2022: The Year Of Malware, Hacks And Phishing

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

Much of our time this year has been spent working with our clients, making sure they’re ready to fend off newly emerging cyber threats or malware strains.

So to look back at the year, we thought we’d round up what many experts agree has been the nastiest malware of 2022.

At the top of the list is Emotet. Chances are you haven’t heard of it by that name, but it’s a trojan that’s spread by spam email. It usually looks like a genuine email with familiar branding, but it tries to persuade the recipient to click a malicious link (using language like ‘your invoice’ or ‘payment details.’

It may also look like it’s from a parcel company. This malware goes through your contact list and sends itself to family, friends, colleagues, and clients. Then it looks less like spam, because it’s come from your email account.

In second position is LockBit. This is ransomware that’s designed to block access to your files and systems when cyber criminals encrypt them.

They ask you to pay a ransom for the decryption key (which they often still don’t hand over, even when you’ve paid). If you don’t have a solid backup strategy, it is highly likely you’ll experience data loss.

This is a targeted attack that spreads itself once it’s infiltrated one device on a network. In fact, it can ‘live’ for weeks inside a network before the attack is launched.

In third place is Conti, another form of ransomware, and in fourth position is Qbot, a trojan designed to steal banking information and passwords.

It may all sound scary, but there’s plenty you can do to give your business greater protection from these threats:

  • Keep your entire network and all devices updated
  • Don’t download suspicious attachments or click links unless you’re certain they’re genuine
  • Practice strong password hygiene, including multi-factor authentication, password managers, biometrics, and passkeys where available
  • Give your people access to only the systems and files they need. Remove ex-employees from your network immediately
  • Create and regularly check back-ups
  • Educate your people regularly

We can help with all of this – just get in touch!

Insider Threats Are Getting More Dangerous

One of the most difficult types of attacks to detect are those performed by insiders.

An “insider” would be anyone that has legitimate access to your company network and data via a login or authorized connection.

Because insiders have authorized system access, they can bypass certain security defenses, including those designed to keep intruders out.

Since a logged-in user isn’t seen as an intruder, those security protections aren’t triggered.

A recent report by Ponemon Institute found that over the last two years insider attacks have increased by 44% and the average cost of addressing insider threats has risen by 34%

Four types of insider threats

Malicious/Disgruntled Employee
Careless/Negligent Employee
3rd Party with Access to Your Systems
Hacker That Compromises a Password

Ways to mitigate insider threats

When hiring new employees make sure you do a thorough background check.

Malicious insiders will typically have red flags in their work history.

You want to do the same with any vendors or contractors that will have access to your systems.

Endpoint device solutions

Mobile devices now make up about 60% of the endpoints in a company. But many businesses aren’t using a solution to manage device access to resources.

Put an endpoint management solution in place to monitor device access. You can also use this to safelist devices and block unauthorized devices by default.

Multi-factor authentication & password security

One of the best ways to fight credential theft is through multi-factor authentication. Hackers have a hard time getting past the second factor.

They rarely have access to a person’s mobile device or FIDO security key.

Employee data security training

Training can help you mitigate the risk of a breach through carelessness.

Train employees on proper data handling and security policies governing sensitive information.

Network monitoring

Use AI-enabled threat monitoring. This allows you to detect strange behaviors as soon as they happen.

For example, someone downloading a large number of files or someone logging in from outside the country could be indicators your systems or security are compromised.

Guide For Better Endpoint Protection

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

Endpoints are the collection of computers, mobile devices, servers, and smart gadgets that make up your company’s network and IT infrastructure. Each of those devices is a chance for a hacker to penetrate a company’s defenses. 64% of organizations have experienced one or more compromising endpoint attacks.

The following solutions are focused on the protection of endpoint devices.

Address Password Vulnerabilities

Passwords are one of the biggest vulnerabilities when it comes to endpoints.

Poor password security and breaches make credential theft one of the biggest dangers to cybersecurity.

