Make your business Cyber Secure

In my previous post I wrote about the key Cyber Security threats that individuals and businesses of all sizes face. If you’ve not read it you can catch up here.

This time around I am going to review some of the key protective measures that you can take. Measures that will make your business harder to defraud, harder to hack and less likely to fall victim to Cyber Crime.

Let’s start with your website. Hackers around the world are queuing up to take over your website or to simply to bring it too it’s knees to stop it working so they can demand money to restore it to good working order. This latter approach is a Distributed Denial of Service attack – aka DDoS. (My previous blog describes a DDoS so I won’t replicate the description here, for brevity).

How do you stop a DDoS attack from bringing your website down

DDoS attacks are happening all around the world, right now, as you can see from this Cyber Attack screenshot

Chart of global DDos Attacks
From https://www.digitalattackmap.com

There are two approaches. You can choose a web host that has the necessary provisions in place to ensure that they have the connectivity and technology to make sure that DDoS attacks can’t prevent their web servers from running. They will use a variety of technology, including sophisticated firewalls, traffic filtering and DDoS defence systems. Not all web hosts offer such a high security level so you’ll have to shop around.

A better option, in my opinion, is to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A CDN uses many servers located around the globe. This means that if a single server location is targeted regular visitors are simply directed to the next nearest server, totally mitigating the threat. Another big benefit of CDNs is that they also mean that if your website targets different countries then visitors from those countries will connect to your web server that is closest to them – which ensures that your website is always delivered at the fastest possible speed – which benefits both the visitor and your SEO because no-one, not least Google, likes a slow website. Top CDNS are Cloudflare, Amazon Cloudfront and Microsoft Azure

Passwords

I know, I know, I am always banging on about Passwords but passwords are gateways in to PCs, Phones, Networks, your web host and so much more.

So, your gateway passwords needs to be really secure if you want to keep the hackers out – and you really do want to keep them out. You might think that there’d be no interest in your website but hackers are targeting every single website they can find. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre recommend using a password comprising of 3 random words and a unique password for every site you access. I recently made a short video about this very topic

Firewalls

File:Gateway firewall.svg - Wikimedia Commons

A Firewall provides an impenetrable, unhackable barrier (provided it’s properly configured) between the internet and your computer or computer network.

Yes, Windows has a Firewall and it’s certainly better than having no firewall at all but, in reality, it’s about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. It’s just too easy to misconfigure, especially if you have a small network and have fiddled with the settings as you try to share files and folders from one PC to another.It might deter the casual hacker but won’t stop a determined one.

There are software firewalls that are provided by the same companies that sell anti-virus software. These are better than the Windows firewall but similar issues remain. Each device on your network has to have one installed and kept up to date.

A far better solution is to use a firewall appliance. A little box that goes between you, your internet router and the internet.

And talking about your router, the device that was supplied to you by your broadband provider. The router does include a Firewall but it’s a tad rudimentary, at best, and if you have’t set a secure password it will still be using the password and user name that it shipped with. This could be as daft as having “admin” as both the user name and password which makes as easy to access from the internet as it does from inside your home/home office or office.

And all somebody has to do is Google the make of router that’s used by broadband company X and the default user names and passwords are readily available. Targeted at those who might have lost their user manual but available to all.

These types of firewall are about as much use as a wall made of paper if you are running a business. It’s much better to invest in a dedicated firewall appliance.

The most popular are provided by Watchguard, SonicWall, Cisco and these prevent computers and networks from a wide range of Cyber attacks.

My set up looks like this. My office provider uses a Watchguard firewall in their comms room. I have a D-Link firewall in my office AND use the Windows firewall on my computers

VPN

Anonymous Collective Secret - Free photo on Pixabay

Imagine the scenario. You are in your favourite coffee shop and need to jump on their free Wi-Fi. You spot the password on a tent card on your table and fire up your laptop/Chromebook/tablet/phone and search for the Wi-Fi. There it is, right at the top “FreeCoffeeShopWiFi”. You click, you enter the password and you’re away.

You log in to your office email account, then your private email. Then a quick check of your bank account confirms that you have enough to buy that latest thing you’ve been after.

Later that day you check your emails. There’s an unexpected one from your favourite shopping site confirming a change of password – not something you remember doing – so you check your bank account. It’s empty, drained of everything while you were finishing your coffee.

What’s happened? When you logged in to the coffee shop WIFI you weren’t logging in to the legitimate account. Somebody had set up a clone inside the coffee shop, which you found and logged in to. The person behind the clone was “sniffing” all of the traffic going through their portable WiFi hotspot that they’d set up and were merrily pulling off websites, user names and passwords and happily started to spend other people’s money, including yours. This is known as a man-in-the-middle attack.

Could you have prevented it? EASILY.

File:VPN overview-en.svg - Wikimedia Commons

Just get yourself a VPN, they’re inexpensive but provide a very secure way to access the internet. Simply put, a VPN creates a secure, encrypted, private tunnel between your device (phone/tablet/laptop etc) and the destination website, (bank, email account, online shopping site etc). It doesn’t matter whether you are on a genuine account or a cloned account, your tunnel can’t be broken in to, your data is secure.

Another use of VPNs is when you work remotely and needs to access office files, remotely. A VPN will secure the data that moves between your office and your device and keep everything safe.

You might also use your VPN at home, just in case your neighbour is on your WiFi and “sniffing” your data.

And, finally, if you want to appear to be in a different country – let’s say you are on holiday abroad and want to watch BBC iPlayer content that is only available in the UK – you can use a VPN to give you a “point of presence” in the UK. Your VPN makes it look as though you are in the UK when in reality, it’s just the end of your VPN connection.

If you subscribe to a Google business service then you have free access to a Google VPN on your phones and tablets. If you don’t want to use that then some of the best are provided by ExpressVPN, TunnelBear and StrongVPN.

