Inside The Anatomy Of The Human Firewall

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Each year, around 61% of small businesses become the victims of a malware attack. While many small businesses may think no one would ever come after them because of their size, know that over half of the total global attacks hit small businesses and, for thieves, getting access to your systems is becoming increasingly lucrative.

Companies collect more about customers than ever before: medical history, financial records, consumer preferences, payment information, and other confidential information.

Some of this information could be used in malicious ways to either harm your business or directly harm the customers, so we all understand that we must protect it from cyberattacks.

Creating a human firewall is the best way to keep your system and data safe, but what exactly is a human firewall, why do you need one, and how can you build one? Let’s take a look! [Read more…]

Network Security: What Does Your Firewall Do For You?

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

“Security.” It’s a word that we are all familiar with, but it can have many different meanings depending on context. Security to people nearing retirement age may mean financial security for their future.

At a large event like a concert, it could mean both security guards and the overall security of the event.

However, as time goes by, the word security has become increasingly related to the digital world.

Using the Internet to pay bills, access banking information, or even applying for loans is commonplace. We must be prepared to protect our identity and personal information.

Now, whether you are talking about your home or your business, network security starts with a firewall.

So what is a firewall?

A firewall, in terms of network security, can be a physical device that your incoming and outgoing data is routed through. It could also be a program on your device that can strengthen and supplement your devices’ security.

Both of these have different capabilities and purposes and can be used individually or together.

While there are different types, their essential function is the same. A firewall is put in place to allow or deny traffic, based on a set of security rules.

In a business setting where many staff members use a computer daily, a firewall can be put in place to block unwanted traffic.

A simple security rule to check for secure certificates can stop unwanted traffic easily.

Websites have security certificates, so when you access a page, your firewall can check the certificate. If the certificate is digitally signed and known as trusted, the firewall will allow traffic to proceed.

Search results can often display links of potentially harmful websites.

A firewall adds a layer of security making sure your employees don’t accidently find themselves on a website that could compromise your network.

This same principle works for home networks and can allow you to set some security rules. These rules can be put in place to help keep Internet usage safe, especially with children around the house. A firewall can also block certain content.

In an office setting, you could turn off access to social media to stop staff from accessing sites that aren’t needed to complete work.

It can block certain search engines and even limit the use of unsecure versions of websites.

At home, you can block content from websites you don’t want your family to have access to.

There is also the option of having active network times. You can have your Wi-Fi network only active during business hours, keep your kids off their devices at bedtime, or limit access to certain days.

There are many other things that your firewall can do to help keep your network safe.

Keeping your network secure has the potential to save you thousands of dollars, depending on the number of devices and your dependency on those devices.

Safety and security always has a high value to you. It can also help you rest easier knowing that either your business, or your family, is a little bit safer.

Do I Really Need A Firewall For My Business?

Ron Cochran is a senior help desk technician for Tech Experts.

Before we answer that, let’s look at what a firewall actually is. No, no actual flames of any kind are involved whatsoever.

A firewall is a barrier or “shield” intended to protect your PC, tablet, or phone from the data-based malware dangers that exist on the Internet. Data is exchanged between your computer and servers and routers in cyberspace, and firewalls monitor this data (sent in packets) to check whether they’re safe or not.

This is done by establishing whether the packets meet the rules that have been set up. Based on these rules, packets of data are accepted or rejected.

While most operating systems (desktop and mobile) feature a basic built-in firewall, the best results can usually be gained from using a dedicated firewall application, unless you know how to set up the built-in firewall properly and have the time to do so.

Firewall applications in security suites feature a host of automated tools that use whitelisting to check which of your applications should accept and reject data from the Internet — something that most users might find far too time consuming to do manually.

So it makes sense, now that it’s clear what a firewall is for, to have one installed and active. But just in case you’re still doubtful of the benefits…

Everyone who accesses the Internet needs a firewall of some kind. Without one, your computer will allow access to anyone who requests it and will open up your data to hackers more easily. The good news is that both Windows and Apple computers now come with built-in software firewalls (although the Mac’s firewall is turned off by default).

