If you’re focusing all your IT security efforts on things like anti-virus and firewalls, are you missing the biggest risk of the lot?
And if you’re running your own business, it’s worth listening to the opinions of IT professionals. They know technology, and they can see where the biggest risks lie.
So, what can you do?
Your staff pose a bigger threat these days because the nature of security threats has changed over the last few years. Many organisations — both large and small — have struggled to keep up.
While back in 2008 or 2009 we were all worried about viruses, spyware and Trojans, these days it’s more targeted threats like spear phishing that are most likely to have IT managers worried.
These attacks are on the rise because they’re effective. Even the most tech-savvy of your staff can be tempted into clicking an email when they shouldn’t. And often, the biggest data breaches can be tracked back to a single, unfortunate click.
It’s important to make your staff aware of how phishing scams operate. You can also give them pointers so they know how to spot potential security breaches.
However, you can’t expect your employees to be infallible. People make mistakes, which means it’s vital you have some additional checks and precautions in place.
A good starting point is to make sure you allow access to data on a ‘need to know’ basis. Resources like your customer database, your accounting system and any shared folders often contain lots of sensitive data.
Rather than allowing everyone to have access to all these resources, the default setting should be that people don’t have access. If an employee needs it — and there’s a good case for it — then you can open up access on an individual basis.
This reduces risk because you’re adding extra layers of protection. If a hacker manages to guess the password of an employee, they’ll still face barriers when trying to reach privileged information.
It might cause a little inconvenience when someone needs to request access to a particular resource. But it’s better than giving hackers a free run of the place.
You’ve already seen our exciting IT predictions for 2014. But what of IT security and data protection? Are there any threats your business needs to know about?
Alex Balan, head of product management at internet security firm BullGuard, has come up with these ten predictions.
It’s devious and destructive and it makes hackers money. Ransomware has been around a while, but because it’s effective it’s going to be around for a lot longer.
A good example of ransomware is Cryptolocker. It encrypts your documents and shows a message saying you must pay a ransom to get your computer back. If you don’t pay up then you lose your data — and there’s little anyone can do to help you.
There is a growing body of evidence to show mobile devices being attacked, with online criminals often aiming to steal personal financial details.
This is hardly surprising given the explosive growth in smart phones and tablets. There’s plenty of data on mobile devices to be stolen. Hackers can also make money by setting up their own premium-rate numbers, then dialling them from compromised mobile phones.
Learn more about mobile security software.
The news about the NSA and GCHQ monitoring internet traffic, emails and phone calls was the most important cyber security event in 2013. These revelations have increased awareness of the need for personal security.
Until now, people have generally only taken security precautions reactively, typically after something has happened. But now they’re becoming more proactive. This will create a growth in technologies to help users keep their communications and data private.
We’re likely to see more attacks on old software and systems that are full of security holes. For example, Microsoft XP reaches the end of its life in April, which means no more updates, even if a security problem is found.
This popular but creaking operating system is widely used and how many people know Microsoft is turning its back on it? Hackers know, of course. There will be many attempts to find new exploits in XP, which means many people will fall victim to malware.
You may or may not have heard of the ‘internet of things’. It describes the increasing connectedness of everyday objects. We have internet-connected webcams, CCTV systems, televisions, digital video recorders and even baby alarms. These devices may be vulnerable to attack.
It might sound bizarre, but soon we’ll see fridges, toasters and other devices that are hooked up to the internet. Don’t be too surprised when you hear of these things being hijacked by hackers (fancy a hacked toilet, anyone?).
Never in the history of humankind has an industry grown so rapidly and so pervasively as technology. It reaches into every corner of our lives. Film cameras are a thing of the past, physical bank branches are becoming quaint and well-known retailers have disappeared from the High Street.
But what happens when computers crash? Thankfully, more people are aware of the potential for damage, and this is leading to an increase in back-up technologies. Expect the arrival of more backup services this year — especially ones that work over the internet.
Biometric authentication is widely regarded as the most secure form of identity control. Early systems were slow and intrusive, but because today’s computers are faster and cheaper than ever, the interest in biometrics has been renewed.
There are several types of biometric authentication in use, but fingerprint authentication is becoming the most common. We’ll see more computers, mobile devices and accessories with built-in fingerprint readers this year.
Law enforcement agencies have scored some significant ‘deep web’ successes the past year, most notably taking down of the Silk Road web site, which allowed users to buy anything from heroin and cocaine to guns and fake currency could be bought.
Authorities will continue to make inroads into the deep web in 2014 but the odds are that deep websites will respond by making it harder to take down sites or identify the people responsible.
You may not realise it, but when you take your smart phone into the workplace and hook it up to your computer, you’re committing a security faux pas. If your device has malware on, you risk releasing it into the company network.
Hackers love breaking into company networks because they are treasure troves. And because smart phones are so popular, hackers are targeting them in order to access corporate networks. We’ll see an increase in this type of activity in the coming year, so it pays to be aware.
When an internet service provider (ISP) gets hacked it resonates long and loud. In April 2013 UK giant BT dumped Yahoo as its email provider following months of hacking complaints from customers.
