There is little doubt that cybercrime is becoming more complex, and ransomware and data breach events are becoming more frequent. As a result, many small business owners have become concerned that they will soon be victims. Some have looked to IT solutions providers, like Heliotropic Systems, to help deal with these evolving threats. That is why it is vital for me to understand the current state and emerging trends of that threat landscape and what tools I can use to combat them.

Let’s look at the cybersecurity landscape and analyze the threats, trends, and opportunities.

Protecting Small Businesses from Ransomware Attacks

Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). In 2021, more than 40% of all cyberattacks were against small businesses. Digging deeper into that statistic, researchers have found that of those attacked, approximately 60% will go out of business six months following an attack. The primary reason is that so many SMBs don’t have the resources to support an internal IT and data security operation.

In almost all of my security vendor recent annual reports, the most common threat was ransomware. The second tier threat was data breach. To combat these insidious hazards, I must be proficient in three areas.

Prevention

The primary goal is to eliminate the threat of an attack in the first place. While I fully acknowledge there is no “right” way to do this, there are measures I take to help keep my clients from becoming ransomware victims. I recently added Huntress (a threat detection tool) to my portfolio. You subscribe to SPF+ (for consumers) and SHADE (for small businesses), which enables automated patch management to fix potential vulnerabilities as soon as they are discovered.

Another significant measure is to constantly remind clients that rather than click on a link or respond to a suspicious email, you should call me for confirmation. The other day, someone said they received an invoice for three years of Norton Lifelock. No, they didn’t — they received a scam email. It was de-
signed to obtain sufficient information to make fraudulent charges on their credit card.

Detection

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that ransomware can still get through the protection layer despite my best efforts. That’s why I have measures in place to identify when ransomware is present, rather than assuming an attack will never be successful. The earlier I can detect it, the sooner I can take action to eliminate it.

Response

When ransomware is detected, responding to the attack, and eliminating it must be done with the utmost efficiency. Some of the steps I must take include:

  • Scan the network for confirmation of an attack unfolding.
  • Identify the infected computers and isolate them from the rest of the network.
  • Secure all backup data or backup systems immediately.

I feel good knowing I have a significantly positive affect on my clients’ businesses by optimizing ransomware prevention and detecting and quickly responding to attacks. Ransomware attacks were estimated to cost roughly $20 billion in 2021. My aim is to save my clients from suffering any financial damages that would hurt their business.

Finding the Right Tools to Combat Ransomware

All my small business clients trust me with access to critical systems and data. They feel protected because they know I will act swiftly and effectively when a threat arises. To accomplish this, I have – over the years – sought to obtain the necessary tools that will facilitate quick and decisive action.

For example, remote monitoring and management (RMM) provides me with access to your computers so I can keep them secure, patched, and operational. I can proactively fix any vulnerabilities before you are attacked with automated patching, whether it is from Microsoft or third-party vendors, which helps optimize ransomware prevention efforts.

But, again, the idea is always to be prepared if ransomware attacks are successful. SentinelOne takes the next step of ransomware defense by including native ransomware detection. It constantly monitors for crypto-ransomware and attempts to kill the malicious software, thus reducing the impact of an attack. You (and I) get alerts at the first detection of crypto-ransomware, and I can automatically isolate any infected computer.

The ability to detect ransomware immediately enables me to execute an action plan sooner rather than later. And I know ransomware infections can cause extensive damage, which may prove too costly for many small businesses to overcome.

Of course, no ransomware response plan is complete without a system to protect the most vital company resource – its data. Regularly backing up data can reduce the risk of downtime when a ransomware attack is successful, but the backup system must be secure and reliable. The Datto Vaults I deploy at client sites are designed to protect physical, virtual, and cloud infrastructures and data. The data is well protected and easily accessible, so I can recover it rapidly when needed. The Vaults also have software that detects ransomware within backups, saving me (and my clients) time locating the last clean system restore point.

Leveraging Security Services to Help You Grow Your Business

Most of my colleagues will tell you that they are all focused on security on many levels, whether securing computers and networks, protecting data, or understanding how to be better against the threat of ransomware. Security threats will never go away – we can only keep them at bay. I believe I can effectively protect my clients and ensure their businesses thrive with the multi-layered security tools I have deployed.

