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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4 Helpful Tips For Keeping Your Passwords Secure

4 Helpful Tips For Keeping Your Passwords Secure

Individuals and organizations get hacked every day. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes it’s because the hacker is smart, and sometimes it’s because the users’ passwords are weak. Oftentimes, it’s both.

If you want to boost your protection against hackers, password security is paramount.

Here are four simple steps for ensuring that your accounts stay as protected as possible at all times:

Create Long, Unique Passwords

It’s crucial that you use a unique password on each of your online accounts. If you don’t do this, it could be easy for hackers to access a number of your accounts by cracking just one password. Cyberattackers actually count on you not taking this important step. A popular hacking approach called credential stuffing involves hackers trying your password across multiple sites to see how many of them they can successfully access.

Not only should all passwords be unique, they should also be long and complex. While a more complicated password doesn’t necessarily make it stronger, having a long password is the most important aspect. Experts recommend using passphrases in order to make the password longer, but also easier for you (and only you) to remember. The quirkier the phrase, the better. Substituting characters for certain letters can also help strengthen the password.

For instance, the absurd passphrase “dancing eggplants ate the cake” could be further bolstered by changing it to “d@nc!ng eggpl@nt$ 8 t#e c@ke.” While this does make the precise password more difficult to recall, it’s easier than picking a completely random password that’s 20+ characters long.

Keep it simple by using a memorable line from your favorite book, a special-to-you song title, or the name of your favorite film. This will ensure that the password is easy to recall, while retaining the length you need it to be for maximum security.

Use a Password Manager

A password manager is simply an online tool that helps remember your passwords for you. As well as logging all your passwords to make them easy for you to access, many popular password managers often tie into breach services such as HaveIBeenPwned and will notify you if your credentials have appeared in any known hacks.

Keep a Password Book

While password managers are pretty secure, some people prefer to keep a physical notepad for listing all their passwords. This is a perfectly acceptable practice, provided you make sure to keep it in a safe location and never take it out with you. In any case, a password book still beats using the same one or two passwords for every account you have.

For people who frequently travel, a password book is not an ideal option, especially if the book is stored alongside devices that could be easily lost or stolen.

Enable Two-Step Verification

Two-step verification or multi-factor authentication – when one or other means of authentication are required along with your password in order to access accounts – are among the best ways to keep your accounts secure. Some websites and apps – such as Apple’s Face ID and Touch ID on the iPhone – already have this type of verification built into them for security purposes.

Other authenticating tools, such as the Yubico YubiKey – a physical security key that you plug into your device – and the Authy app – which generates a code you can use in addition to your password – are other good options to try.

Conclusion

In addition to the tips provided above, there are other security measures you can take to further protect your accounts.

Always be wary of emails and texts claiming to be from a familiar service, such as a website or app you use frequently, especially if these messages are asking you to enter your credentials. These types of requests are almost always fraudulent. The sender – likely a hacker in sheep’s clothing – is probably attempting to gain access to your login and password.

Whenever you’re unsure about whether a request of this nature is legitimate, contact your IT department or IT service provider. Don’t compromise your security by careless actions online!

For more cybersecurity tips or to schedule a free IT assessment for your company, contact DataGroup Technologies here or by calling us at 252.329.1382!

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7 Steps to Securing Your Business Website

7 Steps To Securing Your Business Website

by Cody McBride

Maybe you’re getting ready to launch your small business website, but you’re concerned that your site will be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Or perhaps your website has been live for some time now, but your company’s data was recently compromised by a hacker, and you want to avoid dealing with the same situation in the future.

If you’re concerned about whether or not your company’s website is truly secure, the best first step is to consult with a trusted IT service provider. But even with support from IT experts, understanding a few basic cybersecurity principles is crucial if you’re operating your business in the digital space. Here are a few strategies that small business owners can apply in order to keep their websites secure.

Hire Expert Support

 If you’re new to the world of cybersecurity, you may not know where to begin when it comes to keeping your website safe from hackers and cyberattacks. But you don’t have to figure it all out on your own through trial and error. For instance, if you’re developing custom applications for internal use that will be integrated with your website, you can hire a software developer who can install appropriate security protections. In addition, you can work with a cybersecurity expert if you need further guidance.

You can even keep security at the forefront when you start developing your website. By hiring a WordPress developer with a proven background in cybersecurity, you can rest assured that your website will include features specifically intended to protect your company and your customers. If you’re not sure what to look for when hiring a developer, you can check out their portfolio and case studies from their work with previous clients.

