Unsecure Security Cameras

As more businesses and homes add security cameras to monitor their premises, hackers are enjoying the view, too. While camera manufacturers can and should secure the backdoors to their systems, there are also steps you can take to protect your property.

We’re seeing an uptick in security camera systems being hacked, and one recent incident involved one of our retail clients and a newly installed system. Surveillance makes a lot of sense for retailers, especially if a camera image can help identify thieves. However, surveillance can also tip off potential thieves about the location of targeted goods to steal and camera blind spots, and sometimes your security system manufacturer leaves a back door open for Peeping Toms.

We discovered this possibility while working with a retail client. Both of us were surprised when a new system was hacked, and we had to pull a lot of information from our client when we responded to a call that the cameras weren’t working. We checked the system and found that not only had they lost their network, they also had some weird, out-of-character names for firmware and software upgrades.

We restored the network and the camera system, but it went out again the next day. We asked about changing camera-system names, and decided to call the manufacturer. In our conversations, we learned that the manufacturer had left a back door open, so they could work on various systems. From them, we learned how to close the back door so that our client’s system would be secure.

As disturbing as our experience was, it just reinforced our message to everyone with an IoT system, such as security cameras, to take these important steps:

  1. Change the default usernames and passwords that manufacturers supply with the equipment.
  2. Make sure you install all software and firmware updates for your IoT systems and your firewall.
  3. After you install any new or updated software or firmware, go back and check that there are no changes to any unique information you may be added.
  4. Recheck that information periodically to make sure nothing had changed.

If you see something that doesn’t look right, report it to us right away. Hacking is only going to become more problematic in 2018, and it only takes one intrusion point to open your entire system to cyberthieves. It can be devastating for you if it’s your home system, but it can much more devastating if it affects any client or customer information you’ve collected. Reach us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to close your back doors, side doors and trap doors.

Protecting Your Email Accounts

My dad wasn’t getting his personal email for a few days and thought it was because his service was down. We found otherwise, and he wasn’t the only victim. The message here is: Pay attention to oddities.

One of my dad’s symptoms of an email problem was that he wasn’t getting any messages. Unfortunately, that symptom doesn’t raise too many eyebrows these days because he figured a server was down – again.

But when the problem continued, he called, and we logged in to discover that his email was being forwarded to a Gmail account. We were able to re-secure his account, and it was one of those “no harm, no foul” situations this time. Next time, he might not be lucky.

But my dad wasn’t the only victim of an email invasion. One of our clients with an international business discovered that for a couple of days, all of their email was going into the “deleted” folder. They were expecting to have money wired in, so the email problem put them on heightened alert.

When we investigated, we found that they had been hacked and that hackers had added a rule to their email system that sent messages to the “deleted” folder and also forwarded the messages to an email address they had set up.

Both instances point out the need to be vigilant – and to follow safety precautions we’ve mentioned many times before.

  1. Make sure you have a strong password.
  2. Use long passwords that include upper- and lower-case letters, numerals and special characters.
  3. Change your password periodically.
  4. Never put information such as Social Security and bank account numbers in emails. They’re so easy to get picked off by hackers.
  5. Avoid sending emails that have umpteen thousand addresses in the “To” and “Cc” lines. It’s very easy for hackers to insert their own email address into someone else’s name and start a phishing expedition that could reel in sensitive, private information.

If you notice something funky about your email, get in touch with us right away. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help secure your email.

Managing Assistants

Alexa, Google Home, Siri and Cortana are online assistants who can help you get information and even order products without you ever having to tap a screen or look at one. They are a convenience, but they also raise privacy and security issues.

Siri (Apple) and Cortana (Microsoft) are associated with devices, such as phones, tablets and computers. In that type of user environment, you need to activate them with the device in your hand or on your desk, and they’re typically used for getting information, such as the weather, restaurant info or the answer to which person played for both the New York Rangers and Brooklyn Dodgers.

Alexa and Google Home may present other issues. In addition to answering questions, Alexa is tied to Amazon and its online shopping capabilities. We hear that Google Home may tie in with Walmart. With shopping available, you have another layer of concern. Somewhere, they have access to your credit-card information, and it may be possible for any voice to make a purchase.

We’ll be going to CES, the huge annual trade show for consumer electronics, in Las Vegas this month, and we plan to talk to all the manufacturers about their security and privacy protection measures. Until we have more information, here are some things you should know and can do to minimize your risk of a privacy breach or unwanted purchase – especially with Alexa, whom I call Alex when I don’t want to wake her.

