7 Common Mistakes That Place Your Data in Danger

Information security is a critical challenge for businesses. Threats come from everywhere; even old fax machines can become entry points for malware. It’s easy to make mistakes when configuring or managing systems and accidentally make yourself vulnerable to attack. Take a few minutes to double-check that you’re not making these common errors.

1. Failing to keep up to date with patches

This is a major mistake with major implications for data security. Applying patches isn’t like locking the barn door after the horses are gone; it’s putting a better lock on the barn door. Without patches, you remain vulnerable to known vulnerabilities. Patches ensure you’re protected against them. Although patching systems and tracking that patches were applied to all systems can be time consuming, it’s important to create a patch routine that keeps your systems current.

2. Disabling or misconfiguring firewalls

Firewall rules are a pain to keep straight. It’s easier to enable access to a range of IP addresses than to a specific server. When applications are retired, it’s easy to forget to cancel the firewall rules that are relevant. As time goes on, the firewall rules become a complex mess that no one really understands. Avoid this problem by adequately documenting firewall rules when they’re added. Perform an annual review to validate that existing rules are still needed, and make sure updating the firewall is part of your process when shutting down an application.

3. Not using network segmentation

If an intruder does manage to make it through your firewall, network segmentation will limit how far they’re able to go, how much data they’re able to access, and how much damage they’re able to do. Like firewalls, managing network segments can become complicated.

4. Using default settings

Default configuration settings may not be optimized for security. When you use enable default administrator accounts and leave them on their default password, you’re leaving the door wide open for anyone to walk in.

5. Failing to control privileged accounts

Unfortunately, misuse of privileges by employees is a common cause of data breaches. Admins should be given individual accounts with the appropriate level of privileges, rather than sharing a common admin account. In addition, privileges should be granted based on roles rather than allocated to users individually, and there should be a periodic review to make sure users have only the privileges appropriate for their job function.

6. Not controlling mobile access

It’s great that employees are able to work from anywhere using their own devices, but this can expose your data to a wide variety of risks, from shoulder surfers to lost devices to malware installed over public WiFi. Make sure you define a “bring your own device” policy so users know about their responsibility to protect corporate data on their devices, and consider using mobile device management or other tools to enforce controls over mobile access to corporate resources.

7. Not inspecting outgoing traffic

Keeping data secure isn’t just about blocking hackers from entering your network; it’s about making sure confidential data doesn’t exit your network. This can be the result either of a breach or of employees using unapproved cloud services or even email to share files. Consider using data loss prevention software that can identify when sensitive data is being sent outside of your environment.

Keeping data safe requires being proactive. If you’re making any of the above mistakes, take action to close the security holes. CCS Technology Group develops comprehensive information security strategies that help you put effective data protection controls into place. Contact us to learn more about avoiding mistakes that threaten your data security.

Additional IT Security Resources

Closing the most common cybersecurity holes

Phishing 101: What it is, how it works and how to avoid it

The cybersecurity employee training checklist

Phishing 101: What it is, how it works and how to avoid it

Ever gone fishing? The cybercrime phishing works in a very similar way.

Tech-savvy con artists bait an email hook, send them out into the internet waters, and pull in personal information that can help them gain access to protected systems.

You know what this means, right? That Nigerian prince doesn’t actually need help transferring “much funds” to “American dollars US.” In fact, if you click on that link, you’re the one likely to suffer heavy losses.

It’s better if you don’t respond at all.

Phishing can also include attachments that download malicious code onto your systems. Keylogging software and other information-gathering viruses give malicious coders access to sensitive data like logins and passwords. Just opening the wrong email could put your entire company database at risk.

Understanding the risk

With phishing, hackers have an easy way to attack that can be highly profitable. Consider the fact that the average cost of a successful phishing attempt on a mid-sized business comes with a $1.6 million price tag.

Enterprise businesses are not exempt, even with massive IT departments and increasingly complex security protocols.

Spear phishing, more targeted phishing attempts that mimic other known users, make up 95 percent of all attacks on enterprise businesses. If you received an email from the CEO, you’d probably open it too—even if it turned out it was from a hacker.

Leaving the bait on the hook

Keeping your company safe from phishing attacks starts with something very basic: education.

Give your employees examples of some of the most sophisticated attack scenarios and strategies to avoid them. For example, if you get an email from “Google” asking you to log in, never use an embedded link. Always load websites using the actual URL, not hyperlinks provided via email. This avoids the risk of spoofed pages designed to capture login credentials.

