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How Using The Same Passwords For Work & Personal Can Be Disastrous

So you’re signing up for a brand new account, and the dreaded ‘Password’ text box pops up. Since you don’t want to risk picking a standard password, or worse, a password that you won’t remember, you do the next best thing and enter your personal account’s password. This may seem like a great idea because you’re choosing a secure password that only you know. However, the reality might be a bit more alarming than you imagined.

Every new online account requires a fresh password that can be quite frustrating to come up with, and it’s clear that many people agree with this. Microsoft estimates that around 73% of people use duplicate passwords for their accounts. If you consider the sheer number of people who go online, this number becomes extremely large, making it a significant problem.

Why is Reusing your Passwords an Issue?

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

All of our online accounts are connected in one way or another. For example, when we sign up for an account, we usually attach an email address to that account. Our social media apps all require an email address to confirm a person’s identity. Even professional platforms like LinkedIn have a list of all our details right on the profile page. Although this connection is highly convenient for online users, reusing passwords can put your accounts at risk.

If even one of your accounts were to get compromised, this could lead to the other one getting breached, too. All the hacker has to do is look for an account with relatively weak security and work their way up from there. This is especially true if you’re a person who has a ton of different accounts with overused passwords. Cyber breaches happen all the time, and once your personal mail gets broken into, it can be very tricky to get it back. Your information can get stolen in a matter of minutes before you even notice that anything has gone wrong.

One of the most common causes of data breaches is poor passwords, and it’s easy to see why. We’ve seen many companies put measures in place to stop this issue from occurring, but a majority of people still reuse passwords. The bottom line is, when a single password is all that stands between a cyberattack and your account, you need to make sure that the password is as complex as possible.

So What Can You Do To Solve this Problem?

The reason why people tend to keep reusing passwords is that they forget them. No one can properly remember around ten different unique passwords for their accounts. It’s simply not very plausible, unless you have a little assistance with it. Using a password manager can help you save several complex passwords on your devices without having to remember them. This makes it an easy and quick solution.

Another useful tool is two-factor authentication. Many companies use this tool to strengthen their online user accounts, and some places like Google have even set up multi-factor authentication tools. This helps strengthen the security of your account immensely. Doing a regular reset of your account passwords can also be a great way to avoid compromising your data, but this task can be quite challenging to follow through with. In case you’re looking for a quick fix, you could add a few characters to an already existing password to strengthen it.

There are many options out there, so pick the ones that are best for you. Whichever way you choose, just remember that having a solid password will help secure all your accounts and keep your online presence much more protected.

Smishing Attacks Increased by 328% in 2020!

The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone inside their homes, pausing all physical activities for a few months. As a result, all activities shifted to online mode, and cyberspace saw more users than ever. While digital communication and economy made it easier for people to navigate through the lockdowns, it also exposed users to cybersecurity risks.

The pandemic saw an exponential increase in cybercrimes such as phishing, hacking, ransomware, cyberstalking, harassment, etc.

According to Proofpoint’s report, smishing attacks increased by 328% in 2020 alone. These attackers have been exploiting people’s fear associated with COVID-19 to send malicious messages via email, SMS, or web pages.

What is Smishing?

Smishing or SMS phishing means sending fraudulent text messages to coax victims into revealing private information or installing malware. Cybercriminals send these messages to steal credit card details or other sensitive information such as usernames or passwords to private accounts.

Attackers typically disguise themselves as reputable organizations sending these text messages to deceive the victims. Instances of smishing have particularly increased multifold due to internet and smartphones reaching even the world’s remotest corners.

Smishing attackers use social engineering techniques to deceive message recipients into revealing private and financial information. For example, during the holiday season, you could receive a text message from a seemingly well-known retailer asking you to verify your billing information to get your gift package delivered. The information you provide could then be used for identity theft or potential fraud.

SMS phishers could also distribute spyware or malware through these fraudulent text messages. These messages typically create a sense of urgency for the recipient to click on the link attached to the message. This link then leads to unsafe or bogus websites that can install malware on your device.

