Blog

May 25th, 2017

No one can escape the news of WannaCry. The IT industry has been covering this type of malware for years, but never has one campaign spread so far or infected so many computers. Read on to gain a greater understanding of what happened and how to prepare yourself for the inevitable copy cats.

Ransomware review

Ransomware is a specific type of malware program that either encrypts or steals valuable data and threatens to erase it or release it publicly unless a ransom is paid. We’ve been writing about this terrifying threat for years, but the true genesis of ransomware dates all the way back to 1989.

This form of digital extortion has enjoyed peaks and troughs in popularity since then, but never has it been as dangerous as it is now. In 2015, the FBI reported a huge spike in the popularity of ransomware, and healthcare providers became common targets because of the private and time-sensitive nature of their hosted data.

The trend got even worse, and by the end of 2016 ransomware had become a $1 billion-a-year industry.

The WannaCry ransomware

Although the vast majority of ransomware programs rely on convincing users to click compromised links in emails, the WannaCry version seems to have spread via more technical security gaps. It’s still too early to be sure, but the security experts at Malwarebytes Labs believe that the reports of WannaCry being transmitted through phishing emails is simply a matter of confusion. Thousands of other ransomware versions are spread through spam email every day and distinguishing them can be difficult.

By combining a Windows vulnerability recently leaked from the National Security Agency’s cyber arsenal and some simple programming to hunt down servers that interact with public networks, WannaCry spread itself further than any malware campaign has in the last 15 years.

Despite infecting more than 200,000 computers in at least 150 countries, the cyberattackers have only made a fraction of what you would expect. Victims must pay the ransom in Bitcoins, a totally untraceable currency traded online. Inherent to the Bitcoin platform is a public ledger, meaning anyone can see that WannaCry’s coffers have collected a measly 1% of its victims payments.

How to protect yourself for what comes next

Part of the reason this ransomware failed to scare users into paying up is because it was so poorly made. Within a day of its release, the self-propagating portion of its programming was brought to a halt by an individual unsure of why it included a 42-character URL that led to an unregistered domain. Once he registered the web address for himself, WannaCry stopped spreading.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the thousands that were already infected. And it definitely doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore what cybersecurity experts are saying, “This is only the beginning.” WannaCry was so poorly written, it’s amazing it made it as far as it did. And considering it would’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars if it was created by more capable programmers, your organization needs to prepare for the next global cyberattack.

Every single day it should be your goal to complete the following:

  • Thorough reviews of reports from basic perimeter security solutions. Antivirus software, hardware firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems log hundreds of amateur attempts on your network security every day; critical vulnerabilities can be gleaned from these documents.
  • Check for updates and security patches for every single piece of software in your office, from accounting apps to operating systems. Computers with the latest updates from Microsoft were totally safe from WannaCry, which should be motivation to never again click “Remind me later.”
  • Social engineering and phishing may not have been factors this time around, but training employees to recognize suspicious links is a surefire strategy for avoiding the thousands of other malware strains that threaten your business.
Revisiting these strategies every single day may seem a bit much, but we’ve been in the industry long enough to know that it takes only one mistake to bring your operations to a halt. For daily monitoring and support, plus industry-leading cybersecurity advice, call us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 10th, 2017

As the technology that recognizes and thwarts malware becomes more advanced, hackers are finding it much easier to trick overly trusting humans to do their dirty work for them. Known as social engineering, it’s a dangerous trend that is becoming increasingly prevalent. Read on to educate yourself on how to avoid the most recent scam and those that came before it.

Broadly defined, “phishing” is any form of fraud in which an attacker tries to learn information such as login credentials or account information by masquerading as a reputable entity or person in email, IM or other communication channels.

These messages prey on users who click links, images and buttons without thoroughly investigating where they lead to. Sometimes the scam is as simple as an image with a government emblem on it that links to a website containing malware. Just hovering your mouse over the image would be enough to see through it. But some phishing schemes are far more difficult to recognize.

The Google Defender scam

Recently, an email spread to millions of Gmail accounts that almost perfectly imitated a message from Google. The text read:

“Our security system detected several unexpected sign-in attempts on your account. To improve your account safety use our new official application “Google Defender”.

Below that was a button to “Install Google Defender”. What made this scheme so hard to detect is that the button actually links to a totally legitimate site...within Google’s own framework. When third-party app developers create Gmail integrations, Google directs users to an in-house security page that essentially says, “By clicking this you are giving Google Defender access to your entire inbox. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Even to wary users, the original message looks like it came from Google. And the link took them to a legitimate Google security page -- anyone could have fallen for it. The Gmail team immediately began assuring users that they were aware of the scam and working on eradicating it and any potential copycats.

