security

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.

Close-up of a phone with different icons branching out: representing the different aspects that small business cyber security will protect.

Why Cyber Security Is Still Important for Small Businesses

Cyber attacks of recent years have grown in number and size, making it crucial to alert the computing world at large of the need to protect data assets and network infrastructure. Large corporations, small businesses, and even private individuals are all subject to attack from criminal-minded hackers who are bent on profiting from illegal penetration into your computing system.  Many of the most high-profile cyber attacks of recent years targeted large corporations, simply because of the potential for extracting more substantial sums of money from them in exchange for the safe return of business assets (ransomware). While attacks against small businesses (SMB’s) have not garnered the headlines nor the high visibility of major attacks against big corporations, that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking place. In fact, small businesses now are being hit much more frequently because hackers have realized that, all those small profits from SMB’s do add up to big money in total. Statistics show that over the past several years, more than half of small businesses have had network security breached in some way by hackers. This alarming development should clearly point out the need for small businesses to be on the alert, small business cyber security should be taken seriously.

Managing the Risk of Cyber Attacks Against Small Businesses

In addition to the cumulative appeal of profits from small business attacks, there is another reason why criminals have been turning their attention to SMB’s. With fewer resources allocated to cybersecurity, and less formalized training and education against the potential for cyber attacks, small businesses often present very inviting targets for the criminal-minded.

It’s also true that limited budgets make small businesses cyber security not as readily accessible. However, even with limited resources, there are at least a few necessary steps that all small businesses can take, which will reduce the likelihood of an attack, and at least provide some measure of security for valuable business assets.

For instance, at least one person in every small business can be designated to stay abreast of all known cyberattack threats, so that it’s at least possible to take preventive measures against specific threats and risks. This would typically be an I.T. person who’s also responsible for keeping system software updated with any security patches made available by vendors. Soon after the newest cyberattacks appear, software gurus are at work developing fixes to patch whatever weakness allowed the attack to take place, and these should be applied to your software system as soon as they are made available.

It’s also imperative to take regular backups of business-critical data so that in the event of an attack like ransomware, there is always a safe and current version of data to fall back on, without surrendering to the demands of a hacker.

A person with a laptop and phone: representing the implementation of small business cyber security.

To implement effective small business cyber security, it’s important to train all employees on different types of cyber attacks and how to resolve them.

Education and Training on Small Business Cyber Security

It’s fair to say that the biggest vulnerability for small business cyber security is the lack of employee education and training. This, of course, is not limited to SMB’s, because even corporate giants are frequently exposed to cyber threats by the weakest point in their networks, which is the actions of employees.

Hackers are naturally aware of this, and much of their time and effort is spent trying to dupe unsuspecting company employees into providing them with crucial information like passwords or account data which will allow them to carry out attacks against the company network. All this should make it clear that one of the top priority investments in small business cyber security is to properly educate and train employees about cyber threats, and how they’re carried out and resolved.

Every employee needs to be aware of the potential for cyber attacks and should treat anything suspicious with extreme caution. At the bare minimum, all employees should be educated about the necessity for safeguarding passwords, credentials, and account information. Such attacks can be carried out through email phishing scams, or possibly social media, where cyber attackers are known to be listening, and waiting to exploit unsuspecting employees to obtain vital security information in a seemingly harmless environment.

Hackers can also obtain business details information from employees via social engineering, wherein cyber attackers manipulate employees by pretending to be clients, banking institutions, or other characters of authority or importance. Some of these attacks are made through phone calls where a supposed colleague requests to know changes made to account information need to be reminded of specific passwords to gain access to system software. Hackers posing as managers from other departments have also exploited unwary employees with phone calls asking for similar information, which can then be used to breach the computing system and hijack valuable company data assets.

Some small businesses in the country have gotten the message, and have taken whatever steps they can to prevent cyberattacks, or at least reduce the potential for them. If awareness is the first big step toward improving your small business cyber security, educating employees about cyber attacks can be said to be an essential second step. Hackers these days are determined to victimize small businesses as well as corporate giants, and that means SMB owners and managers have to be just as committed to preventing those attacks.

 

Text with highlighted red words reading "data breach" and "cyber attack", related to a security breach.

Why a Security Breach Could Destroy Your Brand

A study recently conducted by RiskVision, a respected developer of Risk Management software, determined that more businesses today are concerned about company reputation than they are about potential breaches of security which might impact them. It has long been known that companies consider a brand name to be one of their most significant assets, even though it’s an intangible that has value to no one outside the company itself.

