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Posts Tagged ‘hacking’


Mac- and Linux-Based Malware Targets Biomedical Industry

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

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The malware infection, discovered in late January, that’s been hiding out on Mac and Linux devices for more than two years doesn’t mean the security floodgates are open, but it is a reminder that these devices aren’t invincible. Apple is calling this new malware “Fruitfly,” and it’s being used to target biomedical research. While not targeted for Linux devices, the malware code will run on them.

This attack may hit a little too close to home for those industries MPA Networks specializes in protecting, including healthcare and biotech. That makes this a good time to reexamine security best practices for devices that aren’t commonly targeted for attacks.

Attacks Are Rare, But Not Impossible

Broadly speaking, any device that isn’t running Windows has benefited from a concept called “security through obscurity,” which means hackers don’t bother going after these devices because of a smaller market share.

Mac OS X and Linux provide more secure options than Windows for various reasons, but neither is an invincible platform.

Every so often, hackers strike the Mac community with malware—and when the attacks are successful, it’s typically because users don’t see them coming. The lesson here, of course, is to never let your guard down.

You may not need an active anti-virus program on a Mac, but occasional anti-malware scans can be beneficialAccording to Ars Technica, “Fruitfly” uses dated code for creating JPG images last updated in 1998 and can be identified by malware scanners. Anti-malware programs like Malwarebytes and Norton are available for Mac devices. MPA Networks’ desktop support and management can also improve user experiences on non-Windows devices.

Keep Your Macs and Linux Machines Updated

The old IT adage that says “keeping your programs updated is the best defense against security exploits” is still true when it comes to Mac OS X. While Mac OS X upgrades have been free or low-cost for years, not everyone jumps on to the latest version right away. For example, less than half of Macs were running the latest version of the OS in December of 2014. This means all the desktop and laptop devices running older versions of Mac OS X are exposed to security holes Apple patched with updates.

Typically, Apple only supports the three most recent versions of their operating system, which usually come in annual releases. Your workplace computers should, at the very least, be running a version still supported by Apple. The good news is that Apple quickly issued a security fix to address Fruitfly. The bad news? This isn’t the first Mac OS vulnerability malware has managed to exploit, and it won’t be the last.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your company find the right tools to increase productivity and improve security on all your office devices. Contact us today to get started.

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.

An Expert’s Guide to Avoiding Phishing Scams

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

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Unlike most IT security threats, phishing scams attack the human element instead of the machine element. Phishing scams try to bait a person into exposing confidential information by posing as a legitimate, reputable source, typically by email or phone. Most often, the culprits seek users’ account login details, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other personal information.

By properly educating your employees and following a handful of best practices, your business can significantly reduce the threat of phishing scams.

Here’s how:

1. Treat every request for information—whether by email, phone, or Instant Message—like a phishing scam until proven otherwise.

Meeting any request for confidential information with skepticism, regardless of how trivial it sounds, is your employees’ best defense against phishing scams. Even innocent information like a person’s first car, pet’s name, or birthday can be used to steal accounts through password recovery. Generally speaking, no professional organization or company would ever ask for personal information when contacting you—so any information request of this type is more likely to be fraudulent than real.

2. Familiarize your staff with scheduled emails for password resets.

Many companies use regularly scheduled password reset policies as a security measure; however, hackers can exploit this system to get people to hand over account login information. Your company’s best protection in this case is to familiarize employees with which services actually send out these requests. If possible, enable 2-step verification services, or avoid scheduled password changes altogether.

3. Never click a “reset password” link.

One of the easiest ways a hacker can steal information is to include a spoofed link claiming to be a password reset page that leads to a fake website. These links typically look exactly like the legitimate reset page and will take the “account name” and “old password” information the person enters. If you need to reset an account or update your information, navigate to the site manually and skip these links.

4. Never send credentials over email or phone in communication that you did not initiate.

Many sites utilize legitimate password reset emails and phone calls; however, a person has to go to the site and request it. If someone did not request a password reset, any form of contact to do so should be met with extreme skepticism. If employees believe there is a problem, they should cease the current contact thread and initiate a new one directly from the site in question.