There’s no happy ending to this story. Although vendors and cybersecurity experts were able to respond to the crisis on the same day it was released, millions of accounts were still affected. The best way to prepare your business is with thorough employee training and disaster recovery plans that are prepared to respond to a breach. To find out how we can protect your business, call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
April 24th, 2017

Most phishing attacks involve hiding malicious hyperlinks hidden behind enticing ad images or false-front URLs. Whatever the strategy is, phishing almost always relies on users clicking a link before checking where it really leads. But even the most cautious users may get caught up in the most recent scam. Take a look at our advice for how to avoid the newest trend in phishing.

What are homographs?

There are a lot of ways to disguise a hyperlink, but one strategy has survived for decades -- and it’s enjoying a spike in popularity. Referred to as “homographs” by cybersecurity professionals, this phishing strategy revolves around how browsers interpret URLs written in other languages.

Take Russian for example, even though several Cyrillic letters look identical to English characters, computers see them as totally different. Browsers use basic translation tools to account for this so users can type in non-English URLs and arrive at legitimate websites. In practice, that means anyone can enter a 10-letter Cyrillic web address into their browser and the translation tools will convert that address into a series of English letters and numbers.

How does this lead to phishing attacks?

Malicious homographs utilize letters that look identical to their English counterparts to trick users into clicking on them. It’s an old trick, and most browsers have built-in fail-safes to prevent the issue. However, a security professional recently proved that the fail-safes in Chrome, Firefox, Opera and a few other less popular browsers can be easily tricked.

Without protection from your browser, there’s basically no way to know that you’re clicking on a Cyrillic URL. It looks like English, and no matter how skeptical you are, there’s no way to “ask” your browser what language it is. So you may think you’re clicking on apple.com, but you’re actually clicking on the Russian spelling of apple.com -- which gets redirected to xn—80ak6aa92e.com. If that translated URL contains malware, you’re in trouble the second you click the link.

The solution

Avoiding any kind of cybersecurity attack begins with awareness, and when it comes to phishing, that means treating every link you want to click with skepticism. If you receive an email from someone you don’t know, or a suspicious message from someone you do, always check where it leads. Sometimes that’s as simple as hovering your mouse over hyperlink text to see what the address is, but when it comes to homographs that’s not enough.

In the case of homographs, the solution is unbelievably simple: Manually type in the web address. If you get an email from someone you haven’t heard from in 20 years that says “Have you checked out youtube.com??”, until your browser announces a fix, typing that URL into your browser’s address bar is the only way to be totally sure you’re safe.

For most, this trend feels like yet another development that justifies giving up on cybersecurity altogether. But for small- and medium-sized businesses that have outsourced their technology support and management to a competent and trustworthy IT provider, it’s just another reason to be thankful they decided against going it alone. If you’re ready to make the same decision, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
April 6th, 2017

2017April6Security_AWikileaks, the website that anonymously publishes leaked information, recently released a number of documents alleging widespread surveillance by the US government. The released documents claim that the vast majority of these efforts took place via smartphones, messaging apps and...TVs? Let’s see just how worrisome they really are.

What devices and apps are supposedly vulnerable?

Wikileaks labeled its ongoing release of 8,761 classified CIA documents “Year Zero.” Nestled among those files are tools and correspondence that explain how operatives could snoop on communications, downloads, and browsing history. Here is a list of the “affected” applications and hardware:
  • Windows operating systems
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Samsung Smart TVs
  • WhatsApp
  • Signal
  • Telegram
  • Confide
Those are some very big names, right? Thankfully, it’s mostly hyperbole. The reality of the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

Two considerations before freaking out

First, almost all these exploits require physical access to devices before anything can be compromised. For example, news organizations repeatedly reported that WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and Confide all had encryption protocols that had been subverted by the CIA. That is 100% false.

What the documents actually revealed is that the CIA was aware of security gaps in Windows, iOS, Android and Samsung’s Tizen OS, which allowed the agency to snoop on messages before they were encrypted. Messages sent in these apps are still totally uncrackable as long as the devices they are installed on haven’t been physically compromised.

Takeaway #1: Physical security is still one of the most important aspects of cyber security. Most data security regulations require certain physical security protocols as a deterrent to breaches that take place via theft of social engineering -- and for good reason.

