What’s Your Pocket-Sized Security Threat?

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

You guessed it. I’m talking about phones.

How many people in your business have a company-issued phone, or use their own to access company data like emails, client information, or documents? It’s probably a high number, right?

And your phone is a big risk to your data security. Smishing attacks (that’s the text message equivalent of a phishing email) increased 328% in 2020 and will probably significantly rise again this year.

That’s because it’s a goldmine for cyber criminals. 98% of text messages are read and 45% are responded to. So a smishing text is likely to yield good results for criminals.

Once your phone is infected, malware can monitor your calls and messages, download and delete your data, and if a phone is connected to your business network, the infection might even spread. [Read more…]

Targeted Attacks On Small Businesses Are On The Rise

Mark Funchion is a network technician at Tech Experts.

Many of us have heard of ransomware. This is an attack where someone gains access to a system and encrypts all of the data until a ransom is paid. Once they get their money, they either unencrypt the data… or not. There is no guarantee that paying the ransom will actually work.

Most attacks in the past, both viruses and ransomware, were the “spray and pray” variety. Basically, the attackers would send out thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of emails and hope that a small percentage of them were successful. This procedure worked, but the success rate was low and the attackers had to have a large volume to make it successful.

The more profitable attacks that are on the rise are targeted attacks. These attacks rely on quality rather than quantity. Research goes into the attacks that then target a single or very few companies. These attackers will even go as far to check a company or institution’s financial information to see how much of a ransom they can expect to get.

In addition to demanding a ransom for the data to be decrypted, there is often a threat that the data will be released if the ransom is not paid. The threat of data being released can lead to the ransom being paid even if the target has a way to recover from the attack.

While many home users would hate to have their data released, it would not be completely devastating in most cases. If you are a financial, medical, or education institution, it could end your business or severely harm it. These institutions all contain sensitive information of their employees and clients.

For this reason, a recent spike has been seen in the UK involving their schools. Attackers are seeing schools as an easier target in today’s environment with the increase in remote learning. Banks and hospitals have been targeted numerous times before, and their main goal is to be as secure as possible, spending large amounts of money on it.

Schools and universities, on the other hand, are concerned with security, but they’re in a position today with COVID where they need to have fairly open access.

As colleges are pivoting to a distance learning model on a scale never envisioned, they have to allow more and more access in. This means more and more devices the schools have no direct control over, creating potential entry points into the network.

Although most of you reading this are not educational institutions, there is no industry or business (regardless of size) that is safe from a potential attack. Having a good network security system in place with effective backups is critical.

Don’t rely only on a day or a few days’ worth of backups either; some attacks will infect a system, then remain dormant for a while, hoping to outlive the backups you have available.

Having a technology partner who understands the dangers and how to recover is essential. You cannot just plug in a firewall and use an antivirus software and consider yourself protected.

Your business should have an incident response plan that includes backups and restore procedures, as well as testing. You also need to make sure you have a procedure to keep all of your systems up-to-date with the most current patches. Making sure any remote sessions are secure and using 2FA whenever possible is another area often overlooked too.

The list of vulnerabilities is endless, but we are here to assist. Let us provide you the security and comfort that your business is protecting not only your data, but your users from a potential breach.

Designing A Comprehensive Security Plan For Your Company

After years of being in the industry and watching the evolution of cyberattacks, we feel that there are 13 critical pieces to any cybersecurity plan that we, as your managed service provider, should implement. They are:

Two-factor/Multi-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication is probably the most widely misunderstood security solution, but a critical and effective part of every cybersecurity strategy.

Two-factor authentication is just how it sounds: two separate layers of security. The first is a typical username and password log-in with the addition of a secondary level that looks for something you know, something you have, or something on your body (e.g., fingerprint).

Here are some stats you should know that describe the critical need for two-factor authentication:

  • 90% of passwords can be cracked in less than six hours.
  • Two-thirds of people use the same password everywhere.
  • Sophisticated cyberattackers have the power to test billions of passwords every second.

This sobering reality is why we require two-factor or multi-factor authentication for all of our employees and users of our system, and we highly recommend that you do too.

Password management

The main reason people use the same password everywhere is because it’s impossible to keep track of hundreds of usernames and passwords across various devices and systems.

