“I Passed My Compliance Audit; Now What?”

It’s that time again—time for your compliance audit. Depending on your business, it might be an annual audit from a government or regulatory entity, or it may be requested by someone with whom you’re about to do business—a prospective vendor, partner or client.

What’s involved in this audit? And if you pass, does that mean you’re good to go? What’s the next step?

What Is a Compliance Audit?

A compliance audit is a set of questions designed to make sure that you are complying with industry or federal regulations. Most often, these are related to security of information. The type of information varies, but the ultimate goal is the same: making sure that your organization is taking the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the data that has been entrusted to you.

Audits across different industries ask different questions. A healthcare compliance audit will be looking for HIPAA metrics—steps taken to safeguard protected health information (PHI). Brokers are subject to FINRA compliance audits to ensure security in the financial industry, and organizations that contract with the government must comply with NIST requirements for cybersecurity.

Compliance audits average between 100-200 questions, most of which are highly technical and are best answered by your IT team or resource. It’s not a black-and-white pass/fail scenario, though. Since audits may vary not only by industry, but even from company to company, not every question will apply to your business. For example, a healthcare organization may send a HIPAA compliance audit to a potential vendor, but since the vendor doesn’t handle any PHI, many of the questions won’t apply. This doesn’t mean that the two can’t do business together; rather, it supports an informed discussion about their partnership.

If I Passed, That Means I’m Secure, Right?

Not exactly. As Anthony, one of our FIT engineers, explains, it’s just a first step. Compliance audits are concerned with different aspects of your business and environment, but not EVERY aspect. Some areas of your network are not included, but could still pose a vulnerability in your security.

Plus, most audit questions are not a simple pass/fail; you may have passed, but with the equivalent of a C. Think of your compliance audit as a report card—an assessment of where you’re at, and where you can improve. Once you identify those areas, what do you do about them?

Next Steps

Your compliance audit helps you develop a TBP, or Technology Business Plan, for what adjustments or improvements your IT environment needs over the next 3-24 months. Areas that barely passed or didn’t pass will be the primary areas of focus for your IT team, and can spur projects or other resolutions to help strengthen and streamline your network.

Since the main focus of compliance audits is security, take a good look at the cybersecurity measures you have in place. New threats emerge every day, so it takes a proactive approach and constant vigilance to counter attacks and defend against new vulnerabilities and exploits.

At FIT Solutions, we are your go-to IT resource. We complete compliance audits for you and make recommendations based on the results. We also help prepare your environment to meet and repel cyberattacks. Give us a call today at 888-339-5694 or contact info@fitsolutions.biz to see what elite IT service is like.

Why Firewall and Antivirus Aren’t Enough to Secure Your Business

“I have a firewall and antivirus, so I’m secure, right?” We hear this question from companies all the time. The answer is, that’s a great start, but you’re not quite done. Why not? To find out, let’s take a closer look at these two security measures.

What Does a Firewall Do?

A firewall is a program on your network that acts as gatekeeper, monitoring the inbound and outbound traffic. If you think of your business like a bank, the firewall would be like the security guard stationed at the entrance that prevents unwanted intruders from entering. That sounds like a pretty good system, until you consider a few drawbacks of firewalls.

  1. Firewalls operate based on predetermined rules. If someone figures out what those rules are, it’s not that hard to outsmart the firewall. In our bank example, your security guard may be instructed to turn away anyone in a red hat. Knowing this, the intruder wears a blue hat instead and is allowed to enter.
  2. A firewall is a reactive, problem-by-problem solution. It reacts to the immediate threat; it doesn’t look ahead to see the next approaching threat. The effectiveness of your firewall depends on those preset rules to block attacks, so if you’re not proactively watching the latest cyberthreats (and installing regular updates), it can’t fully do its job. This can leave you vulnerable to viruses or other cyberthreats.
  3. Your firewall protects your office network. If your employees access work emails or files from their personal devices, they can take that data outside of your company network. This has become a bigger threat with the recent pandemic-driven increases in work-from-home arrangements. Pandemic aside, though, if your employees conduct work outside of the office, perhaps using hotel Wi-Fi on a business trip, your company data could now be exposed on an unsecured network—where your firewall can’t protect it.
  4. Firewalls can’t stop user error. Criminals have a whole gamut of tricks for penetrating your system. Social engineering and phishing attacks in particular can completely sidestep your external defenses by targeting internal users. If one of your users unknowingly clicks a malicious link, your entire network could be shut down.

