Protect your organization with these 2 simple rules

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We are excited to announce a NEW guest blog series by Dr. Ken! In future blog posts, he will discuss ransomware, encryption, and other critical cyber-security issues all business people need to know. Stay tuned!

UPDATE Friday May 12, 2017Massive ransomware cyber-attack hits 74 countries around the world says a headline in today’s UK Guardian newspaper. The report describes “more than 45,000 attacks recorded in countries including the UK, Russia, India and China may have originated with theft of ‘cyber weapons’ from the NSA.”

SHOULD YOU WORRY? You DO NOT have to worry about this attack IF your business is running Microsoft Windows (for example, Windows 10 EnterpriseAND you have been automatically applying Microsoft updates.

As this blogs details below, perhaps one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from today’s most damaging cyber attacks is to simply allow Windows or Apple to automatically update the software on your computer.

The 2 Things That Best Protect You From Cyber Attack

Everyone is at risk for cyber attack and that is bad news for your business. State-sponsored hackers routinely breach government networks, for-hire cyber criminals advertise their ability to attack any business anywhere in the world, and amateurs using freely-available software tools can get into your home network, turn on your webcam, and watch you without you knowing it.

Any device connected to the Internet is potentially vulnerable to attack. But the good news is that you can do a few simple things to protect your personal and business devices from hackers.

Two Things You Can Do Today

Two of the most important “do it yourself” actions you can take right now to secure your computer are:

  1. Keep your software up to date
  2. Remove Administrator privileges from your computer account

Best of all, neither action requires you to purchase additional protection software. If your IT department manages all your computers centrally, you probably have both protections in place already. If you’re taking care of your own computer, and have family computers at home, you can easily put these two protections in place yourself.

Keep your software up to date

A few weeks ago, a hacking group publicly released a set of tools that were claimed to allow anyone to easily hack Microsoft Windows. Although many clickbait articles claimed no Windows user was safe, in reality, Microsoft had already patched those software holes. So if you had automatic updates turned on, you had nothing to worry about.

The most important (and simplest) way to stay safe online is to keep your Windows and Office software up to date. With Windows 10, for example, software updates are turned on automatically. Along with feature improvements, Microsoft provides regular security fixes and scans to automatically detect and remove any malicious software installed ahead of the fix. If you are running an older version of Windows, then read how to turn on auto-updates in previous versions of Windows.

This means that if you are using Microsoft’s Office 365 – ideally with Microsoft Office as part of your subscription – you are set up for the quickest patching of any issues most likely before you are even aware of them. If you have an older version of Microsoft Office then you are more vulnerable so consider an Office 365 subscription to get at Office 2016 desktop applications for maximum protection.

If you are using an Apple Computer: Follow Apple’s instructions for updating your software. Note that Apple does not turn on Firewall protection by default. You should also turn on your Firewall by following Apple’s Firewall instructions.

Remove Administrator Privileges From Your User Account

When you get a new computer, or do a fresh Windows install, you are asked to create a new user account as part of the set-up process. The first account you create will always be an Administrator account. Subsequent accounts you create on that computer are Standard accounts. It is very likely you are reading this blog from an Administrator account – and that’s a cyber-security problem just waiting to happen.

An Administrator account gives you complete control over your computer. Hackers who gain control over a computer’s Administrator account can shut down the antivirus and firewall protections without you knowing about it. Administrator access grants hackers free reign over your computer; enabling them to cover their tracks so there is no digital trail to trace back to them.

In contrast, if you sign into your computer using a Standard account, you can run applications but cannot install new ones. You can change limited system settings for your account but no other accounts on the computer. Anything requiring higher privileges (like modify operating system files) requires entering the username and password for an Administrator account.

Almost all cyber attacks against you or your business require Administrator access to be successful. Most attacks start by you clicking a malicious web link or opening a malicious email attachment. However, if you browse the Internet and read your email using a Standard account then you are automatically protected against these types of attacks.

At Amaxra, we have been guilty of allowing some of our Operations and IT teams to use administrator-enabled accounts to carry out everyday tasks like reading e-mail and visiting external websites (two tasks that are most commonly used by attackers to gain a foothold in your IT network). This practice has put Amaxra at increased risk. We now have separate admin credentials for our users needing this higher level of privilege. Most of the time they now work from Standard accounts unless they have specific admin functions to complete.

If you are using an Apple Computer: Follow Apple’s instructions for adding both standard and administrator user accounts.

Your Next Step: Assess the Cyber-Security Profile of your Business

The first step every business takes towards enhancing their cyber-security is to identify and quantify their cyber-security profile. The process involves a series of vulnerability assessments and penetration tests.

A vulnerability assessment checks to see if you have unpatched software vulnerabilities and open ports into your IT network that allow easy entrance to cyber attackers. This assessment is like walking up to your house and checking if your doors are locked and windows bolted but not going inside. A penetration test goes further. It’s like hiring someone to try and break into your house (without leaving any evidence of a break in) to understand precisely how secure your home is. Penetration testing uses hacker-style methods to elude your IT defenses and gain control of one or more of your computers. Penetrating your existing IT defenses assesses how much damage an attacker could do to your business—and what you can do to protect against future attacks. Vulnerability assessments and penetration tests probe, but not damage, your IT systems.

Post assessment, a remediation report is prepared that tells you and your IT team what vulnerabilities were found and what you need to do to fix them. Enterprises with their own IT teams have the resources to apply these fixes, but most small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) can outsource fixing their network to an external cyber-security team.

How To For Home Computers: Setting A New Standard

So, for home computers and business computers not centrally managed, here’s what to do on Windows 10:

Create a new account for Administration duties only

  1. Hold down the Windows key + I to open the Settings app.
  2. Click the Accounts icon.
  3. Select “Family & other people” near the bottom of the options list of the left.
  4. In the “Other people” section on the lower right, click Add Someone new to the PC.
  5. Be sure to set “Account Type” to “Administrator”.
  6. Write down the password you choose for this account and keep it in a safe place. Since you won’t use this account very often, you don’t want to forget the password.

Remove Administration privileges from your day to day account

  1. Once you have created a new account to use for Administration activities, use the Windows key + I keyboard shortcut to open the Settings app again.
  2. Click the Accounts icon.
  3. Select “Family & other people” near the bottom of the options list of the left.
  4. In the “Other people” section, select your user account, and click “Change account type.”
  5. In the “Change Account Type dialog, select Standard User from the drop-down menu.
  6. Click OK.

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