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How to Secure Microsoft 365 for Remote Working

secure Microsoft 365 graphic

It seems that remote working won’t go away after the pandemic passes. In fact, organisations in most industries are working towards making it a permanent and viable option. 

Large enterprises and corporations like Facebook and Google plan to keep the model for a while. While others like Twitter, Slack, and Zillow decided to allow (most or all of) their employees to work from home permanently. Their decision-making points towards the likeliness of remote work becoming a permanent option in most companies.  

SMBs looking to secure work from home 

According to Intermedia’s survey, small to medium business owners believe the remote work model will stay permanently. The survey indicates there is an overwhelming preference in keeping remote work as a long-term option. With 57% of SMB owners stating that employee availability and life and job satisfaction have increased, and citing a drop in overhead costs as a benefit that enabled them to stay afloat during lockdowns. 

Those SMBs deciding to embrace the model are in the midst of preparations to make remote work permanent. 

The Microsoft 365 suite is heavily used among SMBs, as their subscription model offers industry-leading functionality at a reasonable price. With access to security and operational features previously available only to enterprises, Microsoft 365 also includes cloud-based services that can be used from anywhere. Making the suite a perfect choice for work-from-home teams. 

Compliance remains a core concern for work-from-home protection

Remote work comes with a new set of risks, especially for cybersecurity. Compliance acts and regulations don’t differentiate between in-office and remote work. 

They require that you have secure working-from-home policies for sensitive information and data, and that you secure staff when working from home. 

The most common regulations to comply with include: 

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for businesses offering health services 
  • EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for all businesses processing and handling personal data from EU citizens
  • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) for all California-based businesses and those doing business in California
  • Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) for everyone handling personal data from Canadian citizens

These acts require you to comply with Information Security Management Systems (ISMS) standards, most notably the ISO/IEC 27000 series, as well as the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) for those who take card payments online. 

SMBs often struggle with acquiring the right security solutions because the budgets are low. 

Remote work and software spending

The graph below shows how expectations on software spending have changed from March to May 2020. 

As the impact of the pandemic stopped being an unknown variable, respondents have revised their expectations on spending, which is indicated by less spending than initially expected. 

Statistic: COVID-19 impact on software spending worldwide 2020 (Survey results comparison: March, April & May) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

While the highest percentage of respondents (40%) initially stated they will increase their spending on software, in May, 44% reported there were no changes compared to spending during the previous year. 

And while the overall spending seems to stay the same, there are big shifts on what type of software the funds are allocated to. 

Statistic: Where are businesses increasing software spending? | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

With working from home being the new norm, conferencing takes the lead, followed by collaboration, remote desktop tools, and security software. 

Work-from-home protection is an important concern for SMBs, and as the newest data from Microsoft shows, everyone is trying to speed up their cybersecurity digital transformation. 

So how can you protect all the Microsoft 365 documents and communication that you work with daily when everyone is using different networks and devices to access it?

How to protect Microsoft 365 when working from home

In our experience, the most efficient option to cover both of these is to use Advanced Microsoft Information Protection (MIP), as it has the best cost-benefit ratio. 

Microsoft Information Protection uses built-in capabilities from Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10, as well as additional solutions provided by Microsoft, to secure Microsoft 365 and all the digital information and data you work with in your business across the whole playing field: in the cloud by using Cloud App Security, as well as on devices and on premises. 

It allows you to detect sensitive information and locate where it’s currently stored, secure documents as soon as they are created, and even ensure that you dispose of them in a secure manner. 

What Microsoft Information Protection can do for SMBs: 

  • It will secure Microsoft 365 apps and services you use and all your business information from leakage.
  • It blocks malicious actors from access, and doesn’t allow access to untrusted actors.
  • The automatic classification protects all documents based on the criteria, trigger words, and phrases you set up. 
  • It actively tracks data through its lifecycle and gives you insight into who has access to data and a log of who accesses it and what they are doing with it.
  • It helps your employees stay productive and learn about working from home best practices. The system will suggest labels and teach them how to use and apply them correctly. 
  • It gives you overview over information flow, with valuable insight on patterns of data usage inside of your organisation. 
  • This allows to spot anomalies in data usage and access, enabling quick detection of potentially harmful actions by actors or malicious software.
  • It keeps all data secure even when sharing with vendors and third parties by not allowing forwarding, downloading, or copying information shared with them.

Such capabilities extend beyond securing your data – it also keeps your staff secure from making errors while handling data, and all the vendors you work with by not allowing them to forward any information you share with them further. 

Once set up, you’ll have a system that performs well in the cloud, covering the need to secure remote working, but on premises too, once you decide to go back into the office. 

See MIP in action with our email demo video here:

Why you need to secure Microsoft 365 for remote working

When you secure Office 365, you and your team can do remote work securely and are saving time and money. But that’s only one benefit of using such an extensive system: 

  • No changes in workload: The automatic classification and encryption of all documents you work on and share with remote staff, contractors, and other third parties means there is no need to increase workload for your staff and spending time on complex manual security checks that they need to learn to apply. 
  • You will secure Microsoft Office through compliance: Classification and encryption executes on the cloud level too and protects against human error, one of the most common reasons behind data leaks. Securing Microsoft 365 for remote working also helps you be compliant with all regulations. 
  • Security travels: The cloud-based protection extends beyond business devices – the protection remains with documents and data and travels with them, ensuring they are secure even if they end up in the wrong hands. 

