Everyone loves cookies–even cybercriminals

When you visit a site, probably for the first time or from a new device or browser, you will see an alert that mentions the site uses Cookies to offer you a more personalized experience and asks you if you are okay with it. Let’s admit it. A lot of us don’t even bother to read what the notification says before we click “Accept” and move on with our browsing.

Cookies are tiny information packets that store data related to your interaction and behavior on websites. It is like walking into your favorite local diner and having them serve up the “usual” instantly. Cookies, track your digital footprint on a website and allow the site to offer you a more personalized browsing experience. For example, let’s say you visited Amazon.com and looked at some cameras, perhaps you put one into your cart as well, but never checked out, or added one to your wishlist on the site. The next time the camera is on a sale, Amazon app sends you a notification about the price reduction. That happens with the help of cookies. And, that’s just one example. Cookies are not necessarily limited to shopping sites.You know how sometimes you can save your password for some sites, so you don’t have to type it or log in every time you visit the website? You are able to do that because of cookies. Any site can have cookies, though shopping and banking sites can’t function without them. These are known as session cookies and are absolutely indispensable, while some like persistent cookies make your web browsing experience more pleasant and the third party cookies, while not very pleasant, are used basically to facilitate online advertising. How do cookies become a security threat, then?

Cookies become a security threat when hackers get access to them. If hackers hijack your cookies, they can get access to your session, your passwords and other related online activities. Hackers sometimes create “Super Cookies” and “Zombie cookies” to steal information from authentic cookies. Such cookies are difficult to identify and delete and sometimes work like worms replicating themselves, thus making it more difficult to get rid of them. Hackers can also steal your cookies if they get access to your network or to the server of the website you are visiting. For example, if your bank’s or shopping website’s server was hacked into, chances are, the hacker has access to your cookies and thereby all your account details.

If you liked what you read, then check out our whitepaper, The cookie monster is coming for you, for a more detailed account of the threats posed by cookies and how you can manage them better.

Don’t let hurricanes blow your data away!

“Life is not about sheltering yourselves from the rain, it is about learning to dance in the storm”, goes a popular saying. But, if you are a small business, you first need to shelter your assets from the rain, before you can afford to dance in the storm without a care in the world. Hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms can catch you off-guard resulting in losses worth thousands of dollars. Your inventory may be damaged, your place of business may be flooded and your critical business data lost. While most small businesses do take timely steps to ensure their inventory and place of business are protected from natural disasters, a lot of them tend to overlook the risk such natural disasters pose to their IT infrastructure and data. To many, it doesn’t seem to be that big an issue–and invariably, this is where they go wrong. Data loss due to natural calamity or any other reason can cause significant damage to a business, resulting in extreme consequences such as complete business shutdown. Safeguarding your data shouldn’t be a project you embark upon after a hurricane warning is issued.

In this post we discuss the steps you can take to mitigate the risks natural disasters pose to your data and IT infrastructure.

  1. Recognize the need for data safety, security and recovery in times of disaster.
  2. Bring together your key resources and create a team that’s responsible for implementing your disaster backup and recovery plan.
  3. Identify the key areas that need to be addressed. In the event of a disaster, what are the processes that absolutely need to function to keep your business going and what needs to be done so they still function smoothly?
  4. Prepare a solid disaster recovery-business continuity plan. You can enlist your in-house IT team or bring an MSP onboard to do this.
  5. Create a list of all the software programs, applications and hardware that are critical to your business process
  6. Include floor plans, physical access details, entry-exit security codes etc, pertaining to your place of business in the plan.
  7. Include information about your backups in the disaster recovery and business continuity plan.
  8. Conduct mock drills and audits to ensure your plan is executable and gives you the intended results.

All of this can be overwhelming, especially with a business to run and a Hurricane to watch out for! That’s why most SMBs rely on trusted managed service providers to do it for them, while they focus on their core area–managing their business and customers.