I use TunnelBear but am not an affiliate so if you sign up, there’s no benefit to me just added security for you

Not clicking

Phishing, SMSmishing and SpearPhishing emails are mainly designed to make you click on a link to visit a genuine looking but fake website where your log-in information can be harvested.

I’m going to be blunt – DON’T CLICK. If you think the email may be genuine you can either contact the sender (by phone or with a fresh email – not a “reply”) and ask them for clarification. If it’s a link to a website then enter the domain name yourself in your web browser, don’t click on the link in your email, don’t “copy” the link but DO hover over the link in your email program (it will have been designed to look legitimate) but hovering your cursor over it will show you where the click will actually go. It might look similar to the pukka site but won’t be. If the proper URL is company.com the fake address could look like company.com.fakesite.eu or company123987.com, for example.

Even if you believe the link to be valid, don’t click on it but either enter a URL you KNOW in your browser or search for the company. 99% of the time you’ll see that that your email is a fake, an attempt to extort you.

Fake News and Fake Reviews

Although you can’t prevent third parties from posting Fake News and Fake Reviews about your company, you can be on the lookout for the posts so you can take remedial action. Use tools such as Google Alerts and Drumup.io which can conduct keyword searches for your brand and alert you by email when something turns up that uses your brand or company name. Then you can see where the article has been posted and review it. If it’s obviously fake news you should post a reply AND contact the host of the review platform and advise them of this

Hacking

What can you do to prevent your devices and networks from being hacked?

File:Wallpapersden.com anonymous-hacker-working 1280x720.jpg - Wikimedia  Commons

You can use a Firewall to provide a secure “wall” between your network and the outside world. You can make sure that you have changed the default user-name and password and use a hard to crack password – something like the three random words recommended by the National Cyber Security Agency.

You should use biometric access controls, fingerprint or facial recognition on your phones, tablets and computing devices. You should be wary of emails and their attachments.

Ensure that your anti-virus programs are up to date and that Windows is allowed to keep itself up to date too.

You should consider encrypting your data, so if it is stolen then it won’t be of any value, or use, to anyone and you also need to be regularly backing up your computers and servers. AND don’t forget to regularly check that you can restore your backed up data. There’s nothing like finding out that your backups are corrupt, or discovering that you’ve not been backing up what you thought was being backed up, when you lose data. It’s too late then.

And finally, train your staff and keep their training up to date so they know how to identify potential threats and to whom they should share their concerns with.

Insider Threats

Office staff having a meeting
Office staff having a meeting

Insider threats are the most insidious. By definition, it’s people who you trust. So what can you do?

You should control what they have access to. Nobody outside the Accounts department (with the exception of some board members) needs to have access to financial systems, and files. Nobody outside of Sales needs to have access to details of ALL clients at all stages of the sales process. Give a lot of thought to who can see, and access, what.

Work hard to know your staff. Talk to them. Understand what makes them tick, their personal situation, without being creepily intrusive. Join conversations “around the water cooler”. Have an “open door” policy so that your people know they can bring their concerns to you.

You should also have a very clear policy on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) where people are permitted to use their personal phones, tablets and laptops and can connect them to the company networks and Wi-Fi. Yes, it’s a great way to save money by allowing people to use their own equipment but it opens up a whole host of risks.

  • What are they taking home with them to “work” on?
  • What websites do they visit during work time whilst connected to the company network?
  • What security protection are they using on their private devices?
  • What Social Media platforms are they on whilst in company time and on the company network
  • What policies are in place to manage their use of external memory devices (such as USB sticks and external hard drives)
  • What files and folders can they access

Ultimately, you might decide that the risk is not worth the saving and simply provide all the equipment and tools that your people need to be able to do their job.

USB Memory

USB Memory Stick

As discussed in my previous Post, “Top Cyber Security Threats to YOUR Business“, USB storage devices can be an absolute nightmare. You must have a policy in place that covers how they are used. How/whether your employees can use their own, what the policy is in relation to found devices. How you will manage lost devices that might have company information on them and an overall policy with regards to USB ports.

I know of many companies that have simply banned the use of unauthorised USB connections (remember, connecting a phone or tablet to charge it means that device can also be used as USB storage to remove data or introduce a virus).

I even know of one business owner who used superglue to ensure that absolutely nothing could be plugged in to the majority of computers and servers in his business. Even I agree that that was an extreme solution but I get his point.

Ransomware

Ransomware normally arrives either as an attachment on an email or via a link contained in an email so, good email security and data hygiene will minimise the risk from this threat

Viruses, Trojans and other Malware

A computer keyboard & virus targeting Cyber Security on your computer

Again, most viruses and trojans infiltrate a business via attachments on Emails and links in emails. The attachments might look like PDFs, Word or Excel documents or pictures but they won’t be. They will either have embedded macros (Word, Excel etc) or mask their true type. Something that looks like picture.jpg might actually be picture.jpg.exe – a file that will be run when clicked rather than a nice picture that will open when clicked.

And rogue USB devices remain an ever present threat.

Avoiding a lot of these threats comes down to good email security and data hygiene although this will be reliant on good training, regular updates and reminders.

You might have a decent anti-virus application running on all devices (including phones and tablets) but it’s a constant war. The cyber criminals are always on the lookout for ways to circumvent security software so you still need to be alert to the threats.

And Ditch Microsoft Windows

Yes, I know. It sounds almost like heresy, but Microsoft does have a bit of a reputation for insecurity. Yes, it’s better than it was but, as the most popular operating system, it’s also the most popular target for hackers. It even has it’s own day of the week – Patch Tuesday, when all manner of updates are released, including security fixes. Apple Macs are better. However, as sales increase so does the hackers interests and it’s not as secure as some would like you to think.