But businesses, especially those with multiple users or those that keep sensitive data, typically need firewalls that are more robust, more customizable, and offer better reporting than these consumer-grade alternatives.

Even a relatively small business engages in exponentially more interactions than an individual, with multiple users and workstations, and customers and suppliers. These days, most of those interactions are online and pose risks.

Not only are businesses exposed to riskier online interactions, the potential damage from each interaction is also greater. Businesses frequently keep everything from competitive bids and marketing plans to sensitive banking and customer data on their computers. When unprotected, the exposure is enormous.

Firewalls also allow computers outside of your network to securely connect to the servers that are inside your network. This is critical for employees who work remotely. It gives you the control to let the “good” connections in and keep the “bad” connections out.

Hardware firewalls must be compatible with your system and must be able to handle the throughput your business requires. They must be configured properly or they won’t work and can even stop your network from functioning entirely. You can use multiple hardware firewalls to take advantage of differing strengths and weaknesses.

Some industries (like medical and financial services) have specific regulatory requirements, so it’s important to consult your IT professional before choosing a firewall to make sure you’re not exposing your business to unnecessary liability.

It’s also important for you, or your IT service company, to constantly monitor the firewall to ensure it is up and working, as well as to ensure that it is regularly updated with security patches and virus definitions.

If you currently are not protected by a firewall or would like to inquire about an upgrade to your network infrastructure, please feel free to email (info@mytechexperts.com) or call (734-457-5000).

Easy And Common Steps To Resolve Internet Issues

Luke Gruden is a help desk technician for Tech Experts.

The Internet is key in almost all that we do on computers. A computer without Internet would have limited use — not only because of the browser, but because many programs require the connection to function.

That’s why when we are right in middle of working and we lose Internet, we can get very frustrated very quickly. Luckily, there are a few things you can try to potentially restore your Internet with minimal time and effort.

Calling your Internet service provider or your IT techs can result in an issue taking longer to resolve as someone may have to drive out to your business or you have to wait for the next available phone representative. Why wait when, most likely, you can fix your own Internet in about 15 minutes or less with minimal experience?

However, before we talk about how to bring back the Internet, we must talk about terminology and devices.

The first device that handles your Internet from the outside of your building is the Internet modem. Your modem usually has your Internet provider’s logo on it and is plugged in by a cord going outside (usually through a wall). You also need to know what a router is. A router plugs into all the computers with either wired or wireless connections. Sometimes, the modem is also a router when it’s a two-in-one device.

Finally, you should know what a firewall device is. Firewalls are usually a box that is plugged in between the router and modem, protecting your network. That said, not every business has a firewall.

Now that you have the basic terminology, we can potentially fix the Internet. First of all, if you lose your connection to the Internet, try a reboot of your workstation.

If the reboot does not work, see if anyone else has Internet. If it is just you that’s lost connection, try to see if you can push your Internet wire (Ethernet cable) into your computer. Sometimes, the connection can become loose and that’s all there is to the problem.

If you are using a wireless connection, turn off your Wi-Fi with a button on your computer and turn it back on. If your Internet is not back, you might have to contact your IT. If no one has Internet, take a look at the modem. The modem usually has lights showing the status of the Internet connection. If it shows that there is no Internet, try to unplug the power from it and wait 15 seconds and plug it back in.

The modem will take time, potentially 10 or 15 minutes, but you will see if the Internet connection comes back. If the modem does have Internet, try to unplug the firewall (if you have one), then plug it back in after 15 seconds. If the Internet still is out after 15 minutes, try to do the same thing with the router by unplugging and plugging the power back in. If the Internet is still out for everyone, you probably have to call your Internet service provider as there could be an outage in the area. Most of the time when the Internet goes out, following these steps can likely bring back the Internet connection. This is especially true if you are at home.

Hopefully, following these steps can resolve your lost Internet connection. Sometimes, your equipment essentially needs a restart to get things back into working order. Should you need further help, we at Tech Experts have you covered!

To Firewall, Or Not To Firewall, That Is The Question

When operating a small business, there are many things to consider regarding your communication. Whether it’s within the office or to the outside world, efficient and secure communication is a key component to running a business effectively.

