Category Archives: Technology

New bill would give parents an “Eraser Button” to delete kids data

.@NakedSecurity: New bill would give parents an ‘Eraser Button’ to delete kids’ data – The COPPA overhaul would ban targeting ads at kids under 13 and ad targeting based on race, socioeconomics or geolocation on kids under 15.

Two US senators on Tuesday proposed a major overhaul of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that would give parents and kids an “Eraser Button” to wipe out personal information scooped up online on kids.

The bipartisan bill, put forward by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), would also expand COPPA protection beyond its current coverage of children under 13 in order to protect kids up until the age of 15.

The COPPA update also packs an outright ban on targeting ads at children under 13 without parental consent, and from anyone up until the age of 15 without user consent. The bill also includes a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” that limits the collection of personal information on minors.

The proposed bill would also establish a first-of-its-kind Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that would be responsible for addressing the privacy of children and minors and marketing directed at them.

“Rampant and nonstop” marketing at kids

Markey said in a press release that COPPA will remain the “constitution for kids’ privacy online,” and that the senators’ proposed changes would introduce “an accompanying bill of rights.”

As it is, Markey said, marketing at kids nowadays is rampant and nonstop:

In 2019, children and adolescents’ every move is monitored online, and even the youngest are bombarded with advertising when they go online to do their homework, talk to friends, and play games. In the 21st century, we need to pass bipartisan and bicameral COPPA 2.0 legislation that puts children’s well-being at the top of Congress’s priority list. If we can agree on anything, it should be that children deserve strong and effective protections online.

The right of kids to be forgotten

The proposed law has the flavor of the EU General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR), what with the greater control it grants citizens over how their personal data is obtained, processed, and shared, as well as visibility into how and where that data is used.

The citizens, in this case, would be children and their parents, who would be entitled to get their hands on any personal information of the child or minor that’s been collected, “within a reasonable time” after making a request, without having to pay through the nose to get it, and in a form that a child or minor would find intelligible.

The bill also requires that online operators provide a “clear and prominent means” to correct, complete, amend, or erase any personal information about a child or minor that’s inaccurate: in other words, what the senators are calling an Eraser Button.

What would change?

These are the specific privacy protections that the bill would strengthen:

  • Prohibiting internet companies from collecting personal and location information from anyone under 13 without parental consent, and from anyone 13 to 15 years old without the user’s consent.
  • Banning targeted advertising directed at children.
  • Revising COPPA’s “actual knowledge” standard to a “constructive knowledge” standard for the definition of covered operators. Here’s a discussion of the difference.
  • Requiring online companies to explain the types of personal information collected, how that information is used and disclosed, and the policies for the collection of personal information.
  • Prohibiting the sale of internet-connected devices targeted towards children and minors unless they meet robust cybersecurity standards.
  • Requiring manufacturers of connected devices targeted to children and minors to prominently display on their packaging a privacy dashboard detailing how sensitive information is collected, transmitted, retained, used, and protected.

Recently, the FTC has been flexing its COPPA bicep like never before. Last week, video-streaming app TikTok agreed to pay a record $5.7 million fine for allegedly collecting names, email addresses, pictures and locations of children younger than 13 – all illegal under COPPA.

These tech companies know too much about our kids, and we don’t know what they’re doing with that data, Senator Hawley was quoted as saying in Markey’s press release:

Big tech companies know too much about our kids, and even as parents, we know too little about what they are doing with our kids’ personal data. It’s time to hold them accountable. Congress needs to get serious about keeping our children’s information safe, and it begins with safeguarding their digital footprint online.

“Landmark legislation”

Markey’s press release quoted multiple children’s rights campaigners who lauded the bill. One was Josh Golin, Executive Director, Campaign for Commercial-Free Children, who called it “landmark legislation.”

