operating system security updates baseline

July Patch Updates: Correcting the Windows 10 Operating System’s Baseline Security

One of the focuses of the Windows 10 operating system was its improved security overall. While it does still dwarf it’s older versions in comparison; one aspect even your Operating System can’t fix by itself – user behavior.

That right, your operating system, can only assist, guide, or require you to change your password, never focusing on its complexity. Microsoft has long stood-by their policies, that passwords should expire after so many days, to prevent compromised credentials. Microsoft has done numerous studies when push comes to shove in most cases when employees are forced to change passwords, they make a small alteration to the existing password and hit save. For many, this includes symbols and numbers tagged to the begging or end of our credentials, to fulfill this task, before beginning our work.

In Microsoft’s latest release Patch #1809, they’ve updated password policies in the operating system’s including many application’s Security Baseline, making ALL passwords expire, by force. Although this doesn’t impact password length, history, or complexity we are moving towards much more secure environments. As many of these vulnerabilities, 77 in total related to business-line products used in our everyday working life. These won’t be the only changes, those utilizing the following Microsoft Solutions will receive security updates for two zero-day events: Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Office, Azure DevOps, .NET Framework, Azure, SQL Server, ASP.NET, Visual Studio, and Microsoft Exchange Server.

Business’ and employees that have a security-focused mindset, whether from Security Awareness Training, are aware of the role passwords play in an attack. To sufficiently secure your data, organizations seeking to leverage these tools to broaden their current security stance can look towards our in-house experts and close working relationship with Microsoft Support to build the latest guidance for securing employees and business data.

  • Banned Passwords
    Built to battle simple passwords, and users from sticking with default passwords, making it that much more frustrating to hackers. By stopping users from using passwords like “123456” and “1Password!!” your organization can block the use of these commonly stolen credentials.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication
    Known by many as “MFA,” it’s grown common practice for most industries to require every employee within the organization to utilize more than one path for authentication. This company stance should be leveraged across your entire business, even if they ONLY have access to email.

By employing the use of these alternative controls, businesses can begin leveraging employees as their first line-of-defense. Begin to offset the potential for increased security vulnerabilities and risks, commonly seen today, educating your employees on proper password hygiene, length, and complexity, your business can easily meet the security needs of your customers and your employees.

Want the experts to educate your staff and assist your network hygiene efforts – give us a call today!

Close operating system exploits and vulnerabilities

Microsoft Patching Addresses 88 Vulnerabilities & Risks Found in Systems Today

Patching can prevent many of the most-used exploits, risks, and vulnerabilities are seen in major applications, software, and even operating systems. These patches typically contain updates to your current software suite. In recent years, Microsoft has transitioned they focus from new features and updates to focusing on the vulnerability of business’ and employees utilizing the Windows Operating System.

Microsoft releases updates to address and fix 88 security risks and vulnerabilities in it’s Windows Operating Systems, specifically relating to software and applications. The most lethal of these include 4 vulnerabilities, that exploit code has already been created and distributed on the Dark Web. It’s these bugs that can affect ALL versions of Microsoft Office and trigger malicious links, including what feels like too many, as a customary security update for Adobe’s Flash Player.

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Flipboard News gets hit by data breach in IT Support Blog Clare Computer Solutions

Read Between the Lines: What Your Business Could Learn from Flipboard’s Recent Data-Breach

According to Flipboard, hackers were able to tap directly into the databases where the app-company housed customer information. The information stolen, including customer names, user names, hashed passwords, emails, and digital tokens or API tokens for your favorite social media apps. Although Flipboard does not know how many accounts hackers infiltrated, nor have they fully-assessed the damage, one thing is for sure: It’s time for many companies to begin reading between the lines. While data that was stolen is serious, it’s the number of time hackers were able to go undetected that is cause for concern. Companies need to focus on Endpoint Protection. Read more

SF Bay Area Law Firms hit by ransomware and hackers

Phishing Attacks Begin Leveraging Legal Threats From Local Law Firms

By far the most convincing email phishing and malware attacks come disguised as your “typical nastygram” from local businesses. These emails have grown in popularity with cyber-criminals. By making minor customizations to these campaigns, these phishing attacks are now being spoofed as though, local organizations are the culprits! These emails notify recipients that he/she is being sued and instructs them to review the following attached files, with a directive to respond within a specific time frame, or penalties will occur… Here’s a look at a recent phishing campaign that peppered more than 100,000 business executives. With the goal of phishing for employee personal information and exploiting data systems, by utilizing a local law firm’s system to send infected data to partners.

In May, two well-known anti-virus firms began detecting compromised files, specifically within Microsoft Word. Emails with attachments were sent with a simple variation of the message below. This exact kit is now being traded alongside others on the “dark web,” therefore we have numerous business names outlined in brackets below.

