All Posts by Hana LaRock

About the Author

Hello! My name is Hana and I am the content writer for Smeester & Associates. I was born in raised in Long Island, New York, but I have lived abroad and traveled many places over the last four years. I currently reside in Mexico City. It's been an exciting challenge to write about topics associated with the importance of cyber security in small business. Every day, I myself am learning more about this industry and what it can do for small business owners around the country. I have years of content writing experience and I have been published on both print and web. Any topics you want to see discussed here? Shoot me an email at info@smeester.com.

passwords
Aug 17

You Can’t Protect Your Network Without Knowing This About Passwords

By Hana LaRock | CEO Best Practices , Security , Security Best Practices

When it comes to protecting a network from data breaches, there are many things a company can do to help secure themselves as best as possible. But, most of the time, it’s not what companies are doing, but what they’re not doing correctly that puts them at risk.

One of the most basic yet most important things that companies need to pay attention to is their passwords. There have been many reports over the years on what qualifies as a “good password.” However, according to recent reports, it seems that what we think we know about passwords is very, very wrong.

If company leaders don’t stay up to date on the latest security news, then they could be making big mistakes in their overall Internet security plan.

So, here’s the advice you need to update your passwords and upgrade your security.

Complicated Passwords are Hard for Humans, Easy for Computers

For a long time, the creator of the NIST Memo back in 2003, Bill Burr, suggested that the best passwords were those that used a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. He also encouraged users to make passwords that were not obvious keywords in their lives, but maybe used the first letter of each word from their favorite quote.

This is why, nowadays, when you create a password, you’re asked to write a password that falls between 8-12 characters and includes different letter cases, numbers, and symbols.

Well, that’s a lot to remember. And, when we’re also encouraged to keep changing out passwords frequently, we forget. After all, how many times have you forgotten a password?

See, we might try our best to re-create fancy passwords every other month. But, the fact of the matter is, hackers using the right technology are able to figure out those kinds of passwords easily. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if A.I. could guess your password faster than you can remember it.

So, what’s the new solution?

Longer Passwords

That’s right, folks. According to new reports, the current methods you’re using to create passwords aren’t exactly helping you stay secure. If you really want to protect your network, you should continue to be vigilant. Use two-step notifications, use different passwords for each of your programs, and make your passwords longer. Computers are less likely to guess longer passwords than the type of passwords we’ve been encouraged to use for years.

Only One Problem

Making longer passwords is no problem, right? Wrong. Because of what we know to be the “best” way to guard ourselves against hackers, most websites don’t even give you the option of creating longer passwords. As with most things, the status quo takes time to catch up to what we actually know to be true. Therefore, it might be quite a while before you’re even allowed to create longer passwords, and by then, maybe we won’t be using passwords much at all anymore.

So, How Can I Help My Company Stay Secure?

When you have the opportunity to create a longer password, go for it! But, in the meantime, you’ll have to continue to practice tight security measures for your company’s network. One way to do this is of course by staying on top of the news. See what current threats are out there, and what experts are saying you can do to protect yourself further.

And, speaking of experts, you don’t need to go at this alone. All the conversation surrounding appropriate security measures can be rather overwhelming. To combat it, seek the help of an outsourced expert in cyber security and risk management. This way, you can always be sure you’re doing everything you can to take your company’s network security seriously; whether that’s creating the right password or implementing other smart security tactics along the way.

Technology
Aug 07

Always Get Your Technology Approved Before Implementing It

By Hana LaRock | CEO Best Practices

Businesses who want to be successful need to find ways to incorporate technology into their offices. The right technology can help your business grow and aid in getting work done more efficiently. Why technology certainly has a lot of benefits, it takes a professional to know which technology is right for your business, and how to properly implement it. After all, if it’s not handled with care, your company could be at risk for a data breach or network slowdowns. Having an unbiased professional, typically an outsourced CIO, can help you make the right decisions regarding the technology you’ll want to use.

Get the Right Connections

Part of having the right technology is knowing where to find it. Technology is ever-changing, and you don’t want to be stuck with something that’s outdated or essentially useless for your business. Therefore, it’s important you have good connections. Knowing excellent IT providers can help guarantee you are working with only the best products out there. Don’t know any IT providers yourself? Luckily, an outsourced CIO probably does.

No Need to Rely Solely on Your IT Department

Your IT department (or your IT guy) have important roles at your company, there’s no doubt about that. But, their roles are also very specific, and the more things you expect out of them, the more you might complicate things. Officially, an IT departments’ role is to design, maintain, and support an organization’s information technology infrastructure. But, before anything can be maintained and supported, it needs to be discovered and implemented. This is where a CIO comes in.