So is there a solution?

Linux - Wikipedia

Yes, it’s called Linux. It’s been around more than 30 years, is properly free and very secure.

But don’t you have to be a bit of a geek to install, and use a Linux machine?

Nope, not these days. For most, it’s as easy as installing Windows AND it even looks, and works, a lot like Windows because that’s what we’re all used to. I run a Linux machine in the office and it’s uses Linux Mint – which is probably one of the easiest to come to terms with. And you can learn more about Mint, download it and learn how to install it here. Another popular Linux distribution is from Ubuntu and you can run Ubuntu from a USB stick if you want to give it a try without installing – oh and you can also create dual-boot scenarios where you can keep Windows, install Linux and simply choose which one you want to run when you boot your PC.

I am not a cyber security expert although I’ve done my fair bit, especially when working in IT support, and I do my best to stay up to date so feel free to send any questions you might have to andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk or give me a call on 01793 238020 or 07966 547146, Tweet me @AndyPoulton or contact me on LinkedIn and if I can’t help, I know some real cyber security experts that I can put you in touch with.

Thanks for reading and if you need help with your #SEO or any other element of of your digital marketing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Andy Poulton
Chief SEO Officer
Enterprise Online Marketing Solutions

Top Cyber Security Threats to You & Your Business.

We are living through troubled times. Covid seemed to be under control, we were learning to live with it and we were starting to look forward to a quieter 2022.

And then Putin invaded Ukraine!

Computer log-in screen. Reduce the Cyber Security risk with strong passwords.

As a result of sanctions imposed on Russia by the West I have no doubt that the professional Russian Cyber Criminals have ramped up their activities. Not only to attack Ukraine but to attack western institutions for having the temerity to support Ukraine and actively punish Russia via sanctions.

I thought that my next two posts should focus on possible cyber security threats that this will pose. Why two posts? Simple – length and volume of information make it easier to take in of it’s split in two.

The first post, this one, will look at the threats we face as individuals and businesses when we use our computers and the internet. The second will took at ways that we can protect ourselves, and our businesses.

Although 100% security may be prohibitively expensive for SMEs most of us can do more to secure our data and reduce the risk from infiltration, theft, misuse and other malfeasances.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the top Cyber Threats that can be used against us, right now.

Distributed Denial of Service – DDoS

A DDoS attack is designed to bring a website, or internet connected system, to a standstill. Simply put, the Cyber Criminals will have gained access to a Botnet ( a network of internet connected devices that they have control over without the computer owners knowledge). They then issue commands to the Botnet to visit a given web address. When thousands of computers try to access a website the website grinds to a halt.

It’s analogous to closing a busy motorway and diverting all of the traffic on to a single lane, country, road. Very soon the road will be so full of traffic that everything grinds to a halt.

When the target website, or service, comes to a stop the hackers approach the website owners and demand a ransom payment, threatening to continue making the website unreachable until the ransom is paid. The busier the site the more it costs for it to be unavailable and the faster the owners are likely to pay.

As an example of this, in the last couple of years a major, online, bookies website was targeted. It was brought to a grinding halt for about 10 minutes. The criminals then contacted the company and identified themselves as the cause of the website failure. They demanded a ransom and threatened to bring the website to a halt over a significant betting weekend (Cheltenham Gold Cup weekend to be precise). For obvious reasons, it’s unknown whether the betting website paid up, or not.

Fake News

Fake news is insidious. Whenever something controversial happens there will always be people posting fake news, and reporting fake news, with the aim of either reducing the apparent severity of reported activity or distracting the news consumer, encouraging them to take their eye off the real story and try to get them to look elsewhere.

Fake news is difficult to ignore, by intentional design, and creeps in to every area of the media.

At a business level, it could be a competitor who posts positive fake news about themselves, to make them appear better than they are, or someone posting negative stories about your business hoping that they can reap the rewards.

Fake Reviews

Like Fake News, Fake reviews go two ways. Competitors, or people with a grudge, publish negative reviews on places like TrustPilot and Google reviews. Not only does this impact the public’s perception of your business but it can have a negative effect on your SEO, especially when it comes to Google Local, where part of Google’s decision making process is the quality of your reviews in comparison to your competitors.

The other way is for your competition to post fake, high quality reviews of their business to boost their business at the detriment of yours.

Hacking

Hacker Inside, like the "Intel Inside" logo - for Cyber Security

Frequently imagined to be conducted by aggrieved teenagers hacking/cracking websites from the depths of their bedrooms, hacking has evolved in to a massive industry. It’s escalated in to an activity that’s carried out at all levels, all the way up to state sponsored hacking where individuals & organisations are paid by, sponsored by, or simply work for, a county or an organisation.

At the state level they look to attack the infrastructure of a foreign country using the internet as their weapon. The goal being to take services off line, for example. Imagine an attack on a country’s power supply network that could just switching the electricity off.

At the business level, hackers look to break into individual computers, servers or networks. This would provide access to confidential information and intellectual property.

Imagine that you invented something that stood to give you an incredible competitive advantage and make your company a lot of money. Hackers could break in, steal the data and sell it on. It’s believed, for example, that the Chinese government had access to the secrets of US military giants for years. This enabled them to modernise the Chinese military far faster than if they had to do all their own research and development.

Hacking could also be used to plant false information on servers. Imagine a knock on your door, by the police, with a warrant for pirated material (or worse). They take control of your network – banning your people from it and bringing work to a halt – whilst they conduct their examinations to find said material. Whether they find anything, or not, you’ll be prevented from working for days, weeks, months, possibly years while they conduct their examinations. And if there’s whisper of wrongdoing to the media, whether ultimately proven or not, justified or not, your reputation could take a massive hit, from which it might prove impossible to recover from.

