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Posts Tagged ‘IT security’


Unique IT Challenges Financial Services Providers Face Today

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Financial services providers find their IT challenges list is always growing because of security issues, employee needs, customer protection, regulatory laws and business requirements. Keeping up with IT concerns is important not just because failing to do so means lost business opportunities — but also, the financial services industry can incur substantial penalties over failure.

Performance Challenges

The large amount of data and secure nature of that data create a heap of unique challenges for the financial services industry. While the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy is a best practice, relying on it for too long creates situations in which older hardware and software can’t perform fast enough or are incompatible with newer platforms. Aging infrastructure can cause performance and compatibility issues.

Financial services providers often rely on high-capacity internet and network infrastructure to move large amounts of data quickly and securely. When that infrastructure no longer performs it’s time to migrate to something that does. IT services can be an invaluable asset when migrating, implementing and performance-tuning new hardware and software.

Compliance Challenges

IT in the financial services industry faces unique challenges from regulation and technology; the challenges are so great that a substantial share of the IT budget can go toward meeting government mandates.

On the technology side, many businesses rely on legacy systems that either need to be better protected because of known vulnerabilities or migrated to newer and more secure platforms.

Businesses often learn about issues and challenges from a Securities and Exchange Commission audit. It is crucial to comply with making changes in order to address identified concerns from the audit. IT addresses much of the regulatory compliance challenges through technology. An IT services provider can help a financial services provider address compliance issues, with solutions for everything from backup practices to email security.

Security Challenges

The financial services industry works with both confidential information and finances, which offers a very desirable target for hackers. Security challenges are the biggest and most important issue facing financial services providers in the IT realm. In particular, the financial industry is the top target for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which aim to disable online services for customers and staff alike. Businesses need to implement defensive technology that mitigates these attacks when they happen (as opposed to if they happen).

Additionally, the industry needs to protect customer data and avoid breaches, as there are always new security concerns to address. That means IT staff must keep up with software patches on all levels while also avoiding breaking features from updates with the goal of preventing attacks. Aging infrastructure is often the root of cyber-attack vulnerabilities and may need to be replaced for data protection.

Financial providers need to watch out for phishing and ransomware attacks on employees. The financial industry is on the receiving end of 8.5 percent of all phishing attacks, so IT staff must address these concerns on the technical and personal levels to avoid allowing impersonators to access private information. Ransomware is also a major concern in the industry. This increases the emphasis on keeping software patched to avoid attacks and maintaining reliable backups to minimize data loss if any attacks succeed.

If your Bay Area financial services provider business is looking to streamline its integrations with expert help, MPA Networks is here to help put years of professional expertise to use. Contact us today to learn more.

Which Industries Are Most Likely to be Targeted with Cyber Security Threats?

Monday, May 21st, 2018

To understand why some industries are targeted in cyber attacks more often than others, it’s important to understand what drives hackers and what makes a target appealing. Of the two, hackers are easier to understand:

According to a Verizon data security report, roughly 70 percent of attacks are financially motivated, and around a quarter of attacks are for espionage purposes. The rest tend to fall under the categories of personal grudges, ideological attacks, and “just for fun.”

A prime target for an attack will have some of, if not all of, the following qualities:

  • Works with important, confidential data
  • Possesses valuable information (not just financially)
  • Service disruptions require urgent action to restore access or information security
  • Target has substantial financial assets
  • Target has the financial means to pay a ransom

Businesses in the following industries often find themselves on the receiving end of a security attack because they are considered high-value targets.

1. Finance

As the financial industry works with money, it should come as no surprise that it is the most popular target for hackers. This industry is the target in 24 percent of all attacks, which are almost exclusively financially motivated. These attacks often try to compromise credentials so hackers can steal money through a second-step. Businesses in the finance space should make IT security a priority because attacks are less a matter of if and more a matter of when.

