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It seems not a week goes by without another story of a major company suffering a cyber-attack hitting the headlines. In recent months, T-Mobile USA had to inform its customers of a major security breach at one of its vendors, Experian. Another telecommunications firm, the UK’s TalkTalk, suffered a “significant and sustained attack” in which customers bank details were stolen – with suspects as young as 15 subsequently arrested for the attack. And in September, healthcare giant Excellus BlueCross BlueShield admitted it had been the victim of a cyber-attack potentially affecting more than ten million of its customers. It seems that no industry or company is immune to the threat hackers represent.
Unsurprisingly, in the face of these attacks, the cyber-security industry is seeing huge growth, and is set to reach a value of $170 billion by 2020, up 9.8% from 2015. And as well as fighting to prevent financial loss and retain consumer trust, embattled companies are under pressure from a new source to step up their security against hackers or face a hefty fine: the FTC.
So what are companies doing to better protect themselves?
According to this report from the BBC, companies use an average of 75 cyber-defense systems to help prevent attacks, but that in itself serves up another problem. How does one review and stay on top of the data those systems are reporting?
Another strategy reaping rewards is the implementation of Bug Bounty Programs, also known as Vulnerability Rewards Programs. By reaching out to the hacker community to ask them to help identify risks and system weaknesses before they are compromised, and providing a financial incentive to do so, major companies like Facebook, Samsung Smart TV and Google are able to tap into the intelligence of ethical hackers worldwide.
These so-called “white hat hackers” are able to work remotely or by attending in-person events, such as the Battlehacker meet-ups. Primarily backed by PayPal, the Battlehacker website throws down the gauntlet and asks potential participants, “Are you the ultimate hacker for good?” That’s quite a far cry from the nefarious image of the anonymous hooded hacker so often seen in the news. While these programs provide a means of rewarding hackers for their insights (in 2014, Facebook paid over $1.3 million to 321 hackers worldwide), they crucially provide a structured means for hackers to tip off companies in a timely way.
As we move ever closer to an increasingly connected world affecting every part of our lives, this high tech trend and these types of cyber-security programs will surely grow. (For instance, Hello Barbie makers ToyTalk and Mattel recently launched a bug bounty program of their own to help keep kids safer.) From a small business point of view, this should be something that could be easily to replicate either online or on a local, grassroots level.
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