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October 2020

working from home

The Shrieks and Chills of Working from Home

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This year has been…interesting, to say the least. One minute businesses were running normally. Seemingly overnight, many of us got the work-from-home position we always wanted. Within and beyond the pandemic, many companies have been transitioning portions of their workforce to work remotely. As technology marches forward, the image of the modern office changes with it.

That being said, cybersecurity is completely different working from home versus an office with dedicated IT support to set up and maintain all computer systems. Cyber thieves are all too aware of this and have acted quickly to take advantage of these new vulnerabilities.

This final Cyber Security Month article discusses protecting yourself and your business from the new threats lurking at home.

Security Dangers Working From Home

When working from home, we generally can’t use the same equipment we enjoyed in the office. Many businesses told their people to use their personal computers when they scrambled to send them home in March. Even if they’re using traditional security techniques, working online makes them more vulnerable to attacks.

For example, maybe they’re relying on the standard Windows firewall. There’s a reason Microsoft constantly pushes security updates to cover the holes in the OS exposed by hackers. This firewall is simply not secure. Perhaps they are extra responsible and installed a computer grade antivirus program. That’s fine against some automated threats, though not for active hackers trying to get access to the system.

Additionally, with many kids learning at home, that same computer may now have additional programs that create vulnerabilities. Many school districts are using software that has had breaches in recent months.

Finally, there’s the latest trend for remote work: VPNs. While some people swear by it for security, last week’s article focused on all the reasons VPN security isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Options to Create a Secure Environment Working From Home

When possible, it’s best to provide the computers and other devices that your employees need when working from home. That way you have complete control of the programs they use and how you set up and maintain their systems. This is often, however, too costly and complex to supply and control systems used in the office and remote.

You could also deploy a relatively new option: a virtual office (or hosted desktop solution). Essentially, this creates a secure place online for employees to log in and do their work from home or any other remote location. This is different from a VPN because a VPN protects only the connection itself, whereas a virtual office gives you a safer harbor, of sorts, to do all your work and store files. This can be extra effective as you know who you’re dealing with from beginning to end and if any sorts of problems arise, they can be fixed from a single source.

Who You Gonna Call?

If the idea of supplying your employees with company-owned devices or the setup and maintenance of a virtual office seem overwhelming, don’t worry! Even many large corporations find this to be too difficult or time-consuming to do on their own. In fact, a recent study showed that more than half of all of the companies surveyed use external services to help with their IT needs, and that number goes up significantly with a larger percentage of their workforce working remotely.

This is complicated stuff and no one expects someone from a nonrelated field to be a pro, which is exactly why we work so hard to make sure these processes and services are as seamless as possible for our clients. We’re a managed service provider — this is what we do. We make sure that when some specter hangs overhead and requires your company to have your employees work remotely (even on a moment’s notice), we can be there to make the transition as smooth as possible. Even if you currently have some sort of remote work arrangement in place currently, we can assess your current setup and make sure that you are optimized for what the business world may throw at you today or in the future!

VPN Security

VPN Security: Trick or Treat?

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If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve probably seen pretty aggressive advertising for VPN services. On paper, they seem like something that can give you anything you would want in your online browsing in terms of security and access.

Continuing our Cyber Security Month series of articles, we’ll be covering this apparent modern miracle of internet browsing. As businesses increasingly move to a digital work environment, web security is more important than ever. With that in mind, is VPN security a true treat…or just a trick?

VPNs: As Sweet as Free Candy

Before we get into the benefits of VPNs, we should probably explain what they are. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. They essentially create a tunnel for your web browsing by giving you a (usually) local server to log into. This then provides access and  directs your web traffic. Not only is the information to and from the server encrypted, it appears as though the server is browsing the sites, not you.

This can be beneficial for you as a browser. Even if someone were spying on your personal connection, they would only see you connecting to a single server, not the specific pages you visit. You can also make it appear like you’re browsing from another location by changing the IP address. Because of this, you can view sites like Netflix and see content not available in your own country. Additionally, you can avoid internet censorship in countries that tend to have more restrictive regulations, like China.

These services are generally low in cost, especially if you purchase longer subscriptions. Actually, there are several options that offer basic services for free and only charge for premium options. Wow! This all sounds great! So, is there any catch?

VPN Security: A Razor in Your Apple

Everyone wants digital security, but just like with anti-virus software, a single program will never keep you fully safe.  Many users  don’t understand the natural limitations of VPNs, putting too much faith in them, particularly free versions.

For starters, no matter what the ads tell you, VPNs do not give you 100% security on the web. While someone spying on your network may not be able to see what you’re doing, the websites you visit sure do! If the site uses cookies, they attach themselves to your computer, not your IP address, so they can still affect you. Also, you don’t know what sort of security protocols the sites you visit have. In fact, VPNs can give you a dangerous sense of security when you should always be vigilant. For example, if you visit a nefarious site and give them your credit card information, your VPN can’t help. Even if you send your information to a legitimate site, your VPN is  powerless if that site gets hacked.

