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When you lose $500K to hackers, it’s time to call in the pros
While the government’s top-secret snooping of emails and phone calls and foreign hackers’ attacks on U.S. banks grab the headlines, top-notch cybersecurity is just as important to a local company that ensures the lemon is tart in hard candy and the blueberry is sweet and moist in a protein bar.
Fona International, formerly Flavors of North America, based in west suburban Geneva, makes flavors for some of the world’s largest food, candy and chewing gum companies.
The company is reviewing its cybersecurity safeguards as it expands overseas and transitions more of its business to cloud-based computing.
Fona has remained profitable throughout its 26-year history and has been listed among Inc. magazine’s ranking of fastest-growing private companies for the past six years. Fona forecasts $82 million in revenues this year, up 13.2 percent from 2012.
The company, which employs 200, including 60 researchers, scientists and flavor chemists, competes against rivals 10 times its size such as Swiss companies Givaudan and Firmenich and New York-based IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances).
Yet Fona looks to level the playing field because its competitors assign scientists to work inside or next to their foreign clients’ operations. When the client wants changes and tweaks to fine-tune a flavor, Fona’s rivals react immediately while it waits to clear foreign customs.
As a result, Fona is opening a lab in China later this year and setting up a business alongside its strategic partner in India in the next few years, says Jim Evanoff, Fona’s chief financial officer.
“We are fighting the perception that bigger is better,” Evanoff says. “So we cannot have a reputation of getting hit with outages or a possible loss of data.”
While the company can ward off an attack that has breached its firewall, the new challenge is maintaining control when its internal and customer-tracking software and other software applications transition to cloud-based computing, Evanoff says.
Kevin Kalinich, the Chicago-based global practice leader for cyber insurance at Aon Risk Solutions, says companies are caught in a dilemma because they need to use mobile devices, social media, cloud computing and big data analytics to stay competitive, yet those very things heighten vulnerability to cyber attacks.
Fona hired Schaumburg-based Prescient Solutions, a 17-year-old shared-services business, to help it keep its trade secrets and growing networks secure.
Prescient Solutions figures out where its small to midsize clients need to beef up security and save money on contracts, and rescues their operations when a hacker succeeds.
Jerry Irvine, Prescient’s chief information officer, is a nationally recognized cybersecurity expert who advises on federal policy as a member of the National Cyber Security Partnership Task Force, a joint operation between the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Irvine recites horror stories of everyday cyber-mayhem ranging from SMS phishing to a surge in mobile-device security breaches to a hacker who transferred all of a local company’s cash — $500,000 — to banks across the Baltics, to a northwest suburban company that lost tens of thousands of dollars after a virus took down its presses and machinery for two days.
“When we go into a company, we find large, excessive spends and major security risks, no matter how large or small the company,” Irvine says. “Companies can no longer install just a firewall or an antivirus app. Today’s antivirus solutions clean less than 30 percent of the risks out there.”
That’s important, because hackers, phishers, Anonymous and virus spreaders use automated systems that target everyone.
“Today, there is no difference between a large multinational and Joe’s Widget Manufacturer in Anytown, USA,” he says.
Photo of Jim Evanoff and Jerry Irvine by Rich Hein/Sun-Times Media