alt tag

Posts from April, 2016


Are Your Smartphones Properly “Containerized”?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

garden-1134180_640

Earlier today the cashier at the local drive-thru miskeyed the amount of cash I gave him into his register. Somewhat sheepishly, he asked if I had a smartphone so I could verify the correct amount of change. Fortunately, I never leave home without it.

In fact, how well could you function today without your smartphone? It’s more than a telephone, camera, or calculator. It’s really a miniaturized computer—with most of the capabilities of a desktop or laptop. For better or worse, it’s a device we’ve come to rely upon.

A Mobile World

The mobility of smartphones has likewise made them indispensable work tools. Once upon a time, professionals carried a company-issued “work phone” along with their personal cell phone.

But today, given a choice, most would rather access work-related data from a single device in their pockets. This creates unique issues, however:

  • How safe is confidential company data on an unsecured mobile device? If it’s lost or stolen, what are the consequences? And how many of the countless downloadable user apps stealthily require permission to access—or even modify—other properties of the phone?
  • By the same token, users are reluctant to link their company network with the same device they use for private activities—personal email, music, photos, or their online dating profile.

How many companies wrestle with defining security of their employees’ access between business and personal data via their smartphones? This is a very important facet of a comprehensive BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policyas we’ve already talked about.

Containerization = Safety and Privacy

The answer for smartphones revolves around what has been termed containerization—creating a virtual partition between business and personal applications within a single device. When switched to a containerized “business mode,” all inbound/outbound network traffic is automatically secured via supplemental authentication, advanced 240-bit encryption, and other measures which block out unauthorized apps—or malware.

If the phone is lost or stolen—or the employee leaves the company—network access from that device can be remotely severed in a flash. Meanwhile, the user can toggle their phone back into conventional Android or iOS smartphone mode, assuring their personal apps and files remain private and “unsnoopable” by Big Brother (or at least their boss).

Containerization is a fairly new buzzword in mobile security, but there’s already a slew of vendors hopping on the bandwagon and offering a wide range of turnkey products. Which options offer the right protection and the best bang-for-the-buck? As usual with IT decisions, finding the right solution can be daunting—but we have the expertise to help. To learn more about containerization and more of the latest developments in IT security, talk with us.

Cybercrime Begins Over the Phone, Too—Don’t Let Your Employees Forget

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

phone-388838_640

If you’ve been a regular reader of our blog, you know we’ve spent plenty of time discussing phishing, malware, and other cybercrime. It’s all part of our modern online world, and we know it will never really go away.

We’ve talked about the tricks scammers use, from links in bogus emails to simply visiting the wrong website. But don’t forget crooks are still stalking victims via good old Ma Bell.

Chances are you’ve received a phone call pitching one of these common scams—more than once:

  • The promise of a lower credit card interest rate or a reduced electric bill… provided you give the caller your existing credit card number(s).
  • A call on behalf of one of your family members, requesting wired money to bail them out of a foreign jail. With “people search” sites all over the web, it’s disturbingly easy for a scammer to not only obtain your phone number, but also the names of your loved ones.
  • And perhaps the most devious phone scheme: the service tech from “Windows” who warns that your PC has been detected with a dangerous virus, which he can immediately remove remotely—for a nominal service fee, of course—or guide you in removing via a removal tool download (which is the actual malware)!

Hopefully, you’ve learned to recognize such obvious schemes. But businesses large and small are also targets of sophisticated electronic con artists, and it only takes one employee’s slip-up to rob a company of anything from confidential information to simple cash.

When to Hang Up the Phone

  • Suppose one of your senior executives is speaking at an out-of-town industry conference (information freely available on the conference’s website). Your receptionist receives a call from an “event manager” saying they urgently need their email password changed in order to download their PowerPoint presentation within the next half-hour. If it’s actually a cyber-crook on the other end of the line, they’ll have successfully hijacked that email account—inbox, address book, archives, everything.
  • If your accounting team gets a call from an angry “vendor” demanding payment for a mysterious invoice that’s suddenly 90 days past-due—for something as innocuous as bottled water or toner cartridges—might they be directed to a bogus payment site to collect a quick payment? Banks usually won’t forgive such voluntary gaffes, and if the culprits are outside the U.S., that money is almost surely gone.

We’ve discussed the necessity of a comprehensive employee security training program. Don’t forget to include your employees on the lookout for phone scams as well. Also consider a policy of no password changes without alerting top-tier support of your managed service provider, or supplement usernames and passwords (or even replace them) with two-step verification.

Questions? Contact us today.

