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Security Authors: Elizabeth White, Trevor Parsons, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Adam Vincent

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Security: Article

Employees 'Must be Taught' How to Protect Confidential Data

One security expert has warned about the increased use of social engineering by cybercriminals

Companies that are undergoing PCI compliance checks will have to ensure they educate all staff working with sensitive materials so that data is kept secure, it has been stated.

Research director at Gartner Australia Rob McMillan explained in an interview with Computer World that one of the biggest security threats of next year is likely to come from deceptive tactics that convince people to hand over information such as access credentials.

Server security behind protecting people's dataHe stated that this social engineering is becoming increasingly popular among cybercriminals looking to take advantage of non-IT personnel who do not have a high degree of technical knowledge and are unfamiliar with the techniques used by scammers. This could be a significant problem that businesses will have to deal with, as it can result in hackers being able to simply bypass advanced security solutions to access details such as customer payment information.

Mr McMillan explained it is becoming common for scammers to perform research into an organisation they intend to target and identity individuals who may be more likely to unwittingly hand over confidential information. He said this demonstrates "the need for stronger education and depth of understanding for non-security professionals who have access to important resources".

Research by Sophos has highlighted some of the most common techniques for this, such as scammers calling individuals within a company claiming to be from the IT department and asking to confirm login credentials. These criminals are often able to provide a high level of detail - such as the name of their target's boss - in order to convince people they are genuine.

Therefore, it will be vital that all staff working with sensitive information are aware of an IT department's policies regarding security so they can be aware of scams such as this.

One example highlighted by Computer World that takes advantage of people's lack of technical knowledge is the Windows Event Viewer scam, which has been in use for some years. This involves criminals calling a user and claiming to be from Microsoft tech support warning them about alleged bugs or viruses in their system. Individuals are then directed to open the Windows Event Viewer, where they will typically see a list of error messages.

While these are usually perfectly normal, the appearance of the display can be enough to convince some people their computer is infected, which leads to them handing over credit card details or downloading fake fixes or anti-virus programs that can actually contain malware.

Mr McMillan observed these social engineering scams have grown in prominence over the last four years and could potentially be a key security challenge for firms in 2013. This could cause serious issues for businesses - particularly in the current environment, where the big data trend means there is more sensitive information than ever being stored in companies' networks.

It was noted by Mr McMillan: "If you think about payment card industry compliance, you've got obligations to protect any of the data that falls under that regime." This means not only having robust security tools in place, but ensuring staff are well-educated in how to avoid falling victim to phishing scams and other attacks.

More Stories By Dominic Monkhouse

Dominic Monkhouse joined PEER 1 Hosting as managing director of the company's new UK operations in January, 2009, bringing more than 14 years of IT industry experience to the team. He is the key executive responsible for building and growing PEER 1 Hosting's expansion into Europe. In his role as managing director, Dominic is responsible for sales, marketing and service delivery across PEER 1 Hosting's UK business and ensuring overall customer satisfaction. His role is integral to the company's continued commitment to customer service.

Before joining PEER 1 Hosting, Dominic served as managing director of IT Lab, where he was able to quickly transform the company into the fastest growing IT service provider in the UK SME market. Prior to IT Lab, he was managing director of Rackspace, which grew from a staff of four to 150 under his guidance.

Dominic has a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle University and a MBA from Sheffield Business School in the UK. He frequently participates in public speaking events on the topic of creating great places to work and achieving continuous client satisfaction. He also is involved as a judge of the Sunday Times Customer Experience Awards.

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