The Markey-Hawley bill rightly recognizes that the internet’s prevailing business model is harmful to young people. The bill’s strict limits on how kids’ data and can be collected, stored, and used – and its all-out ban on targeted ads for children under 13 – would give kids a chance to develop a healthy relationship with media without being ensnared by Big Tech’s surveillance and marketing apparatuses. We commend Senators 
Markey and Hawley for introducing this landmark legislation and urge Congress to act quickly to put children’s needs ahead of commercial interests.

Those are NOT your grandchildren! FTC warns of new scam

Grandkid imposters are managing to finagle a skyrocketing amount of money out of people, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned on Monday.

The FTC says that its Consumer Sentinel Network has noticed a “striking” increase in the median dollar amount that people 70 and older report losing to fraud. When they started to peel back the layers, the Commission found a number of stories that involve people of that age group having mailed “huge” amounts of cash to people who pretended to be their grandchildren.

People from all age groups report having fallen for phoney family and friends: the reported median loss for individuals is about $2,000, which is more than four times the median loss of $462 reported for all fraud types.

But that’s nothing compared with how much money is being bled out of the elderly: those who send cash reported median losses of a whopping $9,000. About one in four of the ripped-off elderly who report that they lost money to a family or friend imposter say that they sent cash: a far higher rate than the 1 in 25 of people who sent cash for all other frauds.

CBS News talked to one man who got scammed in a way that the FTC says is a common ploy.

Slick scripts

It started with a phone call one morning in April, Franc Stratton told the station. The caller pretended to be a public defender from Austin, Texas, who was calling to tell Stratton that his grandson had been in a car wreck, had been driving under the influence, and was now in jail.

Don’t be afraid, the imposter told Stratton: you can bail out your grandson by sending $8,500 in cash via FedEx. It didn’t raise flags for a good reason: Stratton had done exactly that for another family member in the past.

The cherry on top: the “attorney” briefly put Stratton’s “grandson” on the phone. The fake kid sounded injured, so Stratton drove to the bank to get the cash.

Stratton went so far as to go to a local FedEx to overnight the money to an Austin address. But later that night, he said, he and his wife looked at each other and said, Scam!

Fortunately, they came to their senses in time to call FedEx to have the package returned. He got his money back, but Stratton is still frustrated. Of all people, he should know better, he says: he’s retired now, after a career spent working in intelligence, first for the Air Force and later as a cybersecurity programmer.

That’s how slick the scammers are, with their meticulously prepared scripts, and it shows that they know exactly how to put people into a panicked state, where they’re likely to make bad decisions. Stratton said he fell for it “because of the way that they scripted it.”

I’m the last person, I thought, would ever fall for a scam like this.

The FTC says that Americans have lost $41 million in the scam this year: nearly twice as much as the $26 million lost the year before.

Self-defense for grandparents

These scams are growing more sophisticated as fraudsters do their homework, looking you and/or your grandkids up on social media to lace their scripts with personal details that make them all the more convincing.

Grandparents, no matter how savvy you are, you’ve got an Achilles heel: your love for your grandchildren. The fakers know exactly how to milk that for all it’s worth.

The FTC warns that they’ll pressure you into sending money before you’ve had time to think it through. The Commission offers this advice to keep the shysters from wringing your heart and your wallet:

  • Stop. Breathe. Check it out before you send a dime. Look up your grandkid’s phone number yourself, or call another family member.
  • Don’t overshare. Whatever you share publicly on social media becomes a weapon in the arsenals of scammers. The more personal details they know about you, the more convincing they can sound. It’s one of many reasons to be careful about what you share on social media.
  • Pass the information on to a friend. Even if you haven’t been targeted yourself, you probably know somebody who’s either already gotten a call like this or who will.
  • Report it. The FTC asks us all to please report these scams. US residents can do so online to the FTC. If you’re in the UK, report scams to ActionFraud.

Please report these scams. Doing so helps the authorities nail these imposters before they can victimize others.

Actions for Internal Audit on Cybersecurity, Data Risks

 

Cybersecurity and other data-related issues top the list of risks for heads of audit in 2019; here are key actions audit must take.

