What Is IT Compliance? Here’s What You Need To Know

What Is IT Compliance? Here’s What You Need To Know

Any business that promotes and performs digital services, has an online identity, or uses electronic systems to collect and store data is required to meet certain IT compliance standards.

IT compliance regulations are designed to help safeguard the sensitive data of billions of people worldwide by providing security for consumer data, the regulations to secure it, and regulatory compliance to oversee businesses.

Without IT compliance standards and guiding regulations being put in place and enforced, data breaches are more likely to occur, resulting in the loss of financial and sales data, leaks of clients’ private information, and even drained bank accounts which could sink businesses and ruin lives.

Although many of these regulations are mandatory by law, IT compliance standards also incorporate a number of information security best practices which can benefit your organization beyond merely the specified requirements.

Most of these regulations originated in the mid-to-late 1990s, after the Enron scandal revealed how easy it was for corporations to manipulate data for illegitimate gain. As access to and use of technology for all purposes grew, so did the number of ways in which companies could exploit it. As a result, there are now many regulatory bodies around the world that issue rules affecting technology and all of its uses.

Standards for IT compliance can vary greatly by industry, the size of the business, its geographical location, and even the types of customers it serves.

Specific guidelines are laid out for each rule within the standards so that organizations clearly comprehend how to comply. In order to avoid noncompliance with these regulations, every rule must be followed to the letter.

As such, meeting IT compliance standards demands careful planning, defining policies and procedures, and executing them precisely. Failing to comply with these requirements can cost a company millions of dollars in fines and runs the risk of incurring other penalties as well.

Recent trends – such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and the increasing prevalence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices – have made IT compliance burdensome and bewildering for many organizations. In an effort to achieve and remain in compliance, companies often employ specialized digital tools to continuously identify, monitor, audit, and report adherence to standards.

The role of IT compliance continues to grow, as the electronic sharing and storing of information has an impact on departments such as finance, human resources, and operations – all of which depend on IT services for gathering, disseminating, and reporting data.

Given the amount of data captured and stored by companies today, IT compliance is quite possibly the most important factor in any business.

What Is IT Compliance?

By way of definition, IT compliance is the process of adhering to legal, internal, or contractual requirements for IT systems and processes with regards to the security, protection, availability, and integrity of sensitive data.

Compliance regulations are often centered around the requirements of a third party, such as industry standards, government policies, security frameworks, and terms of agreement with clients and business partners.

In essence, IT compliance involves taking appropriate control of businesses’ or clients’ information, including how it’s obtained and stored, how it’s distributed internally and externally, and how the data is secured.

Being compliant with a particular set of standards means that all relevant aspects of the business required to conform to those standards actually do so, and that the company can definitively prove that fact.

Who’s Responsible for Meeting IT Compliance Standards?

While the framework of IT compliance regulations is established by third parties, companies are responsible for their own IT compliance measures.

Organizations are not only charged with defining, documenting, and analyzing the processes to be adhered to, but also ensuring the availability of information and defining the rules of internal and external communication.

Ensuring that all applicable requirements are implemented in accordance with the rules lies with the individual or department tasked with IT compliance management. This is also where it’s determined which requirements apply to the company in the first place, as well as how they can be implemented in the best way possible. In addition, IT compliance management is tasked with keeping up-to-date on changes in legislation and ensuring that any necessary adjustments to IT are made in a timely manner.

While some companies utilize compliance management systems or software, others may choose to employ a dedicated compliance officer. Both options are intended to ensure proper compliance with and monitoring of the agreed-upon processes and rules.

 

- Benefits of IT Compliance

Avoid Fines and Penalties

Organizations found to be in breach of IT compliance requirements can expect to face steep financial penalties for violations, as well as legal ramifications and other aggressive enforcement actions – especially following a data breach.

Protects Your Business’s Reputation

A single data breach can cause considerable harm to your company’s reputation. It creates the impression that your business can’t be trusted and doesn’t take the appropriate steps to protect the privacy and security of its customers. If customers feel like they can’t trust you with their sensitive information, your business is doomed! By adhering to IT compliance standards, you’re positioning your business to be better protected against data breaches while simultaneously safeguarding the privacy of your customers, clients, employees, and the business itself.

Puts You in Good Company

Many organizations have invested significant time and resources to achieve and maintain compliance with industry-specific guidelines with regards to data security – accordingly, they may be reluctant to partner with organizations that haven’t done the same. Maintaining IT compliance assures prospective partners in your industry that you’ve done your due diligence to secure the data you collect. In doing so, you’re projecting your company as an industry leader when it comes to security and a reputable partner in business.

Builds and Maintains Customer Trust

Modern consumers want reassurance that any personal or financial information they hand over to your business will remain protected. Any proof otherwise will scare away prospects, current clients, and even employees. When your organization proves itself capable of meeting lofty standards concerning digital security and privacy (even those that aren’t specifically required by law), your current customers will feel more secure when using your services and you’ll be more likely to win new business with security-minded customers.

Enhanced Cybersecurity

Any company entrusted with collecting and processing customer information must be vigilant to ensure that this confidential data remains confidential. As you begin to implement various protocols in an attempt to meet compliance requirements, you’re essentially working on shielding your network from intrusions. Most IT compliance standards are merely an extension of basic security protocols. Achieving and maintaining IT compliance can help streamline your processes, decrease the chances of outside attacks, and even deter malicious insider attempts. Complying with industry standards can also help identify any gaps in your existing IT security strategy which might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Common IT Compliance Standards

Every state in the U.S. has data breach notification laws requiring businesses to notify customers in the event that their personal information is compromised. In addition, U.S. companies may be subject to the authority of one or more federal regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

With respect to IT compliance, every industry has its own set of unique requirements. As such, there’s no single IT compliance standard for all businesses. In some instances, an organization may have to adhere to several different types of compliance regulations, depending on the industries within which the business operates.

Compliance requirements can vary tremendously from state to state, and some apply regardless of whether your business is located in the state. For example, both the California Consumer Privacy Act and the NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation impose requirements that can pertain to a business in any state, provided that it deals with data relating to these acts.

In addition to federal, state, and local government agencies, any organization charged with protecting data in order to ensure its confidentiality, integrity, reliability, or availability is likely answerable to IT compliance regulations. This last group includes most employers, colleges, and universities.

Businesses most commonly affected by IT compliance – and most in need of setting up a framework for compliance – include financial institutions, retailers, e-commerce, healthcare and health insurance, other insurance institutions, banking, defense, utilities, and credit card issuers. Strict compliance requirements also apply to critical infrastructure in sectors such as energy, government, food, transportation, information technology, telecommunications, and media.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common IT compliance standards to help you determine which regulations may apply to your organization:

Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)

This government-mandated compliance standard applies to hospitals, clinics, health insurance providers, employers that offer health insurance to their employees, and any organization that stores, collects, transfers, accesses, or otherwise handles healthcare data.

Failure to comply with HIPAA requirements can tarnish a company’s reputation, result in steep fines, and even bankrupt an entire organization.

Key standards enforced by HIPAA include:

  • Maintaining privacy regulations that restrict the disclosure of healthcare information without first obtaining the patient’s consent
  • Ensuring that businesses rigorously secure any files containing electronic protected health information (ePHI) by implementing administrative, physical, and technical structures preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing patient data
  • Implementing a notification system that immediately alerts businesses and patients in the event that a security breach or threat occurs

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

This set of regulations was initiated by MasterCard, Visa, and other credit card companies in an attempt to minimize financial fraud by better securing customers’ credit card information.

Any business that stores, transmits, or processes customers’ credit or debit card data and payments must act in accordance with the rules governing those practices and operations as outlined in PCI DSS.

Compliance with this standard results in greater transparency and increases the trustworthiness of businesses managing these types of transactions, assuring customers that their financial information is protected and they can safely make purchases. Conversely, failing to adhere to PCI DSS requirements could subject a company to substantial financial penalties.

While this particular compliance standard isn’t government-mandated, it’s one that most businesses are compelled to meet. This is because major credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard require businesses to have PCI DSS validation.

In order to meet the requirements of this standard, businesses must develop robust systems and processes for hosting and protecting customers’ financial information. Monitoring accounts and being constantly on the lookout for potential security threats is one way of achieving this. Another option is to implement granular controls which limit who can access different parts of a customer’s account. Limiting access prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing the account information that can be used to steal customers’ identities.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

In the wake of the Enron incident, U.S. Congress passed this federal law for the purpose of overseeing how organizations handle electronic records, data protection, internal reporting, and executive accountability.

