Panama Papers Breach Reveals Astonishingly Lax Network Security

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-04-06 Print this article Print
Panamanian Papers Breach

The executive provides the requested information and clicks. That's all it takes.

"It's very easy because a lot of companies don't have a lot of security awareness education programs on how to avoid being spear-phished," said Tyler Cohen Wood, a security advisor at Inspired eLearning.

Wood is a former Defense Intelligence Agency senior intelligence officer and cyber-deputy division chief, who has over 16 years working on security issues at the Department of Defense. She said that many breaches can be avoided with some fairly straightforward training in recognizing a spear-phishing attack.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really matter how access was gained because once inside the hackers had their way with the firm's data. Apparently none of it was segmented, none seemed to have access restricted to specific people, none of it was encrypted and apparently nobody was paying attention to the network traffic. How else can you explain how over two terabytes of data was exfiltrated from the company's network with no one noticing?

The theft of so much data could have been enabled by what Wood calls an "unintentional insider," which is someone who provides the critical information for penetrating a network without realizing that they are doing so. She said that such gaps in security can be reduced by appropriate training.

But much of the blame at the firm goes beyond just training employees. Like Target before its breach, apparently there was nothing to prevent someone who had access to the network from getting anywhere on the network they wanted, including some highly sensitive areas that contained the private information of clients.

Worse, there appears to have been nothing in the way of intrusion detection. How else can you explain the ability to move that much data out of a network without anyone noticing? Even if someone had walked into the law firm's office with a portable hard drive and started copying, the process would have taken hours or days. If the breach was done remotely as the firm claims, it could have taken weeks to siphon off all that data.

Regardless of how the perpetrators breached the network, the fact is that lax security practices at Mossack Fonseca must have played a role. Otherwise, even if hackers had managed to get in without assistance, they couldn't have downloaded so much data.

There are important lessons in the Mossack Fonseca breach, not the least of which is to pay more than lip service to security. Even if it's not possible to eliminate all breaches, it's still possible to limit the damage.

Hopefully the firm will take steps to lock things down. And hopefully when all those Icelandic, Russian and Chinese leaders go looking for a private place to shelter the proceeds of their graft, they'll check the service provider's security before they do anything else.


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