The number of cyberattacks continues to increase significantly as threat actors become more sophisticated and diversify their methods. It’s hardly surprisingly, then, that cybersecurity preparedness tops the list of internal audit priorities for 2019.

Other data and IT issues are also on the radar for internal audit, according to the Gartner Audit Plan Hot Spots. Cybersecurity topped the list of 2019’s 12 emerging risks, followed by data governance, third parties and data privacy.

“These risks, or hot spots, are the top-of-mind issues for business leaders who expect heads of internal audit to assess and mitigate them, as well as communicate their impact to organizations and stakeholders,” said Malcolm Murray, VP, Team Manager at Gartner.

What audit can do on cyberpreparedness

The Gartner 2019 Audit Key Risks and Priorities Survey shows that 77% of audit departments definitely plan to cover cybersecurity detection and prevention in audit activities during the next 12-18 months. Only 5% have no such activities planned. And yet, only 53% of audit departments are highly confident in their ability to provide assurance over cybersecurity detection and prevention risks.

Here are some steps audit can take to tackle cybersecurity preparedness:

  • Review device encryption on all devices, including mobile phones and laptops. Assess password strength and the use of multifactor identification.
  • Review access management policies and controls, and set user access and privileges by defined business needs. Swiftly amend access when roles change.
  • Review patch management policies, evaluating the average time from patch release to implementation and the frequency of updates. Make sure patches cover IoT devices.
  • Evaluate employee security training to ensure that the breadth, frequency and content is effective. Don’t forget to build awareness of common security threats such as phishing.
  • Participate in cyber working groups and committees to develop cybersecurity strategy and policies. Help determine how the organization identifies, assesses and mitigates cyberrisk and strengthens current cybersecurity controls.

Data governance

Big data increases the strategic importance of effective mechanisms to collect, use, store and manage organizational data, but many organizations still lack formal data governance frameworks and struggle to establish consistency across the organization. Few scale their programs effectively to meet the growing volume of data. Left unsolved, these governance challenges can lead to operational drag, delayed decision making and unnecessary duplication of efforts.

What audit can do:

  • Review the data assets inventory, which must include, at a minimum, the highest-value data assets of the organization. Assess the extent of both structured and unstructured data assets.
  • Review the classification of data and associated process and policies. Analyze how data will be retained and destroyed, encryption requirements and whether relevant categories of use have been established.
  • Participate in relevant working groups and committees to stay abreast of governance efforts and provide advisory input when frameworks are built.
  • Review data analytics training and talent assessments, identify skill gaps and plan how to fill them. Evaluate the content and availability of existing training.
  • Review the analytics tools inventory across the organization. Determine if IT has an approved vendor list for analytics tools and what efforts are being made to educate the business on the use of approved tools.

Third parties

Efforts to digitalize systems and processes add new, complex dimensions to third-party challenges that have been a perennial concern for organizations. Nearly 70% of chief audit executives reported third-party risk as one of their top concerns, but organizations still struggle to manage this risk. What audit can do:

  • Evaluate scenario analysis for strategic initiatives to analyze potential risks and outcomes associated with interdependent partners in the organization’s business ecosystem. Consider enterprise risk appetite and identify trigger events that would cause the organization to take corrective action.
  • Assess third-party contracts and compliance efforts, ensure contracts adequately stipulate information security, data privacy and nth-party requirements. Ensure there is monitoring of third-party adherence to contracts.
  • Investigate third-party regulatory requirements, assess how effectively senior management communicates regulatory updates across the business and how clearly it articulates requirements for third parties.
  • Evaluate the classification of third-party risk and confirm that the business conducts random checks of third parties to ensure classifications properly account for actual risk levels.