Educate Your Team

 Chances are, you’re not the only person at your company who accesses your website from the backend. If your employees also have access to internal functions for your website, you will need to spend some time educating them on cybersecurity. Virtu recommends implementing and enforcing a strong password policy that requires employees to create long, complex passwords and change them every three months. You can also task a web administrator with creating strict access policies for different functions and train your employees to recognize phishing attempts. And should you ever update the security protections for your website with the help of an IT support provider, hold an additional training session with your employees to make sure they’re in the know.

Install SSL

 If you’re unfamiliar with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, it’s important to learn a bit more about why your website needs this certification. Sucuri states that setting up an SSL certificate enables your website to use an HTTPS protocol for secure information transfers. This ensures that data like credit card information and other personally identifiable information from contact forms stays protected. If your website lacks this certification, you cannot guarantee to your customers that you are making every effort to keep their information safe. You can add an SSL certification to your website simply by seeking out a hosting service that offers this option for free.

Use Anti-Malware Software

 By installing anti-malware software for your website, you can protect your business from viruses. Today, it’s all too easy to accidentally download malware, and doing so can cause all kinds of problems for your company. You might get locked out of your website or expose your customers to security risks. You can research different versions of anti-malware software and find an option that suits your needs and budget.

Run Software Updates

 When your hosting provider prompts you to update your software, you do not want to push this task to the backburner. Outdated software may have lackluster security protections. On the other hand, newer software will likely include features that make it easier to secure your website. Furthermore, updating your software will give you access to new functions that enable you to modernize your website and run it efficiently. Perhaps you’ve been putting off a software update for a while, but it’s a good idea to take care of this as soon as you have the chance.

Back Up Your Data

 If your website is compromised, your data could be corrupted or even erased. This would be a frustrating situation for any small business owner. But since no cybersecurity protections can completely prevent attacks, it’s a good idea to back up your website’s data, just in case. You may be able to do this by using a cloud solution or by storing your data with hardware. Should a hacker ever gain access to your website, you can at least rest assured that you will not lose access to your own data, and you will be able to get your website back up and running.

Be Aware of Scams

Unfortunately, it’s quite common for hackers to run scams targeted at business websites. And even people who are relatively tech-savvy can easily fall victim to these scams. That’s why it’s important to read up on common scams that are aimed at business websites and talk to your employees about the tactics that these scammers use. For example, if you ever get an email claiming that it is allegedly from your web hosting provider that contains a link, double-check the email address and consider calling your provider to confirm that they sent it to you. Otherwise, clicking the link could enable a hacker to gain access to your website.

Today, the internet makes it easier than ever to run your own business – but this low barrier to entry has also introduced new risks, like dealing with cybersecurity threats. However, your website does not have to be susceptible to cyberattacks. With these tips, you’ll be able to ensure the safety of your business website and keep your data private.

Final Thoughts

Interested in learning more about DataGroup Technologies’ IT services? We’re here for you! Find out how choosing us as your IT partner will provide the support you need to gain a competitive edge in your industry. Reach out to us at 252.329.1382 today or drop us a line here to schedule a quick 15-minute discovery call with our team.

 

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Guest blogger Cody McBride’s love for computers stems from high school when he built his own computer. Today he is a trained IT technician and knows how the inner workings of computers can be confusing to most. He is the creator of TechDeck.info where he offers easy-to-understand, tech-related advice and troubleshooting tips.

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Why Increased Connectivity Means More Cyber Risks

Why Increased Connectivity Means More Cyber Risks

We are living in an increasingly connected world. With each day that passes, we get more and more reliant on social media and messaging platforms for both social and professional functions. And our smartphones are not the only smart devices that are taking over our lives. Today, an estimated 10.07 billion connected or smart devices are in use across the planet. And by the end of the decade, Statista expects this to rise to 25.44 billion devices. And while this will greatly improve how people across the world communicate with each other, there is also the increased risk of cyberthreats.

The Connected Planet

Today, platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn have become part and parcel of life and business. The 2020 lockdown orders which forced people to stay at home across the country further increased our reliance not just on social media, but other connected technologies. For modern and digitizing enterprises, it’s become crucial to have an IT support staff that can facilitate the creation and development of safe, connected, and streamlined platforms for online work.

