a hand points to a secure node in a network that is safe from cybercriminals.

Keeping Your Network and Applications Safe from Cyber-Attack

a hand points to a secure node in a network that is safe from cybercriminals.

The key to keeping your networks safe from cybercriminals is to keep your virus protection updated.

Keeping your network safe from potential attacks by cybercriminals is a top priority for any business owner or manager who wants to avoid the disasters which might develop if a network were compromised by a clever cybercriminal. As the Internet, itself has grown, and businesses around the globe have increasing tied their fortunes to it, so too has criminal activity increased, because there are so many more opportunities to exploit businesses for monetary gain.

With every new safety measure developed by security experts, determined cybercriminals learn ways of circumventing those new safeguards, so that they can continue their money-making schemes by living off businesses developed by others. There is no such thing as an entirely safe business enterprise these days, simply because there are so many cybercriminals plying their trade, and because so many of them are extremely clever and skilled at what they do.

However, there are a number of precautions you can take which will at least limit your exposure to such attacks, and give you fighting chance of avoiding disaster by having your data, applications, or network infrastructure breached by a cyber-attack. Of course, there are some very expensive security measures you can have installed for extra protection on your network, but even those are not guarantees of safety. That being said, here are some very common precautions you can take, which will increase the likelihood that you can avoid the depredations of a cyber-attack.

Do Regular Backups to Stop Cybercriminals

One of the best things you can do to avoid having your data or applications held hostage, is to back up your data files and your applications every day. If a cyber-attacker should somehow gain access to your data and encrypt it so that it is unusable unless you pay for an encryption key, you would have no recourse but to pay the ransom amount, unless you had been backing up your data every day.

A recent survey conducted on the question of backups discovered that only 50% of small businesses routinely back their data up on a weekly basis, and that percentage shrinks to less than 23% for daily backups. When you have a backup of yesterday’s data, that insulates you against a hijacking of your data today, because all you have to do is restore yesterday’s backup and you have current data again, minus any transactions which may have occurred today. A cyber-attacker would be defeated.

Check Backup Processes Regularly

Having a regular backup routine is great, but in order for it to have any value, you have to be sure that it’s doing what you intended it to do, i.e. saving all your important data to a storage medium, from which it can be readily retrieved. Many small business managers have found that their backups weren’t really functioning properly when the time came that data needed to be restored.

When a data restore becomes critical is not the time to find out that you’ve had a problem for several weeks or several months, because crucial data may have been lost. You should also make a point of having a full understanding of exactly what is getting backed up. Obviously, the focus should be on business-critical data, but these days it’s sometimes also important to backup data which is resident on employees’ laptops because that can be just as important to business operations.

A collection of back up drives used to keep data safe from cybercriminals.

Regularly backing up your data will keep company information safe from cybercriminals.

Keep Virus Protection Updated

Your first line of defense against cyber-attack is generally your firewall, so make sure your firewall is functioning properly and that it’s always enabled so that it can deflect any casual cyber-attacks. It’s also very important to make sure that your protection against viruses is as current as possible. Every time you get a security update from a software vendor, or from your operating system provider, those updates need to be applied promptly.

Since many of those security updates include protection against newly discovered viruses and security threats, they need to be applied to your system as soon as possible. Updating employee passwords regularly is also a good idea because passwords which go unchanged for long periods of time become vulnerable to interception by cyber attackers.

Check Your Transaction Logs Regularly

You should always make a practice of checking transaction logs daily for any unauthorized activity, either internal or external. It happens frequently enough that businesses which have suffered a cyber-attack could have prevented the fatal breach by regularly consulting transaction logs to discover previous break-in attempts. This should be done as a matter of routine just for normal business operations, but it can also be your first warning of an impending major cyber assault.

Indoctrinate Your Employees

It has rightly been said that in many cases, your employees are your weakest link in the security chain because they are the most exploitable. Employees who are not trained to use safe business practices and avoid security breaches are constantly being targeted by cybercriminals who are aware of the potential for exploitation.

Employees should be trained to be very cautious about opening email attachments, about providing passwords or other important company information in emails or via the social media, and they should be encouraged to change passwords monthly to protect against interception.

A computer monitor is juxtaposed with a fishing hook to illustrate the nature of phishing attacks.

Real World Phishing Attacks

A computer monitor is juxtaposed with a fishing hook to illustrate the nature of phishing attacks.

Phishing attacks can occur when an email opened by one of your personnel triggers the release of a virus.

If you’ve been thinking that phishing attacks only happen to someone else and that the employees of your company are relatively immune from such attacks, you might want to reconsider, because phishing attacks can and do happen in the real world to companies of all sizes, and in all industries.

In fact, criminals who carry out these phishing attacks have begun focusing more on small to medium-size businesses recently, simply because there are so many more of them, and because employees at small businesses may be more vulnerable to exploitation. Large corporations tend to have programs in place which indoctrinate their employees about the dangers of phishing and other social engineering attacks, and that training helps to minimize the number of successful phishing attempts.

