Ransomware | Smeester & Associates

Category Archives for Ransomware

3 Top Responses of C-Level Execs To The Inevitability Of Cyber Crime

Cyber crime costs to the world will double in a six year period ending in 2021.

More reports of attacks give rise to a gnawing sense of inevitability. As leaders in the fight, there is only one strategy that safeguards our companies. Inevitability must promote “Response-ability.”

The Biggest Catalyst to Response-ability is Compliance.

Internal compliance drives adherence to the practices, rules and regulations set forth by internal policies. External compliance follows the laws, regulations and guidelines imposed by governments and agencies.

Compliance requirements are numerous, and the legal team and C-Suite Executives are responsible to determine the scope of compliance. Compliance officers and staff are a growing requirement. Technical, procedural and strategic frameworks must be built to assure your company’s integrity.

Behind the pressures, costs and potential fines that surround your compliance, the public is demanding more of you as the steward of their information. 6 of 10 people would blame you, not the hacker, for lost data. 7 of 10 people said they would boycott a company that appeared negligent in protecting their data.

Here are a few pressing challenges to compliance:

  • Use of Personal Devices

Companies now must have strong policies and technical controls in place, such as mobile device management protocols that exist, and by enforcing device lock passwords and time-based, one-time based passwords. Employees with laptops and devices should be provided security policies and prevention mechanisms, as well as secure access to corporate data.

  • Updates and Patches

IT Managers must ensure that your organization is current with software updates and that they immediately patch known vulnerabilities. Last year alone, the number of third party vulnerabilities doubled.

  • Third Party Vendors

Also last year, 63% of data breaches originated directly or indirectly from third-party vendors. Managing vendor information security and vendor compliance with privacy laws is a major and essential undertaking.

Cyber Insurance is Response-able.

And it’s being responsible in advance of the need. Cyber insurance not only covers legal fees, but typically expenses associated with notifying customers of a data breach, restoring personal identities of customers, recovering compromised data and repairing damaged systems.

Purple is Response-able.

Borrowed from military language, Red Teams exist to attack your cyber-security systems and to expose points of weakness. Blue Teams defend, enforcing the security measures you have in place. The buzz of the day is the Purple Team. The Purple is either a make-up of both Red and Blue teams in which participants form a learning community for the sake of the other, or an outside group brought in to examine the tactics of both teams and make recommendations. Ideally, Red and Blue Teams exist not in competition to the other but as complement, holding the security objectives of the company as the standard of each team’s success.

The greatest detriment to your response-ability is lack of clarity on what you need or don’t need. Outside eyes continue to be the best check and balance for CIO’s. Without third-party, unbiased expertise, you will not possess the confidence you need that the compliance, policies, insurance and Purple evaluations are sufficient and efficient for your situation.

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Why Healthcare Industries Are Seeing More Data Breaches

No company is immune to a data breach. These days, no matter what industry a company falls under, there is always the risk of something happening. If companies aren’t taking the proper measures to manage their networks, a data breach can really set a company back, if not taking it off the market completely. Because of this, more and more companies have realized the importance of investing in an outsourced CIO to help prevent problems from occurring. Why, is it then, that we are seeing continuous data breaches in the healthcare industry, and why are the problems not being solved?

Well, it’s not so simple, and there may be several reasons as to why the healthcare industry is experiencing more data breaches than ever before.

Data Breach Statistics

In order to really understand how data breaches are impacting the healthcare industry, one would need to look at the actual numbers. According to the annual HIMMS Cybersecurity Survey, 75% of the 239 healthcare respondents surveyed reported that their organization experienced a “significant security incident in the past 12 months.” What’s interesting is that 96% of those respondents said that the organizations were able to identify the threat actor. But, as more than half of these respondents reported that their organization has a clearly defined budget that is allocated to cybersecurity and are seemingly on top of their network, it makes people wonder why these data breaches are continuing to happen at such high rates.

Healthcare Industry as a Target

Despite the fact HIPAA laws are in place to protect patients and healthcare employees, it’s been proven that there’s only so much that can be done in order to protect hospitals and doctors’ offices against data breaches. Hackers may have certain inclinations in mind when it comes to installing Ransomware or Malware on a medical facility’s network, and you can’t really blame them. Because a patient’s data is so sensitive, and because almost all records are now kept digitally, these hackers have a lot of leverage when it comes to getting what they want. If hospitals don’t have a way of backing up this information, or they are afraid of it getting into the wrong hands (one of the biggest concerns), they will certainly feel the pressure to pay up.