2. Healthcare

Hackers often look to exploit the urgency in the healthcare industry for a financial payout: This industry receives 15 percent of all attacks. In particular, ransomware accounts for 72 percent of all malware attacks on hospitals. The healthcare industry is singled out because disruptions to data access could put patient lives at risk, and hackers could be looking to exploit legal penalties for underprepared businesses losing data.

3. Public Sector

The public sector is a popular target because of the information it stores: Around 12 percent of all attacks are on this industry. Financial motivation only accounts for 20 percent of attacks on the public administration segment of the industry; instead, espionage is the motive in 64 percent of cases. Hackers are often trying to steal confidential information from government operations, but they still may try to go after schools with ransomware to earn a quick payout. Criminals may also target public sector operations because they believe the organization is under-resourced in IT security.

4. Retail and Accommodations

When combined, the retail and accommodations industries comprise another 15 percent of cyber attacks. In particular, 96 percent of retail attacks are financially motivated. These attacks often target payment and personal information that can be used to either directly steal money or play a role in identity theft.

5. Everyone Else

Just because your business isn’t in the four largest targeted industries, you shouldn’t fall victim to a false sense of security. Other businesses still account for 34 percent of attacks. In fact, overconfidence in existing security practices can make the difference between a failed or successful breach.

The IT experts at MPA Networks can help your Bay-Area business secure its internet-facing operations to help keep your information safe. Whether you’re in finance, healthcare, or another industry, MPA’s experience can improve your defenses. Contact us today to learn more.

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.

Training Employees in Data Security Practices: Tips and Topics

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

While there’s plenty of technology available to keep your business’s data protected, the human element is still the most important piece to consider in safeguarding your company’s data. Properly training employees to understand and implement data security best practices works best when your business makes a cultural shift toward prioritizing IT security. Successfully training your staff is half about knowing how to train them and half about knowing which topics to train them on. Businesses that embrace a proactive approach to training employees on data security will have a much better track record than those that take a reactive approach.

Training Tips

Don’t just make a plan: Implement a program that focuses on training all employees. Have your business take an active role in implementing a data security program. This ensures training is far more effective than simply creating security practices, offering one-time training and hoping it works.

By implementing regular security training meetings on changing topics, your business can train your staff on a wide range of concerns.

In addition, your company can benefit from focused training while constantly reinforcing security as a priority. Hold multiple sessions that get into each topic in depth to help your employees better understand data security.

Training doesn’t end when the session ends — it’s an ongoing process. As an extension of training, your security staff should frequently send out reminders about security concerns to help employees remember what they’ve learned. Make your data security training materials easily accessible in the event staff members see a reminder and realize they should read up on a topic if they’re unclear of what the reminder is about. Additionally, C-level staff, IT and supervisors should lead by example.

Training Topics

The bad news is hackers will always create new threats for your staff to worry about — but the silver lining is that you’ll never run out of fresh topics to cover. Because of the fluidity of data security, your program will need to change which topics are covered in training and continually adjust strategy to address new threats. The following list covers just some of the many topics training sessions can cover:

  • Strong passwords and more secure authentication practices: This includes covering two-step authentication when applicable.
  • Secure Wi-Fi best practices: Explore red flags to look for when using public Wi-Fi and discuss whether public Wi-Fi should be used at all.
  • Physical device security: Cover topics such as encryption and disabling devices remotely to minimize data leaks for stolen/lost devices.
  • Use policy: Reaffirm that non-employees shouldn’t be using employee hardware.
  • Device security: Discuss the importance of keeping software patched and running security software on devices.
  • Popular methods of attack: Cover security best practices for avoiding popular phishing, man-in-the-middle and ransomware attacks.
  • Social engineering threats: Discuss the importance of the user as an essential line of defense when software can’t protect from threats.
  • Three-copy backup strategy: Explain that data is also at risk of being lost rather than stolen, and explore key backups to minimize these losses.

Hackers and thieves are known to exploit human complacency in security practices — and frequent training sessions will help employees stay aware. Is your business looking to improve its security practices? The IT consulting experts at MPA can help; contact us today to learn more.