Many hackers break into ISP systems just to get free broadband, but at the organised crime end of the spectrum it’s done to launch large-scale spam and malware attacks. Don’t be surprised to see more ISP hacks in the coming year.
This is a guest post from Alex Balan, head of product management at BullGuard.
Every day, it seems there’s a new online scam ready to catch up the unwary. Recently it was cyber-criminals posing as a dating agency on LinkedIn in order to harvest data from unsuspecting users of the professonal networking site.
This was a so-called ‘spear phishing’ attack, where online criminals target specific people rather than sending out messages at random. Top corporations and media outlets are increasingly becoming victims of these scams — but that doesn’t mean smaller companies aren’t at risk too.
Spear phishing is an example of social engineering, which sees online scammers manipulate people into sharing sensitive information about themselves or others.
It’s easy to fall victim and there’s no shame in it. These criminals are good at what they do, using flattery, confidence tricks and deception to get the information they want.
Social networks and email are two of the most common routes through which scammers will try and contact you or people in your business. To help you stay safe, here are five ways to avoid falling victim to a spear phishing attack:
The bottom line is that vigilance is key to staying safe from a spear phishing attack.
It may seem like an inconvenience to do extra research when you receive a message you’re unsure about, but in the end it’s worth the time to know who you’re dealing with.
This post is from Espion, a firm specialising in IT security.
Here’s some good news for you: more businesses are taking IT and security risks seriously.
Security is no longer a topic that’s relegated to IT departments or individual staff members. A survey of UK organisations by risk management specialists NTT Com Security found that 56% of respondents discuss security and risk either routinely or frequently at board level.
However, as businesses become more aware of potential security risks, it seems a fear factor may be kicking in. The same survey found that concerns over information security and risk have stopped a project or business idea progressing in nearly half (49%) of organisations surveyed.
So, how do you monitor and manage the risks your company faces, without becoming paralysed? After all, if you paid attention to every online horror story then you’d probably shut up shop and find a nice, non-internet business to run, instead.
There’s a strong argument to say that companies with the best handle on their security are the ones that see it as an opportunity.
Being proactive, identifying and managing risks and taking steps early can actually give you an advantage in the market. For instance, clients and customers like it when they know they can trust you to keep them safe.
But proactive security isn’t something many businesses do well. Only 1 in 5 organisations surveyed said they base their security spending on risks they’ve actually assessed.
The rest, presumably, take a range of basic security precautions and then react to other problems as they occur.
Neal Lillywhite, SVP Northern Europe at NTT, says that although businesses are aware they should take a proactive approach to managing risks, most don’t yet put this into practice:
“While the majority see a benefit to having a proactive approach when assessing the risk of information assets, the fact that still only a fifth base their spending on assessed risk shows there is plenty of room for improvement.”
If your business is one of the 4 in 5 that doesn’t do a good job of assessing the risks it faces, it’s probably time to start. And as there’s no time like the present, why not find out how to perform an IT security risk assessment right now?
Anti-virus software has been one of the standard weapons against online threats for the past two decades. But as the nature of online dangers changes, anti-virus software is starting to look past its sell-by date.
Nowadays, it’s not worries over traditional viruses that keep IT professionals awake at night. Their number one concern is more likely to be the targeted attack. Online criminals will stealthily approach your business, gaining access to critical systems, leaving virtually no trace.
Professional online criminals are often behind these new threats. From stealing valuable intellectual property to coordinated attacks on bank accounts, the online attack model of today is a world away from the loud-mouthed internet vandals who used to dominate the headlines.
Today’s attacks are carried out by groups, rather than individuals, are designed to steal valuable data — and often leave no trace.
What’s more, online attackers are patient. An analysis of what’s known as advanced persistent threat (APT) incidents by Mandiant revealed the average period over which attackers controlled a victim's network was one year.
That’s a long time for online criminals to have access to your data without you realising.
Additionally, many of these breaches are inside jobs, where authorised users (often company employees) load malware or password-capturing software onto company systems.
In all honesty, anti-virus software has always had its weaknesses. It has to be updated daily and cannot effectively prevent against new threats until they have been identified and an antidote created.
This model was flawed when most viruses were noisy and high-profile. But today, threats are silent and stealthy. With fewer organisations affected, there are fewer opportunities for the virus to be identified and neutralised.
If anti-virus software isn’t enough, then what are the options?
First off, organisations need to address any complacency that exists and start implementing security processes that are key to effective defence.
Getting the basic principles of security right is a good place to start. Creating a security checklist is relatively straightforward with help from an IT professional or supplier. Doing so gives you a clear list of recommendations and will help you identify any weaknesses in your business.
However, you also need an infallible way to detect malware if it does manage to bypass security defences.
File integrity monitoring (FIM) is an excellent way to do this. It radically reduces the risk of security breaches by warning when a change has been made to underlying, core file systems.
Flagging changes in this way makes it harder for threats to take hold because you get immediately notified if changes happen that could indicate a stealth attack.
File integrity management works best when combined with strong change management processes. This means your business needs to keep tight control on who is allowed to make changes to core software and when they may do so.
