BY JOE DYSART
Pet industry businesses still reeling from seemingly end- less reports of hacker break-ins last year should brace for even
more sophisticated capers in 2016,
according to a string of reports released by top cybersecurity firms.
Security experts say the image of yesteryear’s hacker—the
pimply faced teen on a lark for
grins and giggles—has given
way to organized crime teams,
hell-bent on stealing and monetizing stolen data.
“Select any economic sector
at random, and the chances are
high that you’ll find something
in the media about a cybersecurity incident or problem,” said
Aleks Gostev, chief security expert for Kaspersky Lab, a global
security software maker.
No one feels that threat more
personally than Robert Semrow,
partner, host and producer of
Pet World Media Group in Santa
Ana, Calif. His industry info site
recently was hacked.
“We honestly didn’t think we
were big enough or important
enough to get hacked,” Semrow
said. “It is a good lesson in that
not all hacking is about stealing
credit information or personal
“What we discovered was
that they wanted to use our Inter-
net and industry credibility and
standing to post-back links and
other content that would help
boost other companies’ search
engine optimization rankings
and maybe trick our audience
into thinking we were promot-
ing these companies.”
Ann Greenburg, founder of
the online store, apetwithpaws
.com, also has felt the sting of
being hacked. Her web design-
er held her website hostage for
a week after the pair engaged in
disputes over site updates that
were taking longer than agreed.
Ultimately, the designer relented and gave Greenburg the
new password he had created to
temporarily steal her website’s
domain name. But Greenburg
learned a valuable lesson.
“I’ll never release my ID and
password to my website to a web
designer again,” she said.
Instead, Greenburg now uses
LastPass, a service provider that
enables her to issue one-time user
IDs and passwords to her website
domain while keeping her site’s
true ID and password secret.
Across the U.S. and around
the world, business owners like
Semrow and Greenburg are
experiencing a hard truth uncovered by recent cybersecurity
studies: the impact of hackers’
antics has never been greater.
Witness: a string of suicides
attributed to the hack of Ashley
Madison—a web meeting place for
cheating spouses—which revealed
the identities of 30 million spouses
who had joined the site, according
to Hazards Ahead, a November report released by security software
maker Trend Micro, which has U.S.
headquarters in Irving, Texas.
“The evolution of breaches is
beginning to take a turn toward
real-world effects on enterprises’
bottom lines and people’s lives,”
High on the list of hacks pet
businesses need to watch out for
in 2016 will be a spike in ran-
somware showing up on Apple
had been bypassed by hackers
in favor of more prevalent Win-
dows machines, according to
“We expect ransomware to
cross the Rubicon to not only
target Macs, but to also charge
‘Mac prices,’” said Juan Andres
Guerrero-Saade, senior security
researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
Also increasingly vulnerable
will be point-of-sale computer
systems and ATMs, according to
the Trend Micro report. Unfortunately, many of these systems still
run Windows XP, an obsolete operating system that stopped getting security updates from Micro-soft more than a year ago.
More vulnerable, too, will be
mobile devices, including those
running the Android operating
system, according to the Trend
Plus, hackers are expected
to spend more time plundering
the computers that pet business
owners and others use at home.
Such PCs and smartphones often can serve as easy knockoffs
to what hackers really are looking for: easy entry into the corporate networks they’re linked
to, according to the McAfee Labs
Threats Predictions Report, released in November by Intel
“Organizations should expect
to be hit,” said Tom Kellermann,
chief cybersecurity officer at
Trend Micro. “Preparing to overcome this challenge will become
the mantra in the winter of 2016.”
Meanwhile, hackers are expected to increasingly drill down
much deeper into computers in
2016, bypassing software and
operating systems like Windows,
and penetrating deeper into the
machines’ BIOS or firmware—
systems that, until recently, were
considered completely inviolable,
according to the Intel report.
Case in point: Equation Group
Malware, which is capable of re-
programming a hard disk, even
after the infected computer has
its operating system erased and
its hard drive completely refor-
matted. Such feats, according to
the Intel report, were “stunning”
Moreover, would-be hackers
without the technical wherewithal to break into the computer at
your business have an easy alternative. There’s already a thriving
market for off-the-shelf hacker software, which is designed
specifically for the nontechnical
criminal—a market that is only
expected to grow in 2016, according to Kaspersky Security Bulletin: Predictions 2016, released in
December by Kaspersky Lab.
While increasingly sophisticated hacker break-ins appear
inevitable in 2016, IT security
experts don’t plan on taking the
onslaught lying down.
Indeed, major hardware and
software makers are hard at
work developing new technologies that businesses can use to
defend their digital perimeters.
Google, for example, has announced that it will issue regular
security updates for its Android
software, after repeatedly being
stung by a series of hacks in 2015.
Plus, antivirus makers like
Symantec, for example, which
has candidly admitted that antivirus software is becoming
increasingly ineffective against
hackers, have added behavioral
analytics to their arsenal.
Essentially, behavioral analytics scouts a PC for signs of
unusual behavior or the installation of unknown programs and
offers quick tools and/or advice
for how to (hopefully) neutralize
“Integrating breach detection
systems with intrusion prevention systems is fundamental
to decreasing the time hackers
dwell on their networks,” said
Trend Micro’s Kellermann.
Cybersecurity experts also
advise that retailers should im-
plement an ongoing employee-
awareness training program.
The reason: Unfortunately, the
human factor is often the weak-
est link in an otherwise well-
secured company network, ex-
Pet businesses also want to
seriously consider eliminating
ID and password security in favor of more modern security
Apple Pay users, for example,
already can rely on their thumbprints to make a purchase using
their iPhones—not an ID and
MasterCard currently is pilot
testing an online ID verification
system for shopping—called
Identity Check—which relies on
a selfie taken by the shopper, or a
fingerprint scan, to authenticate
Users of Microsoft’s Windows 10 can replace ID and password access to their computers
with Windows Hello, software
that offers users the ability to
sign in using fingerprint readers
or facial recognition—although
the facial recognition option requires a high-end, depth-percep-tion camera.
Meanwhile, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory licensed an advanced antihacker
software tool to Cambridge Global Advisors this past summer. It’s
designed to pinpoint suspicious
behavior by hackers once they’ve
compromised a system’s ID and
password and are freely roaming
a computer network.
“The future of authentication
is free from traditional passwords,” said Geoff Sanders, CEO
of Las Vegas-based LaunchKey,
which sells ID authentication
technology that includes fingerprint verification, geofencing,
facial recognition and other verification alternatives.
Joe Dysart, a Manhattan-based Internet speaker and business consultant, can be reached at joe@joedysart.
com. For more information, visit
to the Dogs
Pet industry professionals still are chasing ever-nimble hackers who are
skulking in wait. What cybersecurity looks like now and in the future.
More than 20-plus technologies developed at U.S. federal labs to thwart hackers are
now in the pipeline for commercialization—all part of a program squired by the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s anti-hacker software can detect
suspicious behavior on a computer network.