Insider threats

Insider threats are probably the most insidious because they are carried out by people you trust, your employees or partners. As well as stealing from you, someone inside your organisation could also conduct a cybercrime against you. It might be as simple as deliberately installing a virus from a USB stick (for accidental virus installation see “USB Sticks and other forms of removable/portable storage“) or opening up your firewall to external intrusion (see Hacking).

Without proper tools and tracking in place you’ll probably never find out where the problem came from, which could lead to repetition once you fix the problem for the first time

Malware

Malware is a generic “cover all” term for malicious software. It has been reported that Malware affects 32% of global computer systems. The goal of malware is to infect your computer system with malicious software with the aim of slowing down, or stopping, your computers and network.

As with a lot of other attacks, businesses that are affected by malware are likely to be approached by the perpetrators who will demand payment to stop the attack.

Phishing

Phishing is an attempt by an unknown third party to persuade to you voluntarily hand over essential log-in credentials for critical web sites (think of your banking info as a single example).

It starts, typically, with a genuine looking email that lands in your inbox, purporting to come from a trusted source. The email will contain a scary message encouraging you to log into your bank account, for example, because failure to do so would see you being “locked out of your account due to a security risk”.

To make it easier, the email also includes a “Click here” link. You click, you arrive at a page that looks like your bank, enter your user ID and password but you can’t log in.

And you can’t log in because it’s not your bank. If smart, the Phishing site (because that’s where you are) will automatically forward you to your actual bank page where you’ll try to log-in again, convinced you made a typo first time around, and this time, you get in to your account.

In the meantime you will have confirmed to the Phishers that you have an account with the bank they targeted AND gifted them your user ID and password. Even though most banks now require an additional form of authentication, getting the first two parts of the authentication chain is a great place to start.

Ransomware

Ransomware is the generic term that covers a wide range of attacks on computer systems with the aim of preventing their effective and proper use. The expected resolution is the payment of a ransom to make the attack stop. The only problem with this is that the criminals are passing on the details of companies (and individuals) who paid up on the premise that they paid once, so will probably pay again.

SMishing (SMS Phishing)

A SMish attack is an attack that starts on a mobile phone. The Cyber Criminals send you an SMS message that will encourage you to click on a link in the message. The link will take you to a website that has been set up to collect critical ID information. This might be bank account details in “payment” to “release” a parcel that’s been held up at the couriers, for example.

Spear Phishing

A Spear Phishing attack is like a Phishing attack but more focused. The criminals won’t be targeting random individuals but will have done their research and will target named individuals within an organisation.

The targeted person (let’s say they are a manager in accounts) will be sent an email, purporting to come from an internal department, asking for an expedited payment to XYZ company for ABD services/supplies/components etc. The payment is made – only it’s not for services etc it simply goes straight in to a bank account operated by criminals.

Trojans

A Trojan attack, named after the Trojan Horse of Greek mythology is where a criminal distributes a piece of software that looks legitimate but harbours a nasty surprise. You’ll typically find Trojan Horse software on the internet, hiding behind hacked websites. You might search for something specific, picture editing software, for example, and come across a website giving away something that seems to do everything you need – for nothing.

Keyboard with "Help" instead of an Enter key for Cyber Security

You click, after all it doesn’t cost anything so where’s the danger. These’s no demand for bank or credit-card details and it doesn’t cost anything so you click to download. After all, where’s the risk?

You download the software, navigate to your downloads folder and click to install. You screen might go blank for a very short time but soon comes back. There’s no evidence of anything being installed, or anything else happening, so you assume the download is broken. Do you download it again or try something else? Most people will look for something else but the damage has already been done.

In the background, unbeknownst to you, the malicious software has installed itself, and hidden itself so there’s no record of it’s installation. If clever, it might even have disabled your antivirus protection too.

Your computer might now be added to a Botnet to be used in DDoS attacks or might be capturing every keystroke you make – including credit card and banking details, and surreptitiously send them back to the criminal who distributed the software,

USB Memory Sticks and other forms of removable/portable storage

Occasionally, when out and about, perhaps enjoying a coffee in your favourite coffee shop, you might come across a USB memory stick or memory card that someone has “forgotten”. You might ask at the counter whether they know who left it behind but they probably won’t have a clue so you take it back to the office, or your home.

Laptop surrounded by a wall for Cyber Security

Gleefully, you insert this new trophy into your computer, perhaps to see how large it is, perhaps to see whether you can determine the identity of the owner in the hope that you can return it to them. Or you might simply want to be nosey and see what’s on there.

Whatever your reason, it’s too late. The software that was set to autorun when inserted in to a computer has installed itself on your PC and is now running maliciously, in the background. Either letting an unknown third party take control of your computers and network or sending all your keystrokes back to some criminal.

Virus

Computer viruses are the most common form of cyber security threats out there. They land on your computer as an email attachment that you have been encouraged to click on (perhaps an innocent looking document for example) or pushed down on to your computer when you visit an infected website. As with other threats, you won’t necessarily know you have been infected until they do their dastardly deed. The smarter viruses can circumvent some of the best anti-virus systems and can remain hidden whilst they conduct their criminal actions. Stealing data, monitoring keystrokes and feeding them back to a cyber criminal, for example.

What should you do

Part two of this email will go in to preventative and detective measures in more detail. However, for now, the guidance is simple. Trust no one. Any email that arrives that has a hyperlink or an attachment, no matter who it comers from, should be considered suspect. Don’t click the link or the attachment unless you trust the source, were expecting it or have validated it in a different way.

Don’t plug-in “found” USB drives and memory cards, don’t visit websites on a whim and make sure you keep your anti-virus software up to date, allow Windows (if you are a Windows user) to install Windows updates and please , please, please make sure your firewall is up and running.

