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Posts Tagged ‘security’


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.

Getting a Clean Start: Managing Windows Startup Programs

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

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It’s quite common that, over time, Windows systems accumulate a laundry list of programs that load when a user signs in.

While generally benign, most of these “startup” programs are unlikely to actually benefit the user—so the computer ends up doing a whole lot of work for no reason.

Fortunately, it’s very easy for someone with a little computer experience to control which programs launch at startup. Read on to find out more about the what, why, and how.

Benefits of Trimming Startup Programs

The primary benefit of trimming the startup program list is a substantially faster login process. If your employees don’t have to wait for useless programs to launch, they can access a fully-loaded desktop several minutes faster. Moreover, the system will have more available memory to run programs that are actually being used. This means the computer will be less likely to fall back on the slower-performing hard drive to operate programs, eliminating a major cause of lag.

Cutting down on startup programs also removes bloatware and other unnecessary programs the computer manufacturer installed on the device. These often extend the boot time, waste available memory, and cause errors—so you’re much better off without them. Employees who don’t reboot as often as they should will be more easily encouraged and motivated to do so if the process doesn’t drag on and on.

Accessing and Using the Built-In Startup Manager

Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft moved the Startup Manager to the Task Manager window, which can be accessed by pressing “Ctrl+Shift+Esc” and clicking the “Startup” tab. The Manager can be found on older systems by pressing “Windows Key+R,” entering “msconfig,” clicking “OK,” and selecting the “Startup” tab.

In the Windows 8 and later Managers, simply select the programs you wish to enable or disable and click the “Enable/Disable” toggle button. Enable or disable programs by checking or unchecking the box next to the desired programs in older versions of the Startup Manager, and press “OK” to finalize the changes.

At this point it’s best practice to restart the machine and ensure the system is in working order before moving on. If something vital is missing, access the Startup Manager again and turn it back on.

What to Disable, What to Keep

Generally speaking, the only programs that need to remain in the system startup are security-related: that is, anti-virus, firewall, and remote access applications. Most of the programs featured in the Startup Manager should have familiar names—so if a program doesn’t immediately strike you as essential, it can probably be disabled. PCWorld recommends researching unknown programs before disabling them.

If you’re unsure of which programs can be disabled, free applications like “Should I Remove It” can help guide you. MakeUseOf.com has a handy list of 10 common startup programs that can be safely disabled for (sometimes significant) performance improvements.

If your business is looking to increase productivity by running more efficient technical infrastructure, the IT Managed Services experts at MPA Networks can help. Contact us today for more information.

Digital Sticky Notes: A Time-Saver for Your Entire Team

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

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It’s a familiar sighting in the workplace: the employee with half a dozen sticky notes attached to their computer monitor. While not the most confidential or elegant solution, these employees are on to something.

Fortunately, technology has stepped in to embrace this practice and increase productivity through digital sticky notes. Teaching your staff how to use this feature helps keep your office not only more organized, but also more secure.

Boosting Productivity and Security

Like their physical counterparts, digital sticky notes have countless helpful applications: They can serve as reminders, cheat sheets, and to-do lists, to name a few.

Employees can create and destroy as many digital sticky notes as needed without wasting any paper. And digital sticky notes actually work better than making notes in a Word or Google doc, because they are continually accessible/viewable when switching between tasks.

Digital sticky notes have the following advantages over physical versions:

  • Content on the notes can be rearranged, edited, and erased at will. Reworking the list does not mean drafting a new note.
  • They serve as excellent interactive to-do listshelping employees stay organized.
  • No physical waste is created when the sticky note is no longer being used.
  • They are more secure because they’re not visible when the screen is off, the user logged out, or the system locked.
  • They come with theoretically unlimited space. Digital sticky notes allow for scrolling when more space is needed.
  • They offer an easy place to store login credentials that all employees in the workplace can access.
  • They provide a simpler platform to manage important, frequently used links than an ever-expanding bookmark list in a web browser.
  • Employees can use simple copy-and-paste commands between programs to add to the sticky note.
  • The notes facilitate email communication between devices and people.
  • They won’t fall or get knocked off the screen.

Sticky Notes with a PC

Windows calls its digital notation program “Sticky Notes.” It behaves similarly to program windows and can be accessed via the Start Menu. Searching for “Sticky Notes” in the search bar may locate the program faster.

