cybersecurity

Cybersecurity Tips for Protecting Yourself Against IRS-Related Scams During Tax Season

Cybersecurity Tips for Protecting Yourself Against IRS-Related Scams During Tax Season

DesignDATA

Navigating tax season can be incredibly stressful, requiring us to undergo immense work to accurately report our finances and comply with complex requirements. Nowadays, most people use digital tools to simplify the process, with 93.8% of individual tax returns filed electronically for the 2022 fiscal year. However, this shift towards digital methods raises significant cybersecurity concerns. By exchanging such massive quantities of personally identifiable information online, people tend to sacrifice security for convenience. This leads to an increased risk of encountering IRS-related scams, highlighting the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures during this process.

These frauds are a year-round concern, but bad actors intensify their attacks during tax season, exploiting the heightened sense of urgency around filing deadlines. This period, marked by increased communication and pressure, makes people more susceptible to mistakes, creating an ideal environment for scammers to deploy their deceptive tactics effectively.

To reduce your risk, it’s crucial to stay vigilant and informed. In the following sections, we delve into the most prevalent IRS-related scams, outline strategies for safeguarding yourself, and provide guidance on steps to take if you unfortunately become a victim, aiming to minimize the damage caused.

Common Scams

In an IRS-related fraud scheme, a malicious actor impersonates the Internal Revenue Service to obtain your personal information, employing tactics like phishing or smishing (smartphone phishing). These fraudsters craft messages containing malicious links, using sophisticated documents and professionally designed landing pages to enhance authenticity. Using social engineering, they craft messages that may:

  • Prompt you to collect unclaimed refunds,
  • Threaten legal action for alleged fraud,
  • Inquire about supposed unpaid fees,
  • Request verification of unusual account activity, etc.

Once the link is clicked, it can be used to install malware or ransomware on your device.

You may also receive phone calls from impersonators who leave vague, pre-recorded voicemails threatening your arrest if you don’t immediately call back to provide payment. They may use spoofing technology to make them appear to be a legitimate government source.

In other cases, these criminals may engage in tax filing fraud, using your social security number to file a fraudulent tax return and claim your refund. This is a huge issue, with the IRS identifying over one million tax returns as potential identity theft cases during the 2023 tax season. 

What are the red flags and warning signs? 

Be aware of subtle signs that might suggest you are dealing with an impersonator rather than the legitimate agency. These include:

  • Unsolicited documents like a tax transcript, an Employer Identification Number, or a W-2 from an unknown source.
  • Unexpected messages from a tax preparation service claiming to have represented you.
  • Aggressive calls or messages demanding specific payment methods, such as gift cards or wire transfers, for an alleged debt. These may also ask for personal information like credit card numbers over the phone – practices never used by the IRS! 
  • Communications from unofficial or misspelled URL or email domains, or other grammatical errors in the content
  • Messages about unrealistic refunds or other far-fetched incentives

For additional insights, our guide on identifying business email compromises  offers valuable tips on recognizing phishing and other deceptive impersonation tactics.

How can you protect your data from falling prey? 

You can implement various proactive measures to avoid these incidents, such as:

  • Use Strong Passwords: Implement strong, unique passwords and enable multi-factor authentication for all accounts
  • Verify Communications: Avoid clicking links in unsolicited messages. Instead, directly visit the official website for any legitimate notices. Remember, the Internal Revenue Service primarily communicates through traditional mail, not text or email.
  • File Taxes Early:  Submit your taxes promptly to prevent fraudsters from filing fraudulently in your name.
  • Consult Trusted Advisors: Work with reputable financial and tax advisors for tax preparation.
  • Obtain an  Identity Protection Pin: This adds an extra layer of security to your account, as it’s required for filing tax returns with your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • Verify Unknown Calls: If you receive a call from an unknown number claiming to be the IRS, hang up and call the official number to confirm its legitimacy.
  • Update Devices and Software: Regularly update your devices and software to close any security gaps that bad actors could exploit.

Organizations can also help create a more secure business environment by adopting a zero-trust cybersecurity approach, which involves continuously validating users on your network to minimize unauthorized data access. 

What should you do if you fall victim?

If you suspect you may have been tricked into exposing your data and finances, you must act immediately to minimize potential damage. 

  • Confirm and Report: After determining the unsolicited communication is fraudulent, report it to the appropriate authorities. You can find specific reporting methods for different types of schemes on the IRS website.
  • Notify Financial Institutions: If you made any payments during the interaction, inform your bank and/or credit card company immediately to secure your accounts.
  • Monitor Your Credit: Keep a close eye on your credit reports for signs of potential identity theft. Consider signing up for identity theft protection services for expert monitoring and assistance.

Partner with designDATA to protect your data 

Falling victim to a scam can have devastating effects, including significant monetary losses, drained bank accounts, and a tarnished credit history. Such consequences can hinder your ability to rent a home, purchase a car, secure employment, and perform other essential activities.

To prevent these outcomes, it’s crucial to safeguard your personal information proactively. This means not only implementing the measures we have outlined in this article, but also staying informed about the latest IRS-related scams. Equally important is sharing this knowledge with your colleagues, friends, and family to foster a safer community for everyone. 

While personal vigilance plays a crucial role in safeguarding individual tax information, its principles are equally vital in the business world. The same attention to detail and proactive mindset are essential in protecting an organization’s data. Partnering with a Managed Services Provider like designDATA can help you build a robust IT infrastructure that keeps your critical information and resources available and confidential. With our
cybersecurity solutions, you can minimize disruptions in the workplace and empower your team to do their best work, securely. 

Learn how we can protect your organization from evolving cyber risks with an advanced multi-layered defense by getting in touch with us.

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Why Zero Trust Security Should Be A Priority in 2024 For Washington DC Associations and Nonprofits

Why Zero Trust Security Should Be A Priority in 2024 For Washington DC Associations and Nonprofits

DesignDATA

Achieving their core mission and maintaining stakeholder relationships are critical priorities for nonprofits and associations. Unfortunately, a data breach can jeopardize an organization’s focus and community trust, thanks to the likely downtime and loss of sensitive and confidential information.

Heading into 2024, organizations face increasingly sophisticated and more large-scale cyberattacks. Picture more incidents like the 2023 attack against the file-transfer software company MOVEit, which likely impacted over 2,000 organizations worldwide and hundreds of millions of individuals just from cybercriminals exploiting one zero-day vulnerability.

In the new year and beyond, focusing on implementing a zero-trust cybersecurity framework will be your best defense for preserving your online safety in that environment.

Need a real-world case study for proof?

At a recent session at our VisionCSI conference titled “Securing the Future: Building Trust in a Zero Trust World,” attendees learned the story of how the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians applied a Zero Trust architecture to help recover from a devastating cyberattack and experience more advanced data protection.

Below, we give an in-depth overview of the Zero Trust fundamentals discussed at the session. Keep reading to gain actionable insights to improve your information security and keep your organization resilient amidst an uncertain and risky environment.

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a modern security framework that follows the motto “Never trust, always verify.” Previously, traditional perimeter-based cybersecurity treated internal users as trustworthy and everything outside its network as unsafe. This new model sees every identity as suspicious, a more effective approach that can help organizations reduce their likelihood of a data breach by 50%.

The zero-trust framework has three fundamental principles:

  1. Verify explicitly: Prioritize comprehensive and continuous authentication throughout an identity’s journey with your IT infrastructure.
  2. Least privileged access: Restrict access to resources so users can only interact with the specific data necessary for their work and the exact duration required.
  3. Assume breach: Act as if a malicious actor has already breached your system, and work to prevent lateral movement and minimize an intruder’s potential attack surface.
How to Implement a Zero Trust Paradigm to Improve Your Cyber Defense

Your Zero Trust approach should focus on gaining visibility into six key pillars:

  1. Our data
  2. Endpoints
  3. Identity
  4. Applications
  5. Network
  6. Infrastructure

With so much area to cover, organizations must seamlessly orchestrate security controls and policies into a comprehensive defense system. Automation will be critical for streamlining the process and detecting threats in real-time.

How can you get started on establishing this new model in your workplace?
  1. Assess your existing security posture and evaluate your current environment based on Zero Trust principles.
  2. Build or outsource a security operations team that can execute the project.
  3. Implement multi-factor authentication that prioritizes the security of your identities, devices, and legacy applications.
  4. Establish governance, including data loss prevention policies and data classification systems.
  5. Proactively and routinely identify gaps in your posture to optimize your cybersecurity infrastructure continuously.
Cybersecurity Best Practices To Complement Your New Framework

Associations and nonprofits need industry-proven strategies to stay ahead of emerging threats.

To improve your online safety, your organization should adopt several cybersecurity best practices before and alongside your Zero-Trust approach.

Do the following:

Establish policies
Before adopting a zero-trust framework, your organization must develop procedures addressing your data’s privacy and confidentiality. Consider which team members can access your data and how they can use it. Then, document those decisions to ensure your employees approach data security cohesively. Written documentation also allows for accountability in case a compliance issue pops up.

Assess your inventory
Effective data protection starts with understanding the resources you need to keep safe. Focus on building an inventory of information assets such as addresses, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and physical assets like laptops, mobile devices, and IoT devices. This process will allow you to address incidents and breaches quickly.

Conduct cybersecurity training
Help your team protect your data as the first line of defense. Organizations should invest in regular staff cybersecurity training so employees understand how to navigate risks, avoid scams, and use technology securely.

Prioritize incident response and disaster recovery
Your staff should have a roadmap for containing security incidents and promptly restoring operations. Define roles, assign responsibilities, and establish reporting mechanisms. Also, develop a communication plan and a process for analyzing an incident’s severity.

Remember, your incident response planning should never be static! Continuously reassess your plans to enhance how your team recovers from future incidents.

Administer regular cybersecurity risk assessments
Your organization should systematically audit your information assets, systems, security policies, and controls to identify potential vulnerabilities. Your current setup may not be compliant with regulatory requirements, aligned with best practices, or effective in mitigating risk.

This cybersecurity risk assessment will help you pinpoint areas for improvement and take action to allocate your resources to manage threats better.

Tailored IT support for Washington DC Associations and Non-Profits

A proactive zero-trust security framework, in combination with evidence-based security measures and best practices, can help associations and nonprofits protect their sensitive data and business continuity—which is critical for the communities that depend on your organization.

Collaborating with cybersecurity experts and service providers will make implementing a new IT architecture simpler and more efficient.

When you partner with designDATA to address your information technology needs, your organization will benefit from our robust cybersecurity solutions and specialized expertise. From dark web scans and endpoint protection to Layer 7 Firewall and managed drive encryption, our tools will give you the security and peace of mind you need. With our offices in Washington, DC, and Maryland, local organizations from the region can benefit from more regular hands-on support.

Are you curious about attending future educational sessions to boost your cybersecurity and technology knowledge? Join our training webinar mailing list HERE.

Interested in talking about your cybersecurity? Discover how a no-pressure conversation can provide peace of mind and improve your digital safety.

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Using AI Safely: Best Practices for Protecting Your Data

Using AI Safely: Best Practices for Protecting Your Data

DesignDATA

Artificial intelligence’s transformative impact on business gained even more attention this year with the generative AI boom in early 2023 after the release of ChatGPT. People are fascinated by its potential to reshape how we work. From copywriting and customer service to virtual assistance and data analysis, artificial intelligence is becoming capable of addressing a wide range of business challenges.

Businesses are rushing to adopt AI solutions to increase efficiency and improve employee workflow to keep up with the rapid advancements. A recent Cisco study showed that 97% of people felt their companies faced growing internal pressure to implement AI technology in the workplace over the previous six-month period. 61% of respondents believed that if their companies failed to act, they would fall behind and suffer.

However, although businesses are eager to use AI for its benefits, they must also remember to protect their data while pursuing innovation. That same Cisco report shows that roughly 68% of respondents feel their companies aren’t fully equipped to detect and thwart AI-related cyber attacks.

Below, you’ll discover the best practices your organization can implement to continue adopting AI technology while your vital digital assets stay safe.

Understanding the AI Landscape

By now, we have all encountered artificial intelligence in many aspects of our daily lives – whether in our social media feeds, search engines, smart assistants, or navigational systems. But what is it exactly?

At its core, artificial intelligence is a type of technology that can mimic human intelligence in how it performs its tasks and executes its functions. These include recognizing patterns, generating predictions, solving problems, and making its own decisions without human input.

Natural language processing (NLP) is an integral part of AI. It allows computer programs to understand and interpret human communication, such as text and speech, in relevant ways for the user interacting with the system. With sufficient natural language processing capabilities, a computer program can almost instantaneously understand how humans structure and form a word, the word’s role in a sentence, and even the emotion behind the word’s use.

Developers train the system using large datasets for artificial intelligence programs to be effective and efficient. They develop algorithms that incorporate machine learning, capable of absorbing knowledge from previous actions to improve performance over time. With more data, the computer program can learn from a broader range of patterns and features, ensuring it can handle complex tasks and improve accuracy.

Key Risks of AI in Data Security

Despite the potential for positive transformative change, it’s essential to recognize the many risks involved when combining our data with AI technology.

