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Congratulations on your Data Breach

TK Keanini

I know the title of this blog post may sound odd to you at first, but after reading this Forbes article, “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did,” you will get what I am saying. We are all consumers at retail establishments that track our purchasing and, through their advanced analytics, predict our future purchasing behavior. Technically, I think that is pure awesomeness. Socially, it creeps me out, but back to the technical for a second…

How about we use this same approach on network traffic and activity to predict a data breach? (Hence the title of this article.) Much like they are sending out acknowledgements of customers’ pregnancies, retailers should also be using this data mining to notify their own IT teams of potential breaches. I find it completely ironic that the retail giants, who spend millions on marketing analytics, do not understand the value of predictive analytics in cybersecurity as they continue to be violated by cybercriminals. Synthesizing data sets through a reasoning engine that produces inferences about future states is what I get up to do every day!

If you are like me, you are reading the Forbes article thinking, “Why aren’t these analytical geniuses applying themselves to cybersecurity defenses?” And let me point out, it is not just the retailer mentioned in the Forbes article I am referring to, but all big retailers. As the articles states, certain purchases, when made in a specific time period, create inferences to a future state. This phenomenon is also discussed in the New York Times article, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.” In this case it happened to be pregnancy, but the same types of inferences could easily be made about impending data breaches on these retailers’ networks.

In fact, many of the public retail breach disclosures so far showed that there were very obvious indicators of a potential breach that, if detected early on, could have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble. I liken this to being part of a professional basketball team on a losing streak and not realizing you have a player like Michael Jordan sitting on the bench. 

Retailers, I’m on your side. I shop at every one of these retailers and I’m faithful in punching in my membership card when I check out. When I say all of these retailers, I’m saying the ones that got breached recently and the ones that inevitably will be breached at some point in time.

My plea is that you treat cybercrime as a part of your overall business and make the same investment in security analytics as you do consumer analytics. Only then will you be able to outsmart the bad guys. And for a finishing touch, you can send them a coupon for orange jumpsuits in the mail. 


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