And finally, the pitch.

If you need help with your Cyber Security I can help and can even point you in the direction of a really excellent Cyber Security company if you need more in-depth help and support.

Get in touch – even if it’s just for a free consult. You can call me on 01793 238020 or 07966 547146, email andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk or book a slot using my calendar and we’ll take it from there

You cannot be serious….

Green computer code on a black screen

…yes you can and you must be. But serious about what? About your passwords, that’s what. Like many others, I’ve been banging on about passwords for years and years and years. From a company that would put a new laptop on a desk for the user with the password on a post-it note attached to the lid to companies that shared passwords by email to people using easily guessable passwords the whole issue of password security is not going away.

And it’s causing major problems and financial loss.

In 2019, 80% of all data breaches which resulted in financial loss, were the result of compromised passwords whilst IBM have stated that the average cost of a data breach to businesses in 2020 was $3.86m so you can see stealing passwords (and other information) is big business.

But this post is not about the physical stupidities like leaving passwords lying around it’s about the passwords you and I use that are part and parcel of our day-to-day web access.

Every year a company called NordPass* evaluates the latest password data across 50 countries. They get this by examining a database of 4TB of data, all of these passwords have been nicked, stolen, and hacked. These security breaches are the result of hacking, phishing and other “nocturnal” cyber activities.

Passwords, credit card numbers, bank account details, usernames, dates of birth and other details are made available for sale on the Dark Web and this is where NordPass gets their seed data.

The Most Common Passwords 2021

And it seems that in 2021 little has changed. The most common passwords they found were

  1. 123456 (used a staggering 103 million times)
  2. 123456789 (46m uses)
  3. 12345 (33m uses)
  4. qwerty (22m uses)
  5. password (21m)
  6. 12345678 (15m)
  7. 111111 (13m)
  8. 123123 (10m)
  9. 1234567890 (10m)
  10. 1234567 (9m)

All of the above would be cracked in under one second. That’s how secure these passwords are

Apparently a “stunning” number like to use their own name – “Charlie” being the 9th most popular password in the UK whilst popular music acts and sports also have their own claim to fame. “Onedirection” being popular, along with “Liverpool” whilst in Canada “hockey” was the top sports related password and “dolphin” was number one amongst animal related passwords.

Hacker Inside

NordPass have mapped the data too and, according to their data 187,219,153 passwords have “leaked” from the UK, that’s an average of 2.785 passwords per capita.

How should you formulate your passwords?

Passwords should be 16 characters or more – a M1xture! of UPPER case, lower case, numbers and characters and should NOT be used for more than one account. They should not use ANY personal information, no address details, no phone numbers, no pets names in fact nothing that can be gleaned from social media and day to day interactions

Challenge to remember? You bet. Difficult to crack? Most certainly. According to How Secure is my Password 45Erp!VBN?1869y& will take 41 trillion years to crack.

I have over 250 passwords that I use so I have to use a Password Manager to store them. I use LastPass but many others are available, including NordPass’ own, and some are free. I suggest, though , that you use one that can synchronise across all of your devices, PCs, Macs, tablets, phones etc so that you always have your passwords with. A good Password Manager will not only store your passwords very securely but should also create secure passwords for you.

Go ahead and test your passwords using their secure tool.

I might not be a cyber security expert – but I know quite a bit and know some very good ones so if you need some help with your cyber security, your SEO or any other element of your online marketing activities then why not kick things off with a free consultancy session, drop me an email or just give me a call on 01793 238020 or 07966 547146.

In the meantime, be safe out here. The World Wide Web can be a dangerous place

*NordPass have a vested interest in password security – they sell a Password Manager

National Cyber Security Month

October is National Cyber Month.
What is National Cyber Security Month?

National Cyber Security Week

Threats of Cyber Crime from Cyber Criminals continue to increase and we all need to be increasingly alert and focussed on the threats, the impact they could have on our lives AND the things we can do to minimise the risk to ourselves and our businesses.

Red spot on code

National Cyber Security Month 2021 has the overarching theme “Do your part. #BeCyberSmart” and looks to empower individuals and businesses to own their role in protecting their part of cyberspace.

If we all do our part then we will all benefit from a safer place to live and be in a safer place to do business. Not only that but we’ll also be denying the cybercriminals the space they need to extort, employ fraud and generate the money they lust after.

How can we contribute?

We can all look to implement stronger/better security practices such as not clicking links in emails, not opening emails from people we don’t know or even opening emails we weren’t expecting. We can install security software on our phones, our tablets and our computers. We can use stronger passwords, and make sure we use unique passwords for EVERY application.

Each week, National Cyber Security Month will have a different focus, starting with Week 1 – Be Cyber Smart

Week 1, Starting October 4 – Be Cyber Smart

log on box

Our lives are increasingly intertwined with the internet and the World Wide Web. Pretty much all personal and business information is stored on internet connected platforms.

From banking to social media, from email to SMS, from phone and video calling to watching TV and listening to music and beyond.

The internet simplifies some areas of our lives and makes it more complex in others but the one, overarching common factor, is the need for a strong level of security to keep our data safe.

That’s why Week 1 of National Cyber Security Week focuses on the best security practices and “cyber hygiene” to keep our data safe, owning our role in Cyber Security and starting with the basics. That includes using unique, strong, passwords and making sure that we use multi-factor authentication (2FA) where it’s available, preferably avoiding SMS (text Message) authentication where possible.

Week 2, Starting October 11 – Fight the Phish – Trust No One

Phishing attacks, where emails and text messages are sent containing web links encouraging you to click the link, visit a website set up by cyber criminals and enter your user names and passwords are still on the increase. Why are they on the increase? Because they work. People see an email that purports to come from their bank, HMRC, DVLA, Post Office, BT etc. and are given a warning claiming that the recipient needs to do something NOW or they will be locked out of their account, will be arrested, won’t have an order delivered …. or one of many other ruses. You click the link and either have malicious software sent to your computer without your knowledge and approval or give away user names and passwords to cyber criminals, enabling them to access your personal accounts and to steal from you.