Some of the common smishing attacks you need to watch out for are:

  • Urgent messages about your financial information, including credit card or bank account details
  • Notifications about winning prizes or lotteries
  • Fraudulent survey links
  • Phony messages pretending to be from trusted brands

Was the Spike in Smishing Circumstantial due to COVID-19?

Yes and no.

COVID-19, much like any other newsworthy event, gave cyber criminals an opportunity to hoodwink people across the globe. The widespread infection and death rate caused by coronavirus instilled fear in people, and they quickly fell prey to fraudulent messages about COVID-19.

Text (SMS) messages are a more direct and trusted method to contact people. According to Symantec, 1 in 20 COVID-19 related messages contained phishing attempts.

Attackers use URL shortening services to hide the domain names and URL destinations from the malicious links they add in SMS. Unsuspecting, vulnerable people in the coronavirus-struck world didn’t think twice before clicking on such links. Symantec also notes a spike in phishing attacks using COVID-19 related SMS messages after it was declared a global emergency by WHO in March 2020.

However, cybercrimes like SMS phishing do not appear or increase only during times of emergency crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak. With technological advancements and people becoming increasingly dependent on their smartphones and other devices, cybercrimes have been on the rise. Whether it’s a period of recession, war-like state, holidays, cybercriminals leave no stone unturned in deceiving digital users.

It seems like cybercriminals are always two steps ahead. Even with cybersecurity updates and robust software to detect and report cybersecurity risks, cybercrimes have not subsided.

Now, with vaccines out in the market, criminals have found new vaccine-themed deception tactics. As always, technology is a double-edged sword. With the life-altering benefits come the security risks. One can only stay smart and alert to avoid these risks from causing damages.

How to Protect Yourself from Smishing?

Smishing attackers target unwitting victims who will be easy targets. You can easily avoid being a victim by being aware. Look for poor grammar or spelling mistakes in these messages. Also, malicious links included in SMS messages are often slightly altered to make them look legitimate. For example, amazon.com could be written as ama.zon.com. Having software like anti-spyware or anti-virus on your device is also a good idea.

Ways To Avoid Backfires From Your Employee Monitoring Program

Every effective team leader, manager, and business owner has a set of practices in place to monitor employees. This could be to monitor performance, workplace behaviour, or even progress. Whatever the reason, employee monitoring can help you identify the best way to utilise time and resources.

A 2018 Gartner report stated that 50% of organisations, among a list of 239, monitor employee emails and social media, while a 2019 Accenture survey brought to light that 62% organisations used new tools in order to collect employee data. This number has undoubtedly gone up in recent times. The key here, however, is to successfully monitor employees without creating any friction.

Why Employee Monitoring can Backfire

There are a number of reasons why employee monitoring can backfire. Some of the most common among them are listed below.

  • A feeling of continuously being monitored could cause increased stress and anxiety among employees. This may lead to them finding “blind spots” that are not monitored, which would be detrimental to the overall productivity.
  • If employees are constantly monitored, you may feel obsessed to pick out the minor details, which would lead to resentment and a feeling of being micromanaged. This would also affect the overall productivity of the workplace.
  • A feeling of lack of privacy, or mistrust might cause employees to look for another organisation, which would significantly affect your retention rate.

While these are all difficult to spot, it could affect the overall nature and environment of your workplace. It could cause both the workplace productivity and employee health to take a hit. That is why it is important to find a healthy boundary, and establish steps to use the monitoring programs without these side effects.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

How Can You Avoid These Backfires With Your Employee Monitoring Program

Here are some ways to utilise your employee monitoring program without having to deal with unsatisfied, stressed, and disgruntled employees.

Be Transparent With Your Employees

The first step to good monitoring is to let employees know that they are being monitored. Also ensure that they know why you are monitoring and be open to feedback. You can even explain your concerns, disclose what data will be monitored and how it will be used. Transparency is the best way to make employees comfortable with the fact that work is being monitored, while avoiding any feelings of mistrust.

Monitoring, not Surveillance

The ability to monitor might be quite addictive, as you get a sense of control. It is important that you do not micromanage, and get rid of unnecessary monitoring. You need to understand that the idea is to improve overall productivity, not pick out flaws. It is unnatural to always expect employees to be on their most productive.