Secure external consultant documents for Microsoft 365

Working with external consultants increases risk of data leakage and breach, since you are relying on them to practice good cybersecurity. 

Instead of hoping they are doing a good job, you can secure Microsoft 365 documents sent to and used by external consultants through MIP. With auto classification, the options for downloads and further sharing will be disabled, ensuring the data can never be accessed by anyone but your external consultants. 

Secure internal sensitive and confidential information when working from home

Secure Microsoft 365 data with MIP’s extensive labeling and trigger system based on labels. You can classify all information into specific categories, and set up sensitivity labels for each of those categories. 

The trigger system activates based on the rules you set up. For each rule, there is a condition that must be met in order to trigger the second part, the action, something that will happen automatically when the condition is matched. 

For example, when a user without permission tries to access a sensitive document, the rule sends an email to the user and administrator of your system about the incident. 

Whenever someone creates a new document, no matter where within your organisation, it will automatically be protected based on the category and labels applied to that type of document. 

These labels are document-based, meaning they persist with it and are transferred anywhere the document ends up. If the document ends up being in an insecure environment, your security policies will continue being enforced, and won’t allow usage by anyone who isn’t a trusted source. 

The system allows you to track all data and documents as it moves through and outside of your organisation. In case you ever suspect foul play, you will be able to revoke access to the document, rendering it useless to anyone who is trying to get it. 

In such cases, the MIP can, based on your setup, respond with a real-time email alert, or a report on the dashboard.

Microsoft Information Protection includes Data Loss Prevention (DLP) capabilities, with policies against accidental sharing. With it, you can also label documents for information retention, set an expiry time and apply deletion policies that will execute automatically when requirements are met. 

Secure email communication when working remotely

The labeling system goes beyond Office apps, and you can secure Microsoft Outlook in the form of Office 365 Message Encryption. 

It allows you to classify and secure email messages as well. When labeled, the policies for that specific label will be applied to the email. This includes policies such as: 

  • Encryption
  • Watermarks
  • Access restriction
  • Disabling forwarding

The label that is applied will persist with the email and keep security policies on the email even when it leaves your organisation. It helps employees work from home securely by preventing phishing attacks and disclosing information accidentally. 

Secure BYOD for remote working

By having online-only work, your employees will use a number of devices to access business data, like Windows and Mac OS machines and mobile devices. A comprehensive security suite such as Microsoft Information Protection has encrypting standards that will work on all of them. 

If you’re unsure on the right way to secure BYOD for remote working and set up policies, we can discuss other ways of working with BYOD. For example, we offer Windows Information Protection setup services that secure employee-owned devices from data leakage and other security incidents. 

The MIP setup takes time and IT knowledge

Microsoft Information Protection is definitely an all-encompassing solution that addresses the risks of remote work well. It secures access to sensitive data and documents, grants permissions to the right stakeholders, and ensures all your business data is safe even if it’s somehow accessed without authorisation. 

But there is a downside to it: It takes a lot of time to set up such an extensive system for someone who never had to deal with it. Even if you have an IT professional on your team, chances are, they will need to ask for help. Only those with knowledge in Active Directory, a good comprehension of Microsoft licensing, and previous experience with Microsoft or Azure Information Protection itself can set it up. 

One error in permissions and labeling, and you can lock yourself out from your own documents, even if you are the admin. Or if you miss it during setup, the system might not flag important documents correctly, making them easily accessible by someone without permission.

Learn more about how we can help here:

Advanced Office 365 Security for Remote Working

Professional setup saves time and money

Towerwatch has many years of real-world experience with encryption. We have been working with Microsoft Information Protection and setting up automatic encryption protocols for global brands even back when MIP was still known as Azure Information Protection. 

Now you can rest easy knowing it’s set up properly and that all documents and communications are secure. You will efficiently eliminate the risk of costly mistakes that could result in regulation breach fines or loss of customers. 

To find out more about how we can secure your business operations with a future-proof cloud-based solution that will continue working even if you decide to go back into office, book a consultation with Microsoft Global Professionals for MIP, and our initial session HERE

Our initial session is priced at £250, and for this investment, you will not just cover the session cost, but also get a comprehensive overview of the current state of your cybersecurity solution and work-from-home compliance status. When you decide to move forward to the next stage, this investment will also be deducted from the project fee. 

Book your initial session HERE.

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Five Ways to Avoid Hotel Phishing Scams

Seeing headlines about yet another hotel hacked have become commonplace and statistics are looking grim. A staggering 64% of US citizens have already had to deal with stolen data. Hotel phishing has become way too common.

Hotels are the perfect targets due to the amount of sensitive data they are processing each day and the tech they are using. Lots of high profile breaches that have happened lately signal that many of them do not have the right cybersecurity solutions in place. 

Hotel phishing scams are a common attack, and Verizon’s 2019 data breach report shows that out of all the data breaches detected, 32% involved phishing. 

What’s even more worrisome, 56% of those breaches weren’t discovered for months

Avoiding attempts of such scams is impossible, but lowering the risk of becoming a victim is. Here are five ways to detect and avoid phishing scams.  

#1 Staff Training 

Hotels often skip cybersecurity training because they wish to invest in other areas, yet a single successful phishing scam can lead to a breach that will tank their reputation and customer trust, which results in high fines.

Because emails are the primary trajectory attackers are using for their hotel phishing scams, it’s important that your employees are able to recognise such scam attempts right away. 

