The 25 Worst Passwords of 2015

In another reminder that users are always the biggest security weakness, “123456” and “password” have once again been named the most commonly used bad passwords. In SplashData’s fifth annual “Worst Passwords List,” the company has compiled the most common weak, easily guessable passwords that leave users vulnerable to hacking and identity theft.

Pulling from more than 2 million leaked passwords revealed during the year, the list highlights just how vulnerable users are. Some new and longer passwords made the top 25, reflecting some effort by websites, system administrators and perhaps users themselves to try to force better security practices by requiring more characters. Unfortunately, these longer passwords are so simple that the extra characters mean little, particularly given how few passwords utilize both letters and numbers.

Some new bad passwords may seem a bit more complex, for example, “1234567890,” “1qaz2wsx” (first two columns of main keys on a standard keyboard), and “qwertyuiop” (top row of keys on a standard keyboard), but are easily guessableand clearly not quite as innovative as these users may have thought. It seems the excitement over Star Wars also had an impact: with common passwords “starwars,” “solo” and “princess,” the force of bad information security awakens.

Check out the infographic below for the top 25 worst passwords and some of SplashData’s top tips to build ones that stay off the list.

SplashData worst passwords of 2015

Cost of Cyber Crime Up 19% For U.S. Businesses

In its annual Cost of Cyber Crime study, the Ponemon Institute found that the average annual cost of cyber crime per large company is now $15.4 million in the United States. That figure has increased 19% from last year’s $12.7 million, and presents an 82% jump from the institute’s first such study six years ago. This year, losses ranged from $307,800 to $65,047,302.

Globally, the average annual cost of cybercrime is $7.7 million, an increase of 1.9% from last year. The U.S. sample had the highest total average cost, while the Russian sample reported the lowest, with an average cost of $2.5 million. Germany, Japan, Australia, and Russia experienced a slight decrease in the cost of cyber crime over the past year.

To try to benchmark the complete cost of cyber crime, the Ponemon Institute examines the total cost of responding to incidents, including detection, recovery, investigation and incident-response management. While it is virtually impossible to quantify all of the losses due to reputation damage or business interruption, the researchers did look at after-the-fact expenses intended to minimize the potential loss of business or customers.

Check out more of the study’s findings in the infographic below:

global cost of cyber crime ponemon institute

Morpho Hacker Group Targets Intellectual Property

With the highly-publicized rise in cyberbreaches, we have seen hackers break into systems for a variety of reasons: criminal enterprises simply stealing money, thieves gathering Social Security or credit card numbers to sell on the black market, state-sponsored groups taking confidential information, and malicious actors taking passwords or personal data to use to hit more valuable targets. Now, another group of financially-motivated hackers has emerged with a different agenda that may have even riskier implications for businesses.

According to a new report from computer security company Symantec, a group it calls Morpho has attacked multiple multibillion-dollar companies across an array of industries in pursuit of one thing: intellectual property. While it is not entirely clear what they do with this information, they may aim to sell it to competitors or nation states, the firm reports. “The group may be operating as ‘hackers for hire,’ targeting corporations on request,” Symantec reported. “Alternatively, it may select its own targets and either sell stolen information to the highest bidder or use it for insider trading purposes.”

Victimized businesses have spanned the Internet, software, pharmaceutical, legal and commodities fields, and the researchers believe the Morpho group is the same one that breached Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft in 2013.

Symantec does not believe the group is affiliated with or acting on behalf of any particular country as they have attacked businesses without regard for the nationality of its targets. But, as the New York Times reported, ” the researchers said there were clues that the hackers might be English speakers — their malicious code is written in fluent English — and they named their encryption keys after memes in American pop culture and gaming. Researchers also said the attackers worked during United States working hours, though they conceded that might just be because that is when their targets are most active.”

The researchers have tied Morpho to attacks against 49 different organizations in more than 20 countries, deploying custom hacking tools that are able to break into both Windows and Apple computers, suggesting it has plenty of resources and expertise. The group has been active since at least March 2012, the report said, and their attacks have not only continued to the present day, but have increased in number. “Over time, a picture has emerged of a cybercrime gang systematically targeting large corporations in order to steal confidential data,” Symantec said.

Morpho hacking victims by industry

Morpho hackers have also been exceptionally careful, from preliminary reconnaissance to cleaning up evidence. In some cases, to help best determine the valuable trade secrets they would steal, the group intercepted company emails as well as business databases containing legal and policy documents, financial records, product descriptions and training documents. In one case, they were able to compromise a physical security system that monitors employee and visitor movements in corporate buildings. After getting the data they wanted, they scrubbed their tracks, even making sure the servers they used to orchestrate the attacks were rented using the anonymous digital currency Bitcoin.

In short, the hackers are really good, according to Vikram Thakur, a senior manager of the attack investigations team at Symantec. “Who they are? We don’t know. They are virtually impossible to track,” he said.