In this survey, damage to a brand name was considered to be potentially more damaging than security breaches, even though the two often go hand-in-hand today. Hackers who successfully penetrate into a company’s computing network often do inflict serious damage to the reputation of the business, and subsequently its brand name. It should, therefore, be kept in mind by all business owners that security breaches need to be taken seriously, to prevent damage to the company brand-name, as well as all the usual financial ramifications.

How a Security Breach Can Damage Your Brand Name

Typically, the first thing a customer considers when thinking about brand names, about products or services, is whether or not the product or service provides quality and value, and whether the cost is in line with the levels of quality and value delivered. However, any company which has suffered a known security breach often falls into an entirely different frame of evaluation.

Consumers will often think that any business which has allowed itself to be hacked by criminals is not worthy of their trust and patronage. After all, if their business practices were lax enough to permit the cyberattack in the first place, that may be a sign that other important aspects of the business are also conducted with inadequate attention to detail. This fact is borne out powerfully in a poll jointly conducted by CSO and OnePoll, which attempted to determine the connection between insufficient security and a company’s brand name, as perceived by consumers.

In the survey, a whopping 86% of customers declared that they were unlikely to patronize a company which had suffered a severe security breach, especially if the breach was related to customer information. This represents a definite shift in consumer thinking from the early days of cyber attacks when businesses were perceived as victims entitled to understanding and sympathy from the public. In the now-famous cyberattack against department store giant Target, sales for the entire quarter after their security breach dropped like a rock, falling almost 50% from the prior quarter.

A red button on a keyboard reading "data protection," as related to preventing a security breach.

Keeping your customers’ and clients’ information safe should be your top priority, since it affects the way the public perceives how trustworthy your business is.

Impact of Security Breaches on Small Businesses

Major security breaches perpetrated against small companies can have an enormous effect and can cause irreparable brand-name damage from which recovery is either very difficult or downright impossible. In 2016, a study was conducted by KPMG which determined that almost 90% of small businesses had suffered serious brand name damage in the immediate aftermath of a security breach.

In a white paper published by the National Cyber Security Alliance, figures were released which showed that as many as 60% of all small businesses completely collapse less than six months following a significant cybersecurity breach. Interestingly, both of the studies referenced above reported that less than one-quarter of all small businesses considered cybersecurity to be a top priority. The fact that there has historically been relatively little concern about cybersecurity breaches may account for the often devastating impact that attacks have had on those business entities.

Taking Steps to Secure Your Business

A cyber security plan doesn’t need to be especially elaborate, and it doesn’t need to be funded to the hilt, with every conceivable kind of virus detection software. There just needs to be a well thought out plan for cybersecurity, and a legitimate effort to enforce that strategy. There are some straightforward but very cost-effective measures which can be adopted to thwart the vast majority of cyber attacks.

Using strong passwords on all company computers is a good start, followed up by installing security software on company devices. It’s always best to keep hardware and software updated with the latest available security patches and to periodically back up business-critical data. The weakest point of any company’s network should not be overlooked, which means employees need to be educated about the risks of cyber attack.

The important thing to remember about any cybersecurity policy is just to implement as many of the simple steps listed above as possible and to do it immediately so that your system is not left vulnerable to penetration by cyber attackers. As some of the survey results mentioned above make clear, every kind of business from the corporate giant on down to the mom-and-pop retail outlet must take all steps possible to avoid the possibility of major security breaches. Failing to do this can cost you a lot more than money – it can cause irreparable harm to your company’s reputation.

A Wi-Fi symbol with computer binary code in the background, to signify the hackers who exploit insecure networks via key reinstallation attacks.

What You Need to Know About Key Reinstallation Attacks

If you haven’t heard about key reinstallation attacks yet, they’re the most recent form of Wi-Fi hacking. It’s also possible that you actually have heard about them under their media nickname, which is ‘Krack Attacks.’

Regardless of the nomenclature, key reinstallation attacks are attempts to exploit a flaw in the Wi-Fi encryption protocol which permits hackers to hijack all kinds of personal information, including photos, passwords, and account numbers. The first thing to know about key reinstallation attacks is that they’re not specifically targeting any particular hardware, but rather a weakness in the Wi-Fi protocol itself.

This means that all smartphones, mobile devices, routers, and desktop machines are subject to attack, and any or all of your personal data may abruptly come into the possession of someone with criminal intent. Today, we’re here to discuss what you should know about this new threat.