A secure password is a unique, hard-to-guess one, so it’s understandable why users resort to the use of the same password for each site. This is why we have a password management program built into our procedures. The password manager program generates unique, complex passwords for each site or program then securely stores them in the management program.

When one of our staff needs credentials, they use the master password to open their database of passwords and obtain the login information they need, making it easy to “remember” a complex password and significantly reduce the risk of a breach.

Security risk assessment

A security risk assessment involves reviewing your technology and how you use it, followed by the implementation of security improvements and preventive measures.

The assessment should be performed at a minimum of one time per year, if not more. A full security assessment includes the following pieces:

Identification – When performing a security risk assessment, we first need to take inventory of all of your critical information technology equipment, then determine what sensitive data is created, stored, or transmitted through these devices and create a risk profile for each.

Assessment – This step takes identification to the next level. To complete the assessment step, we need to identify the security risks to each critical asset and determine the most effective and efficient way to allocate time and resources to mitigation.

Mitigation – This is where we solve problems. We have specifically defined a mitigation approach for each potential risk in our network and what security controls will be initiated in case of a breach.

Prevention – We have specific tools and processes to minimize the risk of threats against us and our network in order to help keep you safe.

Information security plan

There is a significant need to safeguard any information that is collected, transmitted, used, and stored within information systems, so the development of an information security plan is crucial. We take this very seriously. We have taken steps to document a plan and designed systems to secure our and our clients’ sensitive business data.

A security program is essentially about risk management, including identifying, quantifying and mitigating risks to computers and data. There are some essential basic steps to risk management:

Identify the Assets – Beyond generating a list of all the hardware and software within the infrastructure, assets also include any data that is processed and stored on these devices.

Assign value – Every asset, including data, has a value and there are two approaches that can be taken to develop the value: qualitative and quantitative. “Quantitative” assigns a financial value to each asset and compares it to the cost of the counter-measure.  “Qualitative” places the threats and security measures of the assets and sets a rank by use of a scoring system.

Identify risks and threats to each asset – Threats to the system go beyond malicious actors attempting to access your data and extend to any event that has the potential to harm the asset. Events like lightning strikes, tornados, hurricanes, floods, human error, or terrorist attacks should also be examined as potential risks.

Estimate potential loss and frequency of attack of those assets – This step depends on the location of the asset. For those operating in the Midwest, the risk of a hurricane causing damage is extremely low while the risk of a tornado would be high.

Recommend countermeasures or other remedial activities – By the end of the above steps, the items that need improvement should become fairly obvious. At this point, you can develop security policies and procedures.

Policies and procedures (internal & external) – A crucial part of an effective cybersecurity plan is the policies and procedures, both for internal assets and external assets. You can’t have one without the other. A general description can be thought of as this: a policy is the “rule” and a procedure is the “how.” With this in mind, a policy would be to effectively secure corporate data with strong passwords. The procedure would be to use multi-factor authentication.

Cybersecurity insurance and data breach financial liability – CyberInsureOne defines cybersecurity insurance as “a product that is offered to individuals and businesses in order to protect them from the effects and consequences of online attacks.”

Cybersecurity insurance can help your business recover in the event of a cyberattack, providing such services as public relations support and funds to draw against to cover any financial losses. It’s something that your MSP should carry as well as your own business.

And just like business liability and auto liability insurance, it is paramount that your business (as well as your MSP) covers themselves with data breach financial liability insurance to cover any event that may be attributed to their activities causing a breach.

Data access management – Access management is determining who is and who isn’t allowed access to certain assets and information, such as administrative accounts.

This is critical for your business as it enables control over who has access to your corporate data, especially during times of employee turnover. Other benefits include increased regulatory compliance, reduced operating costs, and reduced information security risks.

Security awareness training (with phishing training) – Phishing is the number one attack vector today with over 90,000 new attacks launched every month. If your provider is not actively participating in security and phishing awareness training, they will be unable to keep you up on the latest trends in how these malicious actors are attempting to gain access to your businesses data.

Data encryption – At its basic level, data encryption translates data into a different form, making it readable only by the starting and ending points and only with the appropriate password. Encryption is currently considered one of the most effective security measures in use as it is nearly impossible for an outside force to crack.