The Best Way to Check Your PCs for Malware—Fast and FREE

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

antivirus-154669_640

A couple months back, we touched on the story of our normally tech-savvy friend who got tricked into allowing his desktop PC to be infected with obvious malware. At first, he had the sickening feeling that comes with a virus-infected computer—but thanks to some quick thinking and online research, he downloaded several popular free anti-malware apps to isolate and remove the malware programs before they could inflict real damage (identity theft, or worse). He figured that by running multiple anti-malware apps, his computer would be effectively “cross-checked” and his hard drive would once again be clean and secure—fingers crossed.

Running the Gauntlet of Anti-Virus Scan Engines

Running more than one anti-malware app was indeed a wise idea. But what if you could scour your system for malware using as many as 57 different name-brand anti-virus scan engines—in less than a minute, and all for free?

It’s a terrific one-stop Windows utility few users know about, but we’re happy to share it with you today with step-by-step instructions:

  • From the Options menu in Process Explorer (in the upper menu bar), choose VirusTotal.com > Check VirusTotal.com. VirusTotal by itself is a free site that will scan suspicious files and URLs. But linked through Process Explorer, it will analyze your entire operating system using at least 50 proprietary malware detection engines, including those from leading anti-virus brands like AVG, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, McAfee, and Symantec. A cybercrook may be able to write malicious code that eludes a few anti-malware apps—but over 50? That’s quite a comprehensive gauntlet, if not virtually impossible.
  • A Virus Total column will appear to the far right of the dashboard, with a ratio listed for every open application and process. A zero ratio (0/55) means all scanning engines concur the program is safe. A tiny ratio (2/55 or 3/55) is most likely a “false positive” (probably no real threat), while a heavy ratio (10/55 or higher) indicates multiple engines target it as likely malware.

“Less Is More”… But Not When It Comes to Cyber Safety

Learn more about uncovering malware via Process Explorer from InfoWorld security columnist Roger Grimes in the embedded video here. As a free utility direct from Microsoft, we highly recommend it as a simple yet comprehensive supplement to your current anti-virus software. Whenever you discover possible malware lurking on one or more of your company’s PCs, contact us immediately to help quarantine and safely remove it.

Prepare Now or Pay Later: More Ransomware Attacks in the News

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

euro-76015_640

We’re only a few months into 2016, but we’ve already seen two high-profile ransomware attacks—where cyber-crooks heavily encrypt a victim’s computer files before demanding payment for a decryption key only they can provide. Two notable incidents grabbed headlines:

  • In January, Israel’s Electricity Authority was hit by what officials termed “a severe cyber attack.” What early media reports described as a possible terrorist plot to knock out Israel’s national power grid turned out to be a multiple ransomware infection that crippled the agency’s IT network—most likely triggered by a employee falling for a phishing scam (as little as clicking a link in a bogus email). The Israeli government didn’t reveal whether they’d paid off the crooks in order to restore the network.
  • Closer to home, one month later Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Southern California gave in to hackers’ demands for 40 Bitcoins—a little under $17,000—to restore access to their ransomware-encrypted network. With patient care potentially in the balance, the hospital decided the quickest solution would be to simply pay the ransom.

Pay or Don’t Pay: Where Do You Stand?

A recent study from anti-virus maker Bitdefender indicates that over half of all U.S. ransomware victims have actually paid off their attackers, while 40% of respondents said they most likely would pay to restore access to their data files if necessary.

This leads us back to the central ransomware conundrum: To pay or not to pay.

As we recently discussed, the FBI considers their hands tied against ransomware attacks (almost all are suspected to be launched from Eastern Europe) and shockingly recommends victims simply cough up the Bitcoins. But there are still very logical reasons why paying off cyber-extortionists is never a wise idea:

  • You’re an instant patsy. A quick ransom payment indicates you’ll give in without a fight—an ideal victim. Expect your attackers to remember that when they run low on cash—or share that knowledge with other cyber-gangs looking for their next “easy mark.”
  • The demands will grow bigger. Think of ransomware attacks in terms of simple economics—the “seller” charges what the market will bear. Today’s most lethal strain of ransomware, CryptoWall 4.0, currently charges victims a standard flat rate of 1.83 Bitcoin ($700). If most readily paid $700 for their precious data today, why wouldn’t they pay $900 tomorrow—or even more?

Protect Your Company Now

  • Back up your entire network regularly. Most ransomware will seek out external backup drives (connected to a computer via a USB port) and infect those files as well—unplug the drive after every manual backup.
  • Make sure all software is fully updated and patched. Ransomware and other viruses seek out vulnerabilities in all common office apps.

The middle of a robbery is too late to create your anti-robbery plan! Contact us to help design and implement your company’s strategy against ransomware and other emerging cyber-threats.