10 Cyberattacks Your Business Should Defend Against

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Cyberattacks are a major security concern for any business that uses the Internet. Even if your company doesn’t have a website, hackers can go after your email address and business service accounts.

Though they represent one of the more severe risks of a cyberattack, a data breach costs an enterprise $1.3 million and an SMB $117,000 on average.

Cyberattacks take many forms; your business should plan to protect itself from the following common types of cyberattacks:

1. Phishing: In phishing attacks, hackers impersonate a business in an email to persuade recipients to hand over personal information via a reply or to install malware. The email may also contain a fraudulent link to a fake version of a trusted website’s login page. Whaling and spearphishing are specific types of phishing that refer to attacks that single out a specific person or group.

2. SQL Injection: SQL injection is a technique cybercriminals use to exploit database-entry forms on a website. Rather than inputting a name, password, address or other information, a hacker will instead enter a code command designed to damage your database. This is typically successful when the website doesn’t properly sanitize and clean user-input data.

3. Cross-Site Scripting: XSS attacks occur when a hacker slips malicious code into your website or application. It’s common for hackers to exploit advertisement networks and user-feedback fields to sneak code onto a business’s public platform.

4. Man in the Middle: An MITM is similar to a phishing scam in that a hacker impersonates an endpoint in communication. For instance, the hacker might pose as a representative for your bank when communicating with you and pose as you when communicating with the bank — and obtain valuable information with this strategy. More sophisticated variations of this attack involve jumping into a legitimate conversation and impersonating a trusted individual.

5. Malware Attacks: Malware refers to malicious programs designed to infiltrate and disrupt user devices. Of all the different types of malware, ransomware is among the most high-profile and dangerous: It disables access to a device until the user pays a ransom. Trojans, worms, and spyware are other notable types of malware.

6. Denial-of-Service Attacks: DoS attacks disrupt networks and online platforms by overwhelming them with incredible amounts of traffic. Hackers can use these attacks to knock your website offline or slow your network to a crawl. Distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are a DoS variation that utilize multiple devices to pull off the attack; one such example is the Mirai IoT Botnet, which caused a major internet disruption for the eastern United States.

7. Social Engineering: Social engineering refers to a hacker using psychological manipulation to get an employee to hand over confidential information or install malware.

8. Drive-By: These attacks trick a user into installing malware, usually a Trojan, by clicking a link in a web browser. Drive-bys typically exploit security holes in web browser plug-ins.

9. Unpatched Software: Unpatched software attacks are entirely avoidable: They work by hackers using known exploits in programs that have already been fixed. Hackers rely on the fact that some users neglect to install important updates.

10. Brute Force Password Hacks: Hackers may also seize your company and employee accounts through brute force password hacking. In this scenario, they use a program to continually guess an account’s password at login until the program finds one that works. Secure passwords will take far longer to crack, so hackers tend to target less secure accounts.

IT security is an incomplete process unless your business has the right hardware, software and employees working together to prevent attacks. The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help. Contact us 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.

The Mirai Botnet Returns — and Why You Should be Concerned

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

The Mirai botnet refers to a massive-scale network of Linux-running Internet of Things devices turned into remote-controlled bots through a malware infection. Hackers can use the network to run a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, by having the infected devices overwhelm a target with data traffic. Mirai malware and its copycats are an ongoing threat to Internet security and stability. All businesses should be concerned about Mirai’s damage potential and perform their security due diligence to avoid contributing to the problem.

A History of Attacks

Mirai first appeared September 2016, then reemerged in late 2017; its botnet of devices maxed out at around 600,000 infected devices.

While the average person probably doesn’t know what Mirai is, most people in the eastern half of the United States experienced what it can do: it was responsible for the October 2016 wide-scale slowdown of the Internet for the entire region.

Without diving too deep into the technical details, this outage-causing traffic came from malware-infected routers and cameras. In the malware botnet’s initial use, it created a massive 630 Gbps attack on a journalist’s website on September 20, 2017, double the traffic from the previous largest known attack.

