Cyber Security for Small Businesses

Cyber Security for small businesses is one of those black giants that everyone “knows” is important, but most people don’t know what they really need to do to get it.  Many small businesses leaders think that their businesses are not at risk because they are small, unimportant, and therefore not worth hacking.

This is a dangerously false belief.

Security expert Brian Krebs recently published his Immutable Laws of Data Breaches, and they can shed light on why even SMB owners should be concerned about cyber security:

  • If you connect it to the Internet, someone will try to hack it.
  • If what you put on the Internet has value, someone will invest time and effort to steal it.
  • Even if what is stolen does not have immediate value to the thief, he can easily find buyers for it.
  • The price he secures for it will almost certainly be a tiny slice of its true worth to the victim.
  • Organizations and individuals unwilling to spend a small fraction of what those assets are worth to secure them against cybercrooks can expect to eventually be relieved of said assets.

 

Everyone’s network is at risk and has valuable data.  Ask yourself how much it is worth to you, not to the hackers.  What fraction of that value are you willing to invest to ensure it remains safe?

 

What SMB’s Should Do – 3 Steps

If you are an SMB trying to secure your own network, start with the following three steps:

  1. First, look at what you are wanting to secure ehendro. Think about physical equipment, data in all of its locations and applications, trade secrets, the network as a whole, and any other areas of concern.
  2. Next, for each of these areas, ask yourself: how would a thief gain access or steal it? You don’t have to know specific hacking techniques, general patterns are fine. For instance, data can be stolen when it is in transit (going over the internet) or at rest (stored on the hard drive). Your network can be accessed by nefarious/unwitting employees or remotely over the internet.
  3. Finally, go through each of these areas and each “attack vector” from step 2 and develop a plan for securing against each attack. If you are concerned about physical theft, add “move equipment to locked rooms” to your security plan. If you are worried about social engineering—people tricking employees into divulging information—then develop a training to inform them of the threat and put policies in place to get authorization before giving out sensitive information.

That is a good method for creating a s custom security plan for your unique environment.  You can also use the following general precautions every business should consider if they are concerned about security:

  • Have a business class firewall protecting the network. The cable or DSL modem that your ISP gave you is not sufficient.
  • Antivirus should be on all computers. This should update automatically and scan, in real time, all accessed files or devices (e.g. USB thumb drives).
  • Antimalware should be on all computers. This is similar to antivirus, but it looks for different kinds of malicious software.
  • Have a service scan and filter website traffic. This will help ensure software doesn’t make it to your computers, so AV won’t have to catch it. It can also help you block certain types of traffic, such as pornography or gambling, to keep your employees more productive.
  • Find a good email filtering service. This is not just for spam, though that is a good benefit. Most ransomware these days is transmitted through email, so make sure it is clean before it makes it to your computers.
  • Install encryption on all servers and workstations and make sure your sensitive data is stored there. This way, if something gets lost or stolen, your data is inaccessible to the thief.
  • Install physical locks protecting network equipment, servers, and any sensitive data storage devices.
  • Have Good Backups! As good as your security is, assume the thieves can get away with something.  Make sure they don’t steal the only copy.  See our series on backup and disaster recovery for more info on this.
  • Training and education. New security threats are always coming up and old ones are becoming new again. You and your employees don’t need to become security experts, but if they can be aware of what is out there, they will be in a better position to protect the company.

We would love to help you put together a cyber security strategy for your business.  If you are interested, please contact us for a free consultation!

Why Do Hackers Write Viruses?

It’s All About the Money

Everyone hates viruses.  They are annoying, slow your computer down, and don’t seem like they’re doing much.  So why do hackers write viruses?  Is it just to be annoying little punks who want to feel powerful?  There is probably some percentage of viruses that get released that way.  But most often, it’s all about money.

First: Steal the Data

The first thing virus writers think about is what data they want to steal.  This can be social security numbers, health records, email credentials, active email addresses to spam (i.e. your address book), or any other type of data.  Sometimes it’s not even data they’re stealing, it’s resources.  They can use your computer’s CPU and internet connection to mine bitcoins, launch attacks on the people they’re really after, send spam, etc.  And it doesn’t matter if you don’t have these things on your computer.  They’re usually not targeting you specifically, they just release the virus on the public hope it lands on valuable computers.