Poison Attacks: A quick overview

Smart technology is everywhere. Not just in our offices, but even in our day-to-day lives with tools like Google Home and Alexa becoming a commonplace. With technology becoming smarter every minute, the risks are increasing by the minute as well. Cybercriminals are finding new ways to corrupt our IT networks to disrupt our businesses, hold our data hostage and even clear our personal bank accounts. Some of the more overt, commonly known acts of cybercrime include hacking, phishing, and ransomware attacks. This blog discusses a lesser-known cybercrime–Poison attacks.

What are Poison attacks
Poison attacks are attacks on the ability of the system to make smart decisions. Think about this. How do systems make intelligent decisions? Based on the training or data they receive. This data is used to hone the artificial intelligence of the system to help make smart decisions. Poison attacks mess the very base–the training data set. Poison attacks basically skew the system’s data model in such a way that the output is no longer as intended. They create a new normal for everything. Poison attacks are primarily backdoor attacks. In a backdoor poison attack, the attacker creates a loophole in the core data rule and trains the system to adhere to that rule so it can be exploited at a later time. For example, let’s say, the access control for a particular file is set such that it will allow only those beyond the VP level to view the data. If someone changes the main parameter to include manager level in there, the core data set is violated and the system will not detect an intrusion by someone at the manager level, even if they log in with their credentials.

Unlike Ransomware, poison attacks don’t make much noise but cause far more damage as they can go undetected for a longer time. Follow our blog next week as we discuss the 3 common types of poison attacks

Watch out for these poison attacks!
Poison hamper the ability of the system to make smart decisions by disturbing the very core data set that is used to make a decision. Poison attack methodologies typically fall into one of the following 3 categories.

  • Logic corruption
  • Data manipulation
  • Data injection

Logic corruption
In logic corruption, the attacker changes the basic logic used to make the system arrive at the output. It essentially changes the way the system learns, applies new rules and corrupts the system to do whatever the attacker wants.

Data manipulation
In data manipulation, as the name suggests, the attacker manipulates the data to extend data boundaries that result in backdoor entries that can be exploited later. Unlike logic corruption, the attacker doesn’t have access to the logic, so they work with the existing rule and push data boundaries further with a view to accommodate them later.

Data injection
In data injection, the attacker inserts fake data into the actual data set to skew the data model and ultimately weaken the outcome. The weakened outcome then serves as an easy entryway for the attacker into the victim’s system.

Is the Cloud really risk-free?

The Cloud presents plenty of benefits that make it a very attractive choice, especially for SMBs who don’t want to be burdened with higher in-house IT costs, putting your data in the Cloud is not risk-free. Just as storing data on physical servers has its security threats, the Cloud presents certain security concerns as well. These include

  • Data breach: A data breach is when your data is accessed by someone who is not authorized to do so.
  • Data loss: A data loss is a situation where your data in the Cloud is destroyed due to certain circumstances such as technological failure or neglect during any stage of data processing or storage.
  • Account hijacking: Like traditional servers, data in the Cloud could be stolen through account hijacking as well. In fact, Cloud account hijacking is predominantly deployed in cybercrimes that require entail identity thefts and wrongful impersonation
  • Service traffic hijacking: In a service traffic hijacking, your attacker first gains access to your credentials, uses it to understand the online activities that happen in your domain and then uses the information to mislead your users or domain visitors to malicious sites.
  • Insecure application program interfaces (APIs): Sometimes, Cloud APIs, when opened up to third parties, can be a huge security threat. If the API keys are not properly secured, it can serve as an entry point for cybercriminals and malicious elements.
  • Poor choice of Cloud storage providers: A security lapse from the Cloud storage provider’s end is a huge security concern for businesses. It is very important to choose a trusted and experienced Cloud service provider who knows what they are doing.

Apart from the above, there are some common threats that apply to both the Cloud and traditional data storage environments such as a DDoS attack, or a malware attack where your data in the Cloud becomes susceptible because it is being shared with others and at other places.

Some Cloud security mechanisms that SMBs can invest in to keep their data safe

Cloud firewalls: Much like the firewalls you deploy for your local IT network, Cloud firewalls work to prevent unauthorized Cloud network access.