How Key Reinstallation Attacks Work

Researchers have uncovered a flaw in the WPA2 Wi-Fi protocol which allows hackers to replicate a user’s network entirely, and by falsely representing the Media Access Control (MAC) address, which is a device’s physical address, it can actually cause a switch in Wi-Fi channels.

When a bogus network is set up in this way, it can actually intercept signals from any remote device attempting to connect to the original system, causing such attempts to bypass the real network, and instead connect to the rogue.

The way WPA2 encryption is supposed to work, it would require a unique key for any encryption request, but the flaw uncovered in the WPA2 protocol does not always need that specific key, and instead, reuses a previous one. The problem is particularly acute with Linux and Android, because of the way they make use of the WPA2 protocol. In these operating systems, a unique encryption key is not demanded every time an encryption request is made, leaving the system vulnerable to hacking.

In layman’s terms, the Wi-Fi protocol can be exploited when hackers can find a vulnerable network and take advantage of the WPA2 weakness, ultimately directing users to the rogue network for data hijacking.

Little people browsing the internet on their laptops, perched on a laptop. Key reinstallation attacks take advantage of how ubiquitous Wi-Fi is.

Key reinstallation attacks take advantage of the fact that most of our world now runs on Wi-FI so it’s important to take precautions before connecting to an unfamiliar Wi-Fi network or an insecure one.

Researchers Proof of Concept

Previous minor flaws had already been uncovered in the WPA2 protocol, so researchers were already fearful that some even more significant problem might be lurking within the software. The key reinstallation flaw was discovered by those researchers, who then conducted proof of concept experiments to attack a theoretically vulnerable Wi-Fi system. On an Android system, the researchers were successful in intercepting and decrypting all the test victim’s data.

According to these penetration experts, the same kind of ‘success’ could not be achieved on a system setup with HTTPS secure socket layers but would wreak havoc on sites which have been poorly set up and missing HTTPS. While Linux and Android are most severely affected because of how they use WPA2, other operating systems like Windows, MacOS, and OpenBSD would also be compromised but to a lesser degree. How serious is the issue for Android? Experts recommend that owners of Android devices shut off Wi-Fi until known fixes have been applied to close up the weakness in the protocol.

What You Can Do to Avoid Krack Attacks

One of the best things you can do to avoid the possibility of a key reinstallation attack is to look for the ‘https’ at the beginning of any URL for websites which you visit. That ‘https’ is an indicator that the site uses secure protocols, and you would be safe in visiting. You can also simply avoid using Wi-Fi for the time being, while software gurus hurriedly develop a fix for the vulnerability. This may be inconvenient, especially when you’re away from home or the office and might need Wi-Fi, but it’s much safer than having your sensitive data fall into the hands of a criminal.

One of the interesting things about these attacks is that a hacker must be within the physical range of your machine before the attack can be carried out, and while that does serve to shield many users from harm, an actual attacker can’t be identified beforehand so you know if he’s close enough. So naturally, you can’t rely on remaining safe because you aren’t within range of a criminal – after all, what does a criminal look like?

Fortunately, the fix will be relatively easy to develop in this case and should be forthcoming relatively soon. All that’s necessary is a simple change to the firmware so that during the ‘handshake’ between devices, a unique key is requested every single time, rather than sometimes relying on previously used ones which can be exploited. Get in touch with your provider and ask when fixes will be made available, and as soon as those security updates are released, make sure they are applied to all your devices.

 

A large of amount of sand, to metaphorically represent the "sand" part of sandboxing security.

Sandbox Security: Why Do I Need It and How Is It Protecting My Computer?

A large of amount of sand, to metaphorically represent the "sand" part of sandboxing security.

Sandbox security is an important computer safety technique that helps keep malicious executables at bay.

A sandbox is an isolated environment that mimics an entire computer system.  This protected space can be used to test suspicious programs and analyze potential threats.  Sandboxing is a vital security feature that prevents malware and other viruses from entering and damaging your computer.

Much of the software you already use, like web browsers, have sandboxes that filter most of the code your system uses to perform daily tasks.  You can create your own sandboxes to test whether a piece of software is safe, in a controlled environment that won’t damage the rest of your computer’s system.

What Is Sandboxing? Why Is It an Essential Security Feature?

Sandboxes give specific permissions to a piece of code, allowing it to perform its functions, while restricting it to a tightly controlled environment.   Programs are then run within this environment, where no additional code permissions can be abused.

