RNC's Preibus unwise to challenge hackers

The rule of thumb among industry insiders is it's better to plan to be attacked.
The rule of thumb among industry insiders is it's better to plan to be attacked.

The old saying goes it's unwise to wake a sleeping tiger.

However, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus either never heard of that saying or decided to tempt fate when he declared on MSNBC that the RNC's servers most likely had not been nor would be attacked because they are better protected than their Democratic National Committee counterparts.

Industry insiders said such hubris by anyone in charge of a large organization holding with critical data is misplaced.

“In the information security community, it's well understood that an adversary with unlimited resources will always get in,” Time Erlin, Tripwire's director of IT security and risk strategy told SCMagazine.com in an email.

Adam Kujawa, head of malware intelligence at Malwarebytes, told SCMagazine.com in an email that Preibus' statement was not only patently false, but he is foolish to not anticipate being attacked.

“While it's certainly possible to deploy security measures more than another group, to never “expect” to be hacked is not a wise stance considering our current threat landscape.  The truth is that attacks can come at any time and in many cases, from any direction,” Kujawa said, adding, “To say anything otherwise represents a severe lack of understanding the threat landscape and what the average user deals with.”

And Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum (ISF), said "didn't understand people running a flag up the pole and saying 'here, look at me, I'm a target.'"

Wikileaks' recent unveiling of 20,000 emails mined from the DNC not only led to the resignation of party Chairwoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz, due to messages being revealed that indicated the party was trying to undermine Sen. Bernie Sanders' (D-Vt.) candidacy, but raised the question of whether a foreign nation might be trying to manipulate the U.S. electoral system. The FBI is investigating the hack.

Chenxi Wang, chief strategy officer for Twistlock, told SCMagazine.com in an emailed statement that Priebus is mistaken if he believes the RNC is either invulnerable or somehow not on the bad guy's radar.

“In light of today's cyber attacks, no system is sacred. No data is sacred, because nearly everything is accessible,” Wang said.

And sprawling political organizations with their web of donors and volunteers offer many points of vulnerability that hackers can exploit. "Look at the number of people they're working with as volunteers - from a hacker's standpoint, it's nirvana," Durbin said, adding that political campaigns also have to be open enough to make it easy for supporters to donate. "There's so much opportunity."

Wang also noted that the DNC hack is a sign of things to come when cybercriminals may expand their goal from simply stealing money or personal data to influencing a nation's governmental structure.

“Going forward, we really have to be much more vigilant than we have been in the past. Because now, it's not just individual companies or data belonging to tens of thousands of users that are at stake. Instead, it could be an entire nation's political future that hangs in the balance, entailing significant consequences on a global scale that last longer and reach farther than they ever have before,” she said.

Kujawa also noted how average citizens also must be aware of web scams that use politically charged jargon to attract their attention. He noted that the research firm Avast conducted an experiment during the Republican convention in Cleveland. He said Avast set up access points with names like “I VOTE FOR TRUMP! FREE INTERNET” resulting in more than 1,200 user's devices connecting to it and using it to check their private email, access their bank accounts, shop for things and even access dating apps.

“If an actual cybercriminal had setup the same style of rogue access point, they could have easily obtained access to the personal lives of delegates and important government officials, which could be used either directly to steal important data or be used in a blackmail scheme,” Kujawa said.

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