Cybersecurity is more important than ever before: According to Government Technology, though 2020 saw an overall decline in the number of breach events, the number of breached records grew dramatically, and the number of ransomware attacks doubled between 2019 and 2020.
These troubling trends demonstrate why a robust yet adaptable cybersecurity stance is critical for all organizations, regardless of size or vertical. But how do you know if your organization has experienced a breach? In this article, we will discuss common types of cybersecurity breaches, and red flags you should look for that may indicate a breach has occurred.
A security breach is like a break-in, but instead of breaking into your house or business, they break into your digital systems to steal personal information or sensitive documents or damage your network. However, there are steps you can take to best safeguard your digital assets, which include:
Creating a cybersecurity incident response plan, reviewing it regularly, and updating it as necessary. Having a plan in place is critical because it allows you to respond quickly and lays out, in advance, who needs to do what should an incident occur.
Investing in employee cybersecurity training. Even the best cybersecurity incident response plan is effectively useless if your team doesn’t understand why security is important, what role they play in it, and how to respond should an incident occur. All new hires should undergo training, and all employees from the CEO down should receive regular refresher training.
Regularly monitoring your network for suspicious activities. These suspicious activities, called IOCs or indicators of compromise, will be discussed in depth later in this article.
Breaches Have Wide Reaching Consequences
Breaches cause more than headaches: to address the situation, you will likely need to pull critical personnel from other projects, hindering productivity and severely impacting your daily business activities. Depending on what data is stolen or what systems are compromised, you may also suffer financial damages in the form of regulatory fines or even lawsuits.
A poorly handled breach can cause permanent damage to your organization’s reputation, damaging consumer trust.
Many cybercriminals rely on malware (malicious software) to infiltrate protected networks. The malware is often delivered via email or by tricking unsuspecting employees into downloading corrupted files from compromised or malicious websites.
For example, an employee receives an email with an attachment, which infects your network when the attached file is opened or visits a compromised site and downloads the file directly. Once one computer is infected, the malware will likely spread to other areas of your network, sending sensitive data back to the attacker, laying the groundwork for a larger attack, or damaging your digital infrastructure.
Phishing attacks are designed to trick potential victims into believing they are talking with someone they trust (such as a colleague, their bank, or another trusted individual or institution) in order to hand over sensitive information (such as credit card numbers, usernames, passwords, etc.), grant the sender access to restricted areas of the network, or trick the target into downloading malware.
For example, an employee might receive an email from someone pretending to work in your IT department asking them to reset their username and password, or from “their boss” requesting confidential files, or from “your company’s bank” warning that they have detected suspicious activity on a company credit card or in a company bank account, and requesting the recipient click on a link in the email to login and review the flagged transactions.
In all three scenarios, criminals are acting as trusted individuals or individuals working on behalf of trusted institutions in order to trick unsuspecting email recipients.
DDoS attacks are designed to crash websites, preventing legitimate users from visiting them. Attackers do this by flooding websites with traffic, either by working with other attackers or by programming bots (software programs programmed to perform repetitive tasks) to hammer the server hosting the website with requests.
DDoS attacks are considered security breaches because they can overwhelm your organization’s security defenses and severely curtail your ability to conduct business. Common targets include financial institutions or government bodies, and motivations range from activism to revenge to extortion.
IOCs are pieces of forensic data, such as system log entries or files, that identify potentially malicious activity on a network or system. Like suspicious ink-stained fingers or an errant muddy footprint in a Sherlock Holmes book, IOCs are clues that help security and IT professionals detect data breaches, malware infections, or other suspicious activities.
By looking for IOCs regularly, organizations can detect breaches as soon as possible and respond swiftly, limiting or even preventing damages by stopping attacks during their earliest stages.
However, IOCs are not always obvious or easy to detect: they can be as obvious as an unexpected login or as complex as snippets of malicious code. Cybersecurity and IT analysts often look at a range of IOCs when trying to determine if a breach occurred, looking at how different IOCs fit together to reveal the whole picture.
IOCs vs IOAs
IOAs (indicators of attack) are similar to IOCS, but instead of focusing on the forensic analysis side of a compromise that has already occurred, these clues aim to identify attacker activity while the breach is in progress.
A proactive approach to security relies on both IOCs and IOAs to uncover threats or potential threats in as close to real-time as possible.
Common IOCs and IOAs
There are many IOCs and IOAs that IT and security analysts look for, but some of the most common include:
Unusual outbound network traffic. This could indicate someone is moving sensitive files off the network.
Anomalies in privileged user access accounts. A common tactic used by attackers is to either escalate privileges on accounts they have already compromised or use compromised accounts as gateways to more privileged accounts. By monitoring accounts with access to sensitive areas of your network, analysts can look out for signs of insider attacks or account takeover attacks.
Geographic irregularities. If an employee logs out of their account from an IP address in Chicago, then immediately logs back in from New York, that is a huge red flag. Analysts also look for traffic between countries that your organization doesn’t have business dealings with.
