Every multifamily organization needs an Eric O’Neill.
The former FBI counter-terrorism and counterintelligence operative—who spoke during Episode 1 of Entrata Connect—helped capture Robert Hanssen, a former FBI double agent who spied on behalf of the Soviet Union and Russia. Hanssen was deemed the most damaging spy in U.S. history as Russia’s top mole from 1976-2001.
While multifamily cybersecurity might not rise to the level of industrial espionage, the ramifications of a data breach can be just as damaging to an organization on a relative scale. As O’Neill recounted the capture of Hanssen, the takeaways were well apparent—you can never be too careful with your valuable data, and the enemy sometimes hides in plain sight.
O’Neill noted that cyber attacks are at an all-time high due to the world’s increased reliance on technology during the pandemic. The FBI Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3), which didn’t exist when he was in the FBI, received a 400% increase in reports during the pandemic. According to the World Economic Forum, the dark web is now the third largest economy behind the U.S. and China.
“We live in a playground for attackers and spies, and we’ve created it,” O’Neill said. “We started with that old medium of transmitting, creating and sharing information. And paper—remember paper? We used to use typewriters and things like that and file things away. … Not anymore. We said we’re going to forget about this paper and do it all in data.”
Now everyone’s data is in digital files and networks, online and in the cloud, all in the name of efficiency. While the benefits of a connected world are enormous and create immense efficiencies, they also provide immense opportunity for cyber attacks and data breaches. For instance, Facebook recently lost 533 million records of its users. Could that information be for sale on the dark web?
“This is how the fraudsters and criminals are getting us,” he said. “There are no hackers—there are only spies. Hacking is nothing more than the evolution of espionage.”
O’Neill, who now operates The Georgetown Group investigative firm and is a national security strategist for VMware, noted that Hanssen laid the blueprint for the modern-day spy when he was put in charge of the U.S.’s information assurance section.
“That meant cybersecurity back then,” O’Neill said. “They put him in charge of all of the data in the FBI—understanding it, where it flowed, who had access and how we could protect it. . . . He wasn’t just the most damaging spy but our first cyber spy. On day one (of the investigation), he tells me that the spy was in the worst possible place.”
Hanssen was correct in that assessment, although O’Neill didn’t immediately realize that Hanssen was actually the spy. O’Neill alluded to the idea that today’s connected world lends itself not only to spies, but also fraudsters and other types of cyber criminals. As such, organizations need to utilize cutting-edge, multilayer tactics to handle their sensitive data and remain perpetually aware of the changing landscape. That includes deft management of data permissions and multifactor authentication.
Educating associates remains paramount, as well, as many cyber breaches can be traced back to email phishing scams. While some are easy to distinguish due to their shoddy nature, others are clever and serve as the gateway into an organization. The IC3 recently reported that of $4.2 billion in losses due to cyber attacks, nearly $1.9 billion originated in email phishing attacks. O’Neill’s overriding message: “Invest in cybersecurity. It’s important.”
“Cyber attackers don’t really care who you are or how interesting you are,” O’Neill said. “They just want your data, because that data is the currency of your lives.”