Data privacy

Companies today collect an unprecedented amount of personal information, and the costs of managing and protecting that data are rising. Seventy-seven percent of audit departments say data privacy will definitely be covered in audit activities in the next 12–18 months. What audit can do:

  • Review data protection training and ensure that employees at all levels complete the training. Include elements such as how to report a data breach and protocols for data sharing.
  • Assess current level of GDPR compliance and identify compliance gaps. Review data privacy policies to make sure the language is clear and customer consent is clearly stated.
  • Assess data access and storage. Make sure access to sensitive information is role-based and privileges are properly set and monitored.
  • Review data breach response plans. Evaluate how quickly the company identifies a breach and the mechanisms for notifying impacted consumers and regulators.
  • Assess data loss protection and review whether tools scan data at rest and in motion.

Ring Security Flaw Lets Unauthorized Parties Control Doorbell App

 

A security flaw founded in Ring’s video doorbell can let others access camera footage even if homeowners have changed their passwords, according to media sources.

This can happen after a Ring device owner gives access to the Ring app to someone else. If it is given to an ex-partner, for example, after the relationship turned sour, the partner may still monitor the activity outside the front door using the camera, and download the video and control the doorbell from the phone as an administrator.

It doesn’t matter how many times Ring device owners have changed the password, the Ring app will never ask users to sign in again after the password is changed.

Ring was notified of the issue in early January and claimed to have removed users who were no longer authorized. However, in the test carried out by media outlet The Information’s staff, these ex-users could still access the app for several hours.

Jamie Siminoff, CEO of Ring, has acknowledged the issue and responded that kicking users off the platform apparently slows down the Ring app.

After the issue was reported, Ring made another statement, suggesting that Ring customers should never share their usernames or passwords. The company recommended that other family members or partners sign in via Ring’s “Shared Users” feature.

In this way, device owners have control over who has access and can immediately remove users if they want.

“Our team is taking additional steps to further improve the password change experience,” said Ring in a statement.

Ring was acquired by Amazon for US$1 billion at the beginning of this year. Amazon operates in-home delivery service, the Amazon Key, relying on security devices at the front door such as smart doorbells, door locks and security cameras.

Any security flaws like the one found in Ring will make it difficult for the e-commerce giant to convince people that it’s safe for Amazon’s delivery people to enter their houses when nobody’s home.

Please make sure to secure all of your IoT devices as we know most of them are wide open to attacks.

IoT World

Honored to be speaking at IoT World May 14-17, 2018
Santa Clara Convention Center.
@MrMichaelReese #IOTWORLD #Cybersecurity

 

Can You Spot the Bait in a Phishing Attack?

Hackers are always trying to find creative and new ways to steal data and information from businesses. While spam (unwanted messages in your email inbox) has been around for a very long time, phishing emails have risen in popularity because they are more effective at achieving the desired endgame. How can you make sure that phishing scams don’t harm your business in the future?

Phishing attacks come in many different forms. We’ll discuss some of the most popular ways that hackers and scammers will try to take advantage of your business through phishing scams, including phone calls, email, and social media.

Phishing Calls
Do you receive calls from strange or restricted numbers? If so, chances are that they are calls that you want to avoid. Hackers will use the phone to make phishing phone calls to unsuspecting employees. They might claim to be with IT support, and in some cases, they might even take on the identity of someone else within your office. These types of attacks can be dangerous and tricky to work around, particularly if the scammer is pretending to be someone of authority within your organization.

For example, someone might call your organization asking about a printer model or other information about your technology. Sometimes they will be looking for specific data or information that might be in the system, while other times they are simply looking for a way into your network. Either way, it’s important that your company doesn’t give in to their requests, as there is no reason why anyone would ask for sensitive information over the phone. If in doubt, you should cross-check contact information to make sure that the caller is who they say they are.