General login irregularities. Multiple failed login attempts or failed login attempts for accounts that don’t exist are both huge red flags. Analysts also look for irregular login patterns, such as employees logging in well after work hours and attempting to access files they don’t have authorization for, which likely indicate the account credentials have been compromised.
Unusually high database read volume traffic. If an employee is attempting to download and read your entire personnel or credit card database, that likely means an attacker is attempting to access those sensitive files.
A large number of requests for the same file. Breaches rely on trial and error a lot, so a large number of repeated requests for the same file (such as the credit card database we mentioned earlier) may indicate an attacker is testing out a variety of strategies in an attempt to gain access.
Suspicious configuration changes. Changing configurations on files, servers, and devices may indicate an attacker is attempting to set up a network backdoor or adding vulnerabilities to aid a later malware attack.
Flooding a specific site or location with traffic. Many attackers rely on bots for a variety of tasks and may recruit compromised devices on your network to do their dirty work. A high level of traffic from a number of devices targeting a specific IP address may indicate those devices have been compromised.
Suspiciously timed web traffic. Even the fastest typers can only type so fast, so if logs indicate that someone is trying thousands of password and username combinations a second, chances are an attacker is attempting to break into your network using a brute force attack.
These are just some of the most common IOAs and IOCs that security and IT analysts use to look for signs of suspicious activity.
To learn more about how our experienced security analysts use IOCs, or to get started improving your security posture, please contact our team today.
Identifying IOCs is just one small aspect of cybersecurity. To learn more about cybersecurity, why it’s important, and what steps your organization should be taking, please consider reviewing the educational articles listed below.
No matter how large or small your organization is, investing in your cybersecurity posture is vital for safeguarding your digital assets, your business, and your customers. To improve your cybersecurity posture, you need to get inside the mind of a cybercriminal and figure out how to stay one step ahead in this endless game of cat and mouse.
What are TTPs?
TTPs refers to the tactics (or tools), techniques, and procedures used by a specific threat actor (the bad guy) or threat actors. Essentially, TTPs refer to distinct patterns of activities or behaviors associated with a particular person or group of people and describe how threat actors orchestrate, execute, and manage their cyber attacks.
Tactics, generally speaking, refer to the vectors used by attackers. This could include accessing and using confidential information, gaining access to a website, or making lateral movements (moving sideways between devices and apps to better map your system and look for vulnerabilities in less protected areas that they can exploit).
Techniques refer to the methods attackers use to achieve their goals. For example, if the immediate goal (the tactic) is to gain unauthorized access to your system, then the technique could be using social engineering (such as a phishing scam) to trick employees into sharing their login credentials. A single tactic can involve multiple techniques.
Techniques act like stepping stones towards the attacker’s overarching goal, which could include damaging your systems, infecting your network with ransomware, or stealing sensitive files.
Procedures refer to specific, actionable, preconfigured steps used by cybercriminals to achieve their overarching goals. So, for example, if the goal is to use a phishing scam to gather login credentials from employees, the procedure could involve determining what the email should say and configuring the email to download malware when a user opens the attachment included with the email.
Why are TTPs Important for My Business?
Analyzing TTPs is vital for your cybersecurity posture since the clues threat actors leave behind can be used to help identify who is responsible for an attack or breach. By analyzing TTPs, your cybersecurity team or cybersecurity partner can:
Rapidly triage and contextualize the event taking place by comparing the TTPs of the current attack with TTPs of known threat actors or groups (such as hostile foreign governments, lone criminals, criminal groups, or rival corporations) who may have launched the attack. Based on who may be behind the attack, your cybersecurity experts can try to predict what may happen next and redeploy resources to better safeguard your most critical digital assets, such as your server.
Review probable paths for research and further exploration based on what TTPs were used in the attack. This allows your cybersecurity experts to potentially identify who was behind the attack so criminal charges can be laid.
Identify potential sources or vectors of the attack. This step involves identifying how the threat actors were able to gain unauthorized access to your systems so those vulnerabilities can be addressed as soon as possible so that other threat actors can’t exploit them in the future.
Identify and investigate all systems that may have been compromised. This step is part of your incident response process and is critical for preventing further damage and rooting out potential back doors left by the attackers.
Create threat modeling exercises and improve your cybersecurity training so that your team won’t be caught unaware again should a similar or related event occur in the future.
How Can VirtualArmour Help?
Security experts like the VirtualArmour team use TTPs to help identify potentially suspicious activities. When a company like VirtualArmour is monitoring your network 24/7/365, one of the things our experts look for are TTPs. TTPs act like fingerprints: Our experts know what sort of patterns to look for and use that vast wealth of knowledge to help sift out potentially suspicious network activity from ordinary, harmless network activity.
Should an incident occur, our experts can use TTPs to narrow down the list of suspects, potentially identify third parties that may be impacted (for example, if the phishing attack came from a Gmail email address that may mean Gmail has been compromised), and allow our team to trace the route of the attack back through your network, flagging potentially compromised systems for further investigation and identifying how the attacker was able to gain access. Once we have that information, we can work with you to address your security posture’s current shortcomings and help you update your cybersecurity training so your employees are better able to identify potentially suspicious activities such as phishing emails.