Next: Bundle the Data

If someone steals your credit card, you will cancel it.  One stolen credit card number isn’t worth very much.  But thousands of credit card numbers are worth something, because some fraction of those people won’t know their cards are stolen, and the numbers will still be good.  The same goes for email accounts, health records, spam lists, and most other easily-stolen data.

Last: Sell it to Hackers & Criminals

That’s right: Hackers are stealing your data to sell it back to other hackers.  If someone can buy a thousand social security numbers and health records for $500 per bundle, 10 of those might be good and they can create fake identities, selling them for $1000 apiece.  (I’m making up the numbers, but you get the idea.)

Or: Sell it to Users

In the case of ransomware, they aren’t selling the data to other hackers.  They steal (encrypt) your data and then sell it back to you.  If you are new to ransomware, check out our article on Cryptolocker for a description of how it works.

Recap: Why do Hackers Write Viruses?

Because they can make money.  Good spammers can make six figures per year, but they need lists of real email addresses.  CryptoLocker was thought to have made $30 million, but they need access to computers so they can encrypt users data.  Viruses are how they get this data.

What can you do about it?

  1. Get a good firewall and spam filtering service
  2. Get good antivirus and anti-malware software on your computer and update/scan regularly
  3. Keep your computer and all programs up to date
  4. Back up your data often

If you are worried about your security and how well protected you are against viruses, contact Strive for an evaluation.  We can help keep you safe, secure, and always running smoothly.

HIPAA Compliance Self-Assessment

HIPAA compliance is scary and difficult, and for small practices it can seem unreasonably burdensome.  For those businesses, we offer one of the most comprehensive HIPAA Compliance services in the industry.  Find out more about it here.

For those still in the research phase, we would like to offer you this HIPAA Compliance Self-Assessment.  This is by no means comprehensive, but it will point you in the right direction in your research. Read on to learn what you can do to become HIPAA complaint.

Security Policies and Procedures

Establish policies in order to handle and manage all security violations

  • Are your employees aware of the penalties that ensue from security violations?
  • Are internal penalties in place for employees who violate security procedures?
  • Do all your users know what to do in the event of security incidents or issues?
  • Is there a process in place to document, track, and address security issues or incidents?
  • Have you hired someone to track all security logs, reports, and records?
  • Do you have a security official in charge of a password and smart security policy?
  • Have you ever undertaken a risk analysis?

Documentation

In the event of an audit, you will need to prove your compliance.

  • Have you written down your security policies and procedures for your records?
  • Do you have documentation proving you’ve trained all your employees?
  • Do you have documentation proving you performed security risk assessments (SRA’s)?
  • Where the SRA shows shortcomings, do you have a remediation plan written down?
  • Do you have copies of all Business Associate Agreements (BAA’s)?
  • Do you have an incident management plan to show the auditors?
  • Is all of your documentation updated regularly and do you keep old versions to show progress?

Access Management

Restrict access to ePHI to those who have permission to access it.

  • Do you have measures in place to authorize or supervise access to ePHI?
  • Are there processes for determining the validity of access to ePHI?
  • In the event of employee termination, is their access to ePHI blocked?

Security Awareness Training

Establish a security awareness training program for all staff.

  • Are employees regularly reminded about security concerns?
  • Do you hold meetings about the importance of password, software, and IT security?
  • Are your employees aware of the process surrounding malicious software?
  • Do you have procedures for regular review of login attempts?
  • Do those procedures check for any discrepancies or issues?
  • Have you established procedures to monitor, manage, and protect passwords?

The Worst Case Scenario

Implement a plan for the protection and use of ePHI in the event of an emergency or disaster.

  • Are there tested and revised plans in place for an emergency?
  • Have you analyzed the applications and data needed for these emergency plans?
  • In the event of a disaster (I.T.E.O.A.D.), can you make or retrieve copies of ePHI?
  • I.T.E.O.A.D… Can you restore or recover all ePHI?
  • I.T.E.O.A.D… Will your ePHI be protected?
  • I.T.E.O.A.D… Can critical ePHI related business functions be completed?

 

I would like to thank Harrison Depner for this HIPAA Compliance Self-Assessment, first published at Kaseya’s blog.

6 Things to Consider Before Upgrading to Windows 10

Windows 10 Upgrade Is Available

Windows 10 has been available for a year now, and Microsoft wants everyone to upgrade to it.  You may have even seen some of the “invitations” to upgrade.  They’ve been pretty pushy about it.

