What the recent JANET attack tells us about Social Media Risk

06 January 2016

You may have heard about the recent attack on JANET, the UK’s higher education research and education network that serves over 18 million users. It was attacked using a series of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, preventing students and Higher Education Institution (HEI) employees alike from gaining access to the internet and their university networks. Such an attack was not anticipated or expected on the external IT infrastructure, which in turn increased its impact. But why is social media an important aspect of this? After the initial impact of the attack, it is believed that the attackers were monitoring the twitter updates on JANET in order to adapt their attacks and to continue disrupting the network. This in itself highlights a number of concerns for organisations – there is a direct conflict between the need to use social media to your advantage to get important messages out to customers and for engagement, however how much is ‘too much’ information and exactly what is appropriate or acceptable to put out in order to ensure you are protected (whether your organisation, your customers or you personally)?

Social media is an increasingly used tool by attackers – whether it to be to social engineer firms, commit identity theft, conduct phishing attacks or worse. You only need to look at some of the statistics on social media cyber attacks and threats to realise the issues we are now facing. For example, 1 in 10 social network users said they had fallen victim to a scam or fake link on social network platforms; more than 600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised every day.  Cyber bullying is on the rise due to social media use, with an astounding 55% of teens witnessing bullying over social networks; there is an increasing amount of account hijacking occurring on high profile accounts - all of this further emphasises the extent to which cyber threats and criminals have evolved through the adoption of social media. 

I’m not saying that social media shouldn’t be used, in fact quite the opposite. It is a brilliant tool for organisations and society in general. It comes with a number of advantages and benefits, but because it is a fairly new tool in society we’ve been slow to grasp the scale of the impact using it can have on an individual or an organisation. This is why it needs a lot of thought and understanding. Once you have this and can govern those risks, the benefits are huge, particularly in terms of increasing competitive advantage, customer engagement and the ability to raise your profile and reputation.

Ultimately, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that from the board level filtered down throughout organisations and the general public, appropriate education and strategies are in place to effectively mitigate the risks of its usage. It may carry a risk but the benefits it can bring when you get it right are incredible – plus social media isn’t going away any time soon. Find out more here.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology on your industry, then please get in touch with Euan Cameron.