Ignoring attachments also helps eliminate the risk of ransomware downloads.

In addition to educating your workforce about the most common lines of attack, you can also institute some company-wide defense strategies and tools.

Better passwords using management software

Encouraging your employees to use strong passwords is helpful. But the longer and more complex the password, the more likely users are to write them down, send them to an accessible email box, or otherwise immediately undo their increased security.

Password management software can take care of the problem by automatically filling in software and password information on recognized sites. When the password manager doesn’t recognize the site, it’s a warning sign to employees about a possible spoofed site.

Social media monitoring

Email phishing is still the most common form of phishing, but social media platforms also offer an avenue of attack.

Using fake accounts, hackers can approach your employees through less guarded communications like social media. Monitoring what happens on corporate social accounts and teaching your workers about the risks of corporate espionage through social contact can go a long way toward minimizing your risks.

Partnering with a cybersecurity expert

Small businesses rarely have the budget to support an in-house IT department, and even when they do, cybercriminals are relentless. The number of cyberattacks creeps up every year, leaving you with some tough choices.

Thankfully, it is possible to get high-level protection against phishing without investing in more top-level salaries. Talk to your managed services provider to see how they can provide the defenses you need against phishing attacks, without the cost that comes with a whole new department.

The cybersecurity employee training checklist

By 2019, it’s estimated that cybercrime will cost more than $2 trillion and affect businesses across the world. The numbers indicate how serious this issue is. However, what many business owners don’t realize is what their biggest risk actually is.

Their employees.

Effective cybersecurity employee training is an essential step when it comes to protecting your company. After all, a secure business is a protective one.

Creating, planning and executing cybersecurity training can seem daunting; however, with the tips here, it doesn’t have to be.

What employees need to know to protect your data

While cybersecurity employee training is imperative. And the foundation for network security training is simple. You need to make sure your employees fully understand their role in this.

Some of the things employees should know in include:

  • They have a responsibility to protect company data.
  • Proper document management practices need to be used, along with notification procedures.
  • Passwords need to be strong and secure, so they are not easy to guess.
  • Ensure employees understand that they are not allowed to install unlicensed software on any of the company’s devices.
  • Internet use needs to be restricted to sites that are known to be safe.

How to ensure your employees receive proper cybersecurity training

You almost certainly have anti-virus software, intrusion prevention systems and a strong firewall to protect your network. And even with all of that, isn’t possible to block every single threat out there.

As a result, you have to be able to rely on your employees to keep the network safe.

After all, these are the individuals who are on the front lines. They’re determining whether or not they should download that mysterious email attachment, or click on that oh-so-tempting pop-up ad. One of the best ways to ensure they make the right decision is with quality, cybersecurity employee training.

Provide ongoing cybersecurity training

Cybercriminals and hackers are always looking for new and innovative ways to “trick” even the most experienced users into downloading malware or responding to a malicious email. If you want to ensure your workers don’t fall for these tricks, it’s essential to let them know these threats exist.

Not only do you need initial training when you first hire a new employee, but also ongoing training to ensure that your network is protected from the latest threats out there.

There are some businesses that even send out daily security tips via email to their workforce. Not only is this beneficial in keeping everyone informed, but it helps to keep cybersecurity top of mind.

Make security something personal

When you have employees who aren’t directly involved in your company’s technology efforts, then network security may seem like a foreign concept. However, most of your employees have purchased something from their home computer with a credit card.

You can use this very practical, relatable example to help make your business’s security more personal for your employees. They’re likely careful with their credit card number. They need to be careful with company data, too.

Help them understand that their information is best protected when they follow certain security policies that have been designed to keep the network safe.

Be accessible to employees

Part of cybersecurity training for your employees should include letting them know who to turn to if they experience any type of network security incident, or if there are any questions about cybersecurity. If you don’t have an IT support team on-site, be sure your employees know how to get support and help from your service provider.

Keeping your data safe

If you want to ensure your small business’s network is secure, it starts with proper cybersecurity employee training. Be sure to play your part. Protecting your company’s sensitive information is serious business.

If you need additional help with your cybersecurity employee training, consider reaching out to a security expert. Most managed services providers can help you achieve an optimal level of security and protection.

