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What Does The Twitter Chaos Tell Us About The Security Of Our Data?

Nov 22 2022

What a few weeks it has been for Twitter, from the sacking of half its workforce, and the rushed release of a new feature that allows impersonation of people and brands, through to the unintentional lock out of some users with a certain multi-factor authentication (MFA) configuration enabled. Added to this, we have also seen major resignations of key individuals across the Information Security, Privacy and Compliance groups. And this whole post comes with an “at time of writing” warning because the situation is changing daily!

On the face of it, this may look like it has a greater impact on individuals than it does businesses, but the whole issue highlights how easy it is for the perception of a company to change overnight and raises questions about the stability of security postures among vendors.  So, what can we learn from the ongoing issues at Twitter? 

Firstly, we should recognise that, although the Twitter acquisition was long touted, most of these changes were unheralded in advance. This tells us that it is possible for the security and privacy stance of an organisation hosting our data to change overnight, and with it our own cybersecurity risk profile. How prepared is your organisation for such an occurrence? How much does your security depend upon native controls within your application provider’s own technology? How capable are you of quickly applying cloud security controls in the event of any change at your cloud application or service provider? 

When issues like this arise with any tech vendor who holds organisational data, teams will want to ask questions of their supplier and devise risk plans pertaining to areas such as:

  • What impact does this have on service availability?
  • Will this impact service updates?
  • Does this change the communication lines we have into the vendor and how might that impact our ability to address issues?

Under the shared responsibility model, organisations should already have a map of controls and responsibilities, and these should be reviewed to anticipate any changes in risk in light of any major changes at a supplier’s business. Processes should be well defined, documented, and continually checked, enabling an organisation to be on the front foot ahead of any issues.

Secondly, this reminds us of the ongoing organisational risk of employees storing and exchanging sensitive data in the plethora of SaaS applications, the majority of which are not under the control of the organisation’s IT teams. While on the face of it, allowing the use of a trusted (but not managed) SaaS application might not pose as big a risk as the use of an untrusted file transfer service with a poor privacy policy, spreading your data far and wide only increases the risk that one service will expose data. This is why  many organisations are choosing to not only limit the unmanaged SaaS services their employees can use, but also look to implement a zero trust-based access policy, limiting the amount and type of data that is exposed to such services. 

Finally, we have to consider the possibility that one or more of the thousands of employees let go (or perhaps retained, but unhappy), may be able to sabotage the service, exfiltrate sensitive data, or simply make a mistake because they are stressed and overstretched. How would an insider threat (potentially on a grand scale) affect your organisation if similar issues occurred at one of your application or cloud compute providers? 

As with any cybersecurity strategy, we have to look at balancing risk with business benefit, so while organisations will continue to consume cloud services at a growing rate, perhaps the Twitter fallout will help raise awareness of these new types of risk at a board level. Not only that, maybe it will also help us as infrastructure and security professionals to justify our programmes and continued investment in both cloud security controls and zero trust security frameworks?

If you’d like to learn more about the risks of data sprawl, read the July 2022 Cloud and Threat Report: Cloud Data Sprawl.

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Richard Davis
Richard Davis is Director, Solution Strategy at Netskope.

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