Also ensure that you are able to guide employees as to where they are lagging, what they are doing right, and so on. If possible, hold regular sessions to discuss progress and take their opinions into consideration.

Have Policies in Place

Make sure you have made a copy of your monitoring policies available to employees. Check that it is legal and compliant, and let employees know the details so that they can adapt to it.

Use Dedicated Tools

Use tools and software that you know are secure. You would not put your client’s details at risk, and you should be equally careful about your employees and their privacy. Make sure your tools use all the major metrics required, without disturbing the work of employees.

 

These steps should make sure that your monitoring actions do not backfire in the office!

How Worms & Other Malware Spread Laterally Across A Network

Cybersecurity is an important part of anyone’s online presence. Unwarranted attacks can make most individuals and organisations prone to many negative repercussions, which is why there are a number of initiatives taken to actively educate people about malicious software and their effects.

While these measures often help individuals identify potential threats and take a few necessary precautions, most people still wonder how a malware attack on their system could compromise the entire network. Understanding this would help users pay close attention and prevent such attacks from happening, thereby reducing the number of security breaches.

What is Malware?

Malware is generally used to describe any software that is distributed with malicious intent. This could damage your systems, steal data and cause a general environment of chaos. Some types of malware include viruses, Trojans, spyware, worms and so on.

What are Worms?

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

Worms are a form of malware that take advantage of existing security vulnerabilities in your system. Thus, they act almost like their real-world counterparts and make your system vulnerable to further attacks. They try to reach as many hosts as possible. Their aim is not to inflict serious damage; the most they will do is slow down your system or the network. This is usually done by using up hardware resources or bandwidth.

Worms nowadays also carry a payload, which is malicious code. These can directly attack your system and create vulnerabilities for other attacks. For example, in 2004, a Mydoom worm contained a payload that let hackers gain remote access to systems. This was then used to perform a DDOS attack on the website of SCO Group.

How Do They Spread?

Many malware types like viruses require you to click on a link or download an infected software or attachment before they do any harm. But there are certain types of malware that can spread laterally across a network. An example of this kind of malware is worms.

There is a huge variation in the makeup of worms and other malware, but there are similarities in how these spread. Keeping this in mind, let us take a look at how these malware spread laterally between networks.

Once malware like a worm attacks a system, it uses this machine’s network connection and seeks out machines connected to the same network. It might mask as network packets or can even spread through P2P or network-based filesharing or network servers.

It then uses network-based vulnerabilities on the machine to spread from one system to the next. This is quite possible, especially with old and unattended machines. It is also true for machines that are not updated or secured using anti-malware software. They create something generally referred to as “internet background noise”. This is because such malware is constantly scoping out other machines connected to the vulnerable networks and spreading to them using network vulnerabilities.

How Can You Prevent This Lateral Spread of Malware?

You can protect your system and the entire network through your router. A router is a firewall that helps stop these attacks. This means that machines cannot connect inwards to your system. If the only kind of connection is an outbound one from your system, it is improbable that such an attack occurs.

You can be protected from local machines by simply using the Windows Firewall, which helps reject unsolicited requests from other machines, even if you are on the same local network.

You can also prevent this by using multiple routers and a separate guest access router that minimise your risk. It also pays to be careful about the files you share and attachments you download.

Tech Talk – Feb 21 Edition

It’s that time again, the latest edition of Tech Talk has arrived.  In this edition:

  1. Boost your productivity with Microsoft Teams
  2. Make remembering passwords a thing of the past
  3. Win a $50 JB Hifi Gift Card

Tech Talk Monthly – Jan Feb 21

 

Managed Updates vs. Automatic Updates: What’s the Difference?

Any PC user is familiar with the frequent interruption and nuisance caused by update notifications. You’re probably so used to dismissing them by now that it has become a reflex action. However, those updates are essential for your device’s productivity and security. Ignoring these updates only slows down and jeopardizes your device.

Automatic updates

There are two ways to install these updates: automatic and manual. Automatic updates seem like the obvious choice because of how handy they are. All modern operating systems have the option for automatic updates. You can simply set your device to update automatically every time there’s a new patch or update without having to think twice about it. As perfect as it might seem, the automatic update system has its drawbacks and can even cause more harm than good.