Phishing Emails
Phishing emails aren’t quite as pressing as phishing phone calls because you’re not being pressured to make an immediate decision. Still, this doesn’t lessen the importance of being able to identify phishing messages. You might receive tailor-made customized phishing messages with the sole intent of a specific user handing over important information or clicking on a link/attachment. Either way, the end result is much the same as a phone call phishing scam;

To avoid phishing emails, you should implement a spam filter and train your employees on how to identify the telltale signs of these messages. These include spelling errors, incorrect information, and anything that just doesn’t belong. Although, phishing messages have started to become more elaborate and sophisticated.

Phishing Accounts
Social media makes it incredibly easy for hackers to assume an anonymous identity and use it to attack you; or, even more terrifying, the identity of someone you know. It’s easy for a hacker to masquerade as someone that they’re not, providing an outlet for attack that can be somewhat challenging to identify. Some key pointers are to avoid any messages that come out of the blue or seemingly randomly. You can also ask questions about past interactions that tip you off that they may (or may not) be who they say they are.

Ultimately, it all comes down to approaching any phishing incident intelligently and with a healthy dose of skepticism.

How Hackable Are Our Apartments?


The Internet of Things is poised to revolutionize apartment home systems and appliances, but it also increases the security and privacy threats to apartment firms. At the 2017 NMHC OPTECH Conference & Exposition, a panel of leading security experts shared best practices for ensuring that apartment firms are mindful of the new threats as they integrate smart home devices into their communities.

The panel’s moderator, Mike Smith, vice president at White Space Building Technology Advisors, advised that as apartment firms add IoT devices to their communities, they need to look for products that are specifically designed for multifamily, noting, “if you buy a product at Home Depot, it is probably not designed for the complex nature of multifamily security needs.”

Panelist Michael Reese, Chief Information Officer for USA Properties Fund, agreed, saying that he views “IoT as Internet of Threats, not Internet of Things,” and recommended this view as apartment firms evaluate smart home technology. Kevin Gerber, project manager at Forest City Enterprises, noted that it is critical to educate staff on the new technologies and maintaining strong security protocols, and highlighted the need for a strong support structure.

Panelists agreed in the importance of segregating networks as a critical step in good cyber hygiene. Yousef Abdelilah, innovation and product management leader at American Tower, stressed the importance of implementing different layers of security to protect systems. Hackers don’t want to spend a significant amount of time trying to hack a system and will move on to systems that have fewer layers and are, therefore, easier to access.

Bill Fisher, security engineer at the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), commented that “IoT threat mitigation is not that different from past cyber DSC_2153threats. Best practices for strong cyber hygiene aren’t new. Right now, the onus is on the end-user to ask right questions and educate him or herself until market correction forces vendors pushes vendors to address security.” NIST provides best practices and a customizable approach to managing cyber risk through the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

Panelists recommended evaluating the ROI on current IoT technology. Fisher commented that installing IoT is a risk decision. Firms need to weigh the convenience of devices versus the risk of security and legal ramifications if a system is hacked.

Reese reminded the audience that ensuring strong information security policy is a senior executive issue, not simply an IT issue, that needs to be implemented throughout the company

NMHC provides a resources on cybersecurity, including a cybersecurity white paper and a cyber threat alert system. More information can be found at nmhc.org/data-security.

Hackable Apartments: How to Keep Our Communities Safe When Everything is Going Online

Honored to be speaking at 2017 NMHC OPTECH Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas October 25-27, 2017 Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

 

 

Hackable Apartments: How to Keep Our Communities Safe When Everything is Going Online
With the Internet of Things poised to revolutionize our systems and appliances just as the internet did with our information, the question remains—can we keep these devices safe? Today’s “smart” home demands a modern take on security and privacy as well as possible integrations with property management systems or even new voice activated consumer technology. Online security experts will assess the risk of the internet-enabled apartment and will present best practices to keep your residents and your enterprise safe from hackers.

 

What You Should Know About the ‘KRACK’ WiFi Security Weakness

 

Researchers this week published information about a newfound, serious weakness in WPA2 — the security standard that protects all modern Wi-Fi networks. What follows is a short rundown on what exactly is at stake here, who’s most at-risk from this vulnerability, and what organizations and individuals can do about it.