Thanks, and safe computing!

So, if you are going to make a presentation about cybersecurity to a group of small business owners, what are some things you would do to prepare for the event? That question came to mind when I attended a webinar co-sponsored by the Chambers of Commerce of Fort Lee and Hackensack earlier in May.

A local IT company offered to have a speaker come in and talk about cybersecurity, but I do not know what kind of homework this speaker did before that session. The answer seemed “minimal” because when the speaker began, he spoke in a language I understand, but not one these attendees would know or use. He was talking about endpoints, EDR, SOC, and SIEM. In English, that means computers, Endpoint Detection and Response, Security Operations Center, and Security Information and Event Management. Those acronyms didn’t help because he had to stop and explain everything. He might have considered preparing a glossary to distribute before the presentation — that would have been helpful.

What else might he have done? As part of the preparation, he might have obtained the list of attendees. He might have looked up their businesses on the internet to focus on topics that may have been pertinent. If there was sufficient time, he might have even called the Chamber’s directors and asked to speak to some of those business owners to get a feel for what they were interested in understanding.

After a 45-minute talk, it was clear that this speaker’s presentation was geared toward much larger organizations than those he was addressing. And he was going to say what he came to say.

I don’t mean for this to become a rant, but it seems that by not preparing, he did a disservice to his audience and the topic of cybersecurity. His intent was to educate so that he could potentially sell his company’s services. But he couldn’t make it clear to the attendees the problems they potentially face.

One person asked: Why would anyone want to ransom my computer? He went off on a long discussion that never really answered the question. Instead, he should have asked probing questions of the person who asked it: What information in your computer is valuable? Do you have a list of all the Hackensack Chamber members? If so, is there contact info on that list? And does it have any other information that someone could use to find detailed data with additional searching and cross-referencing? The attendee would have learned more from those questions — and thinking about her responses — than the answer she got.

There might not be any need to put ransomware software on a computer if it was possible to copy the entire list and leave no trace of the intrusion behind. The data itself is valuable when correlated with other information. Now, if you were the bad actor, you could find some of the larger companies on the list, see if they bank at some of the Chamber’s member banks, and pretend that you’re an employee of one company and send an email like this:

BEC Example

This type of email is called BEC (business email compromise) and is extremely common. Sure, says Joe, and takes a copy of the invoice attached to Taylor’s email, contacts the appropriate individual, and sends the money. It takes training (or perhaps a keen eye) to realize the attachment is a fake invoice, this is a fake email account, and a fake Taylor. Usually there is no recourse to get the funds back.

That’s because it is relatively simple to spoof (pretend) the email address so it appears as if it is legitimately from within a company. Social engineering skills make it easy to convince one person in an organization to go out of their way to help out a co-worker or boss. However, it is only with proper training about the likelihood of this scam that bad actors can be shut down with a quick delete of the fake email.

What about the question one participant asked: What should I do if I see a ransom notice on my computer? The answer they received was not altogether too helpful: Call the police.

My response is: Call your IT support company and find out exactly what to do (at the very least disconnect the computer from the internet). The police department should not be your “go to” strategy when it comes to ransomware attacks. Yes, you’ll need to contact them eventually to file an insurance claim — if that is even possible under the circumstances — but it isn’t the first thing you should do. But what if you don’t have an IT support company? The presenter should have shared the web address or the name of an organization that has a list of steps for small business owners and their staff to take.

It doesn’t take much to cover the three or four critical aspects of cybersecurity for small business owners. It would be best to understand your audience, tailor your presentation by asking about their concerns, and then provide relatable and understandable answers. That approach doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it does give attendees much more information.

Thanks, and safe computing!

In this particular “scammers” edition of Sun Spots, I will share a few recent emails from clients asking about the validity of the contents. I also want to direct your attention to a feature-length article from Wired magazine’s March 2022 issue that contains a third-party discussion of what happens when someone is an unwitting victim of a phone call.

One client forwarded me an email about urgent warning about his Norton anti-virus license.

He uses AOL, which doesn’t let you see “behind” the email address unless you explicitly look for it; fortunately, Outlook does. But this is such a piss poor example of fraud it isn’t even funny.

