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Posts from February, 2018


5 Commonly Overlooked Workplace IT Disasters

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Because IT staff get so invested in making sure software, networking and security elements are working, they sometimes overlook the human, environmental and contingency planning factors that can invite workplace IT disasters. In many cases, preventative work becomes an afterthought for IT staff who are expending all their energy on regular operations. Thankfully, planning ahead can help businesses minimize their chances of dealing with the following commonly overlooked workplace IT disasters. Here are five problems to watch out for:

1. Knowledge Loss

It’s common for an IT staff member to take on project ownership, often resulting in excellent work. However, it’s a problem for your business if the only person who understands how a project or a system operates decides to leave for another position. The rest of the team can have a difficult time picking up where the lost employee left off, especially if something breaks or needs immediate adjustment and they’re under pressure to fix it ASAP. Avert a crisis by cross-training IT staff: At least two people should know how anything works.

2. Insufficient Documentation

Proper documentation can mean the difference between a brief disruption and a catastrophe.

IT staff should prioritize documenting everything from programming code to network infrastructure maps to device use walkthroughs.

This information makes it much easier to understand how something works and how to fix it if something isn’t working. Proper documentation helps staff avoid creating disasters when making changes to something they don’t understand. Additionally, IT staff may forget how something works, and documentation decreases the learning curve.

3. Overheating Computer

Too much heat is bad for computers — it causes unplanned shutdowns and eventual device failure. In addition to making sure computer software is patched, IT staff should periodically make sure computers aren’t being used in high-heat conditions. Computers used in areas that don’t have air conditioning, lack clear airflow passage and pull in dust can all result in overheating.

4. Environmental Problems

Heat isn’t the only elemental factor that can prompt an IT disaster: A leaky pipe, a blocked vent or extreme humidity can also damage hardware. These disasters may require replacing computer hardware or entire devices. Servers and network hardware often get tucked away in closets, basements and spare rooms to stay out of the way of daily operations. Issues like exposed pipes, bad airflow, dust, debris, humidity and poor temperature management create conditions ripe for an IT disaster. For example, a pipe leak can flood a room and destroy a server. IT staff should look for and mitigate environmental factor risks.

5. Use of Improperly Tested Tech

While having confidence that you can plug in technology and it will work is a testament to advancement, it is still a recipe for disaster in the IT world. Just because a device turns on and connects to a service doesn’t mean that it’s ready for use. For example, IT staff need to thoroughly test a new AppleTV in the presentation room before a C-level employee uses it in a presentation for investors. While short-term technical failures aren’t a disaster as far as IT is concerned, they can have far-reaching effects in other areas of the business.

In some cases, not having a disaster recovery plan in place before catastrophe strikes could be considered an overlooked IT disaster in itself. The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help your business avoid potential overlooked disasters. Contact us today.

Spectre and Meltdown: Valuable Lessons for Your IT Security Team

Monday, February 12th, 2018

At the end of 2017, the world learned about Spectre and Meltdown: two far-reaching security threats that exploit how CPUs work to expose protected information on nearly every recent PC, server and smartphone. Hackers can use these exploits to do things like steal passwords and other protected private information stored in a computer’s memory through programs such as a web browser.

These vulnerabilities essentially affect every computer, including Macs, iOS devices and Chromebooks.

Hardware and software manufacturers are hard at work fixing the vulnerabilities, but it is up to the end users to make sure the fixes go through.

How the Exploits Work

Spectre seizes the ultra-fast memory on the CPU itself, known as the CPU cache. CPUs use processes called “Branch Prediction” and “Speculative Execution” to guess the most likely upcoming instructions from branches in a program to speed up performance. Spectre attacks manipulate those processes to push data from protected memory into the cache then load that pushed data from unprotected memory. The exploit identifies protected information because it loads faster from the cache.

Meltdown exploits a flaw in processor privilege escalation that allows executed code to get access to protected memory. Essentially, Meltdown breaks the isolation between the application and the operating system. Meltdown is the easier to exploit, but the easier to fix of the two.

What It Means for IT Security

IT security staff needs to make sure that all devices impacted by Spectre and Meltdown are properly updated to mitigate the threat. For the most part, this means staff needs to take some key steps: apply the operating system patches, install firmware updates, update web browsers and update other software that works with secure data, all while keeping the antivirus active.

In many cases, it means just staying out of the way, as Windows and MacOS devices will automatically install the updates. According to Microsoft, end users mostly just need to make sure Windows Update is active. However, some anti-virus programs may block patches and others aren’t compatible with the updates, so IT staff will need to find an alternative option to update those devices.

The Damage Done

Fortunately, Spectre and Meltdown haven’t led to any major security breaches, but researchers have identified more than 130 instances of malware designed around related exploits. So far, related malware seems to be proof-of-concept attempts rather than attacks.

At this point, most of the damage comes from performance degradation associated with the security updates. Both Spectre and Meltdown exploit techniques used to improve CPU performance, so closing those vulnerabilities often involves disabling those techniques. In particular, Windows-based systems running 2015-era Intel Haswell or older CPUs may experience performance drops, with older operating systems being more likely to show symptoms.

However, the performance loss isn’t consistent and can vary between 2 and 14 percent depending on the task. Some processes are affected more than others, with “privileged” processes seeing the most slowdown. Your IT staff should be concerned about this if your business is running virtual machine clusters. The performance loss may mean a hardware update is in order.