There’s also the issue of transferring data, which can be considered the biggest aspect concerning the communication needs of your business. Internet and network security is a big topic these days, with all the changes inherent with technology, and all the vulnerabilities popping up all over the place.

Just last year, it was figured that roughly a million new viruses, spyware, and other malware created each day. Yes, a MILLION PER DAY. After that sinks in, consider this: it only takes roughly 82 seconds for sensitive data to be hacked, duplicated, and dispersed to the world at large.

Last year, 5 out of 6 companies were targeted by some piece of malicious software. Most of the new threats are things like digital extortion, sophisticated breaching attacks, and social media hacks.

A firewall is a good way to protect yourself and your company against an attack. A firewall is either a physical box or a piece of software that provides protection. They update on a regular basis to combat against the biggest and baddest hacker software out there. Even if they can’t update quite fast enough, it’s much better than just leaving your network unprotected.

The first, and simplest method, is to make use of the firewall that comes with your operating system. This is typically the built-in Windows Firewall.

This firewall is commonly used and is usually a good idea for a very small company. It’s perfect for an organization with low traffic and not much sensitive data (such as credit card data, social security numbers, addresses, and other personal data).

A physical firewall is a better choice for bigger, more established business with a need for robust and reliable security. Don’t get me wrong; even if you have a smaller business with little data transfer and communication, a physical firewall is always a good way to go. But you should really use a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it’s really worth going through the extra steps and money it would take to implement a solution like this.

Physical firewalls can be looked at like something that separates the outside world from your internal network.

They are robust, they provide an added layer of security, and you get what you pay for. It is always recommended that you use a physical firewall.

The downside of this, however, is two-fold. First, and most obvious, you have to splurge a little to get a decent solution. Secondly, someone has to know how to install, configure, and maintain it. This is where Tech Experts comes in.

Once it’s all said and done, if your security measures are in place, you can rest assured that your days will be less stressful. You’ll be able to sleep at night knowing your data and other forms of communication are protected from the outside world.

What You Need To Know About Network Security Devices

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

With cyber hacking, identity theft and malware programs on the rise, it’s become even more important to protect your business networks from cyber invaders. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the use of network security devices and installed anti-virus software.

Security devices attached to your network will act as a front line defense against threats. It behaves as an anti-virus and anti-spyware scanner and a firewall to block unauthorized network access.

It also acts as an Intrusion Prevention System (or IPS, which will identify rapidly spreading threats like zero day or zero hour attacks) and a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which allows secure access via remote connections.

Security devices come in four basic forms: Active, Passive, Preventative and Unified Threat Management (UTM). Active devices with properly configured firewalls and security rules will be able to block unwanted incoming and outgoing traffic on your network.

Passive devices act as a reporting tool that scans incoming and outgoing network traffic, utilizing IPS security measures. After reviewing these reports, the Active devices can be adjusted to close any detected security holes.

Finding and correcting possible security concerns is accomplished through the use of Preventative devices. These devices scan your network and identify potential security problems.

They will generate a detailed report showing which devices on your network need improved security measures.

UTM devices combine the features of Active, Passive and Preventive devices into one compact device. UTM-enabled devices are the most commonly found security device in small and medium-sized businesses.

By incorporating all the features into one device, your network administrator is able to more easily manage and maintain the security of your network. This greatly reduces overhead to your business.

Many businesses think they know what security measures need to be in place. Often, security professionals will find basic or home-class routers installed in companies.

While the upfront cost of the home-class router is lower than a business-class security device, the fact of the matter is that the home-class routers don’t offer the features and security a business needs to protect their network.

Companies electing to use home based devices run a much higher risk of finding themselves the victims of cyber attacks.

Information security. Shield covers laptopBefore purchasing any security device, it’s best to consult with a security professional. Have penetration tests performed and a vulnerability assessment report generated.

The report coupled with the advice of the security professional will guide you in determining what device is best for your network and business.

The benefits to having a proper and professionally-installed security device in place include protection against business disruption, meeting mandatory regulatory compliances, and protection of your customers’ data, which reduces the risk of legal action from data theft.

Along with the proper security device in place, you also want to make sure every device on your network is running a robust anti-virus program.

