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
    1. 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.

Why do you need a top-down approach to IT security?

For any organization, its employees are its biggest assets. But, what happens when your biggest assets turn out to be your greatest threats or liabilities? That is how cybercrime can change the game. In a recent study, it came to light that employee actions account for about 70% of the data breaches that happen. This blog focuses on the first step you need to take as an organization to better prepare your employees to identify and mitigate cyber threats–adopting a top-down approach to IT security.

Being a victim of cyber-attack can prove disastrous for your business as it has the following repercussions.

  • Affects your brand image negatively: Business disruption due to downtime or having your important business data including customer and vendor details stolen reflects poorly on your brand.
  • It can cause you to lose customers: Your customers may take their business elsewhere as they may not feel safe sharing their PII with you.
  • Can cost you quite a bit financially: Data breach makes you liable to follow certain disclosure requirements mandated by the law. These most likely require you to make announcements on popular media, which can prove expensive. Plus, you will also have to invest in positive PR to boost your brand value.
  • It makes you vulnerable to lawsuits: You could be sued by customers whose Personally Identifiable Information (PII) has been compromised or stolen.

The organizational mindset needs to change and acknowledge the fact that IT security is not ONLY your IT department, CTO or Managed Service Provider’s (MSP) responsibility. You need to truly believe that IT security is everyone’s business, and that includes everybody working in your company, from the C-level execs to the newly hired intern. Everybody needs to understand the gravity of a cyberattack and its impact. Only then will they take cybersecurity seriously.

Things to consider before switching to the Cloud

More and more businesses are switching to the Cloud to store their data and rightly so. The Cloud offers numerous benefits over the traditional, physical on site server. For example,

  • Anytime, anywhere access to your data: Information in the Cloud can be accessed from anywhere using an internet connection, unlike in the case of traditional servers, where you need a physical connection to the servers
  • Significant cost savings: You cut hardware costs, because the Cloud follows a ‘pay-as-you-use’ approach to data storage
  • SaaS compatibility and support: The Cloud allows the use of Software-as-a-Service since the software can be hosted in the Cloud
  • Scalability: The Cloud lets you scale up and down as your business needs change
  • 24/7 monitoring, support, and greater access reliability: When your data is in the Cloud, the Cloud service provider is responsible for keeping it safe and ensuring it is securely accessible at all times. They monitor the Cloud’s performance and in the event of any performance issues, they provide immediate tech support to resolve the problem

Your big Cloud move: What to consider

If you are considering moving to the Cloud, you will find it helpful to sign-up with an MSP who is well-versed with the Cloud. They can advise you on the benefits and risks of the Cloud and also offer the Cloud solution that’s right for you. In any case, before you migrate to the Cloud, make sure you are dealing with a reputed Cloud service provider who has strong data security measures in place. You can even explicitly ask them what security mechanisms they have invested in to manage data access and security.

Yes, moving to the Cloud has it benefits, but it also has its challenges including security risks. Learn more in our next blog, “Is the Cloud really risk-free?”

Online shopping? Watch out for these red flags

Who doesn’t like online shopping? Online shopping has opened up a whole new world to us. Get whatever you want, whenever you want, without wandering from store to store. It doesn’t matter if it is too hot to venture outside or if there’s a blizzard out there, you do your shopping from the comfort of your couch and the stuff at your doorstep. You get great deals, some are better than in-store specials. But, did you know cybercriminals love the concept of online shopping as much as you do. Cybercriminals are exploiting the growing popularity of online shopping to cheat unsuspecting buyers through techniques such as phishing, malware injection, etc. Here are a few tips that may work to keep you safe from being a target of cybercriminals as you shop online.

How to determine if the ad or shopping site is genuine?
As you browse the web, you will come across various ads targeted at your interests. Businesses engage in ‘Retargeting’ which means they use cookies to target you with very specific ads until you buy something. For example, look at a wallet and, you will see ads for wallets on various other sites you browse even if they are not shopping sites. Are those ads genuine? Before clicking on any ad you see online and making a purchase, be sure to verify if the ad is genuine. The same goes for shopping sites. Before you shop, you need to ensure the site is genuine, especially since you will be sharing your credit card details or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as your address. Here are a few things to check before you make that online purchase.

English: Keep an eye out for grammatical errors or spelling mistakes in the ad. Fake ads and sites may look a lot like the actual ones, but spelling mistakes or grammar errors may tell the true story. Scammers don’t have content writers to write great sales content!

Check the URL: When at a shopping site, always check the URL in the address bar to ensure it is genuine. For example, if you see www.1amazon.com or www.amazon-usa.com, you should know it is not the same as www.amazon.com. Checking the URL also lets you detect website cloning and phishing. Website cloning is one of the most popular methods used by scammers to fleece consumers. As the term suggests, the cybercriminal first creates a ‘clone’ site that looks exactly like the original one, barring a very minor change in the URL.

Don’t Get Phished!
Phishing is when you receive a message, usually through an email or a text message asking you to take an action, such as clicking on a link, filling out a form, logging into an account, etc., Such messages look as though they are genuine. But, the form fill, account login, or link will take you to a spurious site where your information will be captured for bad use. Checking the URL will help you detect phishing frauds as well.

Check before you download anything: Sometimes you may receive a link and asked to download a coupon or a gift card that entitles you to a sizable discount. It may be a fraud. In fact, it probably is.

Download only from legitimate marketplaces: With so many shopping options it is tempting to download every new app that you come across. But, only download from authorized marketplaces like Google Play Store for Android or the App Store for iOs.

At the end of the day, remember, there is no free lunch. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.