Of course, as we know, it’s not only hackers that are to blame for data breaches. According to this HIMMS Cybersecurity Survey, 20% of the respondents said the attack came from a negligent insider.

The Problem

So, what’s the deal? If healthcare industries know that they are a target, and they know that healthcare data breaches are one of the main threats we are seeing today among relevant industries, then what’s going wrong? Why can’t something change in order to put a stop to all of this?

Well, according to HealthIT Security, the problem is that there isn’t a standard cybersecurity framework that’s being utilized across the board. When these healthcare industries aren’t on the same page regarding this issue, then it makes sense that more breaches continue to occur.

How to Protect Healthcare Industries

Unfortunately, just talking about what needs to be done isn’t going to help the thousands of healthcare facilities that are experiencing data breaches this year or even this month, especially when many hospitals, insurance companies, and doctor’s offices are still each using their own software and computer systems.

At this moment, healthcare companies should be doing everything in their power to keep their own network secure. While one way to do this is, of course, by implementing a solid network management plan, the absolute best way to go about this is through hiring an outsourced CIO. This will not only help to prevent data breaches coming from the outside, but it can also help stop data breaches that happen internally. Additionally, a CIO can help implement a reliable backup and disaster recovery system to protect the patients’ information as well as protect the medical facility from risk.

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How You Can Stay Safe from Future Ransomware Attacks Like Petya

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.

Are you a C-level IT CHUMP or CHAMP?

Take our 2 minute, anonymous C-level IT Quiz to see where you rate as a steward of your IT people / department:

► Security
► Strategy

► Performance
► Profitability

► Business continuity
► Resources

Go here to take a 2 minute completely anonymous C-level IT Quiz:
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10 Ways Ransomware Can Affect You if You Don’t Take Charge

Ransomware is a nasty type of virus that extorts people for money by essentially blackmailing them. When it comes to major companies and even small businesses, ransomware can seriously take advantage of you and anyone else involved. And, as we all know, ransomware can affect our personal lives as well.

Unlike other types of hacks, ransomware is not easy to get rid of. Often, people need to either pay the money or risk losing all their data instead.

Don’t let ransomware take over your business or your life. Here are the ways ransomware can affect you if you don’t take charge. (And, by take charge, we mean taking all the cyber security precautions there are, including backing up your data!)

1. It can take away everything you’ve worked towards

Ransomware essentially takes your data hostage. If you’re a small company who has put in a lot of work to get your business off the ground, this is a huge disappointment. If you’re a major company, you’re going to have a lot of backtracking to do, and a lot of “‘splainin'” to do, too. No one wants to have to start back at square one again.

2. It can force you to pay up

If you didn’t back up your data and you’re not in a place to lose everything you’ve worked for, then ransomware can force you to pay up. Though the FBI discourages paying these cyber terrorists, it may be the only way to get back your important data.

3. It can ruin your reputation

If people are familiar with your company, a ransomware attack can seriously ruin the reputation you have with your customers. Sure, if you can overcome the ransomware no problem, then it may be that no one will find out and you can move on with your life. But, if your company goes down the drain or sensitive customers’ information gets leaked, you’re really in trouble.

4. It can make you vulnerable to attacks in the future

If we let ourselves get affected by ransomware one time, we’re probably going to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But, if a ransomware attack happens in the first place, it may mean you don’t have a good cyber security plan in place. Therefore, you may be vulnerable to more attacks in the future. 

5. It can take away your precious memories

When ransomware affects your work life, that’s one thing. But, when it affects your personal life, it’s another. Ransomware can get into your own personal computer and take away your precious memories, including photos, videos, writings, or even conversations you’ve saved.

6. It can take away your “evidence”

Some of us keep very important information on our computers. This can be everything from our tax documents to bank information or photocopies of a passport. In some cases, this type of information is your “evidence.” It’s proof you paid your taxes or proof that you paid a bill. Ransomware can take that away, wreaking havoc on your personal finances.