While machines are supposed to be neutral, the people inputting the data to train an AI program can influence it with their human flaws. For example, organizations often use artificial intelligence in recruitment, to speed up the work involved in sourcing new employees. In this case, the algorithm’s bias may affect hiring decisions if the inputted data isn’t entirely representative and comprehensive, leading to potential unfair workplace practices and legal ramifications for the organization.

While large datasets are crucial for effective machine learning, many individuals want more transparency about where the data comes from and want to ensure that the data’s original creators can consent and receive compensation. Several authors recently launched a class-action lawsuit against ChatGPT for using their work without permission to train its algorithm.

Your organization’s risks with AI go beyond ethical implications such as potential plagiarism and piracy. Organizations risk disclosing confidential information to unauthorized individuals once they put their data into the system. This example happened last year when a ChatGPT bug exposed user data.

Bad faith users can use AI tools to breach your system, tricking the program into performing actions such as unauthorized transactions. In a recent Sapio Research study, 75% of security professionals observed a surge of cyberattacks in the last year, with 85% linking generative AI as the primary driver behind this increase.

Cybercriminals may also use AI model theft and tampering to manipulate input data and deceive the system’s decision-making process. This risk impacts the tool’s ability to function correctly, which will impede your productivity significantly if you rely on it for your operations.

Beyond affecting individual customer trust, these incidents may cause an organization to break data privacy laws and regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), leading to more wide-scale financial loss and legal implications.

Best Practices for Embracing AI Safety

To address the challenges and risks of integrating AI into your work, your organization must develop solid strategies for responsible and secure deployment. Luckily, when you follow these best practices to shape your approach, you can still harness the benefits of AI and keep up with evolving industry standards of workplace technology.

Focus on Data Governance and Compliance

When developing AI strategies, it’s critical first to determine which data privacy regulations apply to your organization. Then, you need to implement tactics to meet these regulations’ requirements. At the bare minimum, you’ll likely need to focus on establishing:

  • Mechanisms for gaining customer consent around data use
  • Policies for how to transparently disclose your practices around handling data
  • Methods of encrypting certain types of customer data, as well as anonymizing data when required

You should also regularly audit your data governance policies to spot weaknesses and vulnerabilities and update organizational practices to ensure they reflect current expectations.

Prioritize Employee Training and Awareness

Your organization can help secure digital assets by empowering your team to manage risk using innovative internet-based technologies like artificial intelligence.

Business leaders need to help foster a culture of security awareness where employees understand the potential threats they can encounter when incorporating AI tools into their tasks. You can accomplish this by:

  • Conducting regular training on responsible AI use, as well as helping your team understand how they can use AI in their specific functions
  • Establishing guidelines around data disclosure on the platform, fact-checking information sourced from generative AI platforms, and other ethical usage considerations
  • Defining a policy to clearly outline employee roles and responsibilities in maintaining AI security, whether around access control and authentication, data handling, incident reporting, documentation, etc.
Partner with Trusted AI Vendors

Let’s say you want to go beyond using free online generative AI tools and invest in more robust AI solutions in your workplace. In that case, you must select a vendor that aligns with your business goals and technical requirements.

Selecting a trusted AI vendor will be vital to maintaining strong security throughout the process. You should start by defining the business problem you want to solve. Then, look for a vendor who meets your needs – even better if they can customize their model to work within your objectives.

Then, ask yourself:

  • Firstly, is the AI tool’s interface user-friendly, or will there be a steep learning curve for my team to adopt it into their workflow?
  • Can the vendor offer a tool with strong cybersecurity features that is scalable and capable of handling growing volumes of data and resources without degrading performance?
  • Do they have significant expertise and experience working with artificial intelligence and machine learning, and have they engaged in substantial research and development to create their product?
  • Can the AI tool seamlessly integrate with my existing infrastructure and be compatible and interoperable with my current protective measures?
Implement a Layered Security Approach

Protecting data when your organization uses artificial intelligence tools is more than finding a solution with robust cybersecurity features. You can’t rely on just one security measure to safeguard your organization.

You need to fortify your defenses at multiple levels, combining physical, digital, and administrative security controls to ensure you can prevent threats across various points of vulnerability.

You must develop strategies for preventing cyberattacks and mitigating the damage they cause if a hacker successfully breaches your system. Techniques can include implementing measures like identity control and data destruction policies, continuous monitoring, and creating incident response and recovery plans.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework offers a ready-made roadmap for executing this, outlining the essential building blocks for a strong cybersecurity framework.

Future-proof Your Organization With Our Cybersecurity Experts

Remember, while embracing innovative technologies like artificial intelligence is essential for organizations to stay competitive, you need to prioritize data security while doing it. When your organization builds an AI strategy that centers around your data governance requirements, you’re more likely to use the technology responsibly from the start.

When you pair that with educating your team on responsible use, sourcing reliable AI vendors, and implementing a layered security approach, you can better guarantee that your AI deployment will successfully meet your business goals without sacrificing privacy and safety.

When you partner with designDATA for your IT needs, our experts will help you procure the right AI solutions to increase productivity and security. We also focus heavily on employee empowerment, providing staff training to ensure your employees have the skills to use your technology with proficiency and without increasing risk.

Want even more guidance on how to use AI effectively? Watch our three exclusive training videos on elevating your productivity through artificial intelligence.

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How To Use the Microsoft Secure Score To Optimize Your Cybersecurity

How To Use the Microsoft Secure Score To Optimize Your Cybersecurity

DesignDATA

Static cybersecurity strategies won’t cut it in a world where digital threats are continuously evolving. Instead, we must regularly update our tactics to protect our data while operating online. But how do we know which methods to adapt to provide the most vigorous defense?

Nowadays, most businesses use the Microsoft 365 ecosystem to manage how they communicate and store data in the workplace. Suppose you want to take more specific actions to prioritize security in that setting. In that case, the Microsoft Secure Score offers your organization a powerful tool to assess and quantify your security posture. You’ll also receive actionable recommendations for boosting your digital resilience.

Below, we’ll explore how you can use the Security Score to guide your organization’s security strategy, ensuring it aligns with industry standards and best practices.

What is the Microsoft Secure Score?

The Microsoft Security Score is a feature in the portal for Microsoft 365 Defender, Microsoft’s extended detection and response (XDR) solution. Businesses can strengthen their security strategy in this centralized location by identifying, investigating, and responding to threats across their infrastructure, whether within their endpoints, identities, email, or applications.

The Security Score specifically gives organizations a numerical grade on their current level of security.  It seeks to uncover weaknesses and vulnerabilities in how organizations configure the Microsoft 365 environment, user behavior, account activity, and device management. The number also helps you create internal and external benchmarks: you can compare your level of security as it changes with time to see your progress, and you can also see how you measure up compared to similar organizations.

A higher score means that your security posture is more robust and that you’ve already implemented a larger number of the actions they recommend to minimize your risk of a serious cybersecurity incident.

Remember, the Microsoft Secure Score is one of several excellent tools for mitigating threats. After learning about it in-depth here, visit our free resource library to check out our guide chock-full of recommendations for other methods to help get better results out of Microsoft 365.

Key Components of the Microsoft Secure Score

So, how exactly does Microsoft determine your Secure Score? What’s their system for coming up with the number on display?

The tool will give you points based on whether you’ve configured certain recommended security features, accomplished specific tasks, or addressed their recommendations using an alternative strategy, such as a third-party solution. You will only receive recommendations for the Microsoft products that your organization uses.

The tool will score your activity on whether you’ve fully completed the recommended action. However, in some cases, you can receive partial points if you’ve finished it for some devices or users.

Besides your current score, you can also see your “planned score” to determine how much you can improve after you complete specific actions, as well as your “achievable score,” which shows how much you can improve your score based on your level of risk acceptance and your current Microsoft licenses.

You’ll likely never receive a perfect score of 100% since certain recommendations might make your environment less user-friendly for your team or may not work in your distinct circumstances. In many cases, you may accept the risk to maintain productivity. However, your score can still help you create the best-case secure environment to meet your needs.

Benefits of Using Microsoft Secure Score

Leveraging the Microsoft Security Score means that you gain a clearly defined roadmap for making decisions about improving your cybersecurity. You’ll no longer need to rely on assumptions or intuition because you can take informed action based on measurable security insights.

This benefit will ensure that your tactics are more effective and cost-effective in protecting your digital assets! This streamlined security assessment process will reduce manual labor related to analysis and help you avoid wasting money on resources that don’t significantly impact your security.

Complying with industry standards and regulations will also become much easier since you will have explicit instructions and a structured approach to keeping your data confidential, available, and intact.

The Score and its accompanying features also help you proactively minimize risk, making your organization less likely to respond to threats reactively during a crisis. You will have already made preemptive changes to thwart many types of risk in their tracks before they can cause any actual damage. It will also be more straightforward to manage your permissions so unauthorized users don’t access your confidential, sensitive data, reinforcing stakeholder trust in your team.

Ultimately, this will help keep your organization operating smoothly, with less data and financial loss.

Strategies to Improve Your Microsoft Secure Score

Think about your Microsoft Secure Score as a snapshot depicting the overall puzzle that makes up your cybersecurity. You must address various pieces across different categories to improve your organization’s score – but make sure to prioritize acting on the recommendations that are most feasible for your organization at the current time, based on your resources and limitations, as well as the recommendations that will have a bigger impact.

Tackling how you approach identity within your Microsoft 365 environment is a crucial place to start. Among our suggestions for improving internet security, enabling multi-factor authentication is always among our go-to tips – because it’s a simple way to add an extra layer of security. Enabling MFA will improve your score – and Defender offers partial credit as more users do it. We also recommend reviewing permissions and user roles to ensure team members only receive privileges based on what’s required to accomplish their tasks.

Your organization must also focus on how you store and use your data across Microsoft 365 products to improve your Security Score. Creating and enforcing strong data loss prevention policies can help you align your data use with Microsoft’s best practices. These measures include encrypting your data when necessary and classifying and labeling it to ensure only authorized users can access it.

Implementing advanced threat protection (ATP) tools will help you defend against sophisticated threats and boost your score. For example, most ATP tools focus on endpoint protection. As a result, you’ll proactively maintain your device health and avoid getting recommendations for remediating issues because you’ve already met security standards.

Organizations should develop holistic strategies for maintaining and increasing their security score over time. Beyond addressing your security recommendations in Defender, it’s critical to build a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity that involves regularly assessing your technology and updating your systems, software, and applications. You should also educate all employees on behaving more securely when interacting with your digital tools and assets.

You can get more ideas for improving your Microsoft Secure Score by checking out our essential building blocks for a strong cybersecurity framework.

Partner With designDATA To Strengthen Your Security Resilience

The Microsoft Secure Score offers organizations a valuable method for understanding their current level of security and vulnerability. By regularly monitoring and working to improve their score, organizations can make themselves more resilient to future hazards. And when data remains safe, business can continue as usual, with minimal disruption and better productivity.

When your organization partners with designDATA to implement our cybersecurity solutions, we will demystify your Secure Score. Our experts will guide you through implementing the recommended actions and employing other strong tactics to defend your data.

After that, learn more about our approach in this guide to how designDATA leverages the Microsoft Secure Score.

Want to discover other tools for enhancing workplace productivity?

We’ve got three exclusive training videos on using AI to increase efficiency in everyday tasks, from writing and forecasting trends to creating presentations and managing emails.

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3 Essential Tips for Better Internet Security

3 Essential Tips for Better Internet Security

DesignDATA

The internet is actually a pretty great place to be, offering a vast expanse of knowledge, entertainment, and opportunities for connection. However, its true potential is only realized when website owners take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of their visitors, creating a secure and trustworthy online environment for everyone.

To assist in this crucial endeavor, here are three valuable tips to help ensure your website remains both informative and protective for your users.

Tip #1: Use HTTPS

HTTPS, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, provides an added layer of security for website users. It encrypts the data exchanged between a user’s browser and the web server, ensuring that the information remains confidential. Think of it as having a private conversation where eavesdroppers can’t understand the language you’re speaking.

In August 2014, Google Chrome, the world’s most popular browser, announced that having HTTPS makes your website rank higher in its search algorithm. And since October 2017, the browser began flagging non-HTTPS websites as not secure whenever users try to fill out something as simple as a contact form on it. In July 2018, Chrome started showing a “not secure” warning on any website that does not implement HTTPS, whether or not users are filling out a form there.

Because of Google’s measures, the security protocol has been widely adopted. Even if your website does not contain or ask for sensitive information, implementing HTTPS on it engenders trust and a sense of security among internet users, while staying left behind security-wise will make web visitors abandon or avoid you sooner or later.

Tip #2: Embrace multifactor authentication (MFA)

Since account credentials can be easily stolen via phishing attacks, username and password combos are no longer enough to keep bad actors at bay. To ensure that the one accessing an account is truly that account’s owner, additional identity authentication steps must be implemented.

These steps can involve the use of the account holder’s device — the one logging in must first verify their phone number, receive a one-time password on their smartphone, then enter that code in the access portal before the validity of the code lapses.