As with all Microsoft upgrades, this is a mixed bag.  You may want to do it, you may not.  To help in your decision, here is a list of 6 things to consider before upgrading to Windows 10.

Upgrade Considerations

  1. The upgrade is free, but only for another month.  Microsoft is offering free upgrades via Windows Update until  July 29.  After that, you will have to pay for the upgrade.
  2. The Start menu is back.  One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 was the removal of the Start menu.  Microsoft listened to the feedback and brought it back for Windows 10.
  3. New look & feel. Some people love it for its simple and sleek look.  Some hate it, finding it over-stylized and less functional.  This shouldn’t make or break your decision, but realize it is different.
  4. Not all software & hardware is compatible. Even some newer computers were designed with components that couldn’t be used with Windows 10, or haven’t been tested yet.  So before you decide to upgrade to Windows 10, call your computer company and make sure they have up-to-date drivers for all of your PC’s components.  Also call your major software vendors and make sure their software has been tested on Windows 10.
  5. Upgrading can fail.  All of the upgrades we have seen and performed have gone smoothly and successfully.  However, we have also heard about a lot of unsuccessful attempts.  In fact, a company in Seattle just sued Microsoft–and won–for lost wages and a new computer because of a failed (and unauthorized) upgrade to their computers.
  6. The cost of upgrade problems. If the upgrade goes south, your computer(s) may be less efficient, may crash more, may become unusable, or may lose data.  It will probably go fine, but plan on a couple of days of problems, inefficiencies, and getting used to the new changes.

Our Advice

After considering all of the above, ask yourself why do you want to upgrade?  Do you need it?  If there are tangible benefits to Windows 10 that you really want now, then it is worth the risks.  Call your PC manufacturer and software vendors and make sure they all support Windows 10, then go ahead and upgrade.  If there isn’t a specific feature or set of benefits you are trying to leverage, we recommend not upgrading.  We generally recommend replacing computers every 3-5 years (click here to find out why).  And Windows 7 and 8 will be under official Microsoft support until 2020 and 2023.  This means you can upgrade to  Windows 10 safely as you replace your older machines rather than doing somewhat risky in-place upgrades on your existing production machines.

 

Have questions on Windows 10 upgrades or how to create a technology plan so you don’t have to worry about these kinds of things?  Call us today for a free 30 minutes telephone consultation!

A Better Way To Handle Passwords

We all know we’re not supposed to re-use passwords. Password security is tricky. We have heard the security experts telling us for years that it is dangerous to use the same password for multiple websites or accounts. Once a hacker gets your password from one site, the logic goes, they have your password everywhere.

But we all do it anyway. It was reasonable advice to give back when you had a secure password to your computer, your email, and maybe your bank. But with the cloud proliferating, we can easily have dozens or even hundreds of accounts. It’s like exercising every day and not eating sugar. We all know it’s a good idea, but we all know we’re not going to do it.

Password Managers: A better way to handle passwords

Here’s a novel idea: let technology fix the problem that technology has caused. Computers are really great at remembering things, even hundreds of passwords – you can use your own to strengthen your password security! How?

Password managers give you the best of both worlds: One secure password gets you into all your websites, and all of your websites have different passwords!

Here’s how it works. You install a piece of software on your computer and give it a strong “master” password. Then, when you sign up for a new website, it will see what you’re doing and ask, “would you like me to remember this password for you?” It can even generate secure passwords for you so you don’t have to think about it. Once you have everything set up, you’ll only ever need to remember two passwords, one for your computer and one for your password manager.

Our Suggestion for Password Security

There are a lot of good password managers out there, but we are going to recommend LastPass. It is very secure, easy to install, easy to use, and free! (They also have a paid version with advanced features.)

Plus, everything is stored securely in the cloud. This means you can safely sync all of your passwords across all your computers and mobile devices—Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, even Blackberry.

The security-conscious among us understand it’s hard to trust whether a company is telling you the truth about their security. LastPass let a well-respected independent auditor examine their code, and he gives it a thumbs up!

LastPass double- and triple-encrypts everything while it is on your computer, including your master password, before passing it all up to the cloud. This way, no one from the company has any way to access your passwords.