7. It can access any IoT device

Believe it or not, ransomware has started to affect SmartTVs, video game systems, cars, and other IoT devices. Despite the fact that IoT makes our lives easier, remember, the Internet can be a very dangerous place. With convenience, there sometimes is a catch. You don’t want to be trying to relax and watch TV when a ransomware message appears on your screen.

8. It can take away privacy in ways you wouldn’t believe

Amazon Echo may be helping to solve a murder, as it may have recorded the mysterious events that took place. While this is bad news for the murderer and good news for the family, it makes a lot of us wonder how private our lives really are when we invest in all this smart technology. Ransomware and other type of hacks can lead to us being watched and heard without us even knowing it. There’s no telling what or how they will use what they gather against you.

9. It can play a risk to your health

As you can start to see, ransomware can pretty much affect any device, including health technology. This could be any device to help aid a person’s health. Think pacemakers, implants, and in the future, other health machines like digital contact lessons. If hackers can go to any means necessary to make you desperate enough to pay, would you really put it past them?

10. It can cause a ton of stress

The bottom line is that ransomware is a very scary thing. It can come at a surprise and put us in a situation where we really have no idea what to do. It can cost us time, money, and a lot of hard work. This can cause a heck of an amount of stress, that will certainly take a toll on our work and personal life as a whole.

Smeester & Associates can provide you with assistance for your cyber security practices. In the meantime, see if you are at a risk of being hit with ransomware. Take our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to find out.

Will You Be Ready for 2017’s Cyber Security Threats?

As this year comes to an end, we have yet to see any type of decrease in cyber security threats and attacks. In fact, cyber attacks continue to grow at an alarming rate.

However, as we hone in on the types of attacks there are, it becomes a little bit easier to know what you’re looking for, and potentially stop an attack before it hits. That being said, hackers and the methods they use to take down even the biggest websites, like Twitter, are constantly changing. This is because when people find ways to stop attackers, the attackers find more creative methods to do what they set out to do. Just like any other vicious, drug-resistant virus.

And, as 2017 rolls around, we can expect to see different and more powerful types of attacks. So, the question is, will you be ready to fight them when they come?

The Money Motive

Most hackers are motivated solely by money and will go to whatever means necessary to get a lot of it out of your company. This can be done through the use of ransomware, which is getting more advanced as time goes on. Hackers are going to find stronger types of ransomware attacks, and they will extort businesses for way more money than ever before. Thus, companies are going to have a hard time keeping up with proactive security measures enough to “deter” the ransomware. But, we’ll get to that later.

The Use of Mobile Devices will Lead to IoT Attacks

As people are using their mobile devices to conduct business more and more, we will be seeing more attacks via those devices. Along with this, however, we hope to see people taking their mobile security more seriously than they have in the past. But, despite the desire for protection, mobile device security just isn’t up to par with its stationary counterparts. We’re looking at all different kinds of threats in 2017, from theft of intellectual property to the potential destruction of critical infrastructure. Companies won’t be able to deal with these threats in real-time due to the minimal capabilities of mobile devices to do so. This, unfortunately, can mean bigger and broader attacks across the board than we’ve ever seen.

Increase in Internal Risks and Attacks

One thing we may be seeing more of in 2017 are internal attacks. Because companies are bumping up their cyber security, hackers are needing to find more “undercover” ways to do what they want to do. This could be anything from placing actual insiders in the company to hackers deceivingly targeting your email and every move you make on your various social media outlets. These attackers will try to manipulate employees from the inside into letting in a major breach, causing a lot of serious damage in the process.

But, there is some good news…

More Security Investments and Cyber Deterrence

Despite the fact that hackers will be more innovative in the coming year, so will security vendors and software overall. One trend we’ll start to see in 2017 is that companies will be spending more money on their cyber security than in the past; something that we’ve been certainly been hoping to see more of.

In addition to more spending on security, we’re also likely to see cyber security take a new route…a somewhat Israeli, Iron Dome, kind of route. IT professionals are looking for ways to deter attacks as they happen and stop one right in its tracks. This is a trend we may be seeing more of in the next year, and you’ll want to get on board as soon as this kind of security hits the market.

Cyber security should be a huge concern for any company. But, these companies need to keep up with the times. The data world is always changing and we need to be aware of the trends so that we’re not as vulnerable.