A single click is enough to infect the system. The same report from Verizon gives insight that internal actors were responsible for 34% of breaches. Every misclick will result in having your hotel hacked again and again.  

Cybersecurity training for the hotel staff must be a top priority. 

When staff members know how to detect a suspicious email, check the sender and double-check all domain names, the risk of them clicking on it becomes considerably lower. 

#2 Have an External Mail Warning System 

Creating a hotel phishing email is easier than ever, as people are more than willing to share their personal information online.

A well-constructed phishing email can look like a genuine company email from a well-known staff member.

An external email warning system helps identify suspicious emails by displaying a warning when the email originates from an external source. 

This will prompt the staff to double-check the sender and the actual address before opening the mail or clicking the link and report the suspicious email to the IT office. 

#3 Implement a Sandbox

Sandbox in IT is basically a completely isolated environment that fools malicious code into thinking it got access to actual systems. 

Sandboxes are used to test links and attachments and execute them without risking the security of your network. 

If the system detects malicious code or link, it will show a warning and remove the attachment/link so the user and systems stay safe. 

#4 Keep Your Network Secure 

Have antivirus, antispyware, and malware software on your network and all devices, as well as commercial firewalls. 

Keeping your main network inaccessible to outside devices will reduce the vectors of attack.

Have a different network for your guests, and keep all personal IT devices from your staff on a separate network too. 

#5 Stay Informed About Phishing Techniques & Have Procedures In Place

New phishing scams appear all the time, so make sure your IT department follows all new developments closely.  Ask them to regularly send internal newsletters on threats and distribute them to everyone.

Plus, make sure you have strict procedures in place when it comes to payments and authorising new transactions. For example, change of details must be confirmed by a vendor over the phone (rather than email), requests for money are escalated to a higher management level, and links aren’t clicked on unless they are expected.

Hotels Must Be Hypervigilant

The reason why so many hotels fall victim to hotel phishing attacks is the lack of updates to their systems, operations, and standards. 

When coupled with lack of staff training and monitoring solutions, a data breach might already be in progress without them having the slightest clue about it.

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Steps To Respond To a Ransomware Attack

steps after a ransomware attack

Cybersecurity is an important topic for any business now. In the last 12 months, 32% of businesses experienced some sort of cyber attack or data breach. That means that every third business had to deal with a cyber-attack, according to the Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019 by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. It goes without saying that every business should prepare for a ransomware attack and other types of cyber-attacks.

Keeping your assets secure against cyberthreats needs much more than installing firewalls and anti-virus software. Today’s cyber threats are sophisticated and use every possible loophole in your security settings to get access.While there are different types of attacks, ransomware is one of the most malicious attacks businesses have to deal with. 

What’s a Ransomware Attack? 

Ransomware is a type of attack where malicious software (malware) takes over a computer or whole systems and denies any type of access until you pay a ransom. The ransom demand usually requires payment in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, as it’s impossible to trace it. 

It is one of the most dangerous types of attacks, as it can stop a business dead in its tracks. In case the ransom is not paid, all data will be deleted from the system. 

This is bad enough if it happens to an individual. Imagine this happening to your company – you will lose all business and operational data, and you’ll have to start all over again. Some businesses never recover.

Preparing for a Ransomware Attack

The bad news with ransomware attacks? It can happen to anyone, and once it does, there’s not much you can do. 

But you can prepare for it. Here’s how: 

Data backup should be your number one priority.

It can save you thousands and millions, but it has to be done right by protecting your data storage properly. Ransomware attacks are carefully executed and attackers will often have access to your systems for months before they attack. 

Why? Because they want to make sure they hijack everything, including any possible backups you might have. 

This is why you should keep backups on another location. It would be best to have backups in the cloud but also have at least one backup offline – completely disconnected from any network – as even cloud backups can sometimes be affected.  

Make sure IT keeps all systems and software up to date.

Although updates are often a hassle, they exist for a reason. Most updates are released to take care of security vulnerabilities. When software and operating systems are not updated, you are basically inviting hackers to access your systems. Your IT department should ensure every device is up to date. 

Start implementing user restrictions.

Not all of your employees need access to all your data. Ask your IT provider to implement user restrictions so that your employees have access only to data they need. In case they need more, they can request special and temporary access that is revoked as soon as they don’t need it anymore. This way, in case their accounts are compromised, the breach will be limited. 

Invest in monitoring software. 

You can get powerful software solutions that can monitor your whole systems for suspicious activity. This goes beyond the regular antivirus monitoring – it can monitor what users are doing, what data they are accessing, and alert you in case something is out of the ordinary. 

Don’t forget about employee training.

No matter what type of security software and solutions you utilise, if your employees are not aware of best practices on cybersecurity, you’re always just one bad click away from a ransomware attack. Make sure your employees know how to spot suspicious email, and know that they should never click on the links in such emails or download attachments.  

Work on your BYOD policies.

Many businesses, especially small- and medium-sized ones, often allow employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) to work. Without a good policy in place, however, this becomes a security issue. 

If an employee brings an infected device and connects it to the same network, you’re looking at a possible spread of infection – and ransomware – to all other devices and the whole system. Because of this, any device connecting to your system should be up to date, have antivirus software, and be cleared by the IT department regularly. This goes for smartphones too.

First Steps After a Ransomware Attack 

1. Take a photo of the note

This will help the IT determine what type of ransomware you’re dealing with. 

2. Determine the extent of the attack 

Your IT provider should be able to determine whether the ransomware has infected a single device, or if the infection is spreading through your network.

