VersaTrust has been serving the Texas area since 1997 , providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.
There are numerous strains of malware out there, but one particularly unpleasant one is ransomware. While this malicious software has been around for some time, recently a newer, nastier upgrade was discovered. Posing a threat to businesses of all sizes, the program, called Chimera, has upped the ante when it comes to scaring its victims out of their hard-earned cash. But what exactly is this malware, and what do you need to look out for?
Business is booming in the world of cyber crime, and scammers, extortionists, phishers and hackers are constantly on the lookout for new ways to exploit our fears and naivety in order to boost their bank accounts, steal our data, or simply cause us mayhem for their own twisted pleasure. One of worst types of malware for playing with our emotions – and therefore increasing the likelihood of us capitulating to its demands – is ransomware. If you don’t know how this program works, read on for an introduction.
If your computer has been infected by ransomware, the first sign that something is wrong is normally discovering that you are unable to open one or more of your files. That’s because the malware encrypts them, rendering them completely inaccessible. The next thing you see will be a ‘ransom note’, either in the form of an email or a notice that appears directly on your screen. You will be told that if you want to see your files again you will need to pay a sum of money. After making payment you will (allegedly) be sent a code that will allow you to decrypt your files.
Some types of ransomware up the fear factor even further by pretending that the FBI, CIA or other national law enforcement or government agency is behind the ‘kidnapping’. You will be told that your files are being held hostage because you have downloaded pirated software or files, or visited an illegal or illicit website – such as those depicting extreme pornography or threatening national security. Regardless of whether or not you are guilty of any of the above – be it a visit to an x-rated website, or downloading a pirated copy of the latest episode of The Walking Dead, your first instinct is probably to panic. The thought of no longer having access to any of our information, files or data is enough to make most of us break out into a cold sweat. If you haven’t backed up, everything from your vacation pictures to your company’s data could be lost for good.
The problem for ransomware creators, however, is that many users have wisened up to their tactics, and are refusing to pay, instead calling in an IT specialist to try and restore their encrypted files. This has left cyber criminals needing to find a way to boost ‘trade’. And that is where Chimera comes in. Christened by the Anti-Botnet Advisory Centre – a part of Germany’s Association of the Internet Industry – unlike previous forms of ransomware, which were indiscriminate when choosing their victims, this latest threat primarily targets businesses.
An employee will receive an email, purporting to be an application for a job within your firm, or some kind of corporate deal. This email will include a link ostensibly to the applicant’s resume or to details of the offer, but will in fact go to an infected file stored in Dropbox. Chimera then infects the user’s computer and encrypts any local files. Once the PC has been rebooted, the ransom note will be displayed on the desktop. Payment is usually set at around $680 USD, which must be paid in Bitcoins. And in order to further scare the victim into paying, the note will also state that failure to make payment will result in the user’s files being published online.
If there is a slight silver lining to the Chimera cloud, it is that the Anti-Botnet Advisory Centre has not found any proof that files have been published – at least not yet. In fact, it is still unknown whether the ransomware does actually take the encrypted files or if it is just an empty threat. Regardless, it is still a threat which could easily convince many users to pay the ransom. And should Chimera make good on its threats, the ramifications for a business are huge – and that’s without taking into consideration the nightmare of having your files encrypted in the first place. With Chimera targeting businesses of all sizes, and random employees within the business at that, isn’t it time you took another good look at your organization’s security posture?
Contact us today and talk to one of our security experts. We’ll be more than happy to help ensure that your small or medium-sized business isn’t taken hostage by Chimera or any other type of ransomware.
Online security has probably never been such a hotly debated subject as it was in 2015. From recent numerous high-profile attacks on Sony and others, to this year’s leaking of data stolen from the extramarital-affair-facilitating website Ashley Madison website, have pushed cyber security firmly into the spotlight. So what can we expect from 2016? Experts predict that this year will only see cyber crime increasing yet further. Here’s what you need to know.
If you think that only big corporations and prominent organizations are targeted by cyber criminals, you are making a deadly mistake. It might be tempting to sweep cyber crime under the carpet and assume that you are flying below the average hacker’s radar, but that simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s the polar opposite, since smaller enterprises are actually far more likely to be at risk than larger ones, owing to their typically less sturdy security postures.
So where does that leave you as a small or medium-sized business owner or manager? Does it mean you need to be taking your cyber security even more seriously? You can bet your bottom dollar it does, as industry experts predict that 2016 is only going to become more of a minefield when it comes to online crime.