Drawbacks of Automatic Updates

  • Updates are not guaranteed for all the software on your system. Some applications may not have an auto-update facility. As a result, they get left out of patches. Thus, automatic updates can create a false sense of security.
  • Manual updates are needed for firmware and special types of files.
  • Updates that haven’t been properly vetted can cause serious problems.
  • Updates can take long to download and install, leading to significant downtime.

Managed Updates

To safeguard yourself against these issues and to ensure efficient, up-to-date systems, it’s important to have a comprehensive plan for updates. A routine management strategy for testing and deploying updates can save you from a lot of frustration and security vulnerabilities. You can manage updates manually or by using group policy or use management tools for large organizations. Begin by having an update policy.

Update Policy

An update policy ensures efficient, predictable update processes. This can help users avoid downtime by planning their work and incorporating updates during inactive times. It also sets protocols in place for dealing with unexpected issues, including rolling back failed updates. The policy addresses several types of updates, like Patch Tuesdays, firmware updates, and feature updates.

In order to generate an update policy, consider the following aspects:

  • When to install monthly updates: Monthly cumulative security and reliability updates are downloaded and installed within 24 hours of their release on Patch Tuesday. You can also defer these updates for up to 30 days. This gives you time to test the update for compatibility and not simply to procrastinate.
  • Restarting PCs to complete installation of updates: Most updates require a restart to finish installation, and usually, this takes place outside of the Active Hours setting of 8 am-5 pm. However, if your active hours differ, you can change the setting to an interval that suits you, up to 18 hours.
  • Pending updates and restart notifications: Users have limited control over these settings. However, more options are available using Group Policy settings.
  • Out-of-brand updates: Sometimes, Microsoft releases security updates outside of normal Patch Tuesdays. Make sure you have a plan regarding these infrequent updates.
  • Update failures: Have a plan to deal with a situation in which an update fails to install or causes problems.

Managing Manual Updates

Small businesses, including individual-run businesses, can configure Windows Update manually. Just go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update.

You can select the Change Active Hours option to schedule restarts that will help you avoid downtime. You can also go to Advanced Options and regulate the settings under Choose When Updates Are Installed.

Feature updates can be deferred by a maximum of 365 days, and monthly updates can be deferred by 30 days. For version 2004 and later, these options are not available. You need to adjust Group Policy settings to adjust delays in installations.

Managing Updates Using Group Policy

All of the manual settings can be applied using Group Policy, and it enables you to go beyond what’s available in Settings. These policies are almost exclusively available for Windows 10. You can check out the Windows Update for the Business feature in Computer Configuration. With this feature, you can:

  • Choose a servicing channel and set delays for feature updates.
  • Set delays for quality updates.
  • Manage preview builds.
  • Choose a specific feature update version for subsequent scans.

Additional configurations include:

  • Remove user access from the “pause updates” feature to avoid interference with the installation.
  • Prevent users from changing any Windows Update settings.
  • Allow updates to be downloaded automatically or on devices using a metered connection.
  • Prevent Windows Update from installing device drivers.

Conclusion

While automatic updates may seem like a quick fix to newly discovered performance and security issues, they are not perfect. If handled incorrectly, automatic updates can wreak havoc. Managed updates, on the other hand, strike a balance between staying up-to-date and avoiding chaos. Thus, the wise choice would be to make some effort for your system’s health and manage your updates.

Spoofing Professional Identities Has Never Been Easier Due To LinkedIn

LinkedIn — one of the world’s most influential platforms for business professionals — has progressed over the past few years. However, with its rapid growth, LinkedIn has experienced a budding problem with fraudulent profiles.

In the majority of the cases, these fake profiles have attempted to collect information from other legitimate profiles, along with a good-looking photo, to make the request look valid. But connecting with a fraudulent account can provide scammers access to vital information about you, including the details about your company, addresses, and professional contacts.

Scammers can use this powerful information to craft detailed and convincing phishing and other scams. Because of these risks, it’s best to know how to spot fraudulent LinkedIn accounts, and to ensure you do not connect with them. However, before we proceed onto the steps to avoid falling prey to phishing attacks, let’s understand what phishing is.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is a fraudulent attempt to collect confidential information online, including professional contacts, usernames and passwords, company information, and bank and credit card details. Most phishing attacks are conducted with the scammers impersonating themselves as a trustworthy individual in digital communication.