The email return address is justforconsumers.com, which doesn’t resemble Norton at all! The links in the email route to http://aoolldearbox.bond, which is not a secure website. Worse yet, if you click any link, you are re-directed to a website hosted by aquaticbees.com (definitely not Norton). That page has a warning about an increase in “Malware and Viruses.” Click on any of the links on that page, and I’m certain your computer would be flooded by tons of the stuff they “warn” you about.

And, of course, he has SentinelOne with his SPF+ subscription, not Norton!

This email is fraudulent; it should be marked as “spam” and then deleted.

Another client returned from a recent vacation to find an email with the subject, “Your order has been confirmed.”

Attached was a PDF file that resembled an Amazon invoice indicating that a payment of $769.99 had been received for a “SAMSUNG 55-Inch Class QLED 4K UHD Dual LED Smart TV with Alexa built-in.”

It also included the following information:

If you want to cancel or modify this purchase and want to claim your money back. Please call us Immediately to our Billing Department : +1- 877-542-2099

Let’s forget, for a moment, the atrocious grammar and punctuation. Let’s ignore the email address that isn’t from Amazon.com. This email and invoice features one of the more insidious scamming aspects. It requires you to call them to ask for assistance. The moment you do that, you are an active (unwitting) participant, and — if you are not careful — will be providing con artists and thieves with your personal information. I cannot stress how important it is to DELETE garbage like this immediately!

This leads me to the Wired article: They Were ‘Calling to Help.’ Then They Stole Thousands. Take the time to read this, and if you have any questions afterward, please let me know.

Thanks, and safe computing!

If you look at the number of security alerts sent to my Inbox, cybercrime seems to always be on the rise. I certainly know it is here to stay, and near the top of the list of malicious activities are phishing scams. Most believe that only dumb people fall victim to these types of attacks. That is not true. Anyone can fall victim to a phishing scam, making it more critical than ever for me to protect you.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) 2020 Internet Crime Report, phishing was among the top three cybercrimes reported in 2020. Phishing incidents more than doubled between 2019 and 2020. More frightening than that is 90% of incidents that end with a data breach started with a phishing attempt. That FBI report shows US businesses lost more than $1.8 billion last year because of business email compromise (BEC) or spear phishing.

Email is one of the primary vectors by which cyber criminals distribute ransomware. And they often depend on phishing and social engineering to infiltrate an unsuspecting company. Traditional anti-virus software products cannot protect you from these cyber-attacks. Too often, small business owners fail to properly secure their environments because they don’t know any better or because they don’t want to spend money on something they can’t “see.”

One way to mitigate this problem is to increase security awareness. Simply training staff to be alert to what constitutes phishing emails can reduce a business’ chances of having a cybersecurity incident by up to 70%.

Let me give you a theoretical example. Assume there is a dental practice with 15 employees. How many dental practices are willing to pay every three months to certify every employee on security awareness training (which they view as “don’t click on links”)? In real life, the most common response I hear is, “Ah, it’s a pain. I don’t want to do it. No one’s going to come after us. We’re a dental practice.” Well, again, that is not true.

The bad guys know the dental practice is the one that’s probably going to react if threatened, so they’ll ransom them for $10,000 or $20,000. And what makes it hard for someone like me to get that message through to this dentist? I mean, they are probably a wonderful dentist. They’re great at fixing teeth. But they’re like, “Why would these Russians, or these North Koreans, or these people in Silicon Valley who are bad – why would they want to get me?”

The reality is the bad actors are brilliant and relentless. They know if they ransom, or if they attack, a dentist in Fort Lee, New Jersey, for $10,000 or $20,000, no one – other than the local police – is going to investigate. So now, small businesses are being targeted at a much faster rate than large companies. If the bad guys try to ransom ExxonMobil, Walmart, or some other large company, the FBI and Homeland Security will get called in. And they have serious capabilities, and they’re going to get the bad guys. But there are not enough resources to protect small companies down the road who get hit. What I am finding is more small business owners are starting to say, “Oh, maybe I should listen to my IT guy because they’re on to something.” And that thinking helps safeguard their business.

