Businesses warned to prepare for cyber security extortion campaigns

Directors, lawyers and doctors are the top extortion targets of cyber criminals, researchers tracking  sextortion attempts reveals.

Directors, lawyers and doctors are the top extortion targets of cyber criminals, researchers tracking  sextortion attempts reveals.

Cyber criminal groups are promising rewards of £276,300 a year on average to accomplices who help them target high-worth individuals with extortion scams research reports.

The reward promises are even higher for accomplices with network management, penetration testing and programming skills, according to researchers at risk protection firm Digital Shadows.

One threat actor, the report said, was offering £600,000 a year, with add-ons and a final salary after the second year of £840,000.

The main method of cyber security extortion where criminals deem potential victims to be particularly vulnerable is so-called “sextortion”.

Digital Shadows tracked a sample of sextortion campaigns and found that from July 2018 to February 2019 over 89,000 unique recipients faced around 792,000 extortion attempts.

An analysis of bitcoin wallets associated with these scams found that sextortionists could be reaping an average of £414 per victim.

The campaigns follow a similar pattern, the researcher found, in which the extortionist provides the target with a known password as “proof” of compromise, then claims to have video footage of the victim watching adult content online, and finally urges them to pay a ransom to a specified bitcoin address.

However, the researchers said other campaigns can be even more sinister, with one spam campaign from December 2018 claiming that recipients will be “killed” if they did not pay.

Extortion is in part being fuelled by the number of ready made extortion materials readily available on criminal forums, the researchers said, adding that these are lowering the barriers to entry for wannabe criminals with sensitive corporate documents, intellectual property and extortion manuals being sold on by more experienced criminals to service aspiring extortionists for less than £10.

In one example, seen by Digital Shadows, the guide specifically focuses on a sextortion tactic whereby the threat actor begins an online relationship with a married man and then threatens to reveal details of the affair to his partner unless a ransom is paid.

The guide claims this extortion method is the easiest for “novice”’ threat actors to start with, suggesting they could earn between £230 and £380 per extortion attempt. Dedicated subsections exist on criminal forums for this type of dating scam.

Even greater levels of sophistication could be around the corner, the researchers warn, if so-called “crowd-funding” schemes take off.

In April 2018, threat actor “thedarkoverlord” stole documents belonging to the insurance provider, Hiscox, including files related to the 9/11 attacks in the US. The threat actor hoped to play on the public’s appetite for 9/11-related controversy and encourages people to raise funds to view the documents. Currently this campaign has amassed around £8,904.

Crowdfunding models such as this, the researchers said, allow extortionists to raise funds from the general public rather than relying on victims giving in to ransom demands. Organisations dealing with inflammatory or sensational information should therefore consider how they would respond if an attacker opts for this course of action, they said.

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O2 crash proves that humans are the weakest link in cyber security

The O2 mobile network failure that took out data access for some 30 million people recently was caused by an expired software certificate.

The O2 mobile network failure that took out data access for some 30 million people recently was caused by an expired software certificate

No programming error, no undiscovered bug, no malicious interference, but one of the most basic systems administration mistakes you can imagine. Someone somewhere just forgot to renew a certificate.

As a wise voice once said, there’s no patch for stupidity. And herein lies the great unspoken conundrum at the heart of the digital revolution.

Computers go wrong.

Why? Because they’re designed, manufactured, programmed, configured, secured and operated by the most fallible, unpredictable and unreliable resource in the technology world – people.

Of course, it’s those same people who every day ensure that the IT systems supporting every company and government in the world work mostly as intended, who keep the internet running and protect the vast majority of our personal data.

That’s because people are pretty good at computers these days. But we’ll never be perfect.

The job of running IT systems is becoming increasingly abstracted from the technology – virtualisation, cloud, containers, serverless, orchestration, all these trends aim to remove that human fallibility from everyday tasks. Not forgetting that it still takes another human somewhere to make those technologies work in the first place.

Much as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are replacing or augmenting corporate jobs, so the IT department will see further dramatic change as more of its responsibilities are taken over by software robots. Of course, those software robots were created and programmed by humans too.