The headline trend that IT security professionals pinpointed this year was that no longer were criminals hacking into websites purely to bolster their bank accounts. 2015 has seen the emergence of another strain of hackers, launching cyber attacks as part of a moral crusade. These people are not purely after money although in some cases this may also be a contributing factor – instead, their claimed motivation is revenge, or righting what they perceive as wrong. It is this diversification in the hacking community that has led security watchers to predict that, as we enter 2016, we are likely to see some different behavior from hackers.
Among the unpleasant predictions being made, a number of experts agree that hacks of a destructive nature will be on the rise. The fact that hackers are using attacks for retribution rather than simple monetary gain means that a wider cross-section of organizations may well find themselves being preyed upon, all the way from government agencies – traditionally ignored by hackers – to online retailers and other commercial websites.
Remember when Snapchat got hacked back in October 2014, and the hackers threatened to make public as many as 200,000 photos? Well, the bad news is that apps are going to continue to be targeted. In particular, those mobile apps that request access to your list of contacts, emails and messages can, in the wrong hands, be used to create the kind of portal that enables a cyber criminal to steal data or gain access to a company’s entire network. All this means that in 2016, hackers could be taking advantage of apps to do more than just steal your social media photos – they might have in mind the takedown of your entire company.
As a local business owner, social engineering – a means of tricking an individual into disclosing revealing or personal information about themselves or their company – is something you definitely need to be concerned about. You might pride yourself on being too savvy to fall for a cyber criminal’s tricks, but what about your employees? Can you be sure that each and every one of them exhibits the same amount of self control, cynicism, and wariness that you do? Not only that but, as we enter a new era of online threats, the criminals that use social engineering are growing in confidence and creativity. Dodgy emails from a bizarrely named sender containing a link to an unheard-of website are yesterday’s news. Modern social engineering is highly evolved and extremely cunning, and has the potential to convince even the most streetwise internet user.
How confident are you that your entire team of employees would be completely infallible in the face of a stealth attack from a seemingly innocent source? Could you trust them to restrain from divulging not only their personal details but also information pertaining to your company? Multiply the number of employees in your company by the number of phone apps they potentially use, and add to that the fact that any one of them could at any time be targeted by a social engineering scam, and the end result is a less-than-perfect security posture.
The sad fact is that there are people who want to do you harm – regardless of whether you hold confidential information about celebrity salaries, or are privy to a database full of cheating spouses. People, no matter how well meaning or vigilant, are the weakest link in any security chain, which means that ensuring your business’s safety necessitates educating your staff and ensuring that your network is impenetrable.
Professional training and a vulnerability assessment are two great places to start, so why not get in touch with us? We’ll make sure your business is as hack-proof as it can be.
Earlier this month, social media platform Twitter alerted a number of its users to the fact that their accounts may have been hacked into by something, or someone, known as a “state-sponsored actor.” While a warning of this kind is certainly not unprecedented – for some time now, both Facebook and Google have also been contacting any of their users who they think may have been targeted – it suggests that attacks of this type are becoming more widespread.
But how at risk actually are you from a state-sponsored cyber attack? Is your small or medium-sized business in danger of being targeted? And who is behind these hacking attempts? Well, going by the warnings recently issued by Twitter, reports so far suggest that people, companies or organizations connected to internet security and freedom of speech are currently most likely to be at risk. But ‘currently’ is somewhat ambiguous, for in the world of cybercrime things can happen at lightning speed, and someone who is a target today might be deemed out of danger tomorrow – and vice versa.
As always, the best form of protection is to be forewarned, and you can only do that by learning as much as you can about the latest threats, scams and attacks. If you are a Twitter user, be it personal or for business use, you may be wondering why you have not yet heard of these alerts. That’s because Twitter’s messages were only sent to a small, and mostly rather niche, group of users. The email informed these users that Twitter was contacting them as a precaution due to their accounts “possibly” having been hacked by the state-sponsored actors. The email also stated that they believed that the actors may (or may not) be associated with a government, and that those involved had been looking to obtain personal information such as email addresses, phone numbers and/or IP addresses. So far, so vague!
Twitter then goes on to say that, although they have no evidence that any accounts were compromised or any data was stolen, they are actively investigating. They also lamented the fact that they wished they could say more…but that they had no additional information at that time. The email goes on to attempt to reassure users that their accounts may not have been an intentional target, but admits that if a user tweets under a pseudonym, that Twitter understands they may have cause for concern. But with so many Twitter users tweeting under a different name – and perfectly innocently, at that – what’s the real cause for concern here?
The issue lies with the type of accounts that were mostly targeted. The majority of these belonged to people or organizations connected to, or concerned with, cyber security. In fact, Twitter even offered some handy advice on protecting your online identity, suggesting users read up on the subject at the Tor Project website. Somewhat coincidentally, one of the victims of the attempted Twitter account hack is an activist and writer who currently educates journalists about security and privacy – and who used to work for the Tor Project. Another is a Canada-based not-for-profit organization involved with freedom of speech, privacy and security issues, and one of its founders is a contractor for the Tor Project.