Don’t Miss Out on the Best Technology

Even if you’re well read up on what’s out there and what’s the best solution for your company, no one expects you to be the expert in everything. You’re busy running your company, and you can’t waste any time worrying about things that aren’t really under your jurisdiction. An outsourced CIO knows what’s out there, what’s coming, and what’s a good match for your business.

Always Have an Expert Keeping an Eye on Things

While your IT team will certainly be occupied managing that technology, such complex software and products require a lot of human support. And, because a majority of data breaches can occur because of human error within the office, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra hand. Especially from someone who’s not working internally. Not only should you get your technology approved by an unbiased CIO before deciding on it, you should have it reviewed by this same professional for the long run.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

CIO
Jul 24

The Role a CIO Can Play for Your Company and Why You Should Hire One Now

By Hana LaRock | CEO Best Practices , IT Best Practices , IT Outsourcing , Managed Services , Security , Security Best Practices

Technology has taken over the business world. Ever since we’ve become more reliant on technology, we’ve been seeing new jobs added to companies to help maintain it all. And, when it comes to that technology, those who will be managing it on your company’s behalf need to have the appropriate skills and expertise to do their job correctly.

You may already have an IT team, or maybe even a CTO. But, you as the CEO need to make sure the right decisions are being made for your company at all times (and at all costs). So, isn’t it about time to outsource a chief information officer?

Why You Need a CIO

While all roles in a company are unique and important, a CIO does a number of tasks that bridge all those roles together. Ultimately, the CIO is responsible for making sure technology is properly integrated throughout the company so that operations can run smoothly. He or she has the final say on how technology is managed so that the business can keep moving forward without any hold ups.

Why Outsourcing is Important

One of the biggest questions that comes up when a company integrates technology into their everyday tasks is the issue of cyber security. Though there are many ways in which a system could potentially be hacked from outside intruders, human error is still one of the main causes of breaches that we commonly see today. Certain protocols need to be followed in order to guarantee a network’s safety. To eliminate any risks of vulnerability or conflicts among high-level decision makers, a CEO should consider outsourcing their CIO. This way, any decisions that are made are unbiased and are therefore solely for the best interest of the company.

Also, don’t forget that one of the perks of hiring any type of managed service means that you have more time to run your business. Any worries you may have will now be dealt with by that service provider.

When is the Best Time To Hire a CIO? 

Most company leaders may think it’s best to wait until a company reaches a certain level before hiring a CIO. Perhaps when a certain number of sales have been made or a certain number of followers has been reached. But, it may be that it’s time to get one sooner than later if you’re noticing some inconsistencies at your company. This could involve anything from repetitive inefficiency, seeing your network has become vulnerable to attacks, disagreements among executives, or too many tasks being handled by a small staff. Whether it’s one of these reasons, a combination of these reasons, or you just feel the need to extend such an important role to someone else, then it might be time to hire a CIO.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

Petya
Jul 11

How You Can Stay Safe from Future Ransomware Attacks Like Petya

By Hana LaRock | CEO Best Practices , Ransomware , Security

In June 2017, yet another type of complex ransomware has infected computers worldwide. It goes by the name ‘Petya,’ and it caused companies like DLA Piper and Maersk to freeze up their systems. The only way for these companies to have unlocked their systems, is, of course, by paying a hefty ransom.

If your company was safe from Petya this time around, how can you continue to stay safe from ransomware attacks in the future?

What is Petya?

The interesting thing about the Petya virus is that the authors of Petya demanded the large ransom (100-bitcoin) only after many companies infected already resumed their operations. Though it looks like some victims had decided to pay a smaller ransom, Petya’s financial success didn’t amount to much.

While all ransomware viruses typically work in the same way, each one possesses a unique attribute that makes it stand out from the others. Perhaps it infects more companies, demands more money than other forms of ransomware, or is simply that much harder to prevent.

Before Petya, the big ransomware virus to look out for was WannaCry. Though WannaCry could fall into its own category of headline-making ransomware, it actually shares some similarities with Petya. Like WannaCry, Petya infiltrated networks through systems that used Microsoft Windows. And, although it seems that Petya’s main goal was to disrupt Ukrainian infrastructure (where the virus was sourced from) rather than just make money, it’s important for everyone to be aware of such a virus’ capabilities. Knowing what’s out there makes you less likely to become a victim yourself since you know how to prevent an attack in the future.