And they aren’t exactly perfect – as the Amazon workers in a New Jersey warehouse found out this week, when a robot accidentally punctured a can of bear repellent, sending 24 staff to hospital.

There is, correctly, much debate about ethics in AI and technology, not least the need to prevent human bias from becoming too infused in the algorithms they rely on.

People outside IT are taking more of an interest in the workings of IT than ever before. It’s fair to assume those non-IT types are pretty fallible too.

The outage was a small reminder of how reliant most of us have become on technology.

When O2 went down, there was much humour taken from the sight of people trying to consult paper maps to find their way around, and attempted insights from those who found a whole new world beyond the smartphone they’d been glued to until then.

For all the great advances of recent decades, it’s going to be a long time before we no longer see headlines screaming “computer crash”. Whether through malice or simple error, human fallibility is a part of our digital future too.

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UK business in the dark on impact of cyber security attacks

UK businesses so not understand the resilience required to withstand cyber security threats, a study shows.

UK business in the dark on impact of cyber security attacks

While 99% of UK business leaders believe that making technology resilient to business disruptions is important, only 54% claim their organisation is as resilient as it needs to be, a study has revealed.

In recent years, the security industry has increasingly recognised the importance of focusing on resilience to ensure that when defences are breached, organisations are able to reduce the impact on the business.

A fifth of more than 1,000 UK business decision makers polled by security firm Tanium admitted they would not be able to calculate indirect costs from lost revenue and productivity following a cyber attack.

The Tanium resilience gap study also found that there are more barriers to achieving the resilience that 97% of respondents believe to be important, with 38% of respondents blaming their organisation’s growing complexity as one of the biggest barriers to building business resilience, while 21% blame siloed business units.

Asked about their team and tools, 35% of respondent said the issue lies with the hackers being more sophisticated than IT teams, 21% claim that they do not have the skills needed within the company to detect cyber breaches accurately in real time, and 27% said poor visibility of entry points is a barrier to resilience.

Business resilience is fundamental to any strategy for long-term growth, yet the findings suggest that many UK businesses still have a long way to go.

The study also revealed gaps in accountability and trust across organisations.

One of the main reasons organisations are unable to achieve business resilience against disruptions such as cyber threats is due to growing confusion internally on where the responsibility for resilience lies.

More than a quarter (28%) believe it should be the responsibility of the CIO or head of IT, the same proportion said every employee should be responsible, while 13% said full responsibility lies with the CEO alone. One in 10 (11%) believe it falls to senior leadership.

Businesses are becoming entirely dependent on their technology platforms. But if that technology stops running, the business will too, with potentially serious consequences for sales, customer confidence, and brand equity, not to mention productivity.

To deliver resilience, a new discipline needs to be instilled across governments and enterprise organisations. This discipline is more than prevention. It’s more than recovery. It’s a shared practice that should unite IT, operations and security teams to ensure strong security fundamentals are embedded across the entire company network. Only then can organisations act and react in real time to threats.

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Investors target Board Directors for cyber security incidents PT2

Investors are growing concerned that directors are ill prepared for cyber security incidents and technological challenges.

Investors target Board Directors for cyber security incidents

An investor “We want the board to be tech savvy, but we wouldn’t just want it to be a tech board. Our fear is they appoint a tech expert but then no one else on the board is engaged. We want to understand the extent to which all the board is competent.”

Earlier this week, British Airways was forced to vow to compensate passengers after it revealed hackers had stolen data relating to about 380,000 customers from its website and mobile app during a two-week period in August. The data included personal and financial details.

Companies ranging from Equifax to JPMorgan Chase have all suffered data breaches in recent years. Meanwhile, large multinationals from Moller-Maersk to Reckitt Benckinser and FedEx were all forced to warn shareholders that the NotPetya cyber attack in 2017 had hurt profits, potentially costing each company hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ovidiu Patrascu, research analyst at Schroders, says it is crucial that companies have well-resourced cyber security teams that should ideally report directly to the highest levels of the organisation.

“As seen in a number of recent high-profile public failures, data breaches often uncover poor governance practices and weak management at the heart of companies, while also hitting their revenues and intangible assets such as reputation and trust,” he says.

