May 15th, 2023

Preventing Data Tampering: Understanding Threats, Implications and Protection Strategies

According to Security Magazine, there are over 2,200 cyberattacks daily, equating to nearly one attack every 39 seconds. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, AI, and big data has expanded the attack surface for cybercriminals. As a result, implementing robust security measures to safeguard your organisations most valuable assets – your data – is more critical than ever.

Data tampering is increasingly sophisticated and widespread as attackers exploit vulnerabilities in systems, networks, and applications. This can manifest in various ways, including altering records, changing account balances, or modifying crucial system settings, which can have severe consequences for organisations. Notable cyberattacks, such as US Water Treatment Plant Attack, Stuxnet Attack on Iran Nuclear Facility, Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack, and the infamous SolarWinds Supply Chain Attack, aim to steal, manipulate, lock, or damage data. Data tampering can have serious implications in any sector.

  • In healthcare, it can result in incorrect diagnoses, improper medication dosages, or harm to patients.
  • In finance, fraudulent transactions, misreported financial results, or theft of funds
  • For critical infrastructure sectors like energy or transportation, data tampering can cause physical damage to equipment, disrupt operations, and potentially lead to safety incidents or loss of life.

Cybercriminals frequently target log data used by Security Operations Center (SOC) teams, as tampering significantly affects a company’s cybersecurity posture. Tampered log data makes it difficult to determine the occurrence, timing, and involved parties of events. Attackers may manipulate logs to conceal their activities or mislead security analysts, hindering detection and response to an attack. Additionally, tampered log data can obstruct forensic investigations and impact regulatory compliance, leading to legal and financial consequences.

GENERAL IMPLICATIONS OF DATA TAMPERING

Financial Loss: Businesses can suffer substantial financial losses due to data tampering. For example, tampering with financial records can result in inaccurate reporting and decision-making, leading to costly errors. Moreover, data tampering can erode customer trust, causing a decline in clients and revenue.

Damage to Reputation: A data tampering incident can irreparably harm an organisations reputation. Customers, partners, and stakeholders may lose confidence in the company’s ability to protect their data, leading to a decrease in market value and hampering the company’s growth and ability to attract new business.

Legal Consequences: Data tampering can lead to legal ramifications for companies, including fines, lawsuits, and regulatory penalties for insufficient data protection. Compliance with data protection regulations like NIS2, CCPA, HIPAA requires strict adherence to data security best practices, not to mention the need for trustworthy data in DORA reports.

Detecting data tampering is challenging, particularly if an attacker has gained high-level privileges or compromised security controls. To protect against data tampering, organisations should establish strict access controls and limit the number of individuals with data modification permissions. Role-based access control (RBAC) can help enforce the principle of least privilege, ensuring employees have access only to the data necessary for their job functions.

While encrypting data at rest and in transit can help protect against unauthorised alterations, encryption alone is insufficient. Encryption safeguards data at rest and in transit but not during processing or authorised user access. Strengthening endpoint security through data notarisation and user access controls is essential to complement encryption and to detect data tampering along the whole data lifecycle.

Regular monitoring and review of audit logs can help detect and prevent data tampering. Audit logs should contain information on data access, actions taken, and the timing of these actions. Anomalies and suspicious activities can be flagged for further investigation. Blockchain technology can maintain data integrity by creating a tamper-proof, decentralised, and transparent record of transactions. Once a block of data is added to the blockchain, it becomes immutable and cannot be altered.

WHAT ARE THE METHODS COMPANIES CAN USE TO SECURE THE DATA?

  • Protect integrity and authenticity of critical log data directly at source
  • Implement an immutable data notarization and verification platform based on blockchain technology
  • Detect malicious data on a fine granular level, allowing you to sort out only bad data
  • Provide data integrity verification and history for SOC/SIEM, external auditors and forensic analysis
  • Data tampering detection can be combined with application data to directly secure critical business processes

Many organisations today are especially vulnerable because of the lack of automated data notarisation and verification. They struggle to detect if the data in their systems was not tampered with. As a result, data, even the backup data from critical sensors/SIEM logs/ external and internal sources is often unverified throughout the full lifecycle and can’t be fully trusted and utilised