Twitter alerts users to cyber attacks

Something known as “state-sponsored cyber attacks” may not be something you have heard of until now. But with both Facebook and Google viewing the problem as serious enough to warn their users about, it seems this is an issue that could be here to stay. And now with Twitter also recently taking steps to alert their users about possible account hacking attempts, this may well be something that many of us should be concerned about.

But how at risk actually are you from a state-sponsored cyber attack? Is your small or medium-sized business in danger of being targeted? And who is behind these hacking attempts? Well, going by the warnings recently issued by Twitter, reports so far suggest that people, companies or organizations connected to internet security and freedom of speech are currently most likely to be at risk. But ‘currently’ is somewhat ambiguous, for in the world of cybercrime things can happen at lightning speed, and someone who is a target today might be deemed out of danger tomorrow – and vice versa.

As always, the best form of protection is to be forewarned, and you can only do that by learning as much as you can about the latest threats, scams and attacks. If you are a Twitter user, be it personal or for business use, you may be wondering why you have not yet heard of these alerts. That’s because Twitter’s messages were only sent to a small, and mostly rather niche, group of users. The email informed these users that Twitter was contacting them as a precaution due to their accounts “possibly” having been hacked by the state-sponsored actors. The email also stated that they believed that the actors may (or may not) be associated with a government, and that those involved had been looking to obtain personal information such as email addresses, phone numbers and/or IP addresses. So far, so vague!

Twitter then goes on to say that, although they have no evidence that any accounts were compromised or any data was stolen, they are actively investigating. They also lamented the fact that they wished they could say more…but that they had no additional information at that time. The email goes on to attempt to reassure users that their accounts may not have been an intentional target, but admits that if a user tweets under a pseudonym, that Twitter understands they may have cause for concern. But with so many Twitter users tweeting under a different name – and perfectly innocently, at that – what’s the real cause for concern here?

The issue lies with the type of accounts that were mostly targeted. The majority of these belonged to people or organizations connected to, or concerned with, cyber security. In fact, Twitter even offered some handy advice on protecting your online identity, suggesting users read up on the subject at the Tor Project website. Somewhat coincidentally, one of the victims of the attempted Twitter account hack is an activist and writer who currently educates journalists about security and privacy – and who used to work for the Tor Project. Another is a Canada-based not-for-profit organization involved with freedom of speech, privacy and security issues, and one of its founders is a contractor for the Tor Project.

Other Twitter users who received the email are also involved in some way or another in cyber security, albeit as self-described “security researchers” or simply by way of following or engaging with the online security community. This might lead you to the conclusion that, if you’re not in the business of security and instead keep your tweets to sport, entertainment, and the latest must-have gadgets, you are not at risk. But we urge you not to be so hasty. That’s because, within that small group of people who were contacted by Twitter, a large proportion of them had nothing to do with activism, freedom of speech, calls for greater privacy, or anything of the sort.

This means that, far from brushing this latest round of cyber threats under the carpet, individuals and business owners – whatever industry they are in – do have at least some cause for concern. As yet Twitter has not released details of the state the “actors” are sponsored by, so for now we are none the wiser as to whether it’s a homegrown issue or one from further afar – say North Korea or China.

What does all this mean for you as a business owner or manager? It means that you should be taking your online security more seriously than ever. It’s no longer just your network that is at risk; now simply having an account on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter could be providing less-than-desirable third parties with the portal they need to access your company’s private information.

If you’d like to know how to ensure the online safety of your organization, give us a call today. Our experts have experience in everything from securing your computer network to increasing safety when it comes to sending out those all-important tweets!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

How Google overcomes secure browsing issues

It’s safe to say that malware attacks, phishing scams, and social media engineering practices are going nowhere fast. That means that, whether you are a home user or the owner or manager of a small or medium-sized business, if you choose to ignore safer online security practices you are putting your identity and the security of your company at serious risk. But what are big providers like Google doing to stop cyber threats in their tracks? After all, surely the onus is on them to provide a service that is secure as it possibly can be?

With more than one billion people using Google’s search engine on their desktops, and over a billion more accessing it through mobile devices, it is clear that security is – or should be – paramount. Google already claims to protect desktop users with its Safe Browsing service, but what about its mobile users?

With cyber threats ranging from the annoying, such as adware, to the unsavory – hello spyware – and the downright terrifying (ransomware, we’re looking at you), mobile device users are increasingly demanding to know that they are being adequately protected when using Google’s products, tools and services. So in order to protect the mind-bogglingly large number of people who are using Google on their smartphones, laptops, notebooks and tablets, Google recently unveiled plans to extend its Safe Browsing service to mobile users – or at least to who are using Chrome on an Android device.

Whether you regard this as a blatant ploy to get users to switch to Android is something we’ll let you decide for yourself, but the fact is that Google is taking steps to protect its users. Back in August 2014, the company bolstered its Safe Browsing warnings with messages alerting users to unwanted software programs trying to sneak onto their computers by attaching themselves without warning to a legitimate download. In addition, both the Android platform and the Google Play Store have security measures in place to weed out potentially dangerous apps.

