Data Madness: Physical and digital, ensuring that critical data stays safe

With March winding down, it is important to remember the significance of confidential corporate information. Data has been called the new oil, however, as Business Insider pointed out, this is not a great comparison. Unlike oil, more data does not intrinsically mean greater value. The nature of this information greatly matters.

So really, data is more like sediment. Some bits are just pebbles – numerous beyond count and basically interchangeable. However, certain information – like say personal identification information and dedicated analytical data – is immensely valuable. These are the gemstones, the gold, and this data must be protected.

To avoid data madness, or the immense financial and irreparable damage done by lost confidential information, follow these tips to safeguard valuable data:

"Around 23 percent of IT thefts occur in office."

Securing physical data
While many organizations worry about theft from cars, airports or other public places – not enough information is paid to a real danger: the office. According to a Kensington report, 23 percent of IT thefts occur in office. This is nearly 10 percent higher than hotels and airports.

The same report found that over a third of IT personal have no physical protection in place to prevent hardware from being stolen. Only 20 percent used locks to protect hard drives.

While organizations worry about small devices like wearables and smartphones, basic security cannot be overlooked. Companies must take steps to ensure that only employees or approved guests have access to the premises. Even then, not every worker needs universal access. Server rooms and hardware storage should be kept behind additional locks.

IT teams should also be required to keep a thorough inventory of all network-enabled data devices. This will alert the organization quickly should a theft occur. While cybersecurity grabs headlines – the importance of a good, strong physical lock cannot be overstated.

Malicious third parties are not above using simple and primitive tactics.

Protecting digital data
While physical protection is essential, cybersecurity is rising in importance. Gemalto data states that, since 2013, more than 9 billion digital records have been stolen, misplaced or simply erased without authorization. More troubling is the recent increases in data loss. Gemalto also recorded a steady rise data breach occurrence and a dramatic uptick in misplaced or stolen information.

Cybercriminals adapt quickly and their tools are constantly evolving. Deloitte released a report chronicling the increasing tenacity and sophistication of ransomware, a disturbing cyberattack that strips away essential data access from organizations and charges them to get it back. Infamous attacks like WannaCry made headlines last year and unfortunately these incidents are expected to become more common.

When enhancing cybersecurity, take a company-wide approach. Every employee with network access needs to be educated on basic risks. Network administrators should also structure internet connectivity to run on the principle of least privilege. As with the physical server room, not every employee needs access to every file. Permissions should be given sparingly.

Lastly, businesses need a concrete plan if and when a data breach do occur so that they may respond efficiently and swiftly to contain the attack. 

Finding  the point of breach quickly can reduce the damage done by cybercriminals. Finding the point of breach quickly can reduce the damage done by cybercriminals.

The Cloud Advantage
One of the reasons that cloud services are so popular is that they alleviate certain cybersecurity concerns. Many businesses, especially smaller organizations, have budget restrictions, whereas a cloud services provider like Microsoft annually invests $1 billion in cybersecurity, according to Reuters.

Handing off information security concerns to a trusted organization with more resources is a way to help safeguard your data, backing it up so that it will never be lost or stolen by a malicious third party.

Data Madness: The importance of deleting/removing critical data from old devices

You arrive at work and get an immediate call to see the CEO. Upon entering the office, you notice that the CIO and other executives are in the room, as well as several people in suits you don’t recognize. Everyone is looking stressed, brows furrowed and heads bent.

Those new people in suits are lawyers planning the company’s defense to the major data breach that was just detected. The malicious activity occurred last month and the hacker supposedly used your information.

After frantic moments of head scratching, you remember: You sold your smartphone last month. While it was a personal device, you used it to check office email and it had stored access to the company network password.

While data madness often happens when vital data goes missing, it can also occur when data isn’t properly disposed of. Too often, organizations fail to stress the importance of information security at every phase of the hardware’s life cycle. Before a machine can be decommissioned, data must first be thoroughly purged and, in some cases, destroyed.

A broken phone can still house perfectly working data. A broken phone can still house perfectly working data.

Sanitizing data vs. deleting data
In some companies, the temptation is to delete data by moving it to the recycling bin and pressing “empty.” However, this is not enough. According to Secure Data Recovery, data emptied from the recycling bin is not permanently deleted – at least not right away. The computer simply deletes the pathing and labels the information as “free space,” meaning that it can be overwritten by new data.