LinkedIn now has over 760 million users, with more than 260 million monthly active users. It is one of the largest professional and trustworthy platforms used by businesses and people for career progression. But it also consists of people who carry out criminal activities.

LinkedIn Phishing Attack Methods

Put simply, LinkedIn is one of the most popular sites for criminals to obtain user information and other sensitive information with phishing attacks.

Lately, there has been a rise in LinkedIn phishing attacks. Given below are some of the most common methods for conducting LinkedIn phishing attacks that you need to look out for. Scammers might use some or all of these tricks.

Connections with Fake LinkedIn Accounts

On LinkedIn, users are motivated to develop connections and engage with them on a professional level. However, not everyone has good intentions. Social media platforms are filled with fake profiles, and this form of scam is popular on LinkedIn because of the professional nature of the platform.

What’s wrong with fake LinkedIn members? Phishing attacks. These scammers are known to develop a rapport with their targets via posts/emails/comments/messages. As LinkedIn is a professional platform, it’s easier to trust all the profiles in the platform.

Pretending to be an Authentic Profile on LinkedIn and Obtaining Information

If you are active on LinkedIn, you might be familiar with getting tons of emails. Scammers and attackers have used this to their advantage by forwarding messages pretending to be LinkedIn. This type of scam will usually be in the form of a fake email sent from a profile impersonating a business professional. This email may comprise a hyperlink that is requesting more personal data. Once visited, you could be directed to a website that looks exactly like LinkedIn. This page will ask you for your personal credentials, and after entering it, your credentials will be forwarded to the scammer.

LinkedIn In Mail Scam

This scam is sent in the form of a direct message via the inbuilt messaging system and typically contains a link to a malicious website, which the hacker could use to collect personal information or to try and get you to download virus-infected software onto your laptop.

Final Thoughts

Given below are some of the few tips to help you protect against phishing attacks:

  • Avoid responding to emails asking you to install any suspicious software.
  • Avoid emails or direct messages containing poor grammar or writing.
  • Check the email address of any emails appearing to be forwarded from LinkedIn. Avoid the ones that are being from a profile other than LinkedIn.
  • Even if you click a link on a message or email, check the certificate of a website.
  • Check the validity of the email by logging into your LinkedIn profile; the notification should be present in there, too.

Newest Windows 10 Update to Remove Adobe Flash Player

Adobe announced in a statement that after December 31, 2020, it would no longer extend its support for the Flash Player. Moreover, it will also block Flash content from the player after January 12, 2021.

In this context, the most recent update to Windows 10 will bid a final goodbye to Adobe Flash Player for the majority of users, with the patch removing Adobe Flash Player from the operating system for once and for all. This update is currently optional and available on Microsoft’s Update Catalog, but it will be extended through Windows Update and Windows Server Update Services in the next few weeks. Microsoft stated that once the update has been applied, Adobe Flash Player cannot be downloaded.

But while the new Microsoft update will no longer support Flash Player, it won’t affect any versions of the software that have been downloaded as browser plug-ins. In any case, it is advised to uninstall versions of Flash manually, as soon as possible. Microsoft is planning another update to remove Flash from its Edge web browser, while Chrome had already removed Flash Player last year.

The Final Goodbye

Even though Adobe Flash Player holds several good memories for internet users of a particular age, the tool’s farewell has been in the headlines for a long time. Adobe announced that it would stop supporting Flash way back in 2017 and netizens had been moving away from the media tool even before then.

With other software tools being released on websites, particularly HTML5, there are all the more reasons to lower Flash usage, alongside playing traditional browser-native games. Moreover, some of the other reasons for switching to other software tools are Flash’s slow web-loading speeds, pop-up ads, and, most importantly, its security and privacy issues.

Even with the new Windows 10 update release, it’s highly likely for some Flash components to continue running on a person’s computer. Hence, it’s advisable to manually uninstall it as well, lest they continue to pose a privacy risk. Additionally, Microsoft has cautioned consumers that its latest update cannot be uninstalled once downloaded, so once Flash is removed, it will be removed for the best.