Does this mean you shouldn’t use a firewall? Absolutely you should; having a security guard with limited power is better than having none at all. We just want to make it clear why businesses shouldn’t entrust the safety of their data solely to their firewall.

What About Antivirus?

Antivirus is software that can prevent, detect, and remove malware. In our banking example, this would be like another security guard that makes regular rounds inside the bank, looking for suspicious activity. There are different kinds of antivirus software:

  1. Malware signature antivirus: This type scans for the digital fingerprint of a malicious program, known as a signature. The antivirus software comes preloaded with thousands of signatures, allowing the software to quickly identify and dispose of a threat that matches one from its database.
  2. System monitoring antivirus: This software identifies malware by looking for suspicious or unusual behavior—for example, if a user tries to access an unfamiliar website, or starts using significantly more data than usual.
  3. Machine-learning antivirus: Machine-learning pools data from multiple antivirus programs to recognize threats that it hasn’t seen before—an advantage over signature-based antivirus.

Given these abilities, why does antivirus not cover all the bases?

  1. Signature-based antivirus can only protect you against the threats that were programmed into it. It has no defenses against new threats or zero-day exploits.
  2. There are plenty of free antivirus software programs out there, and, while better than nothing, their database of malware signatures to check against is usually quite small. This drastically reduces the amount of threats it can protect you against.
  3. Antivirus doesn’t protect users against phishing attacks. A 2020 report by Check Point Research found that 65% of US organizations suffered a successful phishing attack in 2019—that’s two out of every three businesses!
  4. Most users don’t have antivirus on their phones or tablets, potentially leaving their device—and your network—vulnerable to attack.
  5. Cybercriminals represent the dark side of human ingenuity. They’re creative, constantly looking for new ways to get around your antivirus and firewall defenses. Even machine-learning antivirus software relies on combinations of data points. If an attacker figures out what combination will alert your antivirus to his presence, all he has to do is change one data point to trick it into marking him as legitimate traffic.

What You Can Do

  1. Update your firewall and antivirus regularly. Software patches and updates serve to reduce your system’s vulnerability and increase your software’s ability to identify and repel attacks.
  2. Develop a multi-layer security program. To return to the bank illustration, which bank would you trust with your money? A bank with one aged security guard? Or one with a whole patrol of security guards, cameras, alarm systems, biometric locks, and a dedicated monitoring team? Every security measure you add—SIEM, traffic analyzer, log management, SOC services, etc.—makes your organization that much stronger and more secure.
  3. Provide regular awareness training for your employees. Modern phishing and social engineering attacks are very sophisticated, and can be hard to identify. Just like your firewall and antivirus need to be updated frequently to stay effective, so does your team. A structured training program, either monthly or quarterly, can help your team recognize and repel attacks on your network.
  4. Don’t ‘set it and forget it’. Overconfidence or the feeling that you’ve already taken steps to defend your network can lull you into a false sense of security. Criminals are constantly testing new attacks, which calls for constant vigilance on our part to keep our defenses up to date. A third-party firm can conduct a social engineering campaign or penetration test for your organization to identify areas for improvement in your network or team.

FIT Solutions provides IT services, including cybersecurity packages. If you need an IT environment that scales with you, give us a call today at 888-339-5694 or contact us here.

Small Businesses: Does the CCPA Affect You?

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect January 1, 2020. This law deals with the right of consumers to know or even control how their personal information is used by organizations. For businesses that collect such information from consumers, this represents new burdens.

Do I Have to Comply with CCPA?