Small businesses, on the other hand, tend to have the attitude that they are flying under the radar and that they are not suitable targets for cybercriminals. It’s this kind of indifference and unpreparedness which makes many small businesses ideal targets for phishing attempts.

What Exactly is Phishing?

Phishing is a form of social engineering in which emails are used most commonly to obtain personal information from employees, by some individual who is posing as a manager or other person known to the company and is considered to be a trustworthy source. By impersonating a known company employee or manager, or some other company which does business with your own company, some level of trust is established as a basis for extracting information.

The object of a phishing attack is to dupe the email recipient into taking some kind of action as directed by the attacker, for instance providing login information or passwords, and sometimes even sensitive information about the company. Once the desired information is obtained, it is then used by the attacker to carry out some other malicious attack on the company which results in a monetary gain.

A Typical Real-World Phishing Attack

In a typical real-world phishing attack, a cyber-criminal might send an email to a company employee which directs that employee to pay an invoice amount to a company which has recently done business with the original company. It looks completely legitimate because an invoice would be attached, and the invoice would include details of products or services that your company would legitimately deal in.

The email is also signed by a manager or other employee who actually does work for your company, and who might typically be expected to send such emails requesting payment of certain invoices. An unsuspecting employee would, of course, be drawn in by the legitimacy of having a real-world supervisor request this invoice payment, and would then open up the invoice attachment to begin the process of arranging a payment.

In the meantime, the act of opening up the attachment could very well trigger the release of some virus which infects the employee’s computer, and by virtue of that computer’s connection to the network, the virus then is released into a much wider area, where more important information can be obtained. Of course, it would be an added bonus if the employee actually does send out the payment requested to the bogus company listed on the invoice, and that check would then be cashed by the cyber attacker who organized the phishing attempt in the first place.

A laptop screen is filled with popups from malicious processes which were installed during a phishing attack.

Phishing attacks can result in a malware infection which causes undesired processes to occur on all of your networked computers.

How to Avoid Phishing Attacks

As you can see from the above, there are some real-world dangers associated with phishing attacks, and the harm they cause can be more far-reaching than an embarrassment to a single employee. The fact that an entire company can be affected if a virus does get installed and becomes enabled, should be all the justification you need for implementing procedures to guard against phishing attacks to whatever extent is possible.

Here are some of the best ways to protect yourself and your company against phishing attacks by cybercriminals:

  • don’t use departmental emails – it’s never a good idea to use departmental emails such as Payroll Dept, Human Resources, or Accounting Department. Using these email ID’s allows the cyber-attacker or to know that the emails are being sent to the right person and that it’s much more likely the phishing attack will be successful.
  • change payment language regularly – when requests for payment are issued between company personnel, the language used should be slightly altered periodically, with important keywords being subtracted out or added in. Department personnel can then be instructed to never carry out any fund transfers unless the expected keyword is contained within an email message. Since successful phishing attacks are all designed to catch an employee off guard, this kind of focus on keywords within the text will derail any phishing attempt.
  • use anti-phishing software – there are a number of good anti-phishing tools available which you should consider implementing at your company. The way some of these tools work is that you can send fake phishing attempts to employees all around the company, so as to identify who is most vulnerable to falling prey to phishing attacks. This can let you know the scope of the problem you may have and can alert you to the necessity for conducting widespread training so that your employees are less susceptible to phishing attacks.

The Truth About Phishing

The unpleasant truths about phishing attacks are that they are successful far more often than they should be, and the reason for that is that the human element in any company is usually the weakest element. Businesses need to adapt to these real-world situations, and train employees to spot such phishing attacks, and to alert the appropriate personnel when one is identified. When company employees become aware of the possibility of phishing attacks, they are far less likely to be caught off guard and then become victims of those phishing attacks.

A computer display highlights the integral importance of having a backup plan.

The Importance of Having a Backup Plan

A computer display highlights the integral importance of having a backup plan.

In the digital age every business needs a comprehensive backup plan and steps in place to ensure the recovery of business-critical data.

It is estimated that as many as 50% of small businesses have no backup plan at all for security and recovery to protect against cyber-attack or to secure themselves against garden-variety downtime. In a recently conducted survey, 41% of small business owners consulted said that they had not even given much thought to implementing a backup plan or steps for data recovery.

Some owners also cited the high cost of implementing such a program and indicated that it was their decision to defer the process until business became more profitable, or until backup and recovery costs became more affordable.

The question is – can you really afford not to have a backup plan and recovery measures in place when the high cost of downtime might be the consequences of having no plan at all? Of course, many small business owners may simply be hoping that their companies are not the ones which will be impacted by downtime, or by attacks from cybercriminals, so they rely on good luck to see them through.

This strategy will work fine – right up until the time it doesn’t. If your small business is ever confronted with the real-life situation of an extended period of downtime, or having your business-critical data hijacked by a clever cyber-criminal, you’ll understand a little better about the true value of having a formal backup plan and recovery plan in place.

