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The Follow Up Story

Source: Security Wire Digest

Posted on September 14, 2000

      A momentary security lapse opened one of the nation's most revered financial service companies to a cyberattack last week that compromised several thousand credit card accounts and tarnished its reputation in the market.

      Western Union, founded in 1871 on the principle of secure electronic money transfers, announced last week that a cracker successfully penetrated its Web site and stole more than 15,700 credit and debit card numbers from a database left unsecured while systems underwent routine maintenance.

      Some reports place the blame for the incident on crackers seeking to simply demonstrate weaknesses in corporate security systems. Nonetheless, Western Union took no chances. It advised all affected customers to change their credit card numbers and asked their banks to monitor accounts for suspicious activity.

      "We believe that is the most aggressive step we could take to protect our customers," Pete Ziverts, Western Union's vice president of corporate communications, stated in published reports. "The second step is to make sure it doesn't happen again."

      Western Union attributes the security lapse to human error. Technicians working on a system took security measures offline while they were working, but left the site connected to the Internet. An enterprising cracker penetrated the firewalls and found the credit card information database unprotected.

      The compromise of customer financial information aside, only time will tell if the 129-year-old company will suffer any loss in prestige or consumer confidence by the perception that Western Union is insecure.

      "It seems to me that Western Union, which is in the money order space, needs to be on the Internet, but it certainly doesn't want to lose its reputation due to poor security," said Bill Murray, an executive security consultant with Deloitte & Touche.

      Any company can suffer irrecoverable damage because of poor security, but more established companies with well-known brands have more to lose if their security is compromised.

      "If you allow your brand to be clobbered in the market, it takes a lot longer to repair it than protecting it in the first place," says Murray.

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