The second reason not to worry is the hardware devices and operating systems that supposedly left encrypted messages vulnerable haven’t been sold for a long time. For example, only Samsung TVs from before 2013 were vulnerable to the always-on microphone bug -- which was patched in an OS update years ago.

But what about iOS -- surely that’s the scariest reveal of them all, right? Not quite. Only the iPhone 3G, discontinued in 2010, was susceptible to exploitation. Furthermore, Apple immediately responded that they were aware of this vulnerability and patched it in the version of iOS that was released in 2011.

Takeaway #2: Updating software is critical to keeping your data safe. As we saw in the Year Zero leaks, just one piece of outdated software can cause a domino effect of other vulnerabilities.

In reality, the most recent Wikileaks releases shouldn’t change your approach to cyber security at all. As long as you consider data security a never-ending battle, you’ll be safer than everyone too lazy or forgetful to lock up their server rooms or update their operating system.

But running a business doesn’t always leave you a lot of time for fighting a “never-ending battle,” does it? Fortunately, that’s exactly what we do for our clients every single day. To find out more about how we can keep you safe, call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 22nd, 2017

2017March22Security_ARansomware is everywhere. Over the last couple years, dozens of unique versions of the malware have sprung up with a singular purpose: Extorting money from your business. Before you even consider paying for the release of your data, the first thing you must always check is whether your ransomware infection already has a free cure.

The state of ransomware in 2017

It’s been almost 30 years since malware was first created that could encrypt locally-stored data and demand money in exchange for its safe return. Known as ransomware, this type of malware has gone through multiple periods of popularity. 2006 and 2013 saw brief spikes in infections, but they’ve never been as bad as they are now.

In 2015, the FBI estimated that ransomware attacks cost victims $24 million, but in the first three months of 2016 it had already racked up more than $209 million. At the beginning of 2017, more than 10% of all malware infections were some version of ransomware.

Zombie ransomware is easy to defeat

Not every type of infection is targeted to individual organizations. Some infections may happen as a result of self-propagating ransomware strains, while others might come from cyber attackers who are hoping targets are so scared that they pay up before doing any research on how dated the strain is.

No matter what the circumstances of your infection are, always check the following lists to see whether free decryption tools have been released to save you a world of hurt:

Prevention

But even when you can get your data back for free, getting hit with malware is no walk in the park. There are essentially three basic approaches to preventing ransomware. First, train your employees about what they should and shouldn’t be opening when browsing the web and checking email.

Second, back up your data as often as possible to quarantined storage. As long as access to your backed-up data is extremely limited and not directly connected to your network, you should be able to restore everything in case of an infection.

Finally, regularly update all your software solutions (operating systems, productivity software, and antivirus). Most big-name vendors are quick to patch vulnerabilities, and you’ll prevent a large portion of infections just by staying up to date.

Whether it’s dealing with an infection or preventing one, the best option is to always seek professional advice from seasoned IT technicians. It’s possible that you could decrypt your data with the tools listed above, but most ransomware strains destroy your data after a set time limit, and you may not be able to beat the clock. If you do, you probably won’t have the expertise to discern where your security was penetrated.

Don’t waste time fighting against a never-ending stream of cyber attacks -- hand it over to us and be done with it. Call today to find out more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 3rd, 2017

2017March3Security_AThere have been some truly horrifying cyber-security headlines popping up over the last month. If you’ve been reading about “fileless” malware attacking banks and other big-name institutions around the world, we’re here to set the record straight: Your business isn’t in direct danger. But even if you’re not, staying abreast of all the details is still worthwhile.

What is this new threat?

To oversimplify the matter, fileless malware is stored somewhere other than a hard drive. For example, with some incredibly talented programming, a piece of malware could be stored in your Random Access Memory (RAM).

RAM is a type of temporary memory used only by applications that are running, which means antivirus software never scans it on account of its temporary nature. This makes fileless malware incredibly hard to detect.

This isn’t the first time it’s been detected

Industry-leading cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab first discovered a type of fileless malware on its very own network almost two years ago. The final verdict was that it originated from the Stuxnet strain of state-sponsored cyber warfare. The high level of sophistication and government funding meant fileless malware was virtually nonexistent until the beginning of 2017.

Where is it now?

Apparently being infected by this strain of malware makes you an expert because Kaspersky Lab was the group that uncovered over 140 infections across 40 different countries. Almost every instance of the fileless malware was found in financial institutions and worked towards obtaining login credentials. In the worst cases, infections had already gleaned enough information to allow cyber attackers to withdraw undisclosed sums of cash from ATMs.