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What Exactly Is a Security Posture & What Does It Mean to Your Business

Our business ecosystems have begun rapidly changing, with cybercriminals evolving rapidly, a new vocabulary is developing. A new addition to the lexicon of many is the concept of “Security Posture.” Another techy-word, referring to the strength and security of your IT infrastructure. Putting an increased presence on internet-born vulnerabilities for business technology. How you manage current hardware and software purchases, policy & procedure generation and controls.

What Makes-Up Your Security Posture

Any of these singular aspects are defined under cybersecurity, your security posture develops the likelihood of a breach, and what it would take for hackers to gain access to these critical pieces of network technology, but also the state of your employees, and if they can spot similar threats, making these difficult for many to observe.

In the context of managing cybersecurity, larger organizations, including Directors of IT, Chief Technology officers, and any compliance officer, must make decisions based on the deliberation and analysis of their security posture. Generating a better understanding surrounding certain aspects of your cybersecurity approach, but this is simply not enough anymore. In today’s connected age a more holistic approach is needed to meet regulations and compliance. Read more

Windows Server 2008 End-Of-Life Support Begins Looming as Business Scramble to Act

It seems like we just went through this with Windows Server 2003, but we’ll soon be losing yet another Microsoft flagship product. Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010, reached it’s “end-of-mainstream support” on January 13th, 2015 but the final blow will come January 14th, 2020. The exact same date for the end-of-support for Windows 7 Operating Systems. Microsoft will officially end its support for Windows Server 2008 and the 2008 R2 editions. It’s a sad beginning but read on and I will point you towards a few transformative paths for on-site, or cloud use.

Although 2020 seems like its lightyears away, update in an IT Infrastructure is a large task, one that will be here before you know it. So, if you’re still running Hyper-V on a Windows Server R2 platform, or worse your still running Windows Server 2003, then you need to start strategizing now, to ensure your company is protected and infrastructure is secure while moving forward.

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Extended Support Dates in Effect

Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 variants are already on their extended support phase now. As of July 8th, 2019, will be the final date for SQL Server 2008, while January 14th, 2020 will come shortly after. Once these dates hit, you will be running machines at your own risk in this saturated age of cyber-attacks. The good news is the fate of these dinosaur systems isn’t as bad as it would appear. It’s true this date cannot be moved, changed or deflected, but Microsoft has opened several more, cost-effective paths for businesses to begin their infrastructure evolution.

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Little-to-No Support Leaves Your Operating System Vulnerable

You can continue to use Windows Server 2008 R2 safely in your environments, at least until the expiration date. By doing so, you stand the risk of missing out of several new features being introduced to the Hyper-V family on any Server 2012 operating systems. These features alone warrant an upgrade to your infrastructure prior to the end-of-life support dates.

Remember that once a product reaches its end-of-life, no new features, fixes, or updates will occur. While Microsoft continues to provide what little help for customers with Server 2008 through extending support agreements, they too will no longer be able to receive any form of support from Microsoft come January 14, 2020. Leaving many business systems open and exposed to outside infiltration. All three Windows Server 2008, 2008 R2 (Datacenter, Enterprise, and Standard) will be affected, also including the Hyper-V role.

Post-Upgrade Solutions for Managing Your Old Servers 

  • Path #1:  Seen by many as the traditional evolutionary path, upgrading to a newer version of Windows Server, and SQL Server. This is where you get the most updated features in today’s security landscape. The latest version of Windows Server 2019, and SQL Server 2017.With the only caveat being to host on-premises versions or move to the cloud.
  • Path #2:  Not interested in upgrading to the latest server versions for some reason? We’ve got you covered, with a few options for those who wish to continue using Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2. To save you money, you could move these workloads into the Azure cloud, using Azure’s Hybrid Use Benefits. The only cost incurred is the computing instance and infrastructure. With the use of Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances for Windows Server, you can save further on computing costs.
  • Path #3:  The last path is the most grim for many, it’s the choice to not evolve at all. This leaves many servers including file, or database to receive the updating needed to stop cyber-attackers. For business’ that have already purchased “Software Assurance or Enterprise Subscription,” will receive security updates for a prolonged period of time. We should note, Microsoft has discontinued its assurance agreements, but with more than 90% of affected business’ operating under a “Standard License,” this path doesn’t work for the vast majority of businesses. Once again leaving many without a clear-cut choice.

This is still YOUR Choice

We hope all the information from Clare Computer Solutions, will assist in making sense of the dynamic landscape in technology. If your business wants a second opinion or just a helping hand, any of our team members would be happy to assist you with making your transition as smooth as possible. Reach out today to begin discussing your options in greater detail today.