It’s not a silver bullet that will make your business impervious to online threats. But as a core plank of your security strategy, file integrity management can effectively protect your data and dramatically reduce the risks your business faces.
This is a guest post from Mark Kedgley, CTO at New Net Technologies,
If you own a smart phone, you’re carrying a powerful computer around in your pocket. And, like all computers, it’s a potential target for malware, online criminals and hackers.
Never given your smart phone security more than a passing thought? You’re not alone. Technology analysis firm Juniper Research has found more than 80% of company and personal smart phones will remain unprotected at the end of 2013.
The report — Mobile security: BYOD, mCommerce, consumer and enterprise —found that security risks are on the rise due to an explosion of mobile malware over the last two years.
Cyber criminals are switching focus, targeting PCs less and mobile platforms more. These findings support Trend Micro data showing that that there are already more than a million different pieces of malware and high-risk apps for Android devices alone.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. The report identified that although adoption rates remain low, awareness that mobile security products exist is growing. So, if more of us know that there are tools to protect our smart phones, why aren’t we using them?
Well, perhaps the risks are less obvious than on our desktop computers. After all, have you, or anyone you know, been affected by malware on your smart phone? The dangers are growing, but aren’t yet high-profile enough to encourage mass adoption.
The report claims that the low level of adoption of security software can be attributed to a number of factors, including the relatively low awareness about attacks on mobile devices and a widespread perception that the price of security products is excessive.
However, with BYOD (bring your own device) — where employees use their own mobile devices for work — becoming more common, it’s important that your business starts thinking about mobile security.
Using mobile security software may be a start, but really you need to step back, taking a broader look at how you use mobile devices and where the risks lie. Then you can create a mobile security plan to keep your data, your employees and your business safe.
We cover IT security a lot on this blog, because it’s a really important subject and there’s a lot to say about it.
Unfortunately, that means it’s difficult to stay on top of current security threats, like knowing whether you should be more worried about hackers or viruses this week.
If you feel like you haven’t given any thought to data and IT security lately, we’ve found a security healthcheck tool that you might find useful.
Created by AVG, a company that makes security software, it asks you a number of questions before scoring your security overall and providing specific advice in each area.
It’s not a magic solution to keeping your data safe. IT security is different for every business, so you still need to learn more about the dangers you may face and speak to your IT supplier to make sure you’ve taken sufficient precautions.
However, this tool will get you thinking about the things that matter when it comes to IT security. And the advice at the end should give you some good starting points for improvements.
Just bear in mind that this advice is purely from a security perspective.
For instance, while the tool may advise you to upgrade to the latest version of Windows (and that might be the most secure option), there are other considerations too, like whether your existing software will keep working ok.
We also have lots of other information to help you secure your business IT systems. These are some good places to start:
Apple's iPhone 5s has one particularly striking new feature. There's a fingerprint reader built into the phone's home button, which means you can unlock the phone and authorise purchases using your fingerprint instead of having to tap in a code or password.
As with many of Apple's apparent innovations, this has been done before. Motorola's ATRIX handset has a fingerprint scanner and that launched in 2011. The only problem was reviews found it to be unreliable.
First impressions of the iPhone's fingerprint scanner, on the other hand, suggest that it works very well. If it proves reliable over time, then the new iPhone could be the first in a wave of products that bring fingerprint recognition to the masses.
At face value, this is A Good Thing. Who hasn't struggled to recall an impossible-to-remember password at some point or other? As we've said before on this very blog, 'passwords are fundamentally broken'.
Before we start using fingerprints for everything from mobile phones to internet banking, some experts reckon it would be an idea to think through the implications in a little more detail. After all, your fingerprint is very different to a password because it can't be changed.
Data protection expert Johannes Caspar put it well in a recent article for German newspaper Der Speigel:
"The biometric features of your body, like your fingerprints, cannot be erased or deleted. They stay with you until the end of your life and stay constant — they cannot be changed. One should thus avoid using biometric ID technologies for non-vital or casual everyday uses like turning on a smartphone."
In short, your fingerprint is a one-shot deal. Once it's compromised, that's it.
As if to back up his point, a hacker club already claims it's managed to fool the iPhone's fingerprint reader by taking a photo of a fingerprint and using it to create a fake finger.
But if that's the case, surely it's silly to rely on fingerprints to provide any sort of meaningful protection at all. Using a fingerprint to authorise a bank transfer? Forget it. Controlling building access via fingerprints alone? Probably a no-go.
Then — of course — there are other fringe concerns about relying on fingerprints. The Daily Mail (who else?) warns iPhone thieves might start lopping off people's fingers. And what do you do if you've hurt a finger (pictured)?
Ultimately, the arguments over the stength of fingerprint-based systems are likely to be trumped by the convenience factor. If using your finger to unlock your phone is easier and faster than tapping in a code then people will use it.
It's unlikely fingerprints will ever be used for authentication in more critical circumstances except when combined with something else. This 'two-factor' authentication usually requires something you have (your fingerprint) and something you know (perhaps a password or PIN).