Another issue is VPNs increase the size of a hacker’s target. In the past few years, hackers have put more energy into breaking into larger targets to increase the payoff. Why steal the fish when you can steal the fish market, so to speak? VPN services provide a juicy target since access to those servers means having the browsing information of many users. This exact scenario took place in 2019 when NordVPN servers were hacked, leaving any and all traffic accessible for a period of a few months! If that happened to one of the biggest names in the game, think about how safe you could be!

Stay Safe at Home

While VPNs are far from a perfect solution, the idea behind them has some merit, namely in that by hiding and encrypting your connection, it makes it that much more difficult to have your data compromised. There are still ways to improve on this technology, though.

One of the best ways is to use a virtual office. This entails a complete virtual desktop provided to anyone with the credentials to log in. This can include everything from productivity software (such as MS Office) to actual data storage. This is a much more secure option for a variety of reasons. First of all, you log into one specific, secure system versus going from website to website. Also, this is a dedicated solution, allowing you to login with full confidence knowing who is handling your connection and data. Lastly, virtual offices are often administered by actual human beings, not just software, allowing any and all threats to be addressed in real-time.

While VPNs make your internet browsing safer, that’s like saying eating five pieces of candy instead of six prevents diabetes. If your business plans on doing any sort of remote or virtual connection, take a look at a virtual office. Don’t leave the setup and administration to just anyone. Contact us today to see just how quickly and safely you can get your employees connected without relying solely on tricky VPN security.

Password Security

Password Security: Don’t let your Password Haunt You

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October is National Cybersecurity Month and password security is a big part of that! Cybersecurity is so important and appropriate to discuss considering how scary it is out there! As we regularly cover, hackers are getting more advanced by the day, despite security measures improving by leaps and bounds. Of course, no monster is all-powerful and there are ways to protect yourself against these dangers.

In this article, we’ll be discussing a feature that we all use (and abuse) every day: passwords. How insecure can this security feature be and what can you do to protect yourself and your business?

A Necessary Evil

We don’t think that there’s anyone out there that actually enjoys creating and using passwords. After all, they’re just another barrier between you and your data. However, that barrier is exactly what’s going to protect that data from the outside world.

Password Security Struggles

Since many of us struggle to remember passwords, we end up making a lot of common mistakes. These include:

  • Making the password as short as possible
  • Reusing passwords for multiple accounts
  • Not regularly changing the password
  • Using a word that’s easy for us to remember.

We’ve all been told that we should avoid these mistakes ad nauseum, but why?

A Real Monster

When you think of a scary beast like Frankenstein’s monster, what gives us the chills? The sheer physical strength that can break down any door you hide behind. There are software programs that work pretty much the same way, using Brute Force Attacks.

These attacks are codes/programs that test possible password after possible password using random combinations of letters and numbers until something works. Dictionary Attacks operate along the same lines, using all the words in the dictionary instead of just random letters and numbers. Passwords that are too short or too simple feed the success of Brute Force Attacks.

One recent program could crack any 8-character password in less than six hours! Once a hacker cracks that password, they then have access to anything that shares that password. If you use that password for business purposes, the payload is even bigger.

Is Your Password Worth It?

Although cyber pirates still buy large lists of passwords and other stolen data off of the Dark Web for quick hits, they’ve shifted in the past few years focusing on more time and effort on fewer but larger targets. These attacks may take up more of the hacker’s valuable time, but it brings in massive returns.

Naturally, there’s only so much you can milk from a single victim, but a company or organization has much deeper pockets and a lot more to lose. Think about the amount of cash in your personal bank account versus what your company may have at any given time. On top of that, think of all the resources your company has at its disposal that may be vulnerable in the event of an attack.

Fixing the Problem: The Password Security Silver Bullet

We’d be lying if we said there is a cure-all solution to the problem of password hacks because there isn’t any. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re completely vulnerable either. Below are a few ways to keep your password as safe as possible:

  1. Change your passwords regularly — In theory, a hacker could get your password correct eventually. If you keep changing it on a regular basis, you’ll keep them guessing, even if they got the old one correct. On average, we recommend changing passwords every 1-3 months.
  2. Get creative — The best defense for a dictionary attack is not to use words in the dictionary. Either create nonsensical strings of characters or use a combination of words that wouldn’t appear in any standard dictionary. Also, consider using upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers and special characters. As a general rule, the more difficult a password is to remember, the longer it would take for a software program to guess.
  3. Don’t reuse passwords — Having to remember multiple passwords can be a pain. For some of us, we have to use over a dozen passwords before we finish our first coffee! This recommendation keeps as much information as safe as possible if one of your passwords is compromised. Think of a ship or submarine with multiple compartments — if one springs a leak and fills up, close a door to mitigate the damage. If all of your passwords are the same, one lucky guess could bring your digital world crumbling.

Bring in a Champion

As hard as you might try, there’s only so much you can do to protect yourself and your company from threats to your password and overall security. Plus, keeping your system safe can be a full-time job in this world, and you already have one of those.

