What companies can learn from the alleged Apple hack

According to a report from Motherboard, a group of hackers is attempting to extort one of the most well-known companies in the world — Apple. The blackmailing is over alleged access to a collection of stolen user credentials for iCloud and other Apple email accounts.

The ‘Turkish Crime Family’ hackers have demanded $75,000 in either Bitcoin or Ethereum or $100,000 in iTunes gift cards in exchange for deleting the alleged cache of data. It is estimated that between 300 million and 559 million accounts are compromised by these threats.

So how did these hackers allegedly get hold of this sensitive information? According to Apple, which released a statement after the hackers went to the press, “previously compromised third-party services” are to blame.

The hackers are threatening to expose and thus compromise millions of people’s personal login credentials, meaning they would potentially be able to access sensitive information such as health records, private family photos and credit card details.

But it isn’t just personal data that’s at stake here. With so many people re-using passwords for business logins as they do for their own logins, it’s likely that this hack could have a much wider impact.

password boss reuse

Photo from Password Boss – Password Habits Survey – July 30 2015

Access denied: how to keep out unwanted users

So how should companies best protect themselves from such a hack to avoid a similar fate?

In the case of the alleged Apple attack, where business logins being compromised could easily lead to sensitive information be leaked, organisations must take a closer look at context-aware security, which uses information supplemental to a user’s password to grant or deny access.

This additional information can take the form of the geographical location the user is logging in from, the time of day the login attempt is taking place or what device the person is using, for example.

The security system can use these details to determine a strong profile of the person attempting to log in and then grant or deny access immediately based on these administrator-set access rules.

For example, the instructions could only allow certain workstations in one department to log in, therefore any attempt from elsewhere wouldn’t work. They can even be set up to automatically alert an administrator who can, with the click of a mouse, grant or deny access.

The supposed hack on Apple perfectly demonstrates how such security measures could have been implemented to avoid a potential breach.

Security technology that works in the background

This type of technology not only protects sensitive data, giving teams peace of mind, but also gives the IT team an easy and non-invasive user experience. The system works quietly in the background, meaning the administrator doesn’t have to manually and laboriously check each login attempt.

Organisations can even take context-aware to another level to encourage safe user practices amongst staff. Although many companies will provide dedicated security training, it’s likely to be done in a new employee’s first weeks at the company and promptly forgotten about as time goes on.

Context-aware security can help guide and reassure users, by alerting them to suspicious uses of their password, for example. By allowing users to take control of security themselves, employees will feel trusted and more conscious of security protocols, thus creating a security-aware culture throughout the organisation.

In the case of Apple, where the hackers are now threatening to reset or even wipe several private accounts unless the requested amount is paid, it may be too late to take the measures described above. But for other companies keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the best, prevention is better than cure when it comes to a data breach.

Whether it’s restricting and reporting on access to sensitive files, limiting concurrent logins or alerting users and adminstrators to suspicious activity within the network, using tools such as UserLock or FileAudit both help to prevent the challenges raised by potential data breaches. These systems work quietly in the background to monitor and protect a company’s sensitive data leaving employees to go about their day, business as usual.

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Chris Bunn is the Directeur Général Adjoint of IS Decisions, a global cybersecurity software company, specializing in access management and multi-factor authentication for Microsoft Active Directory environments and the cloud.