On the other hand, some small businesses with very meager resources may feel that they simply can’t afford to implement such formalized plans. If you’re on the fence about this and wondering whether the cost of backup and recovery plans is justified by a disaster that might happen, you can consider some of the questions below to help clarify your thinking on the matter.

Backup and Recovery Cost Justification Questions

What would be the impact on your company if customers could not access their data every day, and how would employee productivity be affected on a daily basis, if your network was completely shut down?

What kind of backup and recovery plans do you have in effect right now, and how long could your business survive if it were forced to endure an extended period of downtime?

What kind of support could you quickly access from I.T. personnel, and could that support be enlisted quickly enough so as to reduce downtime damage?

What is the confidence level that you can get back online quickly enough that there will be minimal disruption to the company, and to customers who rely on your company?

How often does your most important data get backed up? Do your employees have a lot of company data on their smartphones, iPads, or business laptops? Are your backups stored off-site, and are they protected against damage which might occur to your business location?

Does your company make use of any custom-developed software, and is the original developer of that software still in business, so that it could be recovered in the event of theft or corruption?

Do you have all your licensing agreements, account details, and information about security stored in a central location somewhere, and is there a copy of it off-site?

Do you feel you have adequate protection against viruses and cyber-attacks and do you apply all security patches as soon as they are made available by the appropriate vendors?

Do you have a company policy in place which calls for the changing of passwords any time a new employee comes in, or when a current employee exits?

How frequently do you check your backup and recovery processes, to make sure that they are performing as intended, and that there are no flaws in the process?

A digital illustration of a computer file represents the vulnerability of data which is not protected with a backup plan.

Your company data is every bit as important as the bricks that compose your company office. Safeguard it with an effective backup plan.

Can You Afford to not Have a Backup Plan?

As a small business owner, it would be well worth your while to arrange a meeting periodically, with managers and other important employees in your company, so as to review the issues raised in the questions above. If these questions are answered accurately and honestly, it should help to clarify in everyone’s minds exactly what the risks and rewards are, relative to establishing and maintaining a good data backup and recovery plan.

Some small business owners simply feel that their business is too small to justify the expense of implementing formal I.T. procedures like data backup and recovery and that this belongs more in the realm of Big Business. However, by considering some of the questions raised in this article, you should be able to figure out whether or not you could actually survive an extended period of downtime or data loss, regardless of the cause.

If it becomes clear that your business would not survive if you are forced off-line for several days or longer, then you should really consider implementing the programs necessary for data backup and recovery. These days, a great many I.T. services are available as an on-demand service, rather than having to pay the cost of I.T. personnel, hardware, and software all by yourself. Even small businesses should be able to find a vendor willing to supply I.T. as a service, to help you protect your important data, and avoid business disaster. With all of the relevant factors assessed and a suitable backup plan in place, you can remain confident in the security of your business-critical data.

The hand of upper management catches a crook in the act of trying to unlock private documents. Its important to have upper management on board with all security issues.

Preventing Employees from Becoming Cyber-Security Risks

The hand of upper management catches a crook in the act of trying to unlock private documents. It's important to have upper management on board with all security issues.

Having upper management on board can ensure the security of your company’s private information.

The importance of cyber security is now being stressed to the point where pretty much everyone these days is aware that there is an urgent need for it, and that literally, every company connected to the Internet could be subject to an attack. The types of attacks carried out against company networks and databases have been found to fall into several predictable categories, for which some fairly effective defenses have been developed.

This doesn’t mean that companies are now safe from cyber-attack, but it does mean that more companies are availing themselves of the right kinds of security measures because they understand what the consequences might be if they fail to do so. This being the case, many cyber attackers are now turning their attention to a more exploitable link in the security chain for companies around the world, which is the human element.

For some time now, there has been an increasing development for company employees to become the focal point of criminal attacks, because they are not usually equipped with the same kind of defenses that hardware and software can be. Humans can be tricked into making security mistakes, which can then be exploited by the criminal-minded for their own monetary gain.

Since humans do constitute another link in the corporate chain of security defenses, that is definitely an area which every company needs to consider, in order to protect itself against the threat of cyber-attack. The actions taken should include a combination of systematic education and campaigns to raise awareness, as well as encouraging employees to behave in a more secure manner.

Here are some of the ways that companies can help to make their employees less of a security risk, and instead become one of the strong links in the defense against cyber-attack.

Risk Management

It will be worth the time and effort it takes to canvass the entire company so that potential entry points for malicious software can be identified and remediated. One of the most obvious entry points, of course, are emails coming into the company, and this calls for thorough training of employees, so as to spot potential risks such as those emails which ask you to click on the attachment.

There are also malicious emails sent to employees where the sender impersonates a company official and asks for some payment to be sent to a vendor at the address on an attached invoice. Other impersonation attempts could be from companies which the email recipient supposedly does business, asking for payment on a recent purchase.

Whatever the weak points might be around the company for potential exploitation, these need to be identified in a campaign which seeks them out, and these should then be used as examples to employees of what to avoid.

An employee analyzes data to ensure that her company stays safe from cyber-attacks and other criminal activity.

Making employees aware of security issues can help protect your company from cyber attacks.