Address password vulnerabilities in your endpoints by:

• Training employees on proper password creation and handling
• Look for passwordless solutions, like biometrics
• Install multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all accounts

Stop Malware Infection Before OS Boot

USB drives (also known as flash drives) are a popular giveaway item at trade shows. But an innocent-looking USB can actually cause a breach.

Hackers can use them to gain access to a computer by booting from a USB device containing malicious code.

There are certain precautions you can take to prevent this from happening. One of these is ensuring you’re using firmware protection that covers two areas: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Security.

TPM is resistant to physical tampering and tampering via malware. It looks at whether the boot process is occurring properly and also monitors for the presence of anomalous behavior.

Additionally, seek devices and security solutions that allow you to disable USB boots.

Update All Endpoint Security Solutions

You should regularly update your endpoint security solutions. It’s best to automate software updates if possible so they aren’t left to chance.

Firmware updates are often forgotten about. But they are just as important for ensuring your devices remain secure and protected.

Use Modern Device & User Authentication

How are you authenticating users to access your network, business apps, and data? If you are using only a username and password, then your company is at high risk of a breach.

Use two modern methods for authentication:
• Contextual authentication
• Zero Trust approach (Trust but Verify)

Apply Security Policies Throughout the Device Lifecycle

From the time a device is first purchased to the time it retires, you need to have security protocols in place.

Examples of device lifecycle security include when a device is first issued to a user. This is when you should remove unnecessary privileges.

When a device moves from one user to another, it needs to be properly cleaned of old data and reconfigured for the new user. When you retire a device, it should be properly scrubbed.

Prepare for Device Loss or Theft

Unfortunately, mobile devices and laptops get lost or stolen. When that happens, you should have a sequence of events that can take place immediately. This prevents company risk of data and exposed business accounts.

What Does ‘Zero Trust’ Actually Mean?

It’s nothing to do with the fear that your teenage children will hold a party when you go away for the weekend.

Zero trust is actually about technology security. It’s one of the most secure ways to set up your network, although it can have a very negative effect on productivity.

Most networks take a ‘trust but verify’ approach. They assume every device that connects is supposed to be there. Access the network once and you can go anywhere.
Imagine you’re using a security pass to access a building… and once inside there are no further security checks, so you can get into every single room.

Cyber criminals love this approach, for obvious reasons.

Zero trust is the opposite approach. Every login and device is treated as a potential threat until it’s authenticated, validated, and authorized.

Once in, you can’t access other parts of the network without going through this process again.
Back to the building analogy – once inside the building you are surrounded by security doors and must use your security pass to get through each one. If your pass isn’t valid, you’re limited where you can go.

Zero trust has its uses, especially with so many people working remotely these days. But it can have a negative effect on your workflow and can slow down your team.

If you want to talk through whether it’s right for your business, get in touch.

Why Antivirus Software Is So Important

Workplaces across the world are constantly under fire from security threats stemming from computer viruses.

As businesses have updated their technology throughout the years, the implicit security that stemmed from the use of typewriters and handwritten documents has diminished.

Now, everyone is connected to their neighbor, making businesses as vulnerable as ever to fraud and theft of sensitive information. To combat it, every workplace should be well-equipped with a proven and trusted antivirus software.

A virus is a malevolent program meant to do any number of things. They can hijack your PC through phishing scams, careless downloads, and even by accidentally clicking on an online advertisement.

Overall, viruses can slow down your PC, steal sensitive data stored on your machine, prevent computers from booting up, and send out messages under your alias. Much like real life, viruses can essentially be “contagious” and spread across a network, making them a business’s worst nightmare. One infection could create a site-wide virus epidemic if it spreads across the network – and some are designed to do just that.

In addition, not all viruses are the same. The term “virus” is really an umbrella for many different types of malware.

For example, there are worms, which make an indefinite amount of copies of themselves to take over your CPU.

Trojans are seemingly good-natured programs, but in reality, they secretly perform some sort of malicious attack whether that is stealing your information or slowing down your PC.

Another example of a virus is spyware, which does not stop your PC from running smoothly, but just as the name states, it spies on your activity and collects sensitive information without your knowledge or consent.