Alternatively, MFA may ask for a face, retina, voice, or fingerprint scan for authentication. MFA can be a bit of a hassle for your internal and external users, but a little inconvenience is a small price to pay for immensely effective cybersecurity.

Tip #3: Update browsers and devices

Did you know that dated versions of browsers, operating systems (OSs), and even other software packages can create an easy entry point for hackers? Often, new updates are created specifically to fix security holes. And hackers are ever aware that people can be lazy, saving that update for another day that never seems to come.

They’ll often try to take advantage of this, searching for outdated devices to infiltrate while their victims watch YouTube on last year’s version of Firefox.

Yes, installing an update might take 15 minutes of your time. But this small effort can yield significant dividends in preventing a security breach, potentially saving you or your business thousands. Remember, keeping your software updated is a simple yet effective step towards bolstering your cybersecurity.

Looking for more ways to enhance your internet security?

Reach out to discover how we can assist, or explore our extensive collection of cybersecurity resources for additional insights and strategies.

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Essential Building Blocks for a Strong Cybersecurity Framework

Essential Building Blocks for a Strong Cybersecurity Framework

DesignDATA

Four-minute read

Cybersecurity risks have become a standard feature of doing business in our digital era, with organizations facing potential harm regularly, whether it’s an insider threat like the recent Tesla data breach or the rise of malicious QR code phishing campaigns.

And when they aren’t handled properly, threats can compromise your information, disrupt your access to critical resources, and destabilize your operations – so prioritizing protection has never been more important.

So, how can your organization take action to reinforce your virtual armor and hone your resilience?

By proactively applying this rock-solid cybersecurity approach, based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework.

When you follow this systemic method with clearly outlined and tangible action items, online safety will feel achievable and inevitable. Read on to discover the necessary components of a cybersecurity strategy that transforms your IT from a risky obstacle into an asset.

Introducing the Cybersecurity Framework

Embracing digital tools doesn’t have to jeopardize your business’s security. With the right approach, it’s possible to leverage the benefits of these resources while keeping your data free from danger.

A comprehensive cybersecurity framework should center around five pivotal functions, which work together to ensure you tackle your security holistically.

*Based on NIST Cybersecurity Framework (ftc.gov) for Small Businesses

With each of these overarching functions, you can break them up into smaller subfunctions that focus on more specific security-related tasks. This structure gives you a carefully plotted path, with each stepping stone contributing to the strategy’s overall effectiveness – like small pieces of a giant puzzle.

Identify

Before you can take action, you need to identify what you’re actually trying to protect. Once you’ve systematically assessed your particular organization’s digital ecosystem, you can make a more effective plan that addresses your business’s unique challenges. 

Asset Management

Identifying your needs and tailoring your strategy requires meticulously evaluating, categorizing, and inventorying your:

  • Physical devices and systems 

  • Software platforms and applications 

  • External information systems

  • Resources, such as hardware, devices, data, time, and software 

After creating this inventory, you’ll need to look at your assets and rank them in terms of their classification, their importance to your operations, and their overall business value. You also need to establish the roles and responsibilities that your staff will fulfill when it comes to your cybersecurity, as well as any third-party stakeholders like suppliers, customers, or partners.

Risk Management

Once you’ve got a clear picture of what you’re trying to protect, you must proactively identify your organization’s potential risks and vulnerabilities, whether it’s disruptive malware, electronic financial theft, fraud, or even an internal threat.

Your strategy should address these specific challenges in your environment, and you can use this information to allocate resources effectively.  Ultimately, this will maximize your strategy’s impact. If you do encounter a threat, you’ll be able to build the appropriate disaster recovery plan to respond swiftly and minimize damage.

Finally, after knowing your risk landscape, all organizational stakeholders must agree on the appropriate risk management processes for your business and work together to establish and manage them. 

Supply Chain Risk Management

Your cybersecurity approach needs to extend beyond your immediate internal environment and include the people you regularly connect with outside of your business – whether it’s the people who provide your information systems, components or services.

By employing a meticulous supply chain risk assessment process, your business can assess, identify, and prioritize the suppliers and third-party partners that will be critical to consider in your strategy.

Remember, assessing your suppliers’ and third-party partners’ cybersecurity risk should be ongoing. Your business must routinely evaluate them to ensure they meet their contractual obligations, whether through an audit, test results, or another type of inspection.

It’s also critical to conduct response and recovery planning and testing with those suppliers and third-party partners so you can make sure your entire business ecosystem remains resilient and that your business won’t suffer due to a disruption somewhere in the chain.

Protect

Once you’ve got the knowledge, it’s time to actually put it in motion! Implementing various defense measures will be necessary to prevent a cyber threat from wreaking havoc.

Identity Management and Access Control

Keeping your business’s critical systems and sensitive data safe means ensuring that only authorized devices, users, and processes can access them. This involves:

  • Issuing, managing, verifying (and if necessary, revoking) identities and credentials,

  • Managing remote access,

  • Overseeing all permissions and authorizations, incorporating the Zero Trust concept of “least-privileged access” so that only the staff who need a specific data set to carry out their duties access it, and

  • Implementing tactics such as network segregation and segmentation to protect network integrity.

Awareness and Training

Enhancing your business’s security is about more than just introducing new tools. You must foster a workplace culture where employees understand the risks and feel responsible for protecting your data. Regular education and training sessions can also ensure all employees understand cybersecurity best practices and your organization’s distinct approach.

Data Security

In order to have the always-available data needed to keep your critical operations disruption-free, your business needs to establish policies that protect your data while it’s at rest and in transit. 

Whether it’s your data, hardware, software, or other valuable resources, creating a formal system for managing assets throughout their entire lifecycle will be crucial – particularly during removal, transfers, and disposition.

You can also enact integrity-checking mechanisms that verify hardware integrity, which proactively addresses vulnerabilities before they lead to serious incidents.

Information Protection Process and Procedures

A truly comprehensive security strategy requires a structured approach to your organization’s most valuable asset – your information:

  • Create and maintain a baseline configuration of your business’s information technology and control systems.

  • Incorporate organization-wide security principles, like the concept of least functionality, where an entity only receives access to the resources and authorizations necessary to perform its required function.

  • Conduct, maintain, and regularly test your information backups.

  • Develop and enforce a policy for data destruction.

  • Establish, manage, and regularly test your business’s response plans (Incident Response and Business Continuity) and recovery plans (Incident Recovery and Disaster Recovery).

Maintenance

All businesses should implement a system so that when maintaining your organizational assets remotely, you can automatically approve and log any actions to prevent unauthorized access.

Protective Technology

The right tools will be crucial for making sure all the elements in your strategy work effectively to mitigate damage – especially when paired with policies to ensure compliance. This includes:

  • Determining, documenting, implementing, and regularly reviewing your audit and log records.

  • Protecting communications and control networks.

  • Protecting and restricting removable media.

Detect

It’s reasonable to expect that your organization may face a threat at some time in the near future – especially given that security experts estimate that small businesses experience 43% of all cyberattacks.

Unfortunately, the cost of this for SMBs is high, with some research showing that within six months of getting hacked, 60% of small businesses are forced to close their doors for good and cease operations.

Luckily, if a cyber threat infiltrates your organization, a good detection strategy can help businesses respond rapidly and minimize the damage.

Anomalies and Events

By collecting and correlating event data from multiple sources and sensors, a network trained to recognize familiar activity will quickly notice if there’s any weird behavior that could signal a potential security threat.

Security Continuous Monitoring

By staying vigilant and gaining real-time visibility into what’s happening on your network, you can detect potential cybersecurity events, malicious code, or the presence of unauthorized personnel, connections, devices, and software.

Detection Process

Your organization needs to clearly communicate relevant information about event detection, and explain and define your employees’ roles and responsibilities for detection – so they remain accountable and nothing slips through the cracks. 

Respond

Once you’ve detected a security incident, your business should already have the resources in place to respond promptly and effectively. 

Response Planning

Your business should develop a ready-to-go response plan to execute during or after the incident. A pre-established response plan means your entire team can be better coordinated and prepared to immediately contain and mitigate an incident’s impact.

Communications

When it’s necessary to respond to a security incident, all personnel should:

  • Understand the role they play during the response.

  • Know the steps they must take and in which order. 

  • Report incidents based on pre-established criteria.

  • Share information and coordinate with stakeholders in a way that follows the guidelines in your response plan.

Your organization should also voluntarily share information with your external stakeholders to inform everyone about potential risks.

Analysis and Improvement

Responding to a security event should go beyond immediate intervention to looking ahead to the future. Once your organization finishes responding to a security incident, take the time to classify the event based on your pre-determined categories from your response plan. And importantly, change your response plan and update your response strategies to incorporate the lessons you’ve learned from the recent incident

Recover

After you’ve contained and neutralized the security threat, you must systemically restore any affected assets to function normally. Like with response planning, this means developing a recovery plan to execute during or after a cybersecurity incident.

You must prioritize managing your public relations, repairing reputational damage, and communicating recovery activities to internal and external stakeholders and executive and management teams.

After the recovery process, look back to see where you could’ve improved. Then, update your recovery plan and strategies with what you’ve learned so that you can recover more effectively next time. 

We Can Craft You a Robust Defense for a Resilient Tomorrow

Building an organization that can withstand today’s threat landscape should be a top priority. If you want to apply this systematic cybersecurity approach but need some help, our experts are here to empower better digital safety for your employees.

At designDATA, our team will work as your partner in online security, implementing our robust cybersecurity solutions that address your unique vulnerabilities. From security assessments, incident response, and disaster recovery plans to security awareness training and regulation compliance, we empower you to navigate your digital operations safely.

Contact us today to create a tailored defense for your organization that guarantees a brighter, more resilient future.

 

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Public WiFi Security Myths, Facts & Best Practices

Public WiFi Security Myths, Facts & Best Practices

DesignDATA
wifi-security

For many workers, the ability to work from anywhere is one of the most appreciated perks of modern wireless technology.

Are you feeling trapped inside with lots of work on a beautiful sunny day?

No problem – you can pack up your laptop and finish your work from a table on the patio at your local coffee shop.

Dog begging for attention while you try to work? Take her to the dog park and write a report from a picnic table while she runs around. Need to send a last-minute work email before flying off for vacation? You can take care of it from the airport waiting area. 

Working remotely gives workers and companies unprecedented flexibility, but, like many benefits of technology, working from anywhere can be a double-edged sword. For example, the public WiFi networks that enable employees to work from coffee shops, parks, and restaurants also present a security risk to company data.

Millions of people are working remotely due to COVID-19 precautions. As restrictions ease in some locations, more workers will seize the opportunity to leave the house and work from other places, often using public WiFi. Companies must understand the risks of using public WiFI and develop best practices to protect company networks and data.

Most people are aware of some risks associated with using public WiFi. There’s a lot of helpful information on this topic, but there are also some myths. In this article, we’ll examine the truth of three common statements about public WiFi security.

We’ll discuss some best practices for safely working via public WiFi.

#1. When working on public WiFi, other devices can communicate with your device without your knowledge

This statement is true. 

On some public WiFI networks, hackers can gain access and initiate communication with your device. They don’t even have to be anywhere near you. Malicious actors can do this from hundreds of miles away. The risk is real, but there are mitigations. You should ensure that all company devices have the latest security patches and updates. 

Another effective tactic is to use a software-based firewall (such as the Windows Defender Firewall built into Windows 10) and implement hardening policies to disable services that may be listening for remote requests (such as remote registry and remote desktop).

#2. Anyone can snoop on your Web browsing and traffic on public WiFi

This one is a partial myth.

Traffic to regular http:// sites is visible to anyone, but https:// sites are encrypted. This is critical knowledge for workers using public WiFi. To avoid prying eyes, be aware of whether the sites you visit are http:// or https://. On laptops, this is indicated by a padlock icon in the browser bar. In addition, some browsers will message you “not secure” if you visit http:// sites. Pay attention to these indicators and don’t view or type sensitive information on an unencrypted site.

Additionally, some other services are also not secure. FTP and Telnet are two examples where all communication (including passwords) is sent in clear text for anyone willing to listen in to hear.

#3. The only way to work safely on public WiFi is to use a VPN connection.

This statement is widespread, but it’s not true.

Using a VPN effectively reduces the security risk of using public WiFi, but it’s not the only way. For example, if a VPN is not required to access internal company servers or applications, it may be redundant since traffic to and from https:// sites is already encrypted.

Other security strategies can reduce the attack surface available to hackers and protect devices, even without a VPN. A few of these strategies include reconfiguring vulnerable legacy Windows features and using secure browsers and applications that enforce Transport Layer Security (TLS) for all communications.

You should investigate all the available options before deciding the best path for your company.

For Companies

The first step for companies is establishing a clear policy about working with public WiFi. Then, whatever policy you choose, ensure your employees have what they need to work productively under company best practices.

One of the most effective ways is to provide adequate training resources and on-demand help desk support.

