Summer Power Outages – Reason for Concern?

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Summer is finally taking hold across the northern hemisphere.  Here in the United States, the advent of summer often also means power outages.  These outages can be caused by pop-up thunderstorms due to the increase in humidity or the drain on the electric grid, often related to the increased use of air conditioning during periods of extreme heat.

However, there could be another reason for an outage this summer and it’s one thatmalware-power-grid-attack cybersecurity researches have warned about for years.  The power grid has been an infrastructure of concern for quite some time now and many contend that it is borderline irresponsible that some of these concerns may not have been addressed. Personally, it is my hope that the vulnerabilities have been addressed.

That said, reports began coming out late yesterday about malware that specifically targets power grids and has proven itself to be effective.  The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, US-CERT issued an alert as well.  The so called “Crash Override” malware successfully took down the Ukraine power grid in 2016.  The outage did not last long, but is considered by researches to be a dry run to see the malware’s effectiveness.  Similar to the Stuxnet malware that damaged centrifuges with the Iranian nuclear program, Crash Override is able to run on its own and does not need an active Internet connection to be effective.

The concern with this particular malware is that it was successful and its design, as reported by security firms ESET and Dragos, Inc., appears to be engineered for adaptable and multiple use, meaning it is not a one time attack tool.  It is designed to be repurposed and reused, theoretically allowing it to be used to attack electric grids in several countries, including the United States and possibly multiple simultaneous attacks.

This builds on a post I wrote back in April titled Technology, Terrorism and Modern Conflict that was based, in part, on an FBI Infragard meeting I had attended, during with risks to the electric grid were discussed.

So, the next time the power goes out, it may not be due to a passing storm or heavy loads on the grid.  It may be hacker.

Have You Been Pwned?

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You probably think I misspelled the word “pwned” in the title of this post.  Believe it or not, I didn’t.  It’s Internet Slang.  Yes, there is such a thing.  Pwned is slang for being “owned,” “dominated,” or “perfectly owned.”  It’s origin is widely thought to be from an online gamer who simply misspelled the word owned.  We may never know, but for the purpose of this post, it is a reference to the website https://haveibeenpwned.com/.

pwned

This site is the creation of Troy Hunt, a Microsoft Regional Director and blogger.  What Troy has created is a great public service.  From his About page:

“I created Have I been pwned? as a free resource for anyone to quickly assess if they may have been put at risk due to an online account of theirs having been compromised or “pwned” in a data breach. I wanted to keep it dead simple to use and entirely free so that it could be of maximum benefit to the community. ”

From one technology professional to another, thank you Troy!  The world needs more people like you.

This is a great site where you may enter your email address to check to see if it has ever been publicly disclosed as part of a breach.  At current count, the site is tracking exposed email messages from 220 breached websites and 3,805,757,030 breached accounts.  Yes, that is three billion with a B!  The site also lets you know if your account has been “pasted.”  This is when a breached account is made available on a public forum of breached data.

You may even subscribe for updates whenever your email address or addresses are found to be breached.  I highly recommend you sign up for this as there is presently no better way to proactively watch to see if you account information may be exposed.  If it is, you will want to immediately change the password on the site where your account was breached, as well as on any other site where you used this email and password for your login.

Check it out, you’ll be glad you did and hopefully it will tell you “Good news – no pwnage found!”

Takeaways from the 2017 CyberEdge Report

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The CyberEdge Group has released their 2017 Cyberthreat Defense Report CyberEdge 2017 CDR - 3D-Leftand the takeaways are pretty interesting.  The CyberEdge Group is an award-winning research, marketing and publishing firm serving the needs of information security vendor and service providers.

