Wi-Fi is getting its first major update in almost 20 years. On April 1 of last year, the FCC announced that they would be opening up more of the broadband internet spectrum to unlicensed traffic.
This is an exciting moment for Wi-Fi users everywhere, but before you start preparing to change over and fill your office with new Wi-Fi 6 devices, let’s discuss what Wi-Fi 6 is, what improvements it brings to the Wi-Fi experience, and when such devices will be available to general users.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
The 6 in Wi-Fi 6 refers to the area of the spectrum the FCC is opening up. Wi-Fi 6 will allow routers to broadcast their signal in the 6GHz frequency of the band, in addition to the 5GHz and 2.4GHz ranges already open to ordinary consumer devices.
This represents the biggest change in Wi-Fi since the FCC first cleared the way for Wi-Fi in 1989. By opening up the 6GHz area of the spectrum, there will now be more space for routers and other devices. This increased bandwidth space will reduce interference and improve the user experience for everyone. Even users without Wi-Fi 6 devices can benefit, as Wi-Fi 6 devices leave the 5GHz and 2.4GHz areas of the spectrum, freeing up more space for older devices.
Faster Wi-Fi At Your Fingertips
Latency, the amount of time it takes for something to load, can be more than just a nuisance; it can also sap productivity and disrupt workflow. Your Wi-Fi connection can be slowed down by a number of factors, including how many devices are trying to connect at once and how strong your signal is. Opening up the spectrum will allow devices to spread out, much like widening a road reduces congestion, allowing all Wi-Fi traffic to move faster and more reliably.
These faster speeds are achieved using OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access), which lets routers split data into smaller packets and transmit information to multiple devices at a time. This is a significant improvement over the older OFDM method that earlier Wi-Fi versions use, which relied on a single queue system that required each device to patiently wait its turn to receive or transmit data to the router.
Increased Device Range
If your workplace is small enough that you only require a single router, you likely won’t notice a huge range difference between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6. However, larger workplaces that require multiple routers (and rely on a mesh system) will be able to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6’s faster speeds to place access points farther apart without sacrificing speed or signal strength. This will make Wi-Fi 6 ideal for workplaces where cabling is difficult or impossible.
More Battery Power
Connecting to Wi-Fi, and staying connected, can quickly drain your device’s battery, particularly if you are moving in and out of range. The increased range of Wi-Fi 6, coupled with its ability to comfortably support more devices at a time, will reduce demand on your device’s battery.
This is achieved using wake time targets (also called target wake times or TWT), which allows the device to “sleep” when it isn’t actively sending or receiving information. Traditional Wi-Fi required devices to stay on and wait for information, slowly draining the battery even when you aren’t actively using your device.
Wi-Fi 6 is a Boon to the Internet of Things
The IoT has revolutionized a lot of the things we do, but without a fast and reliable Wi-Fi connection, these connected smart devices can be incredibly frustrating to use. Wi-Fi 6 is perfectly situated to support IoT devices, since Wi-Fi 6 access points will be able to support more devices, without compromising connection speed or quality, than their 5GHz and 2.4GHz counterparts.
Though many individuals in the tech space are currently focused on how Wi-Fi 6 will benefit larger venues (such as large retail spaces, healthcare facilities, stadiums, and the hospitality industry), the IoT industry stands to benefit significantly. Some technology manufacturers are even already offering Wi-Fi 6 routers and other devices.
There are a few features the Internet of Things is particularly set to benefit from, including:
- Speeds of approximately 10Gbps, or even 12 Gbps, over short distances.
- MPTL (Modular Plug Terminated Links) offering faster device connections.
- The ability to support 4x as many devices per access point.
- More efficient data throughput, which is particularly useful for IoT devices and applications that rely on 4K video, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality.
- Target wake times mean longer battery lives.
The Pace of Change
Though most home internet users and organizations won’t necessarily switch over right away, there are already several Wi-Fi 6 routers, access points, and other devices on the market, including products from big names such as Cisco and Mist.
Updating your current infrastructure to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6 may be a daunting proposition, and before you make any change you will need to make sure your new configuration is both secure and complies with all relevant security standards. Make sure you consult with knowledgable experts, including your MSSP, to help make your transition as smooth and secure as possible.
Fear is one, if not the most, powerful motivators for action. It’s a profoundly primal instinct designed to protect us from harm by searing bad experiences into our memories so that we can avoid them in the future. Spam relies on the instinct of fear to get otherwise rational people to act irrationally. Many data engineers are actually trained on the tactics that scammers use to trick their victim into clicking on malware.
How is Spam Related to Fear?
Spam accounts for 85% of all email sent and received globally on a given day, and refers to any unsolicited and unwanted communication, usually email, that is sent out in bulk. Though most spam aims to sell unproven, ineffective, and possibly dangerous products and services to gullible consumers, a small percentage aims higher.
These spam emails, such as phishing emails or malicious links or attachments, usually utilize fear tactics to gain information related to usernames, passwords, or banking information from unsuspecting readers.
How Does Fear Make Spam Effective?
Fear makes us deeply uncomfortable and can override even our most rational instincts. Scammers and other cybercriminals know this, which is why they play on our fears to manipulate us into doing what they want.
How Spam Sparks Fear
Most of us strive to be good, so when even the most rational among us receive an email saying there was a billing error or that we owe unpaid taxes, our fear response kicks in to respond. The same thing happens when we’re told our computer is infected with malicious software, or that we are suspected of being connected to some illegal activity, and the police are on their way to arrest us unless we “click the following link.”
Even seemingly positive spam emails play on our sense of fear of missing out. After all, if we aren’t willing to help a wealthy Nigerian prince gain access to his vast fortune, he will just ask someone else for help, and we will miss out on the generous reward. This holds true for spam emails selling a “miracle cure” since missing out on a “miracle cure” motivates the fear of poor health down the road.
All of these scenarios spark fear of consequences or fear of missing out, priming us to act.
Spam Positions Itself as the Solution
Once the scammer has frightened us, they swoop in and offer a solution. Often it’s something very simple and straightforward, such as clicking a link, downloading a file, or responding to the email with personal information. After all, it’s in the scammers’ best interest to make it as easy as possible for you to hand over your money or personal information.
Once the action is complete, the reader is compromised, and the scammer has all or most of the information they need to harm the reader, either by stealing money from their accounts or using their credentials for nefarious purposes.
The Anatomy of a Spam Email
The average spam email follows a fairly predictable format. The headline is usually phrased to invoke a sense of urgency and trigger our fear response (such as “Payment Declined – Immediate Update Required” or “Re: Claim Office”, which makes it look like someone is responding to an email you sent them.) The email headline may also be worded to suggest that the reader is the one in the wrong (such as implying that a payment is past due, or that this is a final payment notice).
The Sender’s Address
The sender’s persona typically falls into one of two broad categories: They are pretending to be someone authoritative that you trust (such as an Apple employee who wants to help rectify your payment problem) or someone you know (like a co-worker who needs some information from you).
The Body of the Email
In the body of the email, the message of fear really takes root. The reader is typically told that something has gone wrong (or that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has presented itself) and that they need to take action to either fix the problem or reap the rewards. In the above examples, a declined payment will likely require the reader to input their “correct” or “updated” banking information so that the payment can be processed or their reward can be sent, or provide other personal information.
The scammer may even ask you to help them perpetuate the scam by having you respond to them and forward the email to your contacts. This not only gives them access to your bank account or other personal details but also makes their original email seem more legitimate to your friends or co-workers by having it come from someone they trust.
The Goal of Spam
The goal of most spam is to scare us into acting quickly by instilling a sense of urgency and triggering a fear response. This helps ensure that the reader acts before they have rationally considered the email, and asked themselves important questions such as who sent it, why they are sending it, and what risk they take in responding to the email.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Fear-Motivated Spam?
One of the easiest things you can do to help protect yourself from email spam is ensure that you have robust spam filters installed. These filters can prevent the most obvious spam from getting through to you or your employees.
Next, you should always take a close look at the sender. Is this someone you can trust? If you aren’t absolutely sure the sender is trustworthy, then you should reach out to them via a communication channel (such as calling your friend or contacting the company’s support line directly) to verify. This is particularly true for unsolicited emails or emails that are formatted so that they appear to be a response to an email sent by you.
Finally, you should evaluate each email carefully. Look for obvious red flags. These include:
- Typos in the sender’s address, such as “[email protected] (Note the extra “p” in the domain name). However, DNS spoofing allows scammers to masquerade as legitimate companies, so make sure you look at the whole email address, not just the domain name.
- The form of address. Does the sender address you by name, or simply call you “customer” or “friend”?
- Embedded links with strange URLs. To assess a URL, hover over the text without clicking so that you can see the actual address. If the link appears suspicious, enter it into your browser directly instead of clicking on the embedded link. Spam emails often include spoofed links that are designed to look like they originate from reputable sources.
- Bad spelling, grammatical errors, and typos. This may indicate that the writer has a poor grasp of English, or that the text was translated using a translating app such as Google Translate.
- Suspicious attachments. If a suspicious email includes attachments, verify why they are there and what they contain when you contact the sender.
- Offers that sound too bad (or too good) to be true. Apple isn’t going to brick your iPhone over a billing error, and even if that Nigerian prince is real, he has no reason to share his vast fortune with you just because you forwarded his chain email to all your friends and family members.
Spam doesn’t look like it is going anywhere soon, so we need to take steps to safeguard ourselves and our businesses from cybercriminals. Learning to identify spam can help, and remember: when in doubt, don’t click.
Though traditionally operational technology and information technology were kept separate, these two worlds are becoming increasingly intertwined, and both forms of technology are becoming more likely to connect to the internet.
What is Operational Technology?
Operational technology (OT) refers to the hardware and software used to change, monitor, or control physical devices, processes, and events within a company or organization. This form of technology is most commonly used in industrial settings, and the devices this technology refers to typically have more autonomy than information technology devices or programs.
Examples of OT include SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), which is used to gather and analyze data in real-time and is often used to monitor or control plant equipment. Industries such as telecommunications, waste control, water control, and oil and gas refining rely heavily on SCADA systems.
Many types of OT rely on devices such as PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers), which receive information from input devices or sensors, process the data, and perform specific tasks or output specific information based on pre-programmed parameters. PLCs are often used to do things like monitor machine productivity, track operating temperatures, and automatically stop or start processes. They are also often used to trigger alarms if a machine malfunctions.
Access to OT devices is typically restricted to a small pool of highly trained individuals within an organization, and these types of devices may not be updated or changed for months or even years. Since these devices are highly specialized, they rarely run on standardized operating systems (like iOS or Windows), and instead, generally, require custom software to function.
What is Information Technology?
Information technology (IT) refers to anything related to computer technology, including hardware and software. Your email, for example, falls under the IT umbrella. This form of technology is less common in industrial settings, but often constitutes the technological backbone of most organizations and companies. These devices and programs have little autonomy and are updated frequently.
Access to IT programs and connected devices are typically less restricted than to OT devices, and many, if not all, employees at a given organization may be granted access.
The main difference between OT and IT devices is that OT devices control the physical world, while IT systems manage data.
What are Industrial Control Systems?
Industrial control systems (ICS) are a type of OT and consist of any systems that are used to monitor or control industrial processes. This could include a mining site’s conveyor belt or an alarm that lets employees know if a piece of equipment is getting dangerously close to overheating.