To help keep organizations like yours safe, we offer a variety of managed services and consulting services, including SOCaaS (security operations center as a service). Most SMBs don’t have the budget to maintain a full, in-house security team. Virtual Armour SOC as a service offers a cost-effective solution: Our full team of cybersecurity experts and analysts act like an extension of your existing security team or can be used to supplement staff in IT light environments, managing and monitoring your network, devices, and digital assets.
VirtualArmour’s SOCaaS premium includes:
Managed Detection & Response
Enforcing Sanctioned Enterprise Applications
Endpoint Security Policies
Firewall Rule Management
Security Incident Investigations
Regular Cadence Reporting
Identification of Vulnerable
Configuration Auditing for Security Gaps
Data Enrichment and Context for Alert
For more information about TTPs and their importance, or to get started improving your cybersecurity posture, please contact our team today.
To learn more about cybersecurity and the steps your organization should be taking to improve your cybersecurity posture, please consider reading one of our other educational articles.
From a financial standpoint, it makes sense to try and hold out on upgrading your hardware until something breaks, even if the hardware in question is no longer supported by the manufacturer. After all, if it still works, why replace it?
However, using unsupported hardware brings with it a wealth of cybersecurity risks, can hinder productivity, and can hurt your bottom line.
9 Reasons You Need to Say Goodbye to Unsupported Hardware
You’re Incurring Unnecessary Expenses
Once hardware reaches its end-of-life (EOL), you’ll likely have to pay a hefty premium to keep your aging technology up and running. If extended support is available at all, it isn’t likely that many companies will offer it, leaving you less choice and hampering your ability to shop around for the best price.
Without the ability to install security patches to address known vulnerabilities or support up-to-date (and more-secure) versions of the software your organization relies on, you may no longer be able to comply with relevant regulations, leaving your organization vulnerable from a legal and compliance standpoint.
Outdated Hardware is Unreliable
Aside from the expected wear and tear on old components (which will become increasingly difficult to find or repair), outdated hardware doesn’t support new versions of the software your organization requires to function. As such, you will likely be forced to rely on outdated software, curtailing system performance and cutting you off from new features.
Outdated hardware is also more likely to crash, increasing system down-time and causing headaches and frustration for employees and customers alike.
Productivity Takes a Hit
Unsupported hardware affects employee productivity in a multitude of ways:
Employees have to invest more time and energy in keeping outdated hardware up and running, pulling them away from tasks that grow your business.
Outdated hardware isn’t able to support the newer, faster, more reliable versions of the software your organization depends on, which means employee tasks end up taking longer than they should because workers are left waiting for software to load.
Employees who are continually frustrated with the tools they need to do their jobs are less likely to be satisfied with their jobs overall, leading to higher turnover. Not only does this lead to increased costs (during the training period, trainees don’t make the company money, they cost money), but it also decreases productivity as new members learn the skills they need to do their jobs. Workers are also more likely to view employers with high turnover rates with suspicion, which may make it harder to attract the skilled workers you need to succeed.
Your Network is Left Vulnerable
Older hardware is unable to support the newest software, which means you won’t be able to take advantage of security patches or other steps software manufacturers take to address vulnerabilities in their products. Cybercriminals are well known for targeting older software with known vulnerabilities since not all users will have the latest security patches installed.
Increased Environmental Impact
Everyone knows old cars are more likely to be gas guzzlers than their sleek modern counterparts, but the same holds true for outdated hardware. Increased energy consumption leads to higher electricity bills, increasing your carbon footprint while further eroding your bottom line.
You May Experience Data Recovery Problems
Should disaster strike, outdated hardware means you may have trouble recovering lost data. Depending on your industry and the nature of your business, the impact of this lost data could range from frustrating to catastrophic.
You’ll Likely Encounter a Skills Shortage
As we mentioned in the section about unnecessary costs, finding a repair or maintenance company with the skills needed to repair and maintain your outdated equipment may be difficult. Even if you are able to find a business that can help, there aren’t likely to be many of them around, which means you will likely be left with the choice of either paying exorbitant amounts for repairs and maintenance or upgrading your hardware anyway.
Also, because older hardware is only able to support older software, you may find it’s difficult to find workers who are familiar with the programs you use. For example, many financial institutions rely on software written in COBOL; a vintage programming language developed nearly 60 years ago that isn’t regularly taught in universities anymore. Unfortunately, many major financial corporations (and sections of the federal government) rely on systems that use COBOL, and as older programmers retire, they are having a hard time hiring qualified replacements.
By holding onto unsupported hardware, you may be compromising your organizations’ future as it becomes increasingly difficult to find workers and repair people who have the skills needed to maintain your outdated and aging equipment.
Frustrated Customers Are Likely to Become Former Customers
In the age of instant results, a slow website or frequently inaccessible client portal is incredibly frustrating. Customers expect to be able to access products and services quickly 24/7/365. That means organizations that experience frequent outages, slow software, and other outdated hardware-related issues are likely to see their customers abandon them for competitors who offer a better user experience.