SOX ensures that companies reveal complete and accurate financial information so stakeholders and the general public can make informed decisions before choosing whether to invest in the business. In addition, this compliance standard helps minimize the risk of accounting errors and deter fraudulent practices.

Any publicly traded company or business making an initial public offering (IPO) is required to meet this standard. Company boards, management personnel, and accounting firms are also bound by SOX. Failure to comply can result in stiff criminal penalties.

In terms of network compliance, SOX deals with policies regarding where data is stored, establishing access controls, and the flawless installation of backup procedures.

Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

Established in 2002, FISMA establishes a minimum requirement for federal agencies developing data protection plans, promotes certain types of security software and systems, verifies third-party vendors, and accounts for the different security needs of various governmental departments.

Essentially, the act demands that federal agencies treat information security as a matter of national security. While government agencies must adhere to FISMA compliance standards, businesses that work with government agencies may also need to be aware of these regulations. Failure to comply with FISMA can result in loss of federal funding and inability to enter into government contracts.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

This regulation applies to any organization – public or private – that collects and processes the personally identifying information of any European Union (EU) citizen or resident. Any company, regardless of its geographical location, that wishes to do business in the EU or handle the personal or financial data of people from the EU must comply with GDPR standards.

According to the GDPR, organizations must first ask the permission of “data subjects” (i.e., EU citizens or residents) before collecting their personal data. This offers users the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of data collection. If the individual opts out, the organization must delete any previously collected information.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)

Enacted in 1999, the GLBA requires institutions to inform customers of their privacy policies on an annual basis, particularly in regard to how information is shared with certain third parties. Organizations are compelled to give customers the opportunity to opt-out if they don’t wish for their information to be shared. In addition, companies must disclose what measures they’re taking to safeguard the personal data of their customers.

Financial institutions – such as banks, savings and loans, credit unions, insurance companies, and financial advisory firms – as well as accountants, real estate agencies, and universities are all subject to GLBA regulations.

The three “rules” of the GLBA include: financial privacy (how institutions can collect and share private financial information); safeguarding (how institutions must implement security measures to protect client information against cybersecurity risks); and pretexting (this prevents businesses from collecting data under false pretenses).

Final Thoughts

There are a number of challenges associated with IT compliance. Following these tips can help your company avoid the extravagant fines, penalties, and other legal consequences associated with noncompliance:

  1. Educate your employees on all aspects of data privacy and provide them with the tools they need to protect sensitive data.
  2. Provide mobile and remote employees with laptops and devices that contain security policies and prevention mechanisms (such as remote-wipe capabilities) in order to maintain secure access to corporate data.
  3. Put authorization mechanisms in place to limit access to downloadable applications. Only allow downloads of approved software and applications.
  4. Enforce encryption for security and prevent access by devices without secure access.
  5. Utilize only secure and modern cloud storage solutions.

Ensuring that your organization achieves and maintains IT compliance begins with identifying the regulations that apply to your line of business. Drilling down to the areas of interest for your specific organization can help you design and implement the proper compliance frameworks. This can be a challenging and confusing process, especially if you’re inexperienced in these matters.

While it’s possible to manage IT compliance internally, it’s not the best way to go. The process is lengthy and will only serve to distract you from your core business responsibilities. Why go through all that stress when you can outsource this service for just a fraction of your IT budget?

At DataGroup Technologies, compliance is more than a service we provide – it’s woven into the fabric of all of our IT solutions. We can help you build an IT environment that not only supports your business’s growth but meets the necessary IT compliance standards as well.

Reach out to us today at 252.317.0614 or drop us a line here to see how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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What Is The Internet of Things?

What Is the Internet of Things?

The year was 1999 and Kevin Ashton was pitching an idea to the execs of Procter & Gamble for “radio-frequency identification;” allowing computers to manager “all individual things.” The practice wasn’t necessarily new but what Ashton coined at the time was. Since the Internet was all the rage during this time, he called his idea the “Internet of Things” (IoT for short) to grab the attention of the execs. Little did they know that over 10 years later, the Internet of Things would be one of tech’s biggest markets.

IOT Explained

There is a range of definitions across the web for IoT; all varying to a degree in complexity. At DataGroup Technologies, we define IoT as “extending the power of the internet beyond computer and smartphones on a whole range of things, processes, and environments.

The broad definition is on purpose as IoT is a conglomerate of different machines communicating with each other to complete a task. An IoT optimized device has the capacity to connect to the internet in any way and is integrated with technology such as sensors, functional software, network support connections, and actuators.

Let’s take IoT in agriculture as an example.

It’s no secret that the human population is booming, but our natural resources cannot keep up with the supply and demand. A fully optimized farm can help mitigate the demand by producing more supply without negatively impacting the environment.

Irrigation systems enhanced with IoT sensors and network capabilities are able to monitor the soil quality and saturation level, evenly distributing water across the fields. An internet connection allows the irrigation system to keep track of reported weather patterns to plan for when crops need to be watered and when to save that water.

Further IoT upgrades enable farmers to reduce waste and enhance productivity. Now farmers can compute the quantity of fertilizer needed to cover their fields and reduce waste percentage, track staff performance and equipment efficiency, obtain crop health analysis, track livestock, create controlled climate greenhouses, and use predictive analysis to plan future crop production rate, storage, and risk management.

Farmers are able to collect data from anywhere at anytime on the state of their farms. IoT is a driving force for increasing agricultural production in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.

The Market Reaction

The concept and history of IoT begins before Kevin Ashton coined the phrase in 1999. The idea of connected devices often called “embedded internet” or “pervasive computer” had been around since the 70’s. What concepts and ideas needed was for technology to advance with our technological abilities. A little over 10 years after Ashton coined “Internet of Things” the phrase quickly latched on and soon spread like wildfire.

In the summer of 2010, information on Google’s StreetView service had leaked. Not only had the tech giant’s project captured data of the physical world with its 360-degree pictures, but had also collected and stored tons of data related to people’s WiFi networks. That same year, the Chinese government stated that it would make IoT a priority in their Five-Year-Plan; a plan we can see as a success in China as it stands as one of the most IoT optimized countries in the world.

Growth came at a rapid pace as conferences such as the Consumer Electronics Show, and tech publications such as Wired and Forbes, began to normalize the phrase in their terminology and popularize it among businesses and consumers.

Products

If you’ve never heard of IoT before, chances are you’ve at least purchased a product in the last 5 years that utilizes what IoT can do. There are a wide variety of IoT products flooding the marketing right now, all with the goal of optimizing your lifestyle with technology.

Here is a rudimentary list of different types of IoT products you can find:
-Biometric systems
-Smart homes
-Smart security systems
-Wearable health monitors
-Smart irrigation and agricultural systems
-Smart cities
-Smart phones
-Shipping container and logistics tracking

If you have purchased new electronics recently, chances are you’re assembling a smart home. Products like refrigerators with built-in monitors, voice command lights, indoor security cameras that will stream a live feed straight to your devices, or even your Amazon Alexa, who helps find new items on Amazon, play music or even turn your lights on. 

All of these products and more are collecting data and monitoring your commands. They are communicating and connecting with the internet to provide optimized services for you. If you think this all too good to be true, then you’re right, as there are substantial pros and cons to IoT services and products.

The Pros and Cons of IOT

Among the advantages of IoT, you have:
-Improved communication and interaction between devices, and between devices and people.
-Strong monitoring features
-Instant data access and documentation
-Automation of workflow
-Improved service efficiency and time-management
-Company cost savings.

On the flip side, you have:
-No international compatibility standard
-Increased complexity of IoT services
-Growing lack of privacy
-Increased chances of cybersecurity risks
-Reduction of jobs in the market, thus higher unemployment rates.

Automation of workflow with improved service efficiency leads to a reduction of jobs and employment. Smart home devices that are not properly secured and encrypted by companies and consumers are a hacker’s playground.

The Future of IOT

 

Statista predicts the number of IoT connected devices to reach 75.44 billion by 2025, a 60 billion increase from metrics reported in 2015.