Managed anti-virus platforms are best for any business. Your network administrator can manage, update, scan and remove any threats found on any system attached to the network. This greatly reduces overhead and employee interruption.

For professional advice on security device installation, anti-virus solutions, or if you’re interested in network penetration testing, call Tech Experts at (734) 457-5000.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Online Banking: Safety And Security Precautions

Printby Jeremy Miller, Technician
There are many avenues of attack when banking online safely. Many people simply use a computer that is attached to the Internet with little to no precautions at all. Some bank online even if they know there are issues with their computer or virus infections on their computer.

I will cover three levels of precaution that you can take to ensure your online banking information stays secure: simple, advanced, and paranoid. As the level of precaution increases, it will be more time consuming and difficult but worth it if you want to keep your online banking experience safe and secure.

Simple Precautions
To keep your information secure you must make sure that your computer is fully up-to-date with all Windows Updates and other software patches. Software vendors like Microsoft release security patches regularly to close exposed security holes in their software. Without patching hackers can use known-vulnerabilities to attack your computer.

Next you must make sure that you have anti-virus software installed and it is up-to-date with the latest virus definitions. You must also have your anti-virus run scans regularly to make sure the computer is clean of any known infections.

You should always look in the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) bar to make sure the web address you are accessing is the correct one. Also make sure that the first five characters are HTTPS.

This will ensure that your traffic is encrypted, which will make your entire web traffic look like gibberish. If your first characters are only HTTP and not HTTPS then hackers would be able to read your password in plain text.

Lastly, you must only do online banking from trusted-networks like your home network or in some cases your work network. Anyone else attached to your network has the possibility to access your bank information if they have the know-how.

To be sure you are on a secure network, you should not use online banking from public or free networks that anyone can access. When you do this you ensure that only you and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can view your online traffic.

This will also protect you from man-in-the-middle attacks (MITM).These attacks are when a hacker is in between you and your target destination usually a router. Hackers using MITM attacks will be able to see all unencrypted traffic.

Advanced Precautions
You must ensure you are implementing all simple precautions, including a few more steps you can take to up your protection level.

Run a full virus scan before accessing your online bank account each time. Your system will be clear of known infections, plus it gives you significantly less risk of an infection since your last scan. A full scan looks at every file on your computer and checks it against a known virus database.

You can also configure Windows Firewall to prompt you before allowing traffic in or out of the computer, or you can install a software-firewall to scan your active Internet traffic.

The firewall will prompt you with pop-ups to ask if specific connections are allowed. This will allow you to approve or deny all traffic on your computer. Usually firewalls have different settings to allow you to choose the level of security this firewall will provide.

Paranoid Precautions
This is the most secure of the three and implements the previous precautions. It would be best to boot to a new operating system every time you need to access your online bank account. You need to know how to change your computers boot order and how to create a bootable USB drive or disk.

There are a number of free operating systems that you can load onto a disk or USB drive. WinPE will allow you to boot into a portable version of Windows. This will be a clean installation with no additional software installed.

You can also use the more widely available bootable Linux distributions as a clean bootable operating system to access your bank information. Ensure you are getting your distribution from a reputable vendor.

Most Linux distributions are free. Downloading a reputable vendor will ensure that there isn’t malicious software pre-loaded into the operating system.

If you are interested in enjoying a safer browser experience you can contact us and we can answer any questions or concerns as well as help you implement any of these precautions.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Network Security: Top Tips For A Secure Network

by Michael Menor, Network Technician
As the first layer of defense in your network, it is important to take a step back and review the design of your perimeter security.

To ensure a sound architecture, you want to start with what ultimately must be protected and then design your perimeter security so it can scale as your needs grow/change. Since the threats you know about and face today may not be the ones you face tomorrow, you want to be sure your design is flexible enough to meet future needs.

Think of your network perimeter like a castle during medieval times, which has multiple layers of defense – a moat, high walls, big gate, guards, etc. Even in medieval times, people understood the importance of having layers of security and the concept is no different today in information security. Here are four tips:

Build layers of security around your castle
No defense is 100% effective. That’s why defense-in-depth is so important when it comes to building out your security. The traditional first line of defense against attacks is typically the firewall, which is configured to allow/deny traffic by source/destination IP, port or protocol.