The CCPA comes with certain thresholds that may exclude some small or medium businesses from compliance requirements. What are these thresholds? You’re on the hook for compliance if you are:

  • Are a for-profit business operating in California
  • Collect personal information from consumers
  • Exceed one or more of the following:
    • Buy, receive, sell or share personal data from 50,000+ devices, consumers, or households
    • Have gross annual revenues of over $25 million
    • Sales of California residents’ personal data represents 50% or more of total annual revenue

I Don’t Meet the Thresholds, So Why Should I Worry About CCPA?

The CCPA is the most extensive privacy law ever passed in the US. Other states are taking a page from California’s book and are considering or have already passed similar legislation. Plus, the possibility of having different standards instituted across multiple states could result in the enactment of a privacy law at the federal level. So even if the CCPA does not currently affect you, it will eventually.

Looking at the legislative climate, given the CCPA and likelihood of more laws like it coming soon, it’s clear that there is an increasing recognition of the need for businesses to handle consumer data responsibly, for consumers to have the right to determine how that data can be used, and for businesses to protect consumer data against theft or loss.

What is “Reasonable Security”?

Part of the CCPA revolves around an organization’s responsibility to protect consumer data against theft or loss, like through a data breach. If a business fails to implement reasonable safety measures, resulting in a breach, they may be liable to pay penalties of $100-$750 per consumer per incident, or even higher. What would count as “easonable security” measures? The CCPA does not specify, but some legal experts refer to the state attorney general’s words in the California 2016 Data Breach Report:

“The 20 controls in the Center for Internet Security’s Critical Security Controls define a minimum level of information security that all organizations that collect or maintain personal information should meet. The failure to implement all the Controls that apply to an organization’s environment constitutes a lack of reasonable security.”

These CIS Controls are comprised of a set of 20 broad categories of action, each of which contains subcontrols in the form of specific tools and practices. These subcontrols vary based on the sensitivity of the data you’re protecting, the size of your organization, and the extent of your IT resources. Together, these controls form a defense strategy against breaches and cyberattacks.

We recommend that companies of all sizes take a look at the CIS Controls—especially if you’re at or near a threshold for CCPA compliance. At FIT Solutions, we use CIS Controls and other security frameworks, like NIST, to follow best cybersecurity practices for our clients. Contact us or call 888-339-5694 for help in strengthening your organization’s defenses.

Patch Tuesday & Hack Wednesday—Why Software Patching Is A Necessity

Applying software patches to fix security vulnerabilities is a key piece of system hygiene and protection against criminal computer attacks. Windows 10 is by default set up to handle this automatically. Unfortunately, for many users the prospect of having to stop the task at hand, wait for the updates to download and install, and hold off while the system restarts is too inconvenient. That leads many to delay the updates or tweak the settings so the updates can’t execute. This can be a big mistake—especially now.

The second Tuesday of every month is “Patch Tuesday”, when Microsoft rolls out the latest set of security patches to its operating systems and software. The set of patches first made available on April 14 closes many, many vulnerabilities. Every hour delayed in applying them leaves unpatched systems susceptible to attack.

A Whopper of a Patch Tuesday

This last Patch Tuesday was unusually large. It included:

  • 113 patches overall
  • 3 that close zero-day vulnerabilities/exploits for which no defense exists
  • 3 known to be actively used to infect systems “in the wild”
  • 17 deemed “critical”, which means a criminal can gain complete control over the system without any user interaction
  • 96 deemed “important”, which means that some user action is involved (with or without warning prompts)

The products impacted include the Microsoft Windows operating system itself, the Edge and Internet Explorer browsers, various Microsoft Office applications, Microsoft Office Services and Web Apps, Windows Defender, Microsoft Dynamics, Microsoft Apps for Android, and Microsoft Apps for Mac.

Why Prompt Patching is Vital

To help you quickly grasp the importance of patching, we’ll first define a few terms. The first two have specific meanings when applied to computer software security.