If you allow your employees to access the company network and data via public WiFi, ensure that company devices are well protected. Managed security patching, a managed software-based firewall and managed endpoint-based antivirus protection are all essential.

You may choose to disable or restrict access to company systems based on public WiFi security risks. If you go this route, provide your employees with other remote connectivity options such as a VPN, a work-issued hotspot, or reimbursement for using their personal phone’s hotspot.

When choosing a VPN, make sure to evaluate the pros and cons of options such as full-tunnel vs split-tunnel and make the best choice for your company.

For Employees

First and most importantly, make sure you cooperate with your company’s established best practices.

Next, research and educate yourself on the most recent expert tips for safely using public WiFi. The recommendations include making sure you only visit websites you know are fully encrypted (https:// only), refraining from downloading any new updates or software, and logging out of accounts once you’ve finished what you’re doing. 

Recommendations continually change as technology evolves, so check frequently to ensure you’re current.

Interested in Learning More?

This article should help you determine if your company is headed in the right direction with its public WiFi policies and precautions, but that’s only one small part of the bigger cybersecurity picture. If you would like more information, check out our free cybersecurity resources. 

Ready to take action? 

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The Current State of Cyber Insurance Coverage

The Current State of Cyber Insurance Coverage

DesignDATA

Three-minute read

Over the past decade, cyber insurance has grown from niche to mainstream in terms of insurance coverage for businesses and organizations. The instances of ransomware attacks, data breaches with extortion demands, and electronic financial crimes are increasing in leaps and bounds year over year. So much so that insurance providers have had to modify their coverage for these threats within their policies to reduce the amount they are paying out, raise premiums, or both. Organizations, large and small, are constantly at risk from bad actors trying to take advantage of weak security protocols, loose accounting practices, or unsuspecting employees. But what does cyber insurance cover and does your organization need to worry about it? 

We’ve organized a webinar to answer all your cyber insurance questions, but read on to learn about some of the topics we will cover in more detail on March 22nd.

What Exactly is Cyber Insurance?

Most organizations have general liability insurance, and these policies can include provisions for some types of crime we may think of as cyber threats. But cyber insurance specifically covers costs associated with the most dangerous types of cyber threats that aren’t covered under general liability.  These include ransomware attacks, data breaches with extortion, funds transfer fraud and social engineering attacks. They can also provide access to valuable services (or pay for those services) such as data recovery costs, computer forensic investigations and a public relations crisis management firm. Unfortunately, not all policies are made equal. Forbes shared this insight surrounding the cyber insurance industry: “The growing demand, coupled with an increase in payouts, is driving the cyber insurance industry to rethink how it can mitigate its exposure.” This means that you’ll have to ask some questions of your policy provider to ensure you are fully protected. Insurance is a for-profit business and it is on you as the consumer to make sure you’re buying the coverage and services you’ll need and not overspending on the coverage you don’t.

Does Your Organization Need Cyber Insurance Coverage?

It seems like every week in the news you hear about another major corporation suffering from a data breach or ransomware attack.  While large companies likely have cyber insurance coverage, it’s not only enterprise-level organizations that need to worry. According to Nation Wide, “55% of small businesses have experienced a data breach and 53% have had multiple breaches.” Cyber insurance coverage is used as a way for companies to transfer a large portion of the risk to themselves against these threats and it is a smart precaution for organizations of all sizes.

How to Apply for Cyber Insurance

Some general liability insurance policies include data breaches or some forms of limited cyber coverage. So, the first place to start would be reviewing your existing General Liability Policy. Note which types of threats and losses are covered. You may want to extend your current coverage to include other areas where your organization lacks coverage, such as on a ransomware payment or a social engineering attack. It’s best to shop around and find the best options for your organization. If you’re not sure what the best choices are for your organization, you might need some help.  Ask your insurance broker if they (or someone they work with) is an expert in cyber insurance and can provide you with comprehensive coverage. You should also ask the individuals in charge of your IT security to review the types of coverage included in these policies and ask if all the relevant cybersecurity risks are covered.  You should also cross-reference your cyber policy with any other insurance policies you have that include crime coverage to ensure there are no types of crime that are missing from your policies (and that you don’t overlap too much — overlapping coverage is often less helpful than you think). When applying for cyber insurance coverage, you’ll be asked a lot of questions about your current IT security, your accounting practices and your past claims history.  Make sure you answer these questionnaires truthfully and completely.  While the insurance carrier won’t be auditing you during the policy purchasing phase, they definitely will audit you if you file a claim with them. If they determine you’re not doing something that you promised you were, they can use that as justification to deny your claim.

Types of Cyber Insurance Coverage

Below are some types of coverage that you want to ensure are included in your policy portfolio: 1. Data Breach Coverage Data breaches can come from anywhere, such as a simple phishing email that an employee opens. Suddenly, data exfiltration malware is surfing your network. Or maybe a vendor is compromised and an email comes from them that looks exactly like every other email but it actually has a malicious attachment. Maybe some of your employees aren’t practicing good password hygiene and bad actors guess passwords to your main databases. These breaches usually result in the theft of personal or client information. Cyber insurance policies will include services to help you recover from these breaches, like a Breach Hotline, forensic services to investigate the breach, crisis management and public relations help. These are all great benefits to have in the case of data theft. 2. Personal Client or Business Information Restoration Cyber insurance policies with this coverage will include paying for the labor and any special tools for recovery and/or replacement of lost or stolen data. Note that you need to have good backups for this coverage to work; the insurance company can’t wave a magic wand and put all of your data back on your systems. 3. Data Recovery Not only will a cyber insurance policy cover data recovery after a breach, but it will also bring you peace of mind knowing that all elements of the aftermath will be addressed. Providers will work to recover or recreate lost data; they will ensure any clients with compromised information are informed and, if necessary, compensated. Some policies even help victims of identity fraud restore their credit rating. 4. System Repair After a data breach, your computer systems may be damaged or destroyed. Malware and spyware can wreak havoc on your network settings and organization, not to mention finding all the information that has been compromised. Cyber insurance will cover the costs of system and hardware repairs, as well as repairing your data centers and network architecture.

Is Cyber Insurance Worth It?

In our opinion, yes, cyber insurance coverage is essential for any organization that relies on computers to process or store its data, make financial transactions, or manage their human resources. As technology advances and there is a wider attack surface for bad actors to exploit, every organization is at risk, no matter the size. If you’re uncertain about your current security being advanced enough to obtain insurance, we can help your business improve your security landscape. designDATA has decades of experience with IT security for businesses of all sizes. We can protect your mission-critical data, elevate your security network and ensure that you and your team are prepared for a review by a potential cyber insurance provider. This includes reviewing your current cyber insurance policy if you request it. We’ll ensure that your policy is best serving you, that you’re well-protected and that your policy includes all of the coverage you might need. Knowing that your cyber insurance policy is robust and up to par means you can work with less worry and more confidence. If you want to check the status of your cyber insurance and make sure your business is prepared for cyber incidents, request a free cyber insurance review now!

Be sure to register for our cyber insurance webinar on March 22nd from 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EST. We want to give our community the best information available about cyber insurance so you can ensure your business is protected.

The Current State of Cyber Insurance Coverage Read More »

What to Know About Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Hidden Spyware

What to Know About Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Hidden Spyware

DesignDATA

Four-minute read

Some cyberattack methods are well-known. Both IT professionals and regular employees know to be alert for phishing scams, suspicious attachments and compromised USB drives. Cybersecurity teams guard company networks against more sophisticated schemes, like supply chain attacks. They monitor systems and machines and deploy antivirus software to sniff out malware. If malware is found or suspected on a device, a hard drive reformat and reinstall can wipe clean any infection… or so we thought until Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) infiltration came along.

The efforts listed here are effective against most cyberattacks, but determined criminals have developed advanced methods that evade traditional cybersecurity efforts — even the popular wipe-and-reload method; they hide spyware in the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface on company laptops. This type of spyware is rare, but researchers recently discovered hidden malware in the UEFI on some Windows 10 business machines.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about hidden UEFI spyware.

A Clever Firmware Attack

The UEFI is a pre-boot environment stored on firmware rather than on a hard disk or a solid-state drive. The recently-discovered UEFI spyware makes it possible for criminals to directly deliver hacking tools or malware to the infected computer from this pre-boot environment. These tools could allow hackers to steal documents, log keystrokes to steal passwords and exfiltrate the stolen info via the internet.

Hiding malware in the UEFI is particularly clever because antivirus and anti-malware software has virtually no ability to scan this memory type. UEFI malware evades both traditional detection methods and standard remediation practices because it is stored on firmware in the pre-boot environment. The malware discovered in a recent attack could reinstall the hacking tools on the operating system of the computer even if found and removed. A concerning consequence of this is that the malware would also remain even if cybersecurity teams wiped and reloaded a machine or swapped out the hard drive, as it doesn’t live on the hard drive at all.

The good news is that it’s tough for cyber criminals to load malware into a machine’s UEFI. The malware has to be customized to a specific machine model. For example, malware intended to infect the UEFI of a Dell Latitude E6320 would only work on that model and no other. It’s also difficult to load the malware. To inject an infected version of the firmware into the UEFI memory requires malicious actors to abuse a firmware update, such as a BIOS Flash. Firmware updates aren’t everyday activities and are generally performed by IT teams rather than users, which is another reason these extremely effective UEFI attacks are rare.

State-Sponsored Groups Behind UEFI Spyware

UEFI spyware attacks require custom-written hacking tools and determined efforts to infect victims’ machines. So far, all known attacks of this type have come from state-sponsored hacking groups with specific, high-value targets.

A UEFI attack discovered in 2018 is suspected of having come from Russian state-sponsored hackers. More recently, UEFI spyware victims were people associated with African, Asian and European diplomatic entities and NGOs. Based on clues in the malware code, experts suspect the attack came from a group sponsored by North Korea.

UEFI Cybersecurity Best Practices

Depending on your industry, it may be unlikely that you will be targeted by a state-sponsored UEFI attack. However, it’s always a good idea to follow best practices when working on your own machines or those of your customers. Here are some simple but effective ways to protect against UEFI attacks.

Ensure Your Machines Are Running Legitimate Firmware Versions
When you download new firmware or drivers to install on a machine, check that the files are digitally signed to ensure authenticity. If they are not signed, check the hash value of the file against the hash provided by the vendor to make sure they match. Taking these steps significantly reduces the risk that you are running firmware infected with malware

Regularly Reflash Pre-Boot Environments of High-Profile Or Vulnerable Machines
If you suspect malware on a machine, beyond just wiping and reloading the hard drive with a fresh copy of the operating system, consider adding a flash of the pre-boot environment as part of your wipe-and-reload procedures. Flashing the pre-boot environment with a digitally-signed copy of the files from the device manufacturer will clean out any malware living there (essentially doing a wipe-and-reload of the pre-boot environment in addition to the hard drive). You can also perform this step specifically when traveling users return from high-risk countries as part of the cleaning process for that device.

Leave Updates to Your IT Services Team
Employees often decide to “save time” by installing software and updates on their own. Users are much less likely to follow your security and validation procedures, ensuring that the updates they are installing are relevant, meaningful, compatible with current systems and digitally signed by hardware and software manufacturers. When not following these procedures, there’s a much greater chance that they are installing illegitimate updates full of spyware, ransomware or other nasty malware you don’t want on your system. Provide cybersecurity awareness training to reinforce that your team should rely on the IT department or provider for software patches and updates. Stress that they should not install these things independently.

Secure IT Solutions

Maintaining good cybersecurity requires time, people, resources and constant vigilance. At designDATA, we do the hard work of keeping up with all the latest cyberattack methods and the most effective cybersecurity solutions to protect our customers from cybercrime. Check out our free cybersecurity resources for some great steps you can take to protect your organization.

Require Relevant Cybersecurity Awareness Training
Train employees on relevant security topics such as “how to recognize phishing attacks,” “proper password management” and “company cybersecurity best practices.” Adequate training resources are available, and leaders should make sure their employees participate regularly.

Ready to take the next step? Let’s connect! Book a Security Assessment with one of our cybersecurity experts to see how we can help you.

What to Know About Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Hidden Spyware Read More »

Work-From-Home Security: How to Close the Gap

Work-From-Home Security: How to Close the Gap

DesignDATA

Working from home has long been a dream for many office workers. Recent developments in cloud technology and video conferencing have enabled companies to offer part-time or permanent remote or hybrid options. Experts predicted this trend would increase, but no one expected a global pandemic to make the dream of working from home a reality for millions. With this shift comes the need to tend to work-from-home security.

The Shift to Remote and Hybrid Work

When COVID-19 hit, companies quickly pivoted to remote operations. No one knew how long the situation would last, and the initial focus was on maintaining worker productivity. The new way of working allowed for this, but it came with some challenges too. Remote work and hybrid work aren’t going away soon, and it is time for companies to get serious about work-from-home security.

These new ways of working have produced new pathways for cybercriminals to attack. Hackers and other malicious cyber actors are attacking remote and hybrid workers with three primary tactics:

Email & Phishing Scams

Hackers have taken advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to launch phishing attacks through email, texts and social media. Fraudulent emails are often disguised as helpful information from company leadership or as requests from the company for personal information.

