The Mouse, not Hackers, Poses Greatest Cyber-Security Threat

by Jeff Wiener on May 24, 2012

In this age of cyber insecurity law enforcement agencies around the world are working feverishly to protect their governments and their countries from threats both from within and without. To that end, while we’ve talked extensively over the past several months about the persistent threat hackers pose on both governmental and corporate infrastructure, one area of cyber-security that both the public and private sectors are becoming increasingly concerned about is that of insider espionage.

Harkening back to the days of World War II where the public were routinely warned in counter-intelligence campaigns that “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” or even to the more recent days of James Bond-like Cold War espionage, the greatest intelligence threat to countries and businesses may be the people inside, those trusted to keep the most secret of secrets, and the FBI wants to make sure you know about the risks and, should you know anything important at all, to keep your mouth shut.

You see, gone are the days when counter-intelligence agencies had to worry about double agents walking away with briefcases full of sensitive information, with the modern situation much more troublesome, as with the click of a mouse any would-be spy can now simply download terabytes of information onto a flash drive and stroll out the door.

It was almost two months ago when I wrote a piece detailing the FBI’s war on cyber-crime, noting a particularly grim assessment from the Bureau’s top cyber-cop Shawn Henry, who stated that “we’re not winning” the war against hackers and the current methods employed to fight cyber-crime are outdated and “unsustainable.”

But as is so often the case with nebulous decentralized criminal groups, cyber-crime is a multi-faceted operation, and you can bet that as much as agencies like the FBI struggle to keep the public and private sectors safe from brazen hacker attacks, it equally struggles to protect those sectors from the people inside lured by the promise of money and intrigue to sell important information to interested parties.

For you see, the greatest threat for businesses and governments today is not from the traditional Cold War spy, but from the ubiquitous mouse sitting next to the keyboard on the desk of almost every employee in the country. In fact, according to a CBS report, cyber-espionage is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S., with approximately $13 billion lost last year alone in trade secrets. So how do we quell this threat when both government and corporate secrets are targeted daily from hackers thousands of miles away and from insiders only a few feet away?

The answer, you can’t really, although there are things you can do to mitigate the damage. As Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, states, in his current role as a security consultant for companies targeted by hackers, “What we tell clients is, ‘Number one, you’re in the fight, whether you thought you were or not…Number two, you’re almost certainly are penetrated. Number three, take heart: There are other lines of defense that you can and should rely on to minimize damage.’”

In the end, this digital age comes with its own unique set of risks, with the advent of cloud technology only looking to exacerbate these security issues. But as governments and companies assess their vulnerabilities, perhaps its best to remind everyone about the dangers of cyber-crime, a fact 22 year old Bryan Martin, a former Naval officer and would-be spy, learned the hard way, now serving 34 years in federal prison.

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