Raising Employee Awareness of Security

Another track that your security assessment campaign should take is to evaluate the culture of your business, in terms of how effective training is, how often it’s conducted, and how it can be tailored to your company environment. When that understanding has been achieved, a suitable training program should be implemented, so that your employees are constantly thinking about cybersecurity.

The educational components should include all those possibilities which constitute cyber-attack risks, and what actions employees should take when suspicious activity is identified. Most importantly, employee training should not be a one-time operation, but should instead be something which is updated every six months to a year, and at that time, new training sessions should be initiated, so that updated material can be conveyed to employees.

There are always new and more malicious methods being devised by the criminal-minded, so that means training of employees has to be adapted periodically as well, to include all those new threats.

Strategic Analytics

All usage of the company network should be periodically analyzed and evaluated to determine whether or not there has been any malicious activity occurring. Transaction logs and other sensing software should be assessed for anything that looks like a preliminary attempt at a data breach.

Things to look for in particular might be employees who are attempting to access the company network after hours, extremely large downloads of data files, and possibly individual employees spending unusual amounts of time accessing sensitive company data. Any such digital trails which strike the evaluator as being out of character for normal company business should immediately trigger a red flag, and possibly an action by a response team.

Top Management Support

It’s essential for any cybersecurity program in a company to have the full support of upper management, which means it should be more than lip service and should be a legitimate effort, which is appropriately funded and supported. When employees recognize that top management is in earnest about cybersecurity issues, they will be much more likely to adopt the necessary measures themselves.

There should also be a dedicated cyber security manager or officer within a company because this is the type of program which requires full-time implementation and monitoring. If there are multiple individuals involved in the cybersecurity program, there should be a clear hierarchy, with well-defined roles for each person in the group.

A hand holds a glowing lock at the center of a vast digital network. the key to keeping your networks secure is making sure your employees are properly trained.

Cyber Security Guide for Employees

A hand holds a glowing lock at the center of a vast digital network. The key to keeping your networks secure is making sure your employees are properly trained.

Make sure your business is secure by properly training your employees on good cyber security habits.

 

One of the most urgent priorities for all businesses connected to the Internet is making sure that all employees and staff members are trained to avoid the possibility of data breaches. The following guide will include some of the specific practices which all employees should be trained in or which they should put into practice, in order to bring about desired results.

Get Employee Buy-in

There are, of course, some things you can do to deflect viruses, and there are software measures which can be taken to take advantage of the latest security protections. However, the most effective tools at your disposal for maintaining cybersecurity are those used to obtain employee buy-in for security measures.

It’s essential for you to convince your employees of the need to be vigilant against the possibility of cyber-attack because it will impact them personally. Employees need to understand that they could have their own data compromised and that if serious harm is done to the company, that could result in an interruption of work, if not a total cessation.

If the company’s reputation is damaged by a security breach, that could lead to declining fortunes of the company and in a worst-case scenario, even bankruptcy. Making employees understand how all this affects them personally is a very important point to use as a means of obtaining their buy-in to cybersecurity.

Make Sure Employees Understand Their Roles

Employees need to understand that the majority of cyber-attacks these days are perpetrated against humans, and not through the exploitation of weaknesses in firewalls or other preventive measures. Humans can easily be duped by phishing attacks and other social engineering techniques which seek to exploit their general unpreparedness against security breaches.

Train all employees to avoid sending sensitive emails to external sources, not clicking on files which are un-validated, being tricked by phishing attempts, using the social media carelessly, and connecting to Wi-Fi with a work laptop.

Three employees stand next to each other and peer at a computer monitor. They have good networking habits and their company servers stay secure.

Making sure your employees have good internet and network habits can make the difference between a secure network and a massive data breach.

Implement Digital Precautions

If your company deals with financial transactions, these should always occur with safety in mind, and every possible means of data protection should be implemented. First of all, transactions need to be conducted over a secure network, rather than using open source software for transaction processing, since you can’t be sure of software security.

If any devices or appliances in your office workplace are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), make sure that passwords are regularly changed, and that these are strong passwords. Already, numerous attacks have been made on devices connected to the IoT, for instance transforming them into gateways to company networks.

Keep antivirus subscriptions up to date, as well as any malware subscriptions you have, and as soon as you are supplied with patches by your vendors, make sure that those patches are scheduled for the application.

Everything possible should be done to make access to your data files extremely difficult, especially information which is considered a business-critical or high priority. Create an environment where it’s easy for your employees to report suspicious activity, such as emails that don’t seem legitimate. By encouraging an open environment which emphasizes security, you can have all of your employees on the alert, and inclined to report anything suspicious at all.

Employee Training

Employee training should be conducted at least twice a year so that all the information provided is reinforced constantly. It may seem like a bore to employees, but that repetition will be well worth it if it thwarts a serious cyber-attack. Make sure no one is exempted from the biannual training, and that it’s tailored to specific groups within the company that has specific responsibilities because these could be subject to different kinds of security attacks.