This report is based on responses from 1,100 IT security professionals from larger enterprise companies with more than 500 employees.  These companies represent 19 industries and 15 countries.  Some of these key takeaways apply to all businesses and provide good reference points of focus.  Of particular interest are the following:

  • Attacks are on the rise.  Nearly four out of five respondents had a successful cyberattack last year.  One third experienced six or more successful attacks over the course of the year.
  • There is optimism in the market.  Though this is not a good trend.  Too many organizations do not think they we will be the victim of a cyberattack.  This concerns me that businesses are not taking the threat seriously enough.
  • Mobile devices are the weakest link.  Not enough companies are deploying mobile device management.  This is not just about finding a lost device or erasing it, this is about appropriate control over company data…what is allowed on the device and what apps on the device can access that data.
  • Need to focus on secure apps.  This is especially true for organizations that develop their own apps.  There needs to be a renewed focus on security for these apps, as well as user training on cyber risk.
  • Failure to monitor privileged users.  Very few organizations have the right tools in place to monitor the activity of users with administrative rights.
  • Patch management concerns.  This was validated by the recent WannaCry outbreak.  Companies need to do a better job keeping their systems updated.  Known and unaddressed vulnerabilities are the most common attack vector.
  • Cyber insurance pulls its weight.  Seventy five percent of organizations feel they have a good level of cyber insurance.  The insurance industry has done a good job addressing this need, which also helps drive awareness and action.

A few other key findings that are worth noting are that ransomware remains the largest concern.  Most companies feel they are most likely to be attacked through malware like ransomware.  This again points to need for user education, to understand the risk and their role in protecting the business.  As more systems move to Cloud hosted options, like Microsoft Office 365, concerns about the security of these systems grows.

In many organizations, security budgets are getting the most resources.  I know one large organization that allocates more to their cyber security budget than to the entire IT budget.  Another concern lies with the massive volume of security related data that even the smallest business generates.  Parsing this information for actionable intelligence can be a daunting task.  In addition, the volume of data requires ample and adaptive storage capacity that most business do not have.  This leads to the deletion of data that could be critical in identifying the validity of an attack and it’s potential source or method.

You can read the entire report on the CyberEdge Group web site at https://www.cyber-edge.com/cdr.

Source: 2017 Cyberthreat Defense Report, CyberEdge Group, LLC.

Self Service Password Resets Save Time and Aggravation

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You know the drill.  IT has implemented another security policy that requires you to change your password every 90 days.  The password must be complex, 12 or more characters and contain upper and lower case letters, at least one number and a symbol, a character like !@#$%&*.  Your password needs to be something like this, fU&s43jm#@l0, to be valid.  You are also not allowed to resuse a password you have used in the past year.  Will you remember it?  Hopefully.  Will you mistype it, almost certainly.  What will you do if you can’t remember it?  Call the Help Desk and have them reset your password.  It stresses you out, doesn’t it?

What if you could easily reset your password, right from your mobile phone without having to call the Help Desk?  You can!  An innovative company named Passportal from Alberta, Canada has what may be the easiest and best solution to the password reset problem.  Their solution is available through partner like Internet & Telephone, LLC and can make the password management problem go away for you and all the computers users in your company.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You get the dreaded message that your password has expired and you need to set a new one.
  2. You create your new password; ih0p3!r3m3mber@.
  3. You return to the login screen and type it in, but it says it’s invalid.  DejaVu sets in and your blood pressure begins to rise.
  4. In the old days, you would call the Help Desk and ask them to reset your password for you.  You wait for the friendly and empathetic technician to login to your network, open your users account and reset your password.  Back to work you go.
  5. Instead of #4, what if this happened:
    1. You pick up your mobile phone and text a keyword to a Blink_Chat_Animationpre-defined number you have saved as a contact.
    2. You immediately get a reply letting you know your password is about to be reset.
    3. Within 60 seconds, you receive another text with a new password.  Something like: 8Fx%$Gsjh3*7.
    4. You return to your login prompt and enter 8Fx%$Gsjh3*7 as your password.
    5. You are asked to set a new password that you will remember this time, right?

That’s how easy it could be to reset your password if you forget it, lock out your account or let it expire and mistype your new password.

This is also how easy it is to make password changes and resets less hassle for your users and less timely to complete.  The user has complete control and the ability to instantly help themselves through this efficient self service password reset system.

If you’re not using self service password reset now, you should be.  Your users will thank you.  So will your Help Desk team.