If you want to be sure you’re keeping up with these cyber security trends, then contact us at Smeester & Associates. We have all the tools necessary for you to make the right decision regarding your security methods. Try our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report to see your current exposure level.

Will You Be Prepared When a Downtime Event Strikes? [CHART]

Did you know that 50% of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have no backup or disaster recovery plan in place? With all the risks that come with severe data loss and extended downtime, it’s surprising that IT decision makers aren’t doing more to safeguard their business.

SMBs should not have to experience downtime if they simply implement a business disaster and recovery solution before downtime occurs, so that they can restore essential data quickly and painlessly, and resume normal business operations. Consider CloudEndure’s 2016 Disaster Recovery Survey.

will-you-be-prepared-when-a-downtime-event-strikes

Here are four things to know about downtime:

  1. Downtime can happen more often than you think. This chart shows that 57 percent of companies have experienced a downtime event within the past three months or earlier! With a reliable backup and disaster recovery (BDR) solution in place, you can mitigate the damage when problems do arise. Make sure your BDR is able to provide a quick recovery and optimal recovery point, with troubleshooting on the issues to prevent them from occurring again.
  2. Not only does downtime happen more frequently than you think, it’s also one of the biggest IT expenses a business can face.
  3. A well-known fact of modern business is that backups fail – and when they do, you are unable to access any file changes or data created after the last successful backup. That can be very problematic for your business, especially if you rely on critical data in your daily operations. Your BDR solution needs to be backed by round-the-clock support. As such, you need regular backups – and verify their viability through backup tests – as frequently as your business or organization demands. As a result, you can focus on growing your business without worrying if you’ll be able to access critical files, or if you’ll have data in its most recent form.
  4. Only 6 percent of businesses have never experienced a downtime event. As a business owner, you don’t necessarily have time to worry about when downtime will strike or the safety of your network – nor should you have to. That’s why you should seek 24x7x365 support for complete peace of mind with a reliable BDR solution. Get business continuity solution to act as your safety net so that if you’re a part of the 94 percent who do experience downtime, you won’t have to worry about it having negative, long-term effects on your business.

How low is your fruit hanging? Is that bear about to eat you or the other guy?

Discover how much risk you’re exposed to and get a complimentary RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report today!

This Is The Best Way to Overcome Ransomware

Ransomware can happen to anyone, though many people tend to think it will never happen to them. Unfortunately, if you fall victim to ransomware, you could end up paying a hefty amount; a ransom, to get back your files. Ransomware occurs when someone hacks your system, corrupts your files, and asks for at least $500 in bitcoin. In case you don’t know, bitcoins are not an easy thing to get your hands on.

For those who have the money to pay up, maybe ransomware is not such a problem for you. But, for most people, ransomware can be a very scary thing to have to face.

Luckily, there are solutions when it comes to fighting off ransomware, but it all starts with you. If you want to make sure this cyber-kidnapping doesn’t ruin your network, then here’s what you can do.

Be Careful with Who You Trust

This goes without saying. If you see an email or something suspicious on your system, don’t click on it. Delete it, and if possible, advise your IT person or CIO about what you saw.

Know What You Need to Protect

As with any form of cyber security, it’s essential you know what it is that you need to protect from potential ransomware. Do you have customer credit card information? Intellectual property? A list of email addresses of potential leads? Decide what it is you need to protect and make sure everyone who’s dealing with it is aware as well.

Backup Your Information Regularly

This is the most important thing you can to do when it comes to protecting yourself from ransomware. The people behind these attacks will take your files, lock them, and only give them back to you once you pay.

Therefore, in order to always be prepared for a ransomware attack, it’s essential that you’re constantly backing up your information. The main goal of these people is to get money from you, so while you should be concerned about what they have, there’s not too much to worry about it.

Make sure you are backing up your data as much as possible. It’s good to also back it up on an external hard drive, as ransomware can get into your cloud. While backing your data up everyday may be a bit overboard, it’s really not. Imagine the one day you don’t do it is the day you get hit with a ransomware attack. But, if doing it everyday is too much for you, then just make sure you at least do a backup whenever you have new important data.