Next Gen antivirus and firewall – Antivirus is software designed to detect and neutralize any infection that does attempt to access the device and should be on every endpoint.

Many providers are marketing their software as “next generation,” but true next generation antivirus includes features such as exploit techniques (blocking a process that is exploiting or using a typical method of bypassing a normal operation), application whitelisting (a process for validating and controlling everything a program is allowed to do), micro-virtualization (blocks direct execution of a process, essentially operating the program in its own virtual operating system), artificial intelligence (blocking or detecting viruses the same way as a human user could), and EDR/Forensics (using a large data set from endpoint logs, packets, and processes to find out what happened after the fact).

Next generation firewalls also include additional capabilities above the traditional firewall, including intrusion protection, deep packet inspection, SSL-Encrypted traffic termination, and sandboxing.

Business continuity plan – This is a process surrounding the development of a system to manage prevention and recovery from potential threats to a business. A solid business continuity plan includes the following:

  • Policy, purpose, and scope
  • Goals
  • Assumptions
  • Key roles responsibilities
  • A business impact analysis
  • Plans for risk mitigation
  • Data and storage requirements that are offsite
  • Business recovery strategies
  • Alternate operating plans
  • Evaluation of outside vendors’ readiness
  • Response and plan activation
  • Communication plan
  • Drills and practice sessions
  • Regular re-evaluation of the current plan

Your MSP should be able to provide you with a copy of what is included in their plan and how it will affect your business if they do encounter a business continuity event, as well as their backup plan to maintain your critical business infrastructure.

Email security layers – In short, layers limit risk. Email security layers include tactics such as two-factor authentication and spam filters at the basic level (which give your employees time to evaluate a potential threat by removing the words “urgent” or “do right now” from internal subject lines).

As your managed service provider, we are dedicated to helping you maintain effective cybersecurity through these advanced tactics, as well as through a consultative, trusted advisor relationship. You are more than just a number to us and we will do everything in our power to help keep your business safe and running smoothly.

The Five Broad Categories Of The Cybersecurity Framework

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

One of the key methods that the NIST recommends businesses do on a continual basis is focus on these five categories as you assess your cybersecurity framework. These should be done regularly, and proactively, in order to be the most effective.

The categories are broad and cover a wide array of tools that businesses can use to build a cybersecurity framework that best supports their business security needs. They are: identify, protect, detect, respond and recover.

The first step you should take is to identify who should and should not have access to your business’s privileged information, and then maintain strict physical access rules for those personnel who don’t need that access.

NIST recommends that you do not allow cleaning and maintenance staff unsupervised access to rooms that contain computers or other technology that stores sensitive information.

Further recommendations include performing extensive background checks on all prospective employees, setting systems to lock down after several minutes of inactivity and maintaining separate accounts for each user. [Read more…]

How To Protect Your Business From SHTML Phishing

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

Data security is vital to any business. Learn how SHTML phishing works and how to minimize the risk of your data falling into the hands of attackers.

Email phishing has been in the playbook of hackers since, well, email. What’s alarming is the scope in which criminals can conduct these attacks, the amount of data potentially at risk, and how vulnerable many businesses are to phishing attempts.

Here’s what you need to know to spot the hook and protect your data from being reeled in.

How Does Email Phishing Work?
A phishing email typically contains an attachment in the form of a server-parsed HTML (SHTML) file.

When opened, these shady files redirect the user to a malicious website often disguised as a legitimate product or service provider. [Read more…]

Top Concern For Small Businesses? Cybersecurity

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

While some might assume that fear of an economic recession would be at the top of the list of key issues small business owners concern themselves with, a recent survey found that another issue is of much greater concern: Cybersecurity.

This is no surprise.

For the past several years, cybercrimes and data breaches among companies large and small, governments, and even individual citizens have risen drastically.

While it’s true that many business owners still assume a data breach at their own company is highly unlikely, with the ultimate price tag of such attacks ramping up to the millions of dollars (and recovery being hardly successful), it makes sense that companies are taking notice.
[Read more…]

What Are The Newest Phishing Attacks?

