Resources: IT Security

Microsoft Security Flaws

Life can be ironic, can’t it? We’re not just talking about the “Rain on your wedding day” kind of irony, either. It seems that Microsoft and anyone who works in the tech field — ourselves included — have been harping about how Windows 7 users need to upgrade before its End of Life happened on January 14th. And what else happened on that day?

Well, Windows 7 did meet its End of Life, but the NSA also came out with a warning that Windows 10 — and all other platforms that Windows 7 users were supposed to move to — had a massive security threat. So, how important is this, and more importantly, how does this affect you and your business?

Conflicting Stories

Microsoft has been pretty tight-lipped about this whole situation and has already rolled out a patch, although they’ve only labeled this as an important update, not critical like they have for similar issues in the past. Industry experts feel this can be a way of trying to play down a major issue, making it seem like this is nothing more than a minor hiccup. This might have worked had the NSA not said anything.

The NSA has been notorious at finding exploits in Windows, as well as other operating systems, so they can conduct surveillance without asking permission from software developers. In fact, the famous Wannacry virus was believed to have spread so quickly because hackers found an exploit that the NSA was using at the time. The reason we bring this up is that if the NSA is making this public and not merely keeping it to themselves like before, it must mean that this is a major issue that risks the security of more than just a handful of people. We’ll probably never know the real truth behind the matter, though we can guarantee that there is plenty of information that is not being shared with the general public.

The Windows 7 Connection

Both Microsoft and the NSA made their announcements on January 14th, so it stands to reason that this must have been a known issue for a while. Which begs the question, why didn’t anyone say something sooner? More likely than not, it was probably because Microsoft had been pushing the Windows 10 upgrade for so long that if those who hadn’t upgraded from Windows 7 heard about the gaping flaw, it might have given them an excuse to hold back.

From what it looks like, the issue stemmed from a program that interfaces with digital signatures and determines whether or not a program is legitimate and licensed. Somehow there was a vulnerability in the sequence that opened a door so huge, even the NSA considered it too much of a breach of privacy for individuals and businesses. As far as we know, this was not an issue on machines running Windows 7.

So, I Might As Well Stay With Windows 7, Right?

Not so fast, buddy. Yeah, we’ll be the first to admit that this whole situation doesn’t smell right and was most likely the result of Microsoft trying to save face, but don’t make this is an excuse to stay with Windows 7 if you haven’t already upgraded. Security concerns are a fact of life and having one doesn’t make Windows 10 any better or worse than other versions. Think about your favorite version of Windows and it probably had dozens of issues that needed to be resolved over the years. Yes Microsoft indeed caused this problem themselves and it wasn’t just a way in that hackers devised, but again, that’s to be expected from time to time. Both Microsoft and the NSA said that neither was aware of anyone having been pirated as a result of this vulnerability.

When it comes down to it, here is the hard fact of the matter: although this flaw in Windows 10 wasn’t great, it was fixed quickly, and any other issues or vulnerabilities will be continued to be fixed for the foreseeable future. Windows 7, on the other hand, is dead and is never coming back.

Think of it this way: would you still run Windows 95 on your computer? Chances are your answer would be an emphatic no. And why not? Most likely due to a lack of functionality and security issues. Well, if not Windows 95, why not Windows 98, NT, ME or XP? Probably for the same reasons as for Windows 95.

Although Windows 7 still works and was just recently updated, it’s no different than any other previous version of Windows. Those who still use older versions can be and are hacked regularly. Why? Because they aren’t supported, so hacking them gets easier every day.

Looking Ahead

We understand that if your business still hasn’t updated from Windows 7, there is most likely a good reason besides just being lazy. There are always several considerations to making changes, such as hardware upgrades, data migration, and even software compatibility. For a company that isn’t equipped for all of this, upgrading may be an overwhelming prospect.

If you find yourself in that situation, please contact us to see how we can help your business move forward and stay there. Whether you need a one-time service or perhaps full MSP coverage, our team of professionals is here to help.

Beware of Ransomware!

As we enter 2020 and look back on the past decade, we see how much business and technology have evolved. For example, smartphones went from being a toy that those dang Millennials couldn’t get out of their faces (and the real reason they don’t have jobs, according to everyone’s uncle) to one of the most important fields of computing and marketing. We have also seen the rise and domination of cloud computing and online retailing.

