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  • Ransomware has quickly become the cybercriminal’s favorite form of malware. As a reminder, ransomware is malware that hackers use to enter a network or device, encrypts files, hold them hostage, and then demand a ransom to return those files back to the victims. In recent years, universitiesmunicipal governmentssmall businesses, and even large corporations like Honda have been victims of ransomware. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the perfect environment of uncertainty and disruption for ransomware to thrive.

    As the threat of ransomware increases, it is important for organizations to be prepared. The best place to start is through education and understanding.  By understanding ransomware, you can be better prepared to identify potential weaknesses. In this blog, we will go inside a ransomware attack and explore its progression as it takes hold of a system.

    1. The Breach

      The most common way hackers get access to an organization’s network is through phishing emails. Phishing is a legitimate looking email with a link or attachment that a when a user opens or clicks, the bad guys are in. Once they successfully breach, they will encrypt files on the network, making them inaccessible. Hackers have released many such phishing campaigns under the guise of the current pandemic to make emails seem legitimate and take advantage of the fear factor surrounding the situation. This includes fake emails from the World Health Organization, government agencies, and even fake applications posing as COVID-19 tracking apps.

      This step is where organizations generally make their first mistake. Users (in this case, employees) are the last line of defense against phishing campaigns. Recognizing malicious emails is the first step to halting a potential ransomware attack. Therefore, it is crucial that employees are well trained to recognize and report such emails.

    2. The Dig

      Once hackers have breached a system, they search around the files to find critical data that can make them money. This can include company finances or confidential user information (names, contact details, social security info). So, in addition to encrypting the data they find, they also may steal the data, which they then share on dark web forums (see #3 below). After having armed themselves with this data, the hackers dig through the network in an attempt to gain access to more devices and block them from being used. While remaining undetected, they then go through the network shutting down security controls like AntiVirus and backups, making it more difficult for the victims to recover from the attack and forcing them to have to pay the ransom. These tactics help them strengthen their stranglehold on the network and build greater leverage to blackmail their victims.

    3. The Demand

      Having encrypted and exploited a network as much as they can, the hackers send the victims a message demanding a ransom to release and return all the files back to them. More often than not, the ransom is demanded in Bitcoin as Bitcoin addresses are not directly linked to a hacker’s identity, essentially making them anonymous. Besides the obvious threat of not getting back their files, hackers threaten victims with publishing sensitive information online, or even sharing it with other hackers through the dark web. In a panic and to avoid embarrassment, victims often pay the ransom which is very much ill-advised. Paying a ransom encourages further repetition of cybercrime and provides no guarantee against future attacks or that the criminal will permanently delete the victim’s data.

    How can I protect my organization from these attacks?

    The threat of ransomware is growing and can be a scary thought for business owners. Not only do they lose data and sensitive information, there is also the cost of the ransom, downtime, and public embarrassment to the company name. But with a healthy cybersecurity framework, ransomware and other forms of cyberattacks can be fought and protected against.

    First of all, strongly consider partnering with a Managed Services Provider (MSP) – they have the technical knowhow to help you assess your current protections, provide guidance on improving your security posture, and help restore your files if in fact your organization does get attacked. Further steps include, as mentioned above, to engage in strong, sound security awareness training for your users so that they are able to identify and prevent hacking attempts before they happen. Testing  your environment for vulnerabilities on a regular basis helps identify weaknesses that could be exploited and ensures that your patching and updating processes are effective.

    Evaluate the strength of your security infrastructure to mitigate ransomware with our turnkey Ransomware Readiness Assessment! Built by our Security team, this tool provides valuable insights and expert recommendations on bolstering your environment to protect against ransomware to keep your organization and your clients feeling safe.

    Security, Technology

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    Many organizations have recently found themselves scrambling to keep business running as usual while ensuring their staff and clients stay safe. COVID-19 has been testing the planning and preparation of IT Departments around the world.

    Below are 5 measures that all business leaders should implement to keep their users productive in the face of disruption:

    1. Have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

    A Business Continuity Plan outlines how a business will remain operational in the event of a major disaster or event. A BCP details the steps taken before, during, and after a critical event that are required to maintain business function from an operational and financial standpoint.

    If you were caught unprepared for the COVID-19 Outbreak, now is the best time to make sure you’re never caught unprepared again. Get a team together and get a Business Continuity plan in place.

    1. Elect an Emergency Preparedness Team

    During any type of business disruption, organizations need to have a steering committee that is at the helm of the decision-making process. With a Continuity Plan in place, your team will have a great starting point, but every disruption to your business is unique. Your Emergency Team should keep an eye on official recommendations from government and health officials. They can use those recommendations to identify how your business will be affected and decide on any additional measures required to keep your staff safe and productive. Your Emergency Team can coordinate the disaster response so that nobody is left scrambling, wondering what next steps are.

    1. Offer Remote Work Options

    “Work is not where you are. Work is what you get done.” – who said this?

    The ability to work remotely has become essential for all businesses. More and more organizations are adopting a work from home policy to foster better work-life balance and increased productivity. Enabling your employees to work from home (WFH) becomes even more valuable in the face of business disruption.

    Many large organizations, like Twitter for example, have announced that they will be working remotely in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Being ready with a WFH Policy can keep your organization up and running even in the face of a nation-wide lockdown, like some Countries around the world are currently experiencing.

