6 Sinister Cybersecurity Horror Stories
6 Sinister Cybersecurity Horror Stories
A cyberattack creates a living nightmare for your business. Suddenly you’re facing the terrors of data loss, compromised devices, and the appalling threat of shutting down your business.
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which reminds everyone about the dangers of cyber threats. Of course, cybersecurity is a year-round issue with risks that can become full-fledged horror stories at any moment.
In this haunting spirit, Elliman Technologies presents 6 cybersecurity horror stories. As you read through them, imagine one of these terrifying tales unfolding at your business.
When Ransomware Attacks!
It was a chilly and dark autumn morning just a few days before Halloween. Still cozy in her bed, Regan fired up her laptop for her daily ritual of reading emails and checking up on her housecleaning business first thing in the morning.
She tried logging into her company’s client management system. Instead of entering her password and seeing the usual welcome page, she saw blood-red words splattered on the screen in all caps: ACCESS DENIED.
“Whoops!” she whispered, thinking she must have typed her password incorrectly. But she tried again and again, and each time the same message screamed across her laptop screen: ACCESS DENIED.
Regan didn’t realize it yet, but failed attempts to access data are among the first warning signs of a ransomware attack in progress. Even as Regan’s mind reeled with worries about what was going wrong, a cybercriminal was already unleashing malware and capturing her data in a vicious trap.
Next, Regan tried logging into her Gmail account to see if anyone at her company knew what was happening. Her Gmail opened, but her heart sank when she saw the following message:
Dear Business Owner:
Your company data access has been disabled. Send an international money order of $10,000 to Pazuzu Corp by October 31 or your access will be permanently restricted.
Regan didn’t remember doing any business with Pazuzu Corp, but she couldn’t shake a dreadful feeling that the company had somehow compromised her computer access. Since she was in charge of the company’s client database, she felt responsible for finding out what was going on.
Scared and shaken, she did a little online research. She was devastated to learn that ransomware attacks are now the #1 most common type of cyberattack for small businesses. Cybercriminals limit access to your private data, then demand payment of an expensive ransom.
A demand of $10,000, like Regan saw in her email, is somewhere in the mid-range of small business demands from ransom hackers. Ransom demands can range widely, from just $500 for small companies to upwards of $1 million for big businesses. Research shows that 32% of businesses ultimately pay the ransom, but they usually only get about 65% of their data back.
Victims have few choices when a ransomware attack reaches the point of no return. You can either pay off the criminals to regain access to your data, start over from scratch, or – in the best case scenario – initiate a backup and recovery plan that was already in place.
Alas, Regan’s scary story has a sad ending. Because she’d never set up a backup data storage plan, she had no other option. She had to pay the $10,000 ransom and scramble to set up better data protection for the future. The ransomware attack nearly destroyed her business.
Beware: The Internet of Things
As Damien unlocked his insurance company entrance and creaked the door open, he noticed the alarm system didn’t make its usual reassuring beep. The reception area seemed eerily dead.
No computer monitors were glowing. No indicator lights were shining out from the router or modem. The security system’s digital alarm box was dark, and the room echoed with utter silence.
Suddenly, a tiny mechanical whirr jolted Damien from his confusion. In the corner of the ceiling, the security camera came to life and slowly twisted toward him. As it halted and focused intently on his face, its pulsing black eye gazed deep into his mind.
Damien had a dark feeling that his possessions were possessed. He was the victim of Internet of Things (IoT) cybercrime.
In an IoT cyberattack, thieves crack into devices scattered around a home or business. Almost anything hooked up to the internet can potentially be controlled, including cameras, smart TVs, thermostats, smartwatches, lights, and computer workstations. Even refrigerators and coffee pots are IoT devices these days.
After cybercriminals gain access, they can do all kinds of nefarious deeds. They might watch to see what you do, the way Damien’s camera creepily monitored his movements. They could also track your fingers typing on computers and mobile devices, capturing company passwords and other sensitive data. As long as they control your devices, the IoT thieves are on the lookout for any bits of information they can gather from your things.
In a way, Damien was lucky to notice his IoT issue fairly quickly. Nevertheless, his company’s devices were already out of his control. That’s why his camera acted “possessed” – the hacker was able to control it remotely from a mysterious location.
Regaining full control from an IoT attacker can be exceptionally difficult. It takes an arduous process of identifying the infected devices and tracking down every possible point of entry. Then the entire network and its individual devices must be fully protected with cybersecurity measures.
Damien’s damage was done long before he ever realized it. IBM reports that the average company takes 200 or more days to notice the warning signs of a cyberattack. By then, your company is already the main character in a real-life horror story.
The Devastating Zero-Day Exploit
Carrie couldn’t wait to start work on Monday. It was the very first day of running her brand-new small business, and she was the company founder and president.
She was her own boss! A lifelong goal!
She’d just hired a dozen new employees, including a freelance IT guy who was already working his magic to set up her digital infrastructure. So she was surprised to see a text from him early Monday morning that said, “Can we talk? There’s an issue.”
Carrie called Michael, who ominously asked, “Do you know what a zero-day exploit is?”
Michael went on to explain that Carrie’s company was already experiencing a type of cyberattack. Hackers had noticed her lack of cybersecurity. Carrie hadn’t thought it was a big deal yet since her company was just forming, so she hadn’t taken any steps to protect her data.
