Lessons you can learn from the LinkedIn LeakOut

Last month, millions of LinkedIn members discovered their passwords had been published by hackers. But what can your enterprise learn about security, and how to deal with a breach situation, from this unfortunate incident? Davey Winder investigates...

Positives and negatives

The passwords that were published, whether cracked or not, have been invalidated and members advised by email of how to get a new one. However, I am told that some members did not get any notification emails for several days after the news broke, which isn't good enough. Speed is of the essence and, to mix my metaphors, it's always best to err on the side of caution when dealing with a potential compromise if you want to truly mitigate lasting brand damage. So do ensure that you force a password change on all users as a matter of course, and a matter of best practice, and you do this in a timely but managed way.

One option often executed is to advise all users of the fact that all existing passwords have been revoked, and that a further email will be sent when your account can be reactivated. Apologise for the inconvenience, and explain that it's being done in the interests of security. By staging the reactivation, larger organisations can avoid a server roadblock as users scramble to apply new passwords.

Who's in charge?

I'm not suggesting that LinkedIn has not taken this compromise seriously, quite the opposite is obviously the case: external forensics experts, LinkedIn engineers and the FBI are all working together to get to the bottom of this incident. However, I am suggesting it made fundamental mistakes both before and after the compromise was uncovered. From not salting the password hashes to taking too long to notify all those members whose passwords were potentially compromised.

Other really quite remarkable security faux pas include, in my never humble opinion, the lack of a Chief Information Officer or Chief Information Security Office. Surely a business of the size and value, let alone nature, of LinkedIn demands such a position within the executive management to ensure precisely this kind of incident is less likely to happen and the response more likely to be effective? Leaving the functions of such a position to be dealt with by, in the case of LinkedIn as I understand it, the Senior Vice President for Operations, clearly wasn't good enough.

And, finally...

If you have a privacy policy which states that all personal information submitted will be "secured in accordance with industry standards and technology" as is the case with LinkedIn, then you sure as heck better make sure that's what happens. If you don't, there can be little sympathy when the law suits start flying following a breach, even if you do also state that "There is no guarantee that information may not be accessed, copied, disclosed, altered, or destroyed by breach of any of our physical, technical, or managerial safeguards."

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