Spoofing: What it is and how to avoid it

Cyberattacks cost businesses around the world about $15.80 million per company, according to estimates. And the number of security breaches has increased. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018 says that cyberattacks are now just as threatening as natural disasters such as extreme weather events and catastrophes.

One of the most commonly used scams that businesses are falling prey to is known as spoofing. Let’s take a closer look at what spoofing is and how you can avoid it.

What is spoofing?

Spoofing happens when a hacker gains access to your computer systems and is able to steal personal or sensitive information. That information can be as simple as passwords or as complex as business data.

You may have come across an attempt at spoofing before—for example, in the form of a suspicious email that promises cash rewards or an ad with questionable links. However, spoofing is not limited to spam emails. An intruder can use caller IDs or get you to click on a uniform resource locator (more commonly known as a URL).

There are several types of spoof attacks. Probably the most common are phishing emails, where you are sent a link and then given the option to download something. Even if you clicked the bait, usually nothing will happen unless you download the attachment.

How to safeguard yourself from spoofing

To protect yourself and your organization from spoofing, the best course of action is to avoid clicking any shady-looking links. And never download attachments unless you are absolutely sure the sender is legitimate.

If you have been the victim of URL spoofing, spammers may have attempted to infect your computer’s hardware with a virus. This is why it’s essential to install firewalls. Otherwise, you are putting your business—and your clients’ data—at risk.

You may think of cybercriminal activity as something that is unlikely to affect you or your business. But at the rate the threat is growing, it’s something to take seriously.

A 2017 Juniper Research report forecasts that the number of personal data stolen by spoofing attackers could reach 5 billion in 2020. The authors of the report expect businesses around the world to lose a combined amount of $8 trillion over the next few years.

On your side

If you take a proactive approach to cybersecurity, you are less likely to become a victim of a cyberattack. The first thing to do is examine where your walls of defense may be weak and get expert help to protect your organization.

A little self-directed proactive education can really help in this department. Take the time to keep up with industry news and pay attention to cybersecurity headlines. You can also follow our blog for everything you need to know about cybersecurity, spoofing and business data analytics.

Also, contact your as can a managed IT services provider. They’re there to help. All those years of experience providing IT support and managed IT services make a huge difference when it comes to protecting your business from cybercrime.

This is social engineering in action

In the simplest terms, social engineering is manipulation. It plays on the frailty of the human psyche.

According to CSO, it doesn’t matter if your company has the best defensive technologies and physical security in place. If a sneaky social engineer can trick your employee into giving out a password, you’re still at risk.

There are several aspects of social engineering in the business world that you need to know about so you can avoid it.

Pretexting

Pretexting involves setting up a false scenario such as pretending to be an official from a bank. The victim thinks they’re talking, emailing or texting someone legitimate who just needs more information about an account. Sometimes the attacker even pretends to be providing an IT service.

The attacker will then insist that certain information is needed in order to fix a problem or to confirm an employee’s identity. This method relies on exploiting a relationship built on trust.

Tailgating

Digital Guardian defines tailgating as a situation in which someone without authorization simply follows someone with authorization into a restricted space. This is a type of physical social engineering.

For example, someone might ask to borrow your access card, claiming they forgot their own. Or someone might ask to use your laptop or phone, using the opportunity to install a virus. The absolute simplest example is when one person asks another to hold a door open for them.

Phishing

This is probably the most common form of social engineering used. Fraudulent information is passed off as legitimate in an attempt to get you to install malware on your network, computer or mobile device.

Most of these kinds of cyberattacks begin with an email. Unfortunately, many of your employees may assume email is basically safe. All it takes is one employee clicking on the wrong link.

Baiting

Baiting happens when someone puts a malware-infected CD or flash drive in a place where another person is likely to find it.

The attacker is counting on someone finding the infected device and loading it onto their computer. Once it has been loaded the attacker has access to that person’s system . . . and you have a potential data disaster.

Tips for avoiding social engineering

The first step for avoiding social engineering is knowing who and what you can really trust. No matter what industry you’re in, there are several steps your organization should take to prevent social engineers from wreaking havoc.

Conduct random tests

You should periodically test your employees to discern how easily they succumb to various social engineering threats.

Fight phishing

Reduce phishing attacks by refraining from opening any links in emails from unknown senders. When in doubt, it’s always better to delete suspicious emails.

