March 2014 in review: On Target

It was difficult to come up with words to describe the magnitude of the Target stores data breach in the U.S. This month it was difficult to describe how clumsy the IT security team apparently was. And it cost the CIO her job.

Those were among the highlights of the tech news this month. Also in the headlines, why people should think twice when police and intelligence agencies say the cellphone metadata they gather is innocuous, Ontario’s internationally-renowned privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian will leave for academia, Symantec got impatient with its CEO and Cisco Systems said it will open a Canadian Internet of Things lab.

BusinessWeek put together an astonishing chronology on the Target data breach, which vendors gleefully recounted at many security conferences through the rest of the year. You couldn’t blame the board and CEO for being distant on security at this corporation: Several months before the break-in Target had subscribed to a state of the art threat intelligence service. It worked. Not only did the service send an alert, so did the anti-virus service it subscribed to. For some reason the warnings were ignored.

Not only that, the hackers had the gall — and the time — to update malware they installed. Worse, reportedly Target’s IT department hadn’t segregated its POS network from the rest of the company, leaving it open when hackers got in through the Web site of a ventilation contractor that had access to the Target system.

Target’s own IT staff didn’t know what was going on. It was the U.S. Justice department that tipped it off.

Network segregation and data encryption. If you didn’t know before, now you do.

Not that people on this side of the border are any less clumsy. This month a report into the November, 2013 loss of a portable hard drive by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) containing the personal information of 583,000 student loan recipients was released, an incident the federal privacy commissioner suggested could have been avoided.

The drive was left “unsecured for extended periods of time; not password protected; and held personnel information that was unencrypted.” There were policies that could have prevented the loss , but they weren’t implemented .

Still on security, our staffer Candice So found out how Microsoft runs its bug bounty program. And a report released this month by Ontario’s privacy commissioner on using mobile location data from devices to better know consumers  can — if properly done — still give retailers a good understanding of their customers and not violate privacy worries.

Among the solutions being touted for IT security is voice biometrics. During the month I interviewed Brett Beranek of Nuance Communications about its potential.

Finally, under pressure from both foreign governments and independent Internet governance bodies, the Obama administration signaled it intends to move key Internet domain name functions the U.S. government oversees to multistakeholder bodies. There are complaints from some governments that it looks like the U.S. controls the Internet, although these complaints often come from authoritarian countries.

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to bring together groups to develop a proposal to drop NTIA’s role in co-ordinating the Internet’s domain name system (DNS).

But Washington said it “will not accept a proposal that replaces NTIA’s role with a government-led or an inter-governmental solution.”

At this writing the proposed new governance is still being debated.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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