Hackers are making a new push at breaching your information through text messages. Their content is similar to phishing emails: your billing, delivery information, etc.Continue reading
Privacy vs. Privilege
So, you want to block ads and pop-ups? That’s fine – because we’ve identified ads and pop-ups as gateways for hackers to penetrate your systems and networks. But even the safe ads and pop-ups can be annoying and an intrusion on your privacy.Continue reading
Cover Your Apple Tracks with iOS 14.5 Feature
Are you tired of apps tracking you across the face of the earth? Are you fed up with being just bits of data? Are you wary of the extent someone might go to sell something – no matter how much you might need it?Continue reading
COVID Vax Posts Help ID Thieves
You lock your doors. Security cameras ring your house. And then you post pictures of your vaccination cards on Facebook after you get your injection. We regard our vaccinations as an achievement and an encouragement for others to get their shots. Identity thieves are not gonna miss their shot at mining your data.
Let’s be real. The information on most vaccination cards is minimal: your name and your date of birth. Both pieces of information are likely known to many people and organizations who interact with you, and it’s all readily available on public information websites. We won’t get into how many of you don’t make your year of birth available on Facebook for “privacy” reasons. But you do appreciate birthday greetings.
That said, let’s get back to the vaccination cards. I fall into two groups: 1c for my age and 1b for health reasons. If an ID thief is looking for some way to carry out medical fraud, my info is right there. Looking at my age and 1b status, the thief has the makings of a target. The name and date of birth on an official document validates who you are.
The thief can find my home address. Again, it’s public information, but when it’s added to my “dossier,” it’s another piece of a puzzle. I know I have added more clues about me when I shared some of my hospital visits. By and of themselves, each piece is small, but a thief may have enough to start looking at things just to let me know that they know me.
Then comes the phishing email disguised as an offer about some kind of insurance. If I bite by clicking on a link or opening an attachment, the thief can plant some malware to get a lot more information by mining my data. They might even get into my medical records and have enough info to file a false claim for treatment I never had. They might also lock me out of my records by changing all my login credentials and using HIPPA regulations. In short, I can wind up on the hook to pay for treatment I never had, and I can’t get info about the bill.
It’s one scenario about how big data can be mined – legally and illegally – from one small piece.
You can be vulnerable in other ways.
Let’s say you take a car trip somewhere, and you post a picture that includes your car and shows its license plate number. If your car is desirable, a thief can use your license plate number to trace your address – or maybe start observing you. When you leave the car somewhere, such as in a supermarket parking lot, it’s easy enough to get the VIN number through the windshield and then take steps to retitle your car before stealing it and selling it “legitimately.”
Big data makes these examples possible. There’s a lot more out there all the time, and hackers are more sophisticated. Better software tools allow more thieves to gather and analyze data to pinpoint a target and let them commit a larger number of small crimes that add up to decent money.
Our advice is simple: Don’t put any more of your data out there than is absolutely necessary. Be careful about what you photograph and post. Be careful about how you handle email and about the info you provide – even to legitimate businesses and organizations – by email or telephone. Even with those you know, question why they need certain information, such as your Social Security Number. Use common sense.
You can augment your common sense by keeping all your operating system and application software up to date; updates usually include security patches and bug fixes. Install, properly configure and update anti-virus and malware protection software. We can help you install and maintain software. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment.
Oh, and one more thing: Get your COVID vaccination as soon as you can!
Websites and the Need to Know
Why do some companies and organizations, especially non-profits, feel the need to post the names of their entire staffs on their websites? The question came up in a recent conversation with an IT colleague.
Smaller companies and non-profits seem to get hack-attacked more often, and they tend to list everyone in the company or organization on their websites – along with their contact information. If that organization is running “lean and mean,” it could have a lot of people wearing many hats and juggling unrelated tasks. That can create a vulnerability when an outsider can distract a busy worker who has access to sensitive information.
Here’s a possible scenario that illustrates the problem.
