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

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

What is a “man in the middle” attack?

Believe it or not, this post was inspired after listening to an ad on the radio. I’ll let you know which one right at the end (if I remember)

Imagine the scenario. You’ve popped out to lunch and drop in to Costa/Starbucks/favourite coffee shop. Food’s on the way, your lovely Espresso/Cappuccino/Cortado/super sized hotta mocha choca machiato is in front of you and you realise that you’ve not replied to a very important email.

Free Wifi - made with Scrabble tiles

You get your phone out and remember that, despite all the fuss about 5G, your town hasn’t even sorted 4G but you’ve been here before and know the cafe has free Wi-Fi.

List of WiFi networks

You remember that the Wi-Fi’s called “Stephen’s Wi-Fi Network” so that people can find it easily. You search for it, find it and don’t worry that you log-in seamlessly although you do notice that the signal is a little stronger than normal.

You open the email app on your phone, find the mail that really needs the reply and peck one out on your phone’s keyboard, hoping that the message in your phone’s email signature, saying that this was sent from your iPhone, will help overcome your mistypes and slightly terse language.

You’ve still got some coffee left and it’s pay day so whilst sat down you decide to check your bank account to make sure your pay has gone in. It has, and you have more than you thought. Enough to buy that gift for your lovely partner. For security’s sake you haven’t stored your card details in your phone. Out comes your wallet and you add your card details to the order screen. Click “confirm” and the order’s on it’s way

As you get up to leave you spot the homeless looking chap in the corner. He’s got a really tatty looking laptop and you feel sorry for him, until you see he’s got a huge grin on his face – you walk on by and head back to the office.

At the end of the day and you’re shutting everything down when your phone rings. It’s your partner – you’re puzzled, they don’t normally call you at work

You answer and hear tears at the other end. They’ve been shopping, found a lovely winter coat and decided to buy it but their card, which is on a joint account with yours, was declined.

You are confused. When you checked the account at lunchtime there was more than enough to cover the cost of the gift you ordered and this coat………where did all the money go?

You log in to your account and it’s empty. You can see your gift order but have no clue what all the other transactions are, you’ve not ordered anything else – and neither has your partner.

The Man in the Middle

What’s happened is that you logged in to the wrong Wi-Fi network and your data has been stolen. No, it wasn’t the homeless looking chap it was the chap you never really paid attention too because he looked like a businessman. And he was, its just that his business was theft, theft of credit card details like yours.

He had set up his own Wi-Fi network using a portable hot-spot, hidden in his backpack and connected to his laptop AND the cafe’s network to provide the broadband. He’d given it a name that was so close to the one that you were used to that it was easy to log on to it, rather than the “real” one.

The cafe’s Wi-Fi was “Stephen’s Wi-Fi Network” and the “man in the middle’s was “Stephens Wi-Fi Network” so when you logged in, all your data flowed through his hotspot to the cafe’s Wi-Fi network and on to the internet. With his laptop he was able to access everything that passed from your phone through the hotspot, including your card details when you made your purchase and off shopping he went. 

How to avoid the man in the middle

Either be 100% certain that the network you are connecting to really is the network you want to connect to or avoid Wi-Fi hotspots like the plague. I do………unless there’s no other alternative. And in this scenario I only ever browse the web.

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 would anyone want to hack my website?

log on boxWith the news that 30m credit and debit card details from US customers and over 1m sets of card details belonging to visitors to the US, have been put up for sale on the Dark Web following a malware attack against US convenience retailer Wawa I thought I’d take time out to explain why small businesses are just as at-risk from hacking as large organisations.

But first, let’s take a look of some of the major security breaches that occurred last year. According to Risk Based Security’s Data Breach Report there were 5,183 breaches by the end of September 2019 alone. These exposed more than 7.9 billion records. This was a 33.3% increase on the same period in 2018.

Here are some of the worst breaches.

