Basic Cyber Security

Many customers we see during our daily work (and rescues) don’t even have the most basic cyber security measures in place. The author intends this article for the non-technical business owner or manager, to assist and educate the need to protect their business and computer users against ever-evolving cyber threats.

Cyber security threats are continually evolving. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, Spyware, Phishing, Adware and Scare-ware have all been around for a long time. Lately, one particular form of malware known as Ransomware has been creating havoc with businesses and organisations worldwide.

Ransomware, when detonated works by locking up your files using encryption. The cyber criminal then demands a ransom from the victim in bitcoins. In theory this ransom gets a code that allows the unlocking of your vital files. However some cyber criminals are not very honest in this respect. They just take your ransom and you don’t get a code.

Ransomware

In all cases we have seen, humans detonate the ransomware package at an endpoint in the network. Ransomware mostly arrives in email as either an attachment or as a link to a malicious or compromised website. Ransomware spreads also from software downloads, websites and advertising delivered over online ad networks.

What can you do?

Educating yourself and your employees are the #1 defense against cyber criminals.

  • Three years ago, in the olden days, we used to say don’t open an email or attachment from someone you don’t know. These days that rule still applies, however, we have seen cases of ransomware being “redistributed” to everybody in the victim’s email address book, so it’s not just people you don’t know that you can’t trust.
  • Think about that attachment or link you are about to open. Common sense applies. Were you really expecting an invoice from your mother? Were you really expecting that traffic ticket from the police? (Think – how did the Police ever get your email address?)
  • If in doubt about an email then phone the person up and ask if they just sent you that attachment. Better to be safe than sorry.

The most basic cyber security needed on your computers and network.

  • Every endpoint in your network (Cell-phones, Laptops, Desktops, Servers etc.) must have up to date and functional business grade Anti-Virus software.
  • Apply Operating System patches. Manufacturers like Apple, Microsoft and others regularly release patches and updates to fix vulnerabilities that have been discovered (mostly by cyber criminals) in their operating systems.
  • Apply application patches. Products like Office, Adobe, Chrome to name but a few, all have vulnerabilities and exploits. As these exploits get discovered patches are released by the manufacturers to remedy the situation.
  • Always use the latest version of the operating system available. Whilst Microsoft’s Windows 7 is still around and a good operating system, Windows 10 is inherently much more secure.
  • Restrict administrative privileges. Only log in as the administrator to perform administrative functions. Your regular login (and your employees) should only have standard user rights. Why? This makes it harder for malware to be installed, as installation usually requires administrative privileges.
  • Backup your data daily. This needs to be business grade and not to a shared drive on the network. Why? Most ransomware will spread to every “share” it can find – too bad if that is your backup. With regards to ransomware the phrase “Backup or Pay up” springs to mind.

Beyond basic – The next level of cyber security measures.

Once the basics are covered off, we can then talk topics like firewalls, VPN, cloud virus and spam pre-filtering of emails, changing settings in software, 2-factor authentication, and an application that detects and stops unauthorized encryption etc. These will give a much more comprehensive solution beyond basic, however “comprehensive” is probably beyond the scope of this document titled “Basic Cyber Security” and would make it rather long and too technical.

How can Computer Troubleshooters help?

  • Businesses without their own IT resource will often need assistance in implementing these basic cyber security measures. As an IT department for the small and medium-sized businesses, Computer Troubleshooters can be your IT resource.
  • We are able to deploy a management system to your computer(s) and network that keeps a track of your Anti-Virus, Patching, and Backups etc. This system reports to our service desk when things are going away.
  • We are able to assist with your staff training, with a presentation and booklets etc.

Technical Stuff/Further Reading

NZ Government Communications Security Bureau – NZ Information Security Manual Download Page

 

BackUp or Business Continuity

The facts according to the Boston Computing Network’s Data Loss Statistics, are that 60% of companies that lose their data, will shut down within 6 months of the disaster. This is something that every business wants to avoid.

The following article provides a high-level understanding of how, as a business owner the question for you is one of Business Continuity of which Backup is a key component.

What is Business Continuity?

Business continuity involves a mindset of being proactive and putting plans, processes and systems in place, so that when the unexpected occurs you can return to normal operations with minimal delay thereby reducing the level of disruption and cost to your business.

The aim is to ensure that all essential functions can be up and running or be returned to operational status quickly during various unexpected events such as a natural disaster (Flood, Fire), cyberattacks, theft, or major IT system failure.

What is involved?

The key aspect is to develop a plan that then is well communicated and understood by your staff so they know what to do when the disaster occurs. Like all plans, if it is not communicated and shared then it’s not worth the paper that it is written on.

The process of writing the plan involves identifying the key risks, identifying the ways you can prevent those risks occurring for instance:

  • risk is data loss
  • prevention is designing and implementing a multilevel backup solution.

Then the last element of the plan is documenting the steps in responding and recovery if an incident occurs that does bring down your systems.

Businesses today are more reliant than ever on IT, one of the biggest threats these days being a cybersecurity breach. A fair portion of the plan will need to focus on recovery from an IT disaster.

The plan will need to be reviewed regularly as a business grows and circumstances change and the recovery processes should be thoroughly tested to ensure it will work.

What are your backup options?

