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Dissecting The Twitter Hack With A Cybersecurity Evangelist

Dissecting The Twitter Hack With A Cybersecurity Evangelist

Bottom Line: Shattering the false sense of security in tech, the recent Twitter hack blended altruism, fame, greed, social engineering via SIM swapping and insider threats to steal $120,000 from victims when the economic and political damage could have been far worse.

Targeting the most influential celebrities on Twitter, hackers orchestrated a social engineering-based attack Wednesday promoting a cryptocurrency scam. Business leaders, celebrities, politicians and billionaires’ accounts were hacked using Twitter’s administrative tools. Personal Twitter accounts hacked include those of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others. Apple and Uber’s Twitter accounts were also hacked.

Using SIM swapping, in which threat actors trick, coerce or bribe employees of their victims to gain access to privileged account credentials and administrative tools, hackers were able first to change the email address of each targeted account. Next, two-factor authentication was turned off so when an alert was sent of the account change it went to the hacker’s email address. With the targeted accounts under their control, hackers began promoting their cryptocurrency scam. While not all details of the attack have surfaced Motherboard’s story of how hackers convinced a Twitter employee to help them the hijack accounts makes for fascinating reading.

Dissecting The Hack

Interested in dissecting the hack from a cybersecurity standpoint, I contacted Dr. Torsten George, Cybersecurity Evangelist and industry expert from Centrify. Torsten is also a leading authority on privileged access management and how to thwart breaches involving privileged access credentials.

Louis:  What was your initial impression upon breaking news of the hack and what did you believe would cause such a massive hack of celebrity and leading political figures accounts this past week?

Torsten: When the news broke, the media probably polled other security experts and the first initial reaction was, ‘Oh, that’s a massive attack, most likely a credential-based attack,’ because 80% of today’s data breaches go back to privilege access abuse. They are typically first triggered by phishing attacks, the precursor to many attacks where the attackers tried to capture these credentials and then leverage them to attack their victim’s organizations.

So, the breaking news indicated that most likely, somebody was able to leverage a compromised credential to enter into the Twitter environment and take over accounts. However, more and more information became available, with screenshots being shared of internal Twitter tools. For me, that raised a red flag, because in a typical attack pattern we’re seeing three distinct phases in the cyber-attack lifecycle: the compromise, the exploration phase and the exfiltration of sensitive data, which includes covering up tracks and potentially creating a backdoor for future attacks.

When performing reconnaissance, hackers commonly try to identify regular IT schedules, security measures, network traffic flows and scan the entire IT environment to gain an accurate picture of the network resources, privileged accounts and services. Domain controllers, Active Directory and servers are prime reconnaissance targets to hunt for additional privileged credentials and privileged access.

They wouldn’t necessarily look for administrative tools that could be leveraged for their attack unless they have intimate knowledge that those tools exist in the victim’s environment — be it by having worked for the company in the past or representing an insider threat.

Louis: What’s the anatomy of an insider attack, based on your experience?

Torsten: As was later confirmed by Twitter, it became very apparent that this is a case of insider threats, where you have an insider that has been leveraged for this attack. The most common insider threats can be defined by the intent and motivation of the individuals involved. The 2019 Verizon Insider Threat Report defines five distinct insider threats based on data breach scenarios and they all have excellent, accurate names: the Careless Worker, the Inside (often recruited) Agent, the Disgruntled Employee, the Malicious Insider and the Feckless Third-Party.

Considering the global environment we’re facing right now, with Covid-19 and other related economic hardships, the risk of insider threats is exacerbated, as pending furloughs or pay cuts may tempt employees to exfiltrate data to secure a new job or make up for income losses.

So a privileged administrator might be more open to people that approach them and say, ‘Would you be willing to share with us your access credentials, or would you do something on our behalf to exfiltrate data or to manipulate data?’ That risk has increased dramatically across all industries.

So it turned out the first suspicion was phishing attacks, followed by compromised credentials. It turns out to be an insider threat. Organizations need to be prepared for that.

Louis: What can companies do to reduce the likelihood a malicious insider will hack them?

Torsten: It becomes a little bit trickier when you deal with a malicious insider because they most likely know your environment, they might know your defense mechanisms and they might know the security tools that your likely using. So they can bypass these security controls and try to gain the control of data that they can then profit from.

Organizations have to rethink the way that they’ve structured their defense controls and truly take an approach of an in-depth strategy with a different layer of defenses. The first layer that comes to mind in this particular case is multi-factor authentication (MFA) which is still low-hanging fruit. There are still many organizations out there that are not taking advantage of implementing MFA.