5 Questions Boards and the C-Suite Should Be Asking About Cyberrisk

There is growing concern that corporate boards and senior executives are not prepared to govern their organization’s exposure to cyberrisk. While true to some degree, executive management can learn to identify and focus on the strategic and systemic sources of cyberrisk, without becoming distracted by complex technology-related symptoms, by understanding the organization’s ability to make well-informed decisions about cyberrisk and reliably execute those decisions.

Making well-informed cyberrisk decisions

To gain greater confidence regarding cyberrisk decision-making, executives should ensure that their organizations are functioning well in two areas: visibility into the cyber risk landscape, and risk analysis accuracy.

1. “How good is our cyberrisk visibility?”

You can’t manage what you haven’t identified. Many companies focus so strongly on supporting rapidly evolving business objectives that they lose sight of closely managing the technology changes that result from those objectives. Consequently, it is common to find that organizations have an incomplete and out-of-date understanding of:

  • Their company’s network connectivity to other companies and the Internet
  • Which systems, applications, and technologies support critical business functions
  • Where sensitive data resides, both inside and outside their company’s network

Without this foundational information, an organization can’t realistically claim to understand how much cyberrisk it has or where its cyber risk priorities need to be.

2. “How accurately are we analyzing cyberrisk?”

It is common to find that over 70% of the “high-risk” issues brought before management do not, in fact, represent high risk. In some organizations more than 90% of “high risk” issues are mislabeled. When it comes to analyzing cyberrisk, several foundational challenges exist in many organizations:


How anxious would you be to ride on a space shuttle mission if you knew that the engineers and scientists who planned the mission and designed the spacecraft couldn’t agree on definitions for mass, weight, and velocity?

Odds are good that if you ask six people within your risk management organization to define “risk” or provide examples of “risks” you’ll get several different, perhaps very different, answers. Given this, it isn’t hard to imagine that risk analysis quality will be inconsistent.

Broken models

In the cyberrisk industry today, there is heavy reliance on the informal mental models of personnel. As a result, very often the focus of a “risk rating” is strongly biased on a control deficiency rather than a more explicit consideration of the loss scenario(s) the control may be relevant to. Without applying a probabilistic lens to risk analysis it is much more difficult to differentiate and prioritize effectively among the myriad loss events that could, possibly, happen.

Another challenge is that most technologies that identify weaknesses in security generate significantly inflated risk ratings. The outcome is wasted resources, unwarranted angst, and an inability to identify and resolve the issues that truly deserve immediate attention.

Although risk management programs within some industries have begun to examine and manage the risk associated with poor models, this focus is often limited to models that do quantitative financial analysis. This leaves unexamined:

  • The mental models of risk professionals and whether their off-the-cuff risk estimates are accurate
  • Home-grown qualitative and ordinal models
  • Models embedded within cyberrisk tools

Yet these models, with their implicit assumptions and weaknesses, are responsible for driving critical decisions about how organizations manage their cyber risk landscapes.

Reliable execution

Although risk management expectations and objectives are set through decision-making, execution is the deciding factor on whether the organization is able to consistently realize the intended outcomes.

3. “How well do personnel understand what’s expected of them?”

In one organization, the information security policies were written at a grade 21 level. Most organizations today have some form of information security policy and related standards, and many even require personnel to read and acknowledge those policies annually. Very often however, the policies have been written by consultants or subject matter experts using verbiage that is complex and/or ambiguous. As a result, personnel may dutifully read and acknowledge the policies but they may not have a clear understanding of what actually is expected of them.

4. “How capable are personnel of meeting expectations?”

Things change. When budget belts get tightened organizations often cut training budgets. Given the rapid pace of change in the cyberrisk landscape, this can create serious skills gaps for cyberrisk professionals and technologists.

Another challenge in this regard has to do with outdated technology. Many organizations hang on to technologies well beyond the point where they can be maintained in a secure state. As a result, “policy exceptions” for these technologies become routinely accepted, which limits the ability of the organization to achieve or maintain its own security objectives.

5. “How well are personnel prioritizing cyberrisk?”

Which is more important; revenue, budgets, deadlines, or cyber risk?

Root cause analyses performed on cyberrisk deficiencies have found that personnel routinely choose not to comply with cyberrisk policies because they believe revenue, budgets, and/or deadlines are more important. This is influenced in part (perhaps a significant part) by the challenges noted above regarding risk-rating inaccuracies. It isn’t unusual to find that overestimated risk ratings create a “boy who cried wolf” syndrome within organizations. The result is that organizations don’t consistently or meaningfully incentivize executives to achieve cyberrisk management objectives because there is tacit recognition that much of what is claimed to be high-risk is not. Another factor is that revenue, cost, and deadlines are measureable in the near-term, whereas many high-impact risk scenarios are less likely to materialize before they become “someone else’s problem.”

The bottom line is that prudent risk-taking is only likely to occur if executives are provided accurate risk information and if they are appropriately incentivized based on the level of risk they subject the organization to.

At the end of the day…

Effectively governing cyberrisk is within the grasp of senior executives who deal with complex and dynamic challenges every day. By examining their organization’s ability to make well-informed decisions and to execute reliably, senior executives can more effectively identify and address the strategic and systemic sources of risk within their organizations.