In case you have installed Adobe Flash Player from a source other than Windows, this update will not uninstall it from your PC. According to the latest Microsoft blog highlighting the end of Flash, the new update to remove Flash will be optional in the early months of 2021 but will be recommendable a few months later.

The Bottom Line

Adobe Flash has been in the news for all kinds of reasons over the last few years. While renowned for being a software tool that develops Flash games and creative content, the now obsolete media tool is enveloped with vulnerabilities.

The list of ‘Critical Vulnerabilities and Exposures’ with respect to the Flash media tool spans a number of pages — with several significant issues. Removing the software tool from operating systems and web browsers has been in discussion for a long time now, even if its elimination takes some early internet memories with it.

Flash Media Player will stop working because of the evolution of servers at present, which have taken up open standards like WebGL, HTML5, and WebAssembly. These tools have evolved to serve as viable options for Flash content.

Dark Web Marketplaces Are Selling Your RDP Credentials

Remote Desktop Protocol or more popularly known as “RDP” attacks have been the primary focus for attackers and hackers during the COVID-19 crisis because of the increased work from home (WFH) scenarios. RDP is a proprietary protocol, or a technical standard, developed by Microsoft that gives people remote access to a desktop computer by connecting to another machine or virtual apps through a network connection.

RDP credentials are being sold on dark web marketplaces for as low as $3. The credentials allow hackers and criminals to spy on companies without resorting to malware. The sale of RDP credentials is allowing attackers to retrieve data from firms in government, healthcare, retail, education, and other sectors.

Here’s everything you need to know to protect your confidential data.

Why Are Attackers Interested In It?

Hackers and attackers are aware of the fact that employees are spending their time working from home via remote access. This means that most organizations — both big and small — trust their confidential data to pass via RDP. While the proprietary protocol is reliable and effective, many IT companies fail to make security their priority.

When employees use easy passwords without multi-factor encryption and additional authentication layers, it becomes easier for attackers to use RDP to gain access to sensitive data. Besides, this opens the door for data breaches, espionage, and more. In forums on the dark web where RDP access credentials are being sold, merchants offer access to thousands of computers for as less as $3 for Windows XP to $9 for a Windows 10 system.

Attackers can gain access to a remote network with the correct password. Moreover, ransomware teams use this protocol to execute their attack, thereby promoting their status to admin, disabling the security software, and encrypting company networks.

A team of researchers at Flashpoint have been examining authentic criminal marketplaces that sell RDP data and have gained access to global networks up for sale.

One of the most popular underground forums selling access to such networks is ‘Ultimate Anonymity Services’. It offers over 35,000 RDP credentials for sale in different countries for a range of Windows Operating Systems (OS).

The group behind the store posts ads in Russian and English, and similar to most Eastern European-based operations, UAS doesn’t sell credentials of Russian accounts. The researchers found thousands of credentials in India, China, and Brazil for sale in the store. It mostly offered credentials for targets across the U.S., particularly around California, Virginia, and Ohio.

How Can You Make RDP More Secure?

The best way to protect your systems against this vulnerability is by using a blend of brute-force attack monitoring and dark web monitoring techniques. The former alerts the admin of failed login attempts, while the latter determines the employee login data that has already been sold online. However, to avoid vulnerabilities found in previous versions, it is crucial to ensure that the latest version of the protocol is being used.

Organizations can shift to Windows Virtual Desktop. Its robust management, inbuilt security, multi-session Windows 10 capability, and optimizations for Microsoft 365 apps makes it the perfect solution. On the other hand, OneDrive can also be installed to access files securely or for file-sharing purposes.

Other alternatives include a virtual private network (VPN) using MS Terminal Services Client. However, at the 2019 DEF CON hacking conference, the majority of security flaws in the most popular VPNs were revealed.

The Bottom Line

If your company is using RDP, you need to be in touch with cybersecurity professionals to ensure that your network has the highest level of security. Azure has some excellent inbuilt security options for Windows Virtual Desktop and is increasingly becoming the best choice for businesses to replace outdated and less secure RDPs. Secure remote network setups are available for businesses of all sizes — only if you know where to look.

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