  • Vulnerability: A weakness or oversight in the way software is coded or structured. It allows the code to be overwritten or tampered with so that it performs some action other than what it was intended to do.
  • Exploit: Rogue software code that a criminal uses to take advantage of a vulnerability. Such an exploit could allow a criminal to gain unauthorized access to a system or gain administrator privileges. The aim is often to inject malicious software code into a running process, leading to the criminal gaining control of the system.
  • Zero-day:  A combination of a vulnerability and an exploit that either is unknown to the security community, or is so new that no defenses have been developed against it. A patch isn’t available to close the vulnerability. Security software hasn’t been updated or is unable to recognize the exploit and prevent it from being introduced into systems and executing.
  • In the wild: An exploit that’s out of the realm of being theoretical or a possibility. It’s being actively used to infect and take over systems.
  • Patch Tuesday: Microsoft’s monthly distribution of patches that close known vulnerabilities.
  • Hack Wednesday: What the security community calls the day after Patch Tuesday. When Microsoft releases the patches, criminal programmers are able to use the patches to understand the vulnerabilities. Within a day or two, the related exploits begin appearing for sale on the underground marketplaces of the “dark web”.

Put the above together, and you can see the importance of applying patches as soon as they’re available. The instant that the patches are released, criminals are racing to create the new exploits and infect as many machines as possible before the systems’ owners can get around to installing the patches.

How to Ensure Systems are Properly Patched

Assuming you’re running Windows 10, click on the Start button, then Settings, open Update & Security, then Windows Update. Here you can immediately check for updates, as well as review your settings to make sure you’re not effectively blocking the update process.

If you’re running a business with multiple machines, managing the update process to be sure that essential patches have been applied can be a time-consuming headache. As a managed service provider (MSP), here at FIT Solutions we use sophisticated tools to administer your systems and ensure your systems are up-to-date with the current patches—without inconveniencing your users. If you could use help with patch management, give us a call at 888-339-5694.

MSPs and Ransomware: Does Your Provider Practice What They Preach?

Managed service providers (MSPs) are coming under increased scrutiny because of a number of ransomware incidents reported on various security sites over the last 12 months. Criminals have learned that by infiltrating a single MSP, they can use the provider’s tools to infect and take hostage all of the MSP’s clients. Because the reporting of these incidents is haphazard, the number of compromised MSPs could be a handful, or it could be dozens. What is certain is that hundreds or thousands of their clients have experienced severe business disruption — or worse.

The enhanced scrutiny is justified, and as an MSP, we welcome it.  We use powerful tools to manage and monitor our clients’ networks and systems. With that comes a responsibility to ensure that our own security is equal to or greater than the level that we promote to our clients.

Healthcare MSPs in the Crosshairs

Given that many MSPs specialize in serving a certain type of business, here are a few examples drawn from healthcare organizations over last year:

  • During July, an MSP serving dental offices was infiltrated and used to spread ransomware across dozens of practices throughout Washington and Oregon. A week after the attack, the MSP realized it didn’t have the resources to restore all the impacted systems in a reasonable timeframe and advised customers to seek outside assistance with restoring their files. Two weeks after the attack, the MSP announced it was closing its doors.
  • An August attack on a Wisconsin-based MSP planted ransomware on 400 dental practices around the country. The attack encrypted not only patient files, but also emails and most worryingly, the company’s HIPAA-compliant backup system. A follow-up letter to their clients indicated that the MSP had a decryption key. Presumably, they paid the ransom.
  • In November, a Wisconsin-based MSP serving more than 100 clients, which operated nearly 2,500 nursing homes in 45 U.S. states, was hit, cutting off many of their facilities from patient records, email and telephone service. The MSP declined to pay the ransom. While it took days or weeks to restore the data, the MSP had a few factors working in their favor. One, a sharp-eyed employee spotted suspicious activity in the early morning hours during the attack and immediately alerted higher-ups within the company, who closed off the network. This limited the damage. Two, there were offsite backups.
  • In early December, a Colorado-based MSP was used to install ransomware on computers at more than 100 dental practices. The company refused to pay the ransom to unlock all of the client sites, and left the clients to restore their businesses on their own. Some negotiated separately to pay the ransom to restore their practices, while others restored from backups.

Closing the Vulnerabilities

Ultimately the criminals do their damage by gaining administrator access to the MSP’s remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool, which allows them to install and execute the ransomware infector on the clients’ systems. The following means of infiltrating and compromising administrator credentials are either explicitly known or have been implicated in one or more incidents. We also list the countermeasure; ask your MSP if these protections are in place.

