According to a Washington-based IT security watchdog, the Online Trust Alliance (OTA), 2013 was the worst ever year for information security breaches.
The organisation estimated that more than 740 million pieces of online data were exposed during that period, according to Motherboard Watch magazine. Midway through 2014, it does not look as though this year will quite scale the heights of 2013 in terms of data breaches, but some major IT security intrusions have indeed come to light.
In May this year, the online retailer eBay announced on its corporate blog that one of its databases had been hacked, which it claimed only contained encrypted passwords, along with some other non-financial information.
This episode, whilst troubling in its own terms, partly because of eBay’s high profile, was then exacerbated by the firm’s own response to the intrusion. The company asked all of its 128 million active users to change their passwords. It subsequently faced criticism for the delay in making the request to users, as well as for initially making the password reset process too fiddly.
Some security experts also argued that eBay should have programmatically forced a password reset, thereby making it mandatory for users to change their passwords before they could continue using the site. Whilst the full impact of this cyber-attack is yet to be gauged, the criminals did have access to some 145 million user records, albeit encrypted, which is a significant concern for eBay, not least in terms of reputation.
In January, the world of social networking was hit by a data breach at Snapchat. The picture sharing site was subject to a major cyber-attack, during which the names and phone numbers of around 4.6 million users were downloaded and then posted, for a short time, online. Snapchat responded by saying that measures had now been taken to protect user data.
Meanwhile, the world of retail has not been exempt from data breaches in 2014. In April, the biggest arts and crafts retailer in the US, Michaels, confirmed that a security intrusion had run from May 2013, until February 2014.
The attack was on the systems that process customer payment cards at Michaels and Aaron Brothers stores, with data from nearly 3 million cards possibly being affected. However, a recent attempt to take a class action against Michaels over the breach was thrown out of court by an Illinois district judge, because financial loss could not at the time be demonstrated. Even so, the loss of customer data on such a scale clearly raises concerns about identity theft.
Chinese espionage indictment
Finally, 2014 has been a landmark year in the area of cyber espionage. In May, the US Attorney-General, Eric Holder, launched the first-ever criminal cyber espionage case against China. A group of Chinese military officials are charged with penetrating the IT systems of US companies in order to steal industrial information.
The indictment accused the officials of trying to target a number of US installations, including nuclear power plants.
It is unlikely that the Chinese officials will ever appear in America to face trial, but even so, this case emphasises just how seriously the US is now taking the issue of cyber espionage.