As human innovation and imagination continues to grow, so too does our use and dependency on IoTs, and with the growth in dependency of IoT comes the increased potential of risks and exploitations. IoT devices create privacy concerns that echo to Orwellian literature. In 2015, a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered the following statement in Samsung’s SmartTV privacy policy:

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

Samsung later addressed the situation and edited the policy. No reports of abused or misused captured audio have been filed and Samsung states that it adheres to “industry-standard security safeguards and practices,” but concerns are still present in consumers.

IoT is the future of technology, from smart homes and smart cities to monitoring devices for your health and your car. Yet, public safety from cyber attacks and unauthorized data access will be a crippling addition to the growth of IoT. As more reports come out about the growth in spending and development of IoT, the more businesses and consumers should be made aware of the potential cybercrimes.

Here at DataGroup Technologies, we’re dedicated to continued research and understanding on all technological growth to improve upon our range of IT services and security. If you’re thinking about including more IoT devices in your business, give DataGroup Technologies a call to make sure your business is secured and ready to upgrade into the future.

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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About VPNs (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Learning About VPN's

What Is A VPN?

A virtual private network, or VPN for short, is best defined as “an encrypted connection over the internet from a device to a network.” Think of this connection as a protected “tunnel” through which you can access everything online, while appearing to be in the location of the VPN server you’re connected to. This provides you with a high level of online anonymity, offers an added layer of security, and allows you to access the entire internet without restrictions.

VPN technology is a must for anyone who’s concerned about protecting not just their data, but their identity and location as well. A reputable VPN will secure your internet connection, safeguard your privacy, and keep you protected from hackers or anyone else who might be trying to spy on your online activity.

Initially, VPNs were developed to give businesses a way to connect employees who aren’t physically at the workplace to the company’s network. Connecting remote employees to a central work server allows them to access files and other resources, as well as any confidential information that they may need in a safe, secure environment.

In response to widespread data breaches and other cyberthreats, individuals are increasingly using VPNs to create a secure path as they browse the internet.

How Does A VPN Work?

Before we delve into how VPNs function, it’s important to explain what the term “internet traffic” means. Internet traffic is the flow of data between your computer and the internet this applies whether you’re using a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

When you access the internet without a VPN, all of your internet activity including browsing history, downloaded files, online banking details, and passwords can easily be intercepted by other people. This could include your internet service provider (ISP), government agencies, your employer, or even cybercriminals.

When you connect through a VPN, your data is safely encrypted as it travels wherever it needs to go. This means that the data is protected when it goes from your computer to the VPN server, and then to your final destination (whether that’s a website or the server of any app you’re serving). As a result, websites only “see” the VPN’s IP address and not yours. Additionally, your ISP only recognizes that you’re using a VPN but doesn’t get to tag along and keep tabs on where you go or what you do.

The Future of VPN's

As the world adapts to the “new normal” prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations worldwide have been scrambling to safeguard their remote employees. Not surprisingly, VPN software usage has escalated dramatically as the need for remote working rises.

Mass surveillance, corporate tracking, and internet censorship are three other driving forces that will continue to push VPN software usage even higher. ISPs are increasingly restricting access to various websites from adult content to torrenting sites. As people are enlightened to the growing risks regarding data collection and security threats, VPN usage will continue to expand.

Why Should You Use a VPN?

We’ve touched on most of these points already, but a deeper dive will be beneficial to truly demonstrate the benefits of VPNs:

Bypass Online Censorship and Geo-Restrictions

Many countries worldwide censor the internet (or specific websites) because certain content doesn’t align with their government’s political or religious beliefs. If you’re living in or traveling to a country with internet restrictions, you’ll need a VPN to be able to freely and securely browse online. In some areas of the world, basic tasks like Googling or updating your Facebook status are impossible without a VPN. Because your actual location is being “spoofed” when you connect to the internet with a VPN, you can bypass geographical restrictions and gain access to online content that’s otherwise unavailable in your region.

Increased Privacy and Greater Anonymity

Nearly every website you visit tracks your online activity and harvests your data. Advertising networks such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter constantly collect information about you through your internet traffic in order to show you targeted ads. However, it’s important to know that these entities are also free to sell your info to interested third parties. By encrypting your data, these networks will be unable to collect info on you, which gives them less influence over what kind of content you see online.

Your internet protocol (IP) address is a personal identification code that’s unique to your internet connection. It reveals your physical location and is tied to the individual who pays your internet service provider. With your IP address, you’re both recognizable and traceable online, no matter what you’re doing.

The instant you connect with the VPN server, your personal IP address and your location are hidden from view. Websites and other parties will only be able to trace your online activities back to the VPN server, not to you personally and not to your actual location. This allows you to surf the web with greater anonymity.

Improved Security Against Cyberattacks and Data Breaches

Hackers and other cybercriminals use a variety of techniques to detect web traffic . They’re even able to hijack users’ accounts on websites that don’t use the HTTPS security protocol.

Public Wi-Fi networks can pose a particular threat to internet users. Individuals connected to the same network can easily tap into your devices, access your data, and steal your personal information while you browse the web obliviously.

When you use a VPN to connect to a public Wi-Fi network, any data you send, receive, or access online is automatically encrypted, rendering it much more difficult to intercept and view.

Knowing that your confidential data such as email logins, bank passwords, credit card info, and images or other files is potentially exposed to hackers and other malicious denizens of the internet should certainly give you pause. A VPN provides an added line of defense against cyberattacks of all kinds so why wouldn’t you take advantage of its capabilities?

Facilitates Remote Work

By necessity, or practicality, or some combination of the two, more and more businesses these days are enabling their employees to work from home or abroad. VPNs are often used to securely connect remote workers and vendors, as necessary to the requisite resources, files, and networks that they need. Encrypted connections allow users to interact on the network while ensuring that the company’s data remains private.

A natural byproduct of remote accessibility is an increase in overall productivity for the business. When employees have access to your network 24/7, they’re able to work outside the typical 9 to 5 business hours, from wherever they choose

What A VPN Can’t Do

Prevent Cookies

Ad companies can still use browser cookies to track your path across the internet, even after you’ve left their sites. If this is a concern for you, there are ways to block third-party cookies in every web browser.

Keep You Out of Jail

VPN services are obligated to abide by the laws of the country in which they are officially based. As such, they’re legally bound to respond to subpoenas and warrants from law enforcement when requested.

Dedicated Cyberattacks

If someone targets you specifically and is willing to put forth the effort, they’ll eventually get what they’re after. Having a solid cybersecurity plan in place can help.

Stop Malware or Ransomware

A VPN is designed to secure your online connections and data. It’s not engineered to protect your system from malicious software. Using antivirus and antimalware programs is always a smart move.

Provide 100% Anonymity

Given all the different ways someone can be identified online, a VPN alone won’t render you completely anonymous. With the vast resources of surveillance agencies such as the NSA, it’s likely quite difficult to ever achieve 100% online anonymity. Other methods could result in uncovering your online identity, but a VPN will protect your privacy very well, in most cases.

Speed Up Your Connection

When you’re using a VPN, a lot is going on in the background. Your computer is encrypting and decrypting packets of data, which are being routed through a remote server. All of this takes more time and processing power, which will ultimately affect your internet speed. Because your latency (or “ping”) is increasing, the speed at which you upload or download data will decrease. With higher-quality VPNs, the lag is barely noticeable, whereas others can cause a considerable slowdown. VPN speeds may also be limited by the type of device you’re using, your network, or due to your internet provider “throttling” VPN connections.

Conclusion

When the internet was first being constructed, not a lot of thought was given to security or privacy. At first, it was merely a cluster of shared computers at research institutions. Computing power was so limited that any encryption could have made functionality extremely difficult, if not impossible. On the contrary, the primary focus was on openness, not defense.

Today, most of us have a number of devices that connect to the web which are vastly more powerful than the top computers of the early days. But the internet hasn’t implemented a great deal of fundamental improvements. Only in the past few years has HTTPS become widespread, for example.

By and large, the responsibility lies on individuals to protect themselves. Antivirus apps and password managers can go a long way toward keeping you safer, but a VPN is a uniquely powerful tool that you should absolutely have in your personal security toolkit, especially in today’s connected world.

While a VPN isn’t an absolute necessity for using the web, it will provide you with better overall security, improved performance, remote access, and greater anonymity.