  • Orvibo Smart home products – 2 billion records discovered on an unprotected database. These comprised of private individuals, hotels and businesses who were using Orvibo’s smart home devices. The data included email addresses, passwords, user names, family names and addresses.
  • Dream Market Breach – 617m online account details stolen from 16 hacked websites, including MyFitnessPal (151m). Data stolen included user names, passwords and email addresses.
  • Canva – 139m records stolen, names, user names, passwords, email addresses and location.
  • Capital One – 106m records hacked with names, addresses, credit scores, email addresses, dates of birth and more stolen.
  • Words with Friends – 218m records stolen, including names, email addresses, passwords, phone numbers and, where linked, Facebook ID info

However, these are just some of the ones that hit the headlines. Thousands don’t,  particularly attacks on smaller businesses. Research indicates that nearly 70% of SME’s experience cyber attacks (Ponemon State of SMB Cyber Security 2018) but why SMEs?

I talk to many people who believe their businesses are too small to have anything of value to the hackers. However, the truth is that they are too small to have a dedicated cyber security officer/specialist and so are easy targets.

Let’s take websites – most businesses use WordPress – over 1/3rd of websites use it. There’s nothing wrong with WordPress but, as the world’s most popular web development tool, it is also the hackers main target. (A bit like the way Windows is targeted compared to Apple’s operating system – its all in the number of targets)

WordPress is pretty secure and there are Plugins to make it more so BUT you have to keep everything up to date. Keep WordPress up to date, keep your plugins updated too because if you don’t you might be leaving holes in your security for the bad guys to exploit. 

But why would they?

  • Small companies are frequently connected to larger organisations and they might be a way in
  • Hacked systems can store illegal material
  • Hacked systems can be used in attacks on other websites (DDoS)
  • Hacked systems can host Malware
  • Hacked systems could provide access to valuable Intellectual Property
  • Hacked systems could provide easy access to other valuable data

Malware

Safer Internet DayImagine you have a reasonably popular website. Hackers will look to gain access to your site and plant malware on it that will automatically download (and install) itself on the computers of everyone who visits your website. The malware could allow the hackers to record the keystrokes of infected machines, could enable the hackers to take remote control of infected machines or turn them in to storage depots for illegal material.

Imagine how your reputation will suffer when this comes to light. 

  1. Keystroke recorders
    A keystroke recorder does what it says on the tin, it records every single keystroke made on a keyboard and secretly transmits it to a malicious 3rd party. This could be bank/card details, online shopping details, log-in user names and passwords, and much more
  2. Remote Control – DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service Attack)
    With the ability to remotely control your PC, and hundreds or thousands of others, malicious 3rd parties can “take down” target websites simply by overwhelming them with more web traffic than the website can cope with. Remember what happens to the Glastonbury website when the tickets are released – although not malicious the number of people desperate to get their tickets tend to bring the website to its knees as soon as tickets are made available

    Imagine a bookmakers website going off line a week before a major betting event. They’d be contacted by the Cyber Criminals who will admit responsibility. The bookmakers will then be told to “pay up” or their website will be blocked again, much closer to “big day” and prevent bets being placed.
  3. Illegal data storage
    Imagine the scene. There you are working in your office and there’s a battering ram through the door followed by police storming in with a warrant to take ALL of your computing devices. Your business will grind to a halt but why have you been targeted? Simples, as the meerkats say – the police have identified one or more of your computers/servers as the source of illegal material. This could be pirated software, music, films or worse. In the worst case scenario this information hits the local (and possibly national media) and your reputation is trashed. And you may not even have been at fault!
  4. GDPR
    Under all of the above scenarios you’ll probably have to report the matter to the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO) under GDPR. After investigation, If your security and procedures are found wanting then you might be liable for a fine. GDPR states that fines can be up to 4% of your turnover, and that’s no laughing matter

How do I prevent this happening to me

No security system is 100% watertight, there are just too many variables and access points. The closer you get to 100% the more expensive it becomes to close those last few security percentage points. However, like home security, your job is to make sure that your security is as good as it can be so that the bad guys choose an easier target.

Get in touch with a good IT company or Cyber Security company or you could #AskAndy. Drop me an email – andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk or give me a call on 01793 238020 and we can start the ball rolling. I know that I’m not a security consultant but I know quite a bit and can always point you in the direction of a trusted third party if you need more help.