Require identification

You can eliminate pretexting and tailgating by insisting on identification before letting anyone enter any area of your business.

Continual education

Social engineers are constantly changing and upgrading their tricks, making it imperative to keep your staff trained and updated on what to look out for and avoid.

Choose the right IT company

An experienced IT company should be reliable, responsive and have years of experience and expertise.

Wrapping up

Social engineering can be just as complex as hacking. The only real difference is it adds an especially frustrating psychological twist.

We highly recommend partnering with an IT provider who understands all levels of security your company needs. Complete IT support should include technology as well as thorough employee training.

What to learn from the most interesting data breaches of 2017

Several high-profile organizations experienced data breaches in 2017. For instance, you probably saw media reports about data breaches involving Equifax or the InterContinental Hotel Group.

It isn’t enough to know that these breaches occurred. Companies and organizations need to pay attention to the mistakes that made the security breaches possible. That way, you can inspect your own company’s policies to make sure you protect yourself and your customers.

Equifax proved that how you behave after a data breach matters

A 2017 data breach at Equifax, one of the world’s largest credit reporting companies, exposed the personal information of approximately 143 million Americans. The problem was deemed so important that Congress held several hearings to understand what had happened.

According to Equifax, the breach happened because of a flaw in one of the company’s web applications.

Obviously, Equifax didn’t get the help it needed closing common cybersecurity holes. The worst part, though, was how Equifax chose to handle the situation. Some of the company’s most egregious actions included:

  • Waiting about two months to tell consumers about the breach.
  • Letting executives sell their Equifax personal holdings before announcing the breach.
  • Creating an unsecured WordPress site to help consumers determine whether they were affected by the breach.
  • Requiring consumers to provide even more sensitive information to determine whether the breach affected them.

The most important thing to learn from Equifax is how to behave after a breach happens. Basically, do the opposite of what Equifax did. The organization’s tarnished reputation may never recover.

InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) exposes thousands of consumers to identity fraud

InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) revealed in early 2017 that a data breach had affected 12 of its properties. Malware on the company’s servers had stolen credit card information from guests who used their cards at the hotels’ on-site restaurants and bars. Understandably, the announcement concerned thousands of people.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of IHG’s security problems. A couple of months later, the company admitted that the malware hadn’t attacked 12 of its locations. Instead, it had targeted 1,200 locations. The malware also did more than gather credit card information from restaurants and bars. It had stolen personal information from payments processed at hotels, too.

A better cybersecurity process would have likely uncovered the malware before it had a chance to affect so many people. Unfortunately, IHG didn’t have the IT security to identify the threat before it had an opportunity to spread from a handful of locations to thousands.

Ransomware Targeted Organizations in Nearly 100 Countries

In 2017, ransomware became such a huge problem that it affected organizations in nearly 100 countries. Hospitals in Great Britain had to turn away patients because they couldn’t access their medical records. The malware also affected hospitals, police stations and businesses in the United States, Russia, Spain and Portugal. Overall, the ransomware affected about 57,000 networks around the world.

Educating employees to recognize phishing attempts is one of the most effective ways to prevent ransomware attacks. Organizations also need to update their systems and applications to patch security vulnerabilities.

Given the excessively wide reach of the 2017 attack, it’s obvious that most people don’t know how to protect themselves from ransomware.

If you’re worried that you don’t have the right technology or policies to protect your company from data breaches, contact your managed services provider to learn more about the most effective defenses. Without the right tools, you could fall victim to attacks just as easily as the organizations mentioned above.

The most common SMB cybersecurity threats and how to protect your business

The headlines may spend more time focusing on data breaches suffered by enterprises and other large companies, but that doesn’t mean hackers have forgotten about small businesses.

The typical data breach costs small businesses $117,000, which can take a big chunk out of your operating budget. Plus, you have to account for the cost of disaster recovery, informing consumers about the breach, paying for security audits, and dealing with the reputation loss.

Approximately 60% of small businesses never recover from a cyberattack, instead going out of business. Understanding and proactively addressing SMB cybersecurity threats puts you in a position to protect your business.

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Ransomware

You most likely already familiar with the term “malware.” Malware is a malicious application that can help hackers get into your network, hijack your computers or cause system problems. Ransomware is a specific type of malware. It makes it possible for a cybercriminal to take complete control of your data and hold it for ransom.

Ransomware relies on encryption, so you can’t just turn off one computer and move to another. Instead, you have to restore from a  backup or pay the attackers to get your data back.

