Online Security Threats

Cyber security is a common concern for businesses as well as individuals hoping to keep their data safe from external (and sometimes internal) threats. Technology has become such an integral part of our lives both personally and in business, that it is hard to think of all the possible threats that are out there. Knowing how cybercriminals are threatening security is the first step to securing your information. Let’s examine some common online security threats that may impact your company.

According to the Internet Security Threat Report of 2015 completed by Symantec, there are key trends in the cyber threat landscape.  These key trends include:

  • New leapfrog techniques that leapfrog corporate defenses
  • Clever tricks malware authors use to avoid detection
  • Statistics regarding ransomware attacks (soaring 113% in 2014)
  • How social networks and apps enable cybercriminals
  • Why corporate defenses are falling behind as cybercriminals move faster
  • Why attacks on Internet of devices are more serious than ever

Common online threats include:

  • Malware- Malware is an abbreviated term meaning “malicious software.” This is software that is specifically designed to gain access or damage a computer without the knowledge of the owner. There were more than 317 million new pieces of malware created last year—that’s nearly one million per day! As if that is not bad enough, the malware is growing in quality not just quantity.
  • Spyware- Spyware and adware are often used by third parties to infiltrate your computer. Many times spyware comes in the form of free downloads and can collect personal information about you without you knowing.
  • Phishing- Phishing such as fake emails, text messages and websites are created to look like they’re from authentic companies but are meant to steal personal and financial information from your company.
  • Viruses – Viruses can be sent in email attachments or downloads with the malicious intent of infecting your computer. This can impact not just you but also everyone on your contact list.

The list could go on and on including ransomware, spoofing, Trojan Horses and Spamming. M&H Consulting can help you develop a strong security posture. Call M&H if you suspect that there is a security threat on your computer. We can analyze your system and evaluate for any threats. From there we can recommend and take action against any threats that are looming for your business.

Securing your Devices Before Discarding

Technology is evolving at a breakneck pace. Just a decade ago mobile phones were fairly large and had antennas. Technology like ipads, iphones and Apple watches were not even a twinkle in the eye of Steve Jobs yet. Today mobile devices have become more than just a fun accessory. They have become a crucial part of our daily life, both for personal and business use. Unfortunately, once a device has passed, it usually is decommissioned and disposed. How should that be done?  What about all that information on the device?  Let’s examine how to securely dispose of your computer technology after your business has retired it.

 

  • Eliminate Access – Ensure that you eliminate any accounts or other access to business systems associated with the decommissioned equipment. A former employee or disgruntled employee could access your system using old technology. You don’t want lingering network access accounts used to remotely connect to the computer system at your work. Shut down access immediately instead of letting the device sit around the office.
  • Protect and Destroy Data – Many businesses have sensitive data on their hard drives and on the devices that are carried around to clients. Reformatting or so called “erasing” isn’t good enough these days. Protect any data you still need by transferring it to one of your newer devices and use tools to destroy the data. For desktop computers make sure your personal data isn’t recoverable by reasonable means, do a secure wipe; this not only deletes your data but also overwrites the data a certain number of times, which makes the data much more difficult to retrieve. For mobile devices, the easiest way to securely erase a smartphone or tablet is to encrypt the device first, then do a factory reset. First, though, remember to backup any files you want to keep and remove the microSD and SIM cards.
  • Check Twice – After you’ve deleted your personal and business information, it’s good to double-check to make sure it’s gone. Check your: phone book, logs for both dialed and received calls, voicemails, sent and received emails and text messages, downloads and other folders, search histories, and personal photos. If you stored apps on your device, remove them and the data associated with them.
  • Discard Using Environmentally Friendly Methods – Once you have a clean desktop, phone or tablet, you have several options: recycling through the manufacture or local recycling program, donate it to a non-profit, or go the old fashioned way through the garbage. Before you decide what method you plan on using check with the Environmental Protection Agency to see if there are rules about how to dispose of each type of device.

What Holes are in your Firewall?

If you are not already aware of what a firewall is, it is a security system that is put in place to control any incoming or outgoing network traffic in order to protect your computer from any maliciousness. Because of this, you want to make sure that there are no holes that will allow bringing in any malicious activity.

Now, maybe you’re thinking that your firewall is so strong there is no way there could be any holes in it. Well, did you know that creating holes or ports in your security system is as simple as allowing a program to communicate through the firewall? By doing this you are unblocking a port. Each time a port is unblocked; your device becomes less and less secure, which makes it more possible for malicious software and hackers to get a hold of your system.