Cybersecurity has never been more important. We live in an increasingly connected world, which enables cyberattackers to constantly find new ways to carry out digital attacks. Even the most vigilant business owners and IT managers can become overwhelmed with the stress of maintaining network security and protecting their data.

DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) offers a wide variety of cybersecurity services to help protect your business from cyberthreats, including security risk assessments, email security solutions, web and DNS filtering, and next-generation firewalls. Give us a call today at 252.329.1382 to find out more about how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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How To Minimize The Risk Of A Social Media Data Breach

How To Minimize The Risk Of A Social Media Data Breach

Virtually every organization – businesses, educational institutions, and associations – has employees, students, and members who make use of social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram in their personal lives.

More often than not, businesses themselves have a considerable online presence and draw on social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, in particular, for marketing functions, sales, and client relations.

Organizations that lack a significant online presence but have employees that use social networks have an obligation to ensure that their users and staff members’ identities are safeguarded online.

Many organizations supply their employees with basic information on safe internet practices, with the hope that they will implement these practices at home as well as at work. This offers an ideal opportunity for corporate security teams to lay the groundwork for what actions can be taken in case of a large-scale social network cyberattack.

The goal is to lessen the impact of a breach that’s otherwise out of your control, or to limit its adverse effects.

In this article, we’ll explore five ways to help minimize the risk of a breach on social media networks and other applications.

Don’t Reuse Passwords – But Do Change Them Often

We’re going to presume that you and your team are already aware of how to come up with a strong password, using a succession of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols – and not including telltale tidbits like the name of your pet.

Great password? Check! But wait, there’s more!

Whenever a major social media breach does occur, it may take some time between when the breach first surfaces, when an organization detects it, and when you’re alerted to the fact that your information has been compromised.

If you’re changing your password consistently, you narrow the window of damage opportunity between those monumental events. Even if you’ve fashioned what you believe to be the perfect password, don’t recycle it across multiple accounts. 

Based on surveys conducted by Terranova Security, nearly 80% of users are still utilizing the same passwords on numerous systems. That number increases even more for the younger generation – either they aren’t aware of the risk or it’s possible that they don’t want to have to recall a slew of different passwords.

Regardless, if you’re using the same account-password combination on several channels and one channel is breached, cyberattackers are more likely to be able to infiltrate your other accounts.

Consider Utilizing a Password Management Tool to Preserve Your Passwords

If you don’t want to – or can’t – remember all of those complicated passwords you’ve created, consider making use of a secure password management tool. From a functionality standpoint, a password manager is simply that – a program you login to with one password that stores all of your other passwords.

Think of it, more or less, as a digital wallet.

When taking into consideration which password management tool to use, try to find one that’s well-encrypted and allows for management between a number of platforms and devices. A few of the more prominent password management tools on the market include 1Password, KeePass, and Dashlane.

Implement Two-Factor Authentication

Suppose someone does come into possession of your password – what then? In all likelihood, they’ll appropriate your username in order to gain access to your social network accounts – at the very least – unless you’ve initiated two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication is a security method that provides a computer user access only after they have supplied multiple forms of evidence verifying that they are legitimately the user they claim to be. 

For example, let’s say you’re connecting from a computer or location that you haven’t used before – if you have two-factor authentication set up, the application will send a PIN to your phone which you must then reproduce. If someone has pilfered your password and is trying to connect to one of your accounts, you’ll receive a notification of an unauthorized access attempt.

If it obviously isn’t you who’s attempting to log in from a new source or location, you’ll know that a hacker has moved past the first stage – that is, accessing your password. If that is the case, deny the access, change your password right away, and be grateful you set up two-factor authentication.

Through the use of social engineering or malware, cybercriminals will masquerade as one of the individuals involved in these money transfers to trick the victim into sending money to a bank account owned by the cybercriminal. Once the fraud is exposed, it’s often too late to recoup the money. Scammers are quick to relocate the money to other accounts and withdraw the cash or use it to buy cryptocurrencies.

However, the scam is not always associated with an unauthorized transfer of funds. One BEC variation involves compromising legitimate business email accounts and requesting personally identifiable information (PII), wage and tax settlement (W-2) forms, or even cryptocurrency wallets from recipients.

Steer Clear of Online Applications That Enable You to Log In Automatically Using Your Facebook Credentials

More and more apps are connecting back and forth and enabling users to access multiple channels with a single sign-on (SSO). You’ve likely encountered apps where you can create an account or sign in automatically simply by using your Facebook credentials. Convenient? Smart? Not exactly.

While it might seem like a timesaving method, should your Facebook credentials become exposed, hackers could take advantage of them to access other accounts under your name. Whenever possible, refrain from taking advantage of these opportunities.

The supposed convenience of social media-based SSO is appealing, but bear in mind that if you are compromised on one platform, you could be compromised on another. The more interconnected systems you have, the more you are at risk.

Take Heed When Your Friends’ Social Network Accounts Are Compromised

“Don’t accept any new friend requests from me. My account has been hacked.”

“Don’t click on the link in the message it looks like I sent you on Facebook. It isn’t me.”

You see these kinds of posts in your newsfeed all the time. But those are just the ones we’re aware of for certain. You might have friends or online acquaintances who don’t yet realize they’ve been compromised, and hackers may already be using their accounts to make phishing attempts.

Other times, hackers are merely paying attention to and gathering information that people post voluntarily on social media.

What’s the solution? It’s simple.

Don’t post confidential information on social media! Don’t make mention of your dog’s name on social media then use “What is your pet’s name?” as the security question on your online banking account.

And if your account is breached, let your friends know…immediately! Particularly on social media.

It’s all about creating a culture of information security. By presenting this information to users, organizations can demonstrate that they’re not just preoccupied with their own pursuits, but they’re concerned about the well-being of their employees as well.

DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) offers a wide variety of cybersecurity services to help protect your business from cyberthreats, including security risk assessments, web and DNS filtering, next-generation firewalls, network security monitoring, operating systems and application security patches, antivirus software, and security awareness training. Give us a call today at 252.329.1382 to learn more about how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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What You Should Know About Data Privacy – And How To Get Started

What You Should Know About Data Privacy – And How To Get Started

Data privacy is an issue of significant concern in the digital age, in large part because data breaches keep occurring, revealing the personal data of millions of people worldwide. Even one isolated breach can have profound consequences. Individuals may be subjected to identity theft or blackmail, while companies might run the risk of financial losses as well as harm to public, investor, and customer trust.

It can be difficult to balance the need to utilize personal data for business purposes against an individual’s right to data privacy. In this article, we’ll explore the significance of data privacy, how it relates to data protection, which compliance regulations are centered around data privacy protection, and what you should be aware of when implementing a data privacy policy.

What Is Data Privacy, And Which Data Is Involved?

Data privacy, also referred to as information privacy, centers around how data should be gathered, stored, controlled, and shared with any third parties, along with complying with all applicable privacy laws.

To properly characterize data privacy, it’s helpful to specify precisely what is going to be protected. Several types of data that are customarily regarded as sensitive, both by the general public and by legal mandates, include:

  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII):  Data that could be utilized to identify, reach out to, or track down an individual, or to differentiate one person from another.
  • Personal Health Information (PHI):  Medical history, insurance information, and other private data accumulated by healthcare providers and could possibly be connected to a particular person.
  • Personally Identifiable Financial Information (PIFI):  Credit card numbers, bank account details, or other data regarding a person’s finances.
  • Student Records:  An individual’s grades, transcripts, class schedules, billing details, and other academic records.

More generally, in its “Guide to Protecting the Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information,” the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers the following examples of information that might be considered PII:

  • Name: Full name, maiden name, mother’s maiden name, or alias personal identification numbers, such as social security number (SSN), passport number, patient ID number, or a financial account or credit card number.
  • Address Information:  Street address or email address.
  • Personal Characteristics: Photographic images (particularly of the face or another distinctive characteristic), X-rays, fingerprints, or other biometric images or template data (e.g., retinal scans, voice signature, facial geometry, etc.).
  • Information About an Individual That’s Linked or Linkable to One of the Above: Date and/or place of birth; race; religion; activities; geographical indicators; and employment, education, financial, or medical information.

Which Data Is Not Subject to Data Privacy Concerns?