All users need antivirus to keep themselves and their fellow coworkers safe. Antivirus acts as the security guard defending your computer. Its primary task is that of a gatekeeper. It stops viruses from attaching themselves to your workstation before they even become a threat.

Although antiviruses do a stellar job at the gate, some viruses can still slip through the cracks. In these cases, antivirus software can find and remove threatening programs from your device. Most antivirus software notifies you of the removal as well or asks for permission before fully removing the program from your machine.

In order for an antivirus software to be successful and functioning, the developers must be dedicated to updating the antivirus’ database consistently with new information on new threats, so be sure to keep your program up-to-date.

Just as the field of computer science and technology is rapidly changing and improving, so are the viruses and malware that attack your computer. Many antiviruses are consistently updating their databases and rules to account for this growing and changing threat.

Lacking antivirus software for your business is like leaving the door unlocked for hackers and malicious programs to do what they please with your costly computers and sensitive information. The best way to fight a cyberattack is to prevent it from happening in the first place, and antivirus software does just that.

Wiperware: New Malware That Shouldn’t Be Taken Lightly

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

Any business can be a target for hackers who use ransomware. However, in recent months, a major new threat has emerged. The recent Petya attack was initially perceived to be another form of ransomware.

However, as the firms involved took stock in the aftermath of the events, it became apparent that the attack took the form of “wipeware,” code that is designed to completely destroy the files stored on any system.

What is wiperware?

Wiperware is designed with one goal in mind: total destruction. The malware asks users to install a software update and then it immediately takes control of the device. Once it has gained admin access, it completely overwrites all files on the device and in some cases the entire network. Any attached storage is also vulnerable, included USB external drives, memory sticks and network shared drives.

While the motivations behind Petya remain unknown, what is abundantly clear is that wiperware is a threat that needs to be taken very seriously. Here are a couple of things you can do right now. [Read more…]

Rules Of Thumb To Avoid An Infection

Anthony Glover is Tech Expert’s senior network engineer and service manager.

A virus can be an upsetting, expensive endeavor to deal with. A virus can wreak havoc on your personal files (like important spreadsheets or family photos) or the system files that keep your computer functioning.

These files can become corrupted, encrypted, or deleted, which makes recovery difficult or sometimes impossible.

Some less obvious viruses — the ones that might slow down your system instead of destroying it — can still affect you by stealing data and what you type on your keyboard, gaining access to your stored credit card information or important sites you use, like your bank. [Read more…]

Anti-Virus: It’s Worth Protecting Yourself

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

You can have any machine — from the latest and greatest, to the old dinosaur in the corner — but if you don’t have virus protection, your latest and greatest machine might soon run like that dinosaur in the corner.

All of your sensitive images, documents, billing information, and passwords are subject to infection. No matter how careful you are, there is always something that slips through the cracks.

Often, users say, “I have such and such subscription,” or “I don’t click on anything I don’t know,” but the people spending countless hours causing havoc on computer users will always find new and sneaky ways to infect computers.

Viruses can be attached to images or links on websites. They can also be renamed to look like something that you should install. Once inside your computer, they are hard to track down even by a seasoned computer technician.

Viruses very rarely remove anything from your computer. Instead, they have a tendency to add things that can record your activities on your computer. A person could install a silent program that will start recording your keystrokes triggered by keywords; it can also take a screenshot or record email addresses and passwords. Most of the time, they don’t need to even gain access back to your computer to report the data.

They can have an email sent from your computer and Internet connection without you knowing it. That email, secretly sent from you to them, would contain your information (keystrokes, clicks, etc.).

By now, you have heard of the “crypto virus” and all of its variants. There are many solutions out there, but select few offer “zero-hour” infection reversal, however it’s something that businesses can especially benefit from. Let’s say you accidentally encrypt your machine; it would then be inaccessible until you pay the ransom to unlock your files.

Protection that offers infection reversal can revert your system back to its state right before you were infected and it would be like you never infected by the virus at all. This feature is part of Webroot Secure Anywhere, which is something we can provide.

Viruses not only help people steal your data, but they can also delete or corrupt files, degrade system performance, and make your computer run slower.

