This summer brought an interesting twist to that straight-forward situation: Can data leaked by an employee or a contractor be a good thing?
“Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” the company said in a press release.
Translation: We’re not sorry we got caught doing whatever we want, but we are sorry we hired the wrong vendor and will try not to do that again.
An Apple contractor shared a similar story with the Guardian a short time later. Recordings taken from the company’s audio assistant Siri were also being transcribed by third-party contractors. This time the news was worse. The company’s watch was consistently recording users without any explicit prompting. Weeks later, a contractor for Microsoft went to Vice with what at this point had become a familiar story, this time in connection with both Skype and Cortana.
Whistleblower or Data Leak?
The typical narrative is that someone with inside knowledge of a company or its technology is able to exploit it to some sort of ill purpose. The accused hacker behind the recent Capital One data breach had previously worked for Amazon Web Services and was able to exploit her knowledge of a common firewall misconfiguration to steal customer data: more than 100 million records. Anthem and Boeing similarly suffered large-scale breaches perpetrated by insiders.
HR or IT?
What’s interesting here (other than the revelation that just about every major IoT speech-recognition product on the market has been spying on us without telling us) is what it reveals about insider risk.
It seems increasingly apparent that risk has as much to do with a company’s HR department as it does its cybersecurity policy. A single disgruntled employee with an axe to grind is a familiar scenario, and one that can be mitigated through careful data management, but widespread unhappiness with a company’s ethical practices is significantly more difficult to manage. It brings to mind that semi-old adage, now-defunct company motto at Google: Don’t be evil. Or rather, be nicer to make yourself less of a target.
The new law of the cyber jungle: Widespread disapproval exponentially increases one’s attackable surface.
What’s the Takeaway?
From a strictly technical perspective, even a well-intentioned data leak has the unfortunate side effect of showing where in the supply chain companies are most vulnerable. If hackers weren’t aware that organizations were entrusting intimate customer data to external contractors, they most certainly know it now.
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