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Companies' Data Security in Question After Sony Hack

Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. Studios As Cyber Attack Repercussions Continue

By Mae Anderson, AP Technology Writer

ATLANTA (AP) - Companies across the globe are on high alert to tighten up network security to avoid being the next company brought to its knees by hackers like those that executed the dramatic cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The hack, which a U.S. official has said investigators believe is linked to North Korea, culminated in the cancellation of a Sony film and ultimately could cost the movie studio hundreds of millions of dollars. That the hack included terrorist threats and was focused on causing major corporate damage, rather than on stealing customer information for fraud like in the breaches at Home Depot and Target, indicates a whole new frontier has emerged in cybersecurity. Suddenly every major company could be the target of cyberextortion.

"The Sony breach is a real wake-up call even after the year of mega-breaches we've seen," says Lee Weiner, Boston security firm Rapid7's senior vice president of products and engineering. "This is a completely different type of data stolen with the aim to harm the company."

This should signal to all U.S. businesses that they need to "take cybersecurity as serious as physical security of their employees or security of their physical facilities," says Cynthia Larose, chair of the privacy and security practice at the law firm Mintz Levin in Boston.

The breach is particularly troubling in Hollywood, where secrecy is supposed to be paramount to insure that movie secrets worth millions don't get leaked.

"Movie studios have, by and large, behaved as high-security intellectual property purveyors; prints have been tightly controlled, screeners are watermarked, and bootleggers are prosecuted wherever possible," says Seth Shapiro, a professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. He said that's what makes it so surprising that email leaks showed that Sony executives apparently gave out passwords in unencrypted emails and made other security blunders.

"The apparent laxity of Sony IT security - given the history of prior hacks - is unprecedented in the history of media technology," he says. Sony Corp.'s PlayStation network was hacked in 2011.

Studios are trying to tighten up procedures in the wake of the Sony attack. Warner Bros. executives earlier this week ordered a company-wide password reset and sent a five-point security checklist to employees advising them to purge their computers of any unnecessary data, in an email seen by The Associated Press. "Keep only what you need for business purposes," the message said.

Even so, some say there is little that corporations can do to prevent such a sophisticated cyberattack. The key may lie more in detection and limiting damage.

"There are very few companies that can withstand that kind of large assault," says Rich Mogull, an analyst with security firm Securosis in Phoenix. "But a lot of companies do need to improve what they're doing on security, I see it every day with companies I work with."

Companies also need to invest in identifying vulnerabilities on their networks and work quickly to address them. Jonathan Sander, strategy and research officer at data security firm Stealthbits in Hawthorne, N.J., recommends undertaking a comprehensive review to ensure outdated files, such as digital copies of old contracts and electronic conversations that occurred years ago, are no longer being stored on the corporate networks.

"There is a lot of stuff just sitting there waiting to be taken and used for the kind of thing that has happened at Sony right now," Sander says.

He says the Sony breach has been coming up in every customer meeting that Stealthbits Technologies had held since the stolen information began leaking out and making international headlines earlier this month.

"We used to have to lead people to the idea that you need to protect this kind of data," he said. "Now we walk in and they're asking, 'How can I keep my data from ending up on the Internet like Sony's did?"

Some customers have been wondering if they should reduce their reliance on email and switch over to other digital forms of communication, such as messaging systems that don't store the data. Sander doesn't believe that provides as much protection as making a telephone call to share passwords and other sensitive information.

Most importantly, companies need to focus on the ability to detect hacks quickly and limit them as fast as possible. Currently, the average amount of time it takes a company to detect a breach is 200 to 230 days, Rapid7's Weiner said. "That allows the attacker time to gain a lot of knowledge and do a lot of damage," he said.

While none of Weiner's clients have made large-scale changes to their security in reaction to the Sony attack specifically, cybersecurity is becoming a bigger focus in general. "There has been increased investment in information security and increased awareness of the risk and threats of these kind of attacks," he says. "We're starting to see information security as a boardroom issue, it's getting much more attention."

One example companies could follow is in the technology sector, where most firms have been tightening their security measures during the past 18 months in response to revelations about the digital spying tactics of the U.S. government.

Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. government had been tapping into the computer networks of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other technology companies in search of emails and other electronic communications that might uncover terrorist plots and other illegal activity. The U.S. government has maintained that it has never collected the kind of highly personal details stolen in the Sony Pictures breach. But tech companies being targeted by the NSA have since tried to thwart the surveillance by encrypting their internal email systems as well as the free accounts available to the general public. Both Google and Apple, the makers of the world's leading software for mobile devices, also are automatically encrypting the data stored on smartphones so the information is indecipherable to unauthorized users, including government authorities.

General Motors says it has bolstered cybersecurity in the past two years by bringing information technology in-house from outside vendors. The auto giant has a cybersecurity chief on staff to prevent hackers from getting into GM vehicle computers and has consolidated electronic data storage from 23 centers worldwide into two located near Detroit.