For all intents and purposes, data deleted from the recycling bin is gone, at least as far as the layperson is concerned. Those with computer programming and specialized skills or software, however, can recover the information and restore it. If you’ve ever done a search for “data recovery” – you will see that these skills are not in short supply.

Yet companies make this mistake all the time. A survey conducted by Blancco found that almost half of all hard drives carried at least some residual data. The same was true for over a third of smartphones. Files such as emails, photos and sensitive company documents were recovered from these devices. To securely delete files requires a more thorough process.

The University of California, Riverside defines data sanitization as “the process of deliberately, permanently, and irreversibly removing or destroying the data stored on a memory device.” Sanitized data drives typically carry no residual data, even with the aid of recovery tools. However, this solution often times requires additional software that will erase and rewrite information multiple times.

Companies have a wide variety of options to choose from when it comes to securing data sanitization software. Microsoft even provides an in-house solution in the form of its tool, data eraser – which has been optimized for PCs and tablets. It’s important to remember that different types of data drives will only be compatible with certain software.

Given the sensitive nature of the material in question, companies should only choose data sanitization software from trust organizations.

Recycling bins - like their physical counterparts - are not known for permanently disposing of trash. Recycling bins – like their physical counterparts – are not known for permanently disposing of trash.

When physical destruction may be needed
However, for some kinds of data, sanitization may not be enough. This can be regulated by internal business policy (such as placing employee payroll information as the most sensitive data) or by government laws like HIPAA – which mandate time-effective data destruction.

In this case, the storage device matters more. Hard disk drives, commonly found in computers and servers, are the easiest to destroy as they operate on magnetic fields. A hard drive degausser can permanently alter these fields, leaving the device completely unreadable.

Solid state drives and flash media are more difficult. Their data storage is circuit-based, rendering a degausser ineffective. These drives should be shredded or destroyed by quality equipment expressly designed for the task. Hard drive data can be recovered after improper destruction, even in extreme cases. ComputerWorld reported that data was restored from the wreckage of the Columbia space shuttle tragedy, illustrating the hardiness of certain drives and the effectiveness of professional data recovery tools.

Safely disposing of data is no easy task and innovations like the internet of things have made it more difficult. Cybercriminals may be developing more sophisticated ransomware but they are also still routinely diving in dumpsters and scoping out secondhand stores for improperly deleted data. Make sure your company is taking the necessary steps to avoid data madness.

Data Madness: Exploring the reliability of in-house data vs. cloud servers

Much is made today about choosing the right kind of data storage. When you’re running a team, the last thing you want is for some crucial information to go missing. Such a setback can be disastrous, especially if the data lost was from a survey or customer response. In addition, you have the added anxiety of only hoping the data was lost, not stolen.

As data madness continues, we’re exploring the most secure methods to backup essential data. In today’s article, we’re putting the two most popular solutions under a microscope: in-house servers and cloud data storage. For many companies, success literally hinges on data security. Know the best method and keep your organization running.

How to keep in-house servers running effectively
The longer a server is in operation, the more likely it is to break down. A Statista report found that only 5 percent of servers broke after the first year. By the fourth year, that number had more than doubled. By year seven, nearly 20 percent of servers failed. While the likelihood of a break is still relatively low after seven years, organizations are clearly taking a huge risk. Executives at this hypothetical company might as well tell their employees that there is only an 80 percent chance for productivity each day.

Servers should be continually replaced and upgraded to be effective at securely housing data. However, age is not the only factor that can cause a server to malfunction. RocketIT stressed the need to continuously upgrade server software to keep it protected and compatible with modern systems.

Since servers are gold mines of confidential data, they are the prime targets for any malicious hacker. Keeping servers up to date not only keeps them running smoothly, it also reduces the risk of viruses and malware being able to infiltrate the hardware.

Lastly, if your business opts for servers then it needs a dedicated, maintained space in which to house them. According to Serverscheck, the ideal server room temperature is between 64-80 degrees Fahrenheit with no more than 60 percent humidity. Servers work best with constant conditions so any change could impact device functionality. In addition, if there is a flood or water leakage in the room, then the organization is at serious risk of data loss.