Looking to Break Up with Your Outdated Hardware? Virtual Armour Can Help!
A system migration may seem daunting, and not every organization has the people power or the inclination to maintain and troubleshoot their IT infrastructure or keep it up to date. That’s why Virtual Armour offers managed infrastructure services.
Recent cyberattacks, including the SolarWinds attack and the Microsoft Exchange attack, have renewed focus on how critical a good cybersecurity posture is. Managed IT services and cybersecurity promise to help organizations manage their IT and keep their data safe and compliant, but not everyone is clear on what exactly a managed IT provider does, what cybersecurity is, and what the various technical terms used in the industry mean.
To help you understand what managed IT and cybersecurity are, and why they are important, we’ve created a handy little guide that explains common terms you may encounter and demonstrates how they pertain to the larger cybersecurity or managed IT picture.
What is Cybersecurity?
In the broadest sense, cybersecurity refers to techniques used by either companies or their cybersecurity services provider to protect an organization’s digital assets. Digital assets include both your digital infrastructure (networks, systems, and applications) as well as your data (such as financial records, client lists, and other records). By taking steps to protect these digital assets, organizations can better safeguard themselves against cyberattacks, where threat actors or attackers (also called hackers) attempt to gain unauthorized access to infrastructure or data for nefarious purposes.
Types of Cybersecurity Solutions
Many of these solutions overlap, creating a “swiss cheese” model approach to cybersecurity: not every program is going to be able to catch everything, but layering multiple programs and strategies together reduces the chances that someone or something malicious is able to slip through all your defenses.
Antivirus is a type of security software used by IT professionals to scan for, detect, block, and eliminate malware (malicious software). AV programs typically run in the background and rely on known malware signatures and behavior patterns. Though AV is useful, it is just one piece in the cybersecurity puzzle and isn’t enough to protect your digital assets on its own.
Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR)
Endpoint detection and response refers to a set of tools and solutions that are used to detect, investigate, and mitigate suspicious activities on endpoints (devices that can access the network, including computers and smartphones) and on hosts (such as networks). EDR is valuable because it can detect advanced threats that don’t have a known behavioral pattern or malware signature (like AV requires). EDR can also trigger an adaptive response (like your immune system springing into action) depending on the nature of the threat it has detected.
Managed Detection & Response (MDR)
Managed detection and response is a piece of the SOCaaS (Security Operations Center as a Service) model that offers a comprehensive solution for continuous threat monitoring, threat detection, and incident response and is provided by a third-party vendor. Holistic, turnkey solutions like this can help provide peace of mind, giving IT professionals the information they need to prioritize incidents and improve the overall security posture of the organization.
Network Operations Center (NOC)
A network operations center refers to a central hub that allows network administrators to manage and control their network or networks and their primary server across several geographically distributed sites (such as a head office managing and observing multiple branch locations). Because network administrators need to deal with threats and headaches such as DDoS attacks (discussed later in this article), power outages, network failures, routing black holes, and other issues, it is critical that they are able to oversee the entire network and react to threats quickly and easily.
A NOC is not a security solution, but it can help larger organizations effectively monitor their networks, endpoints, and other critical infrastructure and devices for signs of trouble and is frequently used in Managed IT.
Security Operations Center (SOC)
A security operations center is crewed by cybersecurity personnel and handles threat detection and incident response processes, all while supporting the various security technologies your security operations rely on. While larger enterprises often build and manage their SOC in-house, small and medium-sized organizations don’t typically have the personnel or bandwidth to do so. As such, SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) frequently choose to outsource their SOC to trusted partners.
Security Information & Event Management (SIEM)
SIEM is a vital tool used to collect and aggregate security events and alerts across multiple security products. Once this information has been gathered, the SIEM software analyzes and correlates those events to look for patterns that might identify potential threats within the organization.
Vulnerability management solutions are programs that are used to identify, track, and prioritize internal and external cybersecurity vulnerabilities. This information is used to optimize cyberattack prevention activities (such as patching known vulnerabilities, upgrading software, and fixing configuration errors).
Patches refer to small programs released by software development companies to fix vulnerabilities they have discovered in their products. Keeping your software up to date allows your organization to take advantage of any security patches released, allowing you to better safeguard your digital assets. Unpatched software leaves your organization vulnerable since cybercriminals often target recently patched software in the hopes that not all organizations will have the patch installed.
Vulnerability Assessment (VA)
Vulnerability assessments are used to identify, classify, and prioritize vulnerabilities and can be used to assess internal, external, or host-based, third-party systems.
Common Types of Cyberattacks
Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly common and can be devastating. A single attack can compromise your systems and your data, ruin your reputation, and even lead to legal trouble and compliance issues if it isn’t addressed and remediated swiftly.
Brute force attacks are crude but frequently effective. During a brute-force attack, a cybercriminal attempts to gain unauthorized access to a system by trying all possible passwords until they guess the correct one. Though this could take centuries by hand, many criminals have software that allows them to try passwords quickly, making this a viable hacking option.