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

Phishing is a term adapted from the word “fishing.” When we go fishing, we put a line in the water with bait on it, and we sit back and wait for the fish to come along and take the bait. Maybe the fish was hungry. Perhaps it just wasn’t paying attention. At any rate, eventually a fish will bite, and you’ll have something delicious for dinner.

How Does Phishing Work?
This is essentially how cyber phishing works. Cybercriminals create an interesting email, maybe saying that you’ve won a $100 gift certificate from Amazon. Sound too good to be true? Find out! All you have to do is click the link and take a short survey.

Once you click the link, a virus is downloaded onto your system. Sometimes it’s malware, and sometimes it’s ransomware. Malware includes Trojans, worms, spyware, and adware. These malicious programs each have different goals, but all are destructive and aimed at harming your computers. [Read more…]

Four Questions Every CEO Needs To Ask About Cybersecurity

Leaders in every organization need to make identifying and addressing their cybersecurity needs a top priority. You can begin by starting a conversation between your IT service company and employees at all levels of your company about information security and how best to protect sensitive data, but you need to know the right questions to ask. Here are four questions to ask to get the discussion started and moving in the right direction.

How informed is your team about the vulnerability to and potential impact of cyber attacks on your company?

It’s important to assess the current awareness of everyone in your business about cyber threats and the potential damage from data breaches. It’s likely that everyone has heard of the many well-publicized breaches that have occurred over the last several years, but possibly haven’t considered them within the context of your company.

This is the first step to developing an educational initiative to get everyone up to speed on the problem and identifying the at-risk areas in your system. After that, you can begin to develop a chain of communication to take immediate action in case of a breach and set protocols and expectations for response times. A fast and effective response is critical to limiting data exposure.

What are the specific risks to your infrastructure and what are the best steps to take to address them?

Remember that the threat isn’t limited to just hackers. Many breaches occur because employees click on a link in a phishing email, leave a password lying around where it’s easily seen, or by unknowingly becoming a victim of a social engineering scam by giving it to someone over the phone who is impersonating a company employee.

Then you can begin to identify the resources needed to protect your data, including third-party security software and updated equipment. Simply informing your employees of the threat of such low-tech risks can greatly increase your cybersecurity.

How many security incidents are detected in your systems in a normal month or week, what type are they, and how were others informed about them?

You should have a system in place to detect, monitor, analyze, and record any type of potential security incident no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and disseminate that information to the appropriate personnel, or perhaps to all employees to raise awareness. You should discuss enhanced alerting and monitoring with your IT professionals.

Does your company have an incident response plan? How effective is it, and how often do you test it?

The only way you can quickly react to prevent or limit the damage from a breach is to have a clearly defined response plan in place. It should document how everyone in your company should react in the event of an emergency. This plan should be available to all employees. It should be tested on a regular basis, at least once each quarter, and updated whenever significant changes are made to your IT infrastructure.

Cyberattacks are just a fact of life these days, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But by asking your team the right questions, starting a dialogue about how to address the threat, raising awareness and implementing training, and having a response plan in place, although you’ll never completely eliminate them, you can reduce your risks significantly.

What Are The Top Cybersecurity Trends For 2019?

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

Several events in 2018 brought cybersecurity to the forefront of public consciousness, as major sectors– from financial institutions to Facebook– were affected by cybercrime.

According to Forbes, 34 percent of US consumers had their personal information compromised in 2018. Security experts and business leaders are constantly looking for ways to keep two steps ahead of hackers.

Cybersecurity trends for 2019 are a popular topic. Here is what’s anticipated this year in the cybersecurity realm.

Tougher regulations
As digital capabilities are rapidly gaining a worldwide foothold, data is becoming our most highly-valued commodity. [Read more…]

Colorado Company Taken Down By Ransomware And What That Means for Your Business

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

According to Statista, there were 184 million ransomware attacks in 2017 and the average ransomware demand is over $1,000. Individuals, organizations, and companies have fallen victim to these attacks.

Most people recognize the fact that ransomware is a danger, but they may not realize that it can actually destroy their company.

The recent closure of Colorado Timberline after a ransomware attack is a solemn reminder of the seriousness of the dangers of ransomware.

What Happened to Colorado Timberline?
Colorado Timberline, a printing company in Denver, was forced to cease operations for an unspecified amount of time after a severe cyber attack. [Read more…]