When you list the contact info for the bookkeeper, you may be listing it for an employee who has access to all the organization’s financial data but has no need for public contact. A hacker doesn’t need to be especially skillful to use the bookkeeper’s email address to launch a phishing attack in a variety of ways. The most obvious, of course, would be to spoof a bank. But it could also be a spoof email from someone connected with the organization who is looking for something, such as wanting to know if a check was deposited.
If the bookkeeper responds to the bogus bank link or the spoofed email, it could open the door to getting more financial information or sensitive data – not only from your organization but from every person or organization you deal with.
Why take the risk? If you limit names and contact information to those whose duties involve some aspect of public contact, you can limit your exposure. If someone really needs to contact your bookkeeper, for example, they can call a general phone number for the organization where a gatekeeper can determine if it’s a legitimate call or can “take a message” so the bookkeeper or another employee can return the call. If the contact is made by email, it can go to a general mailbox, where a gatekeeper can read it and distribute it appropriately.
If you limit contact info in a small company or non-profit to the C-Suite, you can limit your exposure to hacking, ransomware and other vulnerabilities. If people outside your organization need to contact specific individuals, that information can be provided privately.
We can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help you set up appropriate email addresses and work with your web designer to make your website more secure.
Home is Where the Hack Is
Don’t think your home is too small to be a hacker’s target. The recent invasion of a young girl’s bedroom through a camera system has sparked a lawsuit and some hot discussion about who’s at fault. Ultimately, you need to make you cover all the bases, and the Department of Homeland Security offers some help in making sure you know where the bases are.
DHS rightly states what we think is obvious about the two common misconceptions home users share about the security of their networks:
- Their home network is too small to be at risk of a cyberattack.
- Their devices are “secure enough” right out of the box.
Besides those misconceptions, home networks – no matter how many smart devices or dumb devices they connect – have many moving parts. In addition to cameras and smart speakers, to name just two, our networks include routers, computers, mobile devices and TVs. So, even though you may think you have a strong username and/or password for every device, there’s a possibility you can miss one key setting – or there’s a possibility that someone using your network has the weak link in your security chain that provides outside access.
The DHS checklist, which we summarize below, is a good place to start. It reiterates a lot of actions we’ve told you to take over the years, and it’s a good refresher.
- Update your software regularly. Besides adding new features and functionality, software updates often include critical patches and security fixes for newly discovered threats and vulnerabilities. (See Understanding Patches and Software Updates.)
- Remove unnecessary services and software. They can create security holes in a device’s system that could lead to a larger attack surface of your network environment. This is especially true with pre-installed trial software and apps installed on new computers. Remove what you don’t use.
- Adjust factory-default configurations on software and hardware. They’re intended to reduce the troubleshooting time for customer service. Harden them to reduce vulnerabilities.
- Change default log-in passwords and usernames. Most network devices are pre-configured with default administrator passwords to simplify setup. They’re not secure. Change them.
- Use strong and unique passwords. Choose strong passwords and don’t use the same password with multiple accounts. (See Choosing and Protecting Passwords for more information.)
- Run up-to-date antivirus software. A reputable antivirus software app can automatically detect, quarantine, and remove various types of malware, such as viruses, worms, and ransomware.
- Install a network firewall. It can block malicious traffic from your home network and alert you to potentially dangerous activity. When properly configured, it can also serve as a barrier for internal threats, preventing unwanted or malicious software from reaching out to the internet. We can help you configure them.
- Install firewalls on network devices. In addition to a network firewall, consider installing a firewall on all computers connected to your network. We can help you configure them, too.
- Regularly back up your data. Consider using a third-party backup application, which can simplify and automate the process. Be sure to encrypt your backup to protect the confidentiality and integrity of your information. Data backups are crucial to minimize the impact if that data is lost, corrupted, infected or stolen.
- Increase wireless security. Follow the
steps below to increase the security of your wireless router or ask us for help.
- Use the strongest encryption protocol available. DHS recommends using the Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) Personal Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Temporary Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), which is currently the most secure router configuration available for home use.
- Change the router’s default administrator password to deter an attack using default credentials.
- Change the default service set identifier (SSID), the “network name” that identifies a wireless network. Make it unique and not tied to your identity or location.