Phishing & Social Engineering
Phishing attacks involve a cybercriminal attempting to trick potential victims into revealing confidential information (such as your banking details, your credit card number, your SIN, or your password) or install malware by clicking a link or opening an infected file. Phishing attempts usually involve text-based communications such as email, text messages, or other messaging apps. Cybercriminals usually pretend to be someone you are already primed to trust, such as your boss or an employee from your bank.
Phishing scams are a type of attack that uses social engineering. Social engineering is when attackers use psychological manipulation to infiltrate an organization or private network by exploiting human weaknesses and tricking unsuspecting users into granting access or handing over sensitive information. This manipulation relies on the human desire to help and trust easily and may also use the fear of getting in trouble or causing an inconvenience.
Credential stuffing involves using existing databases of compromised usernames and password combinations (typically collected during a previous breach and frequently purchased on the dark web) to attempt to login to a targeted account.
The dark web refers to a part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines such as Google, so it can’t be accessed by simply typing in a URL (such as www.virtualarmour.com) into your browser. This secrecy has made the dark web a popular place for criminals, allowing them to buy and sell illegal items (such as credit card numbers, illegal weapons, and malware) away from the gaze of law-abiding internet users.
Cryptojacking is an attack that involves the unauthorized user of someone else’s computer to mine cryptocurrencies. Though this type of attack isn’t likely to damage data or systems, it is still concerning because it means someone has access to your digital assets without your knowledge or consent. It can also affect the performance of your system and cost you money since the attack siphons off computing power and uses electricity that your company is paying for.
A data breach, also called a hack, refers to any event where unauthorized users are able to gain access to your systems or steal sensitive information such as PII (personally identifiable information) from an organization or individual. The goal of a data breach is usually to either use this information to gain unauthorized access to other systems (such as using your Netflix username and password to try and log into your bank account) or to sell this information to other cybercriminals.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
DDoS attacks attempt to crash a web server or other online service by flooding it with more traffic than the network can handle. This can be done either by a large group of cybercriminals working together or a single cybercriminal with a large botnet (connected computers performing repetitive tasks). By overloading the server, cybercriminals can prevent legitimate users from accessing a company’s products or services.
DNS hijacking (also called DNS redirection or DNS poisoning) redirects queries from the intended Domain Name System (DNS) to a different website, often populated with malware, advertising, or other unwanted content. The DNS acts like a phone book for the internet, so DNS hijacking involves forcing the browser to dial the wrong number (or go to the wrong website).
A drive-by attack is a form of malware attack. However, unlike phishing or other forms of malware attacks, users don’t need to be tricked into downloading infected files or opening suspicious links. Instead, user devices are infected automatically when the user visits a trusted or legitimate website that has been compromised.
An exploit is a malicious script (a list of commands executed by a program) or application that exploits known vulnerabilities in endpoints or other hardware, networks, or applications. The goal of exploit attacks is usually to take control of a system or device, increase access privileges, or steal data. Exploit attacks are often used as part of a larger, multi-layered attack.
Malware refers to any form of malicious software and is often spread via email attachments or suspicious website links. The goal of malware is to infect endpoints to gain access to sensitive systems or data or collect private information such as passwords or banking details and send this information back to the attacker.
Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents end-users from accessing an organization’s data or system or an individual’s data or system. Once the files or system is encrypted, and the user is locked out, the attacker promises to restore access in exchange for money, usually in the form of cryptocurrencies.
Supply Chain Attack
Supply chain attacks occur when threat actors are able to access a target’s systems by compromising a third-party resource, which is what happened with the SolarWinds attack. The reason that attack was so devastatingly effective is that the attackers were able to gain access to a SolarWinds program called Orion, which is widely used by companies and US government departments to manage IT resources. When SolarWinds sent out a routine Orion update, they didn’t realize it contained malicious code, which allowed the attackers to access client systems.
As was the case with the SolarWinds attack, the compromised vendor is typically not the final target but instead is used as a means to an end so the attacker can gain access to their intended victim’s systems. However, the damage is not limited to the intended victim but affects any other organization that inadvertently downloaded the compromised software.
Common Cybersecurity Compliance Regulations
Compliance is a large part of cybersecurity for many verticals and industries, including healthcare, finance, energy, and retail. Which regulations you need to comply with depends on a variety of factors, such as your industry or vertical, what sort of PII or sensitive information you handle, who you do business with (such as the US Department of Defense), where your users or clients are located, and whether or not you process credit card payments. To find out which regulations apply to you, please speak to a qualified compliance professional.
Healthcare providers and related organizations need to comply with Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. HIPAA is responsible for establishing cybersecurity standards for healthcare providers, insurers, and all third-party service providers that medical organizations do business with.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union law that dictates how personal data on individuals residing in the EU and the greater European Economic Area is collected and processed and specifies the rights users have to access and control their data on the internet. Even if your organization is not based in Europe, if you have users in Europe, you must be compliant.
Organizations that Process Payment Cards or Store Payment Card Data
The retail sector isn’t federally regulated, but any organization that processes payment cards or holds payment card data is required to follow regulations laid out by the Payment Card Industry Security Council’s Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). For more information, please visit the PCI Security Standards Council’s website.