It’s very binary – either traffic is allowed or it’s blocked by these variables. The evolution of these network security devices has brought the Next-Generation firewall, which can include application control, identity awareness and other capabilities such as IPS (Intrusion Prevention Systems), web filtering, advanced malware detection, and more baked into one appliance.

Whether or not it’s part of your firewall or a separate device, IPS is another important perimeter defense mechanism. Having your IPS properly optimized and monitored is a good way to catch attackers that have slipped past the first castle defense (firewall/router).

The popularity of moving more into the cloud has brought cloud-based malware detection and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) services. Unlike appliance-based solutions these are cloud-based services that sit outside your architecture and analyze traffic before it hits your network.

Harden your device configurations, software updates and security policies
Here is where we start building those walls to prevent attackers from getting inside the castle. The first line of defense typically involves network security devices such as routers, firewalls, etc. which each act like the guards, gate, moats, etc. of long ago.

For each layer of security, you want to ensure they are running the most up-to-date software and operating systems, and that devices are configured properly.

A common misstep occurs when organizations assume they are secure because of their many layers of defense, but a misconfigured device is like giving an attacker a key to the castle. Another important practice is to tighten security policies (of course without impacting the business), so for example you don’t have a router allowing just anyone to Telnet to it from outside your network.

Enable secure network access
While firewalls, routers and other security layers are in place to prevent unauthorized access, they also enable access that is approved. So how do we let authorized personnel into the castle? The drawbridge of course! Next-generation firewalls can help here by scanning inbound and outbound user traffic, all while looking for patterns of suspicious behavior.

Password complexity also plays a big part in Secure Network Access. Ensure your users are following these common rules.

  • The password must be exactly 8 characters long.
  • It must contain at least one letter, one number, and one special character.
  • Two of the same characters sitting next to each other are considered to be a “set.” No “sets” are allowed.
  • Avoid using names, such as your name, user ID, or the name of your company or employer.
  • A new password shouldn’t be too similar to the previous password.

Another way to have secure access from the outside through the perimeter is to install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that is configured to allow encrypted communication to your network from the outside. Utilizing two-factor authentication with a VPN contributes towards ensuring the integrity of the users making the request. This is external-facing to your network and allows users to tunnel into your LAN (Local Area Network) from the outside once the appropriate measures are taken to secure access.

Create and segment the DMZ
If firewalls, routers, web filters, etc. are the guards, moat, gate, walls of a castle, then the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) is like the courtyard once inside the castle – another area before the private quarters.

When creating a DMZ, there should be at least a front-end firewall for the external traffic and a back-end firewall for the internal traffic. Firewall rules should be optimized and tightened on all publicly available systems to allow traffic to only the necessary ports and services in the DMZ. From an internal perspective you also want to limit who can access systems within the DMZ. One approach is creating firewall rules to only allow the source IP addresses and port to the specific server and then adding proxies in the network from which admins are allowed access to the systems.

Segmenting systems within the DMZ is also something to strongly consider so that if a system is breached in the DMZ, it can’t spread as easily. For example, you don’t want a web server passing data to an application or database server in a “public DMZ.” Configuring systems within different VLANs (with a layer 3 switch) will help you isolate and respond to incidents if a server in a DMZ is compromised.

A sound network security perimeter architecture requires multiple layers of defense, up-to-date and hardened policies and controls and segmentation. All of these things make it harder for an attacker to gain access to your crown jewels and easier for you to isolate and respond to breaches when they occur.

Four Simple Things To Help You Get More Done In 2013

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Making New Year’s resolutions is a cliché these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. Whether we’re successful or not, I think it’s healthy to take some time each year to look at where we’re at, and what improvements make sense.

One of the biggest resolutions, of course, is to be more productive. Toward that end, here are four simple things you can do to get more done in your day.

Block non-work related websites
This one won’t be popular, but if you want to get more done, then get rid of the distractions.

Of course if part of your job is to manage the social media for your company, this doesn’t apply; for all the other workers in your office who don’t need to be on Facebook and Twitter all day, this will remove the temptation to pop on social media sites “for just a minute.” This adds up to hours of wasted company time, and zero productivity.