“Cyber risk should also not just be the preserve of tech specialists — company boards also need to ensure they understand and can effectively oversee these very particular risks,” he adds.

A 2017 study by the Ponemon Institute, a research centre, found that there had been a 22.7 per cent rise in the cost of cyber security for businesses in just one year. It also found a 27.4 per cent rise in the number of data breaches at businesses, based on 2,182 interviews from 254 companies in seven countries — Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

A follow-up study in 2018 found that the average cost of a data breach globally is $3.86m, a 6.4 per cent increase from the 2017 report. It also warned that so-called “mega breaches”, ranging from 1m to 50m records lost, could cost companies between $40m and $350m to deal with.

For many investors, the fact that a huge technology company such as Facebook could suffer a data breach has hit home how vulnerable smaller or less tech-savvy businesses could be. In July, Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office hit Facebook with its first financial penalty over the data leak to Cambridge Analytica, accusing the social network of breaking the law.

A big investor at a large asset manager says that he wants boards to be able to explain where their key vulnerabilities are and whether they have stress tested the financial impact of tech issues. “We think every board member should be able to speak about this issue. They need to know where they are vulnerable, what the impact could be and how the board would respond,” he adds.

Mr Krefting says he wants the businesses M&G invests in to clearly outline in their reports and accounts what risks they face when it comes to technology and cyber security. “When we talk to companies about this, they often clam up — either because the CEO or chair doesn’t know about it or it is delegated to the chief information officer or someone below the board, or they say this is too sensitive.”

But he adds: “We want policies on governance and structures and how they are approaching cyber. We don’t necessarily need to know how many times they were faced with attempted hacks last week, but we want to see processes and that they are doing testing and that the right controls are in place.”

This article was first published by the Financial Times at https://www.ft.com/content/c70caa94-2d88-3ece-b802-79e9bac2f32c.

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Investors target Board Directors for cyber security incidents

Investors are growing concerned that directors are ill prepared for cyber security incidents and technological challenges.

Investors are growing concerned that directors are ill prepared for cyber security incidents and technological challenges.

Facebook has been hit with a fine, a slowdown in user growth and a fall in its share price since news of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal broke in March.

In the months since, the social media company’s handling of the scandal — where data was improperly obtained from up to 87m users — has been heavily scrutinised by regulators, politicians and users.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandburg last week testified before Congress, facing hours of questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee. She said the company was “strengthening our defences” against targeted hacking and data collection.

It is also being closely watched by corporate governance specialists at big asset managers who are increasingly concerned that senior management and board directors at listed businesses across the world are ill-prepared for potential data breaches and other technology problems.

“We see cyber security as a key emerging risk,” says Rupert Krefting, head of corporate finance and stewardship at M&G Prudential, which oversees £342 billion in assets. “It is hard for us to judge if management and board directors at listed businesses really do know the technology risks because they are not prepared to talk about it.”

Now a growing number of investors are demanding that directors ensure they are well versed in the technology issues their companies could face.

number cyber data breaches by company type

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Leon Kamhi, head of responsibility at Hermes Investment Management, says the asset manager is engaging “heavily” on the issue. “Cyber security risk is a big issue,” he says. “IT skills on boards can be really important in order to challenge what a head of IT is doing at the inside. Boards need to be on top of it.”

“We want the board to be tech savvy, but we wouldn’t just want it to be a tech board. Our fear is they appoint a tech expert but then no one else on the board is engaged. We want to understand the extent to which all the board is competent.”

The introduction of stringent European data protection rules earlier this year has also prompted investors to ask tough questions about how well companies are coping with technological changes. The General Data Protection Regulation, which came into effect in the EU in May, has reshaped how companies can collect, use and store personal information. Companies face fines of up to 4 per cent of global turnover or €20m, whichever is greater, if they fall foul of GDPR.

Mr Kamhi says that if companies do not step up on cyber security issues there is a risk they will be hit with even more legislation.

