goal of which seemed to be accessing the personal data of its millions of customers.

During a round of media interviews on Friday, Talk Talk’s chief executive, Dido Harding, said: “I personally received a contact from someone purporting – as I say, I don’t know whether they are or are not – to be the hacker, looking for money.” “With the benefit of hindsight, were we doing enough? Well, you’ve got to say that we weren’t and obviously we will be looking back and reviewing that extremely seriously.” Customers were being advised to contact their bank and Action Fraud, the national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, if they noticed unusual activity on their accounts. The statement said vulnerable information includes: names, addresses, dates of birth, email addresses, telephone numbers, TalkTalk account information, credit card details and bank account information.

In February scammers stole thousands of account numbers and names from computers belonging to the company, then in August the company’s mobile sales site was hit with what it described as a “sophisticated and coordinated cyber attack” in which data was stolen. It happened again in February, with TalkTalk customers being subject to further scams despite the company describing the information that was stolen in the breach as limited and non-sensitive. The Met Police’s cyber crime unit said in a statement Friday that it’s investigating allegations of data theft, saying that it would be working with the National Crime Agency on the case. “TalkTalk have done everything right in bringing this matter to our attention as soon as possible,” said Detective Superintendent, Jayne Snellgrove of the Cyber Crime Unit.

The information commissioner, who is already investigating the previous two security breaches, criticised TalkTalk for taking more than 24 hours to tell his office what had happened. Although TalkTalk states unequivocally in its FAQs that it has not breached the Data Protection Act, as “this was a criminal attack”, that conclusion may be both premature and presumptuous. Christopher Graham told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “I wish we had heard a little bit earlier and we could have been more ‘out there’ giving advice to consumers about what they need to protect their personal information.” Harding said the firm acted as promptly as it could because it was not initially aware that a hack was taking place. “On Wednesday lunchtime, all we knew was that our website was running slowly and that we had the indications of a hacker trying to attack us,” she said. Tim Smith, partner and head of technology, media and telecoms at the insurance law firm BLM, said: “These types of attacks are becoming increasingly common in the UK, and it is not at all unusual to find that hackers use an initial DDoS to distract a business’s IT team and then follow up with a second attack trying to steal information.

Even in the event that the attackers used a previously unknown vulnerability to access the data in question, it should have all been encrypted and thus useless to the attacker in the event of a data breach. Online crime is a firmly established underground business: criminal groups and individuals exist in all countries of the world who trade in and benefit from stolen personal and financial data. While there is no specific requirement for firms to encrypt data, Graham indicated that if it believed the customer information on TalkTalk’s systems was not secure it could lead to a bigger penalty from the watchdog. Referring to the £250,000 penalty imposed on Sony Corporation after it was found that leaked PlayStation customer data had not been encrypted, he said: “People have got to take this seriously”.

If you are, or have been, a customer of TalkTalk now is a time for increased vigilance against email or telephone-based attacks or attempts to glean further information from those already victimised. The Metropolitan police cybercrime unit has launched an investigation into the breach, although there was little firm information available about the hackers. TalkTalk have been contacting their customers to apologise and inform but their communication should not request any details from you or contain any links for you to click. The message used the rhetoric of Islamist militants to justify the hack, saying: “We will teach our children to use the web for Allah … your hands will be covered in blood … judgment day is soon”.

Prof Peter Sommer, from De Montfort University’s cybersecurity unit, told the Today programme: “It seems to me the suggestion that these are Islamic terrorists who are perpetrating it is unlikely, [though] not impossible. “One has to look at what is probably the most likely outcome. If you receive an unsolicited call purporting to come from a TalkTalk representative do not give away any information, simply hang up and call the TalkTalk customer service line yourself. Keep a close eye on your accounts for unauthorised transactions, even for very small amounts – these are often used as “test transactions” before a larger fraud is made and make sure you use the free credit monitoring being offered by TalkTalk in this instance. We live in an age where everything is increasingly connected to everything else: accounts, applications, APIs, credentials, devices, personal details and more.

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