Servers need dedicated, environmentally-controlled space in order to function at peak levels. Servers need dedicated, environmentally-controlled space in order to function at peak levels.

Choosing the right professional cloud services provider
If your company instead opts for a cloud service provider, it must choose the right provider. There are currently numerous options in the field, with Amazon and Microsoft standing out as the dominant players.

Many cloud service providers use physical servers themselves. Essentially, they handle all the maintenance, storage and cybersecurity responsibilities and charge clients for the operations. While some servers, like Cisco in a recent fiasco, have lost client data, the problem has so far been a rare occurrence, according to The Register.

However, there is another side to cloud data. It can keep existing even when the order is given for deletion, as some celebrities learned in an unfortunate way, according to Wired. If an organization is going to store data through a cloud provider, they should be very careful if and when additional backups are made. Data that survives its intended expiration can be dangerous, especially if the parent company has no idea it exists.

And the most secure data storage method is…
Oxford Dictionaries chronicled the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” as a way of summarizing that you need to choose only one option. With data storage – you can eat as much of your cake as you want, while still having an infinite supply left over. For companies serious about safeguarding data, the best option is simply both.

Backing up data to multiple sources is one of the best ways to ensure that it is never accidently deleted. Just be sure that every copy is secure, to keep classified information out of malicious hands.

Storing data in multiple sites ensures that it lasts longer. Storing data in multiple sites ensures that it lasts longer.

Exploring Microsoft’s new partnership with Symantec

 

Early in February 2018, Microsoft and Symantec announced a partnership, one that allows Symantec to integrate its security solutions with Microsoft Azure and Office 365. The move is an expansion of service alignment, following the October 2017 announcement that Symantec will use the Azure cloud to deliver its Norton consumer-grade cybersecurity software, according to Microsoft.

Both companies have praised the initial move as a win-win. Microsoft gained a valuable vendor and Symantec expanded its potential audience size and improved the delivery system for its products. Evidently, the two organizations enjoyed working with one another, as this latest move represents a definite ramp up in the partnership.

Symantec secures Microsoft’s Cloud
“The collaboration between Microsoft and Symantec brings together advanced network security and intelligent cloud infrastructure… Symantec’s full suite of security and compliance controls complement our broad set of Azure security solutions to provide customers with an ideal, trusted cloud platform,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group, during the expanded partnership announcement.

It is easy to see what Microsoft stands to gain from this partnership. Despite the reputation and history of the product, Azure has been playing aggressive catch up to Amazon’s AWS in terms of user base. According to Gartner research, AWS still leads the market in turns of overall usage, especially in the infrastructure-as-a-service sector. While Microsoft is in secure control of second place, the company is likely looking for ways to transform Azure into the superior product.

Since both Azure and AWS market themselves as widely flexible cloud solutions, the clear advantage may come in terms of cybersecurity standards. Symantec has long been seen as a leader in the antivirus and cybersecurity market. Outfitting the Microsoft Azure and Office 365 platforms with Symantec Web Security Service enables corporate Azure and 365 users to better manage cloud data, prevent information leaks and guard against data breaches.

Cloud services providers are rushing to diversify their solutions to serve a variety of clients. Security measures are still catching up to this design choice. Cloud services providers are rushing to diversify their solutions to serve a variety of clients. Security measures are still catching up to this design choice.

Looking ahead to 2018
Symantec clearly sees the role of cybersecurity providers growing in 2018. The company blog outlined a series of new challenges that it expects to see in the coming year. While 2017 headlines included the dramatic WannaCry ransomware attack, Symantec feels that blockchain – digital record-keeping software made popular through Bitcoin – may headline 2018’s largest cybersecurity concerns. Part of this comes with its wider adoption.

Nokia announced earlier in February that it will use blockchain to power its financial transactions in its new sensing-as-a-service platform and other companies are expected to follow. As blockchain handles increasing amounts of money in the digital space, it is logical to assume the number and intensity of cyberattacks will increase. Symantec expects that cyber criminals will even use artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve their attack methods.

Symantec also expects organizations will struggle with IaaS (the large theater where Microsoft and Amazon are the two main providers). The company feels the flexibility and scalability of these solutions will be the main problem as both will increase the change of errors in implementation and design. This scenario seems likely as not every client using IaaS has an in-house IT team to help facilitate the transition.