Unsecured Wi-Fi Network Infiltration

Devices connected to unprotected home networks are an easy target for cybercriminals. They use this vulnerability to steal data and passwords and intercept sensitive messages.

Personal Computer Hacks

A large percentage of workers admit to using their personal or mobile devices for work-related purposes. Employees often transfer company data to personal devices for convenience or other reasons. This makes the data vulnerable to attacks — especially since many people don’t regularly install security updates on their devices, nor do those devices have all of the protective software that a business-owned device would.

What Can Business Leaders Do? 

Excellent cybersecurity starts with savvy leaders who understand the risks and implement smart policies to keep home offices secure. Here are three policies business leaders can introduce to set their companies up for work-from-home security success.

Disallow the Use of Personal Computers
Make sure all employees have company devices. Set the clear expectation that business data will never be transferred to or accessed from personal computers. Suppose bring-your-own-device is already part of your culture. In that case, you can work with your IT team to develop standards that users of personal devices need to adhere to, such as installing the organization’s antivirus or patching tools.

Ensure Data is Stored Securely in Business-Approved Repositories
Many employees have a personal Dropbox or other cloud-based data storage account. They also often store data on their local hard drives. Set up easy-to-use company data repositories and implement policies that prevent workers from using their personal accounts to store and share company data.

Require Relevant Cybersecurity Awareness Training
Train employees on relevant security topics such as “how to recognize phishing attacks,” “proper password management” and “company cybersecurity best practices.” Adequate training resources are available, and leaders should make sure their employees participate regularly.

What Can IT Teams Do?

While leaders set cybersecurity policies, IT teams make recommendations and do the technical work to implement the policies and procedures that secure company networks and data. Here are four technical strategies IT teams can use to help employees keep company data safe while working from home.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Passwords and physical devices are both relatively easy to steal. IT teams can prevent malicious actors from accessing company data by requiring more than one form of identification to access company devices and systems. MFA is essential for controlling access to publicly-accessible services, such as Microsoft 365.

Require a VPN Connection to Access Company Data & Applications

VPNs boost security by providing remote employees with a secure connection to the company network. Employees should only be able to access internal company data and applications through a VPN. Ensure the VPN is configured with network segmentation and profiles, so each department or external vendor account only has access to the servers or devices needed to do the job. For example, a marketing user’s VPN shouldn’t allow them to ping the accounting server. Also, an external vendor that uses the VPN to help manage a database application shouldn’t be able to access a file server through the VPN.

Use Remote Monitoring & Management Tools
These tools help IT teams monitor all devices used by ensuring employees are up to date on security patches and antivirus updates. This also allows helpdesk employees to assist remote users with requests directly.

Deploy a Business Password Management Tool
Employees are notorious for writing passwords on sticky notes or storing them in files on their desktops. Give workers a more secure and convenient option by providing a business-approved password management tool to help them create strong passwords and keep them organized. Talk to your IT service provider for recommendations.

What Can Employees Do?

All the best leaders and tech-savvy IT teams in the world can’t secure a home office if employees don’t cooperate. The following actions will ensure that employees do their part to maintain cybersecurity while working remotely.

Protect Your Home Wireless Network With a Password
This seems simple, but many employees either have open home wireless networks or have never changed the default password. You should set a strong password for your home Wi-Fi network and make sure not to post it where it can be easily seen.

Cooperate With Company Policies
Corporate cybersecurity policies about passwords, personal devices and document storage can seem burdensome or paranoid. However, they pose real risks to company data security, and there are consequences if employees don’t cooperate with the policies. Employees should be diligent in complying with all company cybersecurity policies and best practices.

Be Wary of Suspicious Emails and Attachments
Hackers and other cybercriminals often pose as managers or team members in emails, chats or meeting requests. Remote work and hybrid work make it more complicated and critical for employees to carefully identify the people they interact with. To maintain work-from-home security, employees must be rigorous about identifying everyone they meet or share company information with.

Want to Learn More?

The steps described in this article will help you get started in securing your employees’ home offices, but there’s a lot more to ensure your company has excellent cybersecurity.

Ready to take action?

Let’s connect. Book a call with us and we will introduce you to one of designDATA’s cybersecurity experts to get started.

Ready to take the next step? Let’s connect! Book a Security Assessment with one of our cybersecurity experts to see how we can help you.

Work-From-Home Security: How to Close the Gap Read More »

‘Phishy’ Business: 5 Email Security Tips to Protect Yourself From Hackers

‘Phishy’ Business: 5 Email Security Tips to Protect Yourself From Hackers

DesignDATA

Email is one of the best things the internet has given us. We use it to sign up for websites, apply for jobs, make payments and get in touch with friends and family. It has offered us efficiency, as you no longer need to pick up the phone to call someone or physically mail a document. However, your email is also one of the platforms hackers can exploit to steal information or launch malware attacks, making email security a hot topic. 

According to CyberTalk.org, 15 billion spam emails are sent across the internet per day, making your spam folder run on overdrive. Due to this, suspicious content may slip through, leading you to accidentally open a harmful email. Unfortunately, it is reported that 42% of employees have admitted to clicking on suspicious emails, such as downloading unfamiliar links and exposing their organization’s personal data.

An integral part of preventing this is being educated on email security best practices. Here are crucial steps to take to safeguard your email account.

1. Use Separate Email Accounts

Most people use a single email account for all their needs. As a result, information from websites, newsletters, shopping deals and messages from work get sent to one inbox. But what happens when someone breaks into it? There’s a good chance they could gain access to all the stored information and use them in fraudulent dealings.

Having at least two separate email accounts will boost your security and increase your productivity. You can have a personal account to communicate with friends and family and a professional email account solely for work-related tasks.

2. Set Strong Passwords

Some email users often overlook the importance of having strong email account passwords. You might be surprised to learn that obvious passwords like “123456” are still common. For the sake of security, set longer passwords or passphrases that contain a good mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. Make sure you create passwords that are unique to specific accounts to keep all your other password-protected accounts safe.

Remember these additional guidelines for creating a strong email password:

  • Don’t use the same numbers or letters in a sequence. 

  • Exclude your birthday. These numbers can be easier for hackers to get a hold of. 

  • The ideal combination is eight letters, numbers or symbols, collectively. Your password should not be shorter than eight figures. 

  • Use random words that don’t hold personal value. 

You should also consider enabling multifactor authentication (MFA). This creates an extra layer of security by requesting another method to verify your identity, like a fingerprint scan or a temporary activation code sent to your mobile phone.

3. Beware of Email Scams

When you see a link in an email, don’t click on it unless you have assessed its authenticity. You never know where those links might lead you. Sometimes they are safe, but other times they can infect your computer with malware or send you to a compromised website. It’s always good to know where the email message is coming from. If you are expecting a file from your friend or family, then go ahead and open the attachment. However, emails coming from unknown sources or those that have strange account names such as “@amazon6753.com” are most likely to be email scams.

These types of attacks are known as phishing and can be remarkably clever. For example, cybercriminals may masquerade as high-profile companies like Amazon, Facebook, or Bank of America to catch their victims off guard. They create emails with a sense of urgency by claiming that there is an issue with your account and that you should send them information or click on a link to confirm your personal details. This link will either install malware on your device or lead you to a fraudulent site.

Even if there were a genuine issue with your account, legitimate companies would never ask something so suspicious over email. If you get these messages, contact the company directly through a verified website or phone number — not the contact details on the email.

4. Monitor Account Activity

Periodically, watch over your account activity. Make sure to limit access privileges to apps if you want to ensure maximum privacy and security. Also, check for any suspicious activities in your logs, such as unusual devices and IP addresses that have accessed your account. This indicates that hackers may have successfully broken into your account. If this is the case, sign out of all web sessions and change your password as soon as possible.

5. Encrypt Emails and Update Your Software

Email encryption ensures that any message you send won’t be intercepted and viewed by unauthorized users. Meanwhile, installing the latest updates for your anti-malware, firewalls and email security software filters potential email scams and fixes any vulnerabilities hackers can exploit.

Sit Up Straight — It is Time to Improve Your Email Security Posture

Protecting your email accounts from various threats can be a daunting process, but with the right support, it should be effortless. When people think of cybersecurity, email may be overlooked, but it is a key element that should be monitored and protected. 

designDATA can empower your work day by giving you the time to focus on projects instead of analyzing emails, and wondering if you should open them or not.

Let’s connect to ensure that your email security is well-guarded and managed.

‘Phishy’ Business: 5 Email Security Tips to Protect Yourself From Hackers Read More »

How to Change Your Passwords over VPN

How to Change Your Passwords over VPN

DesignDATA

As the landscape of our work environments continues to evolve, with more options for remote and hybrid work settings, the importance of robust security practices, such as regular password updates, stays top of mind. We’re here not only to guide you through these processes but also to empower you with the knowledge to manage them effectively on your own.

Below, you’ll find some practical tips to help you seamlessly navigate through these essential security updates.

In the Office

Changing your password in the office is straightforward, thanks to being connected to the same network as your domain. Simply press CTRL+ALT+DEL to bring up the ‘Change a Password’ menu, and follow the prompts to update your password.

While Working Remotely

The process is similar when you’re remote, with the key addition of ensuring a VPN connection. This simulates being on your office network. For most of our customers using the Sophos VPN – identified by the little traffic light icon in the lower right-hand corner of your screen – make sure this is activated before proceeding.

After connecting to your VPN, you can access the ‘Change a Password’ screen by pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL. Choose a new password, remembering to enter it twice for confirmation. After changing your password, double-check that the VPN is still connected (look for the green light on the icon) and then LOCK your computer twice.

This step is crucial; it confirms the new password on both the network and your local device, as it may not sync immediately the first time.

For an added layer of assurance, after locking and logging back in twice, sign out of and back into the VPN. Successful re-entry indicates the password change has been recognized at the domain level too.

Special Considerations for Mac Users and Non-VPN Users

If you’re working from a Mac, or if you don’t use a VPN, your password change process will differ and is tailored to your specific organization. For specialized assistance or any issues with your password change, particularly in a remote work setting, please contact the designDATA service desk; our technicians are ready to help.

We’re committed to ensuring your digital security and smooth operation, regardless of your work location. For more valuable cybersecurity tools and blogs, be sure to visit our resource page.

How to Change Your Passwords over VPN Read More »

Sophos Firewall: The Next Generation of Network Safety

Sophos Firewall: The Next Generation of Network Safety

DesignDATA

hree-minute read

designDATA is committed to curating the best-of-breed products from our large array of industry-leading partners, so our clients can have the best network protection on the market today. Sophos Firewall is our go-to for SMBs and enterprise organizations because it is backed by high-performance security technology that centralizes, synchronizes and automates network monitoring in ways that are not offered by other vendors.

Below, we will explain three reasons why our partnership with Sophos gets our clients the network security they need to keep their organization safe.

So, What is a Firewall? 

First, let’s define our terms. You have probably seen movies and TV shows where firewalls are broken down with some quick keyboard mashing and an exclamation of “I’m in!” Luckily, designDATA and Sophos do not offer movie-quality network protection.

Firewalls are a combination of software and firmware that stop threats and unauthorized access to a company’s network. It scans all incoming and outgoing traffic using filtering rules to identify and detect threats. They are essential components of any company’s IT infrastructure.

Sophos Offers a Next Generation Firewall

A Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) is not a single piece of technology but a group of technologies that work collaboratively to meet the network security needs of businesses operating in an era of heightened threats. Sophos XGS Firewall is an industry leading NGFW.

Today, the average business network has so many different entry points and varying kinds of users that a multi-layer approach is necessary.

What distinguishes an NGFW from less sophisticated firewalls is that they are paired with other security components, like intrusion detection and prevention systems, and they are Layer 7 firewalls.

Firewalls are ranked by the depth they filter data in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI). This model describes the seven layers that computer systems typically use to communicate and share data between networks.

What is special about Layer 7 firewalls is that they scan the contents, not just the IP addresses, of data packets that come into your network for malware and other cyber threats and allow for advanced traffic filtering rules.

Threats that could hamstring your ability to do business can pass through firewalls that are less stringent than NGFWs; that is why designDATA settles for nothing less than the highest standard of network security for our clients by using the Sophos Firewall.

Why Should You Care?

It is easy to get bogged down by technical information, so you can entrust designDATA to make these quality determinations on your behalf and convey its value succinctly. In simple terms, this firewall is the most advanced kind available today and is what SMBs and enterprise organizations need to protect their networks.

Sophos Central

This all-in-one dashboard allows the user to manage and observe all firewalls and interact with other Sophos security products on one screen for one price. They can access this unified managed console on any device to deploy, optimize and monitor multiple firewalls, gather security insights and neutralize threats.

Why Do You Need This?

Centralization means increased productivity. It allows your MSP to save you time and money by not jumping between different portals, dashboards and services and using more of their billable hours productively meeting your network security needs.

Synchronized Security 

This advanced, pioneering approach to reactive containment means firewalls, endpoints and servers synchronize and communicate to share real-time information. This patented Security Heartbeat™ shares network and endpoint data to automatically detect and respond to stop threats.

