'White Hat' hackers help businesses keep cyber-criminals at bay

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In the war between computer users and hackers, it seems the hackers are winning.

Not only have we heard about large companies like Target and Supervalu, whose customer data has been attacked. But the federal government warned just a couple of days ago that more than 1,000 retailers are susceptible to the same kind of data breach that affected those two retail giants, according to CBS News.

The businesses could be infected with malicious software lurking in their cash register computers, allowing hackers to steal customer financial data.

These high-profile security breaches were the inspiration for a cyber-security conference in the Twin Cities over the weekend, attended by people who wanted to learn more about how to protect their computer networks, KSTP reports.

The Nerdery, a software development company in Bloomington, hosted the Security B-Sides conference. Security B-Sides describes itself as a grass-roots, do-it-yourself, open security conference for information security experts who try to stay one step ahead of the hackers.

“The entire reason this event exists is to give a free security conference," lead coordinator Matthew Harmon told WCCO.

Many of the attendees were "White Hat" hackers -- good hackers who are hired by companies to test their computer systems and identify the weak spots. Harmon notes the bad hackers are becoming more brazen and companies need to remain vigilant.

"The intelligence exists within their organization to know what’s happening, but most people are just underfunded, understaffed or they don’t have the skills necessary in order to do that appropriately,” Harmon said.

Since Target discovered its data breach last year, during the height of the holiday shopping season, it has sped up a $100 million plan to install new chip-based credit card technology-- which is considerably more secure than the magnetic stripe card reader -- in all its stores. The company estimates it's lost tens of millions of dollars as a result of the breach, and several top executives left the company.

But even more secure credit card technology and improved computer security will only slow down, but not stop, the hackers who are using more sophisticated techniques themselves, according to Jerome Segura, a senior security researcher at cybersecurity software firm Malware Bytes.

“This past year and a half has been breach after breach,” he said. “It’s incredible.”

Segura told CBS that companies need to take another look at how they use remote access systems for employees and vendors. By limiting what parts of their systems can be accessed remotely, he said, companies can limit the damage that hackers can do.

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