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Posts Tagged ‘hacker’


Addressing the Unique IT Management Needs at Law Firms

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Law firms face many unique IT management challenges that stem from the confidential nature of the information they work with. And that confidential data is why law firms must make the protection of information a key IT priority. Threats can come from outside (such as hackers using pressure to extort money from the firm) as well as inside (from technology failure). In order to adapt as threats change, it is important to understand both why law firms are prone to specific IT management challenges and how to address those challenges.

Why Are Law Firms a Prime Target for Ransomware?

As with other businesses, law firms must be ready for the growing number and scope of ransomware threats.

Hackers see law firms as ideal targets because lawyers may opt to pay the ransom to recover information for a case with an immediate court date.

Additionally, hackers may seek to exploit a larger law firm’s substantial financial backing to get an easy payday: A $300 ransom is worth much more to an individual than it is to a large firm. The 2017 ransomware attack against prominent global law firm DLA Piper demonstrates how serious these attacks can be.

Law Firms Are Vulnerable to Data Theft

While technology automates a great deal of law firms’ work, it also brings additional risks for information theft. The 2017 Equifax hack demonstrates exactly how far-reaching damage can be when hackers steal personal information.

Law firms also need to be concerned about keeping confidential client information confidential. Hackers may try to steal information stored on servers or personal computers through malware attacks and software exploits.

What’s less obvious is how criminals can use social engineering — such as posing as a client via email or during a phone conversation — to get law firms to give up confidential information.

External and Internal Data Loss

Law firms work with a substantial amount of information that can go missing due to both external and internal factors. For example, a firm’s server or an employee’s laptop may fail and lose all the data stored on the device. Additionally, employees may not always properly manage their documents and information, which makes them difficult to find. In fact, poor document management can cost a firm hours of productivity every week. IT management can help organize information through platforms such as a document management system to help minimize data loss related to human error.

Law Firm IT Management Solutions

While law firms face many unique IT challenges, businesses can take several steps to minimize risk and mitigate damage:

  • Implement a three-copy backup policy to safeguard against data loss related to ransomware, malware, device failure and human error.
  • Make sure that all software on all devices is up to date and running the latest version. Hackers tend to exploit user laziness by attacking security holes that could have been patched had the user not skipped an update.
  • Confirm that all information exchanges are secure. Don’t fall for social engineering schemes or use compromised public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Use document management systems to prevent losing data from mismanagement. These also serve as a type of backup.

If you would like to learn more about how your law firm can better manage its IT assets and protect itself from online threats, contact the IT experts at MPA Networks today.

Cybersecurity and C-Level Execs: Protecting Data While On the Go

Monday, March 26th, 2018

While all employees need to be mindful of security, the nature of C-level executives makes them more attractive targets for hackers. That means it’s necessary for them to take greater precautions.

According to TechRepublic, C-level executives are more vulnerable than other employees because of the mobile tendencies of their work, and they are higher-value targets because of their access to confidential information. Hackers often use lower-level employees as a way to work up to C-level executives to get the information they’re looking for.

Because of their vulnerabilities and target value, C-level executives need to adhere to the strictest security practices.

Internet Access Security Risks

Hackers can do a lot of damage with little effort if executives connect their devices to unsecured networks. C-level executives tend to travel frequently, which can expose their devices to vulnerable Wi-Fi networks. Coffee shops, airports, hotels and exhibition centers are among the largest and most vulnerable network threat locations — and all are places executives tend to frequent. Executives may be working on unsecured Wi-Fi or even worse: hacker-implemented Wi-Fi masquerading as a legitimate access point.

Your company’s best defense against vulnerable public and private networks is to avoid the “penny wise and dollar foolish” mindset: Pay for an unlimited mobile data plan with tethering support for your executives. Using mobile 4G internet on the go eliminates the risks of using out-of-office networks, and tethering support will allow C-level executives to connect their devices that don’t have built-in 4G mobile network access. Your company can also invest in network tunneling, VPNs and other security measures.

Executive Data Access Is an Attractive Target

Consider this hypothetical example: Bob from H.R. has access to everyone’s Social Security numbers, while Janet from accounting has access to the company’s financial records. But Sam the CEO has access to all that information and more. Because of this, hackers view executives as the biggest fish in the sea, and they will target executives over all other potential targets. This is an even bigger problem on outside networks than within the office network because executives don’t have all the security technology that the office provides protecting them.

In addition to preventing the attack, it’s also wise to limit the amount of data access an executive has on devices they use when traveling — especially for international travel.

Executives should use “burner” laptops/phones that only have the information they need for the trip in order to limit data exposure in the event of a hack. For example, don’t store a payroll spreadsheet containing every employee’s Social Security number on a travel laptop.

A stolen device is also an important risk to consider, so your business should always use encryption and secure passwords on executive devices used when traveling.

Email Is a Primary Attack Avenue

Email security needs to be a priority: It’s everywhere, so it’s irrational to think executives will only read and reply to emails in an office setting. C-level executives are primary targets in “whaling” attacks — high-value targeted email phishing scams. The main concern is man-in-the-middle attacks, where a hacker poses as a trusted individual in a conversation. Technology can only do so much to safeguard against whaling scams. Hackers may learn a great deal about a specific target and tailor their methods based on that information — unlike a standard phishing scam that involves throwing out a generic net to see who falls for it.

IT security is important at all levels, but lapses at the executive-level can have disastrous results. The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help your business implement strong security practices so your company can avoid catastrophic security breaches. Contact us today to learn more.

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.

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.