- Disable Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). A design flaw in the WPS specification for PIN authentication significantly reduces the time required for a cyberattacker to brute force an entire PIN.
- Reduce wireless signal strength to reduce your electronic footprint.
- Turn the network off when not in use or automatically disable the Wi-Fi at specified times to prevent outside attackers from breaching your home network.
- Disable Universal Plug and Plan (UPnP) when not needed. Recent large-scale network attacks prove that malware within your network can use UPnP to bypass your router’s firewall to control your devices remotely and spread malware to other devices.
- Upgrade firmware to enhance product performance, fix flaws, and address security vulnerabilities.
- Disable remote router management to guard against unauthorized individuals accessing and changing your router’s configuration.
- Monitor for unknown device connections to monitor for unauthorized devices joining or attempting to join your network. Also see the manufacturer’s website for tips on how to prevent unauthorized devices from connecting to your network.
- Mitigate Email Threats. Phishing emails continue to be one of the most common and effective initial attacks. They prey on the human element – the weakest component in every network – by persuading a user to click on a link or open an attachment.
All the steps you can take are common sense, but they’re often overlooked in our hurry to get a new product or feature online. The hacker looks to exploit momentary carelessness. We can review your home or office network with a security assessment and help you implement any of the steps in this checklist. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.
Email in Disguise
The trend of getting voicemail messages through email is opening new doors for hackers to enter computer systems. Scammers are using email with spoofed addresses to hack into business operations, such as wiring money. Today’s office environment provides a perfect setup for a hacker: You hit people when they’re juggling multiple tasks, and you come across as a colleague or customer in an expected environment. We have two examples from our client experiences that show how easy it is for a problem to go undetected. And we have some tips to strengthen your security.
The problem with the voicemails happened while we were on vacation in Hawaii, which has a six-hour time difference with New Jersey. Our client reported getting emails about missed calls – which could have been generated by their voicemail/email system. It’s a growing trend to handle voicemails because phone and email run on the same networks, and sometimes it’s more effective for an employee to click a link and return the call while the message is on the screen.
And that’s how this problem showed up. Every time our client clicked on the link, nothing happened. When we got back from vacation, our first job was to install a new computer for the client. Everything went as planned, but then we got a call that the client only had 11 emails in the system. To make a long story short, it took all day to find all of the emails in a “recovery for deleted emails” folder and restore them – all 75,000 of them. The time was lengthened because we needed to sort them to cull the voice-mail files.
We changed the password immediately to cover the possibility the computer may have been hacked. After that was done, we got a call that our client couldn’t click to return numbers left in voicemails. I left a voicemail, and we were able to get a return call.
The likely issue is that someone from the outside spoofed a known and trusted phone number. The lesson here is that if it happens a second time, don’t click the link. While you may not know if you were hacked or fooled by some malware, you should know that something is wrong and needs attention. The earlier you let us know about it, the sooner we can work with you to mitigate the problem and minimize damage.
A second incident could have been catastrophic. Again, we awoke to find several urgent emails from a client that regularly wires large sums of money to entities worldwide. The incident occurred July 1, when they were preparing to wire nearly $100,000 to an entity. The entity to which they were wiring the money said they hadn’t received their wire in April. That raised alarms. We learned that the amount of money in both transfers was consistent, and the entity to which the money was to be wired could change names from time to time. Everything with the April and July transfers seemed to be within the realm of normal operations.
While we couldn’t get the April money back (the client had insurance to cover it), they were able to halt the July transfer. At the same time, we worked with them to develop new policies to help double-check money-wiring instructions and monitor the process better.
Among the key takeaways from these incidents, you should always be on guard because hackers and cyberthieves are getting much, much better at disguising their identities. When it comes to VOIP and cellular voicemails, it becomes way too easy to click on a number to return a call. That click could direct you to a link that installs some kind of malware. You can write down the phone number and initiate a phone call – much in the same way you can open a browser and go to a website instead of clicking on a suspicious link. In a related matter, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is about to force telephone carriers to verify the phone number location of incoming calls. This should reduce – at least for now – phone number spoofing.