ICSs are often managed by SCADA systems, which may provide users with a graphical user interface. This interface allows the user to observe the system’s current status, enter system adjustments to manage the process, and observe any alarms that indicate something is wrong.
How to Intermix Operational & Information Technology with Industrial Control Systems
At first glance, IT and OT may not seem compatible. OT systems are isolated and self-contained, designed to run autonomously, and rely on proprietary software. On the other hand, IT systems are connected by nature, have little autonomy, and generally run using readily available operating systems. However, incorporating IT into your OT operations can have many benefits.
IT Can Improve OT Operations
In the past, most OT devices were utterly cut off from not only the internet but even most internal networks, and could only physically be accessed by a select few authorized employees. However, it’s becoming increasingly common for OT systems (including ICSs) to be monitored and controlled using IT systems.
While inputs on many OT devices may have traditionally been limited to a physical panel or keypad that required workers to input commands or data physically, more OT systems and devices are now being controlled and monitored remotely via the internet.
IT can be used to make operating an ICS or other OT device easier. IT can be used, for example, to monitor parts and alert employees when a component is failing, allowing the employees to procure and install the spare part before the damaged part fails. By replacing the damaged part before it fails, employees can not only help ensure that production isn’t disrupted but can also prevent a cascading effect if the damaged part’s failure could lead to more extensive damage. A damaged part may not only cause a machine to fail, but that failure could also have serious consequences for the health or safety of employees working nearby.
IT can also provide employees with real-time reports on the state of the OT device, and allow them to respond and correct system errors in seconds. This means that if an alarm goes off to let employees know that a piece of equipment is malfunctioning, they can either shut down the device remotely (reducing the chances of an industrial accident) or otherwise address the situation right away before it becomes more serious.
Don’t Forget to Secure Your Connected OTs
IT systems can be a huge boon for ICS and other OT systems; it can also leave OT systems vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks if appropriate precautions aren’t taken. Any time a device is allowed to connect to the internet, or even to a network that can be accessed via the internet, there is a chance that a cybercriminal could gain unauthorized access.
A cyber attack against an OT device could have catastrophic consequences. Not only can specialized equipment be damaged (resulting in costly repairs), but the damaged equipment could pose a health or safety hazard.
Before you integrate IT into any OT system, it’s vital that you create and implement appropriate cybersecurity protocols. A good MSSP (Managed Services Security Provider) can help you do a thorough audit of your current systems, and help you ensure that adding IT to your ICS or other OT device won’t compromise your cybersecurity.
It seems like every year a plethora of cybersecurity threats are unleashed on the public. Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their tactics in order to steal and compromise important information.
Over the past 12 months, we have seen the frequency – and severity – of cyber attacks reach a level of normalcy that large data breaches, such as the recent Equifax or Facebook hacks, are gaining coverage on mainstream media. Many people even know the names of various exploits and malicious programs: NotPeya, Locky, and WannaCry all dominated the international news as online hackers were able to breach huge company securities and cost them billions of dollars. The cybercriminal “underground” network will continue to evolve and grow.
Just over the past couple of years, it’s become simpler to become a cybercriminal. One doesn’t even have to have a lot of technical expertise – just the ability to find the proper tools. The more the media sensationalizes the success of cyber crimes, the more likely cyber thieves are to take notice.
Original Cybersecurity Threat Still Kicking in 2018
What is that ever-constant threat you may ask? Human error.
Unfortunately, the majority of breaches and issues involving cybersecurity are caused internally from your very own employees being unaware of the implications of their actions or overlooking that extra step to keep everyone’s data safe. There are, of course, also internal bad actors with malicious intent that knowingly expose your network/data to vulnerabilities and exploitation.
Before we tackle the big threats heading to a server near you in 2018, let’s have a refresher on the basic cybersecurity measures that should be the default precautions taken to secure your business from outside trouble. All employees should be aware of and properly trained to employ the preventative measures available to them.