There are two main categories of data that aren’t subject to data privacy concerns:

  • Non-Sensitive PII: Information that is already in the public record, such as a phone book or online directory.
  • Non-Personally Identifiable Information: Data that can’t be used to identify an individual. Examples include device IDs and cookies. (Note: Some privacy laws consider cookies to be personal data, since they can leave traces that could be used in conjunction with other identifiers to reveal a person’s identity.)

Personal Data Protection and Privacy Regulations

Data breaches continue to make the news all too regularly, and the public realizes they’re gradually losing control over their confidential information. Industry research demonstrates that 71% of Americans occasionally or frequently worry about their personal data getting hacked, and that 8 in 10 U.S. adults are concerned about businesses’ ability to protect their financial and personal information.

In light of escalating public concerns, governments are tirelessly working to establish and improve privacy data protection laws. Indeed, the need to confront modern privacy issues and safeguard data privacy rights is a worldwide trend. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most noteworthy law, but a number of nations – including Brazil, India, and New Zealand – have instituted new privacy regulations or reinforced existing regulations to govern how personal data can be collected, maintained, used, disclosed, and disseminated.

Currently, there are a number of prominent U.S. federal privacy laws in effect which obstruct companies from improper transmission of personal data, each designed to address particular types of data. These include:

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) / Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH): Intended to secure personal health information.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA): Limited to financial information.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA): Protects children’s privacy by enabling parents to manage what information is collected.
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): Safeguards students’ personal information.
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): Regulates the collection and use of consumer information.

 

Data Protection vs. Privacy Protection

Data privacy is closely connected to data protection. Both share the same goal: shielding sensitive data from breaches, cyberattacks, and unintentional or deliberate data loss. Whereas data privacy focuses on guidelines for how organizations may gather, store, and process confidential information, data protection concentrates on the security controls that take into account the confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of information. Furthermore, data protection typically involves protecting not only personal information but other all-important data as well, including trade secrets and financial information.

Strictly speaking, data protection demands enacting policies, controls, and procedures to uphold data privacy guidelines, such as the following standards outlined in the ISO/IEC 29100 framework

  • Accountability
  • Accuracy and Quality
  • Collection Limitation
  • Consent and Choice
  • Data Minimization
  • Individual Participation and Access
  • Information Security
  • Openness, Transparency, and Notice
  • Privacy Compliance
  • Purpose Legitimacy and Specification
  • Use, Retention, and Disclosure Limitation

How to Get Started with Data Privacy Protection

Merely putting into action one or more data security technologies doesn’t assure that you will bring about total data privacy. Rather, when framing your data privacy protection policies, make sure to observe these best practices:

Know Your Data

It’s imperative to understand exactly what information is being gathered, how it’s being used, and whether it’s being hawked to or shared with third parties. Since various types of PII and their manifestations are unequal in value and some personal data can become sensitive in certain circumstances, you must classify your data by way of a quality data discovery and classification solution.

Take Control of Your Data Stores and Backups

Be sure not to retain personal data without a clear purpose. Establish retention policies and moderate personal data in line with its value and risk.

Manage and Control Risk

Data privacy protection has to incorporate periodic risk assessment. Rather than creating a framework from the ground up, you can implement one that’s already well-established, such as the NIST risk assessment framework defined in Special Publication SP 800-30.

Hold Periodic Training Sessions for Users

Ensure that employees are familiar with the subtleties of data privacy and security. Clarify privacy basics from the outset, specifying which devices can be employed when working with sensitive data and how this data may be transmitted and shared. Occasionally, it’s appropriate to advise personnel that they aren’t permitted to alter other people’s records, whether out of curiosity or for personal reasons, nor are they at liberty to take proprietary data with them when they part ways with the organization.

Final Thoughts

In times past, individuals’ personal data could be gathered discreetly and shared freely – but those days are gone. Now, any organization that collects and utilizes financial, health, and other personal information must manage that data with regards to its privacy.

By applying the best practices detailed above, your organization can establish a baseline privacy structure for becoming a conscientious and principled steward of personal data.

If you need help implementing a data privacy protection plan, DataGroup Technologies can help! Give us a call at 252.329.1382 today!

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Smishing & Vishing: What Are They, And How Can You Protect Against Them?

Smishing & Vishing: What Are They, And How Can You Protect Against Them?

A text message claiming to be from Microsoft Support, alerting you about an issue with your computer. An unfamiliar caller requesting that you verify your mailing address and credit card number so you can claim your free prize. An SMS message seeking your confirmation of an Amazon shipment. An urgent voicemail message from the IRS. These are all prime examples of smishing and vishing cyberattacks

Smartphones have become one of the most prevalent methods of contact for cybercriminals. Hackers know how attached we are to our phones and how difficult it can be to ignore the ping of a text message or the buzz of an incoming phone call.

Both smishing and vishing depend on social engineering to dupe victims into surrendering  personal information. Using persuasive and often urgent language, cybercriminals manipulate victims into revealing confidential data such as their bank account and credit card details, passwords, social security number, date of birth, and mailing address.

Victims are confident they’re doing the right thing by supplying this information. After all, the caller is warning them that they could face criminal prosecution from the IRS if they can’t validate their bank account details. And the text message guaranteeing delivery of a free prize states that the offer will expire in one hour unless the necessary bank account details are provided.

It’s important to be aware that cybercriminals set their sights on both individuals and organizations with these strategic smishing and vishing attacks. In many cases, cybercriminals will initially send spear-phishing emails in order to gather information that they will then use to deliver customized text messages and phone calls.

What Is Smishing?

Smishing, a shortened version of the term “SMS phishing,” is a type of cyberattack that utilizes misleading text messages – purported to be from reputable companies – to pilfer confidential and corporate information from users.

With compelling and alarming vocabulary, the text message may seek to threaten the victim with dire consequences if they don’t take action or try to persuade the victim that they would be helping the sender by providing the sought-after information.

Text messages are a particularly attractive technique for cybercriminals, as the evidence bears out the efficacy of the medium. Take into consideration these recent statistics concerning SMS marketing:

  • 98% of all text messages are read and opened
  • 90% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes
  • Text messages have a 209% higher response rate than phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages

To further simplify matters for cybercriminals, people generally have a very low awareness of smishing attacks. This unfamiliarity gives rise to a perilous environment where victims don’t think twice about clicking on embedded links, providing personal information, or directly responding to the hacker who’s texting them.

What Is Vishing?

Vishing, derived from the phrase “voice phishing,” is a form of  cyberattack that involves using the telephone to steal sensitive data from a person. Cybercriminals employ slick social engineering tactics to persuade victims to relinquish private information as well as access to bank accounts.

Hackers will frequently adapt the messaging of their vishing calls to the time of the year or try to establish a connection by leveraging trending news stories. For example, during tax season, cybercriminals might leave messages passing themselves off as representatives from the IRS. Additionally, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hackers have been calling people touting false promises of vaccinations or testing kits, if the victims would merely supply their bank account information and mailing address.

Like smishing, vishing attacks are used to appropriate data from both individuals and organizations. For example, a cybercriminal may check out an organization on LinkedIn and on the company website, gathering details about its leadership and employees, taking note of individuals who might be traveling or attending a conference. With this intelligence in hand, the cybercriminal then makes a string of strategic phone calls and voicemails attempting to prevail upon an employee to transfer funds on behalf of their manager who is traveling and is unable to access the network.

How to Safeguard Your Organization and Employees from Smishing and Vishing Attacks

With such a prominent focus on phishing, spear-phishing, malware, and even CEO fraud, it’s easy to disregard the threat of smishing and vishing. However, these types of approaches are standard methods of attack for cybercriminals who zero in on organizations and their employees.

To safeguard your organization and employees from smishing and vishing attacks, take heed of the following recommendations:

  • Reap the benefits of security awareness training programs that apply real-world examples of smishing and vishing attacks to illustrate how cybercriminals use text messaging and phone calls to perpetrate cyber-fraud.
  • Enable employees to easily report smishing and vishing attacks to you and your team.
  • If your company has a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, it’s crucial to establish rigorous procedures with respect to application updates, password protection, Wi-Fi connectivity, and observing recommended remote and mobile device cybersecurity best practices.
  • Conduct phishing simulations to evaluate and track employee awareness of the dangers of cyber-fraud. Harness this data to tailor your security awareness training and strive to concentrate on areas where your employees require further instruction.
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Bear in mind, your employees are your first line of defense against smishing and vishing attacks. Direct your efforts toward providing employees with security awareness training that’s pertinent, progressive, and practical. When your employees recognize how easily smishing and vishing occur and can comprehend the implications of an effective attack, they’re more likely to keep a closer eye out for potential threats.