So, get ready: the fingerprint revolution is on the way.
How much time do you spend thinking about IT security? Unless you have been affected by a security problem, you may have never given it much thought.
Your business probably has a number of people accessing its computer systems who are likely to manage their own passwords.
If they manage their own passwords, that means they are setting their own levels of security for your network. Beryl in accounts only comes in once a week, so she can’t be expected to remember anything complicated, can she? What’s wrong with ‘password’ anyway?
And Steve in the sales team dearly loves his fiancée, so why shouldn’t he have ‘Nicola’ as his password?
Passwords like these are a really bad idea because they’re easy to guess. In fact, ‘password’ is probably the worst you could possibly choose.
Not using effective passwords puts your entire system and company data at risk. Here’s how to come up with strong passwords.
Does every computer in your business have up-to-date security software? And do you assume that this is sufficient to protect them, no matter what they subsequently do online?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to both those questions, well done for having the software. But don’t think your job is done.
Staying safe isn’t just about having the right security software in place. The safest users are the ones who are well-informed, so help your staff to understand how your security software works, what spam, viruses and other threats look like … and how to spot a malware-infested website.
Make sure you have an IT security policy that explains what your people need to do to stay safe.
Firewalls act as a filter between your business network and the outside world. They allow safe traffic through, but block questionable connections before they can do harm.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you get your IT security basics right:
It is important your employees have safe, secure tools to go about their work with minimum risk to the business. Over and above that, they should be empowered and informed about security threats so they know how best to respond.
If you’re in any doubt about the security of your business, speak to an IT security specialist (perhaps your regular IT supplier) who can discuss your needs and the potential risks.
Adrian Case is technical director at Akita.
Here's a list that might jolt you out of complacency if you're a bit lax when it comes to choosing and changing passwords.
SplashData, a leading provider of password management solutions, has put together a list of the 2012's worst passwords.
The list was compiled by analysing millions of compromised passwords that were posted online by hackers, and identifying the most common. It contains few surprises, but certainly underlines that we can all be far too slapdash when securing our online accounts.
Here are the top 10 worst passwords of 2012:
See any passwords you recognise? Change them, now. Because if you don't, it'll be child's play for a hacker to get in to your account.
Remember: the strongest passwords are as long as possible and use upper and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. I like to choose a song lyric, take the first letters and then substitute in symbols and numbers where they're easy to remember.
For instance, the Rolling Stones' classic lines You can't always get what you want / But if you try sometimes you just might find can become:
If you get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from 'Microsoft support', 'Microsoft Windows support' or something similar, put the phone down.
It's a scam, and for this Friday's IT tip we explain how it works and what to watch for.
We all have computer problems now and again. And you've probably read about the security threats from hackers, viruses and malware.
So when someone calls you out of the blue claiming they're from Microsoft and that they're calling because your internet provider has reported a problem with your computer, it's human nature to listen.
If there's a problem, you want to put it right.
And if they ask for a payment of - say - £50, well, that's a small price to pay for the security of knowing your computer is safe and sound.
But wait. If you offer payment and hand over log in details for your computer, the consequences could be severe.
For a start, you'll have passed your payment details onto a scammer. And you'll also have granted them access to your computer, along with any sensitive data saved on it.
So, this Friday's tip is simple: if you receive a call like this, just hang up.
There is no problem with your computer. There is no Microsoft support team calling people in this way. And so you should steer well clear.
Do your staff understand the full risks involved if they lose their business smart phone or another mobile device that contains company data?
Quite possibly not, according to new research carried out on behalf of Kaspersky Lab. It found that over three-quarters of people working in European small and medium-sized businesses would wait more than an hour before telling the company about the theft or loss of a business-owned device.
An hour doesn't sound long, but if a company smart phone falls into the wrong hands, 60 minutes is time enough to do a whole lot of damage. Racking up call charges to premium rate or international numbers is the least of your worries. Being slow to report a stolen device could see your valuable company data being siphoned off.
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Customer and employee contact details, financial information, confidential emails, access to company Twitter and Facebook accounts ... these days a smart phone is as powerful as a computer, only harder to secure and easier to lose. You need to treat it with the same amount of care.
What's more, the research questioned IT managers too. 29% of them reckoned it would take a whole day for employees to tell them about a lost or stolen device.
David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, has some good advice for companies that want to take better care of their mobile devices.
“The ever-growing abilities of mobile devices make our lives much easier," he confirms. "However, what we don’t always consider is the ease with which such tools can be stolen, leaving a wealth of business critical information in the hands of thieves."
"To a seasoned cybercriminal, it will take only a matter of minutes to bypass the four digit password protection used on most devices, especially smart phones. If your mobile device is lost or stolen, it is critical that the IT department is informed as fast as possible. They can then block access of this device to the corporate network and, in the best case, wipe all of its data.”
Of course, you can't remotely wipe a device unless you've put in place systems to let you do this. If you're a sole trader or run a very small company, it's probably enough to take steps to back up each individual device and install a remote wipe app. Read our advice here.
