Solution Providers: Cardinals-Astros Baseball Breach Highlights Corporate Espionage Problem

While news of corporate megabreaches is driving investments in security, solution providers said they hope the recent reports of a breach of the Houston Astros baseball team by the rival St. Louis Cardinals will help shine light on another security challenge: corporate espionage.

The FBI is looking into whether the Cardinals hacked into the internal networks of the Astros after the Astros hired former Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow as general manager, according to The New York Times. The attack gained access to a special database containing personnel information, scouting reports and trade discussions, the report said.

The attack wasn't very sophisticated, the Times report said, with front-office officials using a master password list from Luhnow's time at the Cardinals to gain access to the Astros' comparable special database.

[Related: LastPass Takes Steps To Protect Enterprise Partners In Wake Of Data Breach]

While solution providers made sure to note the importance of choosing secure passwords, they said the more important implication of the breach is the message it sends to clients about competitive corporate espionage.

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"I think the accounts of corporate espionage are unbelievably underreported. I think it's one of the dirty little secrets about the business landscape right now," said Mike Gavaghen, vice president of sales and marketing at Norwalk, Conn.-based SLPowers. "I think there's a willful denial going on throughout the economy right now about the risks of cybersecurity, and the more we talk about it, the better it is."

Gavaghen said he hopes the high-profile nature of the baseball breach will bring some much-needed public attention to the issue.

"Because it happened to a sports team, it will get a lot of attention," Gavaghen said. "That’s a good thing. ... This may hit the public consciousness with more significance because it involved baseball teams."

Ken Westin, senior security analyst for Tripwire, agreed in an email, saying that end users don't always realize that hackers are often looking for more than just credit card numbers and health-care records.

’We have increasingly seen this behavior in business where hackers steal and sell information to competitors or investors to give them an edge," Westin said in the email. "A baseball team hacking another team is a logical extension of this type of attack, as it is in the end a business as well with high financial stakes. By accessing information on players, their goal is to give themselves a competitive edge."

Steve Katsman, chief information officer and vice president at Bensalem, Pa.-based Micro Technology Group, agreed, but said corporate espionage isn't anything new. What makes this reported breach interesting, he said, is that it was conducted by front-office staff members who didn't have any indicated training or elite skills in computers or security. Katsman said that makes him curious as to what level of security the Astros had in place, or if the Cardinals had more resources behind the attack than indicated in the report. Regardless, Katsman said, the report shows that companies should take further steps to protect their critical competitive data.

"To me, that goes back to training of the staff on whatever company. Security needs to be best practice. It needs to be an ongoing thing. You need to monitor what's going on with your systems. These guys need to monitor their systems and have the tools in place as to what's going on," Katsman said.

To protect against this sort of attack, SLPowers' Gavaghen said he recommends his clients implement a good log management system to fight back against this sort of corporate espionage attack. While intrusion prevention systems are good for known, external attacks, Gavaghen said a log management system will help flag more gradual and targeted attacks.

In addition, Matthew Knowland, director of operations at Hoboken, N.J.-based eMazzanti Technologies, recommended in an email that companies make sure employees are updating passwords, as simple passwords can cause "irreparable damage."

"This just goes to show that no matter the size of your company or the sophistication of the information that you may be producing within your industry, something as simple as password protection can cripple your organization. The statistics are staggering of the number of people who, year after year, continue to use the same password. ... I am guessing at this point that the Astros wish that they had a 'three tries and locked out' rule built into their login system," Knowland said in the email.