Final Thoughts

While no form of cyberattack can completely be prevented, being mindful of the signs can help mitigate the chances of its success. Having solid cybersecurity solutions in place for your organization can further protect against the ever-evolving techniques of cybercriminals.

To schedule a free IT assessment with DataGroup Technologies, please visit our website or call 252.329.1382 today!

Common-Sense Cybersecurity Considerations for Retail Businesses

Common-Sense Cybersecurity Considerations for Retail Businesses

The recent holiday shopping season provided a target-rich environment for cybercriminals. According to the 2020 Trustwave Global Security Report, retail was ranked as the most targeted industry for cyberattacks for the third consecutive year.

A mounting transformation toward a more digital environment – a development attributable in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic – hasn’t made data protection any easier, either.

In fact, as consumers continued to set online sales records throughout the course of 2020, hackers were taking advantage of this swell of opportunities to more readily ply their trade.

Database security has also been a huge area of concern, even for the titans of e-commerce. Earlier in 2020, 8 million customer records belonging to sites like Amazon, eBay, Shopify, and PayPal were exposed as a result of database vulnerability.

All things considered, retailers need to be as prepared as possible for the ongoing surge of cyberattacks. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few key cybersecurity tips that can better equip your retail establishment against cybercriminals.

Comply with Data Privacy Laws and Regulations

Spurred on by the success of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance program, 42 U.S. states and a host of other countries worldwide have instituted data privacy legislation. Most notable among these is the California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect in January 2020. This new legislation alone has given rise to over 50 lawsuits stemming from CCPA violations.

Ultimately, it’s crucial that retailers comply with all privacy regulations that lie within the purview of your operations. Enacting a privacy compliance awareness solution tailored toward retailers can help educate staff on how to work with customers directly, whether online or face-to-face, to better safeguard their personal information. 

Ensure That Employees Understand Your Cybersecurity Best Practices

Employees can represent the weakest link or the first line of defense with regards to an organization’s cybersecurity approach.

On the one hand, uninformed and ill-equipped employees lack the experience to consistently identify and deflect cyberthreats – consequently, they are more susceptible to being duped by phishing scams. These same inexpert employees may also be more vulnerable to having their equipment pilfered or compromised due to easily preventable bad habits.

Conducting risk-based security awareness training programs for retail organizations can prompt employees to embrace a more cybersecure mentality and enrich information security initiatives rather than thwarting them.

No matter how secure a retailer’s IT infrastructure is or how recently they’ve upgraded their antivirus software, the human factor is a crucial step in protecting against cyberattacks.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication for Card-Based Transactions

On the heels of the 2013 Target breach – one that cost the retail giant a whopping $18.5 million in a multistate court settlement – U.S. retailers took aggressive steps toward implementing the EMV payment system which uses credit and debit cards with embedded chips requiring a PIN or signature in order to finalize the transaction.

Unfortunately, online retailers can’t benefit from the extra layers of security that come with these types of cards. Therefore, it’s essential that they make use of available multi-factor authentication (MFA) options in order to circumvent fraudulent activity.

Customized authentication methods – such as entering a unique alphanumeric code or completing a reCAPTCHA request – can help e-tailers give consumers a seamless, secure checkout process, ensuring peace of mind for both parties.

Analyze Your Site for the Presence of Malicious Code

With chip cards and MFA capabilities helping to impede data compromise at the point of sale, cybercriminals are coming up with new ways to seize users’ personal information during online CNP (card not present) transactions.

Cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs wrote about how bad actors are undermining e-commerce sites with malicious scripts – a practice sometimes referred to as “formjacking.” Krebs mentions a security vendor that reported seeing nearly a quarter of a million such incidents over the course of a single month.

Krebs suggests that retailers who want to ensure that their site is entirely devoid of malicious code can utilize an online source code viewer to securely inspect the HTML code on any webpage without having to render it in an internet browser.

Check Your Point-of-Sale (POS) Terminals and Network

If your retail business operates a physical shopping location, cybersecurity best practices – such as regularly examining carelessly staffed payment terminals at self-checkouts – is critical.

This practice helps verify whether or not skimmers – used to acquire consumers’ sensitive data such as personal identification numbers (PINs) or account details – have been affixed to your machines. It’s also wise to frequently assess your in-store Wi-Fi access point and your network for rogue devices that a hacker may have installed covertly.

Encrypt Your Data and Network

Even if you’ve done everything you can to keep customer data from being compromised, cybercriminals are constantly improving their schemes and techniques. A simple way to keep your data protected is to enable file and network encryption whenever and wherever possible.

When you encrypt the data, it will remain secure regardless of where it dwells – even if cybercriminals can access it. This extends as far as VPN protection for your work-related Wi-Fi network, a vital security layer for anyone interfacing with or transmitting confidential information over that connection.

Establish a Solid Recovery Plan

Even if you take every precaution outlined above, it’s conceivable that a cyberattack could still occur. To avert chaos and irreversible data loss, make sure that your organization has a robust, executable recovery plan at the ready. This type of strategy comprises data backup and system reset details, as well as aligning with internet or hosting service providers.

Final Thoughts

Despite the continuing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, retail businesses can and still will thrive, whether in-person, online, or both. Keeping these businesses cyber-secure is essential for both the organizations themselves and the overall economy.

By following the guidance delineated here, your retail establishment can be better protected against the persistent attacks of determined hackers. But you don’t have to go it alone.

DataGroup Technologies has a proven history of providing state-of-the-art cybersecurity services to its loyal customers. We can help your business as well. Reach out to us today by calling 252.329.1382 or by visiting our website at dtinetworks.com – we can help you Simplify IT!

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The Cyberthreat Landscape Is Changing – How Can Your Organization Minimize The Risks?

The Cyberthreat Landscape Is Changing – How Can Your Organization Minimize The Risks?

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been upended and a great many things have been put on hold.

The same cannot be said for the cyberthreat landscape. In reality, the contrary is true, as COVID-19 has actually served to intensify security vulnerabilities

Remote working is now the norm – a fact that has broadened the threat landscape – and cybercriminals are working day and night to take unfair advantage of the situation.

As a result, 2020 has experienced a sudden increase in the proliferation of malware, spam, phishing, and credential stuffing attacks.

As reported by Interpol, there has been a 36% increase in malware and ransomware, a 59% increase in phishing, scams, and fraud, and a 14% increase in disinformation (“fake news”).

This, combined with the haste to implement new cloud systems and remote access solutions, has inflated the number of breaches in 2020.

Many organizations believe that, in order to mitigate the risks, they must invest in revolutionary new solutions; but it’s also critical that companies reevaluate security fundamentals such as passwords.

The latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report discovered that an astounding 81% of hacking-related breaches stem from compromised passwords. With slapdash password security being the rule rather than the exception, securing the password layer needs to be a top priority for enterprises.

As remote workers create new accounts and credentials, companies should adopt a layered approach to authentication to make sure that only strong, unique, and uncompromised passwords are being used.

By implementing the five practices detailed here, organizations can manage user access and fortify the authentication layers, thus minimizing the risk of a successful attack:

 

Make Multi-Factor Authentication Mandatory

According to TechRepublic, business email compromise (BEC) is “a sophisticated scam that targets companies and individuals who perform legitimate transfer-of-funds requests.”

Through the use of social engineering or malware, cybercriminals will masquerade as one of the individuals involved in these money transfers to trick the victim into sending money to a bank account owned by the cybercriminal. Once the fraud is exposed, it’s often too late to recoup the money. Scammers are quick to relocate the money to other accounts and withdraw the cash or use it to buy cryptocurrencies.

However, the scam is not always associated with an unauthorized transfer of funds. One BEC variation involves compromising legitimate business email accounts and requesting personally identifiable information (PII), wage and tax settlement (W-2) forms, or even cryptocurrency wallets from recipients.

Educate Your Employees

Security is everyone’s responsibility, and security training helps make people more vigilant. As cybercriminals play upon fears surrounding the coronavirus, it’s critical to advise employees as to how to recognize potential scams, lures, and phishing attacks.

Underscoring how hackers manipulate the pandemic for their own benefit can help make sure that employees pause and think instead of automatically clicking on every link they encounter.