Larger businesses will want to look into mobile device management (MDM) solutions. MDM software gives you much greater visibility and control of the mobile devices in your business, so you can restrict how they're used, what's stored on them and - crucially - scrub them clean and lock them out of the company network.
There are an estimated 4.8 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK, many with their own ecommerce websites.
In 2011, 32 million people purchased goods or services online. That gives the UK one of the world's biggest internet-based economies. And it's why keeping your website safe and secure from cyber-attacks has never been more important.
As a business owner, you’re probably dealing with plenty of critical day-to-day issues. Perhaps worrying about your website’s security is not top of your list of priorities.
You may be wondering why hackers would want to target a small business rather than big brands like Lush and Adidas. The simple answer is that hackers know smaller businesses have fewer resources dedicated to online security, making them easier targets.
For those involved, cyber crime is big business. It costs the global economy $338bn a year which, according to Symantec, is significantly higher than the global narcotics black market.
Since the beginning of 2010, 36% of all targeted cyber-attacks have been directed at SMEs.
With around 44 million attacks a year taking place against home computers, businesses and government systems in the UK, an offline website means a loss of income. For instance, PayPal reportedly lost £3.5m due to a cyber-attack in 2010.
As well as lost revenue, a website security breach can result in losing vital data, your reputation and even your ranking on Google. Ultimately, it could damage your business beyond repair.
Here are six simple but effective tips to protect your business against cyber attacks:
So, if website security wasn’t on your priority list, it might be time to add it now.
If dodgy employees all looked like this, they'd be easy to spot.
A staggering one in ten employees has stolen important data from their employer after handing in their notice, reveals a new study from IT security specialist LogRhythm.
It seems that downloading a company's customer database onto a USB stick or copying crucial documents to CD is much more common than you might have thought. Of the 2,000 employees studied, the survey found that a massive 23% had taken confidential data from their workplace.
Often, people steal client details or product information in the hope that it'll give them a head start with their new employer. But 14% of people who admitted taking data did so to help set up their own rival company. And 23% did it out of revenge, because they felt undervalued and poorly treated.
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Clearly, anyone stealing data from their employer is in the wrong. But that doesn't mean businesses should make it easy for employees to get their hands on the good stuff.
This research also surveyed employers, 47% of whom said they don't have any system in place to stop staff accessing confidential information or taking data.
So, all-too-often it's lax security and a lack of concern that makes it easy for staff to walk away with crucial company assets.
Worse, 60% of employers said they never change passwords or access codes, which is a little like leaving the door wide open for former employees to come and grab what they like.
You wouldn't let a staff member keep their keys to the office after they've left, so why would you let their passwords keep working?
If this survey is at all representative, there's a good chance your business is at risk of data theft. So, what are you going to do about it?
Finally, there's an aspect to this that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. The research found 53% of people who've stolen data use it to get a head start in their next job, or to impress their new boss.
If the new employer decides to make use of that data, what sort of message does that send? And do they really think that employee isn't going to do the same to them when the time comes?
In short: if you've ever benefited from a data theft, don't be surprised if you end up suffering sometime too.
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You've probably heard of phishing. It's where scammers send you an email that looks like it's from an official organisation, usually your bank.
The email usually contains links to a fake log in page which collects your username, password and other security details. If you enter them, the scammers will subsequently use your credit card, empty your bank account or commit some other crime against you.
Some phishing websites are laughably bad, with terrible grammar, bad spellng and shonky design. But others can be very convincing.
To show you just how convincing phishing sites can be, here are two screenshots for you. One is the genuine sign in screen for the Co-operative Bank's online banking service. The other is a fake sign in screen from a phishing email I received.
You can click the image to see both screens full size. Can you tell which is which?
Well, the top screenshot is of the genuine sign in screen. The second one is the fake.
If you're familiar with this bank's online interface, you'll probably realise that the site asking for your full name is not genuine. But if you don't use your online banking often or simply aren't paying 100% attention when you click the link, it's easy to see how you could be fooled.
Checking the address of a site like this is usually the most foolproof way to see if it's fake. In this case, it was easy to tell, because the URL clearly wasn't the Co-operative's normal address:
It isn't always as obvious as this through, so here are three foolproof ways to avoid phishing traps:
And as a final warning, don't ever enter sensitive log in information if you have any concerns at all about the website you're on. Even if it just looks or feels a bit funny, that's reason enough to stop and think before you make a mistake.
Note: don't click links in dodgy emails like we did. They can be dangerous, even if you don't enter in any sensitive information.
If you noticed your internet connection slowing markedly yesterday, with some sites sluggish and others unavailable, for once it might not have been down to your broadband supplier.
It seems that Spamhaus blacklisted a controversial hosting provider, Cyberbunker, because its servers were apparently being used to send lots of spam. 'Friends' of Cyberbunker then bombarded Spamhaus with the biggest DDoS attack ever.
The incident spawned headlines like Global internet slows after 'biggest attack in history'. And with so much malicious data flying through the internet's wires, some innocent internet users found their service was disrupted as a result.
But how innocent are those internet users? Is our slack security as individuals partly to blame for the scale of the disruption?