5. Don’t give in to fear.

One common phishing scam emulates online retailers, claiming they will cancel an order because a person’s credit card information is “incorrect.” These scams rely on a sense of urgency to get a potential victim to hand over information without stopping to think. If the account really is compromised, chances are the damage is already done.

6. Report suspected phishing attempts.

Phishing attacks like this typically target more than one person in an organization, whether it be from a “mass-scale” or “spear” phishing attack. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that if one person receives a phishing email, others will, too—so contact both your company’s IT department and the organization the hackers were imitating.

If your business is looking to improve its IT security practices and avoid falling victim to phishing scams and other attacks, contact the experts at MPA Networks for help today.

A Primer on Phishing Attacks

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

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Phishing attacks are a dangerous and devastating method hackers use to steal personal information and accounts—primarily by striking the user instead of the machine. According to the APWG Phishing Activity Trends Report, the first quarter of 2016 saw an explosive 250 percent increase in phishing attacks, meaning both the industry and individuals should be increasingly concerned about these scams.

While security software is getting better at detecting phishing attacks, it can’t stop them all. Here’s the rundown on what you can do to protect yourself and your employees.

What Exactly Is a Phishing Attack?

The goal of a phishing scam is to get a person to hand over private information, usually pertaining to account access credentials, credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other information, that can be used to steal accounts, information, and identities.

According to Indiana University, phishing attacks, or scams, typically present themselves as fake emails masquerading as official sources asking for personal information. Google adds that phishing attacks can also come through advertisements and fake websites.

So, phishing attacks come in several forms. One example of a phishing attack is an email arriving in an employee’s inbox asking them to reset their Gmail account information. Another is an email from “Amazon” saying the account holder’s credit card information didn’t go through for a recent order.

What’s the Best Defense Against Phishing Attacks?

The best thing a person can do to protect themselves from phishing scams is to be wary any time they receive a message asking for personal information. Businesses and organizations can protect themselves by educating their employees and members about what phishing attacks look like, and how to avoid them.

Teach your employees to look for red flags, like an email address that doesn’t correspond to the supposed sender, impersonalized messages, grammatical errors, and/or unsolicited attachments. Equally, watch out for spoofed links that list one URL on the page but redirect to another—and keep an eye out for spoofed URLs that don’t match the real site (e.g., gooogle.com instead of google.com).

Some phishing emails use such highly personalized information that they may appear, on the surface, to be authentic. Don’t let your guard down. Phishing attacks typically use fear to motivate a person into handing over sensitive information with statements like “your order will be canceled” or “your account will be deactivated.” Instead of clicking the link inside the email or responding directly with personal information, go to the real website using a search engine or by typing the URL directly into your browser. If you receive a phishing email related to any of your professional account credentials, report it to IT.

The State of Phishing Attacks

Now that web users are spread out over a variety of operating systems including Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS, it makes sense that hackers would divert more effort to scams that attack the user instead of the operating system. Symantec reported a 55 percent increase in “spear-phishing” scams across 2015. In the first quarter of 2016, CSO reported that criminals successfully targeted 41 organizations in a phishing scam aimed at retrieving W-2 data.

If your company is looking to improve its IT security practices against threats like phishing scams, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today.

Hack of 500 Million Yahoo Accounts Reminds Industry to Increase Security Measures

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

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In September 2016, half a billion Yahoo account users received the bad news that their names, email addresses, phone numbers, and security questions were potentially stolen in a 2014 hack.

According to CNET, the Yahoo hack is the largest data breach in history.

In the wake of a major hack like this one, the only silver lining is a powerful reminder for businesses to review their IT security practices. In the case of the Yahoo breach, hackers can use the stolen information to compromise other employee accounts and further extend the reach of the hack. Here’s how they do it, and what you can do to stop them.

The “Forgot My Password” Reverse Hack Trick

Hackers can steal information from many accounts with the information taken from a single account. If you’ve set your Yahoo email address as your “forgot my password” account for other services, a hacker can use a password reset and reminder commands to compromise even more important accounts. Hackers can use stolen security question answers here to obtain other account credentials as well.

