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Posts Tagged ‘antivirus’


7 Ways to Keep Work Secure on Employee Personal Devices

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Technology improvements have made it easy for employees to get work done on their personal devices from anywhere. However, that freedom comes with additional security risks and requires extra diligence to keep data secure. Safeguarding information is a combined process of utilizing technology and educating staff. The following considerations will help your business keep work secure on employee personal devices.

1. Always Update/Patch Software

Hackers invest time trying to find new ways to bypass security or take advantage of personal apathy and laziness.

According to PC World, failing to install the latest patches and updates for software is the top security risk for both business and private use.

Hackers can look for known exploits that the software creator closed and use them against people who haven’t updated the software to close that security hole. Unlike with business-owned devices, your business really can’t force employees to install software that will prompt updates, so it becomes a matter of training.

2. Use Cloud Apps

Cloud applications for both computers and mobile devices offer some excellent security benefits for your business, especially when your employees access them on personal devices. Cloud apps shift much of the data security burden to the server side, which alleviates many of the security problems that could come from traditional apps run on employee devices. Cloud email is an excellent example of this because the server can handle scans for phishing, malware and other malicious attacks before the content ever makes it to the employee device. Cloud apps generally run the most current software versions, so your business won’t have to worry about employees running updates.

3. Encourage Strong Antivirus and Anti-Malware Practices on All Devices

While employees don’t need to use the same security software your business runs on their personal devices, they do still need quality security software. There are many free and low-cost security programs for personal users that provide excellent protection. Your IT staff can help make recommendations for employees on personal devices.

4. Train to Avoid Phishing Scams

While security software and cloud apps do a great job of catching phishing scams, some still might slip through. That’s why it’s important to train your employees in how to identify and avoid phishing scams.

5. Use Strong Passwords, Password Managers and 2-Step Verification

Employees should also keep their accounts secure by using sophisticated access credentials. This means using 2-step verification for all accounts and programs when possible and using password managers to protect their credentials. Employees should be trained in creating strong passwords in the event that more advanced security techniques don’t work.

6. Practice Public Wi-Fi Safety

In general, employees should avoid using public Wi-Fi when working with confidential information. If employees are going to do work on Wi-Fi outside of the home or workplace, they need to be trained in identifying fake access points and how to tell if a library, restaurant or other business’s network is secure.

7. Consider Using Remote Wipe or Lock Software

As a final effort, your business should encourage employees to install software that allows them to remote wipe or lock mobile devices and laptops they are going to use for work purposes. That way if someone steals that device, the damage will be limited to the financial loss of the hardware and not related to a data security breach.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help your business implement both software and training practices to help keep your data safe when employees use their personal devices for work. You can read our previous blog on tips for managing remote employees for even more information on keeping data safe. Contact us today to learn more.

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.

Four Security Threats Your Company Could Face in 2018

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Hot off the tail of the massive 2017 Equifax breach that exposed personal information of 143 million customers, businesses are on high alert concerning IT security in 2018. While the IT security industry has been successful in mitigating and cracking down on many common threats, hackers are finding new ways to exploit devices that haven’t received as much attention and protection as PCs and servers have. Trends indicate that your company could be looking at security threats from previously ignored devices and sources in 2018. Be on the lookout for the following threats this year.

1. Missing Windows Updates Over Incompatible Antivirus Software and the Meltdown-Spectre Fix

This is one security threat your company could already be facing: There’s an inherent flaw in the way modern CPUs by Intel, AMD and ARM handle data that can be exploited to leak information. This is a substantial problem because it stems from the hardware as opposed to the software, and fixing it can negatively impact device performance. To make matters worse, some types of antivirus software conflict with Microsoft’s fix. If your business is using one of those incompatible programs, you need to switch to a compatible option to continue receiving Windows Updates as of January 2018. Those Windows Update patches are vital to keeping your company’s computers safe.

2. Internet of Things Devices Become a Bigger Threat

As of 2017, there were 17.68 billion IoT-connected devices, and that number is expected to grow to 23.14 billion in 2018.

Your office may interact with devices like an Amazon Echo, a smart thermostat and dozens of smartwatches. These are all IoT devices that could be the targets of security attacks.

These devices can be used to piggyback onto your office network. Additionally, DDoS attacks from hijacked IoT device botnets could be an even bigger threat in 2018.

3. New Devices Are Targeted

Ransomware is for more than just computers now. In 2018, IoT devices could be the next major target for hackers using ransomware to get your business to fork over payment to regain control. A workplace that’s lost control of the thermostat because of ransomware might be highly motivated to pay. Hackers may also be looking to exploit security holes in your office router and modem, as these devices are often neglected when IT staff applies regular security updates. Hackers often exploit the fact that many users don’t change the default password on these devices.

