Family member hacked

Security Incidents Involving Family Members

Should an Employee Report Security Incidents Involving Family Members?

Redbot Security’s team often has clients ask our opinion about new technologies they are implementing, remediation strategies, and potential risks. Well, this was an interesting question raised by one of our clients that stirred a lively debate among the security team.

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If a Family Member Gets Hacked

Hey, CSOs and CISOs, here’s an interesting question: Does your yearly risk analysis include what happens to family members of employees? Redbot Security works closely with over 500 companies on and off the clock. This is part of our core values to provide the ‘human element through kindness’ as a trusted advisor before, during, and after security engagements. We don’t charge our clients to provide input for questions about potential security concerns.

“Should employees self-report to the CISO/CSO any potential security incidents that happen to family members?”

Here’s the rub, family members are not employees, and there is a concern that self-reporting, such as account compromises for social media, personal email, or credit cards, could be seen as an invasion of privacy. Typically, what happens to an employee or their family on devices or accounts not controlled by the organization should be considered personal, and organizations should not cross that line. However, given the following situation and potential attack vector, would it be appropriate to have a heads-up from the employee?

An Example Scenario: Executive's Daughter Hacked

Background: Little Suzy, a teenage daughter of Ralph, an executive leader at the local water and waste treatment facility, is a social media influencer among her peers. She constantly shares on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Ralph encourages her activity and closely monitors her content for age-appropriate material. Ralph also has a second daughter, Kendra, an accomplished gamer who spends many hours dialed into the latest and greatest games, chat boards, and social events.

Targeting: A malicious actor intends to target the SCADA network where Ralph works. Through OSINT, the malicious actor identifies Ralph as a key individual and stumbles upon his children’s social activities. The malicious actor poses as another gamer and establishes a close relationship with Kendra. Soon the conversation gets a little personal, asking about things like a grandparents’ birthday, the name of the dog, where they went on vacation last year, etc. What Kendra didn’t know was that the conversations provided answers that were the security questions to Suzy’s social media accounts.

The Attack: Within a few hours, the malicious actor has compromised Suzy’s Facebook account and is now sending directed messages with malicious links. Ralph sees a message from Suzy’s account and logs in from a personal computer to review. “Hi, Daddy; I thought this was funny, and you should get one for Mom. [Malicious_Link].”

Outcome: The malicious threat actor executed a payload on Ralph’s personal computer and can now monitor everything he does. As this is a home computer, it didn’t have the protections necessary to identify or alert the malicious code execution to the security staff of the water treatment facility. The family quickly realizes that Suzy’s account was compromised and begins steps to recover her account while looking for potential malware. Nothing is mentioned to the organization, as this was a personal, family issue. The facility was compromised three months later, and the account used to gain the initial foothold belonged to Ralph.

The Debate

So, let’s begin the debate! Should Ralph have reported his family member’s security incident to the IT or security staff at the waste and water facility? There is no clear answer, and there could be an ethical divide.

From a security professional’s point of view, the most obvious answer is that it would have been beneficial for Ralph to alert the organization. However, Ralph is an executive and may not have wanted to make it publicly known within the company that his family had an issue due to personal or reputational reasons, possibly rooted in fear. Another reason would be that it was a private home computer; he may have felt it was irrelevant to the organization.

Generally, suppose an employee’s family member experiences a cybersecurity event. In that case, it might only be necessary to alert the company’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) if the incident is directly related to the company, its systems, or its data.

However, there are circumstances where alerting the CSO or CISO could be beneficial:

  • Company-Owned Devices: If the family member was using a company-owned device, any security incident should be reported immediately, as it may impact the organization’s network or data.
  • Work From Home Networks: If an employee works remotely and shares a network with the family member who experienced the security incident, it could pose a risk to the company. The compromised device could serve as a point of access to the company’s systems.
  • Sensitive Information: If the employee has a role in the company that involves handling sensitive data, and there is a chance that the compromised device had access to such data, the security team should be informed.
  • Executive Family Members: If the family member is related to a high-ranking executive, the risk is higher due to potential access to more sensitive information. Therefore, it may be best to notify the company’s security team as a precautionary measure.

Conclusion

In any case, fostering a culture of openness and education about cybersecurity is crucial. Employees should feel comfortable reporting potential security issues, and organizations should have clear protocols in place to deal with such incidents. This includes defining what constitutes a reportable incident, who should be notified, and what steps should be taken to address it. Remember that each case is unique, and companies must weigh the potential risk and the employee’s privacy in each situation.

Redbot Security encourages security and IT staff who come across this blog to start an internal dialog that addresses this very issue. Each organization’s outcome will differ and is driven by the ethics or ethos of the individuals participating. Consider adding family awareness and self-reporting of security incidents originating outside the organization as part of the annual security awareness program.

Picture of Andrew Bindner

Andrew Bindner

Andrew has 20+ years of hands-on security experience leading teams or working individually on highly technical engagements for a wide variety of commercial and government industries in IT and OT security. Andrew is an active security community leader/member that has developed Redbot Security’s penetration testing methodologies, security policies, attack tools, social engineering tactics, and application and IoT testing guidance. Andrew is able to hack his way into a variety of IT/OT networks, devices and applications and has been known take over entire cities, Simulating Real World Attacks – Before they Become Real…

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