Sophos offers the only network security solution capable of completely identifying the user and source of a network intrusion to quarantine them and shut off their access to the broader network.

This advanced form of zero-touch incident response reduces your exposure to threats while freeing up time and resources to invest in other aspects of business or IT infrastructure.

If you fear losing the human touch, don’t worry, as the Sophos Managed Threat Response (MTR) team is ready 24 hours a day to hunt, detect and respond to cyber threats. Real breathing security experts backed by machine learning are available as a fully managed service. Around-the-clock expert help backing you up when no one else can is yet another reason Sophos is a vendor that’s hard to beat.

Get Support Against Cyber Threats

The big takeaway here is that the Sophos Firewall offers an exclusive bit of technology that gives your network an extra layer of high-performance protection that is not available from any other vendor. The partnership between designDATA and Sophos allows you to use this technology and get the peace of mind to focus on other parts of your business and not constantly look over your shoulder for the next business-ending cyber threat.

Talk with us today about how designDATA with our friends at Sophos can keep you safe, secure and productive with world-class cybersecurity solutions.

Sophos Firewall: The Next Generation of Network Safety Read More »

op-IT-Priorities-for-the-Professional-Services-Industry

Top IT Priorities for the Professional Services Industry

Top IT Priorities for the Professional Services Industry

DesignDATA
op-IT-Priorities-for-the-Professional-Services-Industry

our-minute read

 Professional services firms (PSFs) bring their expert knowledge daily to help their clients meet their business goals. To do this, they need excellent IT support to meet the increasingly digital demands of a constantly changing organizational landscape.

IT is an opaque world, so it is hard for outsiders to determine their IT priorities. Below are three important items a professional services executive needs from an IT provider.

Cybersecurity

When PSFs offer their expertise to clients, they also promise to protect sensitive information, trade secrets, and third-party data. Part of their core business, regardless of industry, involves exchanging information. A professional’s distinguishing characteristic is that they have agency and a fiduciary duty to act in their client’s best interests.

In the digital age, a lack of cybersecurity can compromise those responsibilities, damage a firm’s reputation, and erode client trust. Cybersecurity should be a top priority, so you can protect yourself and your clients and create the best customer experience possible. 

Companies want investments in their IT priorities and cloud services to have a significant ROI for productivity and revenue. However, overlooking cybersecurity can affect a company’s long-term outlook far worse than a few lackluster quarters. According to Forbes, cybercrime cost U.S. businesses more than $6.9 billion in 2021, and yet only 50% have a cybersecurity plan in place. 

These two factors can work together to create an unhealthy situation for PSFs. For example, a cyberattack could steal financial information from accounting firms and expose their clients and third parties to extortion, fraud, and identity theft. Being a source of data leaks could lead to legal liability and devastating damage to your reputation.

There are ways for professionals to meet their IT goals and protect themselves and their clients from hackers. The most effective approach is to outsource your cybersecurity. An IT Managed Services Provider (MSP) can identify and mitigate security risks, create data loss and disaster recovery plans, and provide security awareness training to make “human firewalls” as human error is an often exploited vulnerability.

A Team-Based Approach to IT

You need to invest most of your energy and funds into providing the most satisfactory customer service possible to your clients in a highly competitive market. Your investment in tech support and cloud services needs to be as unique as your company. One size does not fit all. 

You do not want to be oversold tools your team does not need of which you cannot afford. An IT provider should work with you to create a custom host of technology services that works with your business strategy, not a prepackaged set of IT solutions that do not suit professional services. 

There are obvious benefits to having an in-house IT team. They are dedicated employees who are enmeshed in your company culture, know your IT priorities intimately, and provide onsite tech support when problems arise. Yet, not every PSF can have an entire team not directly generating revenue. 

That is why it is beneficial to find an IT MSP that will get to know you and your company thoroughly – one dedicated to achieving your business objectives. This is one reason designDATA prioritizes a team-based approach to managed services. We want to ensure our clients are not constantly chatting with new, unfamiliar support staff. Having a team that is closely integrated into the client’s organization also helps us proactively find and solve issues. As well, this approach creates the experience of having an in-house IT team without any of the drawbacks, confirming that your investment is worthwhile.

Emerging Technology and Digital Transformation

Your firm is here to stay, but technology and the world of work are ever-changing, so you owe it to your business, clients, and employees to continuously fold in emerging business technology and new ways of working into your digital repertoire.

Professional service executives are already leaders in their industry because they took exhaustive steps to master their profession, so we recommend seeking an IT provider who is equally as keen to take your technology environment to the next level. 

MSPs are more than just tech support; they can be total game-changers for your productivity levels and business processes while helping you set and meet your IT priorities. For example, without IT leading the charge, the transition to hybrid work would not have been possible. 

Digital transformation does not need to be radical to be effective. For example, using a single sign-on integration (SSO) can save your team time and aggravation by only using one account to access your digital business and tech services. 

Cybersecurity, a team-based approach, and innovative and proactive technology practices are essential factors for professional services firms considering an IT partner. If you are just beginning your search, check out our resource library filled with valuable eBooks, infographics, and videos to help you make an informed decision. 

Looking for a quality managed IT provider? 

designDATA is an MSP that has helped companies stay secure and efficient while achieving IT excellence for over 30 years. We are eager to help professional services organizations reach new heights by keeping their business technology running smoothly. Use your billable hours to help your clients, not troubleshoot technical problems.

Top IT Priorities for the Professional Services Industry Read More »

Rethinking In-Office Cybersecurity — How to Make Your Office More Secure Than Ever

Rethinking In-Office Cybersecurity — How to Make Your Office More Secure Than Ever

Rethinking In-Office Cybersecurity — How to Make Your Office More Secure Than Ever

DesignDATA
Rethinking In-Office Cybersecurity — How to Make Your Office More Secure Than Ever

Three-minute read

The pandemic has changed the way many organizations operate, and while employees have enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, enterprises have been left exposed to increased cybersecurity risks.

Companies have had to rapidly adapt to socially-distanced teams and implement quick fixes to their technology needs, but returning your employees to your facilities will involve carefully constructed strategies to ensure employees are safe and your data is secure. Throughout this process, cybersecurity must be a top priority.

We’ve outlined three key factors to consider about in-office cybersecurity when planning your return to the office:

1. Implement Effective Security Policies
The transition phase of moving back into the office can be a particularly vulnerable time, but it also presents a unique opportunity to evaluate your cybersecurity policies. Thus, a great first step in planning the office return is a security assessment to prioritize the most significant risks.

We recommend that organizations establish clear security policies for all employees, whether working in the office or at home. These policies must cover the use of hardware and software, the maintenance of technology and best practices for installing approved apps, online communications, social media and information sharing.

At a minimum, all company devices should have the latest security patches and updates, a managed software-based firewall and managed endpoint-based antivirus protection.

An additional security policy to consider is cyber insurance, which can mitigate risks and costs. If you currently have a policy, is it aligned with your business and meeting industry standards? If you don’t have a policy, how can you shop for one? Find out by registering for our online cyber insurance webinar!

2. Equip Employees to Identify Cyber Threats
The first line of defense against cyberattacks rests with your employees. All workers must receive effective security awareness training to equip them with the tools to discern possible cyberattacks.

You can do this by clearly communicating what these threats look like and how to mitigate them to all employees. Policies and procedures relating to your organization’s information security should also be shared across all departments.

Having an on-demand help desk – either in-office or through a managed service provider – is also an important consideration to ensure that all workers have immediate assistance to identify and address potential threats.

3. Manage Technology Needs
Flexible work arrangements are here to stay, and with workers spread across different locations, companies will need to examine their remote and in-office cybersecurity risks carefully.

Whether working from home or in the office, organizations will want to strictly prohibit employees from using personal equipment for work purposes and transferring or accessing business data from personal computers. We also recommend that managers ensure all remote workers have company devices and that data is securely stored on company-managed services and networks.

Remember: malware can infect an employee’s corporate computer via their home office network and lay dormant, becoming active once reconnected to the corporate domain. To manage this risk, any devices reconnecting to the office network must be first checked for updates and potential threats.

Remote workers in need of a change of scenery may be tempted to take their laptops to a café with free Wi-Fi. However, using public Wi-Fi networks can expose your organization’s data to cyber threats. Employees need to ensure they have comprehensive protection and understand their organization’s policies surrounding the use of public networks.

Consider using a managed service provider (MSP) to address your technology needs. For example, your MSP will likely offer Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS). They will take responsibility for sourcing and managing your equipment, appropriate security updates and licensing, saving you time and resources for other critical business operations.

How designDATA Can Ensure Your Cybersecurity

As you plan your return to the office, it is essential to stay updated on the latest cyber threats and how to defend against them. designDATA offers comprehensive, white-glove solutions to help you manage your cybersecurity, so you can rest assured knowing your data and network are secure. Speak to a Cybersecurity Expert today to learn more about our incident response planning, identity management and HaaS solutions.

Rethinking In-Office Cybersecurity — How to Make Your Office More Secure Than Ever Read More »

Overlearning, Overworking, and Burnout: A Cybersecurity Professional Epidemic

Overlearning, Overworking, and Burnout: A Cybersecurity Professional Epidemic

Overlearning, Overworking, and Burnout: A Cybersecurity Professional Epidemic

DesignDATA
Overlearning, Overworking, and Burnout: A Cybersecurity Professional Epidemic

Four-minute read

Cyber attacks are a growing concern; cyber criminals are continuously evolving to find new ways to slink into your systems, disrupt your business, and steal your data. Although this has been an observed trend as technology has evolved over the years, things have only gotten more complex due to the unprecedented pandemic and the rise of remote working. While the ever-changing technology landscape isn’t a new revelation, it’s certainly reached new heights in the last two years, making it even more difficult to keep users safe from online threats.

In fact, the lack of preparation for remote workforces has only exacerbated an organization’s vulnerability to the influx of cyber threats and breaches caused by new technologies in this business model. As a result, many cybersecurity professionals are incorporating the concept of overlearning to better guard and protect their companies from attacks.

What Is Overlearning?

“Overlearning” is the process of rehearsing a skill even after you no longer improve. Essentially, it describes the process of reinforcing knowledge or repetitively practicing a skill after you’ve mastered it to boost knowledge retention over the long-term.

This might sound a little redundant or even wasteful to those new to overlearning. After all, if you’ve already mastered something, why would you continue to practice it? Isn’t that just wasted energy?

Not exactly. From a business perspective, overlearning embeds information into your long-term memory, making employees more profitable and reliable team members. From an individual’s perspective, it’s actually a beneficial technique to lock in your expertise on a skill, increase efficiency, and decrease the mental exertion necessary to perform that skill.

Of course, the knowledge retention aspect is great, but overlearning also has some drawbacks. While it helps lock the knowledge in, overlearning also over-stabilizes the learning state – so, effectively, you become resilient against subsequent new learning (at least for a few hours). With that in mind, it’s best to leave any subject you’d like to practice overlearning on for the end of your studying session.

However, the more significant problem is that overlearning feeds overworking, which is particularly evident among cybersecurity professionals who are working tirelessly in this current threat landscape to keep their organizations safe from cyber attacks.

Is Overworking the New Trend?

Although cyber attacks have continuously been a major problem for the IT security sector, new research from the UK’s Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec) shows that overwork and burnout are also issues plaguing the industry. In fact, the conducted study of cybersecurity professionals shows that 54% of respondents have either left a job due to overwork or burnout themselves or have worked with someone who has.

While overlearning can lead to overworking, that’s not the only cause of burnout among cybersecurity professionals. Other causes were found to be:

Lack of resources

It’s pretty straightforward: there are simply not enough resources within most security departments to sufficiently protect an organization from threats. In particular, company security budgets have not kept pace with rising threat levels, leaving huge holes for possible breaches to sneak through. These holes become even more concerning during holidays or busy periods when security teams are either smaller or stretched thin. Not only does this pose significant risks to a business, but it can greatly increase stress among cybersecurity professionals.

 Lack of opportunity

People want room to grow! More importantly, people need to know that they have the opportunities to do so. Without these opportunities, cybersecurity professionals will start to feel stuck and unchallenged.

 Unpleasant or bad management

Let’s face it: no one likes working in a hostile environment. Whether that’s caused by a direct manager or the overarching company culture itself – this needs to change. Otherwise, you’ll see serious employee overturn due to the lack of cybersecurity professional retention.

Luckily, by identifying these issues, action can be taken to combat the overwork, stress, and burnout among cybersecurity professionals.

Work Life Balance

 

Work-Life Balance

IIt’s important to remember that cybersecurity professionals are more than just protection; they have to balance a heavy workload on top of relationships, family responsibilities, and squeezing in outside iinterests just like the rest of us. It’s no surprise, then, that they may be super stressed – and that’s not balanced or healthy.

It’s important to strike a healthy work-life balance to prevent the burnout experienced by more than 50% of the cybersecurity industry. To do so, there are several steps both professionals and managers can take.

