The personal details of about 2 million Vodafone Germany customers have been exposed in a hack that's making international headlines. According to the company, hackers tapped into an information pool of addresses, bank account numbers and dates of birth.
"Vodafone Germany has world-class security systems that are constantly updated and upgraded to block new emerging threats. However, this attack was highly complex and conducted with inside knowledge of our most secure internal systems," the company said in a statement.
"As soon as we discovered the incident we took all necessary steps to stop the attack, minimize any adverse impact for our customers and notify all relevant German authorities," company officials said. "We are sending our sincere apologies to everyone affected for any disruption caused."
We're All in Danger
We caught up with Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at Sophos, to get his analysis on the latest breach. He told us whenever personally identifiable information is purloined by online criminals, it increases the risk to the victims, despite what the vendor might claim.
"This advice doesn't just apply to the two million who we know had their information stolen. It applies to everyone, all the time. Many criminals might try to use this information offline as well as online, so be cautious of any suspicious activity, like incoming phone calls claiming to be your bank," he added.
On-Premise Security Fails
We also asked Kevin O'Brien, an enterprise solution architect at CloudLock, for reaction to the Vodafone hack. He told us it reveals as yet another example of how and why on-premise data security models have failed to keep up with an increasingly interconnected world: Servers that contain critical data, such as personally identifiable information that was stolen in the Vodafone hack, should not be accessible on the public Internet.
"The problem is that organizations cannot keep up with the ever-changing set of vulnerabilities, patches, and zero-day exploits that leave this kind of information at risk," O'Brien said. "While we don't yet know the details of how this particular server was compromised, it is fair to guess that a known issue was used to gain access -- an outdated version of either the OS or some piece of software running on the system, through which the attacker was able to gain adequate permissions to read and ultimately get away with high-value information."
As O'Brien sees it, defense-in-depth strategies could have helped in the Vodafone breach. At no point in time should any single system weakness have yielded such important assets to a hacker, he said. And we can reasonably question why this kind of information was being stored on an insecure system in the first place.
"Unfortunately, legacy information protection tends to rely upon an outdated model of perceiving data as being 'in motion' or 'at rest,' and applying security controls only at the network perimeters, such as when that information is being attached to an email or externalized via a copy operation onto a portable media device," he said.
Even under the best circumstances, O'Brien said when this information is encrypted on the disk and transmitted in a secure fashion, a single system compromise can result in the complete failure of the defense system. Coupled with reliance upon a likely overburdened IT team member, this type of hack is the result.
"Hopefully, Vodafone will use this as an opportunity to revisit their data residency strategy, and determine if now is the time to transition their data strategy away from the technology model of 20-plus years ago," O'Brien said. "Cloud-based data storage, especially with modern security platforms complementing the excellent level of physical and network maintenance provided by cloud service providers, can make this kind of data breach a thing of the past."