Short for Wi-Fi Protected Access II, WPA2 is the security protocol used by most wireless networks today. Researchers have discovered and published a flaw in WPA2 that allows anyone to break this security model and steal data flowing between your wireless device and the targeted Wi-Fi network, such as passwords, chat messages and photos.

“The attack works against all modern protected Wi-Fi networks,” the researchers wrote of their exploit dubbed “KRACK,” short for “Key Reinstallation AttaCK.”

“Depending on the network configuration, it is also possible to inject and manipulate data,” the researchers continued. “For example, an attacker might be able to inject ransomware or other malware into websites. The weaknesses are in the Wi-Fi standard itself, and not in individual products or implementations. Therefore, any correct implementation of WPA2 is likely affected.”

What that means is the vulnerability potentially impacts a wide range of devices including those running operating systems from Android, Apple, Linux, OpenBSD and Windows.

As scary as this attack sounds, there are several mitigating factors at work here. First off, this is not an attack that can be pulled off remotely: An attacker would have to be within range of the wireless signal between your device and a nearby wireless access point.

More importantly, most sensitive communications that might be intercepted these days, such as interactions with your financial institution or browsing email, are likely already protected end-to-end with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption that is separate from any encryption added by WPA2 — i.e., any connection in your browser that starts with “https://”.

Also, the public announcement about this security weakness was held for weeks in order to give Wi-Fi hardware vendors a chance to produce security updates. The Computer Emergency Readiness Team has a running list of hardware vendors that are known to be affected by this, as well as links to available advisories and patches.

“There is no evidence that the vulnerability has been exploited maliciously, and Wi-Fi Alliance has taken immediate steps to ensure users can continue to count on Wi-Fi to deliver strong security protections,” reads a statement published today by a Wi-Fi industry trade group. “This issue can be resolved through straightforward software updates, and the Wi-Fi industry, including major platform providers, has already started deploying patches to Wi-Fi users. Users can expect all their Wi-Fi devices, whether patched or unpatched, to continue working well together.”

Sounds great, but in practice a great many products on the CERT list are currently designated “unknown” as to whether they are vulnerable to this flaw. I would expect this list to be updated in the coming days and weeks as more information comes in.

Some readers have asked if MAC address filtering will protect against this attack. Every network-capable device has a hard-coded, unique “media access control” or MAC address, and most Wi-Fi routers have a feature that lets you only allow access to your network for specified MAC addresses.

However, because this attack compromises the WPA2 protocol that both your wireless devices and wireless access point use, MAC filtering is not a particularly effective deterrent against this attack. Also, MAC addresses can be spoofed fairly easily.

To my mind, those most at risk from this vulnerability are organizations that have not done a good job separating their wireless networks from their enterprise, wired networks.

I don’t see this becoming a major threat to most users unless and until we start seeing the availability of easy-to-use attack tools to exploit this flaw. Those tools may emerge sooner rather than later, so if you’re super concerned about this attack and updates are not yet available for your devices, perhaps the best approach in the short run is to connect any devices on your network to the router via an ethernet cable (assuming your device still has an ethernet port).

From reading the advisory on this flaw, it appears that the most recent versions of Windows and Apple’s iOS are either not vulnerable to this flaw or are only exposed in very specific circumstances. Android devices, on the other hand, are likely going to need some patching, and soon.

If you discover from browsing the CERT advisory that there is an update available or your computer, wireless device or access point, take care to read and understand the instructions on updating those devices before you update. Failing to do so with a wireless access point, for example can quickly leave you with an expensive, oversized paperweight.

Finally, consider browsing the Web with an extension or browser add-on like HTTPS Everywhere, which forces any site that supports https:// connections to encrypt your communications with the Web site — regardless of whether this is the default for that site.