Try to keep training sessions simple, so that they become very memorable to employees, and so the practices become more implementable. In between formal training sessions, it’s a good idea to post safety reminders at strategic locations throughout the company.

Cyber Security Reviews

It’s a good idea to review communication processes used by the company every three months or at most every six months and make sure that all company employees are receiving the security messages which are being broadcast. Make sure that you have a reporting system which identifies any security breaches, and is sure that the statistics are trending in the right direction.

Long-Term Training

There can be a lot involved with keeping employees trained to avoid cyber-attacks, and all the work involved should not be left up to the I.T. department, because typically these individuals already have plenty on their plates. If the training program is to be successful, there should be dedicated personnel to conduct the training, and there should be a formalized plan which covers several years.

In the first year of the training program, it might be advisable to keep things simple and just get training guides issued and implemented. The next year, a deeper cut can be made at instructing employees, possibly by tailoring security content to specific groups of employees and individual departments.

After those initial years, your training program might focus on quality control, obtaining employee feedback, and developing more sophisticated methods for delivering your safety messages. Throughout the entire training process, for as long as it’s conducted, all changes in the cybersecurity environment should be monitored, and it should be verified that training is kept current.

If you can provide this kind of in-depth training to your employees on a regular basis, and make sure that the content is actually useful and relevant, you will go a long way toward protecting your computing environment from attack by the criminal-minded.

A router with a padlock symbolizes wireless security.

Wireless Security and the Internet

A router with a padlock symbolizes wireless security.

Your sensitive information is always on the move, and it is important to assess the goals of your wired and wireless security solutions.

Having the right connection to the Internet can be a crucial consideration for your business since both wireless and ethernet connections have advantages and disadvantages. Both of these connection technologies have their own specific levels of security, and both can provide a stable environment for your company. In choosing which one is better to implement for your particular circumstances, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages wired versus wireless security described below, before going one way or the other.

Ethernet Connections

Ethernet connections are characterized by the cables which connect them to switches and routers in your network, and they allow for local area network access by all your employees. One of the advantages provided by ethernet connections is that they are recognizably faster than wireless connections because cables are less prone to any kind of interference.

If yours is a business which routinely deals with high volumes of data transmission, or if that data is deemed to be extremely critical, an Ethernet connection may be the better choice for you. Ethernet is also very reliable, or at least as reliable as all the hardware components in the network, and the Internet provider whom you are associated with.

One of the disadvantages of Ethernet is that it relies on cabling, which must be implemented all throughout your office environment in order to reach and connect every workstation which needs access. Every one of these cables must somehow reach the server room, where the Internet connection is. Needless to say, making these kinds of cabling runs can be fairly expensive, and if there are ever any kind of changes which need to be implemented, there can be another heavy expense in a re-cabling, or adding cables to the existing wiring runs.

Another downside posed by the huge physical presence of cabling is that there’s a possibility that they pose a safety threat to employees, especially when there are any cables situated within high traffic areas, or in locations where cables are not well secured, and away from common pathways.

Wireless Internet Connections

With regards to wireless security, a new set of considerations must be made. When using wireless Internet connections, the switches and routers are used to broadcast data signals, rather than using the cable connections in an Ethernet environment. Any employees needing access to the network must have approved credentials and must have authorized access to the network.

One of the great advantages of wireless connections is that they offer more flexibility than ethernet connections do. Computers in a wireless environment need not be slaved to cables, which means they can literally be taken anywhere in the company building, where the signal can still be sent and received.

Since there’s no physical connection requirement, all your mobile devices can be used to connect to the Internet in locations where a Wi-Fi signal is in effect. This, in turn, generates a great many opportunities for conducting business in the modern business environment. One of the big examples of this is the Internet of things, where literally millions or billions of devices around the globe can all be connected to the Internet without the use of any cabling, so that backend analysis and recommendations can be forwarded to the connected devices for self-improvement.

It might take more upfront time to implement a wireless network, but once it has been set up, it’s much quicker to achieve your business objectives wherever you might happen to be. This means that you can send emails while you’re on the road, rather than needing to get back to the office to access your workstation, connected to the network.

In a factory environment, decisions can be made much more quickly, because mobile access is possible from wherever a device owner happens to be, rather than having to get back to an office and get connected.

One of the downsides to wireless connections is that they are not completely reliable in all settings. They are more subject to background noise and interference, and they can experience interruptions by large buildings or other objects, which interfere with the line of sight.

This means that it may not be a good idea to implement wireless connections when your company routinely transmits large volumes of data, or when it transmits extremely sensitive data to other locations. It should be noted that these kinds of disruptions are not frequent and that they certainly don’t detract from the reliability of wireless connections, but as compared to ethernet connections, they do occur more frequently.

A Wifi icon is shown with a lock and key, symbolizing wireless security.

Wireless security concerns differ from those present in an Ethernet environment, as the signal strength and access potential are not the same.

Wireless Security Versus Wired Ethernet Security

In terms of security for the Internet, wireless connections would have to be considered slightly less secure, even though there are a great many actions which can be implemented which will improve wireless security, and make it more robust against potential cyber-attacks.