Means of Gaining Administrator Access

Known vulnerability in an unpatched RMM tool or administrative console

Zero-day exploit in an RMM tool

Login credentials stored in cleartext on compromised machine

Exploiting open remote desktop protocol (RDP)

 

Phishing email

Protective Countermeasure

Program of regular, systematic and diligent patch management and application

Proactive monitoring of the MSP’s IT environment

Password vaulting solution or encryption and best-practices password policy

Disabling RDP if not needed, or application of access control lists to limit RDP sessions to known IP addresses

Email filtering solution backed with regular cybersecurity awareness training

Above All, Do This …

A single countermeasure would have stopped the vast majority of these attacks: Requiring two-factor (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) without fail, for each and every administrator connection and session, to each individual client’s IT environment. MSPs should enforce MFA to the enterprise login and ensure it encompasses VPN connections, RDP sessions, RMM sessions, internal management systems, and SaaS applications.

The other essential countermeasure is regular backups that are air-gapped or stored offsite. In far too many ransomware incidents, backups were stored online and the ransomware infector encrypted the backups as well, making them useless for restoring the client’s data. Also, in some instances the criminals first disabled the backup agents on each system, then waited for the old backups to age before executing the ransomware. So it’s important to not only have a backup system, but to monitor the backups and test for recoverability.

At FIT Solutions, we do all of the above and encourage you to ask your MSP if they do the same. We also have the advantage of our cybersecurity offering, SOCBOX, which provides us with the services of a Security Operations Center for 24-hour proactive monitoring—but we don’t stop there. We also contract with a separate third party to do regular penetration testing and evaluate our environment to ensure our defenses are solid.

If you’d like more information about MSP security, please give us a call at 888-339-5694.

Is Your MSP Proactive or Reactive? The Role of a Technology Business Plan

Here at FIT Solutions, we pride ourselves on the way our teams don’t just fix problems; they deliver additional business value for our clients. That means applying technology to improve operations, reduce costs, boost efficiency and productivity, and protect and enhance security. Let’s take a look at one of the primary ways we accomplish that: a regularly updated Technology Business Plan (or TBP, as we call it).

When you engage with us, we send one of our senior engineers onsite to take a holistic look at your facility and IT operations. A team of engineers assigned to you then delivers a set of recommendations. It is essentially a gap analysis between your current IT environment and prevailing best practices for an organization of your purpose, scope and size.

This is NOT a one-and-done exercise. The TBP is a living document, geared to a timeframe of up to 24 months, that is regularly updated to chart your progress. It’s a stepwise, realistic approach geared to budgetary realities and your own appetite for change and improvement. Many of the recommendations don’t cost anything.

While the recommendations are geared specifically to your organization, the TBP addresses four general areas.

Environment Enhancements

A great many IT environments have been built piecemeal over the years with a mix of workstations, Wi-Fi access points and various makes of networking hardware. We look for opportunities to consolidate and standardize, replace outdated equipment, and create common configurations that will make the entire environment easier to maintain and lower the cost of operations. We also address opportunities to cut costs and increase efficiency by switching Internet providers or swapping out telephone systems; bringing in management solutions for administering printers, computers, or mobile devices; making better use of existing software; or acquiring new solutions. Employees and staffing fall under this category as well, such as employee onboarding practices and user training.

Network Security

Many of the most valuable recommendations in this area are free, because they revolve around password-policy shortfalls such as password reuse, allowing short or weak passwords, not mandating regular changes, or instances where entire staff shares the same set of login credentials. Relatively low-cost security enhancements include cleaning out unused accounts and properly setting privileges. Additional security technologies such as multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, spam filtering and other email security measures, encryption or ransomware defense might be called for, depending on use patterns and your degree of susceptibility and exposure.

