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Hack Attack

. . . and other threats from the politically offended

When Madonna's web site was hit by activists angry about music piracy laws, the singer struck back with a technological salvo. The result was publicity for the singer's latest album and more fuel for the fiery debate over Internet file-sharing.

Political activism aimed at businesses usually takes the form of harmless, if inconvenient, lampoons meant to highlight a company's record on labor rights or the environment. In some cases, sabotage takes a more vicious tone. Whether it's a torched SUV sitting in a parking lot or animals freed from a biotechnology lab, businesses face increasingly emboldened activism. While behemoths such as McDonald's or Wal-Mart are the usual targets, even small businesses can be potential victims--and the Web is often the weapon of choice.

"What was once hacking for bragging rights now has a moral, activist spin," says Gary Morse, president of Razorpoint Security Technologies Inc. in New York City. Hackers can damage a small business either directly, by breaking through firewalls to steal and destroy data, or indirectly, by using the company's network as a base from which to attack other targets. Businesses can find safety through more rigorous firewall protection, tight control of e-mail attachments, VPNs and the proper use of passwords. Security audits also work to detect network weaknesses.

The virtual world isn't the only source of vulnerability. Stolen hard drives and damaged property can be the goal of a saboteur. Small businesses face heightened risks for these activities because they typically operate out of leased space. To increase workplace security, ensure that building management screens its employees and contractors, has established visitor and escort procedures, and controls access to the building. "Building management should be held accountable for providing a safe, secure work environment," says Paul Viollis, senior managing director at Citigate Global Intelligence & Security in New York City.

Protecting against external threats is smart business, as long as it doesn't overshadow the fact that most damage comes from inside. "External threats aren't really on the rise," Viollis says. "But workplace violence is still the number-one hazard every year."

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This article was originally published in the October 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hack Attack.

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