New Year – New Security Resolution

Tamara EcclestoneIn December last year Tamara Ecclestone’s London home was burgled and jewellery worth £50m was stolen.

Leaving aside the fact that this is a phenomenal sum of money to have invested in jewellery only to leave it “lying around” there are many rumours as to the particular timing of the heist.

Just a few hours before the robbery took place, Tamara and her husband shared a picture on Instagram of them boarding a private jet.

As a billionairess it’s no doubt that people of a dubious background will have been watching her social media updates hoping for just such an opportunity. They will have lists of targets, important addresses and social media accounts and probably even have plans in place, ready for execution as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

So, think about the pictures you post to Social Media. What do they give away? All those photos of you sunning yourself on a beach somewhere warm and exotic tells near do wells that you are not at home. Photos of road trips tell people that you are not at home, or in your business.

You even need to make sure that there’s nothing in the background of the picture that can be zoomed in to that might give away something you’d rather kept private. An innocent looking photo taken outside of your house could, if zoomed in, give away your house number whilst previous, or subsequent pictures could give away your street name – for example.

If you are going away, and you are an important cog in your business, it could encourage scammers to target employees with fake emails requesting money transfers, payment of fake bills and invoices etc.

log on boxSo why not make 2020 the year you strengthen your security fortifications. Make a start with passwords and email.

  • Conduct a password audit of everything AND everybody involved in your business.
  • Enforce the use of strong passwords and encourage the use of password managers
  • Make sure that you have a strong email policy in place.
  • Educate yourself and your employees on the tricks used by scammers-
    • how to check whether a link in an email takes the clicker to a safe site or not
      Hint – hover your cursor over the link to see the full web address
    • Ensure that the email comes from a trusted address. Is it from mycompany.co.uk or mycompany.co or myc0mpany.co.uk for example?
      hint – hover your cursor over the address or just hit “reply”
    • Are there any obvious spelling or grammatical errors?
    • Would you be expecting an email from this particular source?
    • Does the email express an urgent response?

Don’t forget that people new to your organisation should also receive the same level of training. Always remember that “if it feels to good to be true” then it probably is

And if you are still unsure, look up the phone number for the company that you think the email is from and give them a call – don’t rely on the phone number that’s displayed within the potential scam email.

Watch out for more emails looking at security issues and if you have any concerns, 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 have a great, and secure 2020.

 

 

Christmas is coming, don’t let the hackers get fat

Christmas is nearly here, people are beginning the big “wind down” and it would be so easy to let your guard down too.

Andy, checking out websites as part of his workWell, let me tell you, the hackers and cyber criminals won’t – if anything they’ll be ratcheting up their activity because they know that our minds will be on other things.

You know, things like Christmas parties, gifts, food, television and everything else that’s associated with the season of goodwill.

So, 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. SplashData have just released their ninth annual “Worst Passwords of the Year” list which has been compiled from more than 5m passwords that have ended up on the Dark Web after being purloined by hackers.

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed over previous lists

  1. 123456 (same place as 2018)
  2. 123456789 (up 1 place)
  3. qwerty (a return to the top 5 for this old favourite)
  4. password (slips two places)
  5. 1234567 (up 2)
  6. 12345678 (falls out of the top 5)
  7. 12345 (falls by 2 places)
  8. iloveyou (this perennial is up 2 places from 10 in 2018)
  9. 111111 (yes, people do use this although it’s fallen 3 places from last year)
  10. abc123 (up 7 and breaking in to the top 10)

You can see passwords from 11 to 25 here.

SplashData estimates that at least 1 in 10 people have used at least one of these poor passwords.

Data breaches are inevitable but by using strong, unique passwords for each individual account that you have 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.

3 simple tips to make your digital life more secure

  1. Use passphrases (random word combinations) of 12 characters or more with mixed character types
  2. Use a different password for each of your log-ins so if you loose one password you haven’t lost all of the keys to your digital empire
  3. Use a password manager to secure your digital assets, to generate random password combinations, store them securely and make them available across all of your devices

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

Top Password Managers (in no particular order)

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.

However, I hope to enjoy Christmas too so may be slower than normal in responding to your requests. I’ll be back in the office on January 2nd.