There is also a greater possibility of users being exploited when connecting to Wi-Fi networks because they might take their laptops to hotspots in cafés or other public places, where there would be a potential for data hijacking by cyber attackers.

This, of course, could be counteracted by not allowing company laptops outside the building, but that would restrict the productivity of employees who might want to work at home, or of those who need the mobility of being able to work on the go, for instance when visiting clients.

Ethernet is simply the more secure option because data which is transmitted over cables cannot be intercepted or hijacked as easily as it can be in a wireless environment. While Ethernet is not entirely secure, e.g. phishing attacks can still be made against off-guard employees, it must be regarded as the more secure of the two connection options when compared to the factors pertaining to wireless security.

A folder which is secured with chains represents the strategy for avoiding data loss.

Don’t Let Data Loss Shut Down Your Business

A folder which is secured with chains represents the strategy for avoiding data loss.

Regardless of the size of your company or the networking solutions you have in place, you must be aware of the persistent threat of data loss.

It seems that more and more these days, there are major headlines announcing the fact that another giant corporation or huge agency has suffered a breach resulting in data loss, and that thousands, if not millions of clients have been affected. This in itself can be pretty frightening for everyone who is a subscriber or a client of one of these companies, because it means that your personal data can be in the hands of a criminal seeking to use it for personal gain.

For executives of these giant corporations and agencies, it can be a nightmare as well, because it’s a huge blow to the credibility of the company, conveying the notion that inadequate security measures were being used, and that customer data was not afforded proper importance. When companies suffer a loss of credibility and reputation, that usually translates to a loss of business as well, as clients abandon the company for theoretically safer places.

Then too, there can be a much more bottom-line effect which results from a data breach, and that can be expressed in dollars. In some cases, a cyber-attacker will hold the data hostage from a corporation, and he/she will demand some ransom amount for the safe return of the data. If that business-critical data has not been properly backed up on a regular basis, the company might have no recourse whatsoever, other than to pay the demanded ransom figure, so that data can be recovered.

Small Business Attacks

All this is pretty disconcerting in and of itself, with weekly or monthly attacks garnering national attention. However, the attacks which don’t make headline news are much more common, albeit perhaps not quite so spectacular, in terms of dollar amounts and in terms of numbers of customers affected. Many cyber attackers have eschewed attacks on corporate entities because they tend to be well protected, and instead have turned their attention to the endless number of small businesses operating in the country, simply because there are so many inviting targets.

While the profits to be earned from attacking small businesses aren’t quite so impressive, the sheer number of possible targets makes up for it, in terms of volume. It has been estimated that a small to medium-sized business which has suffered data loss to a cyber-attacker will typically lose about 25% of its daily revenue, one week after a loss. One month after a data loss, the estimated daily revenue losses will have climbed to around 40%, which is more than enough to cripple most small to medium-sized businesses.

Data maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) reveals that when small to medium-sized businesses suffer a significant data loss, which triggers a period of downtime lasting at least 10 days, more than 93% have had to file bankruptcy within a year of the incident. Even more startling, more than 50% of those companies didn’t even waste a year’s time, and they had to file bankruptcy immediately after the data loss.

Records kept by the same NARA agency in Washington, D.C. show that small to medium-size businesses with no data recovery plans, go out of business at a rate of 43% following any significant data loss. All these facts and figures should point up the critical need for data backups and data recovery plans. Those companies which think they will never be the ones impacted by cyber-attack, and which don’t take the necessary steps to prevent disaster resulting from such attacks, are the companies which very often are forced to file for bankruptcy.

There is simply no substitute for being proactive about your data protection processes, and for having a formalized plan for backup and recovery. More than this, these processes should be periodically tested to ensure that they are still valid and that they are providing maximum effectiveness against data loss. Failure to implement such safety procedures can make it much more likely that a small to medium-size business will end up as one of those statistics regarding the fate of companies experiencing significant data loss.

A screen prompt from a malicious hacker shows a ransom demand under the pain of file loss.

Hackers are fond of creating schemes which can hold your business-critical files hostage under the threat of causing file loss.

How to go About Protecting Against Data Loss

Data backups should occur either daily or weekly, depending on cost-effectiveness and on the volume of transactions your business accumulates in a single day. If you have a high volume of transactions every day, chances are you’ll need to have daily backups, because if your backups are no more current than last week, you will have lost a tremendous number of transactions, if you have to restore from a week ago.

Make sure that your data backups are actually saving the data that you need, and also make sure that the restore process functions as it should, in the event that you have to carry through on it, to retrieve business-critical data.

Regarding the data to be backed up, you should have a prioritized approach, which assigns the most resources to the most important data. Your business-critical data is comprised of all the customer data that you store for clients, all personal data, and all data necessary for daily operations. Company managers can determine this priority scheme with I.T. personnel so that if you do have limited resources for data backup and recovery, you can always be sure that the most important data is saved, and can be restored whenever necessary. With this approach in mind, you will ensure that any possible data loss will not be irrevocable.