Am I at risk?

It is extremely unlikely your business would have been targeted in the earliest stages of this particular strain of malware. Whoever created this program is after cold hard cash. Not ransoms, not valuable data, and not destruction. Unless your network directly handles the transfer of cash assets, you’re fine.

If you want to be extra careful, employ solutions that analyze trends in behavior. When hackers acquire login information, they usually test it out at odd hours and any intrusion prevention system should be able to recognize the attempt as dubious.

Should I worry about the future?

The answer is a bit of a mixed bag. Cybersecurity requires constant attention and education, but it’s not something you can just jump into. What you should do is hire a managed services provider that promises 24/7 network monitoring and up-to-the-minute patches and software updates -- like us. Call today to get started.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
February 15th, 2017

2017February15_Security_AThere has been a movement among technology providers to promise “proactive” cyber security consulting. Small- and medium-sized businesses love the idea of preventing cyber-attacks and data breaches before they happen, and service providers would much rather brainstorm safeguards than troubleshoot time-sensitive downtime events. But it’s not always clear what proactive cyber-security means, so let’s take a minute to go over it.

Understand the threats you’re facing

Before any small- or medium-sized business can work toward preventing cyber-attacks, everyone involved needs to know exactly what they’re fighting against. Whether you’re working with in-house IT staff or an outsourced provider, you should review what types of attack vectors are most common in your industry. Ideally, your team would do this a few times a year.

Reevaluate what it is you’re protecting

Now that you have a list of the biggest threats to your organization, you need to take stock of how each one threatens the various cogs of your network. Map out every device that connects to the internet, what services are currently protecting those devices, and what type of data they have access to (regulated, mission-critical, low-importance, etc.).

Create a baseline of protection

By reviewing current trends in the cyber-security field, alongside an audit of your current technology framework, you can begin to get a clearer picture of how you want to prioritize your preventative measure versus your reactive measures.

Before you can start improving your cyber-security approach, you need to know where the baseline is. Create a handful of real-life scenarios and simulate them on your network. Network penetration testing from trustworthy IT professionals will help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in your current framework.

Finalize a plan

All these pieces will complete the puzzle of what your new strategies need to be. With an experienced technology consultant onboard for the entire process, you can easily parse the results of your simulation into a multi-pronged approach to becoming more proactive:
  • Security awareness seminars that coach everyone -- from receptionists to CEOs -- about password management and mobile device usage.
  • “Front-line” defenses like intrusion prevention systems and hardware firewalls that scrutinize everything trying to sneak its way in through the front door or your network.
  • Routine checkups for software updates, licenses, and patches to minimize the chance of leaving a backdoor to your network open.
  • Web-filtering services that blacklist dangerous and inappropriate sites for anyone on your network.
  • Antivirus software that specializes in the threats most common to your industry.
As soon as you focus on preventing downtime events instead of reacting to them, your technology will begin to increase your productivity and efficiency to levels you’ve never dreamed of. Start enhancing your cyber-security by giving us a call for a demonstration.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
January 27th, 2017

2017January27_Security_AThe Autofill feature fills a void in the web browsing habits of many. It eliminates the need to enter all your details when logging on your social media accounts or when checking out your basket after e-shopping. On Chrome and Safari browsers, however, danger lurks when you rely too much on autofill. Without knowing it, you may be exposing personal information to hackers who have found a way to steal your credit card info and shop at your expense.

How do they do it?

By concealing other fields in a sign-up form, users are tricked into thinking they only have to fill out a few fields. The trickery at work is that upon auto-sign up, other fields, which could include your billing address, phone number, credit card number, cvv (the 3-digit code used to validate credit card transactions), and other sensitive information, are auto-filled with the user none the wiser.

This sinister trick is nothing new, but since there hasn’t been any countermeasure since it was first discovered, the threat it poses is worth emphasizing. Finnish whitehat hacker Viljami Kuosmanen recently brought to light how users of Chrome and Safari are particularly vulnerable, and he even came up with a demonstration of how this phishing technique is perpetrated. The technique is so sneaky, it’s enough to make one give up online shopping forever.

Using plugins and programs such as password managers is also fraught with the security risk, as having access to such a utility empowers cyberthieves to do more than just obtain your credit card info; it opens them up to a great amount of personal details.

Preventing an autofill-related theft

So what can you do to avoid falling prey?