Also, be vigilant about looking for anything that looks like a change in your operations or the entities you deal with. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call somebody to verify instructions.
We can help you fight fraud and mitigate security issues in a number of ways, including security assessments and developing and installing rules and policies for critical operations. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.
Inside the World of Updates
Facetime updates got a lot of face time recently with all the reports about how a 14-year-old discovered a bug that left a mic open even if a recipient didn’t answer a group Facetime call. It was shocking but not surprising, based on how updates are developed and implemented.
Apple, Microsoft, Google and other technology companies are huge corporations and, as such, are highly compartmentalized. When I visit trade shows and conferences and can find an engineer or software developer to discuss very specific issues related to hardware, firmware or software, the conversations very technical and very tightly focused. They are brilliant people, but they operate in silos.
So, when a problem like the Facetime issue surfaces, it’s likely to involve a piece of code that only one person or a small team worked on – based on instructions that may have come down through several layers of command. That person or team didn’t talk the public or get any feedback based on a personal interaction. Further, the amount of code needed to implement a feature such as a group Facetime session is massive. It’s written in sections and assembled in sections, and even though they are tested, errors can occur each time lines of code from various teams are put together. The people involved do a great job, and the percentage of errors to lines of code written is practically microscopic.
The bottom line is that bugs will show up in the real world, and they need to be found and fixed before any catastrophic consequences show up. But code is not the only factor in updating software for use on a computer or device. We see a lot of old computers and devices with old operating systems that simply cannot handle updates.
We were reminded of the technology gap that opens up when working with older systems. It involved a family business, and technical challenges arose as some family members wanted capabilities that were requested by others. The challenges came as we had to work with computers and devices with a wide range of ages and with differences between Windows 7 and Windows 10. We had to be mindful that Windows 7 is 12 years old and that we are six versions into Windows 10.
Our common thread in the solution had to be sealing up security breaks. We can’t emphasize enough that security patches are the biggest improvements in upgrades and updates, although we all get excited about new features and capabilities. And the problem is that an older system can only handle a limited number of security and feature updates.
At some point, it doesn’t pay for a software or hardware provider to support older systems. Their developers have to jump from one issue to another like playing Whac-A-Mole, and then there is a smaller universe of real-world users to provide feedback on the new code and then use it.
One of our missions is to make the most efficient use of your money. We’ll always do our best to avoid having you buy new equipment or software by trying to find a good workaround. But sometimes, buying new technology can give you a better return on your investment, and one of the reasons to do so is to take advantages of upgrades and updates that are used by a larger universe of people and businesses. That can be especially beneficial based on the how the update world lives.
We can help you install, configure and test updates, and we can advise you on whether to upgrade or keep your current technology. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for a consultation.
Password Agony; No Ecstasy
Passwords are a total pain. Upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters in one password are likely unbreakable over the course of a lifetime. But just to be safe, you’re required to change them periodically – without repeating one you’ve previously used for a website. And if you go to extremes, well, it is possible that someone can beat you over the head and hold your finger or an open eye in front your phone and access your bank account. A password manager could relieve that pain.
Password managers are applications on your computers and devices to access a database where your passwords are stored. One of the big pains they relieve is the need to remember multiple complex combinations of letters, numbers and characters that – to be effective – are totally random. Almost all password managers let you create a master password for access to your identity vault, and then the password manager fills in individual user IDs and passwords for the sites and apps you use. One benefit is that you can give each site or app a different, complex and hard-to-remember password. They also relieve the burden of making required password changes for websites by generating a new one.
For those of you thinking several steps ahead, you are not tied to a password manager forever. You can always download the database with your passwords and user names, allowing you to leave the service and change passwords at each website as needed.
Of course, there’s some risk to a password manager. If a hacker gains access to your master password, all your accounts are open to plundering. Likewise, if a hacker manages to breach the central vault of the password management company, it’s possible that millions of account credentials could be stolen in a single hack.
Good password managers have defenses for both possibilities. Most employ multifactor authentication, so access is granted only with both a correct password and a correct authentication code. That code exists only on a device you own, limiting the ability for someone on the other side of the world to gain access to your information. They also encrypt your password information locally, before it ever leaves your devices, on the servers operated by the vendors. In most cases, this is strong enough.