While MFA is highly recommended, it isn’t as effective against insider threats because they have that second factor of authentication and can pass those challenges. Organizations need to go beyond MFA if they want to have a layered security strategy.

Louis: What are some of the ways they can go beyond MFA to avoid being the victim of an insider threat?

Torsten: A very important component of your defense strategy should be the approach of zero standing privileges, which is something Gartner recommends to its clients. That means that I have normal privileges and entitlements to do my job, like answering emails and using the Internet, but that’s probably all I need. If I need more access, I’ll have to elevate my privilege for the time needed to do that particular task but then rescind that privilege once it’s done.

If I have zero standing privileges – even if somebody compromises my credential, even if I’m an insider – I don’t have immediate access to the keys to the kingdoms to do whatever I want.

And before privilege elevation, organizations should require context through a formal request. For example, require the user to submit a ticket through ServiceNow or any other IT Service Management platform to detail what they need to access, for how long and to do what. That way, there is an auditing trail and an approval process. If the threat actor – whether insider or not – doesn’t do this they don’t get privileged access to that target system.

Louis: Besides those perhaps expected controls, what other controls might have helped in this particular scenario?

Torsten: Organizations should also take advantage of modern tools to leverage machine learning technology, so that looks at user behavior and risk factors to also get a hold of these insider attacks. All the other security controls are more tailored towards external preparation at first. Still, once you implement machine learning technology and user behavior analytics that’s where you also can capture insider threats.

Machine learning can look for suspicious activity, such as a target being accessed outside of a typical maintenance window, or is the administrator logging in from a different location or device than usual. It can then trigger an MFA request and also issue a real-time alert, regardless of whether the MFA challenge is successfully resolved.

Furthermore, in the case of Twitter, there are privacy and regulatory concerns that could also be additional triggers for real-time alerts and to shut down this activity automatically. Regulations like the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) mean that platforms like Twitter have to be very careful with any access to or manipulation of a customer’s feed. That could – and should have – instantly triggered a real-time alert when an administrator was posting on behalf of a user.

Louis: Do you think this is going to be the start of an entirely new era of hacks where hackers will pay off internal employees for promotional messages?

Torsten: Quite frankly, we have seen an uptick since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And I believe now that this Twitter attack has been covered in the press so much, you will have copycats that will try to do the same. Some of them will also target social media platforms, but others that might be a little bit smarter because social media is easily detectable if something goes wrong. An industry like healthcare could be a prime target and there is already news that Russian hackers are attacking healthcare providers and research labs to try to gain access to vaccine research.

Louis: Given how significant this hack is in terms of the progression or the growing sophistication of threats, what are the top three predictions you have for the rest of 2020?

Torsten: Ransomware is an example of a technique that has changed quite significantly in two ways. First, they are no longer only delivered via an email, but also via social media platforms, SMS messages and more. Second, ransomware is no longer only focused on shutting down business operations. The most recent example with EDP Renewables North American, a subsidiary of an European-based electric utilities company, showed that hackers leveraged ransomware to exfiltrate data. Not to lock it down, but to exfiltrate data and then ask for ransom from their victim to not publish the data on the Dark Web.

Second, as I’ve already covered, the current economic hardships of the pandemic will cause more people to jump on the bandwagon and become cybercriminals. And these aren’t the people you see in movies – dark characters in hoodies using sophisticated hacking techniques to breach the government. These are your neighbors, the little boys next door. For them it’s not a big deal to become a cyber-criminal.

Third, as you’d expect, the number of cyber-attacks will increase as a result and they will continue to find new and innovative ways to find the easiest way in. The Twitter incident taught us that there was no technology “breach” required. It was just finding the right person with the right privileges and paying them to do 25 Tweets. That’s an easy payday.

I think this whole crisis that we’re going through will see a major uptick in attacks from the traditional cyber hackers, but also from a whole bunch of newbies and greenhorns that will try out their luck and see if they can make a buck. Either by ransomware attacks, phishing attacks, social engineering or any combination thereof.

The Most Innovative Tech Companies Based On Patent Analytics

The Most Innovative Tech Companies Based On Patent Analytics

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  • Microsoft, Apple, and IBM lead the world in hardware & software patent innovation according to PatentSight.
  • Samsung, Johnson & Johnson, LG Electronics. Alphabet, Qualcomm, Ford, Intel, Microsoft, Sony, and VW are the ten most innovative companies in the world, according to PatentSight’s patent analytics research.
  • Ford leads the global automotive industry in patent innovation, due in large part to successful R&D efforts in autonomous driving.