In everyday computer use, you come across many sandboxing security techniques.  Your web browser, if you use Chrome or Internet Explorer, runs the webpages you visit in a sandbox.  These webpages are limited to the access granted by this browser’s sandbox, meaning that this site can’t do things like open your webcam without your permission or snoop on your personal files.

Web Browsers With Sandboxing Capabilities

Browsers with sandboxing capabilities are especially useful for recognizing advanced persistent threats (APTs).  These APTs are designed to escape detection, breaking through conventional security barriers, and gaining access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on your computer.  Sandboxes help isolate these viruses and prevent them from spreading.

Sandboxing browsers don’t have access to your entire computer, because they run in a low-permission mode.  If a malicious webpage manages to take over your browser, it would still have to get past the browser’s sandbox to do any damage to rest of your system.

If a webpage happens to contain malicious code, a browser without a sandbox wouldn’t be able to protect the rest of your computer system.  This creates a security vulnerability through which malware or viruses can be introduced.  Most browsers, with the exception of Mozilla Firefox, have sandboxing capabilities.

For the most part, the fewer permissions granted to the browser or any other program, the more secure your system will be.

woman with smartphone and laptop, with security icons floating around her.  Sandbox security is important for keeping your computer's system safe from malware.

Most of your computer programs are already using sandbox security techniques, but it’s important to know which programs are already sandboxed to better understand how to protect your computer from the ones that aren’t.

Sandboxes Are Already Protecting You

Browsers are among the many sandboxed programs on your computer. There are plenty of other programs that are already being sandboxed for your protection.

Browser Plug-ins

Content from plug-ins like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight are run in sandboxes.  An online game made with Flash is much safer when played on a web page than when it’s downloaded and opened as a standard program.  As a sandboxed plug-in, Flash contains the game within the browser, and severely restricts what it can do to the rest of your system.

PDFs and Other Documents

PDFs have become a common source of malicious executables.  PDFs and other documents can contain malicious embedded links, and without sandboxes, these viruses could compromise your system’s security. Adobe Reader now runs in a sandbox, and Microsoft Office also has sandboxing capabilities that keep unsafe macros from infecting your computer.

Mobile Apps

Smartphone apps run their code in a sandbox.  iOS, Android, and Windows mobile apps have far fewer permissions than their standard desktop counterparts.  In order to access functions like your location or camera roll, they must ask for the user’s permission.

By keeping mobile apps in low-permission mode, you’re able to keep the information on your smartphone safe. Sandboxes also isolate apps from each other, so one app can’t affect each another’s functionalities.

Windows Programs

If your computer runs on Windows, User Account Control is a form of basic sandbox security that you come across frequently.  Essentially, User Account Control restricts desktop applications from modifying files within your system without asking the user for permission.

This form of sandbox security offers very minimal protection, since desktop programs can still run in the background and log your keystrokes. User Account Control merely stops unwanted programs from accessing system files and system-wide settings.

How You Can Apply Sandbox Security to Your Programs

Sandboxing your own programs isn’t really something you need to worry about, since so many of the apps and programs you use on a regular basis are already sandboxed.  However, it’s useful to know that most desktop programs aren’t generally sandboxed by default.

If you want to run a program without letting it harm the rest of your system, you can sandbox any program. As mentioned before, User Account Control (UAC) doesn’t do much to protect your system.

Virtual Machines

Virtual machines like VirtualBox™ or VMware create entire operating systems within your existing OS to test programs. This simulated operating system is completely sandboxed, so it doesn’t have access to the rest of your system, and the programs you are testing within the virtual machine can’t access anything outside of its designated boundaries.

Virtual machines allow you to install programs on the virtual operating system and run them as if they were open on your actual OS.  You can then analyze the installed program to determine if it contains malware.

They also have snapshot features, which allow you to reset your virtual machine to state it was before malicious executables were installed. You can then continue to test programs in your virtual machine without worrying about crowding or damaging the virtualized operating system.

Sandboxie

Sandboxie, unlike virtual machines, is a program that creates a protective bubble around your existing computer system, effectively sandboxing the parts of your system you specify.  With Sandboxie, browsing the web is more secure.  Any cookies, cached files, and search history, can all be cleared from your browser when you close the sandbox program. You can even send apps directly to Sandboxie to be examined.

All Things Cyber Security With Geek Aid

If you’re still confused or just want to find out more about how to keep your computer absolutely secure, Geek Aid is here to help.  Our professional geeks know your computer system by heart, and can protect you against viruses and malicious content to keep all of your devices in working order. Call us at (877) Geek-Aid to speak with our geeks today.

Go to Top