Don’t Pay a Dime

When you find out that you’ve been a victim of a ransomware attack, you’ll know pretty quickly. When you try to access your files, it will ask you to pay up by buying a bitcoin (or several). The first rule and the only rule is to not pay. If you’ve backed up your information, you’ll have nothing to worry about.

If you haven’t backed up your data, then that’s another story. Your options are a bit more limited. However, if the information they have isn’t so vital to you continuing on with your routine matters, then forget about it. After all, giving these guys money just enables them to keep doing what they’re doing. Also, there are occasions where people pay the ransom, only to find the files are inaccessible. Don’t fall into that trap.

The Bottom Line

Ransomware can happen to anyone, as can any other kind of cybersecurity attack. Of course, each type of attack has different ways of preventing it. But, when it comes to ransomware, the best way to prevent any attack is simply by backing up your information at all costs.


How low is your fruit hanging? Is that bear about to eat you or the other guy?

Discover how much risk you’re exposed to and get a complimentary RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report today!

Tech Stuff :: What You Need to Know About Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO is creating some major mobile security concerns.

Pokemon GO is creating some major mobile security concerns.

If you haven’t already heard, Pokémon GO has quickly become the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. However, the game’s rapid rise in popularity has also raised some major mobile security concerns. Its millions of users may not be aware of the many data vulnerabilities that lay hidden within the game and its privacy policy. Are you one of them? Here are the answers to your most pressing Pokémon GO questions.

  1. What Is Pokémon GO’s Privacy Policy?

Like most apps out there, Pokémon GO does collect data about its users. When first downloading the app, users need to sign in with a Google account and grant access for the app to use your camera, data and contacts. According to the Pokémon GO privacy policy, Niantic may also collect your username, email address, IP address, the web pages you were using before logging into the game and your entire Google account. In addition, the privacy policy gives the company wide latitude for using all of this information. Niantic can hand personally identifiable information (PII) over to law enforcement, sell it off and even share it with third parties.

This full access can be a huge security risk, and Niantic recently addressed this concern with a statement saying they are fixing the bug that allowed the app to gain full access to users’ accounts.

  1. Why Is Pokémon GO a Target for Cybercriminals?

Niantic’s gigantic database of data is full of information provided by its users, which makes it the perfect target for hackers and criminals. If the Niantic servers are hacked, the hijackers could potentially have access to all of your personally identifiable information (PII). The company has offered minimal details on how it plans to store all that data, but promises that it is taking the appropriate measures to protect the large database of PII – the type of information that hackers have been increasingly targeting.

  1. What Are Other Major Security Concerns with Pokémon GO?

The public nature of Pokémon GO has caused some unforeseen side effects and attracted other cybersecurity concerns. Many fake versions of the app have been uncovered, which contain malware that can lock your smartphone and cause more harm. Also, criminals have reportedly been able to use the geolocation feature to lure players to remote areas and rob them at gunpoint. This shows that although the new game has received an abundance of positive feedback, there are some major dangers that players aren’t aware of.

  1. What Problems Can Pokémon GO Present with the Rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the Workplace?

The vulnerability of mobile data within Pokémon GO means that there’s a greater need for managed IT security. Especially with the ongoing trend of BYOD, the likelihood of introducing unwanted cyber activity and harmful attacks via these connections is at an all-time high. If your employees are using unprotected devices when using the game, it could lead to exposing sensitive business data in the event of a hack.

  1. How Can I Stay Protected When Using Apps Like Pokémon GO?

Pokémon GO is a prime example of the various security risks that are presented with unprotected mobile devices and the growing need for managing these endpoints. By leveraging a solution like mobile device management (MDM), you can greatly reduce these risks. MDM gives you the ability to remotely wipe an individual’s data if a device is compromised. An MDM solution will also allow you to implement app management policies and put restrictions on app purchases from non-validated markets.

5 Ways to Stay Secure Online

stay-safe-onineUsing the internet to do business brings huge opportunities and benefits, however just like a shop on the street, you need to take a few security measures to protect your business. It’s just as important as locking your doors or putting your cash in a safe, and most security issues can be addressed with simple security practices.

  1. Hook up to a network that you know.

Free Wi-Fi is tempting, but be sure that you consider who is providing the connection. Public connections at the local coffee shop are usually unsecured and leave your machine open to outsiders. While these networks provide a convenience, there are risks to be aware of.