Alexa and her fellow assistants remain asleep until they hear their “wake” word, but their microphones are always on. Being on is how they stay ready for your commands, but they should not be active until you wake them. So, here are some ways to help you protect from someone turning them on without your knowledge:

  • Change your “wake” word. Like most things in the IoT world, these assistants come with a default “wake” word. Go into the setup menu on the app, which you can get for your cell phone, and change it.
  • Use the mute button. Yes, it’s a pain to physically walk over to Alexa and push a button (some of you will cringe at memories of getting up to change a television channel), but it is effective – and easier than trying to run through 80-something over-the-air TV channels.
  • Use a PIN to make purchases or disable the function to make purchases by voice commands. Again, it’s an inconvenience, but we’ve discussed the tradeoff between security and convenience many times before.
  • Keep them away from windows so that any activity outside doesn’t activate them.
  • Use your app to see what’s been recorded through your assistant and delete any or all of those recordings. You can also your app to configure and toggle sound notifications, even for multiple units in one home (or office).

You can also follow the IoT cybersecurity steps we’ve published over the past year or so:

  • Change default usernames and passwords immediately. Make your new passwords strong and unique.
  • Install upgrades and updates from your IoT manufacturers. They usually contain security patches and bug fixes.
  • Make sure your Wi-Fi systems and firewalls are secure. That’s your first line of defense. Install upgrades and updates for your gateways and anti-virus and anti-malware apps.
  • Only use secure Wi-Fi networks.

We can audit your Wi-Fi security and help you fine tune the settings for your virtual assistant. Just call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for reports from CES.

‘Free’ Streaming

Not all streaming is meant to be shared – or least not shared with dozens of strangers around the world. Cable companies and content providers are concerned about lost fees as access credentials to programming are increasingly abused. They’re cracking down on piracy.

Stealing service has been a problem since the first electrical wires and meters were installed more than 100 years ago. For cable and content providers, it became an issue when the first cable wires were strung up. The problem has grown as technology has developed more content and more ways to get it. Putting aside the issue of whether it’s all overpriced, it costs money to develop and deliver the content we love to watch, and too much of it is “falling off the back of an electronic truck.”

We can watch content for free on our TVs when they receive broadcast signals. But for the most part, the only people who watch broadcast TV are those who have cut the cord and stream through their TVs on their internal Wi-Fi or wired networks. For them, a TV is a device, just like a tablet, wireless phone or computer.

Cable providers have relationships with content providers that enable subscribers to stream cable-delivered content or simply stream it from the content providers. You get a username and password, and you’re good to go. You can even share your account with others, and almost all of us have done it at one time or another, especially with Netflix or Amazon Prime. Some providers encourage it.

Unfortunately, some people have taken sharing too far. The content industry has been OK with sharing info with a few friends or family members, but the problems arise when those friends and family members start sharing access with their friends and family. It’s all gone viral, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Every provider who issues usernames and passwords also has the means to track who is accessing content and where they’re watching it. They expect that subscribers will stream their programming when they’re traveling, and they can usually verify access privileges are being properly used. Most vacations are a week or two, and even if you move around a bit, you’re generally not in locations a world apart within the space of two days – or on the same day.

The industry can track possible abuse, and there are steps they can take – if they haven’t done so already – to limit access without alienating honest, rule-abiding subscribers. They can require all subscribers to re-enter or change passwords more frequently. It’s a risk for them because some subscribers may find this an inconvenience and drop their service. However, it’s one way to shut off access to a large number of pirates in one fell swoop.

They can also limit the number of shares they’ll allow. While Netflix, for example allows up to four shares for its most expensive plan, and providers such as HBO and DirecTV allow limited sharing. ESPN may have limits on how many streams are allowed, but that could be independent of limits placed by cable or satellite carriers.

The industry can threaten to cut off subscribers – or actually cut their cords – but that gets into all sorts of sticky legal and customer-service issues. For example, do you take action against the parents who gave their college-age kids access? Do you go after their kids? Do you go after the users of devices they believe are “invalid users?”

This problem will become more prominent on the industry’s radar screen because a lot of money is at stake. Content producers need to be paid for their product, and that payment depends on how many subscribers watch it. Cable and satellite companies pay fees to producers and collect fees from advertisers and subscribers based on the number of valid users. Nobody wants money taken off the table because of a discrepancy between subscribers and viewers.

Finally, all this sharing raises a nagging question in the back of our mind: If someone has access to an account that you pay for, how can they use this access for their own gain at your expense? Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for help in tightening up your access controls.