You see ransomware frequently mentioned because it’s a profitable way for hackers to bring in revenue. You can reduce the potential damage of a ransomware attack with a robust backup, which allows you to restore your systems without paying anything.

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Social engineering and phishing

A common portrayal of a hacker is someone furiously typing, trying to find the right username and password combination to get into your network. In reality, they may end up getting unintentional help from the people in your organization.

Phishing takes place through email. The would-be hacker sends malware through emails that look legitimate. The victim ends up opening the file and downloading the malicious file on their workstation.

Social engineering is a broad term that describes situations where the hacker manipulates people to get the result that they want. For example, they can pretend to be a person in a different department and use that fake identity to access resources they should not have access to.

One way to protect against the people skills of certain charismatic hackers is to give the entire company training that explains the situations they may encounter. You don’t need everyone to have an IT specialist’s level understanding of cybersecurity, but you do want them to know what they’re looking for.

Hacker Quote

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POS viruses

If you have a physical retail location, your point of sale systems may be at risk of getting hacked.

POS viruses are loaded directly onto this equipment, typically by leveraging some sort of security loophole or breach. They can access credit card information, customer addresses and other personal data. (It’s also worth mentioning that POS terminals should be separated from any connections to office workstations and other devices to avoid malicious data injection/hijacking.)

Limit the chances of this cybersecurity breach from happening by staying up to date on operating system and firmware updates for your POS. Talk to your vendor to see whether they have other security recommendations in place.

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DDOS

A distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack overwhelms your network’s capacity and causes your resources to crash and become inaccessible. DDOS attacks often leverage botnets of compromised devices, making so many server requests that your server simply can’t handle them.

Or, in plain English, the hacker overwhelms your server, which keeps it from working.

Sometimes bringing your systems down is the entire point of a DDOS. In other cases, the hackers use a DDOS to try to identify other vulnerabilities that they can use to gain access to your systems.

A proactive cybersecurity system can help you stay ahead of a DDOS attack. The affected IP addresses can be blocked. Or you can spread the traffic over multiple servers to stop the spike in requests from bringing everything down. You might even resort to backup servers that are distributed elsewhere, such as a cloud-based resource.

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SQL injection

Many web applications depend on SQL databases to store data. They can’t function without having access to this valuable digital asset.

An SQL injection introduces malicious tables into your databases that could lead to data breaches, unauthorized access and other problems. SQL injections can happen due to unpatched software or forms that fail to sanitize user-submitted fields. If you don’t realize that your database has been breached, then you may end up getting attacked multiple times without finding the culprit.

Keep your SQL databases updated and audit them frequently. Look over all of your forms and confirm that any code gets removed from the text fields before it reaches the database. Preventative maintenance can stop a lot of SQL injections in their tracks.

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Internal bad actor

The most significant threat could come from within your organization. Employees sometimes work in concert with “bad actors” or an employee could even be a “bad actor.”

What’s a bad actor? Someone who wants to breach your security and compromise your data. Sometimes this happens when an employee is working for the competition. Other times they may be disgruntled and upset at the company.

While it’s difficult to protect against malicious individuals who have leadership positions in your organization, you can easily limit what lower level employees can do. Use a robust user account management strategy to control permissions and stay on top of deactivating user accounts when necessary.

Your company’s HR department, if you have one, also needs a streamlined process for firing employees that limits how much damage they could do on your network before leaving.

Preventative protection can stop most SMB cybersecurity attacks before they start.

Stay a step ahead

Cyber attacks are a threat to companies of all sizes. Keep your SMB protected by exploring these methods for staying safe and reducing the risk of a data breach.

No cybersecurity strategy is 100% effective, but you can put yourself in a position where you minimize your risk profile.

Internal threats 101: What they are and how to avoid them

We’ve warned you before that half of all small to midsize businesses have endured at least one cyberattack. But did you know that “the biggest cybersecurity threats are inside your company?”

That’s an eye-opening claim from a 2016 report by the Harvard Business Review. It’s also backed by data from IBM’s 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index. According to that report, some “60% of all attacks were carried out by insiders,” with 75 percent of those coming from malicious actors. (The rest were inadvertent—which is better but still bad.)

What’s more, these internal threats can be particularly harmful. A 2017 article from Tripwire stated that “53 percent of companies estimate remediation costs of $100,000 and more, with 12 percent estimating a cost of more than $1 million.”

