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6 things your managed IT services provider should be doing to protect you

Hiring a managed IT services provider is both a challenge and a necessity.

Today’s digital markets are experiencing escalating levels of cyber crimes so having an IT security expert is a requirement. However, the variety of services available and the extent to which those services are offered make it difficult to know which provider is right for your enterprise.

If you’re searching for a managed IT service to help with your organization’s security needs, consider how these options match up with your security concerns.

Protecting internal assets

Ensuring a tight digital perimeter is the first step to securing a company. Your managed IT services provider should ensure that your internal processes are safe.

Access to data

Most companies use authentication procedures to ensure only those authorized to access corporate data can access that information. These days, multi-level authentications are common and require every worker to pass through at least two portals to enter into company information vaults. You can also use the access process to limit who gets into which database, which is another security option.

Email safety

One of today’s biggest security threats is the phishing email. Your provider should have a robust spam and phishing filter to reduce or eliminate these threats.

Higher, stronger firewalls

One of the earliest forms of cyber protection remains one of its most valued services. Firewalls are hard- or software barriers that impede access by anyone without authority. Today’s firewalls deter known threats and can be reconfigured when new ones are discovered.

Protecting against external threats

Even with excellent internal protections, cybercriminals are still devising new threats to defeat them.

DDoS (Distributed Denial of Services)

These attacks are more frequent these days. They use multiple computers to attack a target server or network, then prevent users from accessing that server or network.

The nefarious brains behind the attack can be anyone from a single hacker to an organized crime ring (yes, those exist in cyberspace now). These attacks usually begin with the exploitation of a vulnerability within a server or network, which gives the attacker both an entry point and a home base. From here, the criminal can access multiple other computers, servers, and networks, infect them with malware, and cause the crash of the entire enterprise.

It’s worth it to pay more for heightened DDoS protections.

Mobile device vulnerabilities

Today’s “BYOD” (bring your own device) culture often permits workers to use their personal mobile devices for work purposes. By doing so, however, they open up innumerable vulnerabilities that most corporate security systems aren’t designed to handle.

Some companies curtail the threat with robust BYOD policies while others prohibit the practice entirely. Your managed IT services provider can identify for you how best to handle this situation within your organization.

IoT considerations

Think of the Internet of Things (IoT) explosion as an extension of the BYOD concern, only as a much, much bigger threat. There are hundreds of IoT devices available, some of which may already be installed in your facilities. Most of these digital items have little or no internal security features, so they can operate as an open portal within your enterprise.

Look for a comprehensive cybersecurity package that includes your IoT assets.

On a final note, remember that top-notch security doesn’t equate to complete compliance. If your company has compliance obligations, be certain that your new provider structures your services to meet those, too.

Is blockchain the antidote to all cybersecurity woes?

Blockchain has been turning heads since it was first unveiled in 2008 to become the backbone of then relatively unknown cryptocurrency, bitcoin. Since then, blockchain and Bitcoin have skyrocketed in public awareness, with the latter becoming the most successful cryptocurrency in history. A large portion of bitcoin's success is due to its blockchain infrastructure, which prevents the duplication of funds (preventing double-spending) and automatically time-stamps every transaction.

The developer (or developers) behind blockchain created the software to be resistant to alteration or hacking, making it one of the more inherently secure systems that companies can use to manage secure infrastructures. Some have heralded blockchain as the ultimate tool to promote cybersecurity and reduce the risk of data breaches.

Then bitcoin, in addition to several other cryptocurrencies, were hacked. According to CNN, the attack erased the equivalent of billions of dollars and sent the value of the affected cryptocurrencies plunging. The incident has many questioning just how secure blockchain is and whether the software was simply a temporary fix, like so many others, against the ever-present threat of cyberattacks.

"Blockchain can give each registered device a specific SSL certificate for authentication."

The case for blockchain
While buzzwords are common in the tech industry, there are several legitimate reasons why blockchain has been celebrated as a secure platform. According to Info Security Magazine, one of blockchain's primary appeals is its decentralized data storage. While users can access blockchain data on a computer or mobile device, the program itself is typically stored throughout the network.

If one access point – or block – is targeted by hackers, then the other blocks will react to it. The attempted cyberattack will likely alter the data on the block in a way that is immediately noticeable by the rest of the chain. This block will then simply be disconnected, isolating the malicious data before it can impact the system.

Another helpful advantage of blockchain is its effectiveness against dedicated denial of service attacks. These cyberattacks target the domain name system, flooding it with so much data traffic that it essentially shuts down. Using blockchain software would allow the DNS to spread its contents to more nodes, reducing the effectiveness of the DDoS attack before it reaches a crippling stage.