3. Isolate infected devices and disable sharing

All infected devices should be removed from the network to stop the spread. Any type of sharing that’s active should be shut off immediately. 

4. Notify employees

Send an email to all employees so that they can report whether their devices are working. Those who can work can continue, but those affected can help in other areas while IT deals with the issue. 

5. Let IT remove ransomware from infected devices 

IT should scrub the devices that were infected completely. Sometimes, a local backup on the device can solve the issue, but oftentimes, even that will be unavailable. 

6. Restore data from backups

Once you reinstall the operating systems, your IT can restore data on affected devices from a cloud or offline backup.

To Pay or Not to Pay? 

If you’re not prepared and have no backups, you might be tempted to pay. Take this year’s ransomware attack on the City of Baltimore’s government. Their systems were infected by ransomware that stopped numerous important systems: ATMs, airports, even hospitals. 

The attackers demanded the city pays about $76,000 in Bitcoin. The city refused to pay, only to realise many of their systems weren’t backed up. They lost huge amounts of data, and the attack ended up costing them $18 million

It seems that in the case of Baltimore, it would have been much better if they simply paid the ransom. Well, not really. 

Why? 

You’re dealing with criminals. Even if the city paid the ransom, there’s no guarantee that they would have gotten the access back. If they did, they would have become a prime target for future attacks too, since they paid the ransom already. This is why it’s so important to prepare – it will minimise damages.

Conclusion

Everyone’s at risk of a ransomware attack. Preventing it is next to impossible, but preparing for it is more than possible. Your IT provider should back up your data regularly, and you should make sure your employees know how to spot suspicious phishing attacks. When you prepare for a ransomware attack properly, you can minimise the impact of such an attack and save you from monetary and reputation damage. 

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The Link Between Unpatched Machines, Ransomware, and Data Breach Threats Increase Threat Severity for Businesses

cyber landscape report

Boardish has released a cyber landscape report that summarises the latest changes in the threat landscape. As a tool created for CISOs and cyber professionals who work on quantifying the impact of cyber threats and solutions into financial figures, Boardish has recently moved from beta to production. 

The ultimate goal that Boardish wishes to achieve is to simplify the quantification process for CISOs and other cyber professionals, helping them get faster insight into the cybersecurity landscape and impact of new threats and solutions. 

With that goal in mind, Boardish has also released a new monthly cyber report.

Their new cyber landscape report shows that the threat landscape has experienced quite a number of changes at the beginning of the year. One thing that they picked up is that there is a link between the three main threat increases that were registered: unpatched machines, ransomware, and data breaches. 

The Boardish cyber report places unpatched machines to the very top of cybersecurity issues.  This threat experienced the highest increase of 18% after NSA has discovered there is a vulnerability in the Windows 10 systems. The number of machines affected by this vulnerability goes over 900 million, which is more than enough to raise the risk assessment for unpatched machines from medium to high, as it has the potential to be the next nation-state type of attack.

Eternal Blue, the exploit used for the WannaCry ransomware is still affecting machines around the globe. When combined with the number of machines that could potentially be affected and the impact of previous nation-state attacks, any organisation with unpatched machines should treat the risk as a priority. 

This leads us to the next threat highlighted by the cyber report: ransomware. It has increased by 11% across all company size categories. 

It’s connected to the number of unpatched machines and also the fact that there are numerous other attack vectors for ransomware infections, with phishing being the most popular attack vector. 

Ransomware is so popular because it’s the easiest way to get money quickly, but there has been an increase of instances of the ransom NOT being paid, in which case attackers released the data and caused a data breach

This brings the impact level to maximum. Another interesting finding is that the level of turnover days increased by 15%, and the reason for this is twofold: business systems are more complex, and ransomware attacks are more sophisticated. Ransomware should, therefore, be treated as a top priority threat.

Data breach threat has also increased by 7%, but unpaid ransomware isn’t the main reason. Instead, increased amounts of data were the primary factor in companies with more than 500 employees, as per our cyber landscape report. The data breach risk factor is serious enough to lose market positioning, and coupled with the high-regulation impact, the risk is raised to high. 

User error is becoming a more common reason for data breaches, so companies should make sure they are protected not just from external but also internal threats. 

The best way to deal with each of these threats can be thoroughly tested in Boardish so that CISOs and other cybersecurity professionals immediately see the effectiveness of solutions and present these in front of the board in financial terms. 

For a more detailed insight into the threat landscape, you can download the full cyber report for free here: Boardish Analytical Cyber Reports

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Microsoft Azure Information Protection (AIP) Scanner Tool Course

Microsoft Azure Information Protection (AIP) Scanner Tool Course

Our new course on data discovery and encryption with the Microsoft Azure Information Protection (AIP) Scanner Tool is out. Those who enroll in the course will learn all about setting up the AIP scanner and the requirements. They will also learn how to discover and protect your on-prem data.

The Azure Information Protection (AIP) scanner tool provides businesses with a complete data encryption solution. Not only will it help businesses encrypt their on-premise data, but also help them discover, control, and organise their data. 

Why You Need to Learn How to Install and Set up The Azure Information Protection (AIP) Scanner Tool 

With more cyber threats looming about than ever before, cybersecurity has become a pressing issue for any business dealing with sensitive data. Last year’s adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by the EU also places heavy emphasis on data safety and export of personal data outside of EU and EEA borders. 