Take Latest Ransomware Outbreak as a Warning

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The following article was published in today’s Seacoast Online and Foster’s.

If you have read or listened to the news the last couple of weeks, or read my blog at mjshoer.com, you know there was a massive ransomware outbreak May 12. This has been widely reported as the WannaCry outbreak, this being the name of the ransomware that spread around the world, hitting companies in 150 countries, impacting hundreds of thousands of computers.

This was described as possibly being a cyber weapon of mass destruction, due to the speed and scope of the attack.

First and foremost, understand what ransomware is. It is a form of malware, malicious software hackers install on your computer to carry out a larger task. In the case of ransomware, this larger task is to encrypt all the data your computer has access to. Encrypted data is unreadable unless you have the decryption code. Encrypted files appear as an ongoing string of random characters, scrambled to protect the data it has encrypted. Without the corresponding decryption key, the data is useless. Ransomware holds your data hostage by encrypting it and withholding the decryption key until you pay a ransom to the hacker, commonly paid using the virtual and untraceable currency Bitcoin. This makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to track the attack to its source.

The WannaCry outbreak was unique for several reasons. Perhaps of most concern, it appears to have been based on a top secret hacking tool developed by the National Security Agency to spy on adversaries of the United States. The code for this tool was supposedly stolen by a hacking group and posted online, allowing hackers all over the world to see how the tool was designed and how it works. A phishing email was then crafted, targeting users of computers with a specific known vulnerability that had been discovered in March of this year. By scanning the Internet for computers with the vulnerability left unrepaired, the hackers had a rich set of targets.

Users were tricked into opening an attachment or clicking a link, which downloaded the malware onto their computer and began encrypting their data. Another unique element of this attack was that it also acted as a worm, spreading itself from one computer to the next within the same network without any other user needing to do a thing. This contributed to the rapid rate of infection seen that day.

In other words, one person inside a company needed to fall for the phishing email and click the bad attachment or link. Once they did, the hacker’s malware was installed on their computer and installed itself on any other computer with the same vulnerability on the company network.

This is why organizations like England’s National Health Service, FedEx and Spain’s Telefonica saw massive infection that required them to shut down computers in some cases for multiple days until the infection could be purged.

What’s worse is that it was preventable. The flaw this hack took advantage of was fixed March 14, yet nearly two months later, the impact was massive. Interestingly, the impact was worst outside the United States. What this says, which is a good thing, is that in the U.S., most companies regularly update their computers with important updates. This contrasts with the rest of the world, where updating computers is not nearly a high enough priority. This attack proves this.

Ransomware succeeds by tricking a user to open an unsolicited email containing an attachment or link. It amazes me we are still combating this today, as this is a well-known attack vector and perhaps, the easiest to defeat. Education and a little patience is all that is required.

The European Cybercrime Centre has a list of do’s and don’ts related to keeping yourself self:

Do’s

  • Update your software regularly. At the very least, install all critical and security updates. If in doubt, install all available updates to keep your computer’s operating system up to date and safe
  • Use Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware software. You should also be sure to keep your computers software firewall enabled at all times.
  • Browse and download software only from trusted websites. Avoid sites that offer paid-for software for free, including driver update sites not run by the actual hardware manufacturer.
  • If you keep any data on your local computer hard drive, be sure it is regularly backed up, ideally to the Cloud.
  • If you become a victim of ransomware, report it to the FBI. This helps it track outbreaks and when the opportunity presents itself, get the bad guys.
  • Check www.nomoreransom.org if you get hit. This free site, supported by various law enforcement agencies and private industry, may help you recover from an infection.