Penetration testing: Penetration testing is a sort of a Cloud security check where IT experts try hacking into the Cloud network to figure out if there are any security lapses or vulnerabilities that could serve cybercriminals.

Obfuscation: In obfuscation, the data or program code is obscured on purpose such that the system delivers unclear code to anyone other than the original programmer, thus mitigating any malicious activity.

Tokenization: Tokenization is the process of replacing sensitive data with unique identification symbols that retain all the essential information about the data without compromising its security.1

Virtual Private Networks (VPN): Another, more commonly used mechanism is the VPN. VPN creates a safe passage for data over the Cloud through end-to-end encryption methodology.

Investing in a good Cloud security system is a must, but, in the end, you also need to remember that Cloud security is not only about antivirus software, firewalls, and other anti-malware tools. You need to pick the right MSP and work closely with them to implement a Cloud security solution that works for you.

1https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/tokenization

Cyber hygiene: The key to your business’s good cyber health

We all know that basic hygiene is a must to lead a healthy life. Did you know that the same rule applies to IT as well? There’s something known as cyber hygiene that plays a key role in keeping your business healthy from the IT perspective. So, how do you ensure your business doesn’t fail when it comes to cyber hygiene? Here are a few tips.

Follow industry benchmarks and standards
Remember that if an IT practice has gained industry-wide recognition and adoption, it is because it certainly offers some benefits. Protocols like the HTTPS implementation, SSL security certificates, CIS Benchmark, etc., are examples of industry standards that you must follow to maintain good cyber hygiene. Following these standards enhance your cybersecurity quotient and also play a positive role in helping you win your customer’s trust.

Stronger IT administration
The role of an IT administrator is very critical in any organization. IT administration involves exercising control over most of the IT activities with a view to ensure the security of your IT environment is never compromised. Make sure your IT admin rules and policies are clearly formulated and covers everything including-

  • Clear definition of user roles
  • Permission levels for each user role
  • Restrictions regarding download/installation of new software
  • Rules regarding external storage devices
IT Audits
Conduct regular IT audits to spot vulnerabilities and gaps that may threaten the security of your IT infrastructure. During the IT audits pay special attention to-
  • Outdated software or hardware that is still in use
  • Pending software updates that make an otherwise secure software vulnerable

Fix what you can and get rid of what is too outdated to be made safe.

Password policy adherence
When it comes to cyber hygiene, passwords are the weakest link as often, people compromise on the password policy for convenience’s sake. Here are a few things to look into at the time of your IT audit to ensure your password policy is being adhered to.

  • Check if passwords are strong enough and follow the standards set for secure passwords
  • Discourage password repetition or sharing
  • Ensure multi-factor authentication, where apart from the password, there is at least one more credential, such as a secret question, a one-time password (OTP) sent to the user’s mobile phone, or a physical token or QR code, to verify and approve data access
Ensure basic security mechanisms are in place
As a part of your cyber hygiene check, ensure you have all the basic security mechanisms in place. These include
  • Anti-malware software programs
  • Firewalls
  • Data encryption tools
  • Physical security and access control tools like biometric access

Pay attention to what happens with obsolete data
How do you get rid of data you no longer need? Even though old data may not be of any use to you from the business perspective, a breach of that data can still hurt you legally. Ensure you get rid of old data safely. It is a good practice to deploy data wiping software and also create policies for the safe destruction of physical copies via shredding or other methods.

Strong cyber hygiene practices can keep your data safe from cybercriminals lurking out there. However, consistently following up and ensuring these best practices are being adhered to, can be taxing on your internal IT team. It may be a good idea to bring an MSP on board who is well versed in cybersecurity to assist you with cyber hygiene.

Free Internet Access? Don’t fall for this one

One of the popular internet scams that has been doing the rounds since 2017 is the one about “Free Internet”. This scam seems to resurface and somehow manages to claim quite a few unsuspecting victims. Here’s how they catch you.
    • Ads are created on Google, Facebook, popular search engines and social media platforms advertising free internet hours.
    • The ads look professional and show up on general searches and on social media when surfing. This offers a sense of validity.
    • Once you click on the ad, you will be taken to their website, where you will be asked to perform an action, such as
    1. Filling out a form with your Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
    2. Sharing your credit card information, and though you will be promised that your card won’t be charged, you may end up signing up for something or subscribing to a service for which your card will be charged later.
    3. Sharing a few email IDs or phone numbers–basically contacts with whom you will be asked to share the message in return for free internet service.