Licensing, Renewals, and Compliance

Here we address hardware and software that is reaching end-of-life or out-of-warranty, calling for replacement, refresh or upgrade as your budget allows. Legal matters such as email retention policies and your posture with respect to compliance and other regulations falls under this category as well, and might include our recommendations or referrals to third-party experts we have worked with.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

This includes your backup and retention procedures and policies, and ability to restore if necessary. In addition, we consider shortfalls unique to your environment, such as whether you have remote users with critical files that need to be backed up, or whether you might be better served with a solution that enforces file storage on a network repository rather than individual workstations. We also consider your ability to work through a power outage or loss of Internet connectivity, and whether you need to have contingency solutions in place.

In this time of uncertainty and business upheaval, many are seeing a stark contrast between proactive and reactive managed service partners. Clients prefer proactivity. In our experience, clients appreciate these regularly updated technology business plans, especially if their experience with a previous IT service provider was more of a reactive, break-fix service than a proactive partner. Our clients use these reports to plan ahead, budget for essential improvements, and solve problems before they happen. Does this approach to IT services appeal to you? Give us a call at 888-339-5694.

Livin’ La Vida Zoom—Keeping In Touch with a Remote Workforce

During this time of COVID-19, self-isolation and social distancing, businesses and communities across the nation and the globe are dealing with a lot of turbulence. More and more organizations are turning to remote workforce solutions to continue operations.

Many of these businesses are used to being in a physical location; moving to a completely remote setup may take some adjustment. In our last post, we discussed how a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) can allow your team to securely access corporate data from their personal devices. But the human element of your teams is just as important.

Now more than ever, company culture and structure are going to be vital for stability. Here at FIT Solutions, we made it a point to recreate our office environment as closely as possible in a virtual setting. This has allowed us to transition seamlessly into remote work. Some of the things we’re doing to maintain normal operations include:

  1. Structure & Routine
    We’ve encouraged our team to stick to their regular routine where possible—maybe filling the time they would have spent commuting with physical activity, like working out or walking the dog. Normal dress code still applies. By dressing professionally, team members are always ready to jump on a call or video meeting with a client or prospect. All remote employees are expected to have their cameras on for Zoom meetings; this helps everyone stay alert and engaged.
  2. Department Touchbase
    Each afternoon, department heads have a Zoom meeting, no more than 10-15 minutes, with all members of their team to make sure everybody’s on track.
  3. Client Communications
    Immediately after San Diego announced shelter-in-place guidelines, we began reaching out to our clients. Members of procurement and sales jumped in to help our account managers reach everyone as soon as possible. We asked how they were doing with the transition, whether they needed any help, and assured them that everything is business as usual on our end—they wouldn’t experience any gaps in service from our team!
  4. Team Motivation
    At FIT, we pride ourselves on the quality of service that we provide, and we love hearing positive feedback from our happy clients! We have a designated Microsoft Teams channel dedicated to sharing these testimonials and kudos with the whole team. It’s also a means for team members to shine a spotlight on a coworker that went above and beyond. These shout-outs keep us excited and determined to keep providing the best possible service we can.

Adjustments

While our normal structure was already well-arranged to support remote work, we did make a few adjustments, from which we’ve seen good results.

  1. All-Hands Huddle
    Every morning, we have a 15-minute all-hands meeting through Zoom. Cameras are required to be on, and virtual backgrounds are encouraged. Members of our management team take turns sharing recent wins, news, tips and positive thoughts to motivate our team to success. We center these stories around our core values to keep our company culture strong and focused. Since we began working from home, having this meeting daily (instead of weekly) helps to keep everybody on the same page and working towards the same goal.
  2. Storytime
    During our all-hands huddle, one or two employees take a few minutes to share something personal and positive—maybe their new home-office set-up, or what they’re doing to stay active or productive while shut-in, or a great experience they had with a coworker or client. We love seeing each other’s pets and kiddos!
  3. Virtual Happy Hour
    We usually do these monthly or semiweekly at the office, so it was only natural to continue this tradition on Zoom! Everybody’s welcome to dress-down and share a beer and stories from home.

Even though sometimes it feels like we’re practically living on Zoom these days, these tips are helping the FIT team to stay positive and busy! What is your business doing or trying to continue operations from home? If you need help getting your workforce set up with secure remote access, let us know; we’d love to have a conversation with you. Not sure if you’re fully equipped? Get your free assessment today or call 888-339-5694.