The “Same Password, Different Account” Hack

Memorizing a different password for each account is pretty much impossible for the average person. Most people end up using the same password for many accounts. For example, if you own the email addresses “myemail@yahoo.com” and “myemail@gmail.com” and use the same password for both, it’s likely that a hacker who stole your Yahoo password and security questions will try them on the account with the same name on Gmail.

Password Theft Prevention Strategies

Security breach prevention starts with a strategic security plan and a series of best practices:

Account-Specific Logins and Passwords. One way to prevent a hacker from using your stolen username and password on another account is to create site-specific login and password credentials. This is easily accomplished by memory by adding a site-specific prefix or suffix for each account. For example, your Yahoo and Gmail credentials may be “myemailYHOO/YHOOP@ssw0rd” and “GOOGLmyemail/P@ssw0rdGOOGL” respectively. Alternatively, password managers are an easy way to manage login credentials across accounts and generate random passwords.

Secure the Fallback Account. We’ve previously discussed the security benefits of “two-step verification” as an effective way to keep hackers out of your accounts even if they manage to steal your password or security question answers. Make sure all of your accounts that feature a “forgot my password” function lead back to a “two-step” secured email address.

Update Passwords Frequently. Typically, hackers use your stolen information immediately to access your accounts and steal your information. That’s why frequent password changes are often considered a waste of time. However, the Yahoo hack bucks this trend as the information being released in late 2016 came from 2014.

IT security and password protection are an essential part of doing business in the modern digital world. Contact us today for IT consulting advice for better security practices and managed services assistance to help keep your business’s confidential information safe.

Massive IoT DDoS Attack Causes Widespread Internet Outages. Are Your Devices Secured?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

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As you probably know already, the United States experienced its largest Internet blackout in history on October 21, 2016, when Dyn—a service that handles website domain name routing—got hit with a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack from compromised Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The day will be known forevermore as the day your home IP camera kept you from watching Netflix.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now when it comes to IoT security: We’ve previously discussed how IoT devices can be used to watch consumers and break into business networks.

This specific outage is an example of how the tech industry is ignoring security mistakes of the past and failing to take a proactive approach in protecting IoT networks.

The Outage

The October outage included three separate attacks on the Dyn DNS provider, making it impossible for users in the eastern half of the U.S. to access sites including Twitter, Spotify, and Wired. This attack was different from typical DDoS attacks, which utilize malware-compromised computers to overwhelm servers with requests to knock them offline. Instead, it used malware call Mirai that took advantage of IoT devices. These compromised devices then continually requested information from the Dyn servers en masse until the server ran out of power to answer all requests, thus bringing down each site in turn.

This outage did not take down the servers hosting the platforms, but rather the metaphorical doorway necessary to access those sites.

Ongoing Security Concerns

According to ZDNet, the IoT industry is, at the moment, more concerned with putting devices on the market to beat competition than it is with making devices secure. IoT devices are notably easy to hack because of poor port management and weak password protection. IoT devices are also known for not encrypting communication data. October’s attack wasn’t even the first of its kind: A 145,000-device IoT botnet was behind a hospital DDoS attack just one month prior.

What You Can Do

MacWorld recommends changing the default security configuration settings on all IoT devices and running those devices on a secondary network. The Mirai malware works simply by blasting through default username and password credentials—so users could have protected themselves by swapping the default “admin/admin” and “password/password” settings. There are also IoT security hub devices available to compensate for IoT security shortcomings.

IoT devices can offer fantastic perks for your office, but the security concerns are too important to ignore. If you’re interested in improving network security pertaining to IoT devices or looking for advice on which IoT devices would benefit your workplace, don’t hesitate to contact MPA Networks today.

IoT Devices to Make Your Office More Efficient

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

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IoT devices have incredible potential to make your office more efficient. Previously we’ve discussed the caveats IoT devices bring to the workplace a few times, but today we’re going to focus on how these devices can increase productivity.

It’s easy to fall back on the old mentality “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”—but many smart devices can streamline processes and save money in the long run.

