Canada: Manipulated Data – The Hack You May Not Notice

Hacks, leaks and cyber attacks dominated the news in 2017. However, while these events were generally driven by the hackers intent to gather information either for their own use or for resale on the dark web or for the purposes of extorting money, a more ominous intent may emerge in 2018: data manipulation.

As the LA Progressive discussed in a recent article, imagine a major grocery chain getting hacked. However, instead of leaking the company's proprietary information to the public or encrypting its systems with ransomware, the hackers manipulate the data on which the company relies.

What if expiration dates on milk cartons get altered so that some are discarded early while others make drinkers sick, despite appearing within their best before date.

What if figures are manipulated slightly on invoices to vendors, altering the company's balance sheets by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What if small changes are made to food safety tests so that a product that was failing suddenly looks like it is passing.

Would the company even notice such subtle changes?

Could it still have the confidence that its backups were uncompromised?

How could its investors accurately assess the company's value when all of its financials might suddenly be based on faulty information?

And how might its customers, suppliers and government regulators respond? With legal action?

Now apply this same scenario to banks, medical institutions, critical infrastructure utilities and governmental organizations. The consequences could be catastrophic.

Unlike hacks where data is stolen because it is valuable or hacks where data is encrypted until a ransom is paid to release it, a hack that manipulates data can be very hard to detect, particularly if the change to the vital information occurs in ways that don't attract obvious attention. Moreover, such hacks could also have deadly consequences. A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, reporting on the risks of data breaches in health care systems, noted that a hacker could, in theory, change a single data point, such as the level of potassium in a patient's blood, leading caregivers to provide incorrect and potentially lethal treatments.

Data manipulation also breeds uncertainty. Where a hacker's goal is to steal information or to encrypt data for ransom, success is dependent on the ability to prove the information is real. But with data manipulation, the goal is to bring uncertainty and in today's data-driven world, the consequences of uncertainty are frightening.

It is not difficult to imagine a data manipulation hack being carried out by a competitor bent on destroying the competition, or by a disgruntled employee determined to destroy his or her employer.

However, while data manipulation hacks may not appear, at least on their face, to be as easily monetizable as say a ransomware attack or the stealing of sensitive data, in the right scenario the hacker could also reap significant financial rewards. For example, an attack could manipulate data in such a way as to call into question the quarterly or annual earnings of a publicly traded company, and having positioned him or herself correctly in the stock market, benefit financially from that attack

A hacker could also "double down" on the ransomware attack by calling into question the validity of the backup data that an organization would otherwise ordinarily use to get itself operational. If a hacker was in the network long enough, the integrity of the backup data could itself be tainted. This could make the organization more amenable to paying the ransom then it otherwise would be.

As data manipulation can undermine the basics of commerce, health, infrastructure and political systems proactive, not reactive, steps need to be taken to address the possibility of data manipulation before this kind of hack becomes more common place.

The first step is to implement basic cyber security hygiene, applicable to all forms of cyber risk. The following is a brief checklist that organizations can use to identify areas that need to be addressed:

  • assess your data – what is it, where is it, who has access to it, what controls are currently in place to protect it and what data is the most valuable or critical to the organization;
  • identify your risk profile and business goals;
  • consider penetration testing your system;
  • identify the gaps in your data security, based on best practice or industry standards, and address the gaps, including eliminating the exposure of control systems to external networks and segmenting the network into groups with restricted access;
  • guard the perimeter, paying particular attention to any system that connects to the internet;
  • ensure that remote access is secure, including limiting the number of accessible applications and using two-step authentication;
  • keep current with patches that fix vulnerabilities in computer programs;
  • back up data regularly, test backups to ensure they work, segregate from network and store separately, off line and even off site;
  • establish policies and procedures governing employees, management and third party service providers on things such as confidentiality, bringing your own devices to work, password protection, two-step authentication and limited access ;
  • educate employees, management and third party service providers through awareness training on things such as data privacy, email scams, phishing attacks, social engineering, secure web browsing, use of unknown devices, etc.;
  • establish a cyber security incident response plan, including responsibilities of individuals involved, and test it;

The above checklist is by no means exhaustive and there are many additional points that may need to be considered depending on each organizations industry and business practices. The checklist though can be considered as a high-level guideline to issues that should be addressed regardless of organizational particulars.

In addition, consideration should be given to investing in a system designed to monitor data and carefully watch for data manipulation by regularly comparing live versions of the data to backups. According to 2016 database security industry report in the United States, only 20 percent of organizations surveyed conduct database activity assessments on a more or less continuous basis and 6 percent of organizations never conduct any assessments.

Hacks that result in the exfiltration of an organizations data or that encrypt the data until a ransom is paid can do serious damage to an organization but organizations that are well prepared can often weather the storm. Data manipulation however is more insidious. It undermines not only confidence in the ability of an organization to protect its data but also calls into question the integrity of the organization's data and therefore all that the organization stands for. Those organizations that down play or worse yet ignore the possibility of their data being manipulated leave themselves vulnerable to legal and regulatory actions, if they survive at all.

Join us at our Cyber security Seminar to learn more. Register here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions