Managing The Risk

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On 12th May 2017 a ransom ware attack hit many organisations around the world, some notably large ones such as the NHS and Telefonica, and their operations were hit severely. I pity the IT staff who would have had to work through the night and weekend to restore services.

It definitely could have been prevented or in the very least, reduced to a handful of devices rather than the majority. It appears that those running Windows XP, which went end of life in 2015, were particularly vulnerable as they no longer receive updates and patches. I do have to wonder why so many machines were hit when there are so many easy things a business can do to reduce risk.

Patch It

There’s a reason that vendors produce security updates and these days the delivery and installation is automated. Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) downloads the updates and deploys them from a central location on the network. Use it and take action on Critical and High Priority patches quickly. The bad guys are really good at exploiting vulnerabilities so the quicker you patch the quicker you’ve removed the vulnerability. Remember, it’s not just your Windows devices that need patching.  Everything including network equipment, switches and firewalls, etc need to be patched.

Make sure anti-virus, spam filters and web filters are updated regularly.

Look For Your Own Vulnerabilities

Use a tool such as Nessus to scan your network for vulnerabilities.  It will look for holes in your network, tell you where they are and suggest a way of securing the vulnerability.  It will even look for default passwords or misconfiguration. Run a regular scan and attack the vulnerabilities by priority with the Critical ones first.

Remove Legacy Systems If You Can

If you don’t need to run Windows XP then get rid of it and prevent it from happening.

What If You Can’t Get Rid of Legacy Systems?

There are a large amount of organisations that have legacy systems such as specific business software or manufacturing equipment that are dependent on old operating systems.  It’s either really costly to replace these systems or simply a replacement that works on a later operating system doesn’t exist. This is where you need to manage risk.

This requires you to really understand your IT estate, what you’re using on them and why you can’t move away from legacy operating systems.

Block the Internet

Viruses typically arrive via the internet. They’ll arrive by email or through a download on a webpage.  Usually they are dependent on the internet to perform their job so if you stop the old Windows XP systems reaching the internet the ransom ware can’t check in with the remote server.

Also, remove email from the Windows XP device and reduce it’s day to day usage to just that of the legacy system. Email can sit on newer devices.

Segregate The Network

Split the network up by using VLANs (virtual Local Area Network). This is a great way of controlling the flow of data across the network and prevent one part of it from talking to another.  For example, you don’t want the highest risk PC’s, such as those in the offices talking to the internet or email, having the ability to talk directly to the Windows XP computers that drive your very expensive manufacturing equipment.  Whilst it’s an inconvenience if your office employees can’t use the internet or email for a day or so, imagine the cost to a business if it can’t use its manufacturing equipment to make stuff.

Put all your servers on their own VLANs and stop the ability for them to talk directly to the internet. Create air gaps between key systems so that if a virus or a worm does infect your network they can’t jump across to legacy equipment as there’s no connectivity.

Lock Down Files

You should be doing this however lock down all your files to only those that need access to it.  You don’t want someone in your warehouse downloading ransom ware and then encrypting all your HR or Finance files because they can connect to them via a mapped drive.  The ransom ware takes the files and then changes the state of the file by encrypting it because the user that has introduced the virus has access.  No access then no ability to change the state.

Also, make sure that all key files are stored and backed up on a central server.  No data of any worth should be kept on a local PC. You need to be prepared to lose the data on the computer.

Take Regular Back Ups

I’m still amazed at how businesses do not invest wisely in back up technology.  Back up your data and ensure that access is restricted by a VLAN.  If an office worker can directly access your back ups on the network then the ransom ware worm they’ve just introduced on the network can as well.

Education, Education, Education

To quote a former Prime Minister…education is key.  Educate your users regularly on the risks to the business and how to spot a fake email and the opening of attachments.

Prepare For Infection

Resign yourself that you will be hit so prepare for the day.  Run through scenarios with staff and assign people to tasks that they will perform in the event of a disaster.

It’s Happened, I’ve Been Hit By Ransom Ware

Bugger. Don’t despair though as, if you’ve followed the good practices above then you’ve reduced the risk massively.  Only a small portion of your network has been infected and your legacy systems are happily ticking along.

Don’t pay the ransom and restore your workstations and data. Make it easier on yourself by using various technologies and methods such as virtualisation or online back ups. Make it quicker to restore desktop PC’s using images rather than reinstalling all over again.

Learn from it

If anything, this latest attack will sharpen the mind of board rooms to the issue of cyber security. This is a good thing as it’s not going away and has the ability to severely disrupt availability and integrity of data and more importantly, the reputation of a business.

Photo Credit: The Register

Restricting Everyone But Especially….Yourself!

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If you work in IT you would have heard of the principle of Least Privilege.

Least Privilege is only allowing the computer account that you use enough permissions to do the job it needs to do.  You’ll see this at work if you use a corporate network.  Say, for example, you work in the warehouse, then there’s no need that your network account needs access to the payroll or permission to install new programs onto the computer.  The account will need to access the warehouse management system but won’t need access to other things because your role dictates what it needs or doesn’t need. We tend to live with it in the corporate world and recognise why it’s there.

If you’re a decent Sysadmin then you’ll be applying the principle in your daily life and use at least 2 accounts, one for logging on and doing your day-to-day tasks such as reading emails and the other, an administrative account with higher permissions, to make changes to configuration, install and uninstall etc.

Home life is different and I’ll guarantee that just about everyone reading this makes this mistake. 

You’ve just bought your nice and shiny laptop, log on for the first time and create the first account which has administrative rights.  You may decide to create user accounts for the kids so that they can’t install loads of rubbish onto the laptop but you leave your account with administrative privileges so that you can install all manner of programs. Herein lies the problem.