The X-Files mantra of “Trust No one” applies here. Any email that contains a request for such information should always be approached with caution and, if you have even a small inkling of concern, then simply open your web browser and visit the website of the sender to check out the veracity of the email.

Week 3, Starting October 18 – Explore, Experience, Share

Week three focuses on the National Initiative for Cyber Security Education (NICE), inspiring and promoting the exploration of careers in the cybersecurity sector. Whether you are a student or a veteran or seeking a career change, this week is all about the exciting, ever changing, field of cyber security, a rapidly growing business sector with something for everyone

Week 4, Starting October 25 – Cybersecurity First

The last week of National Cybersecurity Month looks at making security a priority. Actually taking a Cyber Security First approach to designing and building new products, developing new software, creating new Apps.

Red spot on code

Make Cyber Security Training a key part of onboarding when taking on new employees (and, at the other end, making sure that technology rights are revoked when people leave organisations).

Ensure that your employees are equipped with the cyber secure tools that they need for their jobs. If you practice a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, allowing employees to use their own phones, tablets and computers then you need to ensure that the cyber security deployed is as strong as that on equipment that you provide.

Before buying new kit, or signing up to a new service, do your research, check the security. Is it secure enough? Can it be made more secure? Can it be remotely wiped? Who has control? All of these questions, properly answered, will ramp up your cyber security defences and help keep the cyber crims at bay

When you set up new equipment, that new phone, tablet or laptop, I know it’s exciting but please invoke the Cyber Security first, don’t leave it until last – it might be too late. Make sure default passwords are replaced with something secure and lock down those privacy settings.

Cyber Security MUST NOT be an afterthought. If it is, you could find yourself paying the price

And if you need some help, you can always ask me. I might not know the answer but I know people in the Cyber Security industry that I can put you in touch with. Email andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk, phone/message me 07966 547146, call 01793 238020 or message me on Social Media and we’ll get it sorted.

New Password Guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre

POSTED ON  BY ANDY POULTON

15 years ago Bill Gates, yes that Bill Gates, predicted the death of the password, presuming that a much more secure alternative method of securing data be adopted, But it hasn’t and passwords are still the default method of securing access to data and systems.

And, with the rapid rise of Cloud Services, Smartphones, tablets and much greater use of the world wide web passwords are seen as an easily-implemented, low-cost security method that users have become familiar, and comfortable with.

Logging On

However, with the sound advice of using a different password at every instance that requires a password has lead to “password overload”, more so when the instruction is to make then increasingly complex to reduce the chance of password theft or accounts being hacked. This has lead to a small range of different strategies to remembering passwords. From writing them down in a “little black book”, saving them on a spreadsheet or using a password Manager [with over 300 passwords, the latter is my choice]

However, a lot of people develop a strategy that is simply based on incrementation. HardPassword1, HardPassword2 etc. The danger being that in a data breach, once your strategy is uncovered it’s just a matter of time before hackers gain access to a range of your accounts.

Recent advice from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC, based in London and part of the UK’s Cyber Security HQ at GCHQ) has suggested making passwords up simply from three random words. Their advice is to be creative and use words that are memorable to you – but not words that can be easily associated with you, such as

  • Your children’s names
  • Favourite Sports team
  • Current partners’ name
  • Names of other family members
  • Pet’s name
  • Place of Birth
  • Favourite Holiday
  • Etc

So, that makes it harder to think of 3 random words but I’ve got an idea. And it’s based on geography. Before you run away thinking I’m going to suggest capital cities, rivers or mountain ranges stay with me. I suggest using some places that are close to your heart, but randomised -by using the navigation app/website What Three Words.

What Three Words is able to define a precise location, down to a 3 metre square. Simply visit the What Three Words website, or install their free app on your phone and navigate to your favourite place. Here’s one of mine (not used for any of my passwords so I’m giving nothing away)

St Catherine’s By The Sea in Map View and Google Earth View

Whether you use the Map View or Google Earth type view, you’ll see the map is overlaid by little squares.

Now, just click on a square and it will be identified by three unique words, so you could click on the entrance to the church, for example, or even a grave stone in the grave yard and What Three Words will give you a code that is unique to that square.

I’ve clicked on the church door and the unique code is remarking however stubble. You could make it harder by adding hyphens, or a different symbol and perhaps capitalising Remarking-However&Stubble for example.

Now all you have to do is either remember your password or use a decent Password Manager -and there are many to choose from, and I’ve written about them in the past.

And PLEASE, if this applies to to you – STOP USING PASSWORD or 12345678 and use one of the above instead

If you need any help, please, just ask. You can reach me by phone – 01793 238020 – email – andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk or just hunt me down on Social Media.

How much did your last cup of coffee cost?

Cybercrime is everywhere these days, in 2020 cybercrime cost UK businesses an estimated £21Bn* with an estimated 40% of UK businesses being subjected to to some kind of cybercrime in the previous 12 months. So, how can you minimise the risk to YOUR business?

There’s lots of advice on passwords, I regularly write about them, and other security measures that you can take but did you know that even a trip to your favourite coffee shop could end up being far more expensive than the price you pay for your Triple Grande Decaf Soy Latte Macchiato and blueberry muffin.

Cup of coffee and coffee beansImagine the scene, you’re between meetings and decide to drop into your favourite coffee shop for a cup of coffee, a cake and to tap into their Wi-Fi to read your emails, refresh your knowledge in time for your next meeting or simply to surf the web.