MPA Networks offers valuable services such as desktop management that can help your business avoid the pitfalls of Spectre and Meltdown by keeping your computers updated and secure. Contact us today to learn more.

Do You Have a Crisis Management Plan for a Cyberattack?

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

A cyberattack crisis management plan is your business’s best defense for minimizing cyberattack damage after technology-based preventative measures have failed. Unfortunately for most businesses, cyberattacks are not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Establishing a crisis management plan can help your business minimize data compromise, limit attack scope, decrease recovery time and reduce harm to your reputation. Having a plan in advance means your operation can immediately get to work on containing the attack when it occurs rather than allow it to incur further damage while you scramble to develop a plan during the breach.

What Threats Do Cybersecurity Attacks Pose?

Cybersecurity attacks aren’t going away. According to CBS, as of 2015, criminals contributed to 1.5 million annual cyberattacks. These attacks can have major repercussions for a business.

According to IBM, the average breach costs a business $3.6 million.

Some attacks can lead to massive fallout that can put a business in financial trouble. In 2016, there were 15 breaches that exposed more than 10 million identities, Symantec reports.

The technical side of preventing cyber-attacks is an ongoing cat-and-mouse game. The tech industry pushes to close security holes as soon as — if not before — hackers find and exploit them. Hackers like to take advantage of businesses that haven’t applied software patches to close established security holes.

Malware, ransomware, botnets, IoT vulnerabilities and email phishing were all major threat sources in 2017. In particular, ransomware is a growing problem because businesses are paying more than $1,000 on average to recover “locked” data. Many of these payouts could have been avoided by implementing proper crisis management and disaster recovery plans in advance. While big businesses offer big targets, SMBs still need to protect themselves from attacks.

What Your Plan Should Contain

A cyberattack crisis management plan revolves around three main elements: preparation, response and recovery. Every step is crucial, because a poor response can actually make the situation worse. According to WIRED, Equifax’s management response could have stopped the problem before it started in their major 2017 breach, if they had not done such a poor job. Here’s what to consider:

  • Prepare: Your business should prepare for extreme-level attacks in advance. Part of this process involves creating a response team with key players from all necessary departments. The plan should include what each group needs to do in the event of an attack. The crisis response team should take action to plug major known security holes as they are discovered to prevent a breach.
  • Respond: The response team should identify the attack, secure the compromised systems, and investigate the cause of the breach in that order. Next, the team should take action to prevent further attacks that exploit the same or similar security holes.
  • Recover: The cycle continues after your business contains the threat. The response team should next work to minimize public damage and repair customer trust. According to a 2011 Ponemon Institute study, larger businesses say they averaged $332 million in diminished business value following a customer data breach.

The disaster recovery experts at MPA Networks can be a vital part of your business’s crisis management plan. Our experts can help your staff gets back to business as usual as quickly as possible. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

5 Specific IT Considerations for Remote Employees

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Businesses have a lot to gain by hiring remote employees, including the ability to recruit from a larger talent pool and the potential for less expensive workplace accommodations. However, remote employees introduce new challenges in IT security because of the lack of IT centralized IT management. While the majority of security best practices and techniques still apply, your business and its remote employees will need to take a more hands-on approach to properly protect devices and information. Remote workers introduce the following unique IT security challenges:

1. Increased Importance of Human-Based Security Policies

Remote workers need to be more self-directed when it comes to IT security, as there’s no physically centralized IT staff or infrastructure to reinforce safe practices. A business with remote employees should establish a well-developed set of strict security guidelines to protect both devices and online information.

2. Reduced Reliance on Centralized IT to Secure Devices

Any device used for company work needs to be secured with strong passwords, updated operating system software, current antivirus software and regular malware scans. All applications need to be patched to the most recent versions, too.

Hackers take advantage of weak security practices and known vulnerabilities that were patched by attacking unpatched software installations.

Employees will need to make sure all devices they use for work are properly updated and secured.

3. Potential Threats From Personal Devices

Just as with in-office staff, remote employees often use many different devices to do their jobs. They don’t use only the company-provided laptop; they may also use personal smartphones, tablets and computers. While remote IT services can access and update company-owned devices, ensuring personal devices are secured entirely falls on the remote employees.

4. A Lack of Office Network Security

Remote employees do not have the benefit of office network security. Instead, they are likely spending most of their time working on a personal network from their homes. This means employees need to configure their own secure Wi-Fi connection with a strong password and keep both their router and modem updated with the latest firmware. Additionally, remote employees need to change the default password on all networked devices, including the router and IoT devices.

5. Protecting Online Information

While office-based employees transfer a great deal of data over the internet, remote employees do almost all of their work online. If possible, your company can protect this data by configuring a VPN for remote employee use. Businesses should use cloud applications, such as Google’s office suite, whenever possible. These programs are automatically updated and won’t introduce legacy security issues with information exchanged online. Additionally, remote employees are likely to store and share most of their work over cloud-hosted platforms, so your company will also need to consider the security of those platforms.

If your business is considering the addition of remote employees or you want to make existing remote work more secure, the experts at MPA Networks can help. Through IT managed services and desktop management, we can provide your remote employees with security closer to what they’d expect from an office setting. Contact us today to learn more.