Real-Time Threat Intelligence

Companies need to make use of automated tools designed to continually detect compromised passwords, making certain that they have immediate protection if someone’s credentials should crop up on the internet or the dark web.

Prioritize Password Exposure, Not Expiration

Organizations should rescind the antiquated policy of enforced password resets and only change them in the event that they’re compromised. This minimizes the burden placed on your IT team and, at the same time, helps users select stronger passwords as they won’t have to keep changing them periodically.

Automated Assurance

By assessing passwords on a daily basis, as well as at creation, organizations have perpetual password protection without increasing the IT team’s workload. If an existing password should become vulnerable, the appropriate remediation steps are automated, ensuring that action is taken straightaway without relying on human intervention.

Conclusion

As cybercriminals continue to take advantage of existing vulnerabilities and seek new methods to bypass security measures, IT teams need to adapt accordingly and strive to become more agile in order to defend against these bad actors. Instead of scrambling to incorporate the latest and greatest security tools, organizations need to bolster their cybersecurity strategies and not neglect securing the password layer.

If you’re not 100% satisfied with your current IT services provider, or if you’re looking to free up your in-house IT personnel by outsourcing some of their duties to a team of certified professionals, DataGroup Technologies is here to help. Give us a call today at 252.329.1382!

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How To Identify & Protect Against DDoS Attacks

How To Identify & Protect Against DDoS Attacks

A DDoS attack may be one of the least sophisticated forms of cyberattacks, but it has the potential to be one of the most disruptive and most powerful – and it can be incredibly challenging to prevent and mitigate.

If you’ve ever heard about a website being “brought down by hackers,” it typically means that the site has fallen victim to a DDoS attack. Essentially, hackers have attempted to cause the website to crash by saturating it with an excessive amount of traffic.

To find out how to identify and protect your business against DDoS attacks, read on…

WHAT IS A DDoS ATTACK?

A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is a malicious assault launched from large clusters of compromised computer systems and internet-connected devices, including computers, cell phones, routers, and IoT devices. This network of devices, collectively referred to as a botnet, is used to flood the targeted website or its surrounding infrastructure with huge volumes of internet traffic – including incoming messages, connection requests, and fake packets. 

The ultimate aim of a DDoS attack is to disrupt the normal traffic of a targeted server, service, network, website, device, or application in order to prevent legitimate users from accessing it. 

A successful DDoS attack can take the service offline for a significant period of time, ranging from seconds to weeks at a time. The impact of such an attack can be extremely destructive to any online organization, leading to loss of revenue, erosion of consumer trust, and long-term reputation damage. Considering the sheer volume of devices involved, these multi-person, multi-device barrages are usually harder to fend off.

DDoS attacks are favorite weapons of choice for hacktivists, cyber vandals, extortionists, and anyone else seeking to make a statement or support a cause. Attackers’ motivations might be to cause mischief, exact revenge, or may even serve as a smokescreen for other nefarious activities, including breaching the target’s security perimeter.

3 COMMON TYPES OF DDoS ATTACKS

DDoS attacks can be divided into three primary categories:

Application-layer (or layer 7) attacks overload an application or server with a large number of requests requiring resource-intensive handling and processing. If the target receives millions of these requests in a short period of time, it can very quickly get overwhelmed and either slow to a crawl or freeze up completely. Size is measured in requests per second (RPS). Examples include: HTTP floods, slow attacks, and DNS query flood attacks. 

Network-layer (or layer 3-4) attacks send large numbers of packets to the targeted network’s infrastructures and management tools. Size is measured in packets per second (PPS). Examples include: UDP floods, SYN floods, NTP amplification, DNS amplification, and Smurf attacks.

Volume-based attacks use massive amounts of bogus traffic to overwhelm a resource such as a website or server. Size is measured in bits per second (BPS). Examples include: ICMP, UDP, and spoofed-packet flood attacks.

HOW DOES A DDoS ATTACK WORK?

Cybercriminals commandeer internet-connected machines by carrying out malware attacks; or, alternately, they gain access by utilizing the default username and password the product is issued with – assuming the device is password-protected at all. Once attackers have infiltrated the device, it becomes part of a botnet that they control. Botnets can vary in size from a reasonably small number of compromised devices – known as “zombies” – to millions of them.

These machines could be located anywhere in the world – thus the term “distributed” – and it’s doubtful the owners of the devices even realize what they’re being used for, as it’s likely the devices have been appropriated by hackers. The botnet can then be used to inundate a website or server with a superabundance of “fake” internet traffic.

Servers, networks, and other online services are equipped to handle a certain amount of traffic. But if they’re swamped with a horde of traffic such as occurs in a DDoS attack, systems can become overloaded. The high volume of traffic being transmitted by the DDoS attack clogs up or otherwise interferes with the system’s capabilities, while also prohibiting authorized users from accessing online services (which is where the “denial of service” element comes in).

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’RE UNDER A DDoS ATTACK

Any organization with a web-facing element needs to consider the amount of web traffic it typically receives and prepare for it accordingly. Large volumes of legitimate traffic can engulf servers, leading to slow service or no service – which could conceivably scare off potential customers. But organizations also have to be able to distinguish between genuine web traffic and a DDoS attack.

Consequently, capacity planning is a vital element of operating any website, with careful consideration given to determining what is an anticipated, typical amount of traffic and what extraordinarily high or unforeseen volumes of authentic traffic might look like. This forethought helps avoid causing interruption of service to users, whether by crashing the site because of high demands or erroneously blocking access due to a DDoS false alarm.

So, how can organizations tell the difference between a bona fide spike in demand and a DDoS attack?

Customarily, an outage brought on by legitimate traffic will only last for a brief period of time. Often the reason for the outage is apparent, such as an online retailer experiencing high demand for a new product, or a new video game’s online servers being flooded with traffic from enthusiastic gamers.

In the case of a DDoS attack, however, there are some unmistakable signs that a malicious and targeted campaign is underway. Oftentimes, DDoS attacks are engineered to cause disruption over a prolonged period of time, which could mean rapid increases in traffic at intervals of time causing frequent outages.

 

Another prime indicator that your organization has, in all likelihood, been hit with a DDoS attack is that online services abruptly slow down or go offline entirely for several days in a row, which could suggest that the services are being targeted by cybercriminals who simply want to wreak as much havoc as possible.

Some of these attackers might be executing an attack merely to cause chaos, while others may have been compensated to target a certain site or service. Still others might be attempting to run some type of extortion racket, vowing to call off the attack in return for a ransom.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE UNDER A DDoS ATTACK

Once it’s become obvious that your organization has been targeted by a DDoS attack, you should construct a timeline of when the issues began and identify how long they’ve persisted, as well as determining which assets like applications, services, and services are affected – and how that is adversely affecting users, customers, and the business in general.

It’s also crucial to notify your web-hosting provider as soon as possible. It’s probable that they will have already recognized the DDoS attack, but contacting them directly may help lessen the impact of a DDoS campaign. If it’s possible for your provider to switch your IP address, this will help prevent the DDoS from having the impact it did previously due to the fact that the attack will be pointing in the wrong direction. Security providers that offer DDoS mitigation services can also help minimize the impact of an attack.

Finally, if you have determined that your site is under attack, notify users about what’s going on as quickly as you can. Consider putting up a temporary site explaining the problem and providing users with steps they can follow in order to continue to use the service. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can also be used to promote this message.

HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST DDoS ATTACKS

Let’s be clear: it’s impossible to completely prevent a DDoS attack. Cybercriminals will continue to attack, and some are going to hit their targets, regardless of the defenses in place. However, there are a few preventative measures your company can take to protect against these types of attacks:

Monitor Your Web Traffic

As previously mentioned, having a clear grasp on what a “regular” level of web traffic looks like, as well as what would be considered abnormal, is critical in helping defend against DDoS attacks or spotting them early.

Keep an eye out for unexplained upsurges in traffic and visits from questionable IP addresses and geolocations, as these could be signs of cyberattackers executing “dry runs” to test your defenses prior to committing to a full-blown attack.

Some security experts suggest setting up alerts that will inform you if the number of requests for access exceeds a certain threshold. While this might not conclusively point to malicious activity, it does at least provide an advance warning that something sinister might be in the works.