It's an interesting question because this attack was coordinated using a huge 'botnet' of internet devices, including a large number of insecure broadband routers.
It's the exact threat experts recently warned us about, where hackers exploit weaknesses like default passwords to take control of these devices.
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As more details of the Spamhaus attack emerge, we might get a better idea of what devices it involved. But as The Guardian reports, that innocent-looking router in the corner of your office could have been a part of the problem:
"Some of those requests will have been coming from UK users without their knowledge, said Blessing [an internet expert]. "If somebody has a badly configured broadband modem or router, anybody in the outside world can use it to redirect traffic and attack the target – in this case, Spamhaus."
Obviously, whoever initiated the attack is ultimately responsible. However, the scale of it was partly due to the vast number of insecure internet devices out there.
So, who is to blame? Manufacturers who sell their products with inadequate security and don't properly explain how to beef it up? Internet service providers that make their routers less secure so they can log in remotely when they need to? IT adminstrators who don't update their software promptly?
Or is it all of them, and each of us too?
The internet is a decentralised, open network. That makes it very difficult for any single body to effectively police this type of incident, and means that we're collectively responsible for the internet's security.
Yesterday, we almost broke it. Perhaps it's time we all took the time to be more secure online.
Here's a stark reminder that internet security perhaps isn't quite as tight as we'd all like.
An anonymous researcher managed to take control of 420,000 insecure internet devices like webcams, network routers and printers.
They were use to effectively create a huge network of internet devices that could be used for dodgy purposes like taking websites down via denial of service attacks. (The researcher didn't go ahead and cause any damage, but the potential was there.)
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What's striking about this research is both the huge number of devices that could be compromised, and the ease with which it could be done. Quite simply, the researcher accessed each device by trying standard usernames and passwords like admin or root.
In a month where a high-profile cyber-attack against South Korea hit the headlines, it's important for your business to remember that sometimes the simplest hacking attempts - like trying default usernames and passwords - can be just as damaging.
The anonymous researcher summed up the problem in a post online:
"While everybody is talking about high class exploits and cyberwar, four simple stupid default telnet passwords can give you access to hundreds of thousands of consumer as well as tens of thousands of industrial devices all over the world."
In short: choose your passwords carefully. And whenever you add a new piece of equipment to your computer network, check if it has sign in credentials and change them if so. If you don't, you could be a part of this problem.
Image: Flickr user StewC
If you were one of the millions of NatWest customers unable to access online banking, use debit cards or even get cash from a hole in the wall last night, the bank's reputation has probably dropped a notch or two in your mind.
It's hardly the kind of publicity a beleagured banking giant needs. However, major IT outages aren't restricted to banks. They can happen to any business. If one hits yours, it can have an immediate impact on your bottom line and longer-lasting consequences for your reputation.
So, as NatWest fights to deal with today's avalanche of negative coverage, what can you learn from its misfortunes?
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One of the worst things you can do during an IT problem that affects customers is to go silent.
If you can explain the problem and when it's likely to be fixed, that's great. But even if you're unsure of the cause yourself, just being there to provide some information is better than nothing at all. At least you'll avoid that 'rats deserting a sinking ship' feeling.
NatWest also suffered a huge outage last summer, which saw some people unable to access their money for days.
Although the bank has said yesterday's disruption wasn't connected to the previous problems, the fact that this is the second major outage in nine months has compounded the reputational damage, with many customers vowing to leave.
If a problem reveals failings in your IT systems, make sure you fix them properly. It may cost you time and it may cost you money, but the cost of inaction could be much larger.
The most insincere apology I can recall in recent years is this classic from Apple. It's a great example of how not to do things.
Look, if your IT systems have failed and your customers were affected, it really is best just to apologise sincerely and explain what you're doing to fix things.
At this stage, being open and honest is the way to reassure customers that the same thing won't happen again.
Then make sure it doesn't happen again, of course. If NatWest suffers another outage any time soon then it'll take more than few words to restore its reputation.
It’s good to refresh your knowledge when it comes to something as crucial as IT and data security. So here’s a slightly tenuous ABC of business IT security. Plus a D and an E for good measure.
Get good anti-virus software and keep it up to date. You usually have to subscribe to software updates, and don’t wait for this to expire before you renew it. Even a few days without adequate protection is asking for trouble.
Spyware - which attempts to extract information from your computer without your knowledge - is another threat. However, most anti-virus packages also include anti-spyware protection too.
Ideally, all the data on your computer system needs to be backed up to external hard drives. This ensures that you won’t lose sensitive information if your computers are corrupted by spyware or viruses.
Inform your staff that they need to back up their data at the end of each day, and regularly remind them to do so. External hard drives don’t cost the earth (you can see a selection here on Amazon), and you’ll be saving yourself a lot of hassle if the worst comes to the worst.
When it comes to protecting data from prying eyes, control is the key. If there are files on your company’s shared drive which you don’t want all your staff to view, you should control who can access them.
If you use Microsoft Windows, here’s how to restrict access to a certain folder:
That’s it – you’ve created a list of people who can access that particular file or folder on the shared drive.