Most business owners have security solutions in place to protect the data from unauthorized access by external attackers. However, they seem to forget that many cybersecurity issues start on the inside. The most pressing issues that lead to a data breach are the following: 

  • No clear data organization – Unstructured data is hard to track and even harder to keep safe. 
  • Unrestricted access to every file and document – Not all of your employees need to have access to all your documentation. Data should always be shared on a “need to know” basis. 
  • No tracking on data access and usage – Without a system that tracks how data is being used and accessed, it’s very hard to avoid or detect malicious intent and possible data breaches. 

Why You Should Invest in Data Encryption

Cybersecurity has become a strategy that covers more than just having a firewall and spam protection in place. 

Today, cybersecurity covers everything from encryption to employee education and access control. The AIP scanner tool helps you achieve just that – you will know exactly where your data is, and you’ll be able to label it accordingly. You will also control who has access to it (both inside and outside of your organisation).  

Protect Your On-Premise Data Yourself

Our AIP Scanner Tool course will teach you everything you need to know about the AIP scanner. With 38 lectures divided into eight lessons, you’ll learn how to discover all data locations you keep on-prem (even archived data!). You will also learn how to classify and encrypt it. You’ll learn all about prerequisites to install the AIP scanner and how to set up the virtual environment needed to run it. 

You will become familiar with all AIP scanner modes so you can choose which is the best for your business. You will also learn how to install the scanner and test its settings. This way, you can ensure it’s working correctly before running it on your server, and how to deal with false positives. 

Enroll Today for Lifetime Access

Are you a business in dire need of a good data security solution? Do you wish to broaden your knowledge and install the AIP scanner for others? Enroll today and gain lifetime access to lessons, videos, articles, and downloadable resources that will teach you to successfully protect your data.

Sign Up Here >>> https://www.udemy.com/course/data-discovery-encryption-with-microsofts-aip-scanner/?couponCode=ARTICLE50OFF

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How to Protect Data Storage from Hacking

How to Protect Data Storage from Hacking

Data protection is more important than ever, but also much harder to achieve. It was fairly simple to previously protect data storage from hacking when it was only saved on-prem and there was limited access. 

Today, data storage and access are more dispersed. Remote employees, cloud storage solutions, BYOD policies, and access via multiple devices from anywhere make data protection seem like an impossible goal.

It’s important to understand that a data breach is a business issue, not just an IT issue. 

To make sure your company and customer data are safe, you will have to protect data storage from hacking attempts. The following data storage safety practices will help you achieve a high level of data security and compliance. 

1. Use strong passwords 

The most common way data storage is hacked are weak or shared passwords. You would ever store thousands of dollars behind a simple “0000” or “12345” password? No.

The data you are trying to protect is worth even more than that, so make sure that anyone with access to it has a strong, complex, and unique password. 

Weak passwords are present in almost every organisation and can cost corporations millions in damages because of data breaches. 

  • To avoid hacking attempts, have a proper password protocol in place. All passwords that provide access to data should have a minimum of 12 characters and shouldn’t be complete words. 
  • Use a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. The password should not have personal meaning – no names, addresses, dates, or anything that can be unearthed on social media.
  • Passwords should also be changed every 6 months.

2. Add Two-Factor Authentication 

Additional authentication protocols should be a standard practice to protect data storage from hacking

In case your first authentication layer – the usernames and passwords – end up in the wrong hands due to a successful phishing attack, the second layer of protection in the form of two-factor authentication (or multi-factor) will keep data safe from outside access. 

The authentication server will prompt the user to input another security code after authenticating their credentials. The code is usually delivered via SMS, or via a phone authenticator app. Some services will also offer the code via phone call if supported. 

3. Include Session Timeouts / Auto Disconnects 

To battle forgotten login sessions that could potentially lead to a data breach because somebody else used the device, incorporate session timeout routines onto your data storage servers. 

These routines will automatically disconnect the user from all inactive sessions. 

For example, if the user accessed your data storage but has been idle for the last 15 minutes, they will be logged out. When they come back, they will be prompted to log back in again. 

This security measure is especially valuable if your staff has access to data storage from shared, remote (and potentially unsafe) locations.   

4. Use encryption for all documents and emails 

Encryption helps protect data storage from hacking because in the event it ever falls into the wrong hands, they won’t be able to read it. 

When you encrypt data, the data is translated into ciphertext that is just a string of random characters. The only way to make it readable again is to turn it back to its original form with the right encryption key. 

The larger the key size, the more computational power is needed to crack it. The rule of thumb is to use encryption services that offer at least 256-bit encryption protocols.  

In order to ensure you have encrypted all sensitive documents, you should use a data protection solution that covers data discovery and sharing. Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection is such a system, and can be used to discover all your data, apply labels that determine how sensitive data is, and then apply rules on data access. The system will find all locations where data is stored and help you migrate it to a safer, centralised location. 

Because such systems also include email encryption, it also helps you keep data safe in case of mishaps. For example, if somebody accidentally sends an email with sensitive data to the wrong recipient, the recipient won’t be able to read the data without first having proper authorisation. 

5. Limit Access to Data Storage

In order to protect data storage from hacking, you have to limit access to data to inside actors too. 

The more people have access to sensitive and classified data, the higher the risk of data falling into the wrong hands. 

Your employees should have access only to data that’s essential to their role in the company. 

In case employees would need to access data occasionally, it’s better to have procedures in place that would authorise access to them temporarily rather than giving them unlimited access. 

6. Use Safe Cloud Storage Solutions 

Cloud storage solutions help you keep your data accessible at all times and is becoming the standard today. With so many employees working from remote locations and accessing data from multiple devices, it’s safe to say that there are many more vectors of attack.  

To protect data storage from hacking but keep it accessible and online, try using a decentralised cloud

It uses blockchain technology to keep data safe and such cloud storage is not controlled by a single entity and data is not stored on a centralised location. Instead, data is spread in tiny fragments across a large global network. When you need to access it, it will be assembled and decrypted as soon as you are authorised (either with an encryption key or password). 

7. Educate Employees

You can invest in the best firewall, anti-spam, and antivirus software, but if your employees don’t know how to spot a potential threat, your attempt to protect data storage from hacking will ultimately fail.  

Everyone in your company, be it the newest members of the team or senior executives, should go through regular education training. Ideally, they should learn about: 

  • The latest threats and risks, and vectors of attack – Suspicious email attachments, phishing attempts, how to stop a spoofed email address, and more. 
  • Best practices when it comes to data security – Teach them about BYOD policies, unsafe public networks, being safe while accessing data from remote locations, etc.
  • How to use new security software you implement – Get them on board with new software solutions and teach them how to use them to avoid slowdowns and disruptions.   

Your data security is only as strong as the weakest link. What’s your weakest link? 

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How To Create A Secure Password in 2019

You’d be amazed at how easy it is to create a secure password in 2019 and yet so many people don’t! 

Despite the increasing efforts that many websites put into security precautions, it’s a two-way street and users need to catch up and take responsibility too. Weak passwords are still a common way to hack someone, even in 2019.

The National Cyber Security Centre released a list of the most common weak passwords found by analyzing data from 100 million passwords leaked in data breaches. 

The top ten weakest passwords are the following: 

  • 123456
  • 123456789
  • qwerty
  • password
  • 1111111
  • 12345678
  • abc123
  • 1234567
  • password1
  • 12345

Other noteworthy entries near the very top include things like “000000” and “Iloveyou.” The primary spot has been held by “123456” for years now, however. 

A Secure Password in 2019 Should Be Complex, Unique, and Random

The above-mentioned passwords don’t even meet the minimum requirements of what’s considered a safe password nowadays. Today, truly secure passwords will have: 

  • A mix of upper and lowercase letters
  • Numbers
  • Special characters

Don’t think for a second that such passwords are bulletproof. They can also be cracked if you aren’t careful with how you create them. 

Creating a Secure Password in 2019

The following ten tips will help you create a truly secure password in 2019 and avoid the most common mistakes that lead to breaches. 

Avoid simple passwords like the ones on the list above

The fastest way your account will be compromised is by setting a weak password. While it’s bothersome to use all these safety measures like mixing cases and special characters, it’s more irritating to try to cancel credit card payments you never made. 

Don’t use simple to guess data

Avoid putting your name, the names of family members, or even the names of your pets because this is a sure fire way to become compromised in record time. Also, never use your username as a password too. That’s another easy guess. 

Use patterns 

An easy way to recycle a password safely is to switch for a designated number of spaces on the keyboard. For example, if your password was “ThiSisS3cuRe” (This is secure), you can instead use the keys that are one space to the left. Instead of “T” you would use “R” and so on. This will get you what seems like a completely random sequence: “RguSuaA2xzEw.” And yet, you will know how you got it. 

Change passwords regularly

Many people experience a breach because they never change their passwords. Passwords get outdated quickly, and as time goes by, what was once considered complex can now easily be cracked and guessed. 

Some services prompt you to change your password regularly, which is not a bad idea, but many users then choose a simple password to get it over with. That’s a bad practice, and however annoying you might find it, every password change should have a complex password. 

Top Tip: Change your passwords every 6 months and set a reminder on your phone to do it so you don’t forget! 

Use a different password for each account

Never use a master password for all your accounts. That increases risk in case of a breach. Imagine your business email or banking information is suddenly jeopardised because you used the same password as on some random and less secure site. Each account should have its own password. 

Use randomly generated passwords

Google Lock has a password suggestion mode that offers you to create a randomly generated password instead of thinking of one yourself. This is a convenient service, but it can be hard to remember all such passwords without a system behind them.

Don’t write down passwords 

You might find it convenient to write all your passwords on a piece of paper, or in a notepad. Be aware that any type of data that’s not encrypted is not safe. Usually, it’s considered okay for home users to write down passwords on a piece of paper so long as they are kept out of sight (and not taped to the computer!), but never do that at work, or you risk someone using your workstation for malicious intent. 

Find a password manager that suits your needs

If you find it hard to remember all passwords, use a password manager. These are pieces of software that remembers all your passwords so you don’t have to. There are free and paid options available, and some are online, others are offline. Go through reviews to find the best deal for you. 

The point to note here is that you’re storing all of your passwords in one place, so make sure you pick an encrypted system that is extra secure! if you don’t have enough passwords to use a system like this, it’s best to avoid!. 

Use cryptography 

Develop your very own system to encrypt your passwords. One good way to do this is to have a sentence that will remind you of a password. For example, you have a pet cat and wish to base your password off of it. Instead of using your cat’s name mixed with a few numbers, use a sentence such as: 

  • “My cat Garfield loves lasagna.” and then encrypt each part: 
    • My cat Garfield = McG
    • Loves = <3
    • Lasagna = LsgnA
  • So your password will be “McG<3LsgnA”

Use two-factor authentication

Reduce the risk even more and use two-factor authentication in addition to having a strong password. On the off chance that somebody manages to crack your super complex password, two-factor authentication will keep them from doing anything else. 