Other Twitter users who received the email are also involved in some way or another in cyber security, albeit as self-described “security researchers” or simply by way of following or engaging with the online security community. This might lead you to the conclusion that, if you’re not in the business of security and instead keep your tweets to sport, entertainment, and the latest must-have gadgets, you are not at risk. But we urge you not to be so hasty. That’s because, within that small group of people who were contacted by Twitter, a large proportion of them had nothing to do with activism, freedom of speech, calls for greater privacy, or anything of the sort.
This means that, far from brushing this latest round of cyber threats under the carpet, individuals and business owners – whatever industry they are in – do have at least some cause for concern. As yet Twitter has not released details of the state the “actors” are sponsored by, so for now we are none the wiser as to whether it’s a homegrown issue or one from further afar – say North Korea or China.
What does all this mean for you as a business owner or manager? It means that you should be taking your online security more seriously than ever. It’s no longer just your network that is at risk; now simply having an account on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter could be providing less-than-desirable third parties with the portal they need to access your company’s private information.
If you’d like to know how to ensure the online safety of your organization, give us a call today. Our experts have experience in everything from securing your computer network to increasing safety when it comes to sending out those all-important tweets!
With the vast majority of end users turning to Google as their search engine or default browser of choice, it comes as no surprise to learn that the company takes security seriously. But in a perpetually changing landscape where anti-virus and anti-malware tools are constantly chasing their tails in order to stay up to date with the latest threats, there cannot be many small to medium-sized business owners who can afford to ignore the issues surrounding cyber security. So what exactly is the internet giant doing to keep your users – and your organization – safe?
With more than one billion people using Google’s search engine on their desktops, and over a billion more accessing it through mobile devices, it is clear that security is – or should be – paramount. Google already claims to protect desktop users with its Safe Browsing service, but what about its mobile users?
With cyber threats ranging from the annoying, such as adware, to the unsavory – hello spyware – and the downright terrifying (ransomware, we’re looking at you), mobile device users are increasingly demanding to know that they are being adequately protected when using Google’s products, tools and services. So in order to protect the mind-bogglingly large number of people who are using Google on their smartphones, laptops, notebooks and tablets, Google recently unveiled plans to extend its Safe Browsing service to mobile users – or at least to who are using Chrome on an Android device.
Whether you regard this as a blatant ploy to get users to switch to Android is something we’ll let you decide for yourself, but the fact is that Google is taking steps to protect its users. Back in August 2014, the company bolstered its Safe Browsing warnings with messages alerting users to unwanted software programs trying to sneak onto their computers by attaching themselves without warning to a legitimate download. In addition, both the Android platform and the Google Play Store have security measures in place to weed out potentially dangerous apps.
However, not every cyber security threat comes from an app or installation so, while Google is doing the right thing by guarding against threats in these areas, there are other issues that require a different means of protection. Enter social engineering, and phishing in particular, which can cause untold harm – such as data or identity theft – to a business or individual.
In order to protect against social engineering, an up-to-date list of malicious websites needs to be stored upon the device – this enables Google to send an alert to the user before they get ambushed. But there are problems with this which Google has had to overcome, not least of which is how to keep the list updated in the face of new threats. Compounding this issue further are factors that are unique to mobile browsing: mobile data speeds can be slow and connectivity patchy, depending where the user is. A fast, stable connection is crucial when the timing of an alert is paramount. Not only that, but using mobile data costs the end user money!
Bandwidth (and battery) limitations mean Google has had to find a way to ensure the data they send to users is as small as possible. Protecting their customers is crucial – but so too is not sapping battery life and data plans. Because this boils down to connectivity and speed factors, a device’s location is now taken into account. For example, if a known phishing scam is only affecting certain locations, only devices that are in that part of the world receive a warning.
Google also prioritizes data by sending information on a need-to-know basis – in other words, bigger threats take precedence over more minor issues. They have also designed the software to limit network traffic, and to be as light as possible on memory and processor usage.
Since its announcement in early December, Google is now protecting all Chrome users on Android devices as default, making Safe Browsing part of their Play services from Version 8.1 onwards. Chrome Version 46 is also the first app to initiate Safe Browsing.
How do you know whether you are protected by Safe Browsing mode? Go to your settings in Chrome, and check your Privacy menu. How do you know if your small or medium-sized business stands the best chance of survival in the face of a cyber attack or phishing scam? Talk to us today and we’ll be more than happy to share our up-to-date knowledge with you.