There are a couple of ways in which you can find out what holes or ports are opened in your firewall. One way to do so is by scanning your device’s port. This can be done by downloading a scanning system or by physically going through the unblocked programs in your device.

Here is how you can manually do it on a Windows system:

  1.     Go to control panel
  2.     Select system & Security
  3.     Click on Windows Firewall
  4.     Select “Allow a program through…”
  5.     Uncheck all the programs you wish to not have firewall access

For a more extensive look into your firewall, you could also contact M&H Consultants to handle this business for you.

If you are ever contemplating on unblocking a program into your firewall, there are a couple of points you should keep in mind. One point is that if you open a port, it will remain opened until you physically close it, even if the program is not being used at the time. Another point is that adding programs to a list of allowed programs rather than allowing the programs to directly communicate through the firewall can be a much safer for your device.

 

The Latest on Spyware

According to Pew Research, “Nine out of ten internet users say they have adjusted their online behavior out of fear of falling victim to software intrusions.” Spyware (aka spybot or tracking software online) and the threat of unwanted programs being secretly loaded onto computers are becoming serious threats to both business and personal use systems. Spyware can get in a computer as a software virus or as the result of installing a new program. Let’s look at at the latest statistics and trends when it comes to this insidious software invading our business and personal lives.

 

What is Spyware?

Microsoft Computers details spyware as, “numerous types of malicious software being spread around the Internet.”  Spyware is a general term used to describe software that performs certain behaviors, generally without appropriately obtaining your consent first, such as: advertising, collecting personal information, or changing the configuration of your computer. Spyware is most often associated with software that displays advertisements (called adware) or software that tracks personal or sensitive information. Some experts believe that spyware is now the single largest problem facing Internet users today.

 

What are the latest Statistics on Spyware?

Tens of millions of Americans have been affected in the past year by software intrusions and many more have begun to take precautions by changing the way they use the internet.(Source: Pew Research)  Recent studies estimate that 59 million Americans, say they have had one or more spyware programs on their home or business computer.

 

Practical Steps to Protect your Computer

  • Be aware of signs that you may have spyware installed on your computer including: pop ups, slow internet connections, new favorites on your browser that you didn’t put there, toolbars you didn’t install or possibly a home page that has changed and you can’t get it to change back.
  • Install two or three different anti-spyware programs (“spyware cleaners”) on your computer, and update their definition lists regularly. Ask a professional what program will be best for your system.
  • Create a routine of regular cleaning, such as “scan and detect.”
  • Carefully read licensing agreements. Sometimes the inclusion of unwanted software in a given software installation is documented, but it might appear at the end of a license agreement or privacy statement.
  • Save your data, and backup often! In case of spyware you always want to be able to recover your data.
  • Educate yourself on the latest strains of spyware or hire consultants like M&H Consulting who can keep you up-to-date on the latest spyware programs and tools that will be right for your business.

Password Advice

We live in a password driven world. On your phone alone you may have multiple sign-ins and passwords for multiple systems, Apps or accounts. It could be tempting to use an easy password so you can easily access all of your accounts. Why is this a bad idea? How can you “beef up” your passwords to protect your personal and business data?

Splashdata has again released its annual list of the most popular (and therefore worst passwords) found in over two million leaked passwords during 2015. If your password is on the list, then Splashdata said you are continuing to put yourself and your business “at risk for hacking and identity theft by using weak, easily guessable passwords.”

Protection Techniques

PC Online reminds us that the old adage when it comes to passwords is that, “Passwords are like underwear. You should change them often. Don’t share them. Don’t leave them out for others to see (no sticky notes!). They should be mysterious. In other words, make your password a total mystery to others.”

A strong password includes:

  • At least eight characters (Usually up to 20)
  • One or more of each of the following: lower-case letters, upper-case letters, a number and a punctuation mark.
  • Lookalike characters to protect against password glimpses. Examples:O as in Oscar and the number 0. Lower-case l and upper-case I. The letter S and the $ sign.

 

Weak passwords have common attributes such as:

  • Words you can find in the dictionary.
  • Passwords shown as “example strong passwords.”
  • Personal information, such as names and birth dates.
  • Keyboard patterns, like qwerty or 12345. Particularly avoid sequences of numbers in order.
  • Common acronyms.
  • All one type of character – such as all numbers, all upper-case letters, all lower-case letters, etc.
  • Repeating characters, such as mmmm3333.
  • The same password you use for another application.Worst Passwords 2015

What is Open Source Software & What is the Point of it?

Open source software is software that has its source code available for modification by the public. The source code is what computer programmers can modify in order to change the way a program or application does what it’s meant to. Some examples of this are Firefox and Openoffice.

