Cybersecurity experts warn Pittsburgh conference about dangers of hacking |
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Victoria Yan Pillitteri, adviser for Information System Security at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, explains federal cybersecurity regulations on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, in a conference in Rivers Casino on the North Shore.

Hackers typically need less than a day to break into a victim’s computers — but it can take months to find the breach and fix it, experts warned Monday at a computer security conference in Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, hackers can have unfettered access to a victim company’s internal documents, operating systems and customer information. Often, criminals methodically target victims, learning about their systems to carry out extensive thefts, said Eric Wright, a certified information technology professional and a shareholder at Schneider Downs, an auditing and consulting company with offices in Pittsburgh.

“It doesn’t matter the size of your organization, you’re vulnerable. You’re subject to an attack,” Wright said.

He cited Verizon statistics to show that 92 percent of computer hacks come from outside the victim’s company; more than half of those come from organized crime gangs. Three-quarters of the attackers try to steal money, he said.

Wright and other experts spoke to about 300 people in Rivers Casino during a daylong event sponsored by the Pittsburgh chapter of ISACA, a group formerly known as Information Systems Audit and Control Association. The group of computer security auditors and experts has about 540 members across Western Pennsylvania.

“Cybersecurity awareness and culture is something we’re starting to see evolve,” said Victoria Yan Pillitteri, adviser for Information System Security at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “It’s not just in the (information technology) shop any more. It’s everyone’s challenge.”

This year’s conference was the group’s largest and about twice as big as last year’s, chapter President Dan Desko said.

High-profile incidents over the past year — such as a federal indictment against Chinese military hackers accused of stealing from U.S. Steel and other Pittsburgh companies — are persuading more companies to take computer security seriously, he said.

“It just goes to show that these sorts of things can happen to anyone,” said Desko, a senior manager at Schneider Downs. “The biggest and best companies are not immune.”

Participants at the event talked about the cyber-security breach at Target about a year ago, which was linked to hackers breaking into systems at a Sharpsburg heating and ventilation company, Fazio Mechanical Services Inc.

That event “is what really changed the world,” said Jeremy Wittkop, chief technology officer at InteliSecure, a computer security company in Greenwood Village, Colo.

Industry estimates suggest the Target incident, in which hackers stole credit card information on 70 million customers, could end up costing $18 billion to reissue credit cards and cover losses, said Roberta Anderson, a partner at K&L Gates, the Pittsburgh-based law firm.

It’s not clear how much money the retailer will have to pay — or how much, if any, of the liability could trickle down to the company’s vendors, she said.

What’s more obvious is that companies of every size have to be aware of cybersecurity threats, Anderson said.

“Breaches are more frequent, and they’re much larger these days,” she said. “I really think now we’re talking about, we’ve all been hacked, and we’re being hacked and we’re gonna be hacked.”

Andrew Conte is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or [email protected]

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