And the plot thickens: Hackers Entered Equifax Systems in March

Equifax previously disclosed data was potentially accessed in May

Hackers roamed undetected in Equifax Inc.’s computer network for more than four months before its security team uncovered the massive data breach, the security firm FireEye Inc. said this week in a confidential note Equifax sent to some of its customers.

FireEye’s Mandiant group, which has been hired by Equifax to investigate the breach, said the first evidence of hackers’ “interaction” with the company occurred on March 10, according to the Mandiant report, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Equifax had previously disclosed that data belonging to approximately 143 million Americans was potentially accessed in May. It isn’t known when Equifax learned from Mandiant that the hacking activity began in March, not May. Equifax wasn’t available for comment.

Equifax has said it didn’t discover the breach until July 29. Days later it called in Mandiant. Equifax didn’t disclose the breach until Sept. 7.

The attack, which is being probed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is one of the most significant data breaches given the scope of the information disclosed: people’s names, addresses, dates of birth and Social Security numbers. In its wake, consumers, customers, regulators and legislators have been asking how the attack occurred and whether Equifax took sufficient measures to protect such sensitive information.

Equifax sent the Mandiant report to some customers, many of which are financial firms, with a cover letter dated Tuesday, Sept. 19, that was signed by the company’s new chief information officer, Mark Rohrwasser, and new chief security officer, Russ Ayres. Equifax last Friday announced the departure of the two executives who previously held those positions.

In a progress report that accompanied that announcement last Friday, Equifax said hackers accessed consumers’ data from May 13 through July 30. It didn’t mention in that report that the attack had begun at an earlier date.

Mandiant’s report this week noted the hackers accessed one of Equifax’s servers by taking advantage of a flaw in software called Apache Struts, used by many companies to build interactive websites.

Two days before the access occurred, on March 8, security researchers at Cisco Systems Inc. warned of the flaw in Struts and a patch was issued by the Apache Software Foundation. Equifax in its report last week said its security staff “took efforts” to fix the system, saying it understood the intense focus outside the company on patching efforts and that its review was ongoing.

After interacting with Equifax’s server in early March, the hackers then entered the computer command “Whoami,” Mandiant wrote. This command would have given the attackers the username of the computer account to which they had just gained access, an early step in a hacking attempt.

Investigators have not determined for certain whether the March incident was issued by the data thieves or a different set of hackers, but it was likely the beginning of a monthslong reconnaissance mission, according to a person familiar with the investigation. It is common for attackers to lurk for months after their initial break-in as they probe corporate systems—the digital equivalent of trying as many doorknobs as possible to see which doors can be opened.

The March activity was likely a result of the hackers “spamming the internet for vulnerable systems,” said Johannes Ullrich, dean of research with the SANS Technology Insitute, a cybersecurity training school.

It isn’t surprising that the hackers took weeks before accessing the sensitive data, Mr. Ullrich said. “Typically, you first build out a beachhead so that it’s difficult to get kicked out,” he added.

On average, it takes companies close to 100 days to discover that they have been hacked, FireEye said in a report released earlier this year. In Equifax’s case, it took 141 days.

Eventually, between May 13 and late July, the attackers accessed files that contained Equifax credentials, such as username and password, and “performed database queries that provided access to documents and sensitive information stored in databases in an Equifax legacy environment,” the Mandiant report said.

Overall, the attackers accessed “numerous database tables in several databases,” the Mandiant report said.

The report added that the attackers “compromised two systems” that support Equifax’s online dispute web application. This is the place where consumers go to dispute information on their credit reports.

The hackers also set up about 30 Web shells—hidden pages that would allow them to remotely run commands on Equifax’s systems even if the Struts vulnerability was patched, the report said. The attackers “remotely accessed” the Equifax systems from approximately 35 “distinct public IP addresses,” it added.

The identity of the hackers is still unknown. Mandiant said in its letter that it hadn’t been able to attribute the breach to any “threat group actor” it currently tracks. Nor did the “tools, tactics and procedures” used overlap with those seen in previous investigations by the firm.