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Saturday, 28 November 2020 06:36

Sophos tight-lipped about data breach, no lessons learnt from WannaCry bungle Featured

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Sophos tight-lipped about data breach, no lessons learnt from WannaCry bungle Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

It's surprising that global cyber security firm Sophos has hidden from public view the fact that it has suffered a security breach which is said to have taken place during the week.

A tweet from security researcher Stefano Benato included a screenshot of a message that Sophos sent to its customers.

As a seller of cyber security services, it is not a good look to be breached; one always avoids a doctor who is unable to look after his/her own health. 

But that should not prevent Sophos from having an educated response: putting out a full blog post about the attack, drafting a media release and placing it on its website, and generally acting in a manner that befits a company of its size and reputation.

In 2019, the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro demonstrated the best way to handle a security incident was by being open about it. Norsk was breached through a ransomware attack on a Windows machine.

Mind you, this publicly-listed aluminium producer employs 36,000 people in 40 countries and reported a profit of 4.3 billion Norwegian crowns (US$505 million) in 2018, with sales topping out at 159.4 billion Norwegian crowns.

The company was totally open to the media, even conducting tours for newsmen and television cameras. Numerous press releases and videos were issued about the incident as the investigation progressed. As a result, its stock price was hardly affected by the incident.

Closer to home, Australian ISP Aussie Broadband took a similar approach when its services suffered an outage over a weekend in October 2018.

Chief executive Phillip Britt posted a chronological account of what had happened, right from 11am on the Saturday of that weekend when one of the company's firewalls went down due to a rush of traffic from what appeared to be a compromised host on the network.

It earned him and the company, one of the better ISPs in Australia, deserved kudos.

To stay quiet when a security incident or outage happens is not a good look; there is nothing on the Sophos website, or Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Sophos even has its own "news" site, where security guru Paul Ducklin writes very good tales about various things. He would have been a good man to write about the breach. But Sophos apparently doesn't think so.

Despite the cultured approach it takes to generating publicity for itself, Sophos has shown itself to be clumsy and inept when it comes to handling publicity.

I had personal experience of this when I wrote about the way the company had tried to spin matters during the WannaCry ransomware crisis of May 2017. At that time, Britain's National Health Service was one of the organisations really badly affected – and it had been a Sophos client.

The company had a big logo on its site saying "The NHS is totally protected with Sophos", and quietly took that down, hoping that nobody had spotted it. Alas, in these days of social media, there is always an individual or two who spots these attempts to cover one's arse.

British security researcher Kevin Beaumont was the one who exposed Sophos and his tweet read: "Life comes at you fast." [On a side note, I really miss Beaumont's witty tweets which he has had to moderate after he joined Microsoft a few months back.]

Not content with this, Sophos then tried to spin things even further, sending iTWire an email in a bid to "clarify" things.

When one is in a hole, the best thing to do is to stop digging, but Sophos' PR people appear to be blissfully unaware of this. You can read the details of their ham-handed effort to "clarify" things here.

One would think that the WannaCry episode would have taught a company of this size that full disclosure is the best way to handle a data breach. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. No lessons learnt at all.

It appears that the same inept people are handing public relations at Sophos, in a manner reminiscent of the 19th century.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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