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Online Attacks Spur Corporate Cybersecurity Measures to Defend the WallLock Icon

5 min read

As the world grows more connected through mobile devices and overarching technology, the opportunities for criminals to take advantage of that openness also grow.

Cyberattacks are a constant concern for individuals online, companies that have massive stores of data and governments. Estimates vary, but the costs associated with cyberattacks are expected to exceed $2 trillion by 2021; when Target Corp. of Minneapolis was hacked in 2013, it cost more $300 million to clean up the damage.

The threat and consequences of a breach have led to huge pressure on workforce demands. Symantec of Mountain View, California, a company that specializes in cybersecurity, estimates there will be as many as 1.5 million unfilled security jobs by the year 2019.

At Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, the need for IT workers of all types is felt. Adam Holland, the company’s senior director of the e-discovery and forensic services lab, said personnel is a constant demand heightened by the massive speed of technological advances.

Holland declined to give specifics about Wal-Mart’s cybersecurity program — “We manage and maintain a large team to deal with the global business; that’s the easiest way to put it,” Holland said — but said the company is always looking for candidates with a “tinker mentality” to boost their cyber protection.

“A big challenge and topic is around the talent side, finding the people we need to work in the space,” Holland said. “The recruiting aspect of building, managing and keeping your team strength both in numbers and capabilities with the current technology changes is a huge challenge for everyone in the industry right now,” he said. 

“We’ve taken some big steps at Wal-Mart to be proactive in our outreach. We’re trying to solve global issues. The positions, the creation of teams, the growth in e-commerce, we’re not able to keep up with that from a job market standpoint. That becomes a part of what you’re assessing as part of your security posture and what challenges you’re going to face going forward.”

Wal-Mart has recently sharpened its focus on its e-commerce business, most notably by buying Jet.com and installing its founder, Marc Lore, as CEO of its e-commerce business. 

“Whether it is a small company or a new startup or someone as large at Wal-Mart … we’re all facing the same thing,” Holland said. “It’s not unique to Wal-Mart. It’s not unique to our security. It is being driven by that speed of change in the market. That’s what we’re working to stay up with as well. 

“It expands just because you’re expanding your footprint in the market. If you have that additional aspect of protection, it brings with it some additional complexities.”

Hacks Big and Small

G.B. Cazes, president of Metova Solutions in Conway, said there is a misconception that cyberattacks aim only for big, juicy targets like Wal-Mart or Citibank.

Recent studies have shown that small businesses have in-creasingly become targets of cyberattacks: from 18 percent of attacks in 2011 to almost 50 percent today.

Part of the reason for that is that small businesses don’t have the financial resources for protective cyber infrastructure and safeguards. Cazes said many small businesses hit by cyberattacks don’t survive the resulting damage.

“If you think that small businesses drive our economy, it’s like, ‘Holy Cow, this is a major problem,'” Cazes said. “It’s not just the Wal-Marts of the world. It’s small businesses, too.”

Still, Cazes said, many cyberattacks are not super high-tech. Rather than the stereotype of the evil computer genius alone in a darkened room with a bank of computer screens, it’s a devilishly deceptive email that appears to be from a trusted source. Cazes used the example of someone receiving an email about a package, and the recipient just has to click the link in the message.

Clicking the link, of course, would open the recipient’s computer to the cyberattacker who had crafted the fake email. Social engineering hacks rely on people’s trusting — or gullible — nature.

Companies such as Wal-Mart use high-tech safeguards to defend against the expert hacker, who might not even be in the same hemisphere. Experts say that education about social engineering attacks such as Cazes’ example is equally important. 

Individuals can help protect themselves — or the companies they work for — by using different passwords for different accounts, avoiding dubious websites and having just a healthy bit of paranoia.

“A lot of cybersecurity is like security at your home: Don’t be the only house in your neighborhood without your lights on at night,” Cazes said. “You’re never going to be completely [secure]; that’s false. If you’re on the internet, you’re exposed. Make yourself a harder target. Don’t use the same password across your things. Be overcautious what you click on. 

“For individuals, it’s just don’t do anything stupid.”

Money or Mayhem

For those attacked and disrupted by a cyberattack, the motivation of the hacker is probably not the No. 1 concern. But hackers can have a variety of reasons for doing what they do.

Obviously, there is the financial gain one gets by hacking into the computer system of a major retailer or bank and swiping customers’ personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank account details. Cazes said there is a robust black market for people looking to buy Social Security numbers and other personal information.

There are also people who do it just to prove they can hack into a system or shut down a major gaming device on Christmas Day. Cazes said companies often recruit hackers to try to break into their systems as a form of troubleshooting.

Regardless of their motivation, hackers will continue to spur the cybersecurity industry, which experts predict will be a $200 billion business within a few years.

“There’s not [a day off],” Holland said. “You see the stories that are coming nonstop. Anyone can turn on a television or hit a website or even the radio these days and hear the constant flow of everything from the malicious activity out there to the tremendous financial impact on a business when they’ve been the victim of an attack. It’s 24-7 for the reasons of the changes in technology and for the sheer existence of a business now.”

Cazes said cybersecurity will grow because of developments such as smart cars and smart refrigerators and voice-activated devices such as Echo or Alexa in people’s homes. All that convenience opens portals into people’s business.

Regular, non-IT people don’t think about it as much, which Cazes joked is a good thing or otherwise they might go crazy. For Cazes and others in the protection business, cybersecurity is an everyday thing.

“Cybersecurity touches everything that we do and it’s important in every aspect of our lives,” Cazes said. “If you start thinking about your daily life and how you’re connected to devices and what those devices store, then you can think about the security you need at every level. When you have more opportunities to connect, you increase your exposure. [On] mobile you’re connected 24-7, and you’re not just one website; you’re on thousands of websites through apps. We are becoming more exposed every day because of the devices we use to live our life.” 

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