How to Quickly — and Securely — Enable Work-From-Home

In response to current events, your business may be faced with the challenge of quickly putting a work-from-home program in place for your employees. Here’s the hard part: those employees will be largely on their own, with varying degrees of technical knowledge, connecting from their own home networks and accessing corporate data and resources. You need not only to get them connected, but equip them to work productively, with ample security in place so you don’t put your organization at unnecessary risk.

Considering the Alternatives

The best-practices approach — under normal circumstances — is to distribute preconfigured corporate-owned laptops. Aside from the expense, time might be the bigger issue in our current situation as businesses everywhere are rushing to equip remote workforces. Currently, the time from order to delivery of new laptops is around 15-30 days, for some suppliers.

A tempting short-term fix is to allow employees to connect to corporate resources directly using their own personal home computers, laptops, or tablets. However, this exposes corporate assets to a wide variety of risks that are outside of your control. These risks include outdated or insufficient endpoint protection, access of confidential data by others in employee households, and rogue devices on a poorly secured home network — among other threats.

The Right Technology, Right Now: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a widely used remote access approach with many advantages. With VDI, employees use their personal devices to access a virtual desktop — a computer that they control remotely. They view the screen, and control it via mouse or keyboard. The approach is much less expensive than provisioning and distributing laptops, and far more secure than a direct connection. With VDI, business owners can:

  • Provision remote access for tens or hundreds of users cost-effectively with a cloud-hosted solution
  • Allow secure access by a wide range of employees’ personal devices, from home PCs to laptops and tablets to smartphones
  • Tightly control access by combining standard login credentials with multi-factor authentication (MFA) to guard against weak or compromised passwords
  • Keep corporate data off of personal or public networks — the corporate data only appears superficially onscreen, and never actually enters or is stored on the user’s personal device
  • Provide a familiar environment and business access —the virtual desktop can be configured to look and behave exactly like an office-based system, with access to all corporate applications and data stores, productivity, email and collaboration software

At FIT Solutions, we can quickly set up a VDI for your employee remote access. It is housed in our data center in a private cloud, with all essential security measures provided. We connect the virtual desktops to any applications or data you need, whether those are in another public or private cloud, or in your own data center with access protected through a secure point-to-point VPN.

Have questions? We have the answers. For more information or to get started right away, give us a call at 888-339-5694. We’re also offering a free Remote Workforce Readiness assessment, which you can find here.

Business Email Compromise (BEC): Hidden Danger in Legacy Protocols

Attempts to compromise business email accounts are much more common than you might think, and when they’re successful, criminals are able to make off with large sums of money. Typically they aim to gain control over the email account of an executive or administrative assistant with the authority to direct or execute financial transactions. They masquerade as that person and inject themselves into an email thread, to initiate a transaction or re-direct a transaction, tricking the business into moving the funds into a bank account controlled by the criminal.

We’ll describe how criminals often gain access to account credentials, and then explain how to close the vulnerability. But first, a few words about just how pervasive these account hijackings are. Proofpoint conducted a six-month study of this kind of attack and found that:

  • Approximately 60% of Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite tenants were targeted
  • Roughly 25% of Office 365 and G Suite tenants were breached as a result
  • Criminals achieved a 44% success rate in breaching an account at a targeted organization

Account Takeover Technique: IMAP Password Spraying

Email services typically enforce a lockout when a password is mis-entered multiple times, which is considered a telltale sign that some unauthorized person is trying to access the account. Password spraying is a brute-force technique that aims to get around the account lockout. Instead of focusing on a single account at a time with a large list of possible passwords, the criminal does the inverse. The attacker starts with a relatively short list of common passwords, and “sprays” them across multiple email accounts at multiple organizations, taking care that the attempts on each individual account and organization are spaced far enough apart that they don’t trigger a lockout. In fact, on the access logs, each attempt looks like a routine login failure rather than part of a coordinated attack.