Encrypting your computer systems makes it harder for hackers and fraudsters to access sensitive business information.
This can be anything from emails and financial figures to documents and databases hat are stored on computers or servers in your business. You can also protect portable storage devices like USB drives, which protects them in the event of loss.
Encryption is an excellent way to ensure your business transactions are protected from unwanted attention. Even if a fraudster manages to steal a disk containing sensitive information, they should still be unable to read it.
Instead of relying on your own knowledge about maintaining computers, it is a good idea to have an trusted IT supplier you can turn to. They will help troubleshoot any problems with your system, allowing you and your staff to focus on running your business.
Even seemingly minor problems should be flagged up, as they can indicate larger problems with your IT security. It all helps avoid any lingering suspicions that your company has been targeted.
It’s often a good idea to choose a local IT supplier, so you can ask business contacts and friends who they’ve used in the past. Perhaps they could even negotiate you a discounted rate!
Written by online security expert, James Archer, on behalf of online retailer The Safe Shop
A survey into SME attitudes to risk has identified which of 24 'risk scenarios' (that's things that could go wrong, to you and me) are most likely to keep business owners awake at night.
The research, commissioned by McAfee, revealed UK SMEs view their technology systems and the integrity of their data as the biggest areas of risk.
In contrast, things that might traditionally have been perceived as significant risks - like big marketing campaigns or competitor initiatives - are seen as being much less likely to have a detrimental impact on business performance.
This graph shows the ten highest risks selected by businesses in the UK:
Although it's perhaps depressing that new technology is responsible for so many worries in business, this survey also suggests a greater awareness of the risks, which bodes well for long-term improvements.
What's more, most companies can reduce most of these risks by taking some fairly simple steps.
To start with, it's a good idea to create some sort of security plan. It doesn't have to be an enormous document, but writing even a short plan will force you to think about what the key risks are.
Once you've done that, make sure you've covered these basics:
Make sure you keep yours safe. (Image: Flickr user Johan Larsson.)
New smart phones have some strong security measures enabled out of the box. But did you know there are some simple steps you can take to make sure yours is secure?
The simplest thing you can do protect your smart phone is to set a passcode. Once set, you will be required to enter the code to unlock and use your phone. The minor inconvenience of entering this each time will pay major dividends if your phone is ever lost or stolen.
A thief will be unable to access your phone without the passcode.
Along the same lines, you should also make sure your phone is set to lock automatically when not in use. This means you won't have to remember to lock it yourself each time.
Keeping your smart phone updated with the latest software is just as important as keeping your computer up to date.
Installing the latest updates helps you avoid any security problems that could affect your mobile operating system. For example, a security flaw in previous versions of Apple's iOS (which runs on every iPhone) could allow an attacker to bypass your lock screen.
You can search our website for details of security vulnerabilities affecting your particular model of phone.
All of the rules you've learned about being safe on your desktop computer apply when you're using your smart phone.
Be careful using public wireless connections, and particularly wary when the network doesn't require you to enter a password to connect. These connections are unencrypted, which means people can easily intercept your data.
Double-check the network you're connecting to is the one you think it is. Some attackers may try to steal your data by posing as a legitimate hotspot.
If you work with sensitive data a lot, consider a secure VPN connection for when you use public Wi-Fi. This should protect data even if you've connected to a dodgy network.
Giri Sreenivas is vice president of Mobile at security specialists Rapid7.
How secure is your personal identification number (PIN)? An enlightening study reveals many PINs are predictable and easy to guess. So, is it about time you changed your PIN?
The fascinating study, by Data Genetics, reveals the most commonly used PINs and therefore the ones most likely to be guessed.
It found that the most infrequently used PIN is 8068. Does that make it the safest? Well, perhaps, although now it's been revealed in this study, it might become a lot more popular!
According to the stats, the most common PIN is 1234. Out of the 3.4 million numbers surveyed, it made up 11% - or 374,000. What little imagination some people have!
In fact, the top 20 PINs all fall into the category of 'easy to remember'. For instance:
It seems PINs with lots of repetition or a pattern to them are chosen most frequently. Interestingly, 2580 comes just outside of the top 20 at number 22. This looks like a random number until you realise these are the numbers down the centre of a telephone keypad.
Other easy to remember four-digit PINs come from years of birth. A disproportionate amount of PINs begin with 19. This is bound to change to 20 as the population ages. Day and month of birth also figure quite prominently.
Most devices, credit cards and locks that are protected by a PIN limit the number of times an incorrect number can be entered. So does it matter if you use a common PIN?
Well, let's think about it in more detail. If I'm a bad guy and I get hold of your bank card, I generally get three guesses before the card is locked.
Going from the statistics in the study, if I take the three most common PINs as my starting point, I have a one in five chance of getting yours right. Not bad and probably worth a gamble.
Unless your bank can prove you have been grossly negligent with your PIN (sticking it to your credit card, for instance) the general rule is that you will be reimbursed for any financial loss if your card is stolen and your PIN used to extract money.