Accessing the application will expose all existing notes; if there are none, it will create one. Users can drag and expand these digital notes to any size they deem appropriate. Click the “+” icon on an existing note to make additional notes, and click the “X” icon to delete unwanted notes. Notes can also be color-coded via the “right-click” menu. Power-users may like the available keyboard shortcuts as well.

Sticky Notes with a Mac

Macs also support a built-in digital sticky note solution called “Stickies,” which can be accessed via the “Applications” folder. Users can drag and drop the Stickies to any desired locations and resize the windows by clicking and dragging the corner icons. Employees can customize individual note colors through the “Color” menu and can add shortcuts to media files by dragging and dropping icons over notes as well.

Mac OS even features a handy keyboard shortcut to create a sticky note from highlighted text: “Command + Up Shift + Y.”

Both of these applications are free and included with the computer your employees are already using. Some employees may find digital sticky notes an incredibly valuable tool—but, if nothing else, they will help your team create a cleaner, more secure workplace. If your business is looking to boost its productivity through stronger IT practices, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

Looking Forward: Cloud Services Costs and Opportunities

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

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If your small-to-medium business (SMB) isn’t looking at ways to increase productivity through Cloud services, you could be missing out on exciting opportunities. But while the Cloud offers countless opportunities for business expansion, it can also taking up an ever-increasing share of your company’s IT budget. Overall IT budgets may not be growing, but Cloud expenses are; industry shifts indicate a gradual move towards increased dependency on Cloud platforms to run business operations even among small businesses.

Your business should be aware of these shifts, as they could have a direct impact on how your company’s IT budget is allocated in the future. Read on to find out more. 

The Cloud’s Share of IT Budget

According to a 451 Research study, the typical business spent around 28 percent of its IT budget on Cloud services in 2016, which could increase to a projected 34 percent in 2017.

The study argues that the budget adjustment will stem from an increased reliance on external hosting infrastructure, application platforms, online IT security, and SaaS management programs.

While this report implies a budget increase in one area, businesses will be able to recoup part of the cost with a decreased reliance on internal infrastructure like local servers. Additionally, Cloud platforms do a lot of the heavy lifting, so your business will be less dependent on powerful, expensive computers.

The State of IT and Cloud Expenses

Gartner reported that businesses worldwide spent $2.69 trillion on IT services in 2015With IT expenses remaining mostly flat across 2016, that puts total enterprise Cloud service expenses around $750 million annually. The Cloud is a big deal in the business world: in 2016, upwards of 41 percent of enterprise workloads ran in the Cloud, and that number could grow to 60 percent by the end of 2018.

Why Use the Cloud for SMBs?

Simply put, the Cloud offers businesses incredible versatility, flexibility, and agility that’s not available with on-site servers. One of the Cloud’s key advantages is that it can enable a business to become significantly less dependent, if not completely independent, on local servers. Moreover, Cloud servers can scale for extra processing power to handle work in web applications, web hosting, and SaaS platforms that wouldn’t be available if the business had to rely entirely on in-house servers. Finally, the Cloud allows employees easier access to work platforms regardless of their physical location, making collaboration, disaster recovery, security, and data backup much simpler.

Common Cloud Services to Explore

Here’s a list of Cloud services worth exploring for all SMBs:

  • Content Management Systems
  • Customer Relationship Management Systems
  • Data Backup and Archiving
  • Point-of-Sale Platforms
  • Time Clock Systems
  • Productivity/Web Applications

 If your business is trying to decide whether to expand its IT infrastructure into the Cloud or simply maintain current costs via IT consulting, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

Antivirus Software: When One Is Better Than Two

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

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

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

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

Stepping on Toes

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

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

Anti-Malware Scanning Software: Antivirus Backup Exists

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

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

The Recovery Clause

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

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

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.

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.

The “Wearable Revolution”: Is Your Company Prepared?

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

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It’s a fair bet that one of your employees has already shown off a trendy new wearable gadget around the office. What began with Bluetooth earpieces would branch off into smartwatches, smart glasses, wrist-worn fitness trackers, and even smart clothing (including a smart bra!) Research firm Gartner forecasts sales of over 274 million wearable technology products in 2016—soaring past 322 million by 2017.

