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Lesson from Toyota Hack: Threats Can Be Internal, Too
Lesson from Toyota Hack: Threats Can Be Internal, Too

By Jennifer LeClaire
August 30, 2012 10:35AM

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"People do, of course, leave jobs all the time and most of them would never dream of logging back in to their old place of work," said security researcher Graham Cluley. "But it only takes one bad apple to wreak havoc. So make sure your defenses are in place, and that only authorized users can access your sensitive systems."
 


Toyota is accusing a former IT worker of interrupting Web apps and security systems. The automaker filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Lexington, Ky.

Toyota is alleging that Ibrahimshah Shahulhameed purposely crashed its computer systems at Toyotasupplier.com and stole sensitive corporate information and trade secrets. Toyota claims this occurred after he was fired.

"If this information were disseminated to competitors or otherwise made public, it would be highly damaging to Toyota and its suppliers, causing immediate and irreparable damage," said the complaint, which was filed on Aug. 24, a day after Shahulhameed was terminated. "The worker had no authority to access or use Toyota's property or trade secrets and it is undisputed that he did access it and altered computer programs and codes."

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell ordered Shahulhameed not to leave the United States during the investigation of the alleged computing hack. She also ordered him to hand over any information he stole from Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing's computer system.

What's the Bigger Threat?

We asked Graham Cluley, a senior security analyst at Sophos, if he sees internal employees as the biggest threat to IT security or if outside hackers are the larger problem.

"There's a lot of focus on external hackers because they're easier for the media to talk about and also -- arguably -- easier to prevent," Cluley told us. "But the internal threat is considerable, and this invisible enemy is something which shouldn't be overlooked just because it's 'hard' to deal with."

How Did it Happen?

In Toyota's case, Cluley said what isn't currently clear is whether Toyota is claiming that Shahulhameed accessed its computer systems by exploiting a vulnerability or whether it had simply not reset staff passwords that he may have had access to in his position as an IT contractor with the firm.

Nevertheless, he said it's a timely reminder to all businesses to remember the importance of reviewing who has access to systems, and to underline that changing passwords and resetting access rights is essential when a member of staff leaves the company.

"People do, of course, leave jobs all the time and most of them would never dream of logging back in to their old place of work," Cluley said. "But it only takes one bad apple to wreak havoc. So make sure your defenses are in place, and that only authorized users can access your sensitive systems."

What's Ahead?

There are many predictions in the IT security world about what to expect in the days ahead. We asked Cluley if he expects to see even more hacking in the fourth quarter.

"It's never easy to make predictions about the future of cybercrime -- but there's nothing to suggest that things are going to get better in the next three months," Cluley said. "Attacks and hacks will continue to hit organizations, making it as important as ever to properly protect your firm's data and resources."
 

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