You have a lot of choices for password managers. We happen to like Dashlane, which gets strong reviews from sources such as PC Magazine, Tom’s Guide, and CNET. You can find more than enough reviews of Dashlane and other program managers, some subscription-based and some free. You should remember that we’re not always enamored with free programs, but regardless of price, here are some things to consider.
Your password manager should secure your data on your machine and in the cloud with an industry-accepted, tough form of encryption that’s widely used today. Along that line, it’s good to have a password manager that scans the dark web to make sure you haven’t been compromised.
It should work across multiple platforms with software for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and you should be able to install it on an unlimited number of devices for a single (usually paid) account, store an unlimited number of passwords and generate new, strong passwords for you, even on a mobile device. We like one that can alert you to data breaches and give you a two-factor authentication option for master passwords. Some will offer to save personal information, such as personal details, credit-card numbers and other frequently used information to quickly fill out online forms. While this is optional, it may be safer than letting a website save your credit-card information.
While no password manager can recover your master password if you forget it, it’s helpful to have one that lets you reset your password. Another good feature is one that lets you provide an emergency contact so that a trusted person can access your websites and apps if you are unable to do so.
Choosing a password manager and setting it up can be daunting tasks, but we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for answers to your questions or to walk through the setup.
Airports, Wi-Fi and VPNs
Since most of us fly in and out of Newark Liberty International Airport, you might want to know that it’s ranked fifth on one list of airports where your phone is mostly likely to be hacked. Setting up a VPN (virtual private network) might not be your answer, either, because they are not always as reliable as you think for protecting privacy. Your best protection is your own cybersmarts.
Newark’s lack of security was highlighted in a recent article by Tech Republic about the 10 US airports where you’re most likely to be hacked. That article was based on a report by Coronet, an internet security provider, which looked at the 45 busiest airports in the country. The report applies mostly to businesses, but a lot of it can apply to all travelers.
Why are airport wi-fi systems vulnerable? Lax cybersecurity at most airports lets bad guys onto insecure public wi-fi to introduce a plethora of advanced network vulnerabilities, such as captive portals (AKA Wireless phishing), Evil Twins, ARP poisoning, VPN Gaps, Honeypots and compromised routers. Any one of these network vulnerabilities can empower an attacker to obtain access credentials to Microsoft Office 365, G-Suite, Dropbox and other popular cloud apps; deliver malware to the device and the cloud, and snoop and sniff device communications. Further, not all VPNs give you rock-solid protection against attacks, and USB charging stations are notorious being vulnerable to attack.
To be fair, the report puts the probability of connecting to a medium-risk network at 1 percent and the probability of connecting to high-risk network at 0.6 percent. The same numbers for the worst airport, John Wayne Airport-Orange County Airport are 26 and 7 percent, respectively.
But why take a chance when you can take steps to reduce even the slightest risk? Even at a 1 percent risk, you’re still gambling, and the cost of a breach could be more than the cost of more data on your cellular plan. To be safe, use cellular data in public places.
But let’s try to put all of this in perspective. If you’re checking your email or browsing the internet at the airport, you’re not using much cellular data. The heavy use comes in streaming movies or TV shows or in downloading content with a lot of pictures and video. To keep data use minimal, change your settings so you don’t download pictures and video. If you can, download and store reading and viewing material onto a device before you leave home. If not, buy a newspaper or carry a book to kill time at the airport.
When you’re at various locations – anywhere in the world – make sure you check that you are on a legitimate network. In Europe, for example, we found that the wi-fi networks were faster than data networks, and that made it better to use them to download email. But if speed is not an issue or if the wi-fi is slow, you’re safer on cellular.
We’d also like to add one more reminder: Although this article deals with airports, the same safety precautions apply to any public network. They’re all prime targets for hackers. The notorious bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks. His answer: “That’s where the money is.” Today, data is where the money is; hence the hackers.
If you have any questions about securing your phones, devices and computers, call us – 973-433-6676 – and email us.