Ouch.

On top of that, insider threats can go undetected for years on end. And guilt in such cases is really difficult to establish. It’s little wonder why an estimated “74 percent of companies feel that they are vulnerable to insider threats,” and a whopping 7 percent classify their vulnerability as “extreme.”

The conclusion?

While it’s critical to defend against external cybersecurity threats (and they are, generally speaking, more widely sensationalized), internal threats are just as important to catch. Today, we’ll be giving you a leg up by delving into what constitutes an internal threat and how you can mitigate the risks.

Just what is an internal threat?

For a straightforward definition, we turn to SecureList:

“Internal threats include any harmful actions with data that violate at least one of the fundamental principles of information security (integrity, availability, and confidentiality) and originate from within a company’s information system.”

Easy enough to comprehend, but classifying internal threats goes even deeper. According to CSO, internal vulnerabilities come in three main flavors: accidental, negligent and malicious. Those first two have a degree of overlap, as there’s no ill will on the part of the employees who are responsible.

Accidental threats arise when employees aren’t well-educated on proper protocol (and, by extension, open your company to maladies like ransomware and phishing schemes). Negligent threats occur when employees understand the protocols but willfully ignore them in favor of completing a task the “easy way.”

Malicious threats, on the other hand, are a whole different ballgame.

The offending employee might be holding a grudge. They might have been paid off. Whatever the case, malicious instances are categorized by employees within your company who wish to intentionally cause damage. Those employees use their knowledge of your systems to further their less-than-well-intended goals.

How to guard against internal threats

The strategies you employ for mitigating internal threat risk will vary based on the types of danger we listed above.

For accidental and negligent threats, education and enforcement are key. As EY so succinctly put it, “education is prevention.” Getting employees up to speed is a great way to cut down on the mistakes that can put your organization in a cybersecurity predicament.

solid IT support team can help with educational efforts. Combine that with a no-nonsense policy that reminds employees that cybersecurity rules are not to be taken lightly. That’s how to deal with a sizable portion of the internal risks your company faces.

Malicious threats require a different approach.

Preventing these are where background checks, employee monitoring and restricted access to various systems will benefit your overall preparedness. Again, leveraging IT pros to formulate a strategy will grant you significant benefit.

With the right methodologies in place, your vulnerability will diminish drastically.

Ransomware 101

Any kind of virus is scary. The idea of the technology you use turning on you is unsettling at best. As we come to rely more on computers, smartphones, tablets and the cloud, a single cyber attack can be devastating.

And yet, there is one form of cyber attack that stands out. Ransomware is singularly chilling. When this malware finds its way onto your device, it demands payment . . . or you lose your files. Forever.

While ransomware may seem like a new form of cyber attack, it’s actually been around for a while. In fact, the first known ransomware attack happened in the 1980s.

Attack Number One

It was 1989, well before email or Instagram. The average PC user wasn’t logging into the internet, so the delivery method of that first ransomware attack may seem low-tech by today’s standards. It came on floppy disks.

20,000 of them.

The disks were distributed to users in 90 different countries, each labeled as a product of the PC Cyborg Corporation. No such company exists, but no one was counting on name recognition to get recipients to use the disks. They were counting on the content.

The disks included software designed to detail a person’s risk of contracting AIDS. In those days, AIDS was both terrifying and mysterious. New information was welcome, especially if it promised some measure of protection. The attack played on a common fear.

The software included a legitimate risk assessment tool, as well as a virus. After the user rebooted their computer a set number of times, they would be prompted to turn on their printer. At that point, a literal ransom note would print, along with instructions for paying the ransom (or “licensing fee”) in exchange for decryption software.

It was a deviously creative plan, and it set the stage for modern ransomware.

The Modern Threat

Alert aware iconToday’s ransomware is fundamentally the same as that first attack, though there are some notable differences. The delivery method, for example, has changed. We’ll cover that in more detail in a bit.

Keeping your organization safe may seem like a tall order. There are so many clever ways a cyber criminal can infiltrate your network. Not only that, but ransomware attacks are alarmingly common.

And yet, the best cybersecurity is really just strict adherence to some basic strategies. In other words, it seems complex, but it’s not.

If you’re serious about protecting your company – and you should be – there’s a two-pronged approach that will stop most ransomware dead in its tracks. You need solid employee education, and you need the right technical tools.