How Can You Protect Yourself Against Attacks Like Petya

It goes without saying that not all cyber attacks can be prevented. Because technology is so complex and because there is so much we cannot see on the Internet, hackers are finding new ways to get what they want. But, first and foremost, we must educate ourselves about what kind of hacks are out there, how we may possibly be vulnerable to those attacks, and how to protect ourselves in every way possible.

From what we know from this attack, only Windows systems were targeted. Those who haven’t updated their software were more at risk, as well as businesses. Home networks weren’t really a target in this case, which is pretty true for most cyber attacks (but not always).

Unlike WannaCry or other types of ransomware, Petya locks up entire data systems instead of individual files. A worm is sent out and encrypts machines. This on its own is a reminder that although we may not be able to prevent attacks, we can back up our data separately so that we can access it even if it gets hacked.

Lastly, it’s important that you’re doing what you can to protect your network. The first step is seeking out the help of a managed service provider that’s up to date on cyber attacks and knows how to evaluate your system for any inconsistencies. Generally, a good antivirus should work, but only if that antivirus’ usage is being constantly monitored by an expert.

And, Remember…

Hopefully, you’ll never fall victim to a ransomware attack like Petya. But, if you do, remember that you should never pay up to the perpetrator.  This only encourages these hackers to continue doing what they do.

Working together with your team and the expertise of a managed service provider, you can spend less time worrying about these hacks and more time doing what you do best; running your business.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

software development background
Jun 26

Does Your Cyber Security Consultant Have the Right Expertise?

By Hana LaRock | CEO Best Practices , Managed Services , Security

When it comes to cyber security, there are a lot of things one needs to know. Ultimately, business leaders choose to invest in the help of a cyber security consultant in order to make sure their network is properly managed by an expert. But, even if your consultant claims to be an ‘expert’ in cyber security, you need to ask yourself, “Do they have the right expertise?”  Often times, it’s not about what this professional has on their list of credentials; it’s about what they don’t have. And, what they don’t have could prove to be very bad news for your security situation.

What’s Their Background When It Comes to Internet Technology?

When you look for your cyber security consultant, it might be overwhelming to see everything they have to offer you. Just like when you buy a new TV or look through a brochure, you see all the beautiful advertising. If it’s done nicely, you would never really ask yourself, “Well, what does this not have?” or “What is it missing?”

Most cyber security professionals will have an IT background, which seems like that should be a given. However, an IT background isn’t all you should be looking for. After all, if that’s all they have, then why not just consult your IT department? Surely, they have all it takes to clean up a security problem, right?

Wrong. Most business leaders know that their IT team has other responsibilities, and not quite the right experience when it comes to specifically handling security concerns. This is why CEOs seek the help of a professional cyber security consultant in the first place.

So, what is it you want to be looking for in your cyber security professional?

Clearly Defined Software Development Expertise

While an IT background is certainly necessary, you want to make sure the consultant you’re looking into working with actually has a software development background.

The biggest reason for this is because hackers generally do their work by using scripts as their main tool to cause damage on the networks of unsuspecting targets. To even recognize something like this, a cyber security professional would have to have experience in software development. But, in addition to being able to recognize this kind of hack, you also want someone who could make sure YOUR software is protected, to begin with. They know exactly what to look out for and are read up all the different types of breaches that exist.

A person with solely IT experience probably won’t be able to see this as well as someone with a software development background.

Generally, although most cyber security consultants with software development experience also have a good IT foundation, those with solid IT experience can’t really say the same for themselves. Again, it’s not about what your potential cyber security has; it’s about what they’re perhaps lacking and how that could impact the quality of their service to you.

The Bottom Line

An avid cyber security approach is important for financial companies that collect the information of their clients or have their own data to store and protect. While there are a lot of great consultants and managed services out there, take your time choosing the one that’s best for your company. And, do yourself a favor and make sure they have experience in both software development and IT. Otherwise, you aren’t really getting what you’re paying for.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

network's security
Jun 20

Do You Have Enough Eyes Looking Out for Your Network’s Security?

By Hana LaRock | Managed Services , Security

When it comes to companies protecting their network from hackers, most business leaders know what to do. Once a company has made the decision to utilize services of a third party in regard to their security, they’ve already made a move in the right direction.

But, how do you know you’re using the right cyber security service for your company? And, does the service you’re using possess the expertise, resources, and manpower to continuously monitor your network? It’s not just about outsourcing your cyber security, although that much is important. Ultimately, it’s about asking yourself whether or not there are enough eyes on your network to make sure your security situation is stable at all times.