Such authentication is bound to a token or a phone app that generates a random string of (usually) six numbers that rotate every 60 seconds, which are unique to your account. Without this second step to prove it’s really you, hackers won’t be able to access your account at all. 

Cybersecurity Rests on You Choosing a Secure Password in 2019 

Hackers are finding new ways to get to your data every day. Don’t let your password be the weak link that will give them access to everything else. Want to learn other ways to protect your computer? Check out our latest course here >>> PROTECT YOUR COMPUTER FROM GETTING HACKED COURSE <<<

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6 Ways Your Marketing Is Breaching GDPR

Marketing breaching GDPR is a real issue! The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has had a profound impact on how businesses communicate with prospects and customers, and how they conduct their marketing. There are still businesses that believe that once users consent to their marketing campaigns, they can use the gathered personal data however they want.

But this can get you in a world of trouble!

GDPR is much more complex than getting consent from visitors and users. While many news outlets have placed emphasis on how consent is handled, it’s actually about the way businesses handle and protect personal data, what they use it for, and how they seek permission to use it.
GDPR is not a directive – it’s a regulation, and it’s legally binding. Companies could easily breach GDPR with their marketing efforts, and here the 6 common ways it can happen:

#1 Contacting people without active consent

GDPR regulates consent in extensive detail, and according to their regulations, consent must offer real choice, and users have to be in charge! It needs to be prominent, and users should have no issues understanding it. It should also be always requested on its own, not as part of any terms or conditions.

The only valid consent according to GDPR is a positive opt-in and requires you to disclose any third-parties that rely on that consent. You should also provide an easy way to withdraw consent.

#2 Automatic opt-ins

Automatic opt-ins were a common method to trick users who weren’t paying attention to consent. Such tactics are considered predatory and are considered marketing breaching GDPR tactics. Any tick boxes that are pre-ticked or say “click to opt OUT” are a huge breach.

Remember: The only type of consent accepted under GDPR is a positive opt-in.

#3 Poor lead lists and storage

Where are you storing your lead lists? While it’s very convenient to have them readily available on a shared Google Drive or OneDrive document, that’s a very poor practice and definitely a GDPR breach if you have the link set to public for sharing.

Your leads list should be secured and encrypted, and shared only on a need-to-know basis.

How long you keep the information is also important. Under GDPR’s data minimisation principle, holding information for too long is a marketing GDPR breach, so it’s important to delete it as soon as you don’t need it.

#4 Obtaining lists without confirmation of consent

One way marketers fill up their sales pipeline is with purchased lead lists. There’s a lot of third-party lead generator sites that are willing to sell lists to you. But you have to be careful when buying lists.

If these generators don’t have active consent from users on distributing their data to other parties, then YOU will be the one who’s breaching GDPR as soon as you contact those prospects.

You always need to have proof that they consented to be contacted by you, whether they gave the consent to you directly, or through third parties.

#5 Ignoring erasure requests

Users who have given consent to collect and process their data have the freedom to withdraw that request at any time. They can also request that you delete all the data that you have gathered on them. Not answering those requests is considered marketing breaching GDPR.

Do you know how to erase data? Do you know how much time you have to get back to them once they send a request?

GDPR states that you must act within a month of receiving the request, but there are also instances where you can extend response times; for example, when the user made multiple requests or in case the request is very complex.

#6 Accidentally sharing email addresses

Accidentally sharing any personal information is considered a breach under GDPR.

Surprisingly, emails are a very common reason behind a data breach. Emails that are sent to the wrong recipient are the most common mistake, as well as emails with unprotected attachments.  

An accidental data breach is still a data breach, so make sure your emails are secured and encrypted. This way, even if they are accidentally sent to wrong recipients.

Update: The ICO is sharing more and more information on specific circumstances and it’s interesting to note that a business email is protected under GDPR IF it contacts the ability to identify someone properly. The most common way is: [email protected] so with that in mind you should be wary about contacting businesses as well! Check out this page by the ICO about marketing to businesses here: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/in-your-sector/marketing/the-rules-around-business-to-business-marketing-the-gdpr-and-pecr/

For more information on GDPR email compliance, check out the 5 ways your emails could be breaching GDPR HERE >>> https://towerwatchtech.com/5-ways-your-emails-could-breach-gdpr/

Have more questions? Check out our Smiley Geeks IT Help Membership from only $69 a month!

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Data Discovery as an Important First Step in Cyber Security Implementations

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Data security is the staple of a successful business in this era, and most businesses invest into at least basic cyber security. After all, it’s much more affordable when compared to the aftermath of a data breach. Before you implement security measures that will keep your business and reputation safe, you should know what type of data you deal with, and you can do that with data discovery tools.  

What’s Data Discovery and How Does It Help My Business?

The importance of data discovery in cyber security is experiencing rapid growth because of stricter regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) that mandate all businesses should be well aware of what kind of data they collect and how they use it. But what is data discovery anyway?

Data discovery is a business process of collecting and analysing data to gain insight into trends and patterns. This insight helps businesses shape their critical business decisions.

And while most businesses today will happily collect data to make data-driven decisions, they will often fail to store and protect that data in a systematic and logical manner.

