Posts tagged computer security

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.

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.

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.

Moving your business' data to the cloud can be daunting, so understanding the benefits and security measures of cloud computing services is important.

The Cloud: Understanding More About Its Benefits and Security

Moving your business' data to the cloud can be daunting, so understanding the benefits and security measures of cloud computing services is important.

The cloud is a convenient and cost-effective means of elevating your business’ resource allocation processes.

What Is the Cloud?

“The cloud” is one of those popular tech topics people talk about but can’t always define.  The cloud is essentially a network of servers that does two types of things.  One kind of cloud server stores data and while the other uses its computing power to help applications run.

We all come across the cloud frequently in everyday life, especially for storage.  Every time you use an app like Instagram, a cloud server is what holds the pictures uploaded to your account.  These photos are not saved in your phone’s internal memory, but rather in Instagram’s network of servers.  Dropbox is also an example of a cloud server. Every time you save something on your computer that doesn’t take up your computer’s memory, you are using the cloud.

Other companies like Adobe use the cloud to deliver services.  Previously you could buy the Adobe Creative Suite™ in a physical box.  Now, all of these tools exist in the cloud and users pay a subscription fee to access them in the Adobe Creative Cloud™.

How the Cloud Benefits You

When businesses decide to move their resources to the cloud, overhead costs can be reduced.  Before cloud technology became widespread, businesses would have to purchase hardware and computer applications that lost their value over time.  With the cloud, applications previously downloaded on physical computers are now run and updated through the Internet.

Businesses can also be more flexible with their resources.  The cloud allows them to pay for only what they use since cloud computing is a subscription-based service.  It can also accommodate for businesses that have growing bandwidth demands since cloud capacity can be scaled up and down easily.  This kind of agility makes these services cost-effective and adaptive.

The cloud can make your business more secure in a variety of ways.  Lost laptops are a security breach for companies every year because many of them contain highly sensitive information. Not only that, valuable documents may be lost forever when devices are misplaced.

With cloud computing, you can access files at any time via your Internet connection.  This allows you to remotely wipe the memory of lost devices and not have to worry about information falling into the wrong hands.

The cloud benefits the environment by decreasing your carbon footprint, by reducing unnecessary hardware and only using the required amount of cloud storage.  Even in the digital age where more and more companies are going paperless, sustainability is important.

This image shows three different types of cloud securities, "private," "hybrid," and "public." How secure the cloud is depends on the measures you take to protect your data.

How secure the cloud is depends on the security measures you take to protect your data.

Is the Cloud Secure?

Contrary to popular belief, the cloud is quite secure.  However, it requires you to take measures to personally secure your company’s data.  When businesses “move to the cloud,” it requires that you have knowledgeable security staff that understands what that entails.  Your team must know that the data you are moving is sensitive, and apply end-to-end encryption to the data during both storage and transfer process.

A recent study found that 82% of public databases are not encrypted.  Make sure the cloud provider you are using suits your data needs and has what it takes to keep your files secure. Whatever service you choose, it is still the job of the user to define who can access the data, move it, add data, etc., and how those permissions change with each cloud provider.  Defining these terms is known as Identity Access Management (IAM).

In addition to these steps, it is wise to back up your data in separate fault domains.  Fault domains are basically stacks of servers.  They include features that, in the case of a network failure, make sure only the server with the failure would stop working.  This means you have multiple copies of your data, achieving maximum file resiliency.

Cloud Computing Creates a Level Playing Field

Anyone can utilize cloud computing services since they are inexpensive and require only an Internet connection to access.  It also allows small and growing companies to use enterprise-level technology, and even make faster business decisions than larger, more established companies.

Cloud networks facilitate collaboration from your team members, meaning that they can work and share files with everyone, from anywhere.  Cloud-based workflow applications allow real-time remote collaboration and streamline communication.  Gone are the days of attaching files to emails and ending up with incompatible file formats, and ineffective version-control.

Moving data to the cloud means that even the smallest companies are becoming more globally involved. Since growing businesses can be financially nimble using cloud computing services, they can now disrupt a market dominated by Fortune 500 corporations.

If you need assistance in moving data to the cloud, don’t hesitate to contact Geek-Aid. We’re here for all of your technology needs and computer repair questions.

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