Small business owners must be cautious because cybercriminals constantly adapt their techniques to find a way in. It is an unfortunate way of life in 2022, but maintaining a heightened level of security awareness while reading each email is a requirement of using email to communicate with staff and clients. There is no escaping the threats, so you must remain vigilant and stay alert. Security awareness training can go a long way to ensure your safety.

Thanks, and safe computing!

Let’s start with some basic facts. A crypto miner is a malicious software that uses the resources of your computer to generate cryptocurrency for someone other than yourself. It is, at its most basic level, theft of services.

In 2018, crypto jacking (the practice of using browser-based programs to mine cryptocurrency without your knowledge or consent) and crypto mining (malware that usurps your computer’s CPU to mine cryptocurrency) grew to be major threats. The only way you’d know something was amiss was when you realized your internet browsing was very slow and, after a while, your computer stopped working until you restarted it. After a few days, the malware would cause you to “lather, rinse, repeat.” The biggest player in this arena was Coinhive.

Why did Coinhive target browsers? Because it was relatively easy to slip in as an add-on since the code appeared to be innocuous. It was, until you restarted your browser. At that point, the program would run any time your browser was open, using up electricity and processing power to generate minuscule amounts of the cryptocurrency called Monero.

In February 2019, Coinhive publicly announced it was ceasing operations the following month. The service stated that it wasn’t “economically viable anymore” and that the “crash” (of Bitcoin) had severely adversely affected the business. That pretty much sent a death knell to browser-based crypto coin mining.

So why am I bringing this up at the start of 2022? I recently read two articles and learned that crypto mining is alive and well. And it is not being used solely by cybercriminals. Nope, no, siree. Given the pandemic, it seems marketing types have prevailed at Norton, the eponymous Security 360 product maker. A new feature is the inclusion of crypto mining. Avast, a European maker of security software, has announced it is doing the same.

Apparently we live in an upside-down world when security companies allow their crypto miners but claim they can keep out everyone else’s crypto miners. But what does this mean? Well, for one, you have to opt-in to use this feature; Norton doesn’t install it indiscriminately. Also, your computer has to meet some stringent hardware requirements before you’d even see the option. The critical condition is that your computer has an advanced video card (where the computing will take place) so that you can mine Ethereum.

And then comes the kicker: Norton is going to take a good percentage of the money generated. They get 85% while you get 15%. And if you want to obtain your portion — having donated your computing resources — you are faced with additional fees (one a transaction fee and the other a processing fee to cash it in), which reduce your overall take. But suppose that’s not enough to dissuade you. In that case, this money is considered extra income by the Internal Revenue Service, so you will be responsible for including it on your annual tax return.

But the biggest question (and complaint) from security-conscious netizens is: Why would any security company think of doing this? The answer is simple: They want more money from consumers than they get from the annual subscription to their products. Consumers have learned that when subscribing to Norton 360 for the first year, they get a terrific discount. Norton sets the subscription to auto-renew and keeps your credit card on file. Savvy users realize they can turn off the auto-renewal and remove the saved credit card. The day after the current subscription expires, they can purchase a new discounted subscription with a different email address (e.g., larry2022@gmail.com for the current year because it was larry2021@gmail.com for last year’s subscription). It seems Norton is simply fighting back in a very unusual manner.

Do I think this is a good idea? Absolutely not! Is it well-intentioned? Undeniably no. Should all consumers be extremely wary about this? Resoundingly yes! Are you (my clients) affected by this? Not at all, because your computer is running SentinelOne Vigilance, part of your SPF+ or SHADE subscription. But if you know of someone who thinks Norton has a terrific security product, I would urge you to let them know that’s not necessarily the case.

Thanks, and safe computing!

Microsoft will end support for Internet Explorer 11 (IE) on June 15, 2022, as announced in May 2021.

Starting with Windows 10 version 20H2, which Microsoft released in October 2020, if you attempt to use IE, Windows will prompt you to use the Microsoft Edge browser.  You must make an explicit choice to deny that to continue to use the Internet Explorer browser.

Note: If you want to know what version of Windows you have, type the word winver in the Windows Search box (next to the Start button in the lower left-hand corner). The resulting “About Windows” window contains the version and build information.