You need to make it hard for the viruses.  Should you click on a dodgy link then, as you’re logged on as the dude with total control over the laptop, that virus is now going to exploit this and it’ll have the ability to do all sorts of things with those administrative privileges. It can rename user accounts, create new ones, delete information, change the integrity of data and worse of all, because it’s got the top privileges going, it can seek out and amend or delete those controls that you’ve put in place against viruses such as uninstalling anti-virus software or deleting your back up.

Treat your day-to-day account on your home laptop or desk the same way that you treat your kids accounts. Give yourself a user account that doesn’t have admin rights. If you need to install a program then choose to install it with the separate administrative account, either by right clicking and running as an Administrator or logging specifically as the administrative account and then logging off once done.

I won’t lie, I’ve been very very guilty of doing this at home but not anymore.  Experience has taught me it’s far better to avoid disaster than to manage  and restore from one.

Ok..so I’m using complex passwords so we’re all good, right?

Nah. You’re on the way to being a lot more secure than you were when you were using the same password across all web sites but you’ve not completely reduced the risk.

Add A Little Extra To Your Authentication….

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There are two elements that you use to log onto most websites; your username (typically email address) and a password.  So after reading my last blog you’ve changed all your passwords but it’s still possible that someone has managed to get it through a hack or social engineering.  You can add an extra layer to that authentication by introducing 2 Factor Authentication (2FA).

2 FA for most websites comes in the form of introducing your mobile number phone in the process.  You log onto the site using your username and password which then prompts the site to send you a text with a code.  You enter this code on the website to verify it’s you and then the device you’re using is now authorised.

This means that to impersonate you the hacker needs access to your mobile to intercept the text message.  It’s not impossible but it’s a lot harder.  I’m guessing if there is a hacker out there with the technology to get username, password AND text messages then you’re probably James Bond and the Chinese government are after you.

Not all websites use 2 FA but most of the major social media and email accounts do.  For instance, if you’re using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram then I suggest you set it up.  Likewise, if you’re using Gmail or Yahoo email and of course you don’t want anyone stealing your hard earned cash through Amazon.

The 2 Factor Auth List is a great website that lets you know whether a web site utilises 2 FA and also points you in the right direction on how to set it up.

https://twofactorauth.org/

What Else Can I Expect From This Blog?

Over the coming weeks I’ll cover such topics as:

  • Securing your personal information assets through backing up
  • Protecting yourself from viruses and attacks
  • Wifi networks….are you sure they’re secure?
  • How to protect your hard drives if they are stolen

If you’d like me to cover another topic then give me a shout!

Passwords…..My Complex Password Will Keep Me Safe, Right?

 

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Ok, so you’ve added a a number or even a bit of punctuation (!*@) to your password and you feel smug knowing that no hackers going to get the better of you. Right? Wrong!

The thing is, that complex password you’ve used is really hard to remember so you’ve used it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, Moonpig and that dodgy dating site you joined up to years ago.  So here’s the problem, we entrust all these websites to look after our personal information, our data assets and some do a better job  than others but you don’t know how they store your data or how or whether it’s encrypted. If you’ve ever clicked on a Resend Password button on a website and it’s sent it back in an email in clear text then you’ve got to question whether they are storing the password in clear text. If they are that lackadaisical with security then it won’t be too much effort for a hacker to get your password.

Now the hacker has your password and your login details, probably your email address. The same 2 bits of information that, when put together, will allow access to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, Moonpig and that dodgy dating site you joined up to years ago.  You need a separate complex password for each account.

I’ve Got 70 Online Accounts – I Can Hardly Remember One!

Creating and remember 70 complex passwords that don’t follow a pattern is some mean feat.  The way to remember them is to use a Password Manager. Password Managers are encrypted databases that can store passwords, create complex ones and interact with your browser so that they auto-login in for you. Typing and remembering the password is a thing of the past.

There are several out there however the one I would recommend is Dashlane mainly for its simplicity and easy to navigate GUI (graphical user interface). I installed it first on my desktop PC and then on my iPad and Samsung S7 and then laptop. The first time I used it the software found several websites that I routinely use and automatically entered their passwords into the database.  The security dashboard then told me how insecure I was.  It pointed out where I had really weak passwords and which websites I had re-used the same password, which was too many for me to admit here. I then set about changing my password on all these sites with the help of Dashlane creating a long and complex password. Eventually and after a couple of hours I had changed the amber warning alert to a nice green tick which informed me that all my passwords were strong and not re-used.  I feel a lot more comfortable about my online presence now.  If a website that I use gets hacked then I’m confident in that the damage is limited to only that single site.

There Is A Catch Though…..You Still Need To Remember A Password…

le-tiss-3Meh. Thought you escaped? Nope.  You still need to remember at least one complex password and that’s the one that allows you entry to the Password Manager itself. It’s got to be complex and it’s got to memorable so you don’t forget it. Write it down and store it in a black book, share that password with a trusted family member but don’t forget it.

Don’t choose something that can be easily guessed.  As I’m a #saintsfc fan I could choose something like LeTissier7 as a password but everyone knows I’m a fan of the club as it’s mostly what I talk about on Twitter so it wouldn’t be too hard to guess.

I suggest using a pass phrase. A phrase that when you put the first letter of each word together that will be your password.  For example:

Matt Le Tissier scored the last goal for Southampton at The Dell against Arsenal in 2001!

becomes

MLTstlg4SaTDaAi2001!

A bit long and very complicated but that does the trick!

Dashlane

If you want to try Dashlane then give me a shout and I’ll refer you.  Although it has a free version my referral will get you 6 months free of the Premium service which has more functionality such as synchronising across all devices.

https://www.dashlane.com/features/password-manager