"I would say we have a higher level (of security) than some other companies do," says spokeswoman Jennie Ecclestone.

A key to thwarting attacks is knowing your enemy and figuring out exactly who might want to hurt your company, adds Tom Chapman, head of cyber-operations at EdgeWave Security in San Diego.

"In the past people were looking for a firewall or an individual product," for protection, says Chapman, a retired Navy intelligence officer who specialized in hunting down hackers. "Now, they're realizing there is a human element. They need to understand who might be after them. By better understanding your likely adversaries, you can better craft your defense."

AP Writers Mike Liedtke in San Francisco, Bernard Condon, Anne D'Innocenzio and Joe Pisani in New York, Tom Krisher in Detroit, and Ted Bridis in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.


Consumers Can Sue Target Corp Over Data Breach: Judge


By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge has cleared the way for consumers to sue Target Corp over the retailer's late 2013 data breach that they say compromised their personal financial information.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Thursday dismissed claims by plaintiffs in certain states but largely denied Target's request to toss the proposed class action lawsuit.

Magnuson rejected Target's argument that the consumers lacked standing to sue because they could not establish any injury.

"Plaintiffs' allegations plausibly allege that they suffered injuries that are 'fairly traceable' to Target's conduct," Magnuson wrote.

Neither a Target spokeswoman nor a lawyer for the plaintiffs responded to request for comment.

Target has said at least 40 million credit cards were compromised in the breach, which may have resulted in the theft of as many as 110 million people's personal information, such as email addresses and phone numbers.

The ruling followed a similar decision by Magnuson earlier this month allowing banks to move forward with a lawsuit to recoup money they spent reimbursing fraudulent charges and issuing new credit and debit cards because of the breach.

Thursday's ruling pertained to consumers who used their credit or debit cards at Target during the period of the breach and had their information compromised, causing them unauthorized charges, lost account access, fees and credit monitoring costs.

In his ruling, Magnuson dismissed claims brought under deceptive trade practices laws in three states and said a class action could not be maintained for claims under consumer-protection statutes in another 10 states.

Magnuson also dismissed claims under data-breach notice laws in nine states after the plaintiffs withdrew them in another three, and he tossed negligence claims brought under five states' laws.

The case is In re: Target Corporation Customer Data Security Breach Litigation, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, No. 14-md-02522.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)


Playmobil Bank Robbery Toy Captures Annual Holiday Outrage

The holidays are a time for traditions, but a new one is more the stuff of business nightmares than dreams of profitable sugar plums.

The Daily Mail reported that the German toy company Playmobil was criticized for "glorifying crime" with its armed bank holdup set, called "Bank with Safe." A picture of the toy shows a female figure with dark glasses, a bag, and a gun while a grinning bank worker holds out a stack of bills. Call it cops and robbers, only without the police.

However, with all the concern from parents and child advocates that the Mail reported, there's something a bit odd. The toy they show is one that made the rounds last year, as the Mirror reported in February 2013.

Look at the pictures in both stories and you see the same figures, the same sunglasses, and the same gun. That might show Playmobil to be unconcerned with the criticism, except the company did make at least one major change: it took the gun out of the woman's hand, as the image below, from the Playmobil U.S. site, shows.

Credit: Playmobil

And yet, you can't fairly say that the Mail was simply resuscitating an old story, even though the gun was clearly from an old picture.

AOL Jobs looked at a number of online sites that carried the toy, including Amazon's Marketplace (actually sold by a company called Really Great Toys), Diapers.com, and Yoyo.com. All show the toy or packaging image without the gun. However, the Amazon display has other images as well, including this one:

Credit: Amazon.com

So, has Playmobil completely removed gun, or just taken it out of the packaging image? AOL Jobs has asked for clarification but did not receive an answer before publication.

Also, lest you think that the toy has been transformed into a scene of normal deposits and withdrawals, here is another image, this one directly from Playmobil:

Credit: Playmobil

Perhaps the figure with sunglasses is simply repairing the ATM. Then again, it would more likely seem to be someone breaking into the machine to remove the cash.

At least the set acknowledged gender equality by having the female figure as the perpetrator, not the victim.


10 Tips to Stay Productive at Work Around the Holidays

Santa lying on boxes in storage room, side view

By Deanna Hartley, CareerBuilder writer

As you glance over at the festive decorations and empty cubicles around you during the holidays, trying to stay awake and productive can feel like trying to compete in a triathlon.

Here are 10 tips to help you stay productive at work around the holidays when no one's around.

1. Set daily goals for yourself. Write down a list of tasks that you need to accomplish for the day. Keeping something tangible by your side may increase your motivation to cross all the items off your list before you leave for the day.