New Technology = New Targets for Hackers

For better or worse, wearable devices are on their way to becoming part of everyday life—including the workplace. But while manufacturers race to pack every new gadget with interesting bells and whistles, hackers and cyber-crooks are looking for emerging security weaknesses to exploit.

What are the potential security risks with wearable devices?

No Password Protection. Many wearable devices on the market—including high-end fitness trackers with email and social media connectivity—access external networks and store data without the password/PIN protection, biometric authorization, or other user authentication we’ve come to expect on smartphones. If the device is physically lost or stolen, that data is virtually exposed to anyone.

Unencrypted Data. A lack of standard encryption is also an issue for many wearables—either unencrypted files stored locally on the device or unsecured wireless connections when synced with smartphones or other host devices (Bluetooth encryption is avoided as it often causes additional battery drain).

A Spy’s Dream? James Bond (circa the “Goldfinger” era) probably would have loved the miniaturized functions of a modern smartwatch—in particular its ability to record still images, video, and audio. But if that device is hijacked by a malicious hacker, it may become a mobile portal for industrial espionage, either stealing recordings or eavesdropping in real time.

But That’s Not All… If the above reasons weren’t enough to be wary of the influx of wearable devices, a 2015 study released by the University of Illinois revealed that monitoring the electronic motion sensors on a Samsung Gear smartwatch could determine words typed on a keyboard! Think about that before you write your next confidential email or memo.

Where Do Wearables Fit In to Your BYOD Policy?

While wearables are increasingly common on and off the job, they represent an undefined grey area for business IT security. Many operate on their own platforms and aren’t compatible with most MDM solutions designed to regulate smartphones and laptops. Permissible onsite use of wearable devices will need to be incorporated into your company’s formal BYOD policy, which we’ve recommended that our customers define in writing.

Are your employees’ wearable devices a potential “weakest link” in your security chain? For ideas and solutions, talk to us.

New Threat Targets Older Android Devices

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

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Smartphone users can be broken down into two camps: those who can’t live without lining up to buy the latest and greatest model the day it hits the stores, and those who hold on to their tried-and-true phone until it suddenly dies one morning.

There’s nothing wrong with sticking with “obsolete” hardware that still serves your purposes just fine.

But if your older Android phone (or tablet) is running an older version of the Android operating system (4.4/KitKat or earlier), you’re the designated target of this month’s new cyberthreat, dubbed Dogspectus by enterprise security firm Blue Coat.

Dogspectus combines elements of two types of malware we’ve already talked about: malvertising, passively spread through online ads, and ransomware, holding the victim’s data hostage until a fee is extorted.

“They Never Saw It Coming”—A Drive-By Download

Unlike most malware, which requires action by the victim (such as clicking on a phony link), a Dogspectus infection occurs by simply landing on a legitimate web page containing a corrupted ad with an embedded exploit kit—malicious code which silently probes for a series of known vulnerabilities until it ultimately gains root access—essentially central control of the entire device.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, an exploit kit has been able to successfully install malicious apps on a mobile device without any user interaction on the part of the victim,” wrote Blue Coat researcher Andrew Brandt after observing a Dogspectus attack on an Android test device. “During the attack, the device did not display the normal ‘application permissions’ dialog box that typically precedes installation of an Android application.”

“Hand Over the Gift Cards, and Nobody Gets Hurt!”

A Dogspectus-infected device displays an ominous warning screen from a bogus government security agency, “Cyber.Police,” accusing the victim of “illegal” mobile browsing—and suggesting an appropriate “fine” be paid. While most ransomware demands payoff in untraceable Bitcoin, Dogspectus prefers $200 in iTunes gift cards (two $100 or four $50 cards) via entering each card’s printed access code (Apple may be able to trace the users of the gift cards—unless they’re being resold on the black market).

The device’s “kidnapped” data files are not encrypted, as with traditional ransomware strains such as CryptoLocker. But hijacked root access effectively locks the device, preventing any function—apps, browser, messaging, or phone calls—other than delivering payment.

The victim is left with two choices: shop for gift cards (Dogspectus conveniently lists national retail outlets!) or reset the device to its out-of-the-box factory state—erasing all data files in the process. Apps, music, photos, videos all gone.

Short of upgrading to a newer Android device, your best defense against Dogspectus and future ad-based malware is to install an ad blocker or regularly back up all your mobile data to another computer. For more on defending against the latest emerging cyberthreats, contact us.