Giving Azure and 365 the extra Symantec coverage may be the difference maker in which of the two leading IaaS providers avoids a massive 2018 data breach.

How schools can upgrade their online infrastructure

Nothing is perhaps more important to the U.S.'s future than maximizing the potential of education. It is through mass schooling that children learn the essential social and learning skills that will prepare them for adult life and professional work. While education is a complex process with many different factors affecting outcomes, access to technology clearly plays a role in children's learning.

It is unfortunate then to learn that 6.5 million students in the U.S. still lack broadband, according to Education Superhighway. Broadband is an essential communication medium for educational facilities with large student and teacher populations, as it allows for messages and online actions to be completed simultaneously.

However, broadband is only one crucial aspect of improving online infrastructure in schools and other educational facilities. Further complicating the matter are tight budgets that many of these institutions must operate within. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported, state and local funding is still recovering and is well below what it was in 2008.

With this in mind, schools may have to focus on the most essential upgrades first, spreading out the investments in a way that maximizes learning potential.

The advantages of a fiber connection
Sites like Education Superhighway are big on the advent of fiber in the classroom. According to Techno FAQ, one of fiber's biggest advantages is its reliability. Fiber functions on symmetrical connections, allowing downloads and uploads to happen at the same time without impacting connection speed. The system also tends to be more passive and separated from power lines, meaning that it will likely remain operational during a storm.

Time is precious in schools and fiber is designed for high-speed connections, typically over 1Gbps. This allows educators to stream video content in seconds, without having to pause constantly for buffering videos.

A fiber connection allows for high bandwidth and enables faster broadband. A fiber connection allows for high bandwidth and enables faster broadband.

Planning for increased bandwidth usage
Think of bandwidth like a highway: the more lanes there are, the more easily traffic can flow. In a school situation, every student and teacher is a car on that highway – meaning that things will slow down very quickly with only a couple of lanes. Without proper bandwidth, hardware investments will not work the way they should. Even the most up-to-date tablet cannot magically conjure efficient internet connection on its own. 

Bandwidth management can keep everything flowing smoothly. While schools can (and should, up to a point) purchase more bandwidth, management will help reduce the amount of spending while maximizing efficiency. Techsoup for Libraries recommended bandwidth management to help prioritize which programs get access to the connection speed first.

For instance, a student wrongly downloading a new mobile game should never receive the same bandwidth as a teacher trying to stream a news program for a class. Student devices can even be put on a separate, slower network, freeing up room for the educators to use on lessons.

While schools can have their own servers – many universities do – a cloud services provider can help alleviate this investment. Just be sure that any contracted third party has the proper security certification to be a trusted partner.

"Wearable technology like smartwatches are starting to enter the educational space."

Factoring in IoT and BYOD
Whatever the plan, make sure spending accounts for more than just the computers in the classroom. Everyone, student and teacher, has a smartphone. Numerous other wearable technology like smartwatches and similar products are also starting to enter the educational space. As the internet of things continues to grow, each one of these devices could sap bandwidth away from where it is needed.

This represents a cybersecurity issue, especially as most faculty and students are bringing their own devices. School online infrastructure should carry a layered password system to ensure that access is restricted to authorized users. In addition, the principle of least privilege should be applied.

This will ensure that students on have as many permissions as they need, keeping them away from confidential teacher data. Ideally, the IT team will have oversight and the only administrator privileges on the network. This way if there is a breach, the potential damage will be contained.

Remote monitoring programs are useful tools for school systems that cannot afford to keep a dedicated IT staff in every building. While this software is convenient, schools should be wary of investing in any solution without doing the proper research. A report from Schneider Electric analyzed a possible danger in certain solutions as, if compromised, they provide an open window for cyber criminals to inflict damage.

Students can be placed on a separate network, freeing up bandwidth and reduces the likelihood of a school data breach. Students can be placed on a separate network, freeing up bandwidth and reduces the likelihood of a school data breach.

Preparing for 5G
Any education institution investing in wireless internet infrastructure needs to consider 5G. While not readily available now, 5G has already begun limited rollout and is expected to start becoming widespread in 2020, according to IEEE 5G. This will serve as not only the next telecommunication standard but will also empower higher capacity, massive machine communications.