The critical point to all of this is that Microsoft will jettison some outdated, still risk-prone software in favor of its new Edge browser, built on the same base as Google’s Chrome.

What does that mean for you? If you have an Internet Explorer icon on your desktop, it is time to delete it. Similarly, if you use IE to browse the web, you should transfer your Favorites (bookmarked websites) and your saved user IDs and passwords over to Edge or Chrome.

While Microsoft will provide a hybrid form of IE under Edge’s covers, the rest of the world has moved on. According to W3Schools, the internet’s most extensive tutor of web-based material, Chrome held the lead in usage with a commanding 81% of the market. Edge came in second with 6.6%, and Firefox held on with 5.5%. I am, and probably always will be, a stalwart fan of Firefox (at least until Mozilla stops supporting it).

In the upcoming months, I am hopeful that companies whose websites contain code explicitly built for Internet Explorer will remove that code to strengthen the security of their website. However, if they don’t, your browser should automatically switch to IE mode in Edge. But I won’t be surprised if bad actors make multiple attempts to figure out how to take over those websites to try to introduce malware to the unsuspecting.

Thanks, and safe computing!

Cyber Monday 2020 set a record for e-commerce spending in one day, totaling $10.8 billion. With the pandemic raging on, many customers took to online stores to do their holiday shopping. While New Jersey COVID-19 cases have declined in recent weeks and vaccinations continue, I expect many people will choose to conduct their shopping online and potentially start shopping earlier than usual, given concerns for supply chain issues and shipping delays. Some predict that online shopping spending will total over $200 billion for the first time by the end of the holiday season.

Given that volume of e-commerce shopping, cybercriminals will continue to target online shoppers and marketplaces for financial gain. Therefore, it is vital to maintain awareness of the many cyber threats posed by these individuals and groups. Threat actors may target victims through various methods, including compromised or spoofed websites, phishing emails, social media ads and messages, or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. I’m going to present a list of common attack vectors, along with some tips and best practices that will help you to combat cybercriminals’ threats during this holiday season.

Magecart and Other Online Skimming Attacks

Magecart attacks are a type of web-based data skimming operation used to capture customer payment card data from the checkout pages of online stores. These attacks are accomplished by gaining access to the targeted website (either directly or through a supply chain attack), injecting malicious JavaScript code into the checkout page to skim the desired data, and sending the information back to a threat actor-controlled server. Magecart attacks are conducted by many threat actors and are not specific to one group.

Once they steal payment card data, they can make fraudulent purchases or sell it on the dark web or other marketplaces. Cybercriminals are likely to continue to target online marketplaces this year. As such, I encourage you to use credit cards rather than debit cards because they often have better consumer fraud protections. Also, if you are especially concerned about fraudulent attempts on your card, you can consider enabling charge notifications for every card transaction. Enabling these notifications may make it easier for you to identify a fraudulent transaction as soon as it occurs. If you discover fraudulent activity on your account, lock the affected card, notify your bank immediately, and request a new payment card.

Be Wary of Links and Attachments in Unsolicited Emails

Around the holidays, you will likely receive emails from known retailers regarding sales and coupons, order confirmations, and shipping notices. Cybercriminals can create spoofed emails by stealing retailer branding to make fraudulent emails appear legitimate and may contain links or attachments that install malware or lead you to spoofed websites that steal your credentials. These emails may attempt to convey a sense of urgency — “Limited Time Offer!” — to prevent you from thoroughly inspecting the email for red flags. I urge you to avoid these schemes and go directly to retailer websites by typing the legitimate URL in your browser instead of clicking on links in emails. And please refrain from entering your login credentials on websites if you clicked on a link in an email that looks even slightly suspicious!

Take Caution with Social Media Ads

Everyone is blasted with ads as you scroll social media platforms. While many of these ads link to known, legitimate vendor websites, you may also be confronted with ads that link to malicious or otherwise suspicious sites that could be used to install malware, steal credentials, or sell counterfeit goods. Cybercriminals frequently employ URL shortening to trick people on social media sites and other outlets by hiding the true destination of a link. I suggest you use a URL expander (e.g., https://urlexpander.net) to reveal the true destination of shortened URLs before you visit any website and verify it is a legitimate vendor before making any purchases.