These and many other fascinating insights are from Swiss consulting firm EconSight’s patent analytics research that first identified all the patents that are supposed to protect particularly relevant innovations – in this case, defined as innovations for the digitization of applied technologies – using the PatentSight database. Companies not only have to maintain their innovative strength; they also have to continue to expand in comparison to previous years to take a leading position in the ranking. For additional details on the methodology and to request the rank of your company, please visit the PatentSight Innovation Ranking 2019 site here.

Key insights from EconSight’s patent analytics research defining the most innovative companies globally include the following:

  • 38 of the most innovative companies in the world are based in the U.S, 21 in China, and 15 from Europe. Chinese followed by Japanese-based companies lead the world in electronics innovation as measured by the uniqueness of patents produced. U.S. companies lead the world in medical technology patent innovation. The following graphic compares the number of companies within the global top 100 ranking by country and industry for 2019.

  • In the U.S., tech companies dominate the top 10 most innovative companies in 2019. Alphabet, Qualcomm, Intel, Microsoft, Honeywell, Apple, and GE are producing the most unique, differentiated and value-adding patents based on EconSight’s methodology. Medical technology companies show the greatest growth in innovative patent production as the graphic below illustrates:

  • The world’s most innovative medical technology companies’ patent focus is on biosensors, surgical robotics, shortening the time-to-market for pharmaceutical drugs, and funding startup incubators that yield new patents. Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) multifaceted innovation strategy reflects the broader strategic vision of every medical technology company pursuing new intellectual property (IP) that leads to patent leadership. J&J acquired Auris Health and Verb Surgical, which is managed as a joint venture with Alphabet’s Verily medical division, which gives them a patent portfolio in healthcare intelligence. J&J has in total acquired over 300 companies in the medical technology industry according to PatentSight’s analysis. These acquisitions have moved them into biosensors, surgical robotics, and startups performing drug research.

The Most Innovative Tech Companies Based On Patent Analytics

  • Japanese robotics manufacturer Fanuc is the world’s most innovative automation technology company based on patent analysis. Since 2019 Fanuc has jumped 42 places in the ranking, from 61st to 19th. The global labor shortage in manufacturing is a contributing factor to the strong market demand Fanuc is seeing for all its robotics products and systems. The following are the top 25 robotics companies of 2019:

The Most Innovative Tech Companies Based On Patent Analytics

  • Ford leads the global automotive industry in patent innovation, while Volkswagen doubles down on patents over the last two years. Ford leads the world in patent innovation due to its rapid advances in autonomous vehicle development. Volkswagen’s rapid ascent in the automotive industry rankings has made them the most innovative company in Germany based on patent analytics this year. VW is investing in autonomous vehicles, and the networking of mobility participants, setting a solid foundation for future vehicle models today.

The Most Innovative Tech Companies Based On Patent Analytics

PatentSight Background

PatentSight – A Lexis Nexis company– specializes in cleaning and refining patent data and providing advanced patent analytics. Publicly available patent data simply cannot be used without qualitative preparation and correction. Due to the sheer mass (about 3.3 million new registrations in 2018 alone), all available patents cannot be viewed manually. Publications in many different languages and often very abstract contents make a manual review and evaluation difficult not only for laymen but also for experts. A further challenge is to level out the widely differing citation practices of national patent offices or to document the legal status of patents.

PatentSight, through manually supervised and scientifically developed algorithms, has best-in-class information on ownership data, going far beyond the testing standards recommended by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Moreover, PatentSight‘s proprietary patent valuation metrics reveal which patents are key, and which are superfluous. Based on citations, global protection, and several correction factors, EconSight leveraged these metrics to determine the most innovative companies.

The Most Innovative Companies of 2019 According to BCG

Google Press

Alphabet/Google is now the most innovative company in the world according to BCG, unseating Apple’s 13-year dominance of their annual rankings.

  • Alphabet/Google is now the most innovative company in the world according to BCG, unseating Apple’s 13-year dominance of their annual rankings.
  • Strong AI innovators are over three times more likely to have deep expertise in Big Data Analytics.
  • The ten most innovative companies in the world extensively use AI and platforms today to grow faster than competitors and markets.
  • T-MobileDow DuPontValeStryker, and Rio Tonto join the list of the top 50 most innovative companies for the first time this year.
  • Fastest movers include Adidas, who jumped from 35th to 10thSAP who increased from 42nd to 28th and Phillips who improved from 49th to 29th.