4. Watch out for Mobile Malware

The growing mobile device user base is making the Android and iOS platforms much more attractive targets for hackers over the traditional PC targets. According to Kaspersky, Android devices are more vulnerable to malware, but attacks are easier to identify and fix. While iOS devices are more secure, it’s much harder to tell if a device has been compromised.

Keeping up with IT security in your workplace is your best bet to avoid disastrous breaches and downtime. Our IT consulting experts can help your company identify and protect its security weak points. Contact us today.

8 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Office Computers

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

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When it comes to your office computers, a little bit of spring cleaning goes a long way. Sure, cleaning office computers can seem tedious. But think of it like preventative maintenance on a vehicle: In the best-case scenario, you’ll never know all the breakdowns you avoided.

Keeping your office computers clean and healthy minimizes your risk of downtime and increases productivity.

Here are 8 tips for your next round of spring cleaning:

1. Update All Software

Run updates and patches for the operating system, commonly used programs, and security software on every system. Program and operating system updates don’t just add features; they’re loaded with security updates that keep your devices safe. Most problems with computer security exploits stem from outdated software that allows hackers to break through established breaches that the developer already closed, so running updates and patches is your best line of defense.

2. Run a Full Anti-Virus Scan

After updating all the software on the computer, run a full anti-virus scan to catch any malicious software hanging out on the device. Active anti-virus protection does a good job of safeguarding the system against infections, but sometimes malware slips through the cracks.

3. Run a Full Anti-Malware Scan

Anti-virus programs go after specific, high-risk malware infections, meaning lower-level malware can still find its way onto your computers. Anti-malware programs including Malwarebytes and Spybot are better equipped to identify and remove malware that the anti-virus misses.

4. Defragment the HDD

Older PCs with traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) may experience load time improvements from an annual drive defragmentation. However, newer Windows systems—and all currently supported Mac OS versions—handle this process in the background, so you don’t need to worry about it. If the computer is running a Solid State Drive (SSD), do not bother with the defragmentation process.

5. Remove Unnecessary Launch Programs

It may seem like every program installed on your computer wants to launch itself at startup—even those you rarely use. Removing unnecessary programs from the system startup can help improve performance and reduce login times. Windows 10 features a handy “Startup” tab on the Task Manager that lets users quickly toggle which programs launch with the system.

6. Check and Create Restore Points

Restore points can be a major time saver in returning a compromised computer to full operation. Restore points reverse most of the damage caused by malware and bad configurations, all with minimal effort. Check whether the computer is already using them, and create one if it isn’t.

7. Run a Full Backup

Backups are like restore points for when very bad things happen to a computer. It’s best practice to make at least two backups of a given computer’s files, and store them in different physical locations. This ensures that in the event of catastrophic loss, all the data saved on the computer up until the backup point is preserved. Mashable recommends verifying if automated backup services like Time Machine and Windows Backup and Restore are actually working.

8. Bust Dust on Desktops

This part of the spring cleaning process is literal. As we’ve previously discussed, excessive dust inside a computer obstructs airflow, which can cause crashes due to overheating and even damage components. CNET has a helpful guide on how to go about the dustbusting process.

A little spring cleaning makes for a more efficient office and stronger disaster recovery. The expert desktop support and management staff at MPA Networks is ready to help your workplace in San Mateo, San Francisco, the South Bay, and other Bay Area cities implement better practices. Contact us today for more information.

Antivirus Software: When One Is Better Than Two

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

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If your company’s antivirus software is letting you down, you should think twice before installing a second one on a computer: It may actually make things worse.

Multiple antivirus programs working in conjunction on the same device is not a case of “the sum is greater than the parts” but rather “less is more.”

With many viable free solutions like AVG, Avast, and Avira, it can be very tempting to install backup for a paid option. However, the interaction between multiple antivirus programs leads at best to, essentially, nothing. At worst, it will be detrimental to system performance, stability, and security.

Stepping on Toes

The primary reason that running simultaneous antivirus programs on the same device is a bad idea is that the two programs will confuse one another for malware infections and try to eliminate each other. According to PC World, the antivirus scan conflicts can spill out and cause other programs to fail, while making the operating system less stable. Computer users may immediately notice general slowdown and shorter battery life after installing a second antivirus program.

