Infection protection: Nine steps to start protecting your company today

Infection protection: Nine steps to start protecting your company today

Malware is a generic term that covers all manner of software that is designed to attack your devices, applications, programs, and networks. It is software that has bad intentions. Yes, stealing. Either by directly pulling money out of accounts, or improperly acquiring data that ultimately provides access to funds. Example: Stealing your SSN and setting up a credit card to use that info, or convincing you to provide the password to your checking account. Others will snatch your organization’s data and hold it for ransom. As usual, it is all about money. What can you do?

Nine steps to avoid malware

1) Don’t go it alone – As a small- to medium-sized business, you have limited resources, all of which need to be focussed on running the business and planning for the future. That makes it difficult to direct an IT operation that has the depth to address all of the security issues you face. For example, a business owner cannot possibly keep up with the changes and details of tax laws. Doing it themselves, they would likely overlook important tax advantages or inadvertently break some IRS rule. As a result, tax preparation and accounting above the level of basic bookkeeping is outsourced to an outside accounting firm. You should consider looking at IT in the same way.

2) Pay attention to those update windows – Don’t procrastinate. Those update requests aren’t just for adding a new feature. Each update probably addresses some vulnerability in the software that could be exploited by a virus. You may also want to consider outsourcing this project. In a complex business, there is a long list of installed software that needs to be updated. An MSP can coordinate that project and handle any glitches that appear when an update is installed. Also, be mindful that if you permit BYOD- all of those remote devices are vulnerable if their owners neglect updates.

3) Multi-factor Authentication – It is getting tough to log into much of anything these days without hitting MFA. And for good reason. MFA is a tool that works to cut down fraud by asking for additional data to verify your password in order to gain access. Generally it involves entering a password then following up with a token you might be sent via text or email, or using a biometric measure, such as a fingerprint. An MSP can provide applications that can set up MFA to protect your data.

4) Create a strict backup policy and follow it – Data can get corrupted, lost, or stolen. Handling backups is more than just downloading data to a hard drive every evening. An MSP can provide you with the tools needed to handle backups appropriate to the needs of a business operation or take on full responsibility for the task.

5) Manage access – Who can look at what data? In a smaller business, we often just provide access to data to an employee or we don’t. Why? Because it is simple. Instead, tighten your security by segregating data access. Individuals get access only to the data needed as defined by their job description. Follow the Principle of Least Privilege. That is, each individual only has the access to accounts, databases etc. that are absolutely necessary for them to do their assigned tasks.

6) Train everyone on basic data security – Humans are still a very weak link in an organizations defense against cybercrime. Poor password hygiene and inattention to scams are the biggest concern for business owners. Here are some areas where training can help.

7) Identify phishing emails – These are mails that appear to come from legitimate sources, but are faked. Because the reader trusts the sender, they naively open a link that might be attacked which then downloads some forms of malware.

8) Prevent a “Lost” USB – Too often, individuals will find a USB drive left near a desk or dropped somewhere. The temptation to insert it into their computer to see what’s on it can be very hard to resist. This was part of what caused the Target data breach.Train employees to only insert company verified hardware into their computers.

9) Password etiquette – Define standards within your organization about acceptable passwords. An MSP can help you set up programs that require employees to create passwords that meet your defined criteria. Also, consider fostering a culture that makes the sharing of passwords a performance issue that will be addressed by an individual’s supervisor.

10) Take the step beyond anti-malware software – Anti-malware software is necessary, but it isn’t as proactive as one might want. Your MSP can design an endpoint detection and response solution.

So, what, exactly, is Malware?

So, what, exactly, is Malware?

Listen to the news? Read the internet? You know cyber crime is a very big business. Hackers and criminals are out there doing all sorts of nefarious things. Most generally, you hear that malware is some kind of virus that attacks your software programs, infects your hardware, and bungles up your network. But there are many different types of malware, just as there are many types of criminals–each with their own MO and bad intentions. In this e-guide, we will run through some of the major categories of malware, and then suggest 7 different ways you can work to protect your business from malware.

Malware defined – Malware is a generic term that covers all manner of software that is designed to attack your devices, applications, programs, and networks. It is software that has bad intentions. Malicious + Software= Malware. Hackers and criminals create malware for an array of reasons. Some may create it just to attack massive amounts of machines just to show that they can disrupt the cybersphere. Other malware may be created for political reasons. The major reason criminals create malware? To make money without earning it. Yes, stealing. Either by directly pulling money out of accounts, or improperly acquiring data that ultimately provides access to funds. Example: Stealing your SSN and setting up a credit card to use that info, or convincing you to provide the password to your checking account. Others will snatch your organization’s data and hold it for ransom. As usual, it is all about money.

