Panama Papers Leak Raises Security Questions

Sue Marquette Poremba
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My plan today was to continue my conversation about security in the health care industry and discuss some new research released this week. That conversation will have to pick up next week because I want to address the security implications of a major news story.

By now, you have probably heard about the Panama Papers, which leaked (and continue to leak) the names of high-profile persons who used shell companies to hide their wealth and/or avoid taxes.

While it is easy to get caught up in the juicy details (Iceland’s prime minister has already resigned and now the world waits to find out the names of Americans on the list), it is important to point out that this was a very serious security breach.

In this case, like so many other breaches, the hack most likely happened due to a spearphishing email that led to an attack on the email server. According to Computerworld:

An email server attack could have happened in "multiple ways," said Zak Maples, a senior security consultant at MWR InfoSecurity, a cybersecurity consultancy. It appears that the server itself was compromised instead of individual mailboxes brute-forced in password-guessing attacks, because of the volume of data compromised, he said by email.


While, as of this writing, the attacker is not known, Wayne Rash wrote in eWeek that this particular attack raises a lot of red flags:

Even if the attack came from outside, the information on who to target in the attack had to come from somewhere. The fact that the entire digital assets of the firm appear to have been laid bare would indicate that the target had to be someone very senior in the firm, or that the firm simply allowed any employee to look at anything on its servers. So where did the information on employees with privileged access come from?

It is this question that should be garnering more attention, especially for anyone who has to handle IT or security duties. As Chenxi Wang, chief strategy officer for Twistlock, pointed out to me in an email message, in this digital age, it will get increasingly difficult to keep documents private. There are too many trails, too much data, and too many ways for security breakdowns to occur. What will your company do to prevent these breakdowns?

Sue Marquette Poremba has been writing about network security since 2008. In addition to her coverage of security issues for IT Business Edge, her security articles have been published at various sites such as Forbes, Midsize Insider and Tom's Guide. You can reach Sue via Twitter: @sueporemba



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