Spoof Wi-Fi Hotspot
Sign fro free wifi hotspot
When you sit down and try to log-on to the Wi-Fi there’s frequently a selection of hot-spots to choose from. How do you know which is the free service provided by the venue and which is a spoof.

It’s very easy to set up a Wi-Fi hot-spot using a mobile phone, Mi-Fi type of device or laptop and allow other users to connect through this free connection. This means that all of the traffic can then be intercepted by the person providing the spoof account, what sort of important information is passed from your laptop through this connection? It could be your details to access your online banking, the log-in to your company network or the necessary information required to access your corporate email account.

Time for a comfort break

Laptop and cup of coffeeThen the urge hits, you look around and see that everybody seems respectable enough so you head off to the toilet thinking that your laptop is safe on the table. After all, nobody would nick in sight of all those customers, staff and CCTV cameras would they?

You’d be wrong. Laptop tracking service provider, Prey, found that areas offering free Wi-Fi were the second most common target for opportunistic laptop thefts, the only riskier place being left in a visible place in your car.

If stolen, it’s not only the inconvenience of replacing the laptop, reinstalling your applications and copying back your data [you do back-up your data don’t you?] it’s the additional costs that aren’t covered by your insurance.

The Ponemon Institute, a US cyber crime consultancy, put the real cost of the loss of a laptop and it’s data at nearly £31,000. This was broken down into £4,000 for the loss of Intellectual Property, forensics and legal bills adding around £1,500 with a staggering £24,500 attributable to the loss of income, customers and competitive advantage associated with a data breach

So, the next time you stop off for a cup of coffee and decide to log-on using their free Wi-Fi, just make sure you know which network that you’re connecting to and that you don’t leave your laptop unattended.

*Detica in partnership with the Office of Cyber Security and Information Security in the Cabinet Office Report, 2020

Passwords are not just for Christmas

Wow, what a year. One thing’s for certain, 2020 is one year that will never be forgotten. Covid, Lockdown, Furlough, words that have been added to the canon of speech this year. And, to cap it all, Christmas is just around the corner and the world is still full of massive levels of uncertainty.

Whether you are working from home, #WFH, working in an office or still out and about I know that as Christmas approaches the big wind-down starts to feature in our minds.

Nothing wrong with looking forwards to Christmas but it’s important that you don’t allow your Cyber Security guard to fall too.

Andy, checking out websites as part of his work

Why not? Simply because the hackers and cyber criminals won’t – if anything they’ll be upping their activity because they know that our minds will be on other things. In previous years we’d have been looking forward to Christmas Markets, Christmas parties, gifts, food, television and everything else that’s associated with the season of goodwill.

Our vigilance MUST remain high, both in the office and when working from home. Keep your eyes open for suspicious looking emails, especially those coming from unexpected quarters, with messages that promise much, such as tax refunds or deliveries of items you don’t remember ordering. Also beware of emails with links to websites that look OK but in reality will do harm.

It’s also a good idea to take a fresh look at your password security. Turkish researcher Ata Hakcil analysed more than 742m passwords that have been revealed in data breaches (hacks) that turned up on the Dark Web. Ata went on to make a worrying number of discoveries.

Of the 742m only 169m were unique which just goes to show how frequently we reuse passwords and how many passwords are used by a lot of people.

Worst passwords of 2020

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed over previous lists

1/ 123456 (same place as 2018 & 2019)
2/ 123456789 (up 1 place) (same as 2019)
3/ passwords (up one place on 2019)
4/ qwerty (a fall of one place on 2019)
5/ password (slips two places)
6/ 12345678 (up 1 on 2019)
7/ 123123 (a new entry)
8/ 111111 (up from No. 10 in 2019)
9/ 1234 (yes, I kid you not, 1234)
10/ 1234567890 (a new entry in this Top 10)

Disturbingly, at least 1 in 10 people have used at least one of these poor passwords – I hope you’re not one of them.

Data breaches are inevitable. To be as secure as possible you need to use strong, unique passwords for each individual account that you have. This makes the theft of one password much less of a disaster than if you use the same (or close variant) across all of your accounts.

What’s a Strong Password?

A strong password isn’t a word at all. The best ones are passphrases comprising of a random combination of words with 12 characters or more, using mixtures of alphanumeric, UPPER & lower case characters and symbols.

Think of a nonsense phrase, or even a line from your favourite song. Science Friction Burns My Fingers for example. Noe, run the words together, use hyphens, underscores and number substitution.

Sc13nce-fricti0nBurnsMy_Finger5%

That’s one password – you need a unique one for EVERY account that you have. Now, that’s a challenge to remember so you need a password manager. Because of my work, I have access to 789 accounts of one sort or another and I have 789 different passwords. Obvious there’s no way I could remember all of those – I struggle to remember 4 important ones which his why I use a password manager. Not only does it store all of my passwords in a safe place it also generates new, random, ones for me.

Top 10 Password Managers

There are loads of great password managers out there. I use LastPass because it was one of the first to integrate with my browser AND be available across all of my devices, desktop, laptop, Chromebook, phone and tablet.

TechRadar recently reviewed Password managers and their top 10 free and paid-for password managers is as follows

1/ Dashlane
2/ NordPass
3/ RoboForm
4/ 1Password
5/ LastPass
6/ Keeper
7/ BitWarden
8/ LogMeOnce
9/ mSecure
10/ ZohoVault

You can read TechRadar’s reviews here. And don’t forget, your web browser probably has a password manager built in and may even generate new ones for you but it may not synchronise across all of your devices

And PLEASE, if this applies to to you – STOP USING PASSWORD or 12345678 and use one of the above instead

Have a great Christmas, a happy new year and I look forward to communicating with you in the new year. If you need any help, please, just ask. You can reach me by phone – 01793 238020 – email – andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk or just hunt me down on Social Media.