This causes two critical issues:

  1. When data is disorganised, it will impact data analysis and affect the end result, which can lead to bad business decisions.
  2. Disorganisation also increases the risk of data being accessed by unauthorised entities, either through a data breach or because it was accidentally disclosed by an employee.

Data discovery helps businesses not only collect and analyse data, but it also shows them where and how data is stored and who has access to it, which gives them a good idea of how safe that data really is.

Data Discovery in Cyber Security

Because data discovery provides quite a number of benefits to a business, it’s safe to assume it can help with cyber security too. So what’s the best way to use data discovery in cyber security, and what benefits will this bring?

It is the first step to becoming GDPR compliant. Businesses gather all kinds of data to gain insight into the latest trends and preferences, and for this purpose, they often store sensitive data from their users and customers.

  • GDPR requires that ALL businesses that deal with personally identifiable information (PII) from EU citizens to disclose they are using and storing this data.
  • In addition, they must have consent from the user/customer to store all that data, and keep records of consent too. If they don’t, they are not allowed to store it.
  • Any type of data that can lead to the identification of an individual falls into this category: name, address, online identifiers, ID numbers, IP addresses, even cookie identifiers.  

It helps you implement the right cybersecurity measures. It can be hard to choose which cybersecurity measures are the best option for your business.

  • Firewalls and secure networks are a good start, but without implementing data discovery in cybersecurity, you won’t have a structured overview of your data, or who has access to it.
  • Considering that human error is the most prevalent reason for a data breach, limiting access to data and keeping it on a “need to know” basis is a sound defense against such errors.
  • This also helps you implement data encryption that limits further data sharing and disclosing it to somebody without the right authentication.

It helps you identify security threats quickly. When you have a unified and structured overview of your data and can see who accesses it and in what way in real time, you can quickly respond to any type of threats.

  • Machine learning and AI solutions can help you automate this process and monitor users’ access and detect any anomalies.
  • For example, if there is a sudden surge in data access from a specific access point, you will get a warning to investigate. In case you determine there was indeed a breach, the scope of the breach will be very limited.

Data Discovery Brings Your Cyber Security to a Whole New Level

With increasing volumes of data flowing through your on-prem or cloud data centres, you need solutions that will not only give you insights into trends but what type of data you have, where it’s stored, and how many of your employees have access to it. By structuring your data according to sensitivity levels and implementing solutions that limit access and keep a watchful eye on how it’s used, you will be able to thwart cyber security threats before they become a problem.

Learn more about data discovery by using Microsoft’s AIP scanner in our Udemy course now available at a discounted price.

Check out the TowerWatch Academy for more courses!

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The Importance of Cybersecurity for Businesses in 2019

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Cybersecurity is a vital part of every business that deals with any type of sensitive data. With online threats becoming more diverse every day, and the increasing regulations like GDPR. It is imperative that businesses stay on top of the latest cybersecurity developments for 2019.

Here are the most important things to consider when looking for ways to improve cybersecurity for businesses:

Hacking Is an Industry Now

Hacking has become a lucrative industry, with certain types of data being more valuable than others. Medical records, for example, are worth ten times more on average than credit card details.

Because there is so much money involved in hacking, it is not surprising that hackers are launching highly sophisticated attacks that are hard to detect and can be disruptive not only to normal business operations, but also to wider government-operated systems, like power grids for example. As such, hacking threats should be taken seriously, because a data breach can easily bring your business to a halt or end it altogether.

It’s Harder to Detect Breaches

Ponemon’s 2018 Cost of Data Breach Study states that it takes 197 days on average to detect a breach. After that, it takes another 69 days on average to contain a breach. This is a very long time for a breach to go undetected, costing businesses millions. For smaller companies, such a devastating breach could mean the end of their operations. Larger companies have an easier time to recover, but it still takes months or years.

A breach doesn’t just cause loss of revenue, but also reputation, customers, and missed opportunities, as well as any damages that have to be paid after the breach.

Third-Party Apps and Vendors Are Common Vectors of Attack

With cloud computing being the new norm, it can be hard to confine sensitive data within an isolated data centre in your office. The majority of data today is stored in the cloud, with many businesses sharing data no only internally, but also to external third-party vendors or applications.

If these apps or vendors do not take adequate security precautions resulting in a data breach, the business can still be held accountable for the loss of sensitive data. Make sure then to check all third-party vendors your business deals with.

Data Protection Is More Important than Ever

Businesses who don’t invest in cybersecurity should be held accountable. It doesn’t really matter whether it was just an oversight or due to negligence – if the someone steals valuable data, there should be serious consequences.

Lawmakers are becoming aware that cybersecurity is an important aspect that needs to be regulated seriously. We are already seeing the adoption of stricter laws and regulations – the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is just one of them.

Not only do such laws and regulations force businesses to improve their security, but they also help protect users against predatory practices like selling data to third parties without the user’s explicit consent.

Any business who is serious about what they do should have transparent data collection and usage policies. They should have adequate security and encryption for their data.

AI Helps Companies Protect Against Attacks

Advancements in AI and machine learning have made predictive analytics an ally against cyber attacks. Businesses have more overview of their real-time security than ever before. And predictive analysis helps them promptly detect anomalies in their operations. This is especially beneficial for the financial sector such as banks, and other businesses will reap the benefits as well.

As a business owner, you should be aware of the cyber threats lurking about. Know also that no target is too small for hackers. Make sure to update all your software regularly and educate your employees. Ensure that any third-party vendors or applications you deal with are taking cybersecurity seriously too.