Instead of trying to fight this monster single-handed, consider bringing in the help of a professional monster killer! Our experienced team is more than happy to swoop in and assist your company with the strongest cyber protection on the market, including password management. Even if your walls have already been breached, we can help in the cleanup and future protection.

Cyber Aware

Be Cyber Aware: If You Connect It, Protect It

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In today’s age, we all must be cyber aware. The average American today has access to more than 10 Internet Connected Devices in their household. Most have at least 2 computers and 2 smartphones. Across the world, an estimated 30 billion+ devices connect to the Internet. This connectivity generates massive potential for advancement; but in turn, creates a paradise for hackers. This is nothing new. Hacking has been on the rise since the dawn of connected technology. And here’s the problem. Most businesses have maintained the same security protocols for just as long. The theory is that what they’ve done so far has worked, so why is there any reason for change? Here are the seven reasons why technology is more dangerous than ever before:

Side Note: Why focus on cybersecurity now? October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. For the past 17 years, during October CISA and partners have focused on cybersecurity. Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn for more tips and tricks throughout the month. 

Let’s Be Cyber Aware About Ransomware

The first computer virus was introduced in the 1970s. It took over systems by replicating on the hard drive until the user didn’t have system space to operate. It was actually built as an experiment and had no malicious intent/implications. Today, viruses aren’t child’s play or experiments, and the most dangerous one takes over the hard drive completely, encrypting every piece of data.

If you’re connected to a network, it can then infiltrate the servers and start encrypting there. If your data backups are also on that network, you lose all access to a clean backup.  The only way to get this data back is paying the ransom (not recommended under the vast majority of cases), or working with an IT company to revert back to a clean data/decrypt the files based on the specific ransomware in play. Either way, you’re spending a lot of money and time to get back what’s yours to begin with, your precious data.

Part of Being Cyber Aware is Knowledge of Phishing

Phishing emails at one time were super easy to spot. The Nigerian prince desperately needed to send you money if you inputted all of your personal information. Since then we have become more cyber aware, but phishing attempts have improved. Today, phishing attempts are a whole lot smoother. The perpetrator researches enough to identify your boss, then sends an email under his/her name asking you to discretely transfer money or send identifying financial information. Unless you’re looking at the exact email address it’s coming from (typically spoofed by one or two letters in the domain), all of a sudden you’ve transferred $40,000 into an unknown person’s account thinking it’s your CEO.

You won’t think anything of it until you speak with your CEO later and realize that is wasn’t really them. These honest mistakes cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars every year with very little recourse to get the money back where it belongs. Some experts say that employee mistakes cause nearly 92% of breaches.

Insider Threats

As more people work remote, particularly with the urgency of the past six months, businesses have lost tight control on their data, increasing the threat of malicious insiders. While we want to trust every person working for us, that one disgruntled employee who decides to store a copy of the customer data before putting in his two-week notice, could wreak havoc on your business when they decide to work for your closest competitor. Virtual Office solutions can alleviate a lot of the pain this could cause and allow you to keep every piece of data exactly where it belongs.

Data Leaks and Password Practices

Malicious insiders can cause these leaks, but they’re also the password leaks from major players that you hear about frequently. You may be wondering how a LinkedIn password breach can really hurt you in the long run (after all they really just gain access to your professional resume). 53% of people admit to reusing their password on multiple accounts. Hackers rely on this. They can sell the password or utilize that password to hack much more dangerous things, like your banking institution. Our best recommendations: use complex passwords, don’t reuse passwords, use a password vault to keep track of all your passwords, and implement two-factor authentication wherever you can.

Become Cyber Aware About Cryptojacking

Cryptocurrency is a hackers’ favorite payment method. It is untraceable and extremely valuable. Beyond requiring cryptocurrency for the vast majority of ransomware attempts, some hackers infiltrate a system and use it to mine cryptocurrency without the user’s knowledge. They get in utilizing a malicious email link or through malvertising (advertising that carries nefarious code). A user may recognize slightly slower performance, but they more than likely never know that someone is using their system to mine cryptocurrency. Some codes also spread throughout networks, so that hackers can maximize their financial gain using someone else’s resources.

IoT Hacks

As we connect more devices to the Internet, particularly those items in our homes – stoves, cars, Alexa or Google – we open another target for hackers to infiltrate our lives. They may canvas homes through your connected camera system or baby monitor, install viruses on your stove or vehicle that impact performance, or begin speaking to y0u randomly from your device. IoT can be safe, but you must make sure you’re utilizing as many security precautions as humanely possible.

Hacker Advancement

The greatest advantage for hackers is they have become more sophisticated and educated overtime, and the good guys haven’t been able to keep up. If you’re relying on internal IT or an MSP without security expertise, your team is most likely behind on the threats and not implementing everything they need to keep your staff safe. They should implement things like phishing tests, employee education, dark web scanning, hosted back-up solutions, crisis planning, multi-factor authentication, and professional-grade permissions control for administrative privileges to keep you safe. If you’re unsure of your security level with your current IT solution, contact us.