Why You Need to Analyze Your Own Business Before Seeking Help

Just because you define your business as a small business, doesn’t mean your need for cyber-security is any less than anyone else’s. In fact, small businesses can actually be more of a target for cyber criminals, as most of the time, hackers assume you’re not taking proper precautions and your network is thus that much easier to hack. 

This means that you need to up your cyber security game as much as possible. Since you can be considered the low-hanging fruit for hackers, you need to be extra cautious of your network’s security, especially when you operate in the financial industry. As a small business, you’re vulnerable in a lot of ways; one of those ways being the reputation you have amongst your customers. When you’re small or just starting out, your customers’ expectations of you are that much higher. If you have a security breach, you may find yourself back at square one with your business.

Therefore, before you seek assistance from a third party managed service provider, have a general idea of what’s important to you security-wise. Even if you don’t know a lot, knowing what your business’ demands are and the value of what you need to protect, is enough to guide you in the right direction.

One Pair of Eyes is Never Enough

Before the technology era, how did people protect their businesses? Think about it. They locked and chained their doors. They installed alarms. They added security cameras. Many hired security guards to keep watch overnight. Already, that’s a lot of eyes watching that business.

In the Internet age, the concept is much the same. However, hackers don’t have to dress up in black and plan a heist to break in; it’s often much easier to breach your network. And, since a lot of security breaches can happen because of human error, it’s so important you have enough people looking out for you.

When someone writes a book, they have editors read over their work again and again. Don’t you want your network treated better than a bestseller? We think so. That alone is enough incentive to make sure there are enough eyes on your network. Therefore, when you seek out a company to take care of your cyber-security, figure out what their staff numbers look like and how many people will be on your case.

But, It’s Not Just About Eyes

When you’re working in the financial industry, you have a lot of responsibility when it comes to your customers. If you’re collecting sensitive information from your clients, such as credit card numbers, SSNs and home addresses, the stakes are higher for you than other companies. That means it’s not just about HOW MANY people are monitoring your network, but HOW they are monitoring it (and how often).

Before you buy the services of a third party provider, read their testimonials. See what they offer, what their guarantees are, and read up to make sure they haven’t made headlines for anything negative.

This is YOUR company and it’s your priority. Is your managed service provider making your security their priority? You better hope so. 

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

auditors
Jun 06

Three Categories Regulators Expect Your Risk Assessment To Fall Under

By Hana LaRock | CEO Best Practices , Managed Services , Security

Up until now, when auditors and regulators of cyber-security came to companies, most of the time they would just ask to see whether an assessment was done. It was even less likely that they would have asked the details of that assessment. But, now, that’s starting to change.

Some companies these days have gotten into trouble with auditors and regulators because even though they had done an assessment, the assessment was either not as comprehensive as it should have been or the company didn’t act on the risks that the assessment reported.

If you want to make sure your risk assessment is done correctly, then you must make sure it falls under one of these three categories:

1) Standardized:

There are many different kinds of risk assessments out there, and what you use will depend on a lot of factors. First of all, it depends on what kind of business you’re in and how much a hack could affect the lives of your customers and employees. Of course, there are some businesses that are held up to higher standards than others when it comes to an auditor’s discretion. That being said, you should always set the security bar high for yourself no matter what, this way you know you’ll be safe.

Whatever route you decide to go with your risk assessment, you should ask the organization that’s doing it whether or not the test they choose to perform is standardized; meaning if the test were repeated again at your business or another, it would produce (more or less) the same results. At the very least, the assessment should yield the same, specific kind of information across the board.

2) Relevant:

As mentioned before, a test that’s done for one company may not work for another. If your third-party is running the same assessment on your small e-commerce site that’s it’s doing on a multi-million dollar health insurance company, that could very well be a red flag.

Some of the assessments you may have heard of include, but are not limited to, FAIR, OCTAVE, FMEA, etc. Some fall into the category of qualitative assessments, while others fall into the category of quantitative. This means that some assessments will look at data and other factors over a long period of time, while others are simply based on an expert’s opinion. The results of these assessments can be expressed in different ways, usually referring to the various direct or indirect costs.

When the assessment is done, it should be able to answer key questions that are relative to your business. What vulnerabilities do you have in your system? What could be causing the threat? What kind of damage are you looking at if these threats take hold? And, of course, how to fix it.