Organizations that Do Business with the US Department of Defense
Organizations that provide electricity, including electric utility companies and operators, are governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC has the authority to establish cybersecurity regulations for this sector, though the standards themselves are created by the nonprofit authority called the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). The standards are referred to as the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Standards.
More information about FERC can be found here. More information about NERC can be found here, and information about the CIP Standards is located here.
Organizations with Users in California
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) of 2018 is similar to GDPR in the sense that it is designed to give consumers more control over the personal data businesses collect about them, including:
The right to know what personal information is collected as well as how it is used and shared
The right to delete personal information collected about them (with a few exceptions)
The right to refuse to allow the sale of their personal information
The right to non-discrimination for exercising their rights under CCPA
Even the best cybersecurity policy is useless if your workers and other users don’t understand it or have the necessary training to adhere to it.
Create a Plan
To begin, make sure you have a robust yet flexible cybersecurity incident response program in place. Cyberattacks typically unfold very quickly, so an ad hoc plan created in the heat of the moment isn’t going to cut it. By making all crucial decisions ahead of time (such as how evidence is gathered and handled, how resources are to be allocated in a crisis, and who needs to be alerted if an incident occurs) and determining who is responsible for what you can help ensure there are no gaps or deficiencies in your response.
You should also take this time to establish cybersecurity rules, such as password standards, so you can best safeguard your digital assets.
Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, from the President of the company down to the summer intern. Cybersecurity training ensures your employees know what to do should they encounter a potential threat and explains why these actions, as well as all preventative steps, are important. It’s easier to get worker buy-in when they understand the “why” behind the “what”.
Test Your Plan
Once you have a plan and the necessary cybersecurity programs and tools in place, you need to test your response before an incident occurs.
What is Pen Testing?
Pen (Penetration) testing is a tool used to stress-test your cybersecurity defenses. This involves hiring an ethical (or “white hat”) hacker to try and break through your security defenses and simulate a cyber attack. The ethical hacker records any and all deficiencies or gaps they were able to exploit and then summarizes and shares their findings with your team.
Tabletop scenarios are like fire drills for security. Once your team has undergone cybersecurity training, a tabletop exercise lets them put their newfound skills and knowledge to the test while they test-drive your cybersecurity incident response plan.
Tabletop scenarios present your team with a hypothetical cybersecurity incident that they need to respond to, allowing them to practice what they have learned in a zero-stakes environment.
What is Managed IT?
In simplest terms, managed IT solutions, also called managed IT services allow organizations to hand off their IT operations to a trusted service provider, who then handles all IT-related work. This single point of service can free up internal IT team members for other projects, or in the case of an “IT Light” organization, allow you to access the professionals you need without having to hire internally.
Managed IT offers a variety of benefits, including:
Access to an entire team of professionals, 24/7/365.
Cost savings, since additional team members won’t need to be hired
Peace of mind, since you never need to worry about your IT or security person calling in sick or departing to pursue other opportunities and leaving you vulnerable.
Predictable and scalable spending
Common Types of Managed IT Solutions
There are many types of managed IT services. While some organizations only offer a handful of managed services, others take a holistic approach that handles everything. How much, or how little, you want to hand off when it comes to your IT is up to you, but make sure you carefully vet any MSSP you are considering to ensure they offer the services you need and have a reputation you can trust.
Opting for a managed IT solution can help with business continuity (BC) as well as backup and disaster recovery (BDR). BC refers to the necessary planning and preparation needed to ensure your critical business operations can continue to function should a pandemic, natural disaster, power outage, cyberattack, or other crisis affect your business. A key component of BC is BDR, which refers to a combination of data backup and disaster recovery solutions that are designed to get your systems restored and fully operational again as quickly as possible should disaster strike. Having dependable backups is critical for effective disaster recovery.
Two other good terms to be familiar with are RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective). RTO refers to how quickly data needs to be recovered to ensure business continuity after unplanned downtime or a disaster strikes. The faster your RTO, the faster your organization can get back to work. Though exactly how long your RTO needs to be will depend on a variety of factors, you should aim to have an RTO of 4 hours or less.
RPO refers to what data needs to be recovered for normal business operations to resume after disaster strikes. This metric is usually based on file age (for example, all data backed up before this morning needs to be recovered). In conjunction with RTO, RPO can help your organization determine how often you should be backing up your data. For example, if your RPO is 2 hours, then you should be backing up your data at least once every 2 hours.
Strategic Business Review (SBR)
An SPR is a structured process with two goals: unearth new business opportunities and identify how your organization’s performance can be improved using technology or other means. This living document serves as a roadmap to guide future technological investments so you can ensure your managed IT services and IT infrastructure continues to meet your needs as your company grows and evolves.
Network Monitoring & Remediation
Remote monitoring management (RMM) is critical for network monitoring and remediation and refers to a platform that managed services providers like VirtualArmour use to remotely and proactively monitor your endpoints, network, applications, and systems for suspicious activity. This data is used to identify potential cybersecurity incidents or other potential problems so that they can be addressed as quickly as possible.