As we progress further into the future, however, old foes that once lurked in the shadows have become dominant forces of disruption. One cyber threat to our modern world that has been around as long as most of us have been online is the common computer virus. And those viruses seem to grow stronger every year. With the start of the new year, let’s go over what we should be concerned with and how to protect yourself and your business.

Enemy at the Gates

Without a doubt, the word that strikes terrors in mortals throughout the business tech world is ransomware. We’ve covered this topic in great detail previously, but due to the ever-present and ever-evolving threat, it’s worth revisiting regularly. In fact, just recently, the entire city of New Orleans declared a state of emergency due to a particularly nasty ransomware attack.

Essentially, ransomware is a combination of a garden variety virus and kidnapper. Once your system is infiltrated, a portion or all of your system is locked out and an automated process or live person sends you a message explaining your situation and their demands. Think of it as less “nice place you have here — shame if something were to happen to it,” and more of an offer you can’t refuse. Once the demands are met, your system and data are supposed to be released back to you.

The FBI officially recommends that you don’t give in to their demands as this will only feed the problem, though they have made it clear that they understand that it is often less expensive to just pay the hackers than have the problem mitigated. Sadly, although these criminals do typically honor their word, there is no guarantee. In addition, there have been stories of companies that went through the effort of getting control of their system back on their own, only to see that some or all of the data had been lost, deleted, or put up for sale on the Dark Web.

Are You Prepared?

In short, if you have to ask this question, the answer is probably no. Simply avoiding strange websites or having an antivirus isn’t enough. We’re not just talking about random guys with a computer on their bed looking for a couple of extra bucks. Due to this being a more publicized, successful and profitable scheme, we’re seeing both an increase in volume as well as sophistication.

These are pirate attacks. When we think of pirates, we may have an image of the Hollywood dirty, toothless, bumbling buccaneers. But the truth is that pirates in all forms have always had to stay one step ahead of countermeasures against them. A solution that worked a decade ago — or even a year ago — might be outdated now, and it could open you and your company up to an attack.

Don’t Let This Slide

Cybersecurity is something that far too many companies put to the side and don’t pay much attention to. The problem with that attitude is that one minute you’re safe and the next minute your company’s data is at the mercy of some shadowy figure from the other side of the world — at least as far as you know. This isn’t an easy fix, like certain health problems that grow over time and can be managed by making simple changes once discovered.

One of the biggest transformations in recent years is how absolutely everything is done digitally. From Grandma’s recipes to Amazon’s shopping cart system, very little if anything is done on paper anymore. Gone are the days of towering filing cabinets, as they have been replaced with towering servers, either onsite or at a hosting location.

Obviously, if you lose access to your data, that will put your company out of commission for at least a few days, but probably much longer. Also, if something goes south with the ransomware attack, losing your data altogether can be a gamechanger — if not a game-ender.

A third problem that could also arise is if the person hacking into your system decides to ransom, sell or out just leak the data itself. Going back to the idea of more and more information being available digitally, think of the damage that can be done to your business if all of your customer’s credit card information was auctioned to the highest bidder. Or, if you’re a medical office, what would the repercussions be if your patients’ information was leaked. These aren’t hypothetical situations — they are reported by the news on a regular basis.

The Situation Isn’t Hopeless

It isn’t all bad news. Thankfully, there are companies that are ready and able to help you combat these threats as they arise. If you don’t have a system in place to protect your company or feel that what you currently have is inadequate, contact us to see what we can do to protect you against the everchanging threats to your cybersecurity.

Remember: the best way to keep hackers out of your system is to make sure they don’t get in there in the first place.

Cybersecurity for Small Businesses

If you own or run a small business you know, better than anyone, that it’s not easy work. It takes a lot of time and energy to meet the demands expected of you every week. That’s why certain aspects of running a business, such as cybersecurity, often take a backseat to other, more urgent issues. Many small business owners look at cybersecurity as something they’ll get to when they have the time. Others rely on whoever in-house knows the most about computers.

Some employees might have the basic computer knowledge to get by, but a do-it-yourself (DIY) security approach isn’t the best choice. Let’s take a look at some reasons why outsourcing cybersecurity might be your best solution.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In a recent survey, 87% of small business owners felt they were at low risk of ever being attacked. Even more alarming, 30% had absolutely no security solution at all. However, since 2016 at least 50% of small businesses have had at least one cyber-attack of some sort. That appears to mean that 37% of small businesses have already been attacked and still feel at low risk.