3) Explicit:

So, if auditors and regulators are starting to ask more questions, don’t you want to be ready with more answers? If you happen to have an auditor come knocking on your door that wants to know much more than whether or not you’ve simply done on an assessment, then you need to be prepared. What we’re trying to say is, your assessment shouldn’t merely report the date you had it done, when you’re due for a next one, and by whom was it administered.

Instead, your assessment needs to have explicit information and data on it that will be satisfactory to the potential auditor. If you want to get a heads up about what an auditor might look for, speak to the organization that will be conducting your assessment.

Remember, even if you go through all this work to have the right assessment done for your company in the eyes of the auditors, it won’t mean much if you’ve left that assessment report in a pile of papers on your desk. In addition to making sure your assessment falls into one of these three categories, you also need to address anything that assessment uncovers; immediately. Also, make sure you continue to get assessments done regularly in order to stay on top of your security.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

WannaCry
May 31

Why The Recent WannaCry Ransomware Attack is Relevant to You

By Hana LaRock | CEO Best Practices

About two weeks ago, cyber-security made headlines yet again when the WannaCry Ransomware attack hit several large companies around the world. It affected companies globally, reportedly hitting 230,000 computers in 150 countries. It attacked computers running Microsoft’s operating system and asked for a ransom via Bitcoin payments. There were several reasons that this WannaCry Ransomware was so successful in its attack. And, even if you weren’t affected, here’s why the whole situation is relevant to you, anyway.

Have You Been Updating Your Software?

One of the reasons certain companies were vulnerable to this ransomware attack was because they had not updated their systems. Though Microsoft had advised their users to run an update a few months prior to the attack, we know that there are always those that pay no attention to the updates.

This is, of course, one of the factors that make this WannaCry Ransomware attack relevant to you. When it comes to your cyber-security, those updates may seem unimportant. But, they are actually very important. Software companies and operating systems generally do a lot to monitor their vulnerabilities. If they let you know about a potential risk and encourage you to make updates to protect yourself, don’t ignore it.

Are Your Files Backed-Up?

Luckily, the WannaCry Ransomware attack could have been a lot worse if experts hadn’t stopped it in its tracks. However, the virus was still able to get its hands on sensitive information by encrypting the computer’s data files which it had attacked. Of course, the main goal of any ransomware is to hold a ransom (hence the name). Agencies that work to fight against these kinds of attacks encourage victims not to pay up to the hackers. And, if you were proactive enough to have your data files backed up, you won’t have to pay up. Falling victim to a ransomware attack, even one as heavy as WannaCry, won’t be as much of a crisis if you have copies of your data. That being said, you still don’t want that data in the wrong hands.

Which brings us to our next point:

Pay Attention To Your Own Network’s Security

Though it’s important you stay on top of the news to see what new threats are out there, that’s not going to help you if you’ve already been hacked. And, when you’ve got a business to run, it’s not really easy to stay on top of your system all the time, monitoring and checking for risks and if there are risks, patching up your system.

That’s why it’s a good idea to have a third party assess your systems. Those companies affected by the WannaCry Ransomware that knew about the updates but neglected them, could face serious fines. Especially if the hackers got their hands on credit card information of those company’s clients, there could even be lawsuits in order.

Therefore, it’s essential that you have your systems constantly monitored by an unbiased third party. This way, you can not only make sure you and your customers are protected from hacks like ransomware but that you’re also protected against the questions of auditors and regulators.

Though you may wonder what such a large-scale cyber attack like this has to do with you, we promise you that it’s completely relevant.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

cyber security add-ons
May 16

5 Add-On Tips to Ensure Your Security is at Its Absolute Best

By Hana LaRock | Security

When it comes to securing your network, there is never really such a thing as “too much.” That being said, a lot of the time people who believe they have a stable security system will neglect it after a while, especially if they’ve hired someone to look after it.

But, security isn’t just something you install and leave. In order to get the most out of your security program, it must be constantly monitored. Whether you’re doing the monitoring or someone else is doing it, these add-ons will help ensure your security is at its absolute best.

1. Add More Authentication Stages

Most of us know that a two-step verification process is a smart way to keep your systems secure. Unfortunately, as much as people know the importance of this, they still are not implementing it where they should. These days, hackers are still finding success by stealing passwords or just by guessing them.

Adding a little more authentication, such as MFA (multi-factor authentication) will help you put up more of a wall on your systems. MFA makes users present multiple forms of evidence in order to gain access to the network. This could be anything from answering personal security questions to providing two separate and unique passwords.

2. Add a Web Application Firewall

Companies and individuals alike should not rely only on a firewall to secure their system. Firewalls are easy to surpass and don’t have the capacity to block out the really serious stuff. That being said, firewalls are still good to use as long as they are combined with other forms of security.