2. Remember: It's OK to take a break. Try taking a lap around your office building to get some fresh air or making a quick run to a coffee shop for a dose of caffeinated goodness. Don't think you're doing anyone any favors by staying in your cubicle and sleeping with your eyes open.

3. Clear your desk. Holiday decorations are cheery, but they can also be distracting if they're taking up a bulk of the space on your desk. A little tidying up or clearing away can go a long way toward putting you in the right frame of mind to knock out a few tasks.

4. Put your blinders on for increased concentration. As you're about to start working on a task or project, close out all your entertainment tabs - that includes YouTube and other social networks, and possibly even email if you think it will be distracting. Putting your smartphone away or turning it off for a while can also help eliminate unnecessary distractions.

5. Reach out to others in the office. See who else is working around the holidays and invite them out to lunch. This is probably one of the best times to try to get to know your co-workers better because they'll likely have more spare time and be more laid back than during regular stressful work days. Plus these outings could double as informal brainstorming sessions for projects in which you might have hit a wall.

6. Prioritize your tasks. Not everything is top priority - especially around the holidays when almost everyone is out of the office. Try breaking out your tasks into "must-do" and "nice-to-do" piles so it's easier to tackle them one by one.

7. Hit the gym. You could try putting your lunch break to good use by squeezing in a good workout. Not only will it help in your desperate quest to stay awake, but it will also do wonders for your mood and stress levels.

8. Treat yourself. It works just as well on you as it would on a 5-year-old. Promise yourself various treats throughout the day - coffee, candy, social media breaks, etc. - as you stop procrastinating and cross items off your to-do list.

9. Seek some solitude. If it helps, choose pockets of time when you need to really concentrate. Then, lock yourself in a conference room - they will probably all be vacant and available around the holidays - and try to knock out your assignment in much less time than they'd normally take if surrounded by distracting co-workers.

10. Make sure you're getting enough sleep. Tempting as it is to stay up till the wee hours watching holiday movie marathons, it's important to try as much as possible to stick to a regular sleep schedule lest you mess up your body's rhythm and find yourself constantly nodding off throughout the day.>

Tweet at @CareerBuilder: How do you stay productive around the holidays?

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How to Revitalize Your Job Hunt

Late night browsing
GettyFirst tip: Stopping sitting in front of your computer all day (and all night).

When you're preoccupied looking for a job, it's easy to become too focused on your resume, cover letters and applications to the exclusion of everything else in your life. Ironically, this laser focus may actually be preventing you from being successful. In the new year, consider taking the following steps and do something different to help you land an opportunity.

Get out of your house or office. There is nothing worse than spending all of your free time at your computer. If you're developing a squint from trying to decipher job descriptions online, step back from your computer screen, tablet or smart phone and go out and do something.

It's no secret that networking is the key to landing opportunities. For decades, job search coaches have been telling job seekers to network, and that up to 80 percent of jobs are filled via networking. If you don't believe it, try it out and see how it works for you. Sure, you can attend a formal networking event, but you can also volunteer in a soup kitchen, visit your local coffee shop and schedule a haircut so you have a chance to talk to people you don't normally see. Avoid the big job seeker mistake of clinging to your computer.

Get healthy. This is the time of year when everyone makes resolutions about their health or weight. If you're looking for a job, looking and feeling your best can only help you. While you don't need supermodel proportions to land your dream job, when you feel better about yourself, you'll be able to speak about your credentials more confidently and employers will notice.

If you've been putting off going to the gym, think of it as a networking opportunity. You may even want to keep your business or networking cards in your gym bag, as you never know who you may meet. Plus, if you work out with a trainer (many gyms offer free sessions when you join), you'll have a brand new networking contact. Never underestimate the networking power of people in the position to speak with someone new every hour of the day! Attending exercise classes can also provide great networking opportunities.

Instead of thinking of doing something healthy as detracting from your search or keeping you away from your computer, give yourself permission to try something new; it may be exactly what you need.

Try a new hobby. Have you been eyeing that knitting class at the local yarn store, but don't want to spend the money and time? Treat yourself! You never know how inspiring it can be to learn something new. While it's great to get out of the house to meet new people, if you're an introvert, try taking an online class instead. Sometimes just learning a new skill is enough to get you out of a rut, which will help you be more successful in your job search.

Use Social Media. Maybe it's too cold to go out much. Networking is not lost on you! Keep in mind, networking today no longer has to mean attending boring events where you're trying to meet people by giving a two-minute "elevator pitch." (Who listens to those, anyway?) Lucky for you, social media offers opportunities to meet new people online whom you'd never have a chance to meet in real life. Join LinkedIn groups, Google+ hangouts and Twitter chats. Participate actively and connect with potential colleagues who may suggest you apply for opportunities where they work. Referrals statistically have a much better chance of securing interviews and avoiding the dreaded resume "black hole."

Try something new, and before you know it, you could have an interview offer and a job offer!


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