On average, a small business has a 60% chance of shutting down within a few months of a breach. Let that sink in. While many small businesses play fast and loose with security risks, the majority won’t live to tell the tale past a hack. A huge percentage of small businesses are happily swimming in the waters of commerce unaware of the school of piranhas forming underneath them because most of the previous victims have disappeared without a trace.

No One Is Too Small

Small businesses falsely assume that no one sees their company as attack-worthy. They think larger businesses are bigger targets due to their size and income. Everyone is a target. In fact, it’s worse for small businesses because they not only have less ave less security, but their valuable information often lacks appropriate backup.

What’s Good for the Goose Isn’t Good for the Gander

When implementing cybersecurity prevention for a small business, many people turn to what they’re familiar with. This often takes the form of relying solely on basic virus protection. While programs like these are certainly better than nothing, there’s more to do than controlling the spread of viruses. Cybercriminals are more motivated than ever before, and some hackers even work in teams to attack your computers until they find a way in. Single-layer, consumer-level solutions are not the best defense.

The Rising Threat of Ransomware

Hackers are far from dumb criminals. They know exactly what they’re doing. If a hacker encrypts the information on a single computer in a small business, there’s a good chance they can infiltrate the rest of the business, holding it captive using a ransomware attack.

When a hacker takes over your information, they hold it hostage until you pay the ransom, just like in a physical ransom situation. Just how much ransom are we talking about? According to some experts, half of all ransomware payments made by businesses amount to more than $10,000. 20% are more than $40,000. If you’re a large corporation, that could be a drop in the bucket. But for a small business, the cost is far more damaging. The ransom payment could amount to months of payroll. It’s no wonder that many small businesses close up shop after being attacked just once!

The Bottom Line

Take heart. This is not a hopeless situation. Nothing could be further from the truth! A small business simply needs to prepare. One of the biggest hurdles to having a comprehensive security plan is the cost. Most small businesses dream of having one dedicated cybersecurity person, let alone supporting a division like many larger companies. What is a more reasonable option?

MSPs (Managed Service Providers) are a way of outsourcing this difficult but important aspect of your business. Find a company that deals with small businesses regularly, like we do. MSPs understand the best ways to implement a security solution appropriate for your unique situation at a reasonable price. After all, a solution will only work if it keeps pace with the cybercriminals who are after your assets.

Hackers are After Healthcare Information

When you think of a hacker frantically tapping away in a dark room, who do you think he’s targeting? Banks? The government? Try healthcare information. 2018 saw three times as many healthcare-related cyberattacks as the year prior, and 2019 is holding onto that momentum.

Healthcare breaches are much larger in scope than we imagine. While you might think this affects a few dozen people at most, these hacks end up gathering information on thousands — sometimes millions — of patients at a time. One of the largest beaches this year (AMCA), exposed over 20 million patients. While these numbers can be mind-boggling, they do bring some important questions to mind.

Why Do Hackers Target Healthcare Information?

What possible reason could hackers have to want to know about that time you got ringworm at the gym or that you occasionally get heartburn? Healthcare records aren’t targeted for that information, but are actually prized for “full information”. Full information includes names, addresses, birthdates, and Social Security numbers. If someone steals your credit card information, you can have the card canceled and useless within a few minutes. Full information, on the other hand, includes personal information that rarely or never changes.

While we think about credit card information sold on the Dark Web, medical information is even more valuable. Just how valuable? According to current estimates, your medical record can fetch 10 to 60 times that of your credit card information! Once it’s in the wrong hands, that information can be devastating to your credit into the foreseeable future.

How Is Healthcare Information So Easily Breached?

Unfortunately, most healthcare organizations and those that work with them don’t take the hacking threat seriously. Here are some of the biggest factors contributing to this epidemic.

Older Systems

The healthcare industry is notorious for being slow to upgrade their computer systems. One reason is that many healthcare offices are small and have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Also, HIPAA requirements are quite strict so finding new software can be a daunting task. There’s even a debate about whether or not newer operating systems are HIPAA compliant. Older, out-of-date software and systems are low hanging fruit for cybercriminals.

No Security Department

Think of your primary care physician’s office. You may be familiar with your doctor, the nurses, and the billing people, but when was the last time you saw an IT department? Many smaller offices don’t have the resources or the wherewithal to have something like this formally set up. They depend on the general staff —who are often overworked as it is — to take care of the day-to-day technical issues. Even if the entire staff is competent in this area, this would be a major undertaking.