Users may also be plagued with continuous “false alarm” messages after threats have been removed because the act of one antivirus program removing an infection will be seen by the other as a malware action. Therefore, if you’re installing a new antivirus program on a computer, you’ll need to remove the old one first. This includes removing Windows Defender.

Anti-Malware Scanning Software: Antivirus Backup Exists

Backup exists, but it’s not found in additional antivirus programs. Instead, your business can utilize additional programs commonly referred to as “anti-malware” that are specifically designed to catch infections antivirus software misses for improved protection.

The term “antivirus” is a bit misleading because the programs actually protect computers from a wide range of software-based threats on top of viruses including Trojans, rootkits, worms, and ransomware. Antivirus refers to a software security program that runs in the background at all times as an active form of protection. Anti-malware programs including Malwarebytes, SuperAntiSpyware, and Spybot work through “On Demand” scans, meaning they can be used periodically to clean malware infections.

The Recovery Clause

In disaster recovery situations, your IT staff may need to install a different antivirus program to combat a malware infection that the currently installed software can’t remove. In this situation, the old software will need to be disabled or uninstalled before the new program can get to work.

If you’re looking for better digital security options for your office, contact MPA networks today. Use our experience in IT consulting to your advantage for assistance in both preventing and reducing downtime over malware threats.

New Ransomware Good Reminder to Practice Thorough Data Backup

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

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A new combination of a sophisticated password-stealing Trojan, powerful exploit kit, and content-encrypting ransomware is making its way around the Internet infecting Windows users. If it hits your business, you’re looking at a considerable loss of time and finances.

It’s estimated that businesses worldwide spent around $491 billion in 2014 managing the blowback from data breaches and malware infections. Making sure your business is ready to minimize the amount of damage a ransomware attack can do is the best course of action for dealing with cyber threats like these.

Ransomware Refresher

Ransomware has taken system-disabling malware to a whole new level by trying to extort money in exchange for returning control.

Ransomware that employs data encryption programs like Cryptolocker and CryptoWall uses a complex encoding algorithm that locks off important data on the computer—so removing the ransomware will not restore the data.

In many cases, paying the $24 to $600+ demanded to decrypt the information ends up being practical, because restoring the lost data would end up costing more. However, it is possible that even after you’ve paid the ransom the hackers will not restore access to your system. So pay at your own risk.

Kicking You When You’re Down

The new malware fusion doesn’t just lock a user out of their computer or try to steal login credentials; it does both, and tries to use some of that stolen information to hijack websites the user has admin access to (and propagate itself across more systems). According to PCWorld, the new disastrous malware mix uses the “Angler” exploit kit, the credential-stealing “Pony” Trojan, and the “CryptoWall 4” ransomware. If any of your business’s computers are hit with this malware campaign, you’ll have to deal with compromised account login information, possible FTP and SSH website access breaches, and all the data on the infected computer is as good as lost. So you’re not only looking at the expenses for changing passwords, locking down websites, and replacing lost information, but also the dozens of hours redoing lost work.

The Best Defense

Even though malware finds new ways to compromise systems, it is still a best security practice to keep your antivirus and system software up to date to protect your information. However, keeping everything updated can be problem for some companies, as vital software may not work correctly following an update. Additionally, businesses should avoid using computers running old, outdated operating systems like Windows XP that are no longer receiving security updates.

Making sure your important information is also saved in off-device storage (like an external hard drive or on a cloud service backup) is one of the best things your business can do to minimize the amount of damage caused by a system-disabling malware attack. If the system is infected, the backed up data will still be up to date—and instead of losing months of work, you’re looking at a few hours or days instead. Moving work to cloud-based applications with online storage is another good way to prevent loss from malware. If an employee’s computer gets hit with ransomware, any work they’ve been storing or working on through a cloud service is still safe and secure.

Need advice on backing up your data? Get in touch with a local MSP today.

Important IT Security Message for MPA Networks’ Clients

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

One Malicious Email Could Cost you Thousands of Dollars and Take Down your Entire Network – Don’t be a Victim; Learn the Facts!

Ransomware viruses are on the rise and their explosive growth in the past few months has been startling.  We want to help our clients be up-to-date on this issue and understand exactly what we are doing to help protect you, but more importantly, help you understand what you must do to protect yourself.

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Protect your Business from Cyber Threats with this 5 Point Checklist

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

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About half of all small business owners believe their business is too small to be a potential victim for virtual thieves and hacking.

The facts, however, say something quite different. The majority of cyber attacks are actually perpetrated against businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

Is your SMB prepared for these threats? Follow the checklist below to be cyber-safe!

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