Many investors believe the potential issues companies could face linked to technology are far reaching. As well as being “disrupted” — meaning technological solutions could be developed that upend their business model — companies that hold consumer information are at risk of data breaches. There are also concerns about hacks or cyber attacks which could damage business brands and cost businesses millions of dollars.

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How SMEs can outsource cyber security issues to a Virtual CISO

Top things Small Businesses SMEs should consider when outsourcing cyber security to a Virtual CISO.

 

Outsourcing cyber security operations to a Virtual CISO (Chief Information Security Office) is not only possible, but highly attractive – especially in the face of increasing complexity, the continual evolution of the cyber threat and the current shortage of skilled cyber practitioners.

However, there are some elements that Small Business SMEs and businesses cannot do – outsource the associated business risks and regulatory responsibilities, such as those under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

While Service Level Agreements (SLAs) governing security services will exist, suppliers are unlikely to provide unlimited liability for consequential losses as the result of a cyber attack, or privacy breach.

You therefore need to be able to make judgements on the services you are being provided and make informed decisions on what is sensible to outsource for your business.

At a business level a CISO will need to retain overall control and management of the organisation’s security policy, disaster recovery, regulatory aspects such as GDPR and high-level incident and media management, but it would be perfectly feasible to outsource the underlying support – such as the actual incident response and aspects of disaster recovery.

However, a full time CISO may not be affordable for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), so an alternative solution that is growing in popularity is to employ a “Virtual CISO”.

These are skilled and experienced CISOs who can provide independent support, to ensure regulatory requirements are being met and that outsourced providers are fulfilling the necessary service levels, at a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee.

Typical security services that can be outsourced include protective monitoring, vulnerability management, firewall management, antivirus etc. How you decide to outsource may depend on whether you already outsource your IT provision or if you use cloud services.

The current trend amongst SMEs is for cloud-based solutions, as they lower the overhead of having your own IT and security management teams, especially when using storage and software services as security controls – like patching and back-ups – are included in the subscription.

Deciding what to outsource to a Virtual CISO is often driven by the need for specialist staff (who are currently in high demand), threat knowledge and the practicality of maintaining your own capability.

As illustration, on occasion you may need an incident response team of several experts covering incident management computer forensics, network forensics, malware analysis, etc. But having these professionals on the payroll full-time, “just in case”, would be too expensive, assuming you could retain their interest.

Also, effective protection depends on a good level of up-to-date threat intelligence,  so unless you have specialists engaged in threat hunting and gathering threat intelligence, it will be difficult to defend your systems. Incident response and security monitoring, closely followed by vulnerability monitoring, are therefore the first things to consider.

Patching, firewall management and access management are more routine, so may be kept in house, but if this is the case, any protective monitoring provider must be aware of the current configuration to meet their SLAs.

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LORCA identifies top priorities for cyber security innovation

The top priorities for cyber security innovation are identity management, patch management and configuration management.

The top priorities for cyber security innovation are identity management, patch management and configuration management.

“These are basic components of cyber security, but failure to do them well is still responsible for the bulk of cyber attacks that we are seeing.”said the new LORCA CEO  Hannigan

Identity is one area where the UK is particularly strong, with some great companies focused on it, he said, particularly in the academic “pre-company” sector, where universities are doing some “really innovative things” around identity management and authentication.

“Identity is key to cyber security, and if we can get a product out there that beats others, the sky is the limit, especially for the export market, and it will be about who gets there first with a viable solution,” he said.

Hannigan believes the internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing are two more areas where cyber security entrepreneurs should be focusing their efforts.

He said cloud computing is “problematic” because it makes it harder for companies to understand what the perimeters of their networks are.

“Even for those companies that have worked out what their cyber security policy is and managed the risks, suddenly to do all their processing and storage in the cloud complicates that,” said Hannigan. “It is not terminal, but it means they need to rethink their risks and mitigations.”

He advised organisations to look at the guidance on security in the cloud from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

IoT is ripe for innovation

The IoT is “ripe for innovation”, said Hannigan, because it is unlikely that regulation or government guidelines will address the immediate risks.

“It is going to be a long time before security by default is achieved, so in the meantime we need to find ways to mitigate potential disasters, with billions of devices connecting to the internet,” he said.