Employee Education

The vast majority of ransomware relies on a single potential weakness in your network – the user. This is particularly true for ransomware.

Ransomware can only find its way into your system if it’s invited. Without an open door, it can’t touch you. The trick is to make sure your people know how to avoid inadvertently inviting ransomware onto your network.

Let’s look at three key areas.

Phishing

Phishing emails are the modern-day equivalent of the same strategy the AIDS Trojan used. Even if you’re not familiar with the term “phishing,” you’re likely aware of this type of attack. The user receives an email with a link. Click that link and malware makes its way onto your system.

The thing about phishing emails is that they only work if the user clicks on the link, opting to download something. If the recipient doesn’t do that, nothing happens. Unfortunately, about one-third of all phishing emails work. Innocent users take the bait, clicking on malicious links.

The success of phishing comes down to a lack of employee education. If your people know and understand the danger of suspicious downloads, they’ll be far less likely to fall for them.

Social Media

Email isn’t the only delivery vehicle for phishing.

Here’s a common scenario. Attackers create fake social media accounts on sites like Facebook and Twitter. The newest variation is a fake account that appears to represent the customer service department of a trusted company. Attackers then watch for complaints from real customers, promptly messaging them with “fixes” . . . which are, of course, loaded with dangerous links.

Make sure your employees know of this tactic. If you or any member of your staff is having issues with a product or service, make sure you initiate conversation with the vendor. Don’t trust anyone who initiates conversation with you without first verifying the authenticity of the account.

Passwords

Remarkably, there are still a lot of folks out there using painfully ineffective passwords. In a recent survey. A surprising number of users were actually using the password “123456.” That’s not just an invitation for cyber attack. That’s a neon sign with a laser light show and door prizes.

Instruct your employees to use strong passwords, and encourage them to change them often.

Hidden predictable password

Technical Tools

In addition to employee education, there are some things you can do on the technical side of your network to protect your company from ransomware attacks. Like employee education, these aren’t particularly difficult to execute. But don’t be fooled by their relative simplicity.

These are crucial steps to keeping your network safe.

Software Updates & Upgrades

In June of 2017, the Petya ransomware virus made worldwide headlines, infecting an estimated 16,500 machines. Ready for the painful twist? Microsoft released patches to address the vulnerabilities Petya exploited in May.

Software updatesToo many companies have a casual, relaxed attitude about updates and upgrades. Yes, it’s inconvenient to reboot your machine so the OS can update. Yes, it’s expensive to upgrade from the old version of a program to the new (current) version. And yes, it’s extremely important to do both anyway.

Software developers do their best to outpace cyber criminals. When they find holes in their products, they address them. But if you don’t update and upgrade appropriately, you’ll remain vulnerable.

Backups & Business Continuity

Even thorough security measures aren’t a guarantee that you won’t fall victim to a ransomware attack. After all, it just takes one employee clicking on a malicious link. Just one out-of-date program. It can happen, even if you’re cautious.

Because the threat is very real, your protection should include a worst-case-scenario plan.

Ransomware is engineered to hold your data hostage. That can ruin a business – unless you have recent backups and a solid business continuity plan. If you’re prepared, even a successful attack won’t unravel your company’s stability.

A word of caution here, though. Business continuity isn’t something we advise doing on your own. But, that’s a perfect lead-in to our final technical tool . . .

Cybersecurity Partner

A cybersecurity partner should be a part of your ransomware defense plan. Particularly if you don’t have an internal IT department. There’s no substitution for expertise. Working with the pros makes protection much easier to manage.

A well-qualified cybersecurity partner can even handle employee education on your behalf.

CCS Technology Can Help

Ransomware is a serious threat. That’s why we recommend a serious, proactive response. The individual parts aren’t all that complex, but each piece is important.

If you’re looking for ways to shore up potential security holes in your network, the experts at CCS Technology are here to help. We have years of experience helping small businesses just like yours. We know what it takes to stop ransomware.

Plus, we’re just a phone call away. Let us know how we can help you.

Closing the most common cybersecurity holes

Are you sitting down? We’re going to begin with an alarming stat.

Half of all small-to-medium-sized businesses have encountered at least one cyber attack. Wait. It gets worse. In cases involving theft of data, SMBs spent an average of over $955,000 to recover from the attack. Even for businesses that do post profits in the millions, nobody wants to drop that kind of money on a cyber attack.