Essentially, the bandwidth concerns of today may be outdated and a whole new set of possibilities and problems will open up. While it is still too soon to definitively say with certainty what kind of wireless internet infrastructure 5G will bring, schools that need to design systems between now and 2020 should incorporate easy scalability into the infrastructure. It makes no sense to optimize exclusively for platforms that may soon be obsolete.

As schools and other education establishments begin improving online infrastructure, a solid IT solutions provider can help smooth the transition and reduce cost spending. ISG Technology stands ready to do its part in ensuring that the U.S. education system empowers the most complete learning experience in the world. Contact us today to learn how we can help update your infrastructure.

Why phishing is so dangerous

As 2018 begins, the total number of cyberattacks continues to rise. Data from the Identity Theft Resource Center and CyberScout showed there were 1,579 successful data breaches in 2017. This figure represents a nearly 45 percent uptick from the year before. The numbers turns especially troubling when broken out by industry.

On the whole, most sectors are tightening their security measures and reporting fewer breaches. Health care, government, education and financial industries all reported a continued decrease in successful data breaches. While this is good news, there is one market that more than made up for this gradual decline: business. In 2017, the business sector accounted for nearly 60 percent of all breaches. This trend has been steadily increasing since 2013, according to the report.

Part of this is the pace of cyberattack evolution. Businesses invest heavily in methods to prevent one type of cyberattack, only to have hackers change their strategy within months. At that point, the organization has already spent its budget in information security and may be scrambling to allocate more. However, data suggests that one of the simplest forms of cyberattack is still among the most effective: phishing.

"Less than half of all executives understand their company's information security policies."

False sense of safety
While ransomware and other, more elaborate types of cyberattack routinely make the news, phishing has been flying under the radar. Many equate it with stories of foolish people falling for schemes from a Nigerian prince or believing that they had suddenly acquired millions from the government – fantasies that businesses tell themselves they would never fall for.

Data from a couple years ago may also have looked hopeful. A 2016 Symantec report concluded that the overall email spam rate was falling and that fewer phishing bots were being used. This information, likely the result of email server providers like Gmail and Outlook stepping up their sorting technology, may have given a false sense of safety to business executives.

Compound this will another major problem in the business sector: Most executives are in the dark when it comes to understanding cybersecurity concerns. A cybersecurity survey report from BAE systems in 2016 found that less than half of all executives claimed to understand their company's information security policies.

This same survey found that only 60 percent of companies had formal cybersecurity training sessions in place, and that 70 percent of that number only had training roughly once per year. Given how rapidly cyberattacks change and adapt, this strategy would leave companies exposed to vulnerabilities – perhaps more so than other organizations because of the misplaced sense of safety.

"Cyber criminals now create fake websites that look legitimate."

Phishing is getting smarter
Part of Symantec's data – the decline of phishing bots – should not have been received with good news. Especially when, according to Comodo Threat Intelligence Lab data, the overall number of phishing attacks continues to increase. Bots are, for lack of a more proper term, dumb. They follow predictable formulas that can be easily filtered into spam boxes and out of employees' vision.

However, phishing has gotten smarter. One of the new methods outlined in Comodo's report is called "clone phishing." In this scenario, hackers intercept an authentic email communication, typically from an executive, and recreate it nearly flawlessly. The fake email is then sent to the employee in the hopes of getting a response.

In addition, the practice of spear phishing is on the rise. Most early phishing was a mass attack – the same email or recorded message sent to many people, hoping to snag a minority of those contacted. Spear phishing is more precise. This phishing tactic learns of the victim's personal information and uses it. This means that the phishing message may include real names, dates and relevant organizations – all factors that will make the communication look more genuine.

Phishing has also gotten more complex in the sense that it has evolved past emails, phone calls and text message. Cyber criminals now create fake websites – similar to originals – that look legitimate. However, these malicious sites often betray themselves in the domain name, which is typically longer or more complicated than it needs to be. These website forgeries will almost never use common domain names like .com or .org.

Everyone is a target
According to the Comodo report, 50 percent of employees will open an email from an unknown sender if it lands in their inbox. This number alone explains the increasing amount of phishing attacks, as well as why they are such a prevalent method. Every employee is a potential target.