EPP vs EDR: the differences between the two

EPP vs EDR – Know the Difference

An Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP) is an enterprise solution typically comprised of capabilities such as port and device control, a local firewall, and anti-malware software. One of the things which most strongly characterizes an EPP is its ability to provide anti-malware scanning, based on detection methods which rely on known signatures, in other words antivirus software.

Advanced Endpoint Protection Platforms

Some EPP platforms go a bit further than this, providing detailed monitoring of endpoint file activity, as well as the detection of suspicious or malicious behavior from such files, which may be completely missed by other layers of security. Going one step further, when this kind of suspicious activity is detected, some EPPs even provide the means of managing it.

This can be an extremely important part of any security system. The truth is that it’s impossible to be 100% protected from malware attacks, and some will break past your firewall and your antivirus software. When they do, having such monitoring of file activity on your endpoints can provide just the kind of alert that you need to spot an attack, before malware has a chance to do any serious damage.

What is Endpoint Detection & Response?

By contrast, Endpoint Detection & Response is a security system comprised of at least four major capabilities:

  • the detection of security incidents
  • the localization of any incidents right there at the endpoint of detection
  • the ability to conduct a full investigation of any potential security incidents
  • and the restoration of endpoints to their original status prior to infection.

From this it can be seen that the difference between EPP and EDR is that EPP tends to be more of a front-line defense and EDR tends to be more of a second or third line of defense. While the hope is that any Endpoint Protection Platform will detect almost all malware attacks, the EDR security provides many more tools for managing attacks which have been identified, and have already been carried out to at least some extent.

Hybrid EPP and EDR Systems

It was inevitable that security vendors would develop a package that includes elements of both an EPP and an EDR system to provide the ultimate security system. The market for such products is definitely there, because there are many small businesses and large corporations which have woken up to the dangers of ignoring security, and have now swung their security pendulums entirely to the opposite side.

You can never have too much security in place at an organization, and anything which provides a full toolkit of options is a good idea when it comes to security. For that reason, some companies now provide hybrid systems which include features of both an EPP and an EDR, so that threats can not only be identified, they can also be dealt with right on the spot.

Here are some of the features you might find in a hybrid security platform:

  • threat identification using signature-based methods
  • sandboxing’ capabilities that perform on-the-spot analysis of files against hundreds of known behavioral indicators, to detect suspicious activity
  • malware detection and blocking, using techniques such as signature matching and fuzzy fingerprinting at the endpoint prevent network breaches
  • when potentially harmful files slip past the front line of defense, the secondary features can be invoked. That means a continuous analysis of files that enter the network, regardless of what their status is. If later analysis should indicate suspicious behavior, an alert can be sent to the security team, along with the recorded history of file activity thus far. Your team will have a full understanding of where such files came from and what it’s been doing once it entered your network. You’ll then also have the capability of controlling it and deciding what to do with it.

Which is Best for Your Enterprise?

Deciding which approach your company should take to protecting its valuable data assets and network infrastructure will depend on a few things – but one of them should NOT be that you’ve been immune from attacks in the past. That’s the kind of mindset which can easily make your company next on the list for a harmful cyberattack.

Instead, you’ll probably have to take cost into consideration, especially if your security budget is somewhat limited. Then too, you should consider the offerings available from a short list of vendors which you’ve prepared, or which you have been advised about by a security consultant.

Don’t forget to take into account what you already have in place, so that you won’t have to gut the system and completely replace it. Whatever you end up with, make sure to use all the information provided to you, keep it as current as possible, and back up your data files.

Computer security code abstract image. Password protection conceptual image.

API Keys: Secure Your Business’ Cloud

It’s safe to say that your API keys represent the keys to your cloud kingdom. Anyone in possession of these API keys can access your applications, hardware, and other software in a given cloud environment.

API keys, or access keys as they are sometimes known, are necessary in today’s computing environments. They provide the means to pass credentials between a cloud provider and an enterprise.

Potential for Harm When Access Keys are Stolen

Access keys are created when an organization is first setting up its cloud management services, and a great deal of damage can be done if they fall into the wrong hands. This is not just a possibility; this scenario has happened several times in the past. A cyber attacker breached OneLogin’s databases after gaining access to a set of Amazon Web Services (AWS) API keys.

There is a definite need for collaboration between organizations and cloud providers. The benefits offered in such arrangements are powerful business enablers and can help keep enterprises afloat in a very competitive landscape. That being the case, there needs to be a very solid approach to securing API keys, so that they can’t be stolen and used in criminal ways.

Some companies have learned that hard-coding API keys into their applications is a big mistake, because these can easily be intercepted. Access keys can be coded directly into applications and scripts and then forgotten about. Then they are left sitting in the applications, available to the first clever cyber attacker.