Most network monitoring and remediation is done out of the NOC (Network Operations Center).
What does -aaS Mean?
The term “-aaS” is a suffix that means “as a Service” and refers to any services (IT or cybersecurity) that are delivered remotely to your organization via the cloud. Examples include HaaS (hardware as a service), SaaS (software as a service), and IaaS (infrastructure as a service).
Not everyone is an IT or cybersecurity expert, and that is okay. The experts at Virtual Armour are here to help. We offer a wide selection of cybersecurity and managed IT services that can be tailored to meet your needs, as well as 24/7/365 network monitoring upon request.
For more information, or to get started with your cybersecurity or managed IT services, please contact our team today.
Supplemental Reading List
If you would like to learn more about managed IT and cybersecurity, please consider reading the articles listed below.
Safeguarding your organization and its digital assets may seem like a daunting task, but in the digital age, a robust cybersecurity stance is essential. In this article, we will discuss common threats to look for, as well as concrete steps your organization can take to protect itself from cybercriminals, and ways the Virtual Armour team is here to help.
Common Cyber Threats to Watch Out For
Cybercriminals, also called hackers, use many tactics to target businesses of all sizes. However, because of the pervasive idea that SMBs are less likely to be targeted, smaller organizations are less likely to be prepared.
Social Engineering (Including Online Scams & Phishing Scams)
Social engineering, a common tactic used in phishing scams, including spam, involves manipulating unsuspecting victims into granting access to restricted systems or data or revealing private information such as usernames and passwords.
Social engineering can take several forms. Phishing scams involve sending potential victims an email impersonating a trusted individual or organization (such as your boss or your bank) and using that previous relationship built on trust and authority to trick you into doing what the cybercriminal wants you to do. At its core, social engineering uses basic human psychology (such as our predisposition for helping others or trusting organizations we do business with) against us to manipulate our actions.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software (or malware) used to prevent legitimate users from accessing their data and systems. Once the legitimate user is locked out, the cybercriminal demands a ransom and promises to restore access if the ransom is paid.
While some organizations choose to take the financial hit and pay the ransom, there is no guarantee the cybercriminal responsible will hold up their end of the bargain once the money has been handed over.
The costs associated with ransomware also typically extend beyond the ransom itself. You may also:
Need to replace damaged data or hardware and recover any data that has been lost.
Experience a loss of income due to business disruptions
Incur additional IT costs in the form of overtime wages, increased security costs, and the wages of any additional personnel required during the recovery phase.
Need to pay for a cybersecurity investigation and forensics services (if you experienced a data breach as part of the attack)
Likely need to invest in further employee training to help safeguard against future incidents.
Depending on the nature and scale of the attack, your organization may also suffer reputational damage, which you may or may not be able to recover from.
DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks can be performed by either large, coordinated groups of cybercriminals or a handful of cybercriminals controlling a large number of bot computers (computers controlled by programs that allow them to perform automated tasks on command).
During a DDoS attack, all of the cybercriminals or their bots hammer your server with requests, overloading it and causing it to crash. This can potentially paralyze your business as business activity grinds to a halt. When the server is down, legitimate users such as employees or customers are unable to access the targeted server or any websites or applications hosted on it.
Now that you know what sort of threats are out there, what steps can you take to safeguard your organization against them?
Creating a response program begins with making critical decisions (such as who is responsible for what and how resources should be allocated during a crisis) before an attack occurs. Attacks tend to unfold quickly, so an ad hoc response developed in the moment won’t be sufficient. By preparing ahead of time, you can ensure there are no gaps in your policies and procedures that could hinder your response efforts.
Next, you need to preemptively look for potential threats. You can’t respond to a threat if you don’t know it is there. This proactive approach gives you a heads up on any potential threats so you can adjust your tactics and strategy to best safeguard your digital assets.
Should an incident occur, your top priority should be to contain it before it can do any significant damage. Once the threat has been contained, then you can shift your focus to eradicating the threat so it can’t be weaponized against you again and ensure all unauthorized users are locked out of your system.
Once the threat has been dealt with, you will need to move into the recovery and remediation phase. This involves notifying any impacted external entities (such as customers and relevant governing organizations) and telling them what happened and what damages your organization has suffered. This is also the phase where you gather evidence for later review. This phase focuses on the root cause analysis, which identifies the primordial problem and lets you determine what steps you can take to effectively remedy the situation.
Finally, when the investigation is complete, you and your team should review the efficacy of your response. Identifying any gaps or weaknesses now gives you a chance to address them before your organization is threatened again.
Review your cybersecurity protocols and schedule refresher training for all employees
You may also want to consider conducting pen (penetration) tests. Pen tests involve hiring an ethical hacker to stress test your cybersecurity defenses and look for gaps that cybercriminals may be able to exploit. Once the test is complete, the ethical hacker sits down with your team to share their findings and offer expert advice on steps you can take to better fortify your network.
Invest in Employee Training
Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility. Even the best plan is only useful if everyone on your team knows how to implement it effectively, and even the most diligent employee can’t follow your cybersecurity best practices if they don’t know what they are.