Look Out for Holiday-Themed eCards and Messages Meant to Install Malware

In the past, people have reported being targeted with various Thanksgiving Day-related scams. In some cases, spoofed emails were sent appearing to originate from legitimate organizations and contained the subject line “Thanksgiving eCard.” Last year, an Emotet banking trojan campaign was observed using Thanksgiving lures, with the subject lines “Happy Thanksgiving Day Greeting Message” and “Thanksgiving Day Card.” As malicious actors commonly leverage public interest and current events to conduct financial fraud and disseminate malware, I want to remind you to exercise caution with unsolicited emails, especially those with a holiday theme.

Do Your Online Shopping at Home

Avoid using public computers, such as those at a library or hotel, or public Wi-Fi connections to log in to your accounts or conduct online shopping. Miscreants could infect public computers with malware designed to steal your information, and hackers can intercept network traffic traveling over unencrypted Wi-Fi signals. If you must connect to public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network (VPN) to secure information transmitted between your device and the internet. Additionally, I advise you to refrain from using your office (or work) computer to make online purchases as cyberthreats could endanger company and customer information.

Beware of ‘Secret Sister’ Gift Exchange Scam

Many people enjoy participating in group gift exchanges this time of year; however, beware of potential scams. Social media posts promoting a “Secret Sister” gift exchange promise between 6 and 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift. While this type of chain letter appears innocent, it is illegal and considered a pyramid scheme. The scam, detailed by the Better Business Bureau, begins by requesting the name and address of the recipient and their friends. This holiday season, only participate in gift exchanges with individuals you know personally and refrain from sharing too much (or any) personal information online.

Verify Charities Before Donating

It is common around the holidays to donate to charities, particularly those that provide goods or services to those individuals and families in need. You may be prompted to donate via solicitations received through email or social media; however, these could be promoting fake charities or impersonating legitimate charities. Prior to donating, research the charity through a nonprofit site such as https://charitywatch.org or https://charitynavigator.org for information on charity legitimacy and other details, such as the percentage of donations that go directly to the associated cause.

Be cautious with your online activities, think before responding to emails, and call me if you have any questions.

Thanks, and safe computing!

An inside look at Heliotropic Systems’ operations.


I spend a significant amount of time every month learning about new and improved technology and products from the vendors with which I partner. These vendors include familiar names such as Lenovo, SonicWall, Xerox, APC by Schneider Electric, SentinelOne, and Microsoft. Most of the solutions I obtain from these vendors are designed to help keep you secure while using your computers and network devices.

In the middle of September, I took a mere moment to look up an existing part number. I ended up spending more than 12 hours consuming a ton of new information to offer a more secure business solution. Let me explain.

I keep extensive lists of all hardware components for each of my small business clients. One of those components is a Network Management Card (NMC) found in higher-end APC UPS battery backup devices. NMCs manage, maintain, and report on the condition of the UPS device to which they are connected. I program NMCs to send email alerts when conditions differ from normal (e.g., electrical issues, or battery problems). I also use them to update the device’s firmware with security enhancements.

I was adding new equipment to one client’s Excel spreadsheet, and in doing so, pulled up the corresponding page in another client’s spreadsheet to copy over as a template. I noticed I had not filled in one attribute on the existing spreadsheet, so I logged into that client’s server, pulled up the component in a browser, and highlighted the attribute to copy it to the clipboard. As I did, I noticed that I had not rebooted the network device for more than one year.

That was very strange because I thought I had an Outlook reminder to update the firmware of these devices annually. It should have kicked off at the start of June. But after I looked through Outlook and confirmed the calendar entry, I reviewed my daily activity logbook and discovered I had not done the work. Several issues interrupted my day, and I lost track of the task. (Yes, I admit, that was very sloppy, and I’m pretty embarrassed about it.)

Read More →

Imagine receiving an email, delivered to your business email address, offering a “Partnership Affiliate Offer.” Would you open it? Oh, come on, of course you would! Your curiosity invariably gets the better of you all the time. But when you read this email, you pause and then shudder. What the heck? Here’s the offer:

If you can install and launch our Demonware Ransomware in any computer, company main Windows Server, physically or remotely, (there’s) 40 percent for you, a million dollars for you in Bitcoin.