Securing Your Company’s API Keys

Here are some of the best ways to secure your company’s access keys against criminal attack:

  • Identify and list all keys – there are some very good discovery tools available, which can scan your entire cloud environment for any and all API keys that may have been left unprotected. After enumerating all these access keys, you should then check any infrastructure weaknesses which may exist, and gather together all audit information relative to key usage.
  • Eliminate embedded access keys – after having found all hard-coded access keys stored in your executable scripts and software applications, remove them so no one can access freely them. It’s a good idea to also cut all direct access from your own employees.
  • Make your API keys secure – protect your access keys by storing them in a secure data vault with strong access controls, so that only authenticated users and authenticated applications can gain access.
  • Rotate API keyschange your access keys every so often so they don’t remain static for a long period of time.
  • Apply least privilege principle – use the principles of least privilege in granting access to your secure API keys. Grant access only to those entities that need them to carry out their normal functions. Also, cut any redundant permissions which were set up for the account role associated with the API key.
  • Automate securing your credentials – to avoid direct access by employees, make sure that all API key access to your digital vault is automated by whatever tools and scripts are necessary to carry the process out securely. Guarantee that API access to applications is secure by using application authentication and machine IDs where appropriate.

API Keys are Necessary, but Keep Them Secure

Securing access keys may seem like a hassle, but it should be remembered that there are enormous benefits to cloud computing. It should also be kept in mind that by establishing that kind of setup with a cloud provider, a greater attack surface is made available to criminal-minded individuals on the Internet, and great care must be taken to deter their efforts.

If a cyber attacker were to gain control of your company’s access keys, they could control your entire cloud infrastructure. That would allow this person to disable any security controls and steal any sensitive company data or customer data.

Your company can avoid this doom-and-gloom scenario by following the steps listed above. When access keys are properly managed and kept as secure as possible, you can have peace of mind about the threat of cyber attackers, and can focus on leading your business to sustained growth and success.

A woman points to icons that represent IoT.

A Crash Course on the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept in the computing world which defines the notion that ordinary physical objects can be connected to the Internet, and can have the capability of identifying themselves to other connected devices. This is extremely important, because any object which can digitally identify itself to others becomes something much greater than it would be on its own.

Whatever the object is, it no longer relates just to its owner but can be corrected to an endless number of other machines.

If this description sounds a little nebulous, it’s understandable, since it’s a somewhat difficult concept to grasp. The digital innovation expert who coined the term IoT, Kevin Ashton, put it this way, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

What Can IoT Do?

There’s a subtle capability included within this quote which you may have missed, but which is the central concept behind Version II of the Internet itself. The original Internet was entirely comprised of data created by humans, but in its second incarnation, the Internet will also include vast amounts of data generated entirely by objects, without human intervention.

Another important point made in the quote by Mr. Ashton is that some of the data generated by objects relate to performance and everyday operating conditions, and back-end software can evaluate this data. When such data is analyzed and compared against other data, it can provide extremely useful information about the status and performance of the object sending the data. That’s how we know if a device is not operating correctly and can make necessary replacements as soon as possible. However, this capability is only one of the many uses advantages which will result from objects connected to the Internet of Things.

Smart Homes

One of the ways that the Internet of Things will change life in our everyday world will be through the greater adoption of smart technology in the home setting. Although there have already been several ways that IoT technology has improved life, even more, are just around the corner. Today you may have your coffee pot, your thermostat, and your Amazon Echo connected to the IoT, but even more innovative ideas like this are currently being tested and readied for production. Expect to see IoT versions of washers, dryers, refrigerators, security systems, and lighting systems very soon.

A self-driving car powered by IoT.

It’s predicted that IoT will eventually result in self-driving cars, and other exciting automated innovations.

Wearable Devices

Last year, approximately 85 million wearables were sold in this country, and within two or three years, that figure is expected to exceed 400 million. In the broad category of wearables are included fitness trackers, virtual-reality headsets, smart watches, and other devices. All of these wearable devices are generating literally tons of data, for which practical uses have not even been defined yet. To be sure, there are endless possibilities and potential applications for this data, and when some of these are put into practice, the Internet of Things will become a far busier place.

Smart Cars

One of the most tantalizing uses of IoT technology is in smart cars, which are now very close to becoming a reality. In a few years, more than 80% of all vehicles on the road will be connected to the Internet. This will increase the potential for navigational guidance, diagnostic tools, and most exciting of all, self-driving cars.

The automobile industry has made major investments in exploring the potential for IoT technology relative, and as a result, self-driving cars are a virtual certainty in the near future. Many such cars have already been built and tested, and have performed admirably under controlled conditions – which means general rollout won’t be far off.

Business Applications

The Internet of Things will affect more than just individuals and will change the way we do business. For instance, physical inventories will no longer have to be conducted by employees spending their entire weekend in the warehouse, because smart devices will be able to track inventory automatically.

Inventors and creators of appliances and other gadgets will be free to get creative in developing new devices which can provide consumer benefits by being connected to the IoT.

The number of employees working remotely or from home will increase dramatically in the future, as more devices are connected to the IoT, permitting closer integration with work facilities.
Businesses will closely analyze all that data which is being generated by objects connected to the Internet of Things, and a great deal will be learned about where they should put their focus regarding where to innovate, what to innovate, and how to innovate.

 

 

 

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