Are hackers targeting your association?
The recent revelation that Chinese hackers penetrated the internal computer network of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) last summer should be a clarion call to all associations: They are coming for you.
The suspected Chinese hackers ramped up their efforts to steal information in the days surrounding a meeting between NAM President Jay Timmons and President Trump this past summer. While we don’t know what data was stolen, the incident took place during intense trade negotiations, as US and Chinese government officials began to hash out details of a potential deal.
The primary motivating factor behind the hacking of trade associations is simple: INFLUENCE. The fact that NAM is an influential group that’s helped shape Trump’s trade policy made them an attractive target for the Chinese, who undoubtedly leveraged inside information to gain an upper hand in the talks.
While the NAM hack is notable for its ties to the executive branch and high-stakes negotiations, the fact is that associations of all sizes and political influence are potential targets of hackers such as nation-states, foreign businesses or individual cybercriminals. In other words, you don’t need to have political or lobbying connections to be an attractive hacking target. Your member list, industry-specific intellectual property, employee data, digital connections to influencers, and banking and financial information are all just as attractive to cybercriminals and cyberextortionists as your political relationships.
Over the past decade, numerous associations have been hacked: In May, the National Association of Realtors reported on a number of hacks of state associations and advised their members to beef up cybersecurity. Earlier hacks include (ironically) the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the Fraternal Order of Police and the US Chamber of Commerce.
It’s not a matter of if your association will be hacked, but when
The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risks Report ranked cyberattacks as the number one risk in North America. And with good reason. Data breaches alone are predicted to cost $5 trillion globally by 2024; in just the first nine months of this year, 7.9 billion records were exposed in North America. Associations haven’t traditionally been a large part of those statistics, which is exactly what makes them ripe for future picking. Lack of direct threats tends to breed complacency and lack of proactive protections.
Protecting your association from hackers and cybercriminals
As an industry association, in addition to advocating for your members, you have two vital responsibilities:
- Protecting your member data, financial details and intellectual property from cybercrime
- Educating your members about protecting their organizations against those same evil forces
Here are the first steps you can take to fulfill both responsibilities:
- Commission an External Cyber Penetration Test to expose your specific and known vulnerabilities
- Educate your internal employees to detect and deter social engineering tactics like phishing, ransomware and deepfake videos
- Prepare a data breach response plan in case you are successfully attacked. This should include a list of executive responsibilities, a public relations strategy, legal response and methods of communicating with the breach response team (remember, your email and texts and mobile devices can be compromised in a breach)
- Educate your association members about cybersecurity best practices at your next annual event
Your reputation as an association depends on many factors. One of the most overlooked of those is the reputational damage done by a cyber breach incident, especially if member data is compromised. Take steps to manage your risk and defend your data — before it’s too late.
About Cybersecurity Keynote Speaker John Sileo
John Sileo is the founder and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy and cybersecurity think tank, in Lakewood, Colorado, and an award-winning author, keynote speaker, and expert on technology, cybersecurity and tech/life balance. John specializes in making security engaging for association and corporate audiences. Contact him directly on 303.777.3221.