A researcher at Abnormal Security engaged with the bad actor behind this poorly written email offer for several days. The researcher documented how he tied the email back to a young man in Nigeria who acknowledged he was trying to save up money to help fund a new social network he was building.

Funny, right? Unfortunately, Business Email Compromise (BEC) or CEO Scams in which crooks, mainly based in Africa and Southeast Asia, spoof communications from executives at the target firm in a bid to initiate unauthorized international wire transfers are bigger business than the blitz of ransomware attacks that have made headlines recently.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports that BEC scams increased to more than $1.8 billion in 2020. These extortion attempts have proven to be highly profitable for cybercriminals.

And, of course, it is incredibly humorous that this latest cyber scam is authored by a Nigerian because the classic email scams began decades ago. Referred to as the “419 scam” (because of the area code), the “Nigerian prince” emails requested your assistance because of a will or lottery win. If you were willing to engage in helping the email author obtain the funds, you’d be rewarded with a percentage of the total amount.

What I found amazing while researching this article is that these 419 emails continue in only slightly modified formats to this very day. That someone has taken the initiative (albeit warped) to reboot this for the Bitcoin era is not surprising — but enterprising.

Bottom line: Be extremely careful of unsolicited email offers!

Kaseya had a bad July. The vendor, who sells solutions to Managed Services Providers (MSPs), learned over the July 4th holiday weekend that some servers running their software were taken over and distributing ransomware to the clients that were being managed. Kaseya has two offerings, on-premises (server-based) and cloud-based. Usually, MSPs who have the resources to run their own data centers employ server-based solutions. So that means the clients will be of high value to bad actors, which was precisely the case.

As I wrote in an email shortly after the attack became public knowledge, Heliotropic Systems does not use any Kaseya products (server- or cloud-based). We use products from ConnectWise for monitoring your computers and remotely accessing them. These are both cloud-based offerings, and ConnectWise has been very transparent in letting partners know what flaws have been identified and when they are corrected.

No software is exempt from bugs. After all, people code the programs and do not necessarily consider everything when designing and developing those programs. Yes, there are Quality Assurance teams that are supposed to test the programs — but they are only as good as the instructions they receive in terms of what the test cases should be. And not all possibilities are (or can be) tested.

The news is now filled with stories that malicious actors are targeting more and more small businesses because they think the “work from home” population is getting lax with their security consciousness. There is a movement within my industry to implement what’s called the “Zero Trust Initiative.” (Note, Marvel fans, this is not another Avengers movie). Zero Trust is not a product but a concept, and what it means is this: Every object in a network is identified, and every person with access to anything is identified. Then, rules are established to define what access level each person has to those objects — and when those rules are to be invoked.

Here is a simple example. Madeline and Roland are employees at Total Prepared Foods. She is an inside salesperson who is responsible for calling on existing clients. Her computer accesses the cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to perform her daily tasks. He is an accountant who works with the payroll system and handles the firm’s online banking.

In a Zero Trust environment, the hours that both employees work are known. The CRM software Madeline accesses has rules regarding what aspects of the program she’s allowed to see (e.g., client information but not payroll). Roland can access the payroll system but has no access to the CRM system. The network knows who logs in to which computer. It also knows which external Internet address is supposed to be used when she remotely connects from home. If someone — or something — tries to access her computer in hours when she is not authorized to use it, an alert is sent. More importantly, because Madeline’s computer requires two-factor authentication, a bad actor would not have access to the token on that device. Similarly, Roland does not have access to the payroll system except from his office computer, which is not authorized for remote access.

Previously, most believed that protecting a business had to occur from the outside in. Now, it is becoming evident that companies must be protected from the inside out. I am going to take two actions before the end of September to begin a journey toward zero trust. The first will be to ensure that no computer user at any client site has administrator privileges (meaning they can install programs). The second will be to add a new product to the SPF+ and SHADE subscriptions. This new product is a browser extension that should stop anyone from getting to a fake website if someone inadvertently clicks on a link in a phishing email. Combining a limited user desktop experience and a program to thwart potential problems, will make you much safer.