Networks using a blockchain infrastructure can also bypass the need for passwords in certain situations. Instead of using the human-oriented password system, blockchain can give each registered device a specific SSL certificate. This mode of authentication is a lot more difficult for outside sources to access, reducing the likelihood of a hack.

Removing dependence on passwords may sound less secure but it is actually seen as an improvement. Employees can be careless with their login information or choose passwords that can be easily deduced by third parties. Eliminating the human factor from authentication actually goes a long way by removing one of the most common exploit points.

However, no system is 100 percent secure.

The McAfee Report
While many companies preach the value of blockchain, global computer security software company McAfee recently released a critical report on the software, stating that industries have every reason to expect cyberattacks. McAfee looked at early blockchain adapters, namely cryptocurrencies, and studied the types of cyberattacks still occurring within these companies.

The report identified four primary attack types: implementation exploits, malware, phishing and general technology vulnerabilities. Certain cryptocurrencies themselves have been used to help the spread of advanced malware, including ransomware. Coin miner malware alone grew by 629 percent in the first quarter of 2018, according to McAfee data.

Cybercriminals have also been using cryptocurrencies to mask their identities, taking advantage of blockchain's secure features to help them evade the law.

Blockchain builds its infrastructure securely, but not in a manner that is invulnerable. Blockchain builds its infrastructure securely, but not in a manner that is invulnerable.

What companies can learn from the cryptocurrency attack
Lastly, however, the attack of the cryptocurrencies themselves should highlight the limitations of blockchain. While the program may be innately secure, it is not an excuse to abandon other forms of caution. Technology is spreading at a rapid pace with information security specialists struggling to catch up.

In short, blockchain should be seen as just another tool and not a cure-all for cyberattacks. Its architecture can be helpful but must be implemented in a thorough, professional manner. Even then, it should also be paired with other programs and employee training to best reduce the risk of cybercrime.

How cave fish may help prevent IoT jamming

Jamming is a potential crippling blow to internet of things-enabled hardware. It can bring down drones from the sky, disrupt network connections and lead to economic downtime. In the cybersecurity arena, jamming is more commonly known as dedicated denial of service attacks. According to a CORERO DDoS trend report, this method of cyberattack increased by an incredible 91 percent in 2017.

IoT devices are behind this surge in DDoS attacks, as many lack comprehensive cybersecurity protocols and can be easily jammed. While this deterrent is not enough to slow the pace of IoT adoption, enterprises hoping to make use of mass IoT market penetration must be aware of the risks, as well as what is being done to prevent IoT jamming.

Luckily, a recent study published in Optics Express gives some hope against rampant DDoS cybercrime. As with many technological innovations, the potential salvation is inspired by a system that already works inside the animal kingdom.

Studying the Eigenmannia
The Eigenmannia are a species of cave fish that exist in total darkness. Without light, these creatures need another way to hunt, communicate and otherwise "see" within the perpetual darkness. The researchers studying these fish discovered that they emitted an electric field to sense the environment and communicate with other fish.

Because two or more of these animals could emit the field near one another, the species had to have a way to stop the signal from getting disrupted, otherwise the fish couldn't thrive. The scientists learned the Eigenmannia have the ability to alter their signals. This capability is due to a unique neural algorithm in their brain activity. The purpose and function of the field remains in tact, but its frequency is changed just enough to avoid confusion.

This same trait can be harnessed to help create a light-based jamming avoidance response device.

Drones if jammed run the risk of damaging hardware and products. If jammed, drones run the risk of damaging hardware and products.

Creating a jamming avoidance response device
When two IoT devices operating on the same frequency come close to each other, the fields become crossed, and jamming occurs. The closer the two pieces of hardware drift, the more the disruption intensifies.

However, with a JAR device, similar to the natural solution used by Eigenmannia, these IoT components could adjust their frequency, preserving the function of the signal while avoiding jamming. Using a light-based system would enable IoT devices to shift through a wide range of frequencies.

The resulting machine, created by the research team, shows promise.

"This could allow a smarter and more dynamic way to use our wireless communication systems without the need for the complicated coordination processes that currently prevent jamming, by reserving whole sections of bandwidth for specific phone carriers or users such as the military," said team lead Mable P. Fok.

While it won't single-handedly eliminate the threat of DDoS attacks, JAR device usage on a large scale has some advantages. Essentially, it is a low-cost solution for any agency that utilizes a plethora of IoT content. In addition to the aforementioned military use case, health care facilities like hospitals, air traffic control towers and even educational institutions could find immediate value in this technology.

Since a JAR device would likely lower the bandwidth needed for IoT hardware interaction, DDoS attacks could become less expensive. As these attacks continue to become more prevalent, the value of this research will likely increase. Designing IoT devices on software that can shift frequency will reduce costs and, hopefully, a more secure IoT landscape.