Configure Your Firewalls and Routers

Firewalls and routers can play a prominent role in minimizing the damage of a DDoS attack. If configured properly, they can divert fake traffic by identifying it as potentially perilous and intercepting it before it ever arrives.

For optimum results, keep your firewalls and routers up-to-date with the latest security patches, as these systems remain your first line of defense against cyberthreats.

Plan Ahead And Be Ready to Respond

Initiate a rapid response plan, establishing procedures for your customer support and communication teams, not only for your IT professionals. Appoint a group of people within the organization whose duty it is to lessen the impact of a potential attack.

Enlisting the services of a third party to conduct DDoS testing – known as “pen testing” – can help detect your organization’s vulnerabilities, a crucial element of any protection protocol. DDoS testing simulates an attack against your IT infrastructure to see how it responds, enabling you to be even better prepared when the moment of truth arrives.

Consider Using Artificial Intelligence

While advanced firewalls and intrusion detection systems are most commonly used to stave off DDoS attacks, artificial intelligence (AI) is also being used to develop new systems.

These systems are designed to rapidly redirect internet traffic to the cloud for further analysis. Any traffic that’s determined to be malicious in nature can then be blocked before it ever reaches a company’s computers.

Not only might such programs be capable of recognizing and protecting against known DDoS indicative patterns, the self-learning capabilities of AI could also help anticipate and pinpoint DDoS patterns as well.

In addition, researchers are exploring the idea of using blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – to allow people to share their untapped bandwidth in order to absorb the malicious traffic generated in a DDoS attack and render it useless.

Enable Comprehensive Security

Botnets are often built on devices with little to no integrated security features. Many IoT devices – “smart” machines that connect to the internet for greater functionality and efficiency – come with default usernames and passwords which many consumers neglect to immediately change after purchasing the devices.

Secure, unique passwords should be established for all devices connected to the internet, both within and outside the business environment – particularly if the organization encourages employees to use their own devices to perform their duties from time to time.

To further protect all your devices from malware – which, as we have seen, can directly aid in executing DDoS attacks – it’s important to make sure that comprehensive security solutions are being deployed. Make an effort to do some research and commit to cybersecurity solutions for your business that you can trust.

Final Thoughts

Despite the various measures an organization can take to help prevent a DDoS attack, some attempts will still be successful anyway. The fact of the matter is, if cyberattackers truly wish to take down an online service and have enough resources in place, they’ll do everything they can to succeed in their efforts.

However, if businesses are well-acquainted with the warning signs, it is possible to be prepared in the event that a DDoS attack does occur.

Cybersecurity has never been more important. We live in an increasingly connected world which enables cyberattackers to constantly find new ways to carry out digital attacks. Even the most vigilant business owners and IT managers become overwhelmed with the stress of maintaining network security and protecting their data.

DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) offers a wide variety of cybersecurity services to help protect your business from cyberthreats, including next-generation firewalls, email security solutions, web and DNS filtering, network security monitoring, operating systems and application security patches, and antivirus software.

If your business could benefit from one or more of these state-of-the-art services, give us a call at 252.329.1382 today!

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Protect Your Business From Spear-Phishing Attacks With These 4 Helpful Hints

Protect Your Business From Spear-Phishing Attacks With These 4 Helpful Hints

Everyone who uses the internet has access to something that a hacker wants. To obtain it, hackers might level a targeted attack directly at you.

Likely objectives may include pilfering customer data in order to commit identity theft, gaining access to a company’s intellectual property for corporate espionage, or acquiring your personal income data in an attempt to steal your tax refund or file for unemployment benefits in your name. 

Targeted attacks, commonly referred to as spear-phishing, seek to fool you into volunteering  your login credentials or downloading malicious software.

Spear-phishing attacks often transpire over email. Hackers typically send a target an “URGENT” message, incorporating plausible-sounding information that’s unique to you – such as something that could have come from your tax returns, social media accounts, or credit card bills.

These schemes often include details that make the sender appear legitimate in order to get you to disregard any warning signs you might detect about the email.

In spite of corporate training and dire warnings to be cautious about who you give your password to, people still get duped by these tactics.

Another byproduct of falling for a spear-phishing scam could be inadvertently downloading malware such as ransomware. You might also be coerced into wiring funds to a cybercriminal’s account.

You can steer clear of the majority of spear-phishing scams by observing the following security measures.

 

Recognize the Basic Signs of Phishing Scams

Phishing emails, texts, and phone calls attempt to trick you into accessing a malicious website, surrendering a password, or downloading an infected file. 

This works particularly well in email attacks, since people often spend their entire day at work clicking on links and downloading files as part of their jobs. Hackers realize this, and try to exploit your natural tendency to click without thinking.

Thus, the number-one defense against phishing emails is to think twice before you click.

Check for indications that the sender is who they purport to be:

  • Look at the “From” field. Is the name of the person or business spelled correctly? Does the email address match the name of the sender, or are there all kinds of random characters in the email address instead?
  • Does the email address seem close, but a little bit off? (For example: Microsft.net or Microsoft.co.)
  • Hover over (don’t click!) any links in the email to scrutinize the actual URLs they will send you to. Do they seem to be legitimate?
  • Note the greeting. Does the sender call you by name? “Customer,” “Sir/Madam,” or the prefix of your email address (“pcutler35”) would be red flags.

Examine the email closely. Is it mostly free from spelling errors and unusual grammar?

Consider the tone of the message. Is it excessively urgent? Is its aim to urge you to do something that you normally wouldn’t?

Don’t Be Fooled By More Advanced Phishing Emails That Employ These Techniques

Even if an email passes the preliminary sniff test defined above, it could still be a ruse. A spear-phishing email might include your actual name, implement more masterful language, and even seem specific to you. It’s just a lot harder to distinguish. Then there are the targeted telephone calls, in which an unknown person or organization calls you and attempts to finagle you into relinquishing information or logging on to a shady website.

Since spear-phishing scams can be so crafty, there’s an added measure of protection you should take before responding to any request that arrives via email or phone. The most significant, preventative step you can take is to safeguard your password.

Never click on a link from your email to another website (real or fraudulent), then enter your account password. Simply log on to your account by manually typing the URL into a browser or access it via a trusted app on your mobile device. Never provide your password to anyone over the phone.

Financial institutions, internet service providers, and social media platforms generally make it a policy to never ask for your password in an email or phone call. Instead, log in to your account by manually typing the URL into your browser or access it via a trusted app on your preferred mobile device.

You can also call back the company’s customer service department to verify that the request is legitimate. Most banks, for example, will transmit secure messages through a separate inbox that you can only access when you’ve logged onto their website.

Combat Phishing By Calling the Sender

If an individual or organization sends you something they say is “IMPORTANT” for you to download, requests that you reset your account passwords, or solicits you to send a money order from company accounts, do not immediately comply. Call the sender of the message – your boss, your financial institution, or even the IRS – and make certain that they actually sent you the request.

If the request arrives by phone, it’s still appropriate to hesitate and corroborate. If the caller claims to be phoning from your bank, you’re well within your rights to inform them that you’re going to hang up and call back on the company’s main customer service line.

A phishing message will often attempt to make its inquiry appear extremely urgent, prompting you to forgo taking the extra step of calling the sender to double-check the veracity of the request. For instance, an email might state that your account has been jeopardized and you should reset your password as soon as possible, or perhaps that your account will be terminated unless you take action by the end of the day.

Don’t freak out! You can always justify taking a few extra minutes to validate a request that could cost you or your business financially, or even mar your reputation.

Lock Down Your Personal Information

Someone who wishes to spear-phish you has to obtain personal details about you in order to put their plan in motion. In some cases, your profile and job title on a company website might be sufficient to inform a hacker that you’re a worthwhile target, for whatever reason.

Alternatively, hackers can take advantage of information they’ve discovered about you as a result of data breaches. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about either of those things.

However, there are certain situations in which you may be divulging information about yourself that could supply hackers with all the data they need to proceed. This is a solid reason to refrain from posting every detail of your life on social media and to set your social accounts to “Private.

Finally, activate two-factor authentication on both your work and personal accounts. This method adds an extra step to the login process, meaning that hackers require more than simply your password in order to access confidential accounts. Thus, if you do end up inadvertently giving away your credentials in a phishing attack, hackers still won’t possess all they need to access your account and make trouble for you.

By taking these tactics to heart, you will be better prepared to avoid common online scams such as spear-phishing attacks.

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