These and many other insights are from the Boston Consulting Group’s 13th annual report defining the world’s most innovative companies in 2019. The Most Innovative Companies 2019: The Rise of AI, Platforms, and Ecosystems is a fascinating glimpse into the rising importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and of platforms that support innovation. What makes this survey noteworthy is how it captures how AI’s use is rapidly expanding and how enterprises are relying on platforms to scale their efforts in this area. BCG is providing an Interactive Guide that compares the 50 most innovative companies in the world, sortable by industry, company and year. There’s also interactive analysis of Steady Innovators or those companies who’ve appeared on the list every year since 2005. There are breakouts of New Entrants, Returnees, and Movers for easier analysis. The report is available for download here (28 pp., PDF, free). Forbes also has an annual list of the world’s most innovative companies you can find here. The methodology Forbes uses is explained in the post, How We Rank The Most Innovative Companies 2018. Key insights from BCGs’ most innovative companies of 2019 include the following:

  • What differentiates the world’s most innovative companies are their creation and use of AI and platforms with Alphabet/GoogleAmazonApple, and Microsoft leading all others. Each of them is actively creating and providing AI-based applications, platforms and ecosystems that enable enterprises to improve customer experiences, creating entirely new revenue streams, business models and competitive advantages. Alphabet/Google has defined its direction as an “AI first” company, intentionally creating a culture of AI-driven innovation. The following is BCG’s list of the most innovative companies of 2019:

  • Enterprises who rate themselves strongest at innovation and better than average at AI base their self-evaluations on successfully changing customer experiences. BCG found that the most advanced enterprises using AI today are succeeding at changing customer experiences, creating new business models and measuring AI’s contribution to streamlining internal processes. 19.2% of all enterprises interviewed perceive themselves as being better than average at AI and strong innovators. The following graphic compares how enterprises rate themselves at AI versus their strength at innovation:

  • Strong AI innovators are over three times more likely to have deep expertise in Big Data Analytics. Enterprises who perceive themselves as strong AI innovators based on their success using AI to improve customer experiences, create new business models and streamline operations are two times as likely to be faster at adopting new technologies. They’re also 65% more likely to be actively targeting technology platforms to scale their AI initiatives and strategies further. The following graphic compares strong and weak innovators’ relative levels of adoption across 15 different innovation and product development categories:

  • Big Data Analytics, the speed of adopting tech, digital design, and technology platforms are the four areas enterprises who consider themselves strong innovators have the widest perceived advantage over weak innovators. When enterprises were asked which of the following 15 areas of innovation and product development will be the most impactful over the next 3 to 5 years, Big Data Analytics was far and away the most valued by strong versus weak innovators. Digital Design and Speed of Adopting Tech are two additional areas of innovation and product development that most differentiate the most and least innovative companies.

 

21 Most Admired Companies Making IT A Competitive Advantage

time-and-IT-competitive-advantage1-300x215All enterprises, regardless of what they produce or the services they deliver, are really information businesses.

The accuracy, speed and precision of IT systems means the difference between winning or losing customers, keeping supply chains profitable, and solidly translating new concepts into revenue-producing products and services.  The world’s best-run services businesses have customer-driven IT as part of their DNA; it is very much who these companies are internally.

In the recently published Garter report CEO and Senior Executive Survey 2013: 21 Top Companies Admired for Competitive IT  completed between October and December, 2012, which was part of the 2013 CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey, C-level respondents were asked to name the companies they most admired in terms of their ability to apply IT-related business capabilities for competitive advantage.   Respondents were also asked to limit their responses only to their own and related industries.

391 respondents participated in the survey with 147 being CEOs, 149, CFOs; 49, COOs; and 46 being board members including Chairman of the board and president.  Geographic distribution included 152 respondents from North America; 124 from Europe; 78 from Asia/Pacific; 20 from Brazil; 12 from South Africa; and 5 from the Middle East with minimum company size being $250M in annual sales or above.

The following is the list of the world’s most admired companies using IT for competitive advantage.