Viruses can also prevent programs from working and they can use your email to send out copies of itself to your contacts and other users. Sometimes, they can disable your computer from starting up by corrupting your BIOS firmware.

A couple of the main things that you’ll notice once you’re infected is that your system could run slower and you’ll receive all kinds of fake pop-ups, ads, warnings from “Microsoft,” etc. These type of files are referred to as “scareware” and the makers feed on the fear that you might lose your data, so you’ll pay them to “unlock” your system or “remove” the virus.

Again, we go back to protection. If you had virus protection, then it’s likely that would stop it before it even established itself inside your computer.

There are a few things you should do, if you haven’t already: get some sort of whole computer protection (such as Webroot), have restore points saved on your operating system, have a backup of your operating system install saved on some sort of external media, and save your documents, pictures, and videos to an external source.

When you find yourself in a predicament where you have to wipe an entire computer to remove an infection, you’ll be glad you took the time to prepare for the worst.

The Importance Of Having Ad-Blockers

Luke Gruden is a help desk technician for Tech Experts.

Every day, millions of people go online and go to a familiar website, just to get an advertisement pop-up that disrupts their online experience.

Ads are a way of life for many websites to generate profit from viewers visiting their website and, when clicked, these ads can take a person to another website, usually for their product.

While annoying and harmless when used as intended, issues in this system start to happen when the intentions of an “advertiser” go beyond just advertisement.

There are malicious people on the Internet utilizing advertisements to leave our computers and information vulnerable for theft and abuse.

Some advertisements will come in as scareware trying to pressure people into calling their number or download a harmful program.

Scareware is a common pop-up that thousands have fallen victim to – giving up Social Security numbers or access to bank accounts, allowing malicious connections to their computers, leaving networks vulnerable and infected, and more.

Some advertisements, if not filtered by a website correctly, can actually contain viruses and infections that don’t allow a person an opportunity to protect their own browser and computer.

These infections usually leave spyware and trojans that try to steal your information from your computer.

Surprisingly, the websites with these sorts of advertisements may have never intended for you to fall victim to scareware or other infections.

Usually, websites with these ads tend to be smaller websites using an advertisement agency that does not fully screen all the advertisements they are receiving, allowing malicious people to send their harmful information out onto the Internet.

There is a very simple solution to these real threats: ad-blocking software. If you use Firefox or Google Chrome, there are two good options that you can attach to your browser.

The first option is Adblock Plus, which is a common choice that works well. There is also uBlock Origin that uses less processing power than Adblock Plus that also blocks most advertisements. Both of these options will go a very long way in protecting your computer.

If you are using Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge, these web browsers do not support add-ons and have weak advertisement blocking capabilities.

Firefox and Chrome on their own, even without add-ons, are more secure than Internet Explorer. If you have not switched to Chrome or Firefox, I highly recommend you make the change soon.

The installation processes for Adblock Plus and uBlock Origins are very straightforward and easy on Chrome and Firefox. You can Google the ad-blocker you want to use and go to either the Chrome web store or Add-ons For Firefox, based on which browser you are using.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a substitute for anti-virus. Ad-blocking extensions for your browser simply help to block the things that could become nasty infections.

For a more protected computer, you should absolutely use both anti-virus and ad-blockers.

If you need help setting up ad-block software or have questions, you can always contact Tech Experts.

Stay safe and remember to use ad-blocking software to keep your Internet experience safe.

Five Common Causes For Business Computer Slowdowns And How To Fix Them

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

All computers inevitably slow down at some point. The more we use them to download programs, install extensions, and fill up the hard drive with files, movies, and photographs, the slower they get.

Fortunately, keeping your computer running at a rapid pace is relatively straightforward, providing you develop some basic electronic housekeeping habits.

Here are the top five reasons computers slow down and how you can fix them.

Your hard drive is failing
Hard drives fail eventually, so make sure you backup your files on a regular basis. Some users claim that solid state drives (SSDs) are more reliable than hard drives because they don’t incorporate moving parts. However, that’s nothing more than a myth and the data stored on them can still be corrupted. [Read more…]