So, isn’t it simply a case of using the most convenient, easy to remember PIN and - should it get compromised - waiting for the banks to sort it out?
Well, even assuming you are able to reclaim your money, there's quite a kerfuffle involved in the process. Anyone who's gone through it will know that the inconvenience and lost time is enough to deter you from using a weak PIN.
In addition, you may highlight yourself as an easy target – if you did it once, why not again? Don’t bring unwanted attention on yourself just for the sake of four little numbers.
If government statistics are accurate, even the smallest companies need to give serious thought to IT security. That's because official figures show 76% of small businesses have reported a cyber-breach in the last year alone.
You can tell the government is alarmed by the statistics, because it has decided to establish a 'Cyber Reserve' force to deal with the security threats posed by online crime. It's uncertain what this means in practice, as the details won't be revealed until next year.
However, it should signal a more co-ordinated approach to combating cyber-crime, with the goverment recruiting experts to fight back against sophisticated hackers and fraudsters.
Although things have moved on considerably since this 2006 report found internet fraud was slipping through policing procedures, it still sometimes seems like online criminals are several steps ahead of the authorities.
Just in case the message hasn't sunk in yet, let's make it absolutely clear: your business could be a target for online criminals.
We recently spoke to security expert Don Smith who explained that smaller companies often find themselves singled out in online attacks because they're seen as soft targets:
“More and more smaller companies are being attacked by cyber criminals, yet many still hold the view that they are too small to be targeted."
"If they have any public profile – if they’ve been in the news, for instance - then they can be a soft target. They also might get targeted if they handle the intellectual property of big clients, for example, a creative agency working on a big account."
“This leaves small organisations vulnerable to a number of risks, including attacks, data loss, service disruptions and reputation damage. Just like larger enterprises, small businesses need visibility into the threats that face their organisation.”
Clearly, that begs the question: what should you do about it? Hopefully, you'll have got the basics right. You'll be protecting your network with a firewall, and each individual computer and server in your business will have its own firewall too.
But to really get a grip on your IT security, you need to spend a little time on security planning. The first stage is to identify your most valuable data, so you can find ways to protec it.
It's worth reading the full interview with Don to understand a bit more about the security issues your company could face. We also have some really useful information about putting a security plan together and assessing the risks your business faces.
With just a little preparation, you can reduce the chance of your business becoming another IT security statistic.
(Police lantern image: conner395 on Flickr.)
Image: creating a self-destructing message
Sending sensitive information through email: most of us know it's a bad idea, yet we've all done it at some time or another. Whether it's providing the password to access a protected file or confirming your mother's maiden name, email often seems like the easiest option.
Yet email is inherently insecure. Not only can emails be intercepted as they travel through cyberspace, but if the recipient isn't strict about deleting messages, your information could sit in their inbox for months or years. If their account ever gets hacked, your data is in the hands of the bad guys. Email hacking happens a lot, so it is a real risk.
So, for this Donut tip of the week, we wanted to show you a handy online tool that lets you send sensitive information in a form that self-destructs once it's been read. Sort of like Mission: Impossible, only with fewer pyrotechnics.
To get started, hop on over to Oneshar.es. Then it's really easy to create your one-time message:
That's it! The link uses SSL encryption, which means the message itself is protected from interception when the link is viewed.
Obviously, anyone with access to your link can click it to see the message - but as messages self-destruct once viewed, you don't have to worry about who sees the link once your recipient has used it. Certainly, Oneshar.es deals with the problem of having important information sitting in inboxes.
Now there's no excuse for putting your password in an email ever again.
These won't run your server for long. (Image: mjtmail (tiggy) on Flickr.)
The UK could run out of energy generating capacity in winter 2015, reckons Ofgem, which says as spare generating capacity drops we could see energy prices rise too.
With the average business electricity bill at £2,600, that's not exactly something to look forward to. However, it could be a drop in the ocean compared to the loss in productivity a single blackout could cause.
Losses mount up very quickly when you can't use your computer, speak to customers over the phone or even see to pack orders and send them out. When there's no power, you can't do business.
Traditionally, businesses have planned for power interruptions by plugging their servers into uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). If you suffer a power cut, a UPS will continue supplying power. Chances are you won't be able to work, but you will be able to shut your server down properly, protecting it from damage and hugely reducing the risk of data loss.
If you have a server on your premises, you really should use a UPS. It's that simple. They start from around £100, but you'll need to spend a bit more to get a decent model like the APC Smart-UPS.
But if you want to actually carry on working, you need significantly more juice than a typical UPS will supply. Step forward industrial battery specialist UK Powertech, which has launched a 'compact energy storage device' for smaller businesses and homes.
Called the BlackCurrent, it charges off the mains when the supply is good, then supplies electricity back to your equipment when required. You should be able to continue running computers, servers and critical gear for an hour or two.
The BlackCurrent does come at a price. It starts at £850, and you'll certainly have to spend more if you want to keep your computers and servers going for long.
Is it worth it? That really depends on your company's approach to risk, and how much damage a power outage could cause your business. But if predictions of power cut doom and gloom are in any way accurate, maybe it's worth considering.