Understanding and Ensuring Cyber Security

Understanding and Ensuring Cyber Security

Alex Pullen

What is Cyber Security?

As more companies rely on computers, the internet, and cloud-based technology for everyday business services, more and more threats to these systems emerge. Cyber security is the body of policies, processes, and technologies designed to protect networks, devices, programs, and your data from attack, damage, or unauthorized access.

Why is Cyber Security Important?

Security may not seem that important at first glance, but depending on the industry you are in, it may have major consequences if your network or systems are breached. Generally, the government, military, corporate, financial, and medical organizations hold data that malicious actors would like for themselves, or to sell to others on the “dark web.” In the last year though, traditional targets are expanded upon as society is now being affected by mass misinformation campaigns, ransomware attacks, and botnets.

Information bad actors look for can include:

  • Embarrassing information that could damage the company’s reputation
  • Digital services you and your company use
  • Emails, passwords, account names, phone numbers
  • Donor information, client lists, board information
  • Financial corporate data
  • Proprietary information
  • Access to your hardware to do criminal activities or to mine bitcoin on your systems
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Credit cards, bank account info, addresses – fraud and identity theft
  • Medical records, SSN, insurance information, etc.

What is Ransomware?

A malicious actor may not be satisfied with just entering, and stealing information from your company’s network or your private network. Ransomware is encryption software a malicious hacker uses to encrypt your files, and they keep the decryption key. Once all of the files on your computer are locked, you are notified that you must pay a fee usually in bitcoin, to have your hard drive unlocked/decrypted. Ransoms in 2020 were measured in the $10s of millions of dollars as institutions were brought to their knees by these state-sponsored bad actors. Ransomware is increasingly being used across all sectors including the medical sector.

Learn more about how to prevent ransomware.

What Can I Do?

If you are looking for some tips to get you started check out the notes below.

Proper Hardware & Network Configuration:

Before we can secure a system, we need to know the components of that system. The foundation of network security is knowing and maintaining an inventory of all the hardware that is on your network. This includes the endpoints (desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, sensors, cameras switches routers, databases) that are on your network.

Quick Network Security Tips:

  • Inventory everything in your network
  • Keep all operating systems up to date and all software and services up to date
  • Implement Network Access (NAC) controls to keep unauthorized devices off the network
  • Implement an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) to alert you of suspicious activity
  • Maintain an antivirus/malware scanner
  • Subscribe to newsletters for the services you use (they will let you know about vulnerabilities)

Password Management:

Password management is an essential part of developing a more advanced security posture. With current computer technology, a six-character password can be “brute forced” in a matter of minutes or seconds. Requiring passwords that are 12-16 characters long and that use special characters and upper and lower case can increases the time needed to crack these passwords to ~250 years.

So, requiring your customers, staff, and faculty to have strong passwords significantly hardens the attack surface malicious users have access to.

Strong Password Tips:

Try to think of a “passphrase” to make your password longer and easy to remember

  • Ex. Wat3rMakesmeh@ppy
  • Ex. MountainsoverR!vers
    Ex. Fun/<ySnowd@nce
  • Don’t like remembering long passwords? Use LastPass, the industry standard for password management. Check them out here: https://www.lastpass.com/
  • Rotate your passwords every 90 days or annually, or if you suspect compromise.
  • Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
  • Use the “have I been pwned” service to see if your email and password information was breached in the past: https://haveibeenpwned.com/
  • If your information is on the haveibeenpwned.com site, be sure to update all associated information with those accounts or other accounts with the same passwords.


Tips for Securing Your Home Office

Just because you are working from home does not make your data safer. In 2020 there was a major spike in Phishing scams averaging 1,185 phishing attacks per month per organization. Malicious actors are capitalizing on the global pandemic crisis to get people to give up personal information online or click a link that downloads malware to your computer.

Due to the fact that people are working and studying from home and using new services, companies may have less control over the hardware that you use and it may not be maintained as consistently. This environment is ripe with opportunities for malicious actors to steal your personal information, identity, and possibly ransom your data or allocate your hardware to a botnet used for criminal activity or mining bitcoin.

Watch Out for Phishing Scams: Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details, by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an email, text, or phone call. Never click on links or attachments in emails that look suspicious and especially if you don’t know the sender.

Remove Unnecessary and Risky Applications: If you don’t need an application or service it should be removed. Also remember that your favorite free game, a free font, or a free service may also set up your computer or phone as part of a botnet and be mining bitcoin for someone else.