This can be a catastrophic mistake. Zero-day attackers make the assumption that nobody is paying attention, so they rip through data and gather as much as possible, as quickly as possible before someone notices. They often exploit brand-new and poorly guarded systems that are still in the development stage.
Back at Carrie’s company, the hackers were running rampant through her company’s client database, inventory, and payment system. They were stealing everything from client credit card numbers to her new employees’ personal details. Before her company even opened, it was already being destroyed from the inside out.
Carrie gasped at Michael’s description of the problem, and asked, “Why is it called ‘zero-day’?”
“Because you have zero days to fix it,” Michael answered. “And I quit.”
Curse of the Texas Credit Card Theft
Every time Chuck tried to use his company credit card for legitimate business purposes, it was rejected. He asked his boss what was going on, but she shrugged and said, “Who knows?”
As Chuck pondered what to do next, the company’s chief financial officer (CFO) came running up to his desk, out of breath. He’d just received a call from the Texas Attorney General’s office about a ring of identity thieves. Someone had stolen Chuck’s credit card number and was making thousands of dollars in fraudulent purchases, posing as him.
Chuck was now one of the 15 million people who have their identities stolen every year. Business-related identity theft is on the rise, with B2B fraud accounting for $7 billion in annual damage. Small to mid-size businesses are increasingly the main targets of identity theft because they’re more likely than big corporations to have unsecured data.
Chuck felt like all eyes were on him. Did his bosses blame him? Did they think he was lying? What were the cybercriminals doing with his information? Was he going to go to jail?
The CFO delivered bad news. Chuck’s employer was now facing an open investigation, standing accused of using unsafe credit card processing practices and exposing customer data.
Chuck’s company had failed to secure anything – their computer network, the company’s credit cards, and the Visa credit card processing system. According to Visa’s rules, they should have been maintaining isolation between the credit card system and the company’s unsecured web browsing system, where the breach may have occurred.
By the time this horror story reached its conclusion, Chuck avoided jail but was out of a job. His company’s owner gave up and decided to close the business rather than continue to live a cybersecurity nightmare.
The Demon in the Database
“Your last day is today.”
Tiffany heard her boss say the words and felt something dark burst apart in her mind. He was firing her? After all the money she’d made for this company? Outrageous!
Tiffany smiled sweetly and pretended to take the news well, but inside she was burning with rage. She went back to her desk and silently seethed, staring intently at her computer screen’s flashing cursor.
Hmm … What if she made a few quick changes to the client files?
She opened the client management system and clicked around wildly. As a salesperson, she didn’t know much about how the digital database worked, but she figured she could probably do some fast damage. After all, the company’s cybersecurity was nonexistent.
Without even entering a password, Tiffany was able to access the back end of the client database. She started deleting any file with the word “contract” or “budget.” In some areas of the database, she just highlighted long lists of files and clicked the picture of the trash can until she got bored.
Tiffany glanced up and looked around the office. Nope, nobody was paying any attention, so she kept going. She deleted all files associated with some of the company’s biggest clients. Just for fun, she ran a search-and-replace for all instances of her boss’ name and replaced them with a curse word.
Terabytes of company data loss took less than 30 minutes. Afterward, Tiffany tossed her belongings into a box, gave her boss an evil smile, and danced out the door, never to be seen again.
This scary scenario is a reminder to password-protect your systems and create role-based restrictions to prevent access by employees who don’t need it. When you terminate an employee, lock them out of your systems immediately to avoid devastating damage.
Nancy’s Nightmare of Stalkerware
He’s watching. He’s always watching.
Freddy giggles as Nancy breezes into the dental office. He’s hundreds of miles away, but he still sees her little white dot moving on his phone and pictures her bright white smile in his mind.
Nancy doesn’t know Freddy watches her at work. He watches when she goes shopping. He watches when she’s sleeping in her bed at night.
Months before, back when they were still dating, Freddy installed stalkerware on Nancy’s work cellphone. After they broke up, he continued to track her movements.
Stalkerware is a type of remote monitoring software that allows a stalker to see what someone is doing with their device. About 8% of all adults in romantic relationships have fallen victim to this type of digital stalking or surveillance.
For business owners, stalkerware is a true nightmare. An unsuspecting employee can bring stalkerware into the work environment and expose all kinds of private data.
Still, Nancy’s employer never took precautions to protect the office’s computer network, business database, landline phones, company cell phones, or anything else. Nancy’s dental office is among the 95% of small business owners who don’t believe cybersecurity is a major business threat until something horrible happens.
This is particularly frightening for a business that faces strict regulatory control, like those in banking and healthcare. Nancy’s dental office is now facing a potential HIPAA violation, which comes with fines up to $250,000 and the threat of jail time for criminal negligence.
Meanwhile, Freddy’s still watching. He’s always watching.
How to Stop a Cybersecurity Horror Story
Here’s the silver lining to these scary stories: The best way to stop them is to prevent them from ever happening in the first place. Protect every aspect of your business with best-in-class managed services and reliable IT support that’s on duty all day and all night, all the time.
Scare away cybercrime with Elliman Technologies. We stay ahead of digital vulnerabilities with superior security tools and cybersecurity techniques that exceed the industry’s highest standards.
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