How to stay safe?
As always, remember no one offers something for free. Whether it is free internet access or tickets to a concert, if it is something of value, then you will be expected to provide some value in return. Steer clear of offers that seem too good to be true. If you receive a message from someone you know and trust, please let them know that their link may be a problem. No matter what, don’t open a link from anyone if you aren’t entirely sure the links are valid.

Strengthening your cybersecurity policies

Formulating strong IT policies and laying down the best practices for your staff to follow is one of the best ways to prevent your business from becoming a victim of cybercrime. In this blog, we explore the various areas your IT policy should ideally cover.

Passwords: Your IT policy should cover

  1. Rules regarding password setting
  2. Password best practices
  3. The implications of password sharing
  4. Corrective actions that will be taken in the event the password policy is not followed

Personal devices

  1. Rules regarding the usage of personal devices at work or for work purposes. Answer questions like: Are all employees allowed to use personal devices for work or do you want to limit it to those handling lesser sensitive data, or to those at higher in the corporate hierarchy as you assume they will need to be available 24/7? Regardless, you should spell out the regulations that they must follow. For example, requiring a weekly or monthly check for malware and updates to anti-malware software, etc. If only certain kinds of devices, software or operating systems may be approved as they are presumed to be more secure, then that should be addressed in the policy.
  2. Discuss best practices and educate your employees on the risks related to connecting to open internet connections (Free WiFi) such as the ones offered at malls or airports.

Cybersecurity measures

  1. Document the cybersecurity measures that you have in place for your business. This should include your digital measures such as the software you have deployed to keep malware out–like anti-virus tools, firewalls, etc., and also the physical measures such as CCTV systems, biometric access controls, etc.,
  2. Another example of a good practice is how you handle employee turnover. When someone quits your organization or has changed positions, how is the access issue addressed? Spell out the rules and regulations regarding the removal of a user from the network, changing passwords, limiting access, etc.,

3 steps you can take to protect your data in the Cloud

Moving to the Cloud offers tremendous benefits for SMBs that range from lower IT costs to any-time access to data and certainly more reliability in terms of uptime. But, data in the Cloud is also vulnerable to security threats just like the data stored on physical servers. This blog discusses 3 things you can do to protect your data in the Cloud

Secure access: The first step would be to secure access to your data in the Cloud. So, how do you go about it? Safeguard your login credentials-your User IDs and passwords-from prying eye. Set strong password policies that are practiced across the board and educate your employees about good password hygiene. Also, do you have employees using their own devices to access their work-related applications and documents? Do you have staff working from home? Then, you also need to formulate strong BYOD (Bring-your-own-device) policies, so these devices don’t end up as the entry point to cybercriminals.

Educate your employees: What’s the first thing that pops into your head when someone talks about cybercrime? You probably picture some unknown person, a tech-whiz sitting behind a computer in a dark room, trying to steal your data. But, surprising as it may seem, the first and probably the biggest threat to your data and IT security in general, comes from your employees! Malicious employees may do you harm on purpose by stealing or destroying your data, but oftentimes, employees unwittingly become accomplices to cybercrime. For example, forwarding an email with an attachment that contains a virus, or clicking on a phishing link unknowingly and entering sensitive information therein or compromising on security when they share passwords or connect to an unsecured or open WiFi at public places such as the mall or the airport with a view to “get things done”, but, without realizing how disastrous the implications of such actions can be.

Choosing the right Cloud service provider: If you are putting your data in the Cloud, you need to make sure that it is in safe hands. As such, it is your Cloud service provider’s responsibility to ensure your data is secure and, accessible, always. But, are they doing all that is needed to ensure this happens? It is very important to choose a trustworthy Cloud service provider because you are essentially handing over all your data to them. So, apart from strengthening your defenses, you need to check how well-prepared they are to avert the threats posed by cybercriminals.