Smart Fridge

At first glance it might seem overloaded with bells and whistles, but the staff at Forbes insists the smart fridge is a great idea. The primary function of the smart fridge is the ability to replace food when it’s running low directly from the device itself. Reporting when something is low and streamlining the replacement process can cut down on time spent on fridge inventory and the waste of infrequently used products.

The biggest advantage, though comes from the smart fridge’s energy savings potential. Simply put, it’s more efficient than that old clunker sitting in your break room.

Smart Thermostat

Smart thermostats make it easier to control the office temperature and cut down on climate control expenses. Quartz recommends the devices for office settings on a diplomatic level as well: They can be used to crowd source the temperature setting during the work day. A famous study by the Campbell Soup Company found that thermostat temperatures have a correlative effect on employee productivity.

Smart Locks

Smart locks are one of those devices that add features you never want to have to use, but will be happy to have if the need arises. These devices connect to the office’s Wi-Fi network and can be used with smartphones for mobile access. Primarily, smart locks can be combined with electronic pins that are opened with a smartphone app instead of a physical key or 4-digit combo for tighter security.

In a pinch, you can use the application to unlock the door to let people in the office without actually being there. This can be helpful in situations where the “keyholder” is running late or off sick, or you need to allow weekend maintenance staff in remotely.

Smart Cameras

Smart cameras are a straightforward upgrade to your office’s existing security system (assuming you already have one). They’re relatively inexpensive, starting around $100 each, and offer fantastic protection against intruders. Some smart cameras can be programmed to recognize employees’ faces and alert you if someone unrecognized enters the office. You can also use the cameras to remotely check in on the office while away.

If you’re looking to make your office run “smarter,” contact the experts at MPA Networks to explore all the exciting possibilities of IoT devices. We’ll help you secure the devices on isolated secondary networks to keep your business protected now and in the future. That way, your staff can enjoy all the perks of IoT without worrying about the vulnerabilities.

Are Comatose Servers Draining Your Wallet and Leaving You Vulnerable?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

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Those old servers your business no longer uses—and keeps running anyway—are more than just a security risk: They’re hurting your firm’s bottom line.

The term comatose server describes a functional server, connected to a network, that sits idle virtually all of the time. If your business is running three servers, there’s a high chance that at least one of them is a “zombie server.” 

30 percent of all servers are comatose. This means that approximately 10 million servers across the planet are sitting around doing nothing productive.

According to the Wall Street Journal, most companies are better at getting new servers online than taking old servers offline. A managed service provider (MSP) can help your business identify inactive servers and dismantle them, both to reduce costs and improve security.

Security Concerns

A comatose server can be a major security risk for your business. Unlike that shiny new server running the latest software, the old one is likely running a legacy operating system necessary to utilize older applications. These forgotten servers are also unlikely to receive security updates. If hackers are looking to break into your business network, they are going to have an easy time breaching an outdated system with established security exploits. Because even though these servers aren’t being used, they are likely to hold important—or even confidential—information.

Wasting Electricity

That’s not all, says the Wall Street Journal. The 3.6 million zombie servers in the United States are also wasting a staggering 1.44 gigawatts of electricity—enough to power every home in Chicago. While your business’s unused servers are just a drop in the bucket compared to the national problem, you’re still looking at a hefty energy bill to keep a dormant server running over time. If we consider that, on average, electricity costs 12 cents per kWh in the U.S., that means running a 850-watt server costs about $890 a year. Two comatose servers wasting energy for five years total nearly $9,000 in electricity expenses—money your business could save just by flipping a switch.

Hunting for Zombies

An IT consulting service can help your business identify and dismantle comatose servers. The process involves identifying every server your business owns and runs, and determining which ones aren’t being used anymore. Some older servers may not be running domain-name-system software, so they may not show up when searching the network directory—meaning you may need to hunt them down manually.

Of course, it’s unlikely that a smaller firm has more than a handful of servers, so creating a server inventory is often as straightforward as looking at the office server rack. Businesses that have a much larger group of servers to work with may need a network scanning tool to find servers. But remember: The savings and security benefits begin as soon as the comatose servers are turned off.

Password Managers and Recovery Strategies

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

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Secure passwords and recovery strategies are an essential part of doing business in the digital age—and password manager programs can help streamline the process.