This type of software is different from closed source software (a.k.a. proprietary software) because those prohibit the public from having access to modify their source code. The only ones legally able to make modifications are the people, team, or organization that created it. Examples of this are Adobe Software and Microsoft Office.

In order for closed software creators to keep other programmers from manipulating their codes, licenses with agreements to not make changes are required in order to download the program. OSS is similar to this in the sense that they also require a licensing agreement. The difference is that their licenses encourage collaboration and sharing so that others can also make changes and use them in their projects.

Now, you may be wondering what the point of having a program that is OSS is. Well, there are many ways in which OSS can benefit both users and programmers.

Control over software

Programmers can change part of the code they don’t like in order to use it how they want. Because of this, regular users can also use the program for anything they would like without being limited to what the software creators intended it to be for.

Improve Programming Skills

With OSS, programmers can learn and practice their skills by physically seeing how and what changes were made to make the software do a certain thing.  They can also receive feedback from others on what they have created.

Always Updated

Software that is constantly being altered by various programmer means that regular users will have a program that is, for the most part, fixed, updated, and upgraded quickly.

Security

Because there are many working on the software, users would not need to worry about their data, that has been saved in the program, disappearing after the original programmers decide to stop working on it.

How long should my Desktop Computer Last?

Whether it’s your personal at-home computer or your business computer, you tend to worry about how much longer will you be able to use it before it completely crashes. Maybe, you’re ready to purchase a new desktop and are wondering which would be of better quality so that it could last an excessive amount of time without crashing and save you some money.

Here are the facts: a computer’s average lifespan is anywhere between 3 to 5 years. Perhaps this may seem absurd to some who may have had their computer for a decade or so. Well, there are many factors that can contribute to how long a computer may last.

The lifetime span of a desktop, as well as other, computers are affected by how much it is used, how hard it is pushed, the type of environment it is in (whether it is hot and/or humid), and how much dust and lint it has accumulated.

We are well aware that there are some computers that can still be used long after the 5 years but, take into consideration what type of use you’re making out of it. Perhaps, these computers are only being used as a word processor. If that is the case, then you could be using those for many more years. Having desktops that are well over 5 years old can be more difficult when needing to download or using technological advancements. Many times, older computers require additional hardware upgrades, which can add up in costs later on.

If you are ready to move on to a new desktop with great quality to last you a long time, here are some factors you should consider:

Hard Drive Space

You want to consider how much hard drive space is available on a computer in case you need to install extra storage later on. With that said, you will also want to think about which computer has enough storage space for what you would need it to do.

Operating System

In order to prevent having to install a new system soon after purchasing a new computer, make sure to purchase one that already has the newest operating system available. This way, it will also be compatible with any other future software.

Upgraded Slots

Also, make sure the computer you desire to purchase has a vast amount of additional slots on the motherboard (a.k.a. printed circuit board). The more additional slots available, the better it will be.  

On another note, if you are trying to make your computer last you as long as it possibly can, check out our post on the ways you could improve the lifespan of your PC. [ http://www.mhconsults.com/blog/improve-the-lifespan-of-your-pc/ ]

Common Myths About Technology: Part 2

If you haven’t yet read the first part to this blog, where we list the most common myths in relation to Apple products, deleting data and much more, then you should stop and take a look at it first, so that you don’t miss anything.

Otherwise, enjoy part 2 of the common tech myths, here:

Jailbreaking is Illegal

This myth is a little more complex, as the line between jailbreaking and unlocking seems to be a bit blurred for most people. To clarify this, let’s begin with the clear difference between jailbreaking and unlocking.

When referring to unlocking a device, usually a cell phone, what is meant is that you free your  device in order to be used with any other carriers. An example is if you bought a cell phone with the T-Mobile carrier and then decide to unlock that phone so that you can use it with another carrier in order to prevent the added cost of buying a whole new phone when switching. This act was set as an illegal action for any phone purchased after January 2013.

When talking about jail breaking a device, what is meant is that you are bypassing any security in order to install programs that were not originally allowed before. An example of this would be jailbreaking your iPhone in order to have some features that are originally only made for Androids. With that said, jail breaking is not an illegal act in itself. However, what device you try to jailbreak is what matters.

In 2012, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) approved jail breaking iPhones but not tablets. As of recently, you are now able to jailbreak smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.

More Megapixels Means Better Quality

Another common misconception is that a camera with a large amount of megapixels means a better quality camera. Although this is somewhat true, a camera with just 3 megapixels could give you a better quality picture with even enough room to do some cropping.

 

In cases where you would want to take a photo to later develop as a poster size, a camera with 7 megapixels would allow you to do the job with good quality.

