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Blog — Jun 17, 2015

A swing and a miss for would-be baseball hackers

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The world recently learned that the much-revered St. Louis Cardinals hacked into an internal network managed by the Houston Astros to steal information about players and is now under investigation by the FBI and the US Justice Department. According to media coverage, the Cardinals hacked into special Astros databases housing information about upcoming player trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports.

This marks the first instance of corporate cyber espionage in professional sports where one team hacked into a rival’s network. Most people have become accustomed to stories about breaches of company’s networks but we’re more familiar with the storyline where the perpetrators are located in foreign countries and are looking for money or other security data.

These Major League Baseball (MLB) criminals are local and yet the concept is somewhat foreign to us. The cult classic movie Moneyball made us aware of the value of baseball stats, but this real baseball drama where the reward was player intelligence and the cost an FBI investigation should make us all view cybersecurity in a new way.

This particular instance was not highly sophisticated; it was a case of stolen credentials, opportunity and a perceived valuable reward. With a few keystrokes the criminal has access to a competitive edge that seems almost too good to be true.

This is an example of a breach that could have been avoided. The victim at the root of this case made a cardinal (pardon the pun) error. He used simple passwords and failed to refresh them on a regular basis. This seems like a basic consideration when it comes to maintaining good cybersecurity hygiene, yet many people fail to follow this fundamental exercise. This is one reason why the types of sophisticated, targeted attacks that we see today are on the rise.

As all sectors, including professional sport, become more and more focused on harvesting, holding and leveraging data to be successful, protecting this data becomes even more critical. In all cases, proprietary data is extremely valuable and the threats are everywhere. What we’ve learned with this new story about professional baseball is that information has power and can entice someone to cross the line into criminal behaviour. Cybercrimes offer distance and anonymity, but make no mistake they are crimes and are taken seriously.

“The F.B.I. aggressively investigates all potential threats to public- and private sector systems,” an F.B.I. spokeswoman said. “Once our investigations are complete, we pursue all appropriate avenues to hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.” (New York Times)

The Houston Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow was quoted after the breach as saying that he was going back to using a pencil and paper. In today’s environment, there are tools available that are decidedly more high-tech and there’s no need to go back to old-school ways of saving information.

No one is immune to these types of crimes and we need to take measures to protect our valuable information, and as we evolve how we capture information we also must evolve how we protect it.

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J. Paul Haynes
J. Paul Haynes President & Chief Operating Officer
J.Paul Haynes is a professional engineer with a 25-year entrepreneurial track record of success. J.Paul has led eSentire to 10x its size since he joined the company in late 2010.