In terms of going to market, Hannigan advises cyber security entrepreneurs to spend some time considering things from the customer’s perspective.

“In the UK, companies are more likely to be conservative in their cyber security investments and stick with well-established suppliers than countries like the US and Israel, so startups need to take that into consideration,” he said.

Hannigan believes Lorca has a role to play here in helping startups to think through how their technology will integrate with existing IT environments, making it as easy as possible with minimal disruption.

Time and skills required by businesses

Although businesses do not necessarily need to spend a fortune on cyber security, it does require some time and sometimes skills that may be lacking in-house, said Hannigan.

“I do have sympathy for small businesses, but many are doing more than they used to in the past and are using things like Cyber Essentials and the small business guide because they are seeing how cyber attacks are affecting companies or because their insurance companies have told them to,” he said.

Hannigan believes there is a need for effective managed security services for small and medium-sized businesses. “A regular complaint I get is that managed security services suppliers are not really appropriate for small businesses and aren’t necessarily that effective, so there is a challenge there to the industry to come up with managed security services that really work and that don’t just dump the problem back onto the client, but actually do something about it,” he said.

LORCA to help drive UK cyber exports

LORCA – the new London cyber security innovation centre will help to boost exports of UK cyber security expertise.

LORCA - the new London cyber security innovation centre will help to boost exports of UK cyber security expertise.

A key part of the ambition for London’s £13.5m government-funded cyber innovation centre is that it will help drive UK exports, according to Robert Hannigan, former head of GCHQ.

“We hope that companies founded and given a boost and support in going to market will also go to market overseas,” he said at the official opening of the centre – to be known as the London Office for Rapid Cybersecurity Advancement (Lorca).

“The government’s ambition is very clearly to make the UK a leader in cyber security exports, and I see massive potential out there in countries around the world that need a variety of different solutions,” said Hannigan, who will lead Lorca’s industry advisory board.

“We know we have great talent, potential and possibilities, and bringing it all together was the challenge for government and what has led to this [cyber security innovation] centre,” he said.

The centre will play an important role in bringing together the many good innovators and incubators across the UK and provide a focal point for interacting with government, said Hannigan.

Lorca will also bring together cyber security innovators with academics in the field, with various industry sectors – starting with the cyber security-leading finance sector, with other technical and non-technical disciplines, and with international partners.

“This centre has links to the US, Israel and Singapore, and convening the three most prominent cyber security industry centres in the world is going to be very powerful in magnifying the value of this centre,” said Hannigan.

Commenting further on the potential for cyber security exports, Hannigan said there is a “massive market” out there because there are many economies that are some way behind the cyber security technology front-runners that are looking for solutions.

“There is massive potential, we have got some great companies, the UK has a good reputation and we should capitalise on that because if we put all that together and get it right, we will have a booming cyber security export industry,” he said.

“There is a lot of private sector capital looking to invest in cyber. So there is no shortage of capital, it is all about finding the right vehicle, and Lorca will help with that. But there is no reason why, in the future, there shouldn’t be more initiatives along the same lines.”

For this reason, Hannigan believes there is room for many more initiatives aimed at supporting cyber security entrepreneurs.

“There is no competition between incubators and accelerators within the UK – the more the merrier,” he said, explaining that each has something different to offer, with Lorca being more industry-focused with international links, for example, and the GCHQ accelerator and innovation centre in Cheltenham being more focused on national cyber security.

The government funding for Lorca will also promote its role as a convening body for other accelerators and incubators as a “useful way of amplifying the UK’s overall cyber security offering, particularly overseas, said Hannigan.

Fifth of businesses would pay ransoms rather than in security

One fifth of UK business executives from non-IT functions would pay hackers’ ransom demands to cut costs rather than invest in information security.

One fifth of UK business executives from non-IT functions would pay hackers’ ransom demands to cut costs rather than invest in information security.

According to the latest report commissioned by NTT Security they say that businesses are still making the same mistakes, failing to make any progress in crucial areas such as cyber security awareness and preparedness

The report shows that a further 30% in the UK are not sure whether they would pay or not, suggesting that only about half are prepared to invest in security to proactively protect the business.