    Here are some important points to consider:

    • Do your employees have secure laptops that they can take home?
    • Can your VPN or remote access solution support the increased load if most or all employees are trying to connect?
    • Do you have collaboration tools in place that enable employees to easily interact amongst themselves and with your customers? Examples include:
      • Phone and video conferencing solutions
      • Chat or team-based collaboration tools
    1. Be Ready with Cloud Backups

    With any business disruption—whether it’s a local natural disaster making your office inaccessible, or a pandemic response where you need increased social distancing for staff – you need to be mindful of where data is getting created, stored, and backed up.  With more work-from-home scenarios, that means data is getting created and potentially stored on devices outside of your core network or in the cloud.  Backing up data from endpoints, from cloud apps, and from shared network drives should now be a mainstay in an organization’s business continuity plan.

    You need to protect your users, their data, and their productivity with good, easily restorable backups. When staff are working remotely, they are more susceptible to cybersecurity risks, lost or stolen devices, and good old-fashioned human error (spilling the latte at Starbucks). Protect your productivity, data integrity, and your business continuity by rolling out a backup solution that covers not just your servers, but your endpoints (laptops) and your cloud apps and data like Office 365.

    1. Test Your Process

    How can you know for sure that you’ll be ready when disaster strikes? Test your process.

    Once you have a BCP in place and an Emergency Preparedness Team assembled, schedule a run through to make sure everything is working. The last thing you need in the middle of a business disruption is to learn that something is broken

    Following these tips will help ensure that your business is ready for any disruption. Should you need help any step of the way, feel free to contact us.

    Technology, Workplace of the Future

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    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a fair share of negativity in the business world, yet many technology companies are taking part in a global effort to support our economy during this period of disruption. Below are several examples of major technology partners providing free offers or lower cost solutions due to the COVID-19 crisis.

    Microsoft: 6-month Office 365 E1 Trial

    Microsoft created this trial as a direct response to COVID-19. Office 365, and more specifically Microsoft Teams, is a great solution for helping remote employees stay productive, connected, and collaborative. This trial can easily be upgraded to a paid subscription after the 6 month trial period.

    Cisco: Free 90-day trial for a WebEx Enterprise Account (temporarily paused)

    Understanding the demand for collaboration and communication during this time, Cisco has released free WebEx enterprise account offer. WebEx is an enterprise grade video collaboration platform from Cisco, one of the most trusted names in networking and collaboration. This doc from Cisco provides more details on the offer

    Note: Cisco has temporarily paused enrollment into this free trial due to the overload of requests they have received. We will update this blog to reflect when they are opening up registrations, so keep an eye out!

    Citrix: Citrix Synergy 2020 now a free, multi-day Online Event

    Citrix has changed its annual conference to a free digital event, which will give businesses a chance to learn about Citrix’s latest updates and innovations from the safety of their own homes.

    UPDATE: The Citrix Synergy conference has been postponed to a virtual event in the fall. We will update this space with dates once they are announced.

    Leveraging these offers from industry leaders will continue to keep your organization running smoothly during this disruption. We will continue to update this blog with new offers as they are rolled out, so keep your eye on this space!

    If you are interested in any of these promotions, please let us know!

    Technology, Workplace of the Future

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    With the transition to remote work in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations and schools are transitioning to using Zoom for online collaboration and learning. This has seen the online conferencing service get hit with multiple cyberattacks, and there are now over 500,000 leaked Zoom accounts available for sale on the dark web.

    We have received some questions from our clients on these security concerns, and whether Zoom is safe to use. This blog is in response to those concerns and some of the measures that users can take to stay safe, should they choose to use it.

    Why Zoom?

    Zoom’s focus has been usability and reliability – easy to use and works great on any device with a range of bandwidth. Zoom has had to handle a 20x increase in use over a matter of weeks and have largely been successful in managing the increased usage.

    However, as use in organizations has skyrocketed, vulnerabilities and concerns have been identified. With the popularity of Zoom, it has also presented a huge attack opportunity for cybercriminals.

    Initial areas of concern

    1. Zoom-bombing:
      Zoom-bombing is when an intruder infiltrates and disrupts a video conference call. Not only could intruders share inappropriate content, they could also simply just quietly listen into or watch what’s happening in the meeting and steal specific data to enhance social engineering and e-impersonation campaigns. Various changes have been made by Zoom to address Zoom-bombing including defaulting to users being put in the waiting room where a host must allow them access. Advice has also been issued on ensuring that a password is used for all meetings and that the meeting URL is only provided to invited users.
    2. General:
      Vulnerabilities have been identified, but recently, Zoom has been fairly quick to fix them. If installed, Zoom should be set to auto update, so all new fixes are applied as soon as available. Meeting links are generalized and reused so once someone has the link, they can always access in future.
    3. Encryption:
      Currently, Zoom is using their own encryption, which is generally not recommended due to the highly complicated nature of encryption. Zoom does not use end-to-end encryption, so there is a potential that their current communication stream could be compromised. Zoom indicates that they are working on improvements.
    4. Privacy:
      Ensure that the Zoom privacy policy is reviewed, understood, and determined acceptable for your organization. For free accounts, personal information will certainly be monetized. For paid accounts, organizations should understand what information is collected and how it is secured.

    In Conclusion

    If you choose to use Zoom, it is important to keep in mind the security of your data and users. Practice cybersecurity discipline and use the following tips to stay safe:

    • Use with caution and an understanding of the risks
    • Should not be used for secret or confidential meetings or conversations
    • If used;
      • Ensure users are aware of, and using, proper security settings and are staying up-to-date on ongoing changes
      • Set the application to auto-update so it is always up-to-date with latest fixes
      • Ensure meeting recordings are also protected
    • Hosts should monitor participants of their meetings and not allow unknown users into meetings
    • For tighter control and deeper integration with other organization communication tools, consider a more mature conferencing solution

    Security, Workplace of the Future

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