Antivirus and Malware: Antivirus and Malware scanners are a great tool for discovering if known malware, adware or viruses are on your systems. The limitation is that they don’t always catch “new” exploits or viruses that are released.

Enable Your Firewall: A firewall is a list of rules that allow or deny traffic through your network. Enabling your firewall will allow it to reject network information that could be malicious or seems strange.

Updates and Software Patches: Updating your host machine’s operating system and keeping all software up to date and patched is an important part of your home office cyber security posture. Updates fix bugs and vulnerabilities and retire old code so that your machine can run more efficiently and securely.

Keep Your Network Secure: Maintaining a strong password on your home network and changing it annually is a good start. If you have lots of guests using the network, you could set up a separate network for guests so they wouldn’t have access to any tools like cameras that would be connected to your network. Your network’s name or SSID can also be hidden.

Regularly Schedule Backups: Backups are an essential part of a home office. Ensure you have on-site or cloud-based backups and that you’ve tested them.

Switch off voice-controlled smart devices at your home workstation and cover the webcam when you’re not using it: Personal Privacy in the digital age is a huge issue and now more so with people working remotely from home. Cameras and microphones in smart devices can be attacked and your data could be stolen. Ie. Pictures of the inside of your home office and audio recordings in your home.

Public WIFI? Use a VPN: All the traffic that goes through the router at your favorite coffee shop is available for others to see. Before you log into your bank account, remember that, and make sure you are using a secure HTTPS connection and ideally using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to both encrypt the data you’re sending and hide your physical location.

Log off and secure devices when not using them: Even if you’re only walking away for a second log off from your machine so that it is not accessible during your absence. And, when you are done working log out and put all of your devices and hard drives in a secure location. This is imperative not only from the malicious actor’s standpoint, but also, accidents happen… Water or a pet could damage your computer or hard drive.

Updates and Security Implications

We all see those pop-ups on our mac or windows operating system or mobile device telling us it’s time to update the software or operating system.

It may seem convenient to do it later, but the reality, by leaving your device or service out of date, your personally-identifying data are vulnerable to being sold and/or ransomed.

The sooner you update the more secure your data will be and your device. You will have more peace of mind and better functionality as well.

Note – PCI Compliance: Businesses that process transactions or personally identifiable information online are required to update and patch systems within one month of critical release.

What Do Software Updates Do?

There are plenty of benefits to updating your software. These include filling holes in the infrastructure for security reasons, updating functionality, and removing bugs. Since there are so many users now, big companies like Microsoft and Apple get lots of data on user feedback and experience so in general the software is getting better, more user-friendly, and more secure.

How Do Updates Help Patch Security Flaws?

Just like any criminal, a hacker is looking for flaws in your security system. Bad actors can take advantage of the “gaps” in your security and do many things. They can download malware or back doors into your systems allowing complete access and stealing the information, possibly selling it, or lock you out of your own system and ransoming the information back to you.

The community of software engineers and beneficial hackers helps find these errors in security in different applications and are reported and “patched” in the next update. In some cases, there can be major flaws not seen upon initial release, that are discovered in the wild, and then multiple critical patches can be pushed out in one subsequent update. If you haven’t updated in a year, there could be multiple critical known vulnerabilities on your system.

It’s also important to note that some software is so old it is no longer supported or deprecated. A good example of this is Windows 7. Windows 7 is a highly vulnerable operating system used in teaching the next generation of hackers how to hack. It should not be used in the business environment.

How Do Software Updates Protect My Data?

We all keep lots of important documents on our computers and mobile devices. We keep copies of things like our taxes, passports, all of our account login information, photographs, and videos. These documents hold important details about our lives.

It’s called Personally-Identifying Information, with this data, people commit identity theft and fraud. They can take out loans in your name, guess your security questions, and possibly ruin your credit, which can take years to fix.

Think of the Community

The internet is a community of devices that delicately interacts to perform all the tasks we ask of it. We ask it for information, products and media, and data constantly. By keeping our own software and operating systems up to date, we help ensure that we are not a means of transmission of malware and viruses.

Long Story Short

In summary, we recommend updating your systems after being notified of critical vulnerabilities, or quarterly, every 90 days. The longer you wait, the more vulnerable your systems are. Also, waiting too long may mean your software licenses have expired or, that other services you use may not be compatible with the updated software. So update often to avoid being hacked or having your system fall apart because it’s not supported any longer.

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