However, not every cyber security threat comes from an app or installation so, while Google is doing the right thing by guarding against threats in these areas, there are other issues that require a different means of protection. Enter social engineering, and phishing in particular, which can cause untold harm – such as data or identity theft – to a business or individual.

In order to protect against social engineering, an up-to-date list of malicious websites needs to be stored upon the device – this enables Google to send an alert to the user before they get ambushed. But there are problems with this which Google has had to overcome, not least of which is how to keep the list updated in the face of new threats. Compounding this issue further are factors that are unique to mobile browsing: mobile data speeds can be slow and connectivity patchy, depending where the user is. A fast, stable connection is crucial when the timing of an alert is paramount. Not only that, but using mobile data costs the end user money!

Bandwidth (and battery) limitations mean Google has had to find a way to ensure the data they send to users is as small as possible. Protecting their customers is crucial – but so too is not sapping battery life and data plans. Because this boils down to connectivity and speed factors, a device’s location is now taken into account. For example, if a known phishing scam is only affecting certain locations, only devices that are in that part of the world receive a warning.

Google also prioritizes data by sending information on a need-to-know basis – in other words, bigger threats take precedence over more minor issues. They have also designed the software to limit network traffic, and to be as light as possible on memory and processor usage.

Since its announcement in early December, Google is now protecting all Chrome users on Android devices as default, making Safe Browsing part of their Play services from Version 8.1 onwards. Chrome Version 46 is also the first app to initiate Safe Browsing.

How do you know whether you are protected by Safe Browsing mode? Go to your settings in Chrome, and check your Privacy menu. How do you know if your small or medium-sized business stands the best chance of survival in the face of a cyber attack or phishing scam? Talk to us today and we’ll be more than happy to share our up-to-date knowledge with you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Scenarios that might require BCP action

Do you know when to invoke your Business Continuity Plan? A lot of business owners assume they know when it will be required, but the reality is that it can be hard to determine when a BCP is really necessary. It’s important you are able to assess what is taking place, and make an informed decision with regard to putting your continuity strategy into action. Here are few things you need to consider when it comes to invoking your plan.

When a disaster happens, your first thoughts will likely revolve around how it will affect your business and the services it provides. Depending on what occurs, you might be required to call your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) into action to ensure your company remains operational and that any Recovery Time Objectives are met.

Unfortunately, too many business owners fail to properly prepare themselves for taking this action, by viewing disasters as two-dimensional events. Realistically, a disaster has many possible outcomes and is not as black and white as you may think. For instance, think about how a flood can disrupt your company.

The logical conclusion for most business owners is to picture their office underwater. While that is one possibility, several others may also exist that could require you to consider implementing your BCP. A flood may not disturb your office, but what if it strikes an off-site storage facility where you keep digital or paper data? This is likely to have just as great an impact on your business, and necessitate your BCP coming into action.

Here we’ll take a look at a few other disasters that can happen, and which factors you need to consider before implementing your BCP.

Fire

If a fire takes place at your business, invoking your BCP is a fairly obvious decision. However, what do you do if a fire occurs in the same building as your office, or next door to you? It can be a problematic situation as you may not know what, if any, damage has occurred. Smoke travels fast and can leave behind soot, which may render your servers inoperable or highly unstable. There may be health issues at play as well, and sometimes it is not be feasible to have your employees working in the office in the immediate aftermath of smoke damage.

Before invoking your BCP in this situation, you will want to speak with fire crews on the scene about when they will let you back into your office and what kind of damage has been done. This should give you the necessary information on how to proceed, and enable you to decide whether your BCP needs to be put into action.

Civil unrest

It can be hard to gauge what to expect in times of civil unrest. We have witnessed large protests that remained peaceful, but we have also seen ones that have become unruly and destructive. Several business owners had to halt or significantly reduce services in places like Missouri and Baltimore because of the latter. Only time will tell if they are able to recover, or end up having to shut their doors for good.

Due to the volatility of these events, it is impossible to fully prepare yourself, since you can never completely know how the situation will pan out. Instead make sure you and your staff are prepared to invoke your BCP should the situation deteriorate. Even if something were to happen at your premises, if you’re diligent and paying attention you should be able to act quickly and prevent a large-scale service disruption.

Security threats

Most people don’t put things like viruses and security breaches in the realm of disasters, and that in and of itself can be disastrous. Let’s use one of the fastest growing security threats to small businesses, ransomware, as an example. It could be downloaded to your network by a deceptive email and opened by an employee. When ransomware makes it way onto your network, it will encrypt or block all access to your data until you pay a sum of money.

Because ransomware can appear suddenly, often business owners get flustered and either pay the ransom or suffer a long period of downtime trying to figure out how to fix the problem. Either way, money is lost. If ransomware or any other security breach occurs, it’s important to quickly analyze the situation and determine whether you need to invoke your BCP, which should allow you to avoid both downtime and ransom payments.

It’s important to remember that a disaster can appear in many different ways, shapes and forms. If you need help on determining when it is appropriate to initiate your BCP, or have any other questions about how a BCP would help your business, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.