As a professional, make sure you:

  • Take paid-time-off (PTO)
  • Set realistic work/home boundaries and expectations
  • Incorporate small tweaks into your schedule, such as marking holidays, breaks, and lunchtime in the calendar, so there’s actually an alert reminding you to step away from the screen for a bit
  • Communicate openly and honestly

Managers also have a significant role in preventing their employees’ burnout. Managers should:

  • Encourage and approve employee PTO
  • Work with employees to set realistic boundaries and expectations
  • Set a good example
  • Be receptive to employee feedback and communication

After enacting these steps, are you recognizing that the resources are stretched too thin at your organization? We’re here to help. designDATA has all the IT resources you could need to keep your company secure, your employees happy.

Overlearning, Overworking, and Burnout: A Cybersecurity Professional Epidemic Read More »

Clipboard History – Retaining Cut and Copy Records

Clipboard History – Retaining Cut and Copy Records

Clipboard History – Retaining Cut and Copy Records

DesignDATA
Clipboard History – Retaining Cut and Copy Records

Three-minute read

Picture this: you’re chugging along, laser-focused on the task at hand, diligently cutting and pasting, when your hands start working faster than your thoughts and you accidentally cut twice in a row before pasting. The color drains from your face as panic overtakes you, realizing you have lost some of your best work with this mishap.

Cutting, copying, and pasting are some of the most fundamental commands within an operating system. Despite these commands’ popularity with users, the clipboard (as we previously knew it) had a significant limitation of holding only one item in its memory at a time. Noticing this issue and the market demand for improvements, Microsoft decided to address it.

First appearing in Windows 10’s October 2018 update, Microsoft introduced the concept of clipboard history, which allows you to see multiple items that have been cut or copied recently. Currently, Windows 10 has a cloud-based clipboard that retains a history of the most recent 25 items you have cut or copied since the previous computer reboot, supporting text, HTML, and images smaller than 4MB. For now, items larger than 4MB will not be stored in the history, but as an added feature, you can pin frequently used items. This comes in handy if you find yourself repeatedly using many of the same figures or phrases for your projects since, while clipboard items will, pinned items will not be wiped during your computer’s restart.

clipboard history

The default setting for clipboard history is off, so to start using the feature, you’ll have to turn it on. Turning clipboard history on and accessing your clipboard history is straightforward for Windows users: simply press the Windows logo key (located on the bottom left row of your keyboard) + V. If clipboard history is not yet turned on, select the Turn on button that appears in the pop-up clipboard window. Once selected, your system will automatically direct you to the clipboard history where you can paste individual items and pin frequently used items for future use. To pin, simply click the three horizontal dots along the top right of each clipboard item and select Pin.

Conveniently, you can also share your clipboard items across all your Windows 10 devices. To do this, follow the command chain Windows logo key > Settings > System > Clipboard. Once in the clipboard, select the option Automatically sync text that I copy under the Sync Across Devices category. Because the sync feature is tied to your Microsoft account (either personal or work), you must use the same login information on all devices for the tool to work correctly.

Unfortunately, the clipboard history tool is not supported for Mac users, so a third-party app will have to be installed to reap the benefits of that capability. Please consult with your IT team in accordance with your organization’s policies on the installation of third-party applications.

Although the clipboard history feature is Windows-based, designDATA has Mac experts that can help you find the right third-party software to ensure your productivity needs are also met.

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Tired of DoorDash-ing? Become a Ransomware Hacker!

Tired of DoorDash-ing? Become a Ransomware Hacker!

DesignDATA

Six-minute read

Rising housing, education, and food prices are plaguing countries globally. To cope with the surging costs of living, side jobs (otherwise known as gig work or moonlighting) have gained significant popularity, particularly within the ride-hailing and food delivery services like Uber, DoorDash, and Grubhub, where companies are capable of obtaining an average of 93 million users per month. This steady, high market demand, the extra cash influx, and the flexibility of working on your schedule have been highly alluring aspects of gig work since the establishment of these services. At least, this was the standard until the COVID-19 pandemic made its debut.

When many companies opted for remote working conditions to ensure the safety of their employees, a cognitive shift occurred within the moonlighting community, leading to the desire for remote gig work as well. Add in the cybersecurity holes introduced by organizations unprepared for remote working conditions, and gig workers have been exploiting the opportunity to make significantly more money than they did DoorDash-ing by joining ransomware gangs. As a result, the number of ransomware hackers has burgeoned and produced a flood of ransomware attacks aimed at businesses worldwide.

Ransom note on laptop, says "We have your data pay"

Ransomware Overview, Trends, and Effects

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, ransomware is malware that encrypts files on an organization’s computers and servers, threatening critical infrastructure. Often, sensitive data is exported in tandem and kept hostage for ransom. Ransomware is typically distributed through phishing attacks and software vulnerabilities, and ransom notes with monetary demands are delivered to the victim once the ransomware has been downloaded and the hacker has exported the victim’s information. At this point, the victim either chooses to pay the ransom and recover their data or risks having their sensitive information exposed to all dark web criminals. Upon ransom collection, victims are offered a decryption key to decrypt the ransomware and collect their data.

The pandemic provided favorable breeding grounds for ransomware hackers in particular. Since the onset of the pandemic, ransomware hackers have been shifting their attention to severely impacted industries like municipal, educational, and healthcare facilities. Not only have their targets turned, but all aspects of ransomware attacks are seeing a steep upward climb from 2019 values: the frequency of attacks is up 148%, ransom demand values have increased 33%, and the

cost of recovery and clean up has more than doubled, causing organizations significant losses of revenue along the way.

So, what’s causing this surge among the hacker community?

Anonymous hackers - six people holding masks over faces

Ransomware as a Service (RaaS): The Business Model

Previously, ransomware was a “direct-to-consumer” business: developers created the code – with a high chance of penetration, low chance of discovery – and also distributed the cyber attacks. Now, cloud infrastructure is widely available, providing standardized and scalable environments and offering crime gangs the ability to franchise their efforts. What was once a linear attack model is now a multi-dimensional one.

This new, multi-faceted approach mirrors the typical Software as a Service (SaaS) model, where software is centrally hosted from a cloud service provider and licensed to affiliates. With the Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) model, the developer still creates the code but now leases the ransomware variants. This is often done by employing an affiliate as a “middleman” to carry the bulk of the risk and distribute the ransomware code to victims – with an attractive payout, too! There are four general revenue models, ranging from a monthly subscription for a flat fee to affiliate programs (with about 20% of profits going to the RaaS operator), a one-time license fee with no profit-sharing, or pure
profit-sharing.

Using this organizational technique, RaaS is structured like big business, with the increased operational efficiencies leading to an observed escalation in the number of ransomware attacks. This RaaS franchise effort is frequently supported with onboarding documentation, a step-by-step guide, and sometimes even status monitoring. Under this workflow, you no longer need technical prerequisites to become a successful hacker, making it widely available to everyone as a side gig. This opens the door to more than just your everyday criminals; terrorists are now entering the game as a way to inflict damage on their targets, causing a significant threat to national security in the United States. For them, the ransom is just frosting on the cake.

Although it’s well-known that ransomware hacking is illegal, the enticement for general affiliates is the developers’ adoption of a sheen of professionalism. Affiliates see the increased efficiency of the RaaS model and believe in the legitimacy of the work, going so far as to take corporate responsibility pledges in some affiliate programs. Because the RaaS business model is a vicious loop, as ransomware groups make more money, they can invest more in their operations and hire more affiliates, allowing them to hit bigger targets, repeating this cycle indefinitely.

This pattern and the current threat landscape highlight the lack of tools, resources, and expertise to keep up with the growing list of vulnerabilities, attack techniques, and security incidents within victimized organizations. To prevent cybersecurity attacks and protect your organization, focus on educating your staff on cybersecurity best practices, establishing defense tactics, and continuously monitoring your systems for vulnerabilities.

designDATA_Footer Text-01

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The Best Cybersecurity Awareness Training for Your Organization

The Best Cybersecurity Awareness Training for Your Organization

The Best Cybersecurity Awareness Training for Your Organization

DesignDATA
The Best Cybersecurity Awareness Training for Your Organization

Four-minute read

Whether through device loss, social engineering tactics, phishing, or anything in between, your technology is constantly at risk of being breached. Surprisingly, your greatest cybersecurity vulnerability isn’t your hardware or software – it’s your people. 

If you want to boost your cybersecurity defenses and minimize the risk of a network intrusion, you need to bolster your first line of defense against external threats. Specifically, that includes training your employees on cybersecurity awareness. 

What Is Cybersecurity Awareness?

It’s simple: cybersecurity awareness is being mindful of present cyber threats in your daily life. As you can imagine, even minor cybersecurity breaches come with a sizeable price tag. Considering the ever-rising number of cyberattacks each year, cybersecurity awareness is undoubtedly nothing to neglect. 

Ultimately, defending against cyber threats comes down to knowing what you’re up against. By increasing ongoing security awareness training, you’ll simultaneously educate your employees on how to identify and combat modern threats, as well as instill best practices for staying security-savvy. 

Cybersecurity Awareness Topics and Best Practices 

As there are so many potential weak spots hackers can exploit, complete cybersecurity may seem unattainable. Fortunately, you can build a formidable wall to ward off cyberattacks by arming your employees with training in the proper areas. So, what topics do your employees need training in to be adequately equipped? 

Cybersecurity Awareness Topics and Best Practices

Password Management 

For starters, password length is important – aim for 12-16 characters if the system supports it. Along that vein, you should opt for long passphrases rather than single words. That way, you’ll be able to remember it easily, but it will be impossible for hackers to guess.  For example, the phrase “horse identify power hammer” would make a great password. You can craft a visual image of it in your mind, so you won’t have trouble remembering it, but no brute force system will ever guess it – a win-win! 

Also, make sure all your passwords are unique from one another. Don’t re-use your work password for your bank or your bank password for your Twitter; if they’re all the same, a hack on one becomes a hack on them all. 

Because remembering dozens of unique passwords is difficult (if even possible), use the password manager supported by your organization. If a specific password manager isn’t promoted within your organization, find out the policy on using a personal password manager for organization passwords. Password managers are great tools to keep your data safe and secure! 

Multi-Factor Authentication 

We’ll keep it short and sweet: use multi-factor authentication everywhere, even if it’s not explicitly required. This feature can provide extra layers of security that protect the integrity of all your accounts, with just one added login step. 

Phishing/Social Media Attacks

As an overarching theme, never accept an email as the only source for an information or financial request. For instance, if someone emails you asking for a copy of your W2s or for a wire transfer, be sure to get confirmation through some other source (e.g., walking by their office or calling them on the phone on a number in your directory). Leaders, make this “Identity Validation” a requirement at your organization! 

Likewise, be wary of requests that are flagged as “urgent” – these may be sent with bad intentions, hoping you’ll be lax in your security postures because they claim the request is an emergency. At the end of the day, a culture of “be secure” should be fostered over one of “immediate response,” so make sure all parties (including executives) know to follow the security guidelines. 

Remote Work 

With the increase in hybrid work models, our personal and work lives are intermingling. Employees need to be especially aware of your organization’s policies regarding doing personal stuff on a work computer and doing work stuff on a personal computer. 

In general, you want to keep them separate. If your personal computer obtains a virus and you connect that computer to the work VPN, you could spread that virus to the network. Similarly, if you download personal software (with a virus) on your work computer, you could make your company susceptible to a breach. 

Suspicious Activity Radar 

Here’s the gist: if you think an email looks a little suspicious, you’re probably right! Treat any questionable-looking email as dangerous.

If your computer seems to be behaving oddly (e.g., frequent pop-up windows, frequent crashes, unusually slow computer performance), you may have exposed it to a virus. Don’t wait for things to worsen – notify IT ASAP and let them make the determination.  

A Culture of Security  

Paired with baseline policies, email protection, anti-ransomware software, and a few other layers of defense, Cybersecurity Awareness Training is an essential part of protecting your organization. By informing your staff of their responsibilities and making them aware of modern dangers, you can adequately prepare them to identify threats early and reduce the likelihood of a successful cyberattack.  

While cybersecurity awareness is the first step, two additional steps must be followed for this to be effective. First, leaders must create and promote a culture of security, changing the collective attitudes and behaviors toward cybersecurity. Following this, employees must willingly embrace and proactively use these learned practices (both professionally and personally). 

Fortunately, designDATA offers all the quality content and tools you need to solidify your cyber defense strategy and integrate it as part of your culture. Our cybersecurity services cover all the bases to find the cybersecurity solutions that are the right fit. Not sure what you need? Book a cybersecurity consultation with our experts! 

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Why Cybersecurity Insurance Is More Valuable Than Ever

Why Cybersecurity Insurance Is More Valuable Than Ever

Why Cybersecurity Insurance Is More Valuable Than Ever

DesignDATA
Why Cybersecurity Insurance Is More Valuable Than Ever

Four-minute read

Since the pandemic, cybercriminals have become increasingly active. Not only has there been an upsurge in the number of ransomware attacks, but there has also been an increase in multi-million-dollar payouts to cybercriminal groups, who have become increasingly professional in their mode of operating.