Basic Cybersecurity Measures
Below are a few avenues available to all businesses that will help establish security fundamentals. We recommend working with a dedicated security professional or MSP like us to ensure your cybersecurity is appropriate for your needs.
Create the Strongest Password
Not just a strong password, but an inorganic password that isn’t easy to guess or strings together naturally.
Different institutes, business, and such have different password creation requirements. Lafayette University created a strong password guideline for you to ironclad your password regardless of criteria. Set it and don’t forget it.
Another option for robust password security: multi-factor authentication.
Use a Trusted Anti-Virus
Not all anti-virus protection software is created equal and viruses threaten your technology daily. Not only do you want to deploy a virus protection program from a reputable company, but also one that is constantly up to date on the newest hacks and viruses.
Regularly Backup Data
Backing up data regularly and on a set schedule can minimize potential risks associated with data loss and system tampering.
Utilize a Firewall
As the name states, anything incoming and outgoing needs to be granted access to pass the wall of fire.
Firewalls are electronic drawbridges that act as the entryway and exit for all signals and data being sent back and forth. Among other things, they monitor traffic, create checkpoints, and check for unauthorized access.
Shield your networks and devices by installing customized firewalls able to protect your network from the outside world. A strong firewall with a specialized set of security protocols will greatly increase your level of protection.
Learn more: managed firewall services.
Restrict Access to Sensitive Information
Limit access to sensitive data to only authorized users. This will allow for easier tracking of who is accessing what information. The activity that shows up outside the network or by users outside will make it easier to narrow down the issues and quickly implement a plan to rectify it.
Encrypt All Data Where Applicable
Data is always at risk of being vulnerable and it’s most vulnerable during transfer. Encryption helps by masking the data while it is sitting to when it is being transferred between two nodes. Don’t ever be without it.
Hire a Cybersecurity Specialist
Other than training your employees to be aware of and employ the basics of cybersecurity protection, it is still a great idea to consider investing in a quality cybersecurity expert or competent managed services provider.
Having a cybersecurity specialist on hand proactively managing your security will give you peace of mind and time to focus your efforts on other aspects of your business. The last thing any company needs is a major data breach.
Today’s reality demonstrates a need for a meaningful investment in cybersecurity as it becomes easier and less expensive for bad actors to gain access to sophisticated tools.
The Importance of Preventative Measures
Never underestimate the power of prevention. Time, money, and resources spent now includes all of that and potentially much more saved later.
Proactive Prevention vs Passive Reaction
Passively reacting to security problems that arise instead of anticipating potential issues can eventually come back to deal compounded damage.
Getting proactive about developing new strategies or identifying possible gaps in security can provide protection in the long run as new attacks make themselves known.
Cybersecurity Threats of 2018: Old & New
Third-Party Risks in Doing Business
These are data breaches from working with another business or people outside your own team. Once data leaves your servers, that’s it. It’s now up to the people in possession of it to take care of its safety, so how do you protect your data when working with third-parties?
Taking preventative measures for this one can boil down to how you safely exchange and monitor the information shared between parties.
- Know who you’re doing business with
- Know what data is being shared
- Know what applications or mediums are being used to interact with and share data
When hiring contractors, temp workers, or third-party companies, vet them and ensure you understand them, their business, and their intent.
Having people work remotely means there is a potential for sensitive data to be taken off-site and exposed for others to take and use it how they wish.
A remote workforce is convenient and cuts down on costs, but also poses the risk of costing you in the long run if precautions aren’t taken from the get-go. Take the necessary steps by being aware of what data your remote workers have access to, and how it’s being used and presented.
Data Breaches & Loss
These days data is a hot ticket item to be used outside their intended purpose. That being said, stealing data is a constant threat that has seen a rise in data loss prevention tactics to counteract the unending string of data hacks that see no sign of letting up.
Data leaks can damage all aspects of a company, its employees, and its clients. It is advisable, not just in 2018, to invest in data loss prevention in the long run.