Cheap Cables are No Good

Some people believe that buying a more expensive cable is better than purchasing one that is less expensive. In reality there is no actual difference between cheap and expensive cables.

Purchasing a cheap HDMI cord, for example, is more beneficial for your wallet. There is no real reason for buying the expensive ones, unless the cable was being used as a permanent device where you would have it wired through walls. If this were the case, a more expensive one would be best for a better lifespan.

 

Removing USB Incorrectly is Bad

This isn’t necessarily true. If you were to remove the USB drive without ejecting it first after transferring your data, there is no harm done. The transferred data, and any other existing information, will be available in the USB. However, removing the drive while it is in the middle of transferring information can SOMETIMES cause data loss or the software to crash.

In this case, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Common Myths About Technology: Part 1

With a world surrounded by technology, we are constantly hearing about the many ways to care for your devices and what the dos and don’ts are when handling them. A lot of the times we can’t help but come across some information that completely contradicts the one we may have just heard about.

We have searched some of the most common myths about technology and decided to share them with you in two parts to help clear some contradicting information for you. Here is part 1 of the common myths:

Macs Are Not Prone to Viruses

One of the most common myths is the one about macs not getting viruses. Perhaps this myth stems from Apple’s claim that their OS X software system is not susceptible to the common viruses targeted towards Windows. Although this is true, it does not mean that apple computers are not susceptible to those viruses created to target Macs.

In fact, the more common these computers become in homes and offices, the more vulnerable they become towards malware.

A Cell Phone’s Battery Should be Drained Before Charging

This is another very common misconception and the reason for this goes back to when NiCd batteries were common in many tech devices. The NiCd batteries suffer from “memory effect” which leads to the battery not being able to recharge up to 100 percent, causing the battery life to drain more quickly.

Since the early 2000s, NiCd batteries have been replaced with Lithium-Ion batteries, especially in all Apple products, which eliminate the “memory effect” issue. Although this is true, though, Apple does advice for the devices to be drained at least once a month in order to help maintain battery life.

More Bars Means Better Service

When we see our signal bars go down, we immediately start moving around to get more signal in order to have better service. Truth is, the bars only show the signal strength to the cell phone tower near you. The service is determined by the amount of tech devices connected to that same tower.

Files are Permanently Deleted Once Trash Bin is emptied

Maybe this is something you never thought of before, but the fact is that after the trash/recycling bin has been emptied in your computer, fragments of those deleted files can be left behind. This means that those fragments can be restored. The act of deleting a file is simply to make space for new ones.

In order to fully delete files on a Mac, you may want to follow up by clicking on “Secure Empty Trash.” If you are a PC owner, it is best to download a secure deleting program.

 

Private Browsing Means Anonymity

Private browsing does not keep anyone anonymous. Using this browsing mechanism simply keeps your computer from saving information about the websites visited and what typed or clicked on while being there. However, files downloaded from private browsing will remain in your device.

Disaster No More with Cloud Computing

Remember the devastating Hurricane Sandy that struck the East Coast destroying all homes and businesses? If you were not personally affected by this disaster, imagine being the owner of one of those businesses aggressively affected by this natural disaster. Can you imagine having all of your valuable information destroyed and having to forfeit running your business in order to try and recover all lost data and rebuilding the office?

According to an article on LightReading.com, after the hurricane disaster, the cloud-based recovery market was examined in order to analyze what features would be put in place in case of another similar disaster. They also looked at geographic landscapes in order to determine what types of phenomenon they should prepare for in the next 18-24 months.

By now you have probably looked at our past posts talking about cloud computing and all of its benefits and downfalls. Here are some ways in which the cloud could help during disasters:

Off-site Backup Storage:

What would be the use of having a physical backup storage located in the premises of the disaster? If a physical backup is placed on site during a fire, robbery or flooding, chances are that it will also be destroyed along with everything else in the location. If the backup is stored in an offsite location, then imagine how much productivity would be lost in search for it. Having cloud-computing backup could help keep all your backed up data safe and easily accessible.

Consistent Backup:

Having a cloud service as disaster recovery can provide you with an easy way to schedule your backups in order to stay consistent. You could schedule it for every month, week or day. It could be done in real time if so needed.

Keeps Business Running:

Using the cloud can help prevent you from having to forfeit running your business if an onsite business location is off-limits. Because the cloud can be easily accessible to anywhere to anyone with access, your business could still run offsite.

Much Cheaper:

By having a cloud-based recovery service, you could eliminate any off site duplicate IT plan, which can be extremely costly depending on the magnitude of the disaster.