There’s a host of things you can do to protect your business from cyber criminals, but one of the most important security measures is easy to overlook. A staggering number of cyber attacks start by targeting one specific weak point: your employees.

The average user may not be aware of the creative, devious ways hackers work. To give your business an instant cybersecurity boost, start by educating your people.

If you’re wondering what your staff needs to know, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll find several critical tips and tricks any SMB can put into play immediately. While a cybersecurity training session may not be the most exciting way to spend an hour, the stakes are high and the information is priceless.

Be (a little) Paranoid

First, tell your people, candidly, to ditch the “it won’t happen to me” attitude. Even tech savvy folks get duped from time to time. In the ever-changing world of cyber crime, there’s no room for arrogance. A little paranoia is appropriate.

Alert aware iconIn general, assume there are people outside your organization who want your data. Assume they want access to your network. Assume they’ll go to impressively creative measures to get it.

That doesn’t mean you have to avoid the internet at all costs. Email, web services and remote access are all necessary tools. You can’t take take your business back to the Stone Age and still be successful.

Instead, shoot for balance. Make sure your employees know the same time-saving, profit-generating technology they use every day can be turned against them. Cultivate an awareness of the possibility of cyber attack.

Security is a shared burden. Everyone on the team needs to pitch in.

“123456”

If you want to see an IT guy cringe, tell him you use one password for everything, and it’s “123456.” When he’s done convulsing, he’ll most likely launch into a tirade about password security (and justifiably so!).

Tech news sites routinely warn of the dangers of using “123456” and “password” for web services, but both of those examples still show up on lists of the most commonly used weak passwords.

Hidden predictable password

What makes for a better password? Several things:

  • Passwords should be long. The generally agreed upon minimum length is 12 characters. The shorter the password, the easier it is to crack.
  • Passwords should be unique. Don’t use the same password for multiple services. If you do, one security breach can easily turn into dozens of security breaches.
  • Passwords should be complex. Include numbers, letters, and symbols. Steer clear of dictionary words as much as possible. And, no, obvious substitutions (like using a zero in place of an “o”) don’t do nearly as much to discourage hackers as one would hope.

Of course, passwords also have to be memorable, which is one reason why so many employees use low security passwords. To get around that issue, consider using a password manager. LastPass, for example, makes it a breeze to up your password game.

Stranger Danger!

Email SecurityEmail is a prime point of entry for malware, phishing and ransomware attacks. Seemingly legit downloads and links can lead to epic cybersecurity breaches. Even if your email server scans inbound messages for dangerous content, don’t make the mistake of assuming every clickable option is safe.

Warn your employees to only download files from people and companies they know and trust. Also make them aware of the hazard of links. Cyber criminals capitalize on curiosity to worm their way into networks. No matter how interesting the article, or how cute the kitten pictures, strongly encourage your staff to never click on email links from unknown senders.

Other Tips

Consider the above the big three. If you only have a few minutes with your employees, those are the tips you should share first. If you can carve out a bit more time, here are some other areas worth covering.

  • Updates Are Your Friends. Way too many people ignore update notifications. Even if you’re right in the middle of a flow, churning out work, when your software or operating system requests permission to apply an update, do it. Keeping your tools updated is a basic rule of cybersecurity.
  • It’s Good to Share. In this case, we’re talking about sharing to a local server or the cloud – AKA, backing up your work. Never rely on a single version of any file. All your data should be duplicated somewhere secure.
  • Lock It Down. When an employee walks away from their workstation, they should always lock it. Not only will that protect staff from . . . interesting aesthetic changes applied by coworkers (think David Hasselhoff desktop wallpaper), but it also adds an additional layer of security. Lock computers when not in use, especially if guests are frequent in your office.
  • Know Your Network. When you’re mobile, be careful about the Wi-Fi networks you use. Public networks are convenient, but not always safe. Be discerning. And never use an open, unknown network. That’s just asking for trouble.

Go over these cybersecurity tips with your employees, not just once, but repeatedly. Bad cybersecurity habits are hard to break. Frequent reminders will help you close some of the most common holes in your network security, helping to stave off costly attacks.

If you’d like even more help shoring up your cybersecurity, the expert team at CCS Technology can help. We know what it takes to protect businesses. To find out more about how we can help, contact us today.