A content filtering firewall, or even special filtering software, can easily manage which sites you can visit. Other things to block include gambling sites, employees searching for a new job on company time, and bandwidth wasters like Youtube.

There are also many distraction-blocking apps you can use to help you disconnect. AntiSocial and Freedom will make time-sucking sites unavailable for however long you choose.

Set up remote access
With the ubiquity of fast residential Internet, it’s easy to set up a VPN to your office to access files, e-mail and programs from home (or while on the road) using remote access applications or cloud technologies.

This lets you work when forced to stay home with sick kids or to wait for the repairman to show up.

Studies show that employees generally put in several more hours of work on their own initiative if they can easily jump on their home PC to finish up a report or check their work email.

Use dual monitors
According to a University of Utah study, you can increase your efficiency by 25% just by adding a second monitor.

A second monitor increases effectiveness and usability, decreases errors from switching between applications, and makes task tracking easier. All of these factors combined show vastly improved productivity.

Put your storage in the cloud
Cloud storage began as a way to backup data, but now you can use it for file storage just like a network drive.

Cloud storage can boost productivity by giving you access to your data anytime, anywhere. Get even more done when you pair cloud services with mobile devices like iPads and smartphones.

Each of these is an easy update for us to implement. If you want more details on improving productivity in your office, just give me a call at (734) 457-5000, or send us an e-mail at support@MyTechExperts.com.

 

How To Keep Your E-mail Off The “Naughty” List

Someone’s making a list and checking it twice, but it isn’t Santa. Due to rising e-mail abuse and spam, hundreds of servers at various companies now monitor e-mail accounts to make sure those accounts are not sending out mass e-mails.

If that e-mail account is assumed to be sending spam it is put on the “blacklist.”

Once on the blacklist, your e-mail account is virtually SHUT DOWN because your e-mail is blocked by hundreds or thousands of servers and your message can’t be delivered.

Big companies who give out e-mail addresses like AOL, Google, and Comcast, for example, will cut off e-mail service to anyone who sends an e-mail to a large number of people at once.

Because of this, even if you or your employees innocently send a message to 100 of your clients, you could be without e-mail for days or weeks.

So, how do you prevent this costly and frustrating downtime from happening to you?

Read these tips to find out:

Protect Your Server
Spammers LOVE to find e-mail servers that don’t have a proper firewall, anti-virus, and intrusion protection.

They get a high from hacking into these servers and then using them to send out thousands of e-mails. Plus, with no protection in place, tracking and catching these spammers is nearly impossible.

The right protection will also prevent malware from being installed on your server, which can automatically send spam without human interaction.

Don’t Allow Employees To Forward Messages
Unless it is for work –only related purposes, make a policy that no one is to forward messages like jokes, photos, or videos outside the company.

If just four of your employees send out this kind of an e-mail to 30 of their contacts, that’s well over 100 people receiving junk mail on the same day from the same e-mail server. This puts you at high risk of being blacklisted.

Have Your Clients And Prospects “Opt-In”
Sometimes companies end up on the blacklist because someone on your list complained and reported your message as spam.

If you have your clients and prospects agree via an opt-in form that they want to receive communication from you and confirm their permission, then you’ll have better protection against that.

Also make sure you keep good records of these optins. That way, even if you do get blacklisted, you should be back up and running fairly quickly.

Make Sure Your E-mail Is Set-up Properly
In addition to protecting yourself from hackers and invasions with software and firewalls, you also need to be sure that your e-mail is configured correctly and set-up to block outside relays.

If you’ve got the wrong setting in your e-mail account, you could wind up blacklisted, without any e-mail for days or weeks.

Keep Your E-mail List Up-To-Date
If someone asks to be removed from your list and you ontinue to send messages to him, the chances of him reporting your company as a spammer is pretty high.

Avoid this by using in-house lists (instead of purchasing one) and contracting your list to verify the information.

We use and recommend iContact. They’re excellent commericial email service. To sign up for a free trial, or for more information, go to: http://icontact.extole.com/a/clk/37L8x