FUN FACT: Before the internet, passing around malware to infect a PC meant a criminal had to find a way to infect a floppy disc and trick users into inserting it into their computer. One of the first was created by a high schooler in the early 80’s. It was relatively benign and just created a pop-up with a Seuss-like poem

“The program with a personality
It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes it’s Cloner!
It will stick to you like glue
It will modify RAM too
Send in the Cloner!”

Unfortunately, most viruses now have far more nasty intentions, and the internet has made it much easier for criminals to break in. No waiting for you to insert a disc drive to steal your data, disrupt your internal business operation, or take down your website. One bad click and you’re in trouble.

Malware is a general term and there are several types.

VIRUS – Like the pathogen we associate with human disease, a virus is a “piece of code that is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data.” Source: https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/.

A characteristic of a virus is that it requires the user to take some action for it to infect your hardware, software, network, etc. For example, inserting an infected thumb drive or clicking on a link found in an email.

ADWARE -Adware is less a type of malware than a symptom created by the infection. Adware invades and then drives the user crazy with endless pop-up advertisements.

WORMS – Similar to viruses, worms replicate and attempt to cause damage but they don’t require a user action. Worms find vulnerabilities or holes in code that allows them access.

TROJAN HORSE – Yes, named after the Greek myth, Trojans trick you into accepting something you want, but inside it has bad intentions. A trojan refers to the method the cybercriminal uses to get you to download a virus or other infected program, rather than the nature of the specific virus.

KEYLOGGERS – This is malware that can track your keystrokes. This particular malware’s goal is to track your keystrokes and identify passwords or credit card information, and then log into your accounts.

RANSOMWARE – If there was any malware that gets more media attention, we aren’t aware of it. And it deserves everyone’s attention. Unlike some other forms of malware, once this has invaded, there is very little you can do to eliminate the virus. Ransomware sneaks in, snatches your data and holds it for ransom. Unless you choose to pay the ransom fee, usually in some cryptocurrency, you are out of luck. In the specific case of ransomware, prevention is the key. Having clean backups of your data which are kept continuously up to date is about the only way to sidestep a ransomware attack on your data.

Thing to do this week to start protecting your customer data

Thing to do this week to start protecting your customer data

You have client or customer data in your possession. It is part of running your business in a digital marketplace. If that data is breached, it could permanently damage your reputation. We talked in an earlier blog about types of malware. There are many steps that you can take to protect your systems and data. Here are a few suggestions to protect your business from malware.

Consider a Managed Service Provider – Cybercriminals are very sophisticated and every day are releasing new, cutting-edge tools to attack businesses and individuals. Small- and medium-sized businesses do not have the resources to staff an IT department sufficiently to be aware of all the newest tools and technologies needed to protect a business. For example, a business owner cannot possibly keep up with the changes and details of tax laws. Doing it themselves, they would likely overlook important tax advantages or inadvertently break some IRS rule. As a result, tax preparation and accounting above the level of basic bookkeeping is outsourced to an outside accounting firm. You should consider looking at IT in the same way.

Updates – Always update your software. There will always be vulnerabilities in every bit of software that you use. Creators of software are constantly upgrading to close holes that could be exploited. Being attacked by malware because you are behind in upgrades is an avoidable error. That said, given the sheer volume of software applications accessing your network, you should consider outsourcing the administration and enforcement of this process.

Multi-factor authentication – Everyone is increasingly encountering MFA. This tool requires a second level of authentication in order to access an account or use a program. Generally, it involves entering a password then following up with a token you might be sent via text or email, or using a biometric measure, such as a fingerprint. An MSP can provide applications that can set up MFA to protect your data.
Access Control – You don’t give out keys to your house to everyone you know. Why allow all employees or vendors to access all of your databases or programs? Instead, follow the Principle of Least Privilege. That is, each individual only has the access to accounts, databases etc. that are absolutely necessary for them to do their assigned tasks.

Backups – Everyone knows they need to do backups, but handling these is more than just downloading data to a hard drive every evening. An MSP can provide you with the tools needed to handle backups appropriate to the needs of a business operation.