Massive Interconnectivity

You might remember having to wait while people faxed/mailed your medical records from one place to another if you changed doctors or had to have treatment at a different location. Now, it takes a few minutes while things electronically transfer. We expect convenience, but it comes at a cost. Many medical facilities and hospitals constantly send information back and forth throughout the day. The more points of transfer in a system, the more opportunities there are for someone to find an entry point.

Various Devices

Along with being interconnected, healthcare is more and more dependant on technology. In many areas, modern healthcare facilities look more like a futuristic spaceship than a hospital! Remember that every piece of technology that uses medical information is a potential target for hackers. While the main servers might be heavily protected, who makes sure that the third desktop at the nurse’s station on the second floor has its security updated? What about the rolling computer used for billing or the tablet used by one of the surgeons? Any of these devices open the door for someone to gain access to all of the patients in the system.

Out of sight, out of mind

Unfortunately, this is most likely the main cause of hacks in the healthcare system. Medical professionals are well aware of the idea of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore this when it comes to their IT, waiting until a disaster to force necessary changes.

If you are in the healthcare industry or work with healthcare information (i.e. lawyers, billing departments, accountants), don’t wait before it’s too late to turn a new leaf. If you frequent doctor’s offices, make sure they know the importance of cybersecurity. The last thing you want is to be on the news as the latest victim.

Rise of Ransomeware

From a technology standpoint, there’s never been a better time to be alive. Chatting with people for free all across the world or opening your front door at home while in a business meeting, it seems that our interconnected world has unlimited possibilities. Sadly, that can go really wrong when people with less than pure motives take advantage. Viruses and other threats are on the rise, and there is one word whose very mention sends shivers down the spine of mortal cybersecurity professionals everywhere: ransomware.

Ransome is so frightening because of how quickly it is becoming a major issue across all systems worldwide and how devastating it is for businesses. Today, we will be discussing this threat and what you need to do to keep it out of your business.

Know Thy Enemy

What exactly is ransomware and why should you care? Like other computer threats (think viruses or trojan horses), ransomware has a colorful name that aptly describes what it does. In fact, it’s exactly what it sounds like: someone holds your data or computer access hostage until you pay a ransom. Depending on the circumstances, this can range from a relatively small sum to well over $1,000,000.

These attacks rarely occur on their own. Most often they are part of an email phishing scheme. As criminals have become more and more sophisticated, attacks like these — that only suckers used to fall for — are becoming common even among seasoned professionals.

The Rise

Ransomware has grown to by one of the top cyber threats your company faces. To put this in perspective, in 2018, we saw a 300% increase in ransomware attacks from the year before. So far in 2019, we’ve seen even more attacks than all of last year.

Why the increase? Frankly, because it works. While the ransom can be quite high, most hackers consider the size of the company and value of the data. In most cases, they set the price cheaper than manually restoring the data, so many companies just pay the ransom and hope if they don’t have a proper backup. The FBI recommends not paying so as to not encourage the hackers, but they also recognize that this may actually be the only option for many organizations without the proper security protocols in place.

(In)Famous Status

Ransomware has been popular in the news lately because hackers are targeting governments of all sizes, in addition to businesses. For instance, in the state of Florida alone, seven municipalities have been victims. In April, the city of Tallahassee paid $500,000 to get access to critical systems and data after an attack. They paid for the attack by diverting funds from employee payroll. The city of Riviera Beach paid over $600,000 in Bitcoin for a similar attack in May after an employee fell for a phishing scam!

National governments are also falling victim! The government of Ecuador said that have seen over 40 million attempts to hack into their system. A few have been successful, resulting in expensive ransoms.

What Does This All Mean?

Saying that “ransomware is here to stay,” would be a massive understatement. However, there is a bit of good news about this. While ransomware itself is a relatively new threat, it uses old standbys to enter your computer in the first place. Ransomware affects your system after hitching a ride on another threat, such as a virus or phishing attempt. Think of it this way. In the past few years, zika, a dangerous virus passed on by mosquitos has been on the rise. Because it’s transmitted by a known pest, we can use the same precautions we’ve always used against mosquitos to prevent infection. This would include repellent, avoiding standing water and wearing long clothing.

Similarly, the best way to avoid ransomware is to protect your network against many of the same threats we’ve always faced with computers. This means being proactive and keeping your system safe before the ransomware can have access to your vital data. In the event of a breach, you also need to have a viable back-up to seamlessly rollback before the attack.

How well does your current system protect you from ransomware and other