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The Implications of Unsecure Webservers & Websites for Organizations & Businesses

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implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-1Long gone are the days where a simple port scan on a company’s webserver or website was considered enough to identify security issues and exploits that needed to be patched. With all the recent attacks on websites and webservers which caused millions of dollars in damage, we thought it would be a great idea to analyze the implications vulnerable webservers and websites have for companies, while providing useful information to help IT Departments, security engineers and application developers proactively avoid unwanted situations.

Unfortunately companies and webmasters turn their attention to their webservers and websites, after the damage is done, in which case the cost is always greater than any proactive measures that could have been taken to avoid the situation.

Most Security Breaches Could Have Been Easily Prevented

Without doubt, corporate websites and webservers are amongst the highest preference for hackers. Exploiting well-known vulnerabilities provides them with easy-access to databases that contain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, email addresses, credit & debit card numbers, social security numbers and much more.

The sad part of this story is that in most cases, hackers made use of old exploits and vulnerabilities to scan their targets and eventually gain unauthorized access to their systems.

Most security experts agree that if companies proactively scanned and tested their systems using well-known web application security scanner tools e.g Netsparker, the security breach could have been easily avoided. The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) comes to also confirm this as they analyzed thousands of security breaches that occurred in the first half of 2014 and concluded that these could have been easily prevented. [Source: OTA Website]

Tools such as Web Application Vulnerability Scanners are used by security professionals to automatically scan websites and web applications for hidden vulnerabilities.

When reading through recent security breaches, we can slowly begin to understand the implications and disastrous effects these had for companies and customers. Quite often, the figure of affected users who’s information was compromised, was in the millions. We should also keep in mind that in many cases, the true magnitude of any such security incident is very rarely made known to the public.

Below are a few of the biggest security data breaches which exposed an unbelievable amount of information to hackers: – 145 Million Compromised Accounts

implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-2In late February – early March 2014, the eBay database that held customer names, encrypted passwords, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and other personal information, was compromised, exposing sensitive information to hackers. [Source: website]

JPMorgan Chase Bank – 76 Million Household Accounts & 7 Million Small Business

implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-3In June 2014, JPMorgan Chase bank was hit badly and had sensitive personal and financial data exposed for over 80 million accounts. The hackers appeared to obtain a list of the applications and programs that run on the company’s computers and then crosschecked them with known vulnerabilities for each program and web application in order to find an entry point back into the bank’s systems.
[Source: website]

Find security holes on your websites and fix them before they do by scanning your websites and web applications with a Web Application Security Scanner. – 1 Million User Accounts

implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-4In February 2014, the website was succumbed to an attack that leaked over 1 million user accounts that contained email addresses, passwords and more.  The Wordpress-based backend site was defaced with a number of news posts. [Source: website] – 4.6 Million Username Accounts & Phone numbers

implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-5In January 2014, Snapchat’s popular website had over 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers exposed due to a brute force enumeration attack against their Snapchat API. The information was publicly posted on several other sites, creating a major security concern for Snapchat and its users.
[Source: website]

USA Businesses: Nasdaq, 7-Eleven and others – 160 Million Credit & Debit Cards

implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-6In 2013 a massive underground attack was uncovered, revealing that over 160 million credit and debit cards were stolen during the past seven years. Five Russians and Ukrainians used advanced hacking techniques to steal the information during these years.  Attackers targeted over 800,000 bank accounts and penetrated servers used by the Nasdaq stock exchange.
[Source: website]

AT&T - 114,000 iPad Owners (Includes White House Officers, US Senate & Military Officials)

implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-7In 2010, a major security breach on AT&T’s website compromised over 114,000 customer accounts, revealing names, email addresses and other information. AT&T acknowledged the attack on its webservers and commented that the risk was limited to the subscriber’s email address.  
Amongst the list were apparently officers from the White House, member of the US Senate, staff from NASA, New York Times, Viacom, Time Warner, bankers and many more. [Source: website]

Target  - 98 Million Credit & Debit Cards Stolen

implications-of-unsecure-webservers-websites-8In 2013, during the period 27th of November and 15th of December more than 98 million credit and debit card accounts were stolen from 1,787 Target stores across the United States. Hackers managed to install malware on Target’s computer systems to capture customers cards and then installed an exfiltration malware to move stolen credit card numbers to staging points around the United States in order to cover their tracks. The information was then moved to the hackers computers located in Russia.

The odd part in this security breach is that the infiltration was caught by FireEye – the $1.6 million dollar malware detection tool purchased by Target, however according to online sources, when the alarm was raised at the security team in Minneapolis, no action was taken as 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million addresses, phone numbers and other information was pulled out of Target’s mainframes!  [Source: Bloomberg website]

SQL Injections & Cross-Site Scripting are one of the most popular attack methods on Websites and Web Applications. Security tools such as Web Vulnerability Scanners allow us to uncover these vulnerabilities and fix them before hackers exploit them.

Implications for Organizations & Businesses

It goes without saying that organizations suffer major damages and losses when it comes to security breaches. When the security breaches happens to affect millions of users like the above examples, it’s almost impossible to calculate an exact dollar ($) figure.

Security Experts agree that data security breaches are among the biggest challenges organizations face today as the problem has both financial and legal implications.

Business Loss is the biggest contributor to overall data breach costs and this is because it breaks down to a number of other sub-categories, of which the most important are outlined below:

  • Detection of the data breach. Depending on the type of security breach, the business can lose substantial amounts of money until the breach is successfully detected. Common examples are defaced website, customer orders and credit card information being redirected to hackers, orders manipulated or declined.
  • Escalation Costs. Once the security breach has been identified, emergency security measures are usually put into action. This typically involves bringing in Internet security specialists, the cybercrime unit (police) and other forces, to help identify the source of the attack and damage it has caused. Data backups are checked for their integrity and everyone is on high-alert.
  • Notification Costs. Customers and users must be notified as soon as possible. Email alerts, phone calls and other means are used to get in contact with the customers and request them to change passwords, details and other sensitive information. The company might also need to put together a special team that will track and monitor customer responses and reactions.
  • Customer Attrition. Also known as customer defection. After a serious incident involving sensitive customer data being exposed, customers are more likely to stop purchasing and using the company’s services. Gaining initially a customer’s trust requires sacrifices and hard work – trying to re-gain it after such an incident means even more sacrifices and significantly greater costs. In many cases, customers choose to not deal with the company ever again, costing it thousands or millions of dollars.
  • Legal Implications. In many cases, customers have turned against companies after their personal information was exposed by a security breach. Legal actions against companies are usually followed by lengthy law suites which end up costing thousands of dollars, not to mention any financial compensation that will be awarded to the end customers.  One example is Target’s security breach mentioned previously which is now facing multiple lawsuits from customers.

As outlined previously, the risk for organizations is high and there are a lot in stake from both, financial and legal prospective.  The security breach examples mentioned in this article make a good point on how big and serious a security breach can become, but also the implications for companies and customers. Our next article will focus on guidelines that can help us prevent data breaches and help our organization, company or business to deal with them.

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