Phishing stresses the need for comprehensive employee training at every level. Even one person being compromised can put an entire organization at risk. For example, if an entry level analyst is targeted and successfully breached, the hacker or malicious group may be in possession of the network passwords, meaning that they suddenly share his or her level of access. This can be used to install ransomware or other harmful programs. 

Every employee who receives corporate emails on a professional or personal device is the potential victim of phishing.Every employee who receives corporate emails on a professional or personal device is the potential victim of phishing.

Training to beat phishing
Information shows that training sharply decreases the likelihood of phishing success. A PhishMe report concluded that susceptibility fell to roughly 20 percent after relevant sessions on improved cybersecurity practices occurred.

Even these newer, smarter methods of phishing have telling signs. CSO stressed that malicious emails are usually more threatening or urgent than typical office communication. This is part of cyber criminals' strategy, as panicked employees are less likely to think clearly if they legitimately believe their job is on the line.

Employees should also be advised to carefully check the sender's name. If it is an unknown sender, all emails should be double-checked with the supervisor before response. Spelling and grammar are also more likely to have mistakes as cyber criminals have no corporate standard or editing department.

Business companies should be willing to partner with the experts to ensure the best training and prep programs for their employees. IT service providers like ISG prepare cybersecurity compliance as part of our extensive product portfolio. Consult with us today to find out how we can help secure your company against future data breaches. 

Critical Cisco Systems Vulnerability: Patching Needed

On January 31st, Cisco Systems disclosed a vulnerability allowing up to complete control of a device from the Internet, affecting Cisco ASA Software that is running on several Cisco products.  The purpose of this blog post is to:

  • Help you understand the issue
  • Point you to trusted resources to explain it in more depth
  • Determine how you can protect yourself against it

The Issue

Cisco Systems released an advisory and a patch for a vulnerability allowing up to complete control of a device from the Internet.

What You Should Do

Check the following systems for the webvpn configuration, and if enabled for external communications, the systems need the patch from Cisco.

Vulnerable Products[1]

This vulnerability affects Cisco ASA Software that is running on the following Cisco products:

  • 3000 Series Industrial Security Appliance (ISA)
  • ASA 5500 Series Adaptive Security Appliances
  • ASA 5500-X Series Next-Generation Firewalls
  • ASA Services Module for Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series Switches and Cisco 7600 Series Routers
  • ASA 1000V Cloud Firewall
  • Adaptive Security Virtual Appliance (ASAv)
  • Firepower 2100 Series Security Appliance
  • Firepower 4110 Security Appliance
  • Firepower 9300 ASA Security Module
  • Firepower Threat Defense Software (FTD)

What ISG Is Doing

Currently, the ISG Data Centers are following our normal process for patching, with additional analysis for the critical configuration problems.  Our service engineers are available to assist any customer with any Cisco product help in regards to this issue and any other issue.

References & Further Information

Please view the Cisco advisory linked below for more technical details on the products and vulnerability.  Ars Technica also produced a story about the issue: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2018/01/cisco-drops-a-mega-vulnerability-alert-for-vpn-devices/

[1] https://tools.cisco.com/security/center/content/CiscoSecurityAdvisory/cisco-sa-20180129-asa1 

Video: The Anatomy of an Attack – Vol. 2

Watch Cisco’s Ransomware Video: The Anatomy of an Attack to see how an effective ransomware attack comes together. This is why today’s enterprises require effective security. Learn how Cisco Email Security and Umbrella DNS provide dynamic security against ransomware. Umbrella DNS is cloud-based to provide security for all users on or off a network – essential cover for mobile devices and employees working out of office.

Only suspicious websites are redirected by Umbrella DNS for further investigation, offering robust security without compromising network speed or performance. If you manage to connect to a malicious website, Umbrella DNS blocks the site from requesting data, protecting your network until the threat is removed.

When you put ISG Technology to work for you, you don’t just put industry leading security experts on your team, you put security at the top of your priority list. You put the concern that someone might be selling you a short-sighted solution to the wayside. You put trust back where it belongs – on your side.

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Video: Cisco Umbrella Overview

Cisco Umbrella is a cloud security platform that provides the first line of defense against threats on the internet.