News & AnalysisSecurity

Forget Data Privacy; 80% Of Firms Don’t Even Have A Password Policy

On Data Privacy Day (January 28) researchers alert organizations that immediate action is needed to avoid costly attacks

data privacy

The pandemic has forced more people, businesses, and governments to move online. That means consumers can rightly expect that the brands and organizations they deal with on a daily basis, would protect their data online. However, a new study by cyber protection firm Acronis shows that 80% of companies do not even have an established password policy, forget protecting and safeguarding user data, which would be too much to ask!

The findings released on the eve of international Data Privacy Day (January 28) is extremely disturbing, considering our normal lives now happens online – be it work, studies, shopping and even socializing. The cyber protection experts further warn that breaches in 2021 are poised to expose more data than ever and alert organizations that immediate action is needed to avoid costly attacks.

Between 15-20% of the passwords used in a business environment include the name of the company, making them easier to compromise, the study said, giving the examples of two of the recent high-profile breaches to illustrate this problem. Like, before its Orion compromise, SolarWinds was warned that one of its update servers had a publicly known password of “solarwinds123”, while former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account was hacked because the password was allegedly “maga2020!”, the study says.

Of the organizations that do have a password policy in place, the researchers found many rely on default passwords – and up to 50% of those are categorized as weak.

Attackers know these weak password practices are widespread and, with so many employees working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, cyber criminals have targeted the less secure systems of these remote workers. Acronis analysts observed a dramatic increase in the number of brute force attacks during 2020 and found that password stuffing was the second most used cyberattack last year, just behind phishing.

“The sudden rush to remote work during the pandemic accelerated the adoption of cloud-based solutions,” explains Candid Wüest, VP of Cyber Protection Research at Acronis.

“In making that transition, however, many companies didn’t keep their cybersecurity and data protection requirements properly in focus. Now, those companies are realizing that ensuring data privacy is a crucial part of a holistic cyber protection strategy – one that incorporates cybersecurity and data protection – and they need to enact stronger safeguards for remote workers,” he mentions.

Financial and reputational risks

While the business community is recognizing that better cyber protection is needed to ensure the privacy of their data and their customers’ data, awareness among digital users continues to lag. One report found that 48% of employees admit they are less likely to follow safe data practices when working from home.

“Poor password hygiene and lax cybersecurity habits of remote workers are among the reasons we expect the financial impact of data exfiltration will soar in 2021, as bad actors can more easily access and steal valuable company data. The trend is similar to one now seen among ransomware attackers, who are stealing proprietary or embarrassing data and then threatening to publish it if the victim doesn’t pay,” says Wüest.

Last year, Acronis said, it identified more than 1,000 companies around the world that experienced a data leak following a ransomware attack.

data privacy2Source: Acronis Cyber Protection Operations Centers (CPOCs)

Implementing tighter authentication requirements

To avoid the costly downtime, significant reputational damage in the marketplace, and steep regulatory fines that can be caused by a data breach, cybersecurity researchers at Acronis recommend the following best practices:

  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires users to complete two or more verification methods to access a company network, system, or VPN, should be the standard for all organizations. By combining passwords with an additional verification method, such as a fingerprint scan or randomized PIN from a mobile app, the organization is still protected if an attacker guesses or breaks a user’s password.
  • Zero trust model should be adopted to ensure data security and privacy. All users, whether they are working remotely or operating inside the corporate network, are required to authenticate themselves, prove their authorization, and continuously validate their security to access and use company data and systems.
  • User and entity behavior analytics helps automate an organization’s protection. By monitoring the normal activity of users with AI and statistical analysis, the system can recognize behavior that deviates from normal patterns – particularly those that indicate a breach has occurred and data theft is underway.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com