How To Start

Getting started with the LastPass password manager is easy: go to the website and install it. It will ask you for a username and password. Then, just open your preferred internet browser like normal. As you enter passwords, LastPass will offer to save them for you. When it alerts you of a website that has the same password as another, just change this as it comes up. It’s that easy!

How to Hire an IT Consultant

The Big Secrets: Want to know the big secret about how to hire an IT consultant?  Here it is:  Everybody can fix computers.  It’s true.  Anyone with the slightest talent for technology can be trained as a competent IT technician.

Lean in a little bit and I’ll let you in on big secret number two.  Ready?  All IT companies can fix computer problems equally as well.  Unless you are in the 0.5% of all companies out there that truly have a unique computer problem no one has seen, all tech support vendors will be able to fix your problems.

What does this mean for you?  When you are comparing IT companies to hire, don’t listen to them tell you they will fix your problems better than the competitor or your current vendor.  True, there are some actually bad and unskilled tech support providers out there, but you won’t be able pick them out of the crowd.  Just assume that when you call up any IT company with problem x, they will all be able to fix it.

Learn How to Hire an IT Consultant

The Real Differentiators: There are really only 3 ways that IT support companies differ from each other, which you should take into consideration when deciding how to hire an IT consultant:

  1. How they treat you: How they treat you is crucial. You don’t want to rely on Nick Burns to fix your computers.  Ask to call in to the tech support desk on a test call to see how they are.  Ask about their mission and company values and how they attract good people.  A tech consulting company’s hiring process will tell you a lot about the friendliness of the staff.
  2. How they ensure all their clients get good results: References from current clients are great, but has everyone ever given you a bad reference?  No.  The question is not whether they have some happy customers.  The question is how do they ensure their entire client base receives the same results as their favorite clients and references.  “We’re really good,” isn’t a good enough answer.  If they don’t have clearly defined processes and systems in place to ensure these results, they can’t guarantee them across the board.
  3. Knowledge and skill of employees:  As big as this one sounds, it is the least important of all differentiators.  What happens when the genius that used to take care of you gets hired by Google?  Who will replace him?  If that question worries you, then go back to #2 and ask that question again.

So don’t let the sales guy tell you that they can fix computers better than the other guys because they have smart employees, they’ve been doing it a long time, and they’ll assign you the best tech.  This is a recipe for disaster. Similarly, if you are unhappy with the tech consulting company you currently employ, “we will do better” isn’t a very good response when you ask them about the problem.  If they could really do better, why haven’t they already?

What To Ask An IT Company – Before You Pay

Here are some other questions to keep in mind when interviewing an IT support company, in no particular order.

  • Do you track your support metrics? Will you share averages with us?  This is a great way to compare claims of competence against competitors.  IT is a very measurable industry.  If they aren’t tracking these metrics, how can they know how to improve?
  • Do you use automatic remote monitoring tools? I hate asking this because it should be universal.  If they say no, run away.
  • Aside from installing a few tools, what do you do that is really proactive? If they claim to provide proactive tech support, make them back up their claims.
  • Let’s just assume you can fix my problems after they occur.  How are you going to keep them from happening in the first place?  Same as the last question, stated a different way.
  • What will you do to get to know us specifically as a client and how our business works? Even if they have a lot of clients, they should be able to give you advice and guidance customized for your particular needs.  Make sure they know how to do this.
  • Do you have a technology steering process?  You want to know your technology will be kept up to date, but you also don’t want to be “sold” on the latest fad.  Make sure they have a well defined, intentional way of providing solid advice. Will they steer your technology over time.
  • Are there multiple plans to select from? If so, are some missing key ingredients? This is a red flag of an inferior level of service.  Saving the money isn’t worth it, and neither is working with an IT support company that is willing to offer such a service to its customers.
  • Are they significantly less expensive than others? This is another red flag.  It costs a certain amount of money to provide quality IT support.  If some companies are significantly less than others, then they are not offering the same service. Or they are cutting corners somewhere.

What To Do Next

If you are unsure about how to proceed with an tech consulting company interview, please get in touch with us.  Yes, we understand how self serving it sounds to ask an IT company how to hire an IT consultant, but take a look at our mission and values.  We aren’t just in the business of technology consulting, we’re in the business of making people’s lives better.  If we can help out with some advice or to provide an honest counter proposal, we would be happy to do so.