Employee education-This one cannot be emphasized enough. The individuals in your organization are your first and most critical line of defense against malware. As mentioned above, many types of malware need user action to get into your systems.

Here are some areas where training can help.

Phishing emails. These are mails that appear to come from legitimate sources, but are faked. Because the reader trusts the sender, they naively open a link that might be attacked which then downloads some forms of malware.

“Lost” USB. – Too often, individuals will find a USB drive left near a desk or dropped somewhere. The temptation to insert it into their computer to see what’s on it can be very hard to resist. ( This was part of what caused the Target data breach)

Password etiquette – Define standards within your organization about acceptable passwords. An MSP can help you set up programs that require employees to create passwords that meet your defined criteria. Also, consider fostering a culture that makes the sharing of passwords a performance issue that will be addressed by an individual’s supervisor.

Endpoint Detection and Response ( EDR): This is a solution an MSP can provide you with. At its basic level, EDR is a proactive approach to anti-malware software. EDR constantly looks at all of the endpoints in your network, tracks behaviors and identifies anything out of the ordinary. For an individual, anti-malware software may be sufficient. For a business that has multiple endpoints, this is not sufficient. ( Think dozens of employees connecting remotely via their own computer or smartphone). In a sophisticated business’s IT infrastructure, there are many endpoints which need to be evaluated.

In summary, there are many ways that an SMB can approach defending itself against malware. Some of these, such as employee training, can easily be done in-house. Others require a depth of experience that only your MSP can offer.

What exactly is Malware? A definition and some common types.

What exactly is Malware? A definition and some common types.

So what happens when you get software that has been mixed with a strong dose of malicious intent? You get malware, the term used to describe all manner of software invasion that has been designed to do bad things to your computers, networks and digital devices. It may have been created to steal something from you, such as data that can be monetized. It may try to directly steal money from you by draining bank accounts, or using credit card numbers. Sometimes, malware’s intention may be political: it may be about governmental intrigue or industrial espionage, Or it may just be about showing off or causing chaos for its own sake. Whatever the motivation, every organization needs to be constantly on guard to protect its data. Failure to protect the data of your clients and employees can result in serious damage to your reputation and brand as well as lead to fines from regulatory bodies. It can also open you up to liability from individuals or groups that have been harmed.

Malware isn’t new, of course. As long as there have been computers there has been malware. Long before computers were connected to the internet and other public networks, malware was placed onto floppy discs. Once inserted into a computer, they could wreak havoc. Now, it is through our connectivity that bad actors work to infect our computer systems.

Types of Malware

Malware is an umbrella term that covers an array of specific tools to cause trouble or steal data. These include…

Viruses
A virus is pretty much what you would think. Like the flu, it attaches itself to a host program where it then will try to change the code to steal your data, log your keystrokes, or corrupt your system/data. Generally, to be infected by a virus, some user action has to occur that allows the virus into your system. Example: The user opens a link found in an email that looks to be from a legitimate source, but isn’t.

Worms
Worms are similar to viruses in how they replicate and attempt to cause damage but they don’t require a user action. Worms find vulnerabilities or holes in code that allows them access.

Trojan Horse
Just like the Greek myth, trojans trick you into accepting something you want, but inside it has bad intentions. Basically, a trojan refers to the method the cybercriminal uses to get you to download a virus or other infected program.

Adware
Adware is a type of virus that can invade through various methods, such as a trojan or corrupted software. Adware generally besieges you with pop-up ads.

Keyloggers
This is malware that can track your keystrokes. This particular malware’s goal is to track your keystrokes and identify passwords or credit card information, for example, and then log into your accounts.

Ransomware
No malware seems to get as much media attention as ransomware. And for good reason. Unlike some other forms of malware, once this has invaded, there is very little you can do to eliminate the virus. Ransomware seizes your data and holds it for ransom. Unless you choose to pay the ransom fee, usually in some cryptocurrency, you are out of luck. In the specific case of ransomware, prevention is the key. Having clean backups of your data which are kept continuously up to date is about the only way to sidestep a ransomware attack on your data.

What can you do? Simply put, an off the shelf anti-virus software (now referred to as anti-malware) isn’t going to cut it in the business arena. Your systems are far too complex, with too many endpoints to rely on a solution better limited to home use. More importantly, you need protection systems, such as Endpoint Detection. An MSP is your best resource. As a small- to medium-sized business owner, you have limited time and resources to explore and design these protections on your own. An MSP can be your strategic partner in data and digital security.