A web application firewall is a type of firewall that can help filter out common web application attacks that are affecting security systems, like SQL Injection attacks. Of course, the best way to be sure this firewall is working properly is to change your settings to only allow apps you trust, and by checking frequently to see if blunt force against an attack would be a necessary added component thereafter.

3. Add More Security Scans and Filters Overall

When you have a lot of traffic coming into your site, that’s a good thing for business. But, it’s not really a great thing for security. Bad sites have a way of sneaking into your regular traffic stats, posing as an ordinary user. The problem is, this won’t be an ordinary web user that you think it is, but some form of Malware that can be easily overlooked.

To help prevent this, you can first add a filter to block off the URLS of these bad sites. You also need to look beyond the traffic and proceed with caution when you receive emails that include suspicious-looking links.

4. Add an Approach That Works Worldwide

In this day in age, many companies have employees that work remotely. These employees need to have the ability to access your company’s network without any hassles. But, finding a solution that lets employees log on easily while maintaining the security of your network is a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, all you need to do, in addition to using a VPN, is make sure data is encrypted at every point of the network. And, make sure your employees are being careful if and when they ever use a public Wifi network.

5. Add On the Best Security Staff There Is

When it comes to your network’s security, you can’t do it alone. Even after you implement all these add-ons, the most important thing is that your security is left in the right hands. Having an educated IT team is a start, but IT, especially one IT guy, isn’t always as prepared for such a situation as a third party provider would be. Whatever route you decide to go, it’s essential that you leave your security with the experts if you’re not already doing so.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

URL
May 09

Phishing Scam: What to Ask Yourself Before Trusting That URL

By Hana LaRock | Cyber Scams , Security

These days, most people would say that they can tell the difference between a good URL and a bad one. In fact, most people may not even consider the fact that a URL could be ‘bad’ in the first place. The only time anyone might second-guess a URL is because it would have a lot of strange numbers or characters. However, hackers know that most people are aware of this, which is precisely why they’ve gotten more sophisticated on creating URLs that will trick people.

Whether you’re a personal user or you’re the CEO of a company, here’s why you should think twice before trusting a URL, and how to recognize the signs of a hack.

It All Starts with Language

The first step in being able to identify a bad URL is by understanding what a URL is. A URL is, of course, letters that are put together to make words (or made up words) to lead you to a place on the Web. Maybe you’ve never realized it before, but, almost all URLs on the web are made of English characters. That’s because the Internet was designed initially for an English-speaking audience.

The problem is (or, rather, the benefit for hackers) is that there are many letters in the English language that look exactly the same as letters in other languages. Although these letters don’t hold any of the same phonemic significance, they can be manipulated to make fake URLS that are a mix of letters in other alphabets and English letters. This is known as an “IDN Homograph Attack.”

How to Prevent a Homograph Attack

The reason these fake URLs are able to be created is because the phisher on the other side of the screen has found a website that has let he or she create a domain in which they can take characters from different languages. While a lot of these sites are cracking down on this behavior, it’s pretty much possible to find anything on the Internet. So, one of the easiest ways to stop an IDN Homograph Attack is by restricting IDNs under your browser settings. If this isn’t an option for your company, (maybe because you work with many international businesses) new technology is coming out in various browsers that when updated, will help protect you against such attacks.

Other Ways to Detect Danger

Homograph attacks aren’t the only ways in which people are tricked into opening bad URLs. As long as you know what to look for, you can detect danger and put a halt to it before being affected.

  • Is the Site You’re Going to Secured?: Most browsers will let you know if a website is “unsafe” before continuing. If you see a warning but you’re fairly confident that it is safe, check if the site has security seals. Something as simple as seeing that green address bar can help you be sure.
  • Are the Letter Cases Different?: Typically, letter cases don’t make much of a difference when you’re trying to visit a website. But, checking the letter case on a URL, especially if it was sent to you via email, can help prevent an attack. If something looks out of place, exercise caution, and instead, type in the URL on the address bar as you know it.
  • Is the SSL Certificate Up to Date?: If the website’s SSL Certificate is expired, this could be a red flag. It may not be that the website is being run by a hacker, but it could make the site itself more vulnerable to hackers who want to use it as a bridge to get to you.

Cyber scams can be hard to detect. If you want to protect your company, knowing the signs of such attacks like these are important. Next time you click a new URL, stop and follow these steps.

In the meantime, try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see where your security currently stands.

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