Don’ts

  • Don’t click on attachments, banners and links without knowing their true origin. What may look like legitimate files, banners or links, may not be what they appear to be. Hovering over the link is one way to check the URL to see if it is legitimate, but it’s far better to manually type in a link to your browser, instead of clicking a link in an email.
  • Don’t install mobile apps from unknown sources. If someone sends you a link to a mobile app for your phone or tablet, don’t click it. Go to the app store and search for the app there to check its legitimacy and install it. And don’t install or run unknown software.
  • Don’t take anything for granted. Verify everything. Confirm with senders they meant to send you any attachment or link. Verify SSL connections by checking the padlock icon to be sure it’s issued to the site you are on. When in doubt, make a phone call before you act.
  • Have you installed software to get free TV or movies? Think twice. It may be stealing data from your computer. Kids fall victim to this far too easily.
  • Don’t pay out any money. This just encourages more hacks and does not guarantee you will get your data back. One of the positives from this latest outbreak was that not much was actually paid out, considering how large the impact was.

I hope this information helps clarify what happened, why and how. More importantly, I hope these do’s and don’ts will help keep you safe from any future outbreaks.

The following image shows a screen shot of the Norse attack map.  This map shows real time intelligence on active cyberattacks taking place around the world.

Norse Map

Here Comes the Next Vulnerability

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Just when you thought it might be safe online, news is breaking of a new vulnerability discovered earlier this week.  Of particular concern is that this new vulnerability seems to be more prevalent on home computers that corporate systems.  An outbreak targeting home users could be significantly more damaging that recent outbreaks, which hit over 300,000 computers in more than 150 countries!

In other words, take note of the risk!

Just today, I became aware of a business where multiple users in the accounting department opened an email attachment that appeared to come from their Xerox scanner.  The email arrived from an address that did not exist within the company and the subject said “Scanned Image from a Xerox WorkCentre,” which the recipients took to be legitimate.  The problem is, they did not take the time to inspect the sending address.  Worse, more than one person opened the attached zip file, then the PDF file that was within the zip file and then clicked a link to enable content within the PDF file.  How could they have gone through all these steps and not realized they were infecting themselves?  This actually happens!

The current vulnerability was announced by the US Department of Homeland Securitysamba_logo_4c earlier this week.  It involves a flaw in Samba, which is a freely distributed networking protocol that facilitates file sharing between computers running Linux, MacOS, Unix and Windows.  Any home user that shares files on their home network may be at risk.

As I have repeatedly advised in this blog, DO NOT open email attachments unless you can assure yourself that you are 100% sure the attachment is safe, the sender legitimate and that you are expecting to receive such an email.  Anything less and you are putting yourself at unnecessary risk and will likely find yourself infected.

Target Reaches Data Breach Settlement

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I’m sure you are aware that Target’s 2013 data breach is among one of the most publicized data breaches in history.  The breach exposed the account information of millions of Target customers.

This breach received a lot of press coverage as it was considered to be the largest breach of its kind, at the time.  It was also unique, in that the hackers compromised a third-party vendor network to execute the breach.  That third-party is widely reported to have been an HVAC contractor for Target.

A small business, the HVAC company lacked sophisticated defenses to not just preventTarget+Settlement a hack, but to be aware that a hack was taking place.  The hackers gained control of the HVAC company’s computers that connected in to the Target network.  The hackers were able to then infiltrate the Target network and install malware that captures customer credit card account information, names, addresses and more.

Target has been the subject of investigations by 47 states and the District of Columbia, resulting from this hack.  In settling these investigations, Target has agreed to pay the states $18.5 million in fines and implement more layers of data security and implement an information security plan, under the guidance of a new executive to be hired to oversee it.

Part of this new information security plan involves implementing encryption for sensitive data, ensuring that credit card and other sensitive customer account information is housed on a separate network dedicated to this purpose and keep its software up to date to protect against known vulnerabilities.

Some of these steps seem very basic, yet one of the nations largest retailers, with ample resources to protect itself, was compromised.  It’s a reminder, if not a wake up call, to businesses of all sizes that they need an information security plan.  Does your business have one?  If not, you should take steps to formulate and implement one as soon as possible.

Cost associated with data breaches continue to rise and this settlement is just the latest example.  Most businesses do not have the financial resources to survive a damaging data breach.  Take the steps to protect your business by creating an information security plan and reviewing it no less than annually.  Be sure that you are carrying an appropriate cyber insurance policy to protect your business and invest in educating your employees on keeping your business safe.

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