This rapid rise in connectivity is even more apparent in the latest industrial smart tech applications. Today, connected technologies are revolutionizing operations across the global supply chain. Verizon Connect details how modern cargo fleets are increasingly utilizing vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and other smart technologies to address pain points and streamline productivity. Through wireless protocols similar to Wi-Fi, the wealth of data from V2V technologies is now being leveraged to improve a host of smart logistics tech. This includes semi-autonomous fleets, smart fuel optimization systems, and vehicle-to-network (V2N) technology, which expands V2V applications to include traffic systems and other transport infrastructure.

The Risks of Global Connectivity

All of these advances in connectivity have two things in common: they make our lives easier – but they also exponentially increase cyber risk. In a nutshell, every new digital connection that’s enabled by any of the above-mentioned technologies is a potential gateway for a hacker. And that hacker can either take money from your bank account, compromise your organization’s network, or use stolen data to take down the systems of large government or corporate entities.

So, while V2N technologies are enabling the creation of efficient and intelligent transport systems (ITS), they’re also exposing global logistics to potential distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS is a strategy in which hackers overwhelm a system with more actions than it can process. And it can be a particularly effective way of not just shutting down but controlling the world’s emerging ITS. Today, cybersecurity firm Trend Micro Incorporated estimates that over 125 million vehicles with V2N connectivity will ship across the world from 2018 to 2022. The firm explains that this is creating an increasingly complex ecosystem of connected devices – each of which is a potential vulnerability for hackers to exploit.

Moreover, with the arrival and continued evolution of 5G, there will be exponential increases to both connectivity and cyber risk. And these developments can already be observed in the cargo fleets and logistics systems that run the global supply chain – on which food, health, retail, and other major global industries depend.

The Modern Hacker

This underscores a crucial aspect of examining and responding to cyber risk today. Literally every smart object or device has the potential to become the perfect tool for persistent hackers. In fact, even basic cybersecurity protocols designed to reduce connectivity risks can be leveraged for attacks.

Business software integration company SolarWinds learned this the hard way when their network, which was built to create and protect the networks of other enterprises, was used to hack its clients. The attack happened on the tail end of 2020. The malicious code was disguised as a regular software update from SolarWinds. And as any IT support staff can attest to, making sure that your software is constantly updated significantly decreases cyber risk. However, in this case, what happened was the exact opposite. Before the attack was discovered and ended, large amounts of sensitive data had already been stolen from every company that was diligent enough to quickly update their SolarWinds software. Following the combined and months-long investigations of private and government entities, Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger said that “9 federal agencies and about 100 private sector companies were compromised.”

This includes several national U.S. departments such as the Treasury, Commerce, Energy, State, and even Homeland Security. Alarmingly, it also pierced the defenses of several tech giants and Fortune 500 companies, including Intel, Cisco, Nvidia, and VMWare. And most importantly, this threat isn’t over yet.

Final Thoughts

The attack on SolarWinds was traced back to a criminal group originating in Russia, according to the FBI. And according to Microsoft, they may have struck again. The software giant identifies the attacker as an entity called “Nobelium.” After examining patterns of attack and entryways which again were traced back to connected technology, Microsoft says that Nobelium’s more recent attacks were focused on gathering intelligence from 3,000 individuals and 150 companies. Alongside malicious updates, the attacks now include customized emails and diplomatic invitations for each target – all of which are involved in a variety of international development, human rights, and humanitarian work in 24 different countries. Microsoft explains that “when coupled with the attack on SolarWinds, it’s clear that part of Nobelium’s playbook is to gain access to trusted technology providers and infect their customers.”

With stellar connectivity comes greater risk. In the increasingly connected world, there is an even more pressing need to focus on reducing cyber risk and strengthening IT security. This is as true for technology providers and enterprises as it is for individuals who go online on a daily basis. While defending networks is a task that’s best left to the experts, in the age of exponentially increasing connectivity, managing the cyber risk is everyone’s job.

At DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI), we offer a wide variety of cybersecurity services to help protect your business from cyberthreats, including: security risk assessments, email security solutions, web and DNS filtering, next-generation firewalls, network security monitoring, operating system and application security patches, antivirus software, and security awareness training. If you’re interested in learning more about your cybersecurity services, please call 252.329.1382 today or contact us here. 

 

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Article written exclusively for dtinetworks.com by Alicia Rupert

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