There are many options available to businesses these days for backup. With today’s modern technologies and cloud storage services, a hybrid combination of traditional on-site backup plus off-site backup to the cloud, has become the popular choice amongst businesses wanting to ensure high levels of continuity.

The key questions in making a choice is determining the level of risk and the importance of the system and the data that is being backed up. Answering these questions will impact on the choice that you make. You can see I have not mentioned cost or price. One might ask Why? Well because you need to remember this is about having a solution that will minimise the cost of failure which will far outweigh the cost of the solution you choose.

If you are not certain about this statement ask somebody who has experienced the loss of data due to a failed system backup.

What are the traditional onsite backup options?

Onsite with machines all backing up either to tape or disc and then being stored onsite. Usually scheduled to occur daily, every couple of days, or weekly. The greatest weakness is that if something happens to the premises the backups can become corrupted and lost and an external service provider such as Kroll Ontrack may need to be used to try and recover the data.

To overcome the above weakness some business’s will transport the discs/ tapes to an offsite location where they are stored.

What is happening today?

The cost of online storage has reduced with the introduction of data centre services and the continued adoption of cloud storage services. Today most businesses will have a recovery strategy based around using cloud storage, with onsite backup devices that then replicate to a data centre.

The drivers behind this are many but one can put it down to speed of recovery, ability to quickly monitor and ensure backup has occurred, hence no unpleasant surprises if a data loss breach or cyberattack occurs.

 What next?      

The first step is to make sure you have a plan and an understanding of your options. This is where you should have a chat with your local computer troubleshooter to understand how they can help you to minimise the disruption to your business from a data loss/breach. Contact us now for free consultation.

Protecting a Business against Ransomware and Scams

Every day, every month there is a new threat to being able to conduct business effectively and efficiently. How do you protect a business from the threat of disruption whether it is a scam, virus, ransomware or simple network or internet failure?

Dr Hossein Sarrafzadeh, director of the Centre of Computational Intelligence for Cyber Security at Unitec Auckland said ransomware affected tens of thousands of people and is estimated to have profited the criminals to the tune of US$1 billion in 2016.

The majority of cyber-attacks in New Zealand still go unreported, though figures released by New Zealand’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) this year showed that attacks have more than doubled since 2011.

Scams continue to become more sophisticated using modern technology to make fake emails, invoices, and websites appearing legitimate to even the most astute business person. These scams have devastating effects on businesses by eroding the investment they have made in their reputation, increasing operational costs and in certain cases crippling the business from operating.

 

This article looks at how a business can avoid becoming a victim of a scam by ensuring they have the right support and systems in place to minimise the risk of disruption.

Why does size matter?

Larger organisations have the resources, time and budgets to invest in ensuring they are not subject to an attack. As the headlines indicate even with this effort they are not always successful in defending themselves.  The reality is that as smaller organisations are hampered by the amount of money and resources they can spend on IT, means that these organisations are an easier target for the cyber criminals.  The cyber-criminal finds it easier to get in and often it takes longer to detect meaning more havoc created.

Smaller organisations are often a means to access and breach larger organisations. Why? Because the smaller organisation is often the weakest link (security wise) in a supply chain relationship thereby providing an entry point to the larger business partner.

What are the key elements to protect Business Continuity? 

One must ask if the IT environment something that can just be left alone or does it need to be looked after? The answer is obvious it needs to be managed and looked after, it needs somebody who is accountable and responsible for ensuring that the risk is minimised.

For smaller organisations this leads to either employing a resource or developing a relationship with an IT Service provider who is accountable. It makes sense to develop a relationship where the provider is on the front foot and is monitoring all key elements and maintaining an organisations systems in advance of something going wrong. This is commonsense as it is about protecting against a major disruption to a business.

The key components that need to be looked at are:

  • Data back-up/ Business continuity
  • Security of endpoints
  • Network configurations, performance and access
  • Email access and security
  • Software up to date
  • Patch management (ensuring your users are up to date on all updates to the operating system or the Anti-Virus software is the latest.)
  • Website performance and content filtering
  • Password management
  • Monitoring

The key element for a business owner is to understand how this approach shifts the nature of the relationship with your IT provider from being reactive to proactive. It means the IT provider is preventing breakdowns instead of reacting to a break down. This means a monthly fee for the maintenance rather than a call out figure. It means the provider is monitoring and using tools to remotely manage and perform maintenance activities.

What does this cost?

The key thing to remember this is an investment in ensuring a business is not disrupted. Some providers will charge per device; others will charge a monthly figure based on complexity of what they are managing; others will charge based on per user.

As a business owner understand what is included and what is not and what service agreement does the provider use. For instance, at Computer Troubleshooters we provide a 100% guarantee. Contact us now for more information.

Final Thought

Change is hard to accept for anybody and in the case of IT management it is hard for people to see the monthly outlay as an investment in their future. But this is exactly what it is. It is a strategic investment that allows a business to minimize the risk of disruption and ensure it can continue to grow and develop.

Sources of information for this article:

Watchguard: The Cyber Crime Guide for small and midsize business

Datto: WannaCry the ransomware Crisis explained

Stay Smart Online  Small business guide Protect your business in 5 minutes

Cert NZ Petya Ransomware Campaign