Here’s the other important thing to know about these attacks. They commonly access the mail server using the Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP) — a standard that’s been around for more than 30 years. The criminals use this route because it’s enabled by default on most servers, it’s easy to write scripts for it that automate the attack, and most of all, it doesn’t support more secure methods of authentication beyond simple usernames and passwords.

Sprayproofing the Environment

Business email compromise (BEC) has become such a huge problem that we routinely recommend that every business that uses Office 365 or G Suite implement multi-factor authentication (MFA), and require it any time a user connects from a new location or device. Here’s the rub, though: the IMAP protocol doesn’t support MFA. When IMAP is enabled, it gives criminals a way to access the server that bypasses MFA, leaving it wide open for password-spraying.

So, we recommend disabling the IMAP protocol and its older cousin, post-office protocol (POP3). POP3 isn’t used as often for spraying attacks, but it has the same vulnerabilities as IMAP. Very few users should be using IMAP or POP3 to access their email. For those that do, we recommend they connect to Office 365 with Outlook Anywhere, which is more secure.

If you’re reluctant to disable IMAP and POP because it might inconvenience a few users, realize that both protocols are on the way out. For example, Microsoft has announced it will stop supporting simple username/password authentication for IMAP and POP3 in October 2020.

At FIT Solutions, we make it our business to stay on top of vulnerabilities like this to keep our clients’ businesses safe. It’s a great example of the value-add you get with our managed IT services. If you would like to know more, give us a call at 888-339-5694.

Ransomware Wakeup Call: 4 Tips to Protect Yourself

It’s a sad fact that criminals often prey on the most vulnerable. This was proven true in the ransomware attacks that impacted LTPAC facilities during November. Not only were the facility operators victimized, but sudden lack of access to medical records profoundly impacted their ability to care for patients and residents.

This incident was first reported by journalist and investigative reporter Brian Krebs. More than 100 facilities were impacted, and the ransomware cut off access to critical systems, including access to patient records, client billing, phone systems, internet service and email. The scope of the attack was audacious. The threat to peoples’ lives was deplorable. But most galling to us, as IT service providers, is that the incident was so preventable. More on that below.

Why Healthcare is Such a Tempting Target

In this case, the perpetrators were identified as a Russian gang, an adversary well-known among security experts. What’s clear here is that criminals don’t care that their actions could actually endanger peoples’ lives. They go after healthcare because lives are at stake, and they know that many healthcare organizations don’t have extra dollars around to invest in security.

Smaller and mid-size organizations are often the targets of choice. Health systems serving smaller communities, community hospitals, group medical practices, specialty centers, rehabilitation providers and dental practices have all been ransomware targets. Some have even had to close their doors after an attack.

A Few Ounces of Prevention Can Go a Long Way

Here are some of the ransomware prevention measures that we recommend and put in place for our clients. These are standard security practices, and aren’t necessarily more expensive than what you’re doing right now.

  1. Enact an anti-ransomware group policy on computers. Use a Windows Group Policy Object that prevents unknown executable files from running in temporary folders or in the AppData folder. Almost every single ransomware variant we have seen runs from one of these locations.
  2. Segregate cloud resources. Use a provider that can deliver a private hybrid cloud — not a public cloud where your data and applications are pooled with those of other companies. That protects your company in case another becomes infected with ransomware. You don’t want their problem becoming your problem—and everybody else’s.
  3. Separate backups from network shares. The ultimate protection against ransomware is maintaining regular and up-to-date backups so you can restore from them if an attack encrypts your data and makes it unreadable. But don’t store your backups on your network, accessible through a mapped drive, or the attack could compromise your backups, too.
  4. Bolster your endpoint protection. We’re presuming you already have antivirus in place. Because ransomware is a targeted attack, the criminals take care to alter their executable files, so signature-based antivirus isn’t very effective. Consider switching to an endpoint protection product that employs a “defense in depth” strategy rather than just relying on signatures.

At FIT Solutions, we supply IT services to many senior care organizations including assisted living and LTPAC facilities. We urge you to implement the tips above; you can do them yourself. Of course, if you’d like help, you can always call us at (888) 339-5694. We’d be happy to partner with you to protect your organization from ransomware.

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