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Posts Tagged ‘cyber attack’


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 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.

Does Fintech Pose a Threat to Cybersecurity at Financial Services Companies?

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Financial services companies should embrace a healthy dose of caution when implementing new fintech in their business. Fintech, or any technological innovation in the financial sector, is not inherently more or less secure than any other new technology, but because it works with substantial sums of money, it is a common target for hackers and would-be criminals. Financial services companies need to keep up with innovations in how people transact business including cryptocurrency, digital cash, blockchain technology, smart contracts and open banking in order to remain competitive. Therefore, it’s vital that companies working with fintech pay close attention to risk mitigation and security.

Fintech Is Growing

Bitcoin is likely the best-known and most publicly discussed story in fintech today. It’s an excellent topic for discussion because it’s well known outside of the financial industry for both its potential and problems. Bitcoin shows its potential with its fluctuating value, starting at just pennies a coin and reaching a peak value of over $15,000 USD as of early 2018. However, Bitcoin also has a high-profile case of the risk associated with new technology: the 2014 MtGox theft, which resulted in more than $800,000 in stolen Bitcoins.

As of early 2018, fintech startups continue to proliferate and innovate. Fintech startup funding reached $17.4 billion in 2016 and was on track to surpass that for 2017.

According to CB Insights, there were 26 venture-capitalist backed fintech firms with a combined value of $83.8 billion in Q2 of 2017.

Fintech is chipping away at the traditional financial institution, so the traditional businesses need to embrace it in order to remain competitive. Consumer demand drives financial services companies to use these new technologies; however, it’s the businesses that shoulder security risks.

Security Vulnerabilities Thrive in Fast-Growth Environments

Fintech’s incredible level of success is the very reason it’s a cybersecurity threat at financial services companies. With such a large number of innovations being adopted in the financial services industry, it’s inevitable that some technology won’t have sufficient security in place. If the vulnerabilities exist, it’s only a matter of time before hackers will find and exploit them. Because there are so many players with so much money on the line, it could lead innovators to push technology to the market as fast as possible at the expense of proper security development. Enterprise Innovation cites a survey respondent who expresses concern that the financial services industry can’t keep pace with how quickly fintech is evolving.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to cover all the possible threats that can come from new fintech — because those threats don’t exist until the technology exists. However, financial services companies must ensure they employ proper security practices. Firms need to use fintech platforms securely and ensure devices are always running the latest versions of software for security purposes. Additionally, businesses should be prepared for problems outside of their control with insurance. The 2017 Equifax hack is a warning sign for any business that wants to skimp on security, because it shows exactly how destructive the financial hacks that exploit poor security can be.

MPA Networks offers extensive experience and incredible expertise in providing IT service and support to financial services. If your business is expanding into fintech use, contact us today to learn more about how we can enhance the safety of your information and your customers.

The Latest Big Cyber-Threat: Are Your Servers “DROWN-proof”?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

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If you think there’s a new cyber-threat to worry about every week, you’re probably right. The latest vulnerability to send shockwaves through the enterprise security community has been given a rather ominous acronym: DROWN, short for Decrypting RSA with Obsolete and Weakened eNcryption.

Publicized just a few weeks ago by an international team of security researchers, DROWN exploits outdated encryption methods to intercept confidential data from as many as one-third of the HTTPS servers around the world—from those of popular public websites (including Yahoo, CNBC.com, AutoTrader, and more) to private servers hosting email, instant messaging, and other essential online services.

Yesterday’s Security, Today’s Danger

The basis of DROWN is Secure Socket Layer version 2 (SSLv2), an early Internet encryption protocol. As public Internet usage exploded in mid-’90s, SSLv2 was an early attempt to protect passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data transmitted over the web. But the initial SSLv2 quickly revealed multiple security weaknesses—and proved quite “hackable”—before being largely replaced after only a few years by today’s cryptographic standard, Transport Layer Security (TLS).

Two decades later, obsolete SSLv2 is considered “ancient history” and no longer supported by most end-point browsers or client software (the apps your computer is using to access the web and send/receive email). Yet it remains supported by many servers as a means of backwards compatibility—even though it’s increasingly unlikely that a newer computer would attempt to “communicate” via the obsolete protocol.

Left ignored and mostly forgotten, SSLv2 became the perfect vehicle for a “cross-protocol” DROWN attack.

A Hacker’s Dream: Quick and Cheap

Without getting too far into the confusing technical details, the DROWN researchers proved that by exploiting the weaknesses in alternative SSLv2 connections, a TLS server connection (or “handshake”) could be successfully decrypted in under 8 hours. The process involves comparing about 40,000 “probe” connections against an extreme amount of offline computations (250). But with the current availability of cheaper Cloud-based high-capacity computing services as Amazon EC2, it could be accomplished by a skilled hacker for as little as $440.

The good news is that as of now, there are no reported cases of actual DROWN attacks “in the wild”—but the prime role of cyber-security is to uncover new threats before the crooks stumble upon them. In the meantime, the best defense against DROWN is to disable SSLv2 connections from web servers as well as all STMP, IMAP, and POP email servers. The DROWN research team has included specific details in their website, which can be seen here.

Longtime readers of our blog know that defending your company from cyber-attacks is now simply part of the cost of doing business. To learn more about the DROWN vulnerability and protection from other emerging threats, contact us today.