Employees should undergo cybersecurity training as part of your onboarding process, and all employees from the CEO down should receive regular refresher training. All employees need to:
Understand why cybersecurity is important
Know what protocols are in place and why
Know how to identify suspicious activities
Know who to report suspicious activities to
Know what steps they need to be taking to help safeguard your organization
As part of your refresher training, you may want to consider conducting tabletop exercises. Tabletop exercises work like cybersecurity fire drills: allowing your team to respond to a hypothetical cybersecurity incident in a zero-stakes environment. Tabletop scenarios allow employees to put the information they learned in cybersecurity training to the test and try out your current protocols, so they are well-practiced should an actual incident occur.
When the exercise is finished, you can sit down with your team and review the efficacy of their response as well as the efficacy of your existing protocols. This gives you a chance to identify any deficiencies and create solutions before your organization is actually threatened and helps keep response protocols fresh in your employees’ minds. This is also an excellent way to familiarize employees with any changes or updates to your cybersecurity incident response plan.
All of this may seem daunting. Not everyone is a cybersecurity expert, and that is okay. That’s why the experts at Virtual Armour are here to help. We can work with your organization to identify current deficiencies in your cybersecurity plan, help you create your cybersecurity incident response program, and help you respond and recover from an incident should one occur.
2020 was a rough year for all of us, particularly from a cybercrime perspective. As businesses and schools rapidly pivoted to remote work and remote learning, many cybercriminals changed their tactics and adjusted their focus to take advantage of the situation as well as user uncertainty and fear.
The SolarWinds attack, which infiltrated both the US Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security as well as a number of private organizations, rocked the cybersecurity world. Uncovered last December, this wide-reaching, devastating attack is believed to be the work of the Russian Intelligence Agency’s Foreign Intelligence Service and may have been launched as early as March 2020.
Even once experts know the full extent of the attack, the remediation process will be long and grueling. Entire enclaves of computers, servers, and network hardware across both federal and corporate networks will need to be isolated and replaced even as security teams continue to hunt for evidence of malware, determine what information has been compromised, and create and implement strategies to mitigate loss and damage.
Number of Cyberattacks Expected to Rise
In addition to dramatically changing how we go about our daily lives, COVID-19 has also provided a convenient cover for cybercriminals as they shift their attack vectors away from large, well-guarded corporate networks to small, potentially vulnerable home networks. One study suggested that, in 2021, a ransomware attack on a business is likely to occur every 11 seconds, up from every 40 seconds in 2016.
INTERPOL’s assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on cybercrime has shown similar trends, with targets shifting away from major corporations, governments, and critical infrastructure in favor of small businesses and individuals.
As users log in from home, they create personal islands of security: a model where each user is effectively following different (often lax) security protocols. When workers are onsite, all of their traffic is routed through your business’s network, which is likely closely monitored by a professional security team. However, without a dedicated security team watching every employee’s home network and personal device, your organization is exposed to increased risk.
Cybercriminals are taking advantage of this increased attack area to create personalized attack chains. While traditional tactics often involved a “spray and pray” approach (where cybercriminals used generalized social engineering attacks, such as the classic Nigerian prince scam, to target a large number of users in the hopes that a few would bite), recent trends have seen a rise in hyper-personalized attacks that target specific uses with privileged access to sensitive infrastructure, data, and systems.
While this approach is more time-consuming (since attackers need to identify and profile specific individuals to create the targeted attack), this approach is more likely to yield shorter attack-cycles, making it increasingly difficult for organizations to identify and stop attacks in progress.
The work from home era has forced cybercriminals to adapt their tactics, but unfortunately, many have done so successfully. One tried-and-true cybersecurity attack, the phone scam, has seen a resurgence.
A similar but related scam involves scammers offering “relief payments” from government agencies. These calls, text messages, and emails typically follow a general format: The caller says you have been approved to receive money, either via a relief payment or a cash grant or even via a low-interest small business loan and then asking for personal information (to “verify your identity”), banking information (so they can charge you a small “processing fee”) or both. Some scammers also ask for payment via cryptocurrencies (such as bitcoin) or gift cards.
Another twist on the phone scam is the fake tech support scam. This follows a similar format to the scams discussed above but involves cybercriminals asking users to grant access to their computers so they can “conveniently” fix a tech support problem you weren’t even aware you have.
Criminals then use this access to install malware, add backdoors for future access, or log keystrokes (to capture usernames, passwords, banking details, and other sensitive data).
The best thing you can do to safeguard your organization’s digital assets is be proactive. Make sure you are up to date on all the latest cybersecurity threats and have a well-rounded and up-to-date cybersecurity incident response program in place.
Safeguarding your organization from cybersecurity threats can be a lot to handle, particularly if you aren’t already a cybersecurity expert. That’s why Virtual Armour is here to help. Our team of experts can review your current practices with you, help you identify weaknesses, and create a plan to strengthen your defenses. We are also able to monitor your infrastructure, firewall, and endpoints 24/7/365 for potential threats and help you mitigate or even avoid damage should an incident occur.