Why marketing is like the space race

It seems that every week I am asked whether “X” would be a good thing to do, or perhaps “Y”. “What do you think Andy?”, “which path would you take?”

The reality is that even after 20 years of experience, I don’t know with any great certainty. All I can do is reflect on past experiences and understand how a particular course of historical action could be overlaid on contemporary actions and offer some thoughts and guidance.

The key question, though, is this. When it comes to most forms of marketing, how do we know what works and what doesn’t?

The reality is that we don’t – until we give it a try.

But before you try any form of new marketing activity you need to really understand your expectations. What do you want it to do and what do you NEED it to do. You should approach it with a plan in mind, the 6 Ws.

The 6 Ws

Who, What, Why, When, Where and hoW. There are loads of variations on a theme but here’s a simple example as to how the six Ws can help with the initial planning of your new campaign. And to use a cliche – “fail to plan, plan to fail”.

  • Who are you looking to reach (personas can really help identity and visualise your target market
  • What are you looking to sell to them
  • Why would they choose you as their supplier rather than your competition
  • When will they be ready to buy
  • Where will the marketing be posted/published?
  • How will the sale take place & delivery occur. How will you measure the performance.

You should always have a goal because, as the cliche says, “without a goal, how will you know when you have arrived”

The 6Ps could also apply – Proper Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance

OK, I’m done with cliches, for now, back on topic.

I have worked with many people who strive for perfection. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the focus on perfection has a time and place. From a marketing perspective they

  • – have an idea
  • – create an outline,
  • – add flesh to the outline
  • – review it
  • – ask others to review their plan
  • – make changes to reflect people’s comments
  • – and go around the circle again & again

A camel is a horse designed by committee

A camel

Seeking absolute perfection can be a trap, the danger being that you want a horse but end up with a camel.

This often means that the plan at the end looks nothing like the initial plan, that the initial goals have become forgotten and the time taken to refine and finesse the plan means that key opportunities are missed or have made it likely that the plan will never be executed.

My preferred approach is to come up with the campaign aims, agree them with my client and quickly work back from there to understand the target market, which platforms they are likely to use and to understand the best ways to put my client in front of them.

I sometimes get it wrong. I’ll have explained my plans to the client and explained the risk. If a plan is going to fail I like it to fail fast. I accept that it’s OK for a plan to fail, it really is. However, this approach will only work with goals that are understood and research to understand why the goals were not met.

From there, you can take the learning, update and improve the campaign and go again.

So, Why IS marketing like the Space Race

A Space X Falcon 9 first stage landing

NASA would follow the route to perfection. Testing each individual component of the Apollo program (for example) then they’d put some components in to a module and test the module. Then they’d put some modules together in to an assembly and test the assembly.

Then they’d put some assemblies together in to a stage and test the stage. Then they’d test the stages, assemble them in to a 365 ft tall tower of power and launch the rocket.

And even after all this testing there were still problems – look at Apollo 13, and the two Space Shuttle disasters for evidence.


Elon Musk and Space X take a different approach. Elon came up with the idea of a reusable rocket. It was designed, a rocket was launched – it failed. The reasons for failure were designed out of the next iteration. There was a different failure. The reasons were investigated and designed out and now launching, AND landing, Space X Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets is as near normal as you will find and progress continues.

At the time of writing Space X are planning on returning US Astronauts to the International Space Station using an American rocket for the first time since the Space Shuttle was withdrawn from service.

If you want any help with your digital marketing please don’t hesitate to get in touch for an informal chat by email (andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk) by phone (01793 238020) or ask me on Social Media – Linkedin or Twitter and I’ll be only too happy to talk.Thanks for reading and I hope you stay well

Staying in touch with clients and teams – the digital transformation.

For years, technologists have been promoting digital transformation but corona virus, lock-down and working from home has really pushed many businesses to take a fresh look.

Lock-Down means that a lot of us are having to work very differently, working from home, whether from a home office, the dining table, the kitchen table or a bedroom dressing table or a shed at the end of the garden it’s all quite new

There’s no doubt that as a result of this forced, rapid, transition, many of us will find that continuing to work from home is far better than commuting to an office, warehouse, workshop or other business location. And, in the long term, everybody wins. No commuting means time saved, no travelling to meetings means time and travel costs saved and no travelling is much much better for the environment too.

One to one video conferencing

There are a number of platforms that will help you to do this. Simple platforms such as Skype and Messenger are familiar to a lot of people, Google Hangouts and Microsoft teams are also in pretty common use but they often lack some of the features that make video-conferencing much easier.

Video Conference Options

Video Conference comparison

The key features that I look for include

  • Maximum permitted meeting length
  • Screen sharing – so that I can share presentations etc.
  • Recording, can the session be recorded so that I can share it with the delegates for them to refer back to?
  • What services do the free accounts NOT have?

As an example, Zoom, which has really increased in popularity over the last couple of months has a Free account that allows video conferences of any length with 2 people but this drops to just 40 minutes for 3 or more but does permit screen sharing. However, there are concerns over the security of Zoom.

To overcome this, the Zoom Pro account at £143.88 + VAT annually increases the meeting length to 24 hours and provides 1Gb of cloud storage,

Webex, a Cisco product, is more secure. The free account limits the number of people in your call to 100, places no limits on meeting length but does not offer any recording and does not offer screen sharing.

The Webex Small Teams account, £135.00 + VAT PA adds screen sharing and recording to the free account.

Other providers of similar services include

If you want any help with your digital marketing please don’t hesitate to get in touch for an informal chat by email (andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk) by phone (01793 238020) or ask me on Social Media – Linkedin or Twitter and I’ll be only too happy to talk.Thanks for reading and I hope you stay well