Password managers store and, often, automate login credentials for individuals across all secured online platforms for easy, secure, and fast access.

Why You Need It

Password-related IT security is an always-hot topic in the tech world; new reports of password security breaches are still hitting headlines with alarming frequency. In June of 2016, hackers hit remote desktop access service GoToMyPC® with a sophisticated attack, causing the company to send out a mass password reset to all of its users. Security breaches like these are a good reminder of why your business should use a password manager.

Everyday Use

Using the same password for every platform is problematic for the obvious fact that hackers can use that one password to break into several accounts. Your best bet is to use different passwords for different platforms—but trying to remember them all can, of course, be a challenge. For services you use infrequently, a password manager can improve productivity by helping you avoid tedious password search and reset processes.

Naturally, the biggest advantage of password manager platforms is that they allow you to easily create and store complex, hack-proof passwords. What do those look like? Here are a few tips: Secure passwords should use 10-12 characters with a mix of capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. And since it’s admittedly difficult for humans to remember 12+ character passwords that look like someone punched a keyboard, a password manager can come to the rescue.

Restoring Secure Access

When it comes to passwords, the best defense is a good offense—but breaches are going to happen. According to PCWorld, password leaks should be treated more like a “when” situation than an “if” situation.

Password managers can help you each step of the way, from locking down compromised accounts to restoring access on all devices so your employees can get back to business like nothing ever happened. After you regain control of the account, the password manager can generate a new, secure password. Additionally, the program will restore access on all of your connected devices by entering the new password in a single location, saving you the time and hassle of re-entering each new password on your work computer, personal desktop, personal laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc.

If you’re worried about password security, talk to your IT consulting service. A local MSP can help your business establish and implement secure password practices and manage them with ease. Check out PC Magazine’s list of top password managers for 2016 for a closer look at your best options.

Don’t Forget About Printer Security

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

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There was a time when printers—in your office or home—were considered relatively “simple” office equipment: plug it in, connect it to the local network, and keep the ink fresh, and there wasn’t much else to worry about.

But times have changed.

Today’s business printers—enterprise-level equipment or smaller, multi-function printer/scanner/copiers—include as much document storage capabilities and sophisticated processing power as any other point on the network, another example of the ever-expanding Internet of Things. But while PCs and laptops are almost constantly under the watchful eye of their individual users, networked printers generally sit by themselves for long stretches of time when there are no “jobs” to print.

For many companies, unsecured printers become the weakest link in their network security chain—and a prime point of entry for hackers.

Malicious Mischief, or Worse

Case in point: This past March, a notorious Internet “troll” targeted over a dozen prominent universities around the U.S., hijacking multiple networked printers to print racist material. Colleges were considered an inviting target because printers are often purchased directly by academic departments with little oversight by campus IT management.

Since around 2000, most business-class imaging products have included their own hard drives—capable of storing every document ever printed or copied. A 2010 investigative report by CBS News revealed that “high mileage” used photocopiers—typically available for a few hundred dollars on the resale market—contained un-encrypted hard drives with a slew of easily retrievable data—account numbers on copied checks, pay stubs with personal info, and other valued commodities for any identity thief.

Practicing Printer Hygiene

We’ve noticed many new customers who’ve neglected security on their office printers. Here are a few important areas to keep in mind:

  • Management. Appoint a single person as your printer “administrator”—understanding its functions, instructing others how to operate it, basic maintenance (beyond paper jams or toner changes), and enforcing security policy. Check for stray documents left in the input or output trays at the end of the workday.
  • Protection. Make sure your printers are included in your network firewalls and other security measures.
  • Updates. Unlike computers, manufacturers’ firmware updates are rarely downloaded automatically. Check often for the latest online security patches.
  • Authentication. Require users to be present at the printer during every print job, requiring individual passwords, smart badges, or fingerprint scans.
  • Encryption. Encode both network traffic and documents stored on the printer’s hard drive.
  • Data Scrubbing. As we’ve recommended for computers, make sure a printer’s internal memory is completely wiped clean at the end of its use life.

For more ideas on safeguarding your printers along with the rest of your network, talk with us.