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Amnesty International says ‘state sponsored’ hackers targeted Hong Kong base

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EU rethinks relationship with China as new corporate espionage case surfaces
A new case of suspected Chinese industrial espionage highlights Europe’s tricky balancing act between exploiting opportunities in China and guarding against the theft of technology back home.

Amnesty International’s Hong Kong office has been hit with a cyberattack that the group says is the work of a state-sponsored team whose tactics are consistent with those supported by the Chinese government.

The London-based group said on Thursday night that the cyberattack was first detected on 15 March 2019 on the Hong Kong arm’s local IT systems.

After detection, Amnesty said a “global taskforce” was set up to address the issue, which included pulling in cyberforensics and security professionals. 

Affected systems have been analyzed and protection is now in place in order to mitigate the risk of further compromise.

Until the investigation is complete, the human rights advocates will not reveal specific data relating to what areas were targeted, or why.

See also: Chinese hackers strike US universities in bid for military technology

However, information may have been compromised in the attack as Amnesty said it has contacted all individuals whose information may have been exposed. Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong also said that the cyberattack was an “outrageous attempt to harvest information and obstruct our human rights work.”

A spokesperson for Amnesty told the South China Morning Post that supporters’ names, Hong Kong identity card numbers and personal contact information were compromised, but financial data remains safe.

In an unusual move, Amnesty has also provided attribution. Companies and cybersecurity vendors alike often do not like to provide direct attribution — especially while an investigation is underway — but Amnesty says that the cyberattack is the work of specific advanced persistent threat groups (APTs) and past campaigns which have been linked to the Chinese government.

“The first phase of the investigation found extensive evidence that the perpetrators belonged to a known APT group, utilizing tactics, techniques and procedures consistent with a well-developed adversary,” Amnesty says.

TechRepublic: Most SMBs would pay a hacker a ransom to get their stolen data back

This is not the first time that Amnesty has been targeted, given the group’s work with other NGOs, activists, journalists, and civil rights movements worldwide. 

Back in August, Amnesty said one of its staff members was the target of a malicious WhatsApp phishing campaign believed to be the work of Saudi officials. In March, Amnesty said that local human rights defenders, the media, and civil society organizations were being spear phished in a wave attributed to Egyptian authorities.

CNET: NSA reportedly recommends retiring phone surveillance program

Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data has been notified of the cyberattack.

“The privacy and safety of all those we work with remains our priority,” said Tam. “We took swift action to secure our systems and have provided guidance to help individuals ensure their personal data is protected.”

A technical report on the attack will be released once the investigation has concluded. 

Previous and related coverage


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Work from Home Security

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Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company that invents toys and games, produces dozens of television and studio series that are distributed in 160 countries, and creates a variety of digital games played by more than 30 million children. What was once a small private company founded by childhood friends is now a public global supply chain with over 1,500 employees and 28 offices around the world.

Like most organizations in 2020, Spin Master had to adapt quickly to the new normal of remote work, shifting most of its production from cubicles in regional and head offices to hundreds of employees working from home and other remote locations.

This dramatic shift created potential security risks, as most employees were no longer behind the firewall on the corporate network. Without the implementation of hardened endpoint security, the door would be open for bad actors to infiltrate the organization, acquire intellectual property, and ransom customer information. Additionally, the potential downtime caused by a security breach could harm the global supply chain. With that in mind, Spin Master created a self-imposed 30-day deadline to extend its network protection capabilities to the edge.

Key Findings:

  • Think Long Term: The initial goal of establishing a stop-gap work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategy has since morphed into a permanent strategy, requiring long-term solutions.
  • Gather Skills: The real urgency posed by the global pandemic made forging partnerships with providers that could fill all the required skill sets a top priority.
  • Build Momentum: The compressed timeline left no room for delay or error. The Board of Directors threw its support behind the implementation team and gave it broad budget authority to ensure rapid action, while providing active guidance to align strategy with action.
  • Deliver Value: The team established two key requirements that the selected partner must deliver: implementation support and establishing an ongoing managed security operations center (SOC).
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Key Criteria for Evaluating Privileged Access Management

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Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables administrative access to critical IT systems while minimizing the chances of security compromises through monitoring, policy enforcement, and credential management.

A key operating principle of all PAM systems is the separation of user credentials for individual staff members from the system administration credentials they are permitted to use. PAM solutions store and manage all of the privileged credentials, providing system access without requiring users to remember, or even know, the privileged password. Of course, all staff have their own unique user ID and password that they use to complete everyday tasks such as accessing email and writing documents. Users who are permitted to handle system administration tasks that require privileged credentials log into the PAM solution, which provides and controls such access according to predefined security policies. These policies control who is allowed to use which privileged credentials when, where, and for what tasks. An organization’s policy may also require logging and recording of the actions undertaken with the privileged credentials.

Once implemented, PAM will improve your security posture in several ways. The first is by segregating day-to-day duties from duties that require elevated access, reducing the risk of accidental privileged actions. Secondly, automated password management reduces the possibility that credentials will be shared while also lowering the risk if credentials are accidentally exposed. Finally, extensive logging and activity recording in PAM solutions aids audits of critical system access for both preventative and forensic security.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure

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Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:

  • Ease of deployment
  • Outstanding ROI
  • Overall TCO improvement

Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.

Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:

    • Improving overall performance for backups
    • Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
    • Replacing components difficult to manage and support

In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.

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