  1. Bank and shop with caution.

Shopping from familiar websites is a good place to start. Stick with the reputable sites that are tried and true – like Amazon or eBay. Also, when checking out and finalizing the purchase, look for the ‘padlock’ symbol or the abbreviation ‘https’ in the address bar at the top of your browser. This will ensure that you are on a secure, encrypted part of this webpage. Keeping an eye on your bank statements for suspicious activity is always a good idea, among these other best practices for shopping online.

  1. Use secure passwords.

Passwords for logging into any website should contain a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters – as well as be different for each website that you log into. It can definitely be a pain to remember all of these passwords, but ask yourself which is more of a pain – remembering these, or recovering stolen personal information.

  1. Lock Your Computer.

When you walk away from your machine, lock it. In Windows, it is as easy as pressing the Windows key + L. On an Apple Mac, pressing “Control+Shift+Eject” will do the trick (unless you do not have an optical drive, then you can hit the “Power” key instead of “Eject”). This practice would be the equivalent to deadbolting the front door of your home. It acts as a deterrent to the bad guys as well as a line of defense. It may even be worth setting up a password lock on your Apple or Windows machine as well.

  1. Do not click on anything unfamiliar.

If an offer is too good to be true, it probably is. If you get an email from an unknown source, do not click any of the links within it – and immediately report it to your IT department. If a window pops up while browsing a website, immediately close it. Familiarity is always your friend. Using your judgment and trusting your gut is the ultimate defense when online. Always play it safe!

Photo: geralt


How low is your fruit hanging? Is that bear about to eat you or the other guy?

Discover how much risk you’re exposed to and get a complimentary RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report today!

Holiday Cyber Scams – How to Avoid The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Hacker On Your Computer

Now that we’re officially in the middle of the holiday season, there’s a flood of emails flying through cyberspace from family, friends, online retailers and charities. This heavy online traffic makes it easier than ever to sneak in malicious emails, targeting unsuspecting users looking to connect with old friends and find holiday deals. Whether it’s a phishing scam that is trying to snag your credit card number or a malware campaign that installs unauthorized code on your system from an email link, ‘tis the season to protect yourself.

Taking Precautions

So where, exactly, do these seasonal cyberscams come from? Many of these malicious Grinches send emails from fake URLs, disguising them to appear legitimate. Faux charities are another common scam designed specifically to take advantage of your generosity during the season of giving. Even friends and family may send what looks like an innocent forward your way, only to discover that they inadvertently launched some decidedly un-cheery, unpleasantness to your inbox instead.

However, if you take some basic online protective measures you’ll be in a lot better shape to avoid the latest cyberscams this holiday season:

  • Change your email settings so that attachments aren’t automatically downloaded. This gives you more control over what gets into your system.
  • Never open attachments or click URL links in emails from unknown or unverified senders. Even be cautious of known senders.
  • Remember that cyberscammers can spoof return addresses; their malicious emails might look like a holiday e-greeting from Grandma judging from the subject line alone. If there’s nothing specific in the subject or body of the message (i.e. “Check out the great Holiday pics I took!”), it’s worth verifying with the sender before opening the attachment.
  • Never respond to requests for financial information that arrive via email. Instead, visit the applicable site or account directly from your web browser to verify any claims.
  • Always research charities and other organizations before you donate a penny.
  • Keep your antivirus and anti-malware software updated and run regular scans to keep your system squeaky clean.  Also assure that patches are applied regularly to the operating system.
  • Listen to your intuition. If something seems fishy about an email, even if it’s from someone you know, don’t download any attachments or follow embedded URLs. Again, return addresses can be spoofed to look authentic and familiar, so use caution even with trusted senders.

Spread Cheer, Not Fear

There’s no better time than the holidays to wrap up a nice bit of malicious code masquerading as an online promotion for a major sale or a holiday e-card. That’s why the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) has released asecurity alert that focuses specifically on how to avoid holiday-related cyberscams. Additionally, the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) offers a comprehensive list of suggestions on avoiding phishing scams that are good any time of year.

The holidays should be a time for celebration. Use smart online practices to help spread seasonal cheer, and stay safe this holiday season.


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