 

The Scariest New Ransomware Strain Taking Business Networks by Storm

Several security teams have recently discovered the scariest new strain of highly-sophisticated ransomware called MegaCortex. Although this new strain sounds like something out of this world, MegaCortex is a purpose-built threat used to seek and destroy corporate networks, as a whole. Yes, you read that correctly, ENTIRE NETWORKS. What makes this strain on ransomware so unique, is once penetrated, attackers will begin releasing various payloads, infecting your network by rolling out malware to servers, and workstations using your very own domain controller or “DC,” as many know it today.

These attacks have already been detected in the United States, Italy, Canada, France, and a few other European Unions(EU) nations. This comes to many in the cybersecurity community as a recently discovered strain, meaning not much is known about how it’s encryption works, or how they are getting in. Worst of all, we don’t know if the ransom payments are being honored as of yet. This is everything we know about MegaCortex ransomware.

How MegaCortex Strikes

Many security and analytics companies have begun diving deeper into this strain of malware. Findings include similar actions to the RYUK Strain, where attackers use Trojan operators to access infected systems. What this means specifically is, if Emotet or Qakbot Trojans have been present on network devices, there is a growing concern, this could be potential network backdoors.

How MegaCortex Uses Your Own Domain Controllers

Although this case isn’t clear how the bad guys are getting into your network, many victims have reported numerous attacks originating from a compromised domain controller. On the domain controller, Cobalt Strike is being dropped and executed to create a reverse shell back to an attackers host.

Using this shell, attackers take control of your domain controller configuring and distributing a copy of the malware executable and batch-files across your network. This file then executes 44 different processes, including disabling Windows Services.

During the encryption of your system, ransomware will append extension file names, including “.aes128ctr.” We do not know if these extensions are static or created dynamically by each infection, including a secondary payload.

Secondary Payload? What Gives?!

In an effort to deliver the most accurate information, security researchers have also identified what would appear to many as a Secondary Hit, or Secondary Main Component. In plain-English, this means its delivery system is multi-staged and uses multiple payloads on a single device. We are still unclear at this time if the malware is dropping MegaCortex or if it’s maliciously installed.

How to Block MegaCortex Infections All Together

It’s recommended for many and Clare Computer Solutions best practice to have a weapons-grade backup solution, either off-site or in the cloud. As many strands of ransomware target these backups first, and foremost.

In this article “Locking it Down: Remote Desktop Protocol,” we highlighted the need for many businesses’ to secure RDP Services that are publicly accessed via the internet. If your machine MUST run RDP, make sure it’s placed behind a firewall, and only made accessible via a VPN tunnel.

Although this ransomware isn’t being spread by email spam, it’s possible the Trojans listed above, can and will. That is why it’s crucial to always identify and inform you of this phishing, and social engineering attacks, to build greater awareness.

Does It Feel like I’m Speaking Another Language?

If you’re unsure where to begin, our security specialists can help! With over 30 years of experience in information technology, our staff knows what it takes to meet security standards. Get ahead of the bad guys, with a Security Posture Evaluation.

 

Begin Making Your Plans to Migrate, as Windows 7 End -Of-Life Is Coming January 14th, 2020

4 Checkpoints to Make Your Disaster Recovery Plans Bulletproof

If you store larger volumes of files or customer data, your business is always at risk of a data breach or ransomware attack. If you can save your business from being encrypted, the second hurdle comes with meeting the compliance for your industry, as well as the companies you serve. As business’ working in the SF Bay Area, it’s our responsibility to assist in the various data-protection regulations that cost companies, more than money, sometimes it costs a business their reputations.

In this blog, we will discuss the key elements to building your next backup strategy:

1. Determine What Frequency Fits YOU
Most of the time, business’ have a hard time finding a starting point when it comes to disaster recovery and data retention. First, you will need to define how often you should back up, these are based on industry attacks or the amount of data you’re hoping to save. Does it depend on the volume of data that your end-users produce? To maximize both your investment backing up data every 24-hours has become the minimum for most industries, with once a week slowly dying out. Planning today for the worst, especially when coughing-up large amounts of money for ransomware payments are no guarantee that you get your data back.

2. Can Your Backups become Automated
Don’t leave a margin for error to occur, forgetting to run a backup device has no excuse! If you’ve made the mistake of losing large volumes of data or forgot to run your backup rest-assured in knowing, most enterprise-grade backups work to fix the “human error,” by automating the process entirely.

3. Data & Backups Can Scale
In the past, scaling infrastructure was cumbersome and difficult. To avoid the headaches, companies have begun safeguarding data, by taking several routes to backup data. With ransomware becoming more prevalent with encrypting backup devices, a single copy for many larger organizations simply won’t be enough.