Complete Cloud security is a blend of all these plus internal policies, best practices, and regulations related to IT security, and of course, the MSP you choose to be your Cloud security provider plays a key role in all this.

Employee training & Cybersecurity

Employee training will form a big part of the cybersecurity initiative that you will take on as an organization. You need to train your employees to identify and respond correctly to cyberthreats. Here are some employee training best practices that you can make a part of your cybersecurity training program.

Create an IT policy handbook
Make sure you have a handbook of your IT policy that you share with every new employee, regardless of their position in the company. This IT policy handbook must be provided to everyone–right from the CEO to the newest intern in your organization. Also, ensure this handbook is consistently updated. IT is evolving at great speed and your handbook must keep up

Make cybersecurity training a part of your official training initiatives
Cybersecurity training should be a part of your corporate training initiatives for all new employees. You can also conduct refresher sessions once in a while to ensure your existing employees are up-to-date on the latest cyberthreats. At the end of the training session, conduct tests, mock drills, certification exams. Good training includes assessment. Provide follow up training for those who need it. This strong emphasis on training will ensure your employees take cybersecurity seriously.

Day zero alerts
As discussed, the cybercrime landscape is constantly evolving. Every day, cybercriminals are finding new vulnerabilities to exploit, and new methods to steal your data or to hack into your system. Day zero alerts are a great way to keep your employees updated. Has a new security threat been discovered or an important plug-in released for the optimal functioning of a browser? Send an email to everyone spelling out clearly what the threat is and what they can do to mitigate it. Then, follow up to verify they took the necessary steps.

Transparency

Let your employees know who to contact in the event of any IT related challenges. This is important because someone troubleshooting on the internet for a solution to something as simple as a zipping up a file could end up downloading malware accidentally.

Considering the serious ramifications brought on by cybercrime attacks, it makes sense for organizations to strengthen their first line of defense against cybercriminals–their own employees.

DNS Cache poisoning: What every SMB must know

In one of the most common poisoning attacks, the attacker poisons the DNS Cache with the aim of leading visitors to a fake website. In a DNS cache poisoning case, the attacker gains control of the DNS server and then manipulates cache data such that anyone typing the URL of the actual website is redirected to the fake one. This could be a phishing site where the attacker would have carefully laid out a trap to capture the unsuspecting victim’s personal data or secure information. For example, the visitor thinks they are logging into their bank’s website online, but are actually on the attacker’s phishing site, where they enter the login credentials.

Protecting yourself against DNS poison attacks
Here are some ways to protect yourself and your customers from becoming victims of DNS poison attacks.

  1. As discussed before, one of the most common poisoning attacks is the DNS attacks. Cybercriminals try to corrupt your DNS server using theirs. You can prevent this by bringing a trained professional onboard for your DNS server set-up. An expert will know to set up your DNS server such that it has a minimum relationship with other, external DNS servers, thus limiting your attacker’s ability to corrupt your DNS server using theirs.
  2. As a best practice, ensure that your DNS servers only store data related to your domain and not any other information. It is harder to corrupt the system when it focuses on a single element.
  3. Another best practice is to ensure that you are up-to-date on all DNS security mechanisms and are using the most recent version of the DNS.
  4. Ensure your site has, in layman terms, an SSL certificate and make sure it is HTTPS. Using encryption, a site with HTTPS protocol allows for a more secure connection between its server and the internet and is better at keeping cybercriminals out. Having an SSL certificate also ensures your site’s name shows up alongside the URL in the address bar. This is an easy way for visitors to identify if they are on a genuine site or not, thus helping them steer clear of phishing attacks and clone sites.

Data poisoning is one of the lesser-known and hence less talked about forms of cybercrime. But, it can inflict great damage–perhaps even more damage than the other obvious threats such as viruses and ransomware, because, unlike a Denial of Service (DoS) attack or a Ransomware attack where you know the moment the malware has hit your system, in a data poisoning attack, the malware is incorrect data that slithers into your system quietly like a snake and changes its overall functioning before delivering the big blow.