Recent high-profile cyberattacks, like the SolarWinds Orion Security Breach and the Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack, highlight how cyberattacks can have far-reaching consequences. For example, insurance carriers pay an extraordinary amount of money for claims to fulfill extortion demands.

These events have resulted in cybersecurity insurance carriers putting more stringent cybersecurity requirements on their clients and a steady rise in cybersecurity insurance premiums. According to Jonathan Roy, designDATA’s Director of Cybersecurity and Compliance, and Derek Symer, Director of Nonprofits at AHT, enterprises can expect to pay as much as 80% more for their cybersecurity insurance. Underwriters are also rapidly revising their business models and exploring new options due to the upsurge in ransomware attacks and their resultant costs in covering those claims.

The value, then, in cybersecurity insurance is clear: it allows your organization to transfer some of the financial cybersecurity risks to an insurance carrier. These risks stem from both internal and external sources — from an employee unintentionally opening an email attachment containing ransomware to a malicious insider deliberately providing access to an organization’s network. Attackers often infiltrate systems months before making their move, and organizations may not even realize their financial assets or data have been compromised until it is too late.

The risks posed by ransomware attacks can lead to significant financial losses. These include the costs to unencrypt data, lost revenue due to business downtime, irreparable damage to an organization’s reputation, consulting fees to restore or improve systems and numerous other unplanned expenses.

To learn more about the current state of cyber insurance and what the future may hold, register for our online Cyber Insurance Webinar where a panelist of experts will dive deep into what cyber insurance is, how to shop for it and what to expect when filing claims. 

Considering Cybersecurity Insurance Coverage

There is no escaping it. No matter the size of your organization, if you rely on IT systems, maintain digital records, use computers, or accept emails and have a publicly-accessible website, you are vulnerable to a cybersecurity attack and need cybersecurity insurance.

As a starting point, organizations need to have comprehensive cybersecurity policies and procedures to avoid becoming victims of cybercriminals. A full Incident Response Plan is also essential for dealing with a security incident.

However, to transfer the residual risks and effectively respond to and recover from a cybersecurity breach, comprehensive insurance coverage is vital. This should cover an organization’s liability from cybersecurity incidents, including a data breach where personal or sensitive information is compromised, and where an organization experiences business interruption, harm to its reputation, or network damage.

What Should Organizations Look for in Their Cybersecurity Insurance Policies?

Essential Coverage

When reviewing the policies offered to you by carriers, at a minimum, the essential coverage should include ransomware and data breach extortion, digital asset restoration, and funds transfer fraud. Limits should be based on your organization’s expected loss for each category during such a cyberattack (check with your IT and Financial departments). Retentions (or deductibles) should be based on how much you are willing to pay out of pocket, with lower deductibles resulting in higher insurance premiums.

Additional Coverage

Additional options include coverage for crisis management and public relations, reputational harm and service fraud.

Also worth considering is coverage that extends to a security incident or outage with third parties, such as your web or database hosting company. Without such coverage, a major breach at a third party you used could leave you shouldering your own business interruption and reputation repair costs.

Attestations

Another important consideration regarding your cybersecurity insurance policy is the attestations – the assurance you give the insurance carrier that you are meeting certain cybersecurity hygiene provisions.

When it comes to attestations, ensure you include the head of your cybersecurity or IT department to help answer any relevant questions. These should be answered truthfully. While an underwriter may not second guess you during the application process, should you file a claim, they will vigorously investigate if you’ve been faithful to your attestations. If you weren’t doing what you said you were, you could risk having your claim denied.

If you can’t reasonably comply with what your insurance provider is expecting, consider other carriers. Every insurance provider approaches the matter of cybersecurity differently, and it is best to find a carrier that best suits your needs and fits within your business model and budget.

How Can designDATA Help With Your Cybersecurity Needs?

designDATA’s experts will take the time to review your current cyber coverage from a technology perspective to ensure it is appropriate for the risks your enterprise faces. We can also help you build a comprehensive Incident Response Plan to ensure you are fully prepared for the possibility of a cyberattack.

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Fix These Enterprise Security Flaws to Protect Your Business

Fix These Enterprise Security Flaws to Protect Your Business

Fix These Enterprise Security Flaws to Protect Your Business

DesignDATA
Fix These Enterprise Security Flaws to Protect Your Business

As businesses have become more reliant on digital technology for day-to-day operations, they’ve also become a favorite target of internet threats. To protect your organization from cyberattacks, ensure your security is free from the following flaws:

Open wireless networks

An office can go online with one main internet line and a couple of wireless routers. While a wireless internet connection saves money, it can also mean an unsecured network.

Simply plugging in a wireless router and creating a basic network is not enough for a secure connection. Without a password on your routers, anyone within range can connect. Hackers and criminals, with relatively simple tools and knowledge, can capture data transmitted over the network and even launch attacks on the network and connected computers.

Therefore, it’s crucial to secure all wireless networks in the office with strong passwords. Internet service providers that install hardware often use easy-to-guess passwords for routers, such as the company’s main phone number. These default passwords need to be changed immediately.

Email security

Most companies that have implemented a new email system in the past few years are likely to be secure, particularly if they use cloud-based services or established email systems like Exchange, which provide enhanced security and scanning features.

The businesses at risk are those using older systems, such as POP, or systems that do not encrypt passwords (known as “clear passwords”). If your system doesn’t encrypt sensitive information, it’s vulnerable to interception by anyone with the right tools and knowledge.

If you’re using an outdated email system, consider upgrading to a more secure, modern solution that includes encryption.

Mobile devices security

Mobile devices offer a great way to stay connected and productive while out of the office.  However, connecting to office systems without proper security measures can jeopardize your networks.

For example, if your work email is linked to your tablet without a screen lock, and you lose the device, anyone who finds it could access your email and sensitive information. Similarly, installing an app with malware on your mobile device can spread the malicious software to your entire network, causing significant disruption.

Ensure that employee devices are secured with passcodes and that your company has robust security policies for device use. Mobile device management solutions can also prevent your BYOD policy from introducing risks to your network.

Anti-malware software maintenance

It’s essential to have anti-malware software on all company devices and to configure it correctly.

Scans scheduled during business hours can be disruptive. If employees turn off the scanner to avoid interruptions, it leaves your systems at risk.

Additionally, it’s vital to regularly update anti-malware applications. Updates often include new databases with the latest threat discoveries and their fixes.

Proper installation and maintenance of anti-malware software are necessary to stand a chance of keeping systems secure.

Lack of firewalls

A firewall is a network security device that controls incoming and outgoing network traffic. Many modems or routers come with built-in firewalls, but these may not be sufficient for business needs.

A robust firewall should cover the entire network, particularly at the data entry and exit points. Business-grade firewalls are best installed by an IT partner, such as a managed services provider (MSP), to ensure effectiveness.

How do I ensure proper business security?

The best way for a business to secure its systems and networks is by working with an IT partner like us. Our managed services are focused on setting up the right security measures and managing them effectively, so you can have peace of mind and focus on what you do best—running your business. For more insights and tools, visit our resource page.

Ready to secure your business with a trusted IT partner?

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How To Protect Your Company From Business Email Compromise

How To Protect Your Company From Business Email Compromise

How To Protect Your Company From Business Email Compromise

DesignDATA
How To Protect Your Company From Business Email Compromise

Phishing scams have been a persistent threat for years. It’s likely that you’ve received an unexpected email informing you of a compromised account or a plea for immediate funds from a friend stranded in a foreign country. Perhaps you’ve even been notified of an impending eviction or the urgent need to update your computer’s antivirus protection.

These emails lure you in with a link to download software or a request for your banking information, but beware! These deceptive emails can leave you with malware on your computer or unauthorized charges on your credit cards. While they can be irritating, a well-trained eye can usually identify the fakes.

Phishing emails often have misspelled words, domains that don’t seem right, missing signatures, grammatical mistakes, or other telltale signs that tip you off to the scam. As long as you know what to look for and stay alert, you and your employees can avoid becoming victims of traditional phishing scams.

But, what if the usual telltale signs are missing from a phishing email? What if the phishing email appears completely authentic because it originates from the email account of a trusted individual or reputable organization?

The risk of falling into the trap of a business email compromise (BEC) is significantly higher for you and your company. Unfortunately, this is an all too common occurrence. However, in this article, we will delve deeper into the world of business email compromise and provide valuable insights on how you can effectively protect your company from such attacks.

Understanding Business Email Compromise

According to the FBI, business email compromise schemes resulted in $1.7 billion in losses to companies in 2019 alone. Data from Check Point Research suggests that the numbers for 2020 are even higher, as cybercriminals have taken advantage of the disruption caused by the global pandemic to launch hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks on distracted workers.

A business email compromise occurs when a malicious actor controls someone’s email account. This can be achieved by guessing usernames and passwords, especially on widely-used platforms like Microsoft 365 or Google Mail, leveraging stolen credentials from data breaches, or deceiving individuals into entering their passwords on fraudulent websites. Once inside, the cybercriminal can exploit not only the compromised organization but also its business associates.

After gaining access, attackers study their targets, understanding their habits and communication patterns, ensuring their malicious emails blend seamlessly. Unlike typical phishing attempts, BEC attacks are more targeted, focusing on a few individuals to maximize gains.

These BEC emails are particularly deceptive because they originate from a genuine source, making them virtually indistinguishable from legitimate emails and bypassing spam filters. The content of these emails often urges recipients to take actions like paying invoices, buying gift cards, or sharing personal information. Sometimes, they even intercept ongoing email conversations to redirect payments. While the immediate goal is financial gain, some attackers seek valuable data or deeper access to the company’s network for future exploits.

Preventing Business Email Compromise

To effectively reduce the risks of BEC attacks, it is crucial to implement strong cybersecurity measures that prevent attackers from accessing your users’ email accounts. By following these foundational practices, you can ensure the safety of your network against BEC attacks and other malicious schemes.

  • Strong Password Policies: Require employees to create complex passwords that combine letters, numbers, and special characters and regularly updating these passwords can also deter unauthorized access. No one likes inventing strong new passwords, but this simple step is one of the strongest defenses against business email compromise.

  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA requires users to provide two or more verification methods. It’s an effective barrier against unauthorized access, even if a malicious actor has the password.

  • Review and Manage Email Rules: Have your users (or IT staff, with management’s permission) review the automatic rules configured within your users’ email accounts. BEC attackers exploit these rules to conceal their actions, such as auto-moving bank-related emails to the trash or forwarding emails with “invoice” in the subject to external addresses for scrutiny.

  • Email Monitoring and Filtering: Utilize advanced email filtering solutions to detect and quarantine suspicious emails, and regularly monitor both outgoing and incoming email traffic to identify unusual patterns or activities indicative of potential compromises.

  • Regular Training and Awareness Programs: Educate employees about the dangers of BEC and other phishing attacks. Regular training sessions can help them recognize and report suspicious emails. Your employees are a critical defense against BEC but also a critical vulnerability if they’re not invested in your cybersecurity policies. 

Identifying Business Email Compromise Attacks

Although it is ideal to prevent BEC attacks from occurring altogether, there are instances where it may not be feasible. Cybercriminals are resourceful and can find ways to bypass your security measures, whether by compromising one of your users’ accounts or by targeting an external party that is not directly under your cybersecurity policies. In such cases, these attackers can exploit the compromised account to launch BEC attacks against your organization.

BEC attack emails are meticulously crafted since attackers, having already infiltrated an email account, aim to remain undetected until they achieve their goals. It’s crucial for employees to remain alert to these subtle threats and promptly alert the IT or cybersecurity team upon spotting any anomalies. Adopting the following measures will empower your team to counteract BEC tactics effectively.

  • Keen Attention to Detail: Encourage employees to scrutinize emails for subtle inconsistencies. BEC emails might have unusual phrasing or sentence structures that deviate from the sender’s typical tone.

  • Verification Protocols: Implement policies that require multiple approvals for significant actions. For instance, all wire transfers should be verified by at least two individuals (the requester and another party) to prevent potential BEC exploits.

  • Validation Procedures:  Even if higher-ups, like the CEO, have the authority to make financial decisions unilaterally, always validate such requests. If an email asks for a financial transaction, cross-check by calling the requester using a previously known number, not one provided in the suspicious email.

  • Adherence to Policies: BEC attackers might use urgency or discretion as tactics to bypass standard procedures. Train employees to be cautious of such requests – even if the sender is familiar- emphasizing the importance of always following established protocols.

  • Trust Your Instincts: If you suspect a case of business email compromise, take precautions and immediately notify your IT or cybersecurity team so they can take appropriate action.

Take the Next Steps 

As cybercriminals continue to adapt and refine their strategies, businesses must remain vigilant and informed about the latest cyber attacks. Staying updated on these threats and learning effective defense strategies is essential to safeguard your organization. In our extensive collection of cybersecurity resources, you’ll find invaluable tools like our guide five crucial tips for identifying business email compromises.

If you have any questions or concerns about your current cybersecurity strategy, connect with one of our experts to discover how we can assist you.

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