While the hackers from the original Mirai attack eventually pleaded guilty, the threat from Mirai and similar malware is still very real. In late 2017, hackers used a variation to seize control of over 100,000 devices in just 60 hours, mostly consisting of unsecured modems made by ZyXEL.

How It Works

Mirai is a worm-like malware that infects Internet of Things devices by using factory default credentials. The malware scans the Internet for dozens of IoT devices with known vulnerabilities from default security settings and seizes them. Mirai exploits human behavior because owners often don’t change the default settings. The malware will control the device and use it to flood a target with Internet traffic when the hackers activate a signal. The malware creates an ad-hoc network of thousands of devices and has them all attack a target at the same time until the target’s web hosting platform is so overwhelmed with traffic it goes offline.

Mirai is dangerous because it inspires copycat malware that can be used for similar attacks. This malware family tends to target low-hanging fruit: low-cost electronics with little security. Device owners will have a difficult time identifying when their devices are infected because they remain dormant between the infection and the attack.

What It Means for Businesses

Businesses should be concerned about Mirai and similar malware in two areas: having their devices seized by the malware and being a target of a DDoS attack. Your business could be a victim of the malware without being a hacker’s target if your devices get infected and become a part of the network. An infection could potentially run up bandwidth usage, lead to slower network connections, and cause device malfunctions. Your business could be a target of a botnet DDoS attack, but your company’s devices are far more likely to be infection targets.

Managing Messaging Tools in Your Office

Monday, March 5th, 2018

When used well, instant messaging tools can increase productivity while offering secure information exchange in your office. Messaging works in business environments because it’s less involved than email, easy to queue and fast to respond. Several free and premium messaging systems that vary in both features and security are widely used in businesses today. Some of the most popular include Slack, HipChat, Yahoo Messenger and WhatsApp.

As with any communication tool, businesses should make sure messaging services are being used securely and for work-related purposes. The following tips can help your business stay focused on work while minimizing security risks when using instant messaging platforms:

Avoiding Distractions

While instant messaging helps speed up work-related communication, it can also be a major source of distractions. Taking an overbearing stance against non-work related conversations can be bad for morale; instead, your administrators should steer the conversation towards productivity in the following ways:

  • Use a service that controls which accounts can talk to one another to ensure that employees are only talking to business contacts.
  • Keep chatroom membership levels appropriate. The smaller the number of people in a given chatroom conversation, the less opportunity there is for distractions. Having too many people in a chatroom can make the conversation difficult to follow.
  • Design chatrooms around a specific group or job, and make sure the name describes the room’s purpose. This will naturally steer conversation toward an appropriate topic.
  • According to Slack, there’s no such thing as too many chatrooms, so don’t feel obligated to condense groups. Having more chatrooms helps minimize conversation clutter.
  • Assign administrators to chatrooms to bring the conversation back on topic if it gets too far off base.

Checking Conversation Logs: When HR Gets Involved

Sometimes your business will have to address bad behavior on instant messaging services over both security and distractions.

Monitoring all conversations is bad for morale, because employees will feel as though management is invading their privacy.

It’s best to read employee conversations only if there’s a report of harassment, abuse or a substantial drop in productivity. Set chat expectations in advance to avoid the need to pull conversation records.

Conversation Security

Your business should ensure your instant messaging platform has sufficient security practices to prevent outsiders from gaining access. Because instant messaging platforms save conversation history, an intruder may access untold amounts of confidential information. It’s also important to make sure employees are using secure login credentials. Administrators can minimize the amount of damage from a compromised account through access control settings. Additionally, many messaging platforms allow your business to control who employees can contact so you don’t have to worry about outsiders accidentally gaining access to group conversations.

Data Security

Employees may use a messaging platform to transfer files with confidential information between each other. Therefore, it’s important that your messaging service encrypts data transfers. Messaging services that store file transfer backups in the cloud can also introduce new security risks, so staff should move sensitive data files through other, more secure means.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help your business find the right messaging tools that fit your needs. Then, through business productivity consulting, they can help you set policies that help avoid workplace distractions and implement secure technology use. 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.