Everything Connects to the Internet
In 2018, just about everything connects to the internet. Your phone, your car, your television, even your refrigerator. Having multiple devices connected can create unforeseen complications if you’re not careful. With such convenience comes great responsibility in being aware of not only what is connected, but how it is connecting.
Held Hostage by Ransomware
Protect your data by keeping it backed up in a secure location, multiple in fact.
Ransomware involves a hacker holding your systems hostage via encryption and on lockdown. When the ransom is paid the hacker relinquishes control back over to the original owner with a decryption key.
Do not think you are safe in the event this happens and you get your system back. Find and fix the breach immediately or risk further digital hostage situations.
Smartphone Associated Risks
Smartphones are without a doubt absolutely everywhere in 2018. With everyone in possession of a phone, we are now walking signals actively sending and receiving information from the digital sphere. Whether it be data roaming, downloading applications, or browsing the web.
As a precaution, many businesses that deal with sensitive information disallow smartphones past a certain point. Others only allow company granted phones on the premises to prevent breaches in security that could have easily happened with a personal phone.
After All is Secured & Done
After security systems have been installed and accounted for on all platforms after your employees have been educated and made aware, what’s next? Trick question. You might not always know what’s next. That’s the last looming cybersecurity threat to be aware of.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare and be proactive in catching and fixing malicious attacks against your systems. Or, if you work with us – one of Colorado’s fastest-growing MSP’s – we act proactively on your behalf.
Written by Tianyi Lu, Senior Systems Engineer- VirtualArmour
As we continue our path towards 40 to 50 billion Internet-connected devices in 2020, there is a looming threat of malicious use cases for all of those “always-on, always-connected” machines. That threat was widely realized by the general public two Friday’s ago when major sites like Netflix, eBay, Twitter, and PayPal all experienced major disruptions. However, it was not the first time a DDoS of epic proportions propagated by IoT devices occurred; about a month earlier, krebsonsecurity.com experienced a record 620 Gbps of DDoS traffic. The same code used on IoT devices which wreaked havoc on Brian Krebs’ security blog was also the culprit of the latest, but much more widespread, disturbance.
The malware, known as “Mirai”, works by compromising internet connected devices like microwaves and lights with default factory usernames and passwords. Unlike a computer, they are not easily changeable or are permanently hard-coded. Once infected, Mirai instructs the IoT devices to send TCP/UDP packets with a destination port of 53 (DNS), targeted towards Dynamic Network Services, better known as Dyn.
First, the attacks focused on Asia Pacific, South America, Eastern Europe, and US-West regions, but then abruptly shifted to the US-East region. Ironically, it was later discovered that the target of the attack was Sony’s PlayStation Network, one of Dyn’s customers, but because of the internet’s reliance on DNS, all of Dyn’s customers were affected. To make matters worse, due to DNS retries, legitimate DNS requests (because Dyn’s DNS servers were unreachable due to being too busy processing all the illegitimate traffic) further added to the strain on the system. Eventually, Dyn brought on all their DDoS scrubbing services online, applied traffic-shaping on the inbound traffic, rebalanced traffic by manipulation of any cast policies, and applied edge filter policies and was able to mitigate the attack. Post-mortem analysis by Dyn suggest approximately 100,000 malicious endpoints contributed to the attack (down from the several million originally thought to have caused the attack due to the legitimate recursive DNS retry traffic mentioned above). There have been some reports of a magnitude in the 1.2 Tbps range, although this figure was not officially confirmed by Dyn.
This attack, like the various breaches at Home Depot, Target, and Sony, once again highlight the importance of InfoSec practices at any organization. Furthermore, because of this attack’s far reaching scope, it also brings to light how truly vulnerable the internet infrastructure that we often take for granted. Core protocols like BGP and DNS that we so heavily rely on were created in a completely different era; an era where Information Security didn’t even cross peoples’ minds. Those were truly days’ past.