Using Mozilla Firefox is one of the easiest available solutions. As of today, Mozilla hasn’t devised a mechanism that affords its users the same convenience that Chrome and Safari users enjoy with autofill. When filling web forms on Firefox, users still have to manually pre-fill each data field due to a lack of a multi-box autofill functionality – a blessing in disguise, given the potential for victimization in autofill-enabled browsers.

Another quick fix is disabling the autofill feature on your Chrome, Safari and Opera (for Apple mobile devices) browsers. This would mean that when filling out web forms, you'd have to manually type responses for every field again, but at least you'd be more secure.

It’s not exactly the most sophisticated form of online data and identity theft, but complacency can result in being victimized by cyber swindlers. Take the first step in ensuring your systems’ safety by getting in touch with our security experts today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
January 12th, 2017

2017january12_security_aCyber security is something you hear about a lot these days. Sometimes it’s thrown around to scare business owners, other times it has proven to be a cautionary tale, one that small businesses can learn from to fend themselves from online threats that can leave devastating impact. What’s certain is statistics don’t lie, and as much as you’d like to believe your business is safe, the worst could happen at any time. Because antivirus software alone can only do so much to protect your business, managed services has become the solution. To make our case, here are several statistics that prove you need managed services from a technology provider.

The numbers

Small businesses are not at risk of being attacked, but worse, they’ve already fallen victim to cyber threats. According to Small Business Trends, 55 percent of survey respondents say their companies have experienced cyber attack sometime between 2015 and 2016. Not only that, 50 percent reported they have experienced data breaches with customer and employee information during that time, too. The aftermath of these incidents? These companies spent an average of $879,582 to fix the damages done to their IT assets and recover their data. To make matters worse, disruption to their daily operations cost an average of $955,429.

The attacks

So what types of attack did these businesses experience? The order from most to least common are as follows: Web-based attacks, phishing, general malware, SQL injection, stolen devices, denial of services, advanced malware, malicious insider, cross-site scripting, ransomware and others.

Why managed services?

Managed services is the most effective prevention and protection from these malicious threats. They include a full range of proactive IT support that focuses on advanced security such as around the clock monitoring, data encryption and backup, real-time threat prevention and elimination, network and firewall protection and more.

Not only that, but because managed services are designed to identify weak spots in your IT infrastructure and fix them, you’ll enjoy other benefits including faster network performance, business continuity and disaster recovery as well as minimal downtime. One of the best things about managed services is the fact that you get a dedicated team of IT professionals ready to assist with any technology problems you might have. This is much more effective and budget-friendly than having an in-house personnel handling all your IT issues.

Being proactive when it comes to cyber security is the only way to protect what you’ve worked hard to built. If you’d like to know more about how managed services can benefit your business, just give us a call, we’re sure we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
December 28th, 2016

2016december28_security_aPopcorn Time is taking ransomware to a new level of devilish trickery by asking victims to give up two of their friends for a chance to rid their own computers of the virus. In cyber security this level of diabolical blackmail represents a new and scary trend for hackers. For more information on how Popcorn Time works and what you can do to keep it off your system, keep reading.

Ransomware is nothing new. Cybersecurity miscreants have been taking advantage of online users for years by requiring payment to "unlock" a victim's computer. What Popcorn Time does differently is give users the option to spread the virus to two other victims in the hopes that they will pay the ransom -- a tactic that promises to double their money at the expense of your sense of morality (and at the expense of your friendships as well).

The Cost of Popcorn

When you inadvertently download this ransomware, you will be met with a screen that explains that your files have been hijacked/encrypted, and that to get them back you will need to pay one Bitcoin for a decryption key that they keep stored remotely. The Bitcoin fee is usually more than $700, a hefty price to pay during any season but particularly difficult for those infected during the holiday season.

Spread the "Holiday Cheer" and Hope they Bite

What makes Popcorn Time unique is the option victims have to take their cost away by allowing the ransomware to affect two of their friends for a chance to get a free decryption code. Of course, it works only if both friends pay the ransom, which leaves you looking (and feeling) like the Grinch.

Avoiding Popcorn Time this Season

The easiest way to avoid downloading ransomware is to stay off of sites that might contain questionable files. However, this is nearly impossible for modern users, and many hackers are getting good at making their files look legitimate. Limit your exposure to potential ransomware by keeping your software up-to-date and your computer protected with a security program from a reputable company (for example Norton or Symantec). If you need to learn more about how to avoid running into ransomware while you're online, give our professional cybersecurity consultants a call. We'll keep you away from the popcorn this season.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security