Most Admired Companies Making IT A Competitive Advantage

Accenture
Amazon
Apple
Cleveland Clinic
General Electric
Goldman Sachs
Google
Hospital Corporation of America
IBM
Intermountain Healthcare
JP Morgan Chase
Kaiser Permanente
Mayo Clinic
Microsoft
Nestle
Proctor & Gamble
Progressive Insurance
Schlumberger
Target
Toyota
Wells Fargo

Key Take-Aways

  • Customer-driven IT is the single most admired trait of all 21 companies in the list.  Associated with this attribute is the proven ability of these enterprises to manage complex e-commerce systems & platforms, support multichannel management, in addition to continually show the ability to innovate quickly.
  • Enterprises need to consider how the business successes their investments in  IT are enabling can be used for branding and recruitment.   Providing benchmark performance data and stories of how IT helped create entirely new markets and solve customer problems needs to be used for recruiting.  Many of the 21 companies mentioned are doing this, using success stories as a catalyst for driving recruitment efforts for analytics, cloud computing and systems integration experts.
  • Don’t underestimate the disruptive power of cloud computing and mobility to completely re-order enterprise systems quickly.  Gartner mentions that there are enterprises whose IT organizations would have made the list had they not slowed down.  While not directly stated, Gartner warns IT departments to not become complacent over time.  From personal experience working in IT departments however, it is clear that complacency is a leading career hazard.  It’s imperative for CIOs to keep challenging their organizations to stay intensely focused on new developments, seeking out how they can be used to strengthen business strategies.
  • Four of the top five factors that most impressed respondents about the admired companies are customer-related.  Customer-facing IT (15%); followed by an integrated/standardized/unified IT organization and process framework (13%); exceptional use of CRM (11%); customer-centered innovation (9%);  and product design & offerings (9%) are the most mentioned attributes of the highest-performing companies. Multiple responses were allowed to this area of the survey.  The following graphic provides an analysis of which factors most impressed the C-level executives who were respondents to the survey.

What Impressed Business Leaders Most

What’s Hot in CRM Applications, 2012

Serving the sales force is a mantra and mindset that resonates through the best companies I’ve ever worked with and for.

That priority alone can help galvanize companies who are adrift in multiple, conflicting agendas, strategies and projects.  Uniting around that goal – serving sales and getting them what they need to excel – can turn around even the most downtrodden companies.  And size doesn’t matter, the intensity of focus and commitment to excel  do.

That’s why the latest report from Gartner’s Ed Thompson, What’s “Hot” in CRM Application 2012, published last Thursday resonates with me.  He’s talking about how sales strategies need to be propelled by rapid advances in mobile technology, social CRM, sales content and collaboration, and clienteling to serve the sales force more thoroughly than ever before.  His assessment of what’s hot in CRM is a great foundation for getting behind the mantra of serving the sales force and engraining it into a corporate culture while getting full value from the latest technologies.

Here are the key take-aways from the report:

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery of CRM applications represented 34% of worldwide CRM application spending in 2011.  More than 50% of all Sales Force Automation (SFA) spending is on the SaaS platform.  Gartner clients who are successfully running SaaS are now looking at how to get value from Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) in the context of selling strategies.
  • CRM spending grew 13% in 2011, fueled analytical, operational and social CRM growth.  Operational CRM represents 80% of all CRM spending and grew 10% in 2011.
  • Analytical CRM, in which Gartner includes predictive analytics and market segmentation analysis, grew a solid 10% in 2011 and is having a very strong year with inquiry traffic.
  • Social CRM grew 30% in 2011 in revenue terms and is 7% of total CRM spending globally as of 2011.   90% of Social CRM spending is originating in Business-to-Consumer (B2C) organizations with the remaining occurring in B2B.
  • Gartner is projecting that CRM will be one of the top three search terms on Gartner.com throughout calendar 2012 based on the trends and volume of calls they are seeing today.
  • CEOs see CRM as their #1 technology-enabled investment in 2012 according the query calls through April, 2012.
  • CRM is ascending rapidly in the priorities of CIOs in 2012, moving from 18th place to eight place  in the latest Gartner analysis.
  • The following table of Highest CRM Application Priorities, 2012 show what’s trending within Sales, Customer Service, E-Commerce and Marketing inquiries Gartner is receiving from its clients.  Consider these as leading indicators of interest.  Over time these areas will need to solidify for forecasts to be completed.
  • Apple iPads are the great maverick buy of 2012 with thousands being purchased by Sales and Marketing management with the immediate requirement of IT integration to these devices.   IT departments are scrambling on the security issues and lack of polices on BYOD.  In enterprise software, iPads are proving to be highly effective as demo platforms for new SaaS-based applications.  They have become the new sales bag of the 21rst century.
  •  High Tech, Life Sciences and Insurance are the three industries with the greatest levels of iPad adoption as of April 2012.  Gartner is predicting that by the end of 2012, 80% of all sales representatives in the pharmaceutical industry will be using iPads for their daily sales tasks.
  • Social or community customer service is the hottest area of growth for post-sales service with high-tech, media, travel, telecommunications, retail and education-based clients dominating client inquiries.
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