Having local on-premises backups (accessible faster) works great when paired with storing data in the cloud. Many businesses’ have begun this process, between Microsoft OneDrive (Excel, Word, PowerPoint) Adobe Suite (Acrobat) and customer information, do you really know where all these copies reside? Does your business have a fail-safe strategy in place for fast recovery?

4. Avoiding the Trial by Fire Mindset
I’m sure many of you have heard that practice makes perfect, but regularly testing backups, and monitoring their alerts daily has become common-place in today’s connected landscape. One of the many famous stories surrounding backup incidents can be found no further than Pixar’s California Office in Palo Alto, CA.

“Back in 1998 the developers at Pixar were creating the movie, Toy Story 2. An animator working late on file cleanup entered a command that accidentally deleted almost all the production files. Recalling the backups taken every day, the animator didn’t panic. However, when the team went to recover the files after coming in the following day, they found a solution that was no-longer working. This was in 1998, so the amount of time needed to properly test these solutions was far-greater, and the procedures have quickly become streamlined. In a sudden turn of events, the technical director for the movie had an offsite backup they used to restore the footage and bring the $100,000,000 Doller film to market.”

As you and I both know, the movie was produced but this story highlights one of the MOST common ways a business suffers from not having a backup solution, and a plan to compliment it. Building a solid strategy should be mission critical to businesses currently going without. Bring together your solutions arsenal and align your backups, ransomware protection. Staying protected from such attacks as ransomware, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, can be tough, but making sure your business is prepared, cannot be ignored, learn a better methodology to alerting your staff of backup success, and status.

Tax Season is Ending, Clean Up Your Sensitive Information Before the Criminals Do

If you’re anything like me, your tired of picking up the phone just to hear someone’s terrible recording of a tax collector, IRS agent or CPA demanding some outrageous sum of money. According to the IRS, in their latest security bulletin, they have formulated 2019’s “Dirty Dozen.” Keeping employees and end-users in mind, many will have sensitive data leftover on their devices, making your business a prime target.

With highly targeted attacks plaguing many of us today, it’s not uncommon to see Business Email Compromised or more-commonly, CEO Fraud. Reaching $12.5 Billion in total known losses, these attacks have bad guys trying to convince end-users, typically in Accounting, Receiving, HR, and sometimes IT to release information or funds based on their faked email address or title. Typically, this results in many unknowing employees making some form of payment or releasing the information as they view their job could be at stake.

We’ve even seen these “Fake CEOs” attempt to send out emails regarding W-2 issues. Once opened, the payload can be delivered from these attacks at any point in time. In most cases, we’ve witnessed malware laying low in systems for 90 days. With tax season closing, we wanted to shed some light on the technology aspects of the “IRS’ Dirty Dozen.”

Here’s a recap of this year’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ scams:

1. Phishing: Business’ filing on their own behalf this year, should be alert to the potential for faked emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS notes, “The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or tax refund.” Don’t click any links or attachments from someone claiming to be from or on behalf of the IRS. For more information from the IRS website see here: (IR-2019-26)

2. Phone Scams: Phone calls from criminals or on behalf of them impersonating IRS agents remain an ever-growing threat to end-users during tax season. It’s these same calls your employees receive that contain outlandish threats including police arrest, deportation, or my personal favorite license revocation. For more information from the IRS website see here: (IR-2019-28)

3. Identity Theft: During tax season, businesses will have taxpayer information on-hand for one of the few times all year. This means for the period between March to May, the IRS warns that identity theft will rise, although the security industry has made several large strides in protecting employees currently. The IRS warns business’ as they continue perusing these criminal actions. For more information from the IRS website see here: (IR-2019-30)

6. Tax Return Preparer Fraud: Unfortunately for some business’ the amount of fraudulent Tax Preparer has also grown in stride. As we all know, the vast majority of tax professionals are there to provide honest, high-quality services but others will operate during the filing season and it’s these scams that continue to push refund fraud and identity theft further. For more information from the IRS website see here: (IR-2019-32)

8. Inflated Refund Claims: Alert the IRS or the police of anyone whose promising inflated refunds or credits. Be alert to anyone promising large returns or asking for credits. This falls on local law enforcement to assist as these frauds will use flyers, fake storefronts, and community groups to infiltrate your trust. For more information from the IRS website see here: (IR-2019-33)

Continue staying diligent, as the typical end-user and employee has sensitive information nearby. Maybe it’s an email of your tax return or that W-2 from human resources. Regardless, having it near anything business related can be an area for concern, for cybercriminals and frauds they will have hit the jackpot.

Learn how to secure your end-users and employees, educating them on how to handle sensitive information, how to interact with strange emails.