This means many businesses are still stuck in a reactive mindset when it comes to cyber security.

The findings are particularly concerning, the report said, given the growth in ransomware, as identified in NTT Security’s Global Threat Intelligence Report (GTIR), published in April. According to the GTIR, ransomware attacks surged by 350% in 2017, accounting for 29% of all attacks in Europre, the Middle East and Africa and 7% of malware attacks worldwide.

Levels of confidence about being vulnerable to attack also seem unrealistic, according to the report, with 41% of respondents in the UK claiming that their organisation has not been affected by a data breach.

More realistically, 10% of UK respondents expect to suffer a breach, but nearly one-third (31%) do not expect to suffer a breach at all.

More worrying, the report said, is the 22% of UK respondents who are not sure whether they have suffered a breach or not.

Given that just 4% of respondents in the UK see poor information security as the single greatest risk to their business, this is unsurprising, the report said. Only 14% regard Brexit as the single greatest business risk; the list of concerns was topped by competitors taking market share (24%) and budget cuts (18%).

When considering the impact of a breach, UK respondents are most concerned about what a data breach will do to their image, with almost three-quarters (73%) concerned about loss of customer confidence and damage to reputation (69%), which are the highest figures among the countries polled.

The estimated loss in terms of revenue is 9.72% (compared with 10.29% globally, up from 9.95% in 2017). .

The report found there is no clear consensus on who is responsible for day-to-day security, with 19% of UK respondents saying the CIO is responsible, compared with 21% who said the CEO, 18% the CISO and 17% the IT director.

A key area of concern, according to the report, is whether there are regular boardroom discussions about security, with 84% of UK respondents agreeing that preventing a security attack should be a regular item on the board’s agenda. Yet only about half (53%) admit that it is and a quarter do not know.

With a lack of cohesion at the top, organisations are still struggling to secure their most important digital assets, the report said.

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UK small business cyber security spend low despite breaches

The UK is the most breached country in Europe, but business’ IT cyber security spend remains low compared with other countries in the region, a report reveals

UK small business cyber security spend low despite breaches

More than a third of UK businesses reported cyber security attacks in the past year, which was higher than any other country in Europe, according to the European edition of the 2018 Thales data threat report.

However, despite a 24% increase in the number of attacks compared with the previous year, UK firms claimed to feel less vulnerable to data threats, compared with those across Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, and consequently invested less in cyber security.

While more organisations across Sweden (78%) and the Netherlands (74%) admitted to being breached in the past, compared with just 67% of organisations in the UK, the report said it was a different story in the past 12 months.

Thales data shows that while 37% of businesses across the UK were breached, the figures were lower for Germany (33%), Sweden (30%) and the Netherlands (27%).

Despite the rise in attacks, just 31% of UK organisations said they feel “very” or “extremely” vulnerable to data threats, leaving the majority (69%) feeling “somewhat” or “not at all” vulnerable. Businesses across Sweden claimed to feel the most vulnerable (49%), followed by the Netherlands (47%) and Germany (36%).

Although 69% of UK organisations reported an overall increase in their IT security spending, with 15% saying it was much higher’ than the previous year, the report said the increase is still less than spend in Sweden, where 75% of businesses have upped their budgets to offset threats, and Germany where 76% have increased their IT security budgets.

While 72% of organisations polled have dedicated more money to IT security, UK businesses appeared to still fall short compared with their European counterparts, with 39% of Swedish respondents saying their budget was “much higher” than the previous year and an additional 36% claiming it was ‘somewhat higher’, and spending said to be “a lot more” by 29% of firms in the Netherlands and 24% in France.

The report also reveals that despite the two year bedding in period allowed for compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), 49% of companies in Sweden failed data security audits in the past year, followed by the Netherlands (38%), Germany (33%) and the UK (19%).

Aside from the UK, all other European countries showed decline in their efforts to meet compliance, which the report said was “worrying” in the light of the fact that there are so many changes to standards and regulations. Despite this drop, respondents across the board all cited compliance as being effective when it comes to preventing data breaches.

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