Spy in the boardroom – safeguarding the business from social media cyber security threats

It’s used everywhere; in the workplace, on the commute, at the coffee shop and even in our bedrooms – social media has become a key component of modern life.

Shielded by anonymity and with plenty of scope to uncover valuable information and catch employees off-guard, social networks are increasingly invaluable tools for cyber criminals, and often the first place they will go to gather intelligence on a target organisation.

Indeed, according to RSA, social media may be the fastest-growing communication channel for cyber criminals. Over six months, it observed a 70% growth in the volume of visible fraud activity on social media. So how can businesses protect themselves from the growing threat?

Understand the risks

As with any cyber threat, the best way to mitigate risk is to understand how social media can be misused and identify known and unknown vulnerabilities.

With a better understanding of the threats, stakeholders at all levels of the organisation will be more alert and informed, making the business less susceptible to the growing threat from social media cyber crime. 

Who works where, who reports into whom, what language and expressions do individuals use in posts and emails – there is a lot that cyber criminals can learn from social media accounts. 

From a phishing attack to social engineering, there are plenty of methods of exploiting day-to-day business activity and using employees as the access points for attacks on organisations. Whether that’s trying to infect a network with malware, steal credentials or gain access to the building.

Social engineering, for example, is widely used. Many people will accept friend requests on social media from people they don’t know – particularly if they’re attractive in their photograph – meaning cyber criminals don’t even have to impersonate a real person to access information being shared, target others in their network and gather meaningful intelligence.

As well as creating new identities, cyber criminals may also impersonate real individuals who either do not use, or are rarely active on social media, to target known friends, associates or the organisations they work for.

And it’s not just individual employees that are potential informants; the company may unwittingly betray itself online by sharing too much information. This could be images that allow attackers to identify access control systems, the location of CCTV cameras, or posts about the suppliers and vendors they use. This information doesn’t always need to be shared. Often, cyber criminals can find this out by identifying who the company likes and follows on social media and who likes and follows them back.

Building a security-aware culture

With so many avenues into the organisation through social media, security awareness is paramount. Any individual in any role can be exploited as a weak link in an organisation’s armour, making it more important than ever to build an organisation-wide, security-aware culture with a clear understanding and appreciation of social media cyber risks.

Ultimately, it is staff that are interacting with pages, posts and clicking on links. If they are properly trained, aware of the threats and able to identify them, they will inevitably be less likely to unwittingly give away information or expose the business to attack.

User training should be structured and ongoing, providing a continuous stream of information about the latest threats, what to look out for, and best practices to employ. It should also include simulations on a regular basis to improve staff understanding of the different types of attacks and how convincing cyber criminals can be in a safe setting.

As well as highlighting social media-linked threats, phishing emails and a range of other threats, a best-practice approach will also build in other protection methods such as multi-factor authentication, password managers, keeping browsers up to date and only using reputable plug-ins.

More sophisticated organisations will also undertake red team assessments to catch the business off-guard. This is a full-attack simulation that focuses on attacking all areas of the organisation, both through physical and cyber measures, making it an extremely effective way to test and build resilience.

Acting the part of cybercriminals, security experts will attempt to breach networks and systems, employ social engineering tactics via email, social media and in person, and will also try to gain physical access to premises and devices to expose and highlight vulnerabilities. Red teaming may also be goal-led and focus on testing bring-your-own (BYO) devices to gain access to the corporate network.

In a recent exercise, employees were sent a message from someone posing as a member of the organisation’s IT team. The email stated that one of the employee’s social media posts had breached corporate guidelines and had to be taken down immediately. The email contained a link to the offending post (which of course was not a link to the non-existent article by embedded malware) prompting an immediate and emotional reaction from employees who were nervous about what they had posted and clicked on the link.

Damage limitation

While awareness building, risk assessments and audits will go a long way to prevent cyber security threats, organisations must assume that an attack will happen. It’s no longer a case of if but when and organisations should focus on building cyber security resilience so that they can mitigate risk by ensuring that the business knows how to respond to specific threats.

In today’s digital society, any interactions on social media may be seized upon and exploited by cyber criminals. As with all threats, forewarned is forearmed, making employee awareness a must. By working with an accredited cyber security specialist to develop a robust training programme, businesses can mitigate the potentially damaging consequences to the organisation, its reputation, and its balance sheet.

About the Author

James Smith is Principal Security Consultant & Head of Penetration Testing at Bridewell Consulting. Bridewell Consulting is an NCSC Certified Cyber Security Consultancy providing high quality security and risk consulting services at affordable prices. Whatever your needs, Bridewell is able to respond quickly and efficiently.

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