Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Computer Disaster Can Put Your Company Out of Business

"93% of companies that lost access to their data for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster, and 50% filed for bankruptcy immediately." (Source: National Archives & Records Administration in Washington.)

Yes, disasters do happen, but we don't need to be helpless victims in the face of every disaster.
To prepare for various causes of computer system disasters there are two important approaches: prevent the disasters you can, and develop a recovery plan for those disasters caused by forces outside your control. There are many computer system disasters that are 100% preventable.  Then there are circumstances that are out of your control like "acts of God"  such as fire, flood, and earthquakes. Under those situations the best you can do is mitigate the consequences as much as possible.  Whether you want to prevent disasters or mitigate the consequences of one you need a plan of action.

Why are so many small businesses ill prepared for a computer disaster?  

This illustration provides an explanation: 3% of all hard drives fail on an annual basis. That statistic is constant whether  you have one computer or 1000. However, there is a difference in perception between the company that has one computer versus a  company that has 1000 computers.  The company with 1000 computers experiences 30 computer hard drive failures each year.  As  result that company will have a process in place to replace those hard drives quickly and with as little disruption as  possible.  Contrast that with the company that has one computer. It may have yet to experience a hard drive failure.   Therefore, there is a perception hard drive failures don't happen and are ill prepared and caught of guard when it does happen.  I'm certain that the functioning of the computer system is just as important to the company with one computer as the one with  1000 computers. The difference is the company with 1000 computers has been taught through experience and developed disaster  recovery process whereas the company with one computer has no experience with such a disaster and therefore is lacking the appropriate level of emergency recovery preparedness.

But, do you have to wait for a disaster to occur in order to learn what can happen and what you need to do to prevent that kind of disaster or be properly prepared with an emergency recovery process?  Obviously, the answer is no.  You can learn from your peers.  What about that 1000 computer company?  Don't you think that company may have some insight you would find useful? It is definitely very important for you to find an expert in this area. Lack of experience or knowledge can be extremely costly if that lack of preparedness results in the loss of your business.

Next: What Computer "Disasters" Can Be Avoided or Prevented

Have you ever lost an hour of work on your computer?

Now imagine if you lost days or weeks of work – or imagine losing your client database, financial records, and all of the work files your company has ever produced or compiled. Imagine what would happen if your network went down for days, where you couldn’t access e-mail or the information on your PC. How frustrating would that be?

Or, what if a major storm, flood, or fire destroyed your office and all of your files? Or if a virus wiped out your server…do you have an emergency recovery plan in place that you feel confident in? How quickly do you think you could recover, if at all?
Many small business owners tend to ignore or forget about taking steps to secure their company’s network from these types of catastrophes until disaster strikes. By then it’s too late and the damage is done.

"93% of companies that lost access to their data for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster, and 50% filed for bankruptcy immediately."
(Source: National Archives & Records Administration in Washington.)

Your first response may be this is an astonishing statistic.  But, is it all that surprising?

Obviously, this statistic would not even exist if all business owners had effective disaster recovery plans in place. I'm sure that these companies that declared bankruptcy after disaster thought their businesses were secure from the consequences the very disaster that put their company out of business.  Unfortunately, there is a huge gap in the knowledge small business owner need to have in order to develop an effective disater recovery plan.    

In the next series of blogs I will go over developing an emergency recovery plan for your business that will keep your business functioning through the loss of your computer systems or communication systems as well as loss of access to your company data and customer databases.

Having a disaster recovery plan is critical to not only your company continuing to conduct business but also staying in business.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Are We Too Dependent on the Internet? Can the Internet Be Brought Down By a Few Select People?

Author Mark Bowden (famous for his book "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War which later was made into a movie of the same name) explains how the fragility of the Internet coupled with our dependence on use of the Internet is starting to become a threat to our country's national security.  He explains in plain English how a few software engineers can create a computer infection that would have the power to completely disrupt the Internet.  Below is a video interview of the Mark Bowden discussing this very credible threat. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Cyberweapon That Almost Succeeded in Blowing Up a Nuclear Power Plant

This is a story of a "bomb" that almost succeeded in blowing up a nuclear power plant. It is NOT a story of terrorist bombs being dropped from the sky, airplanes flying into skyscrapers, exploding trucks parked outside of buildings, or suicide bombers. Not those bombs; I talking about a new kind of bomb. One that takes advantage of a hidden vulnerability of the world’s interconnected network of computers. This is the true story of the world’s first cyberweapon – known as Stuxnet. It is a story right out of a spy novel with all the intrigue, espionage, and suspense of stopping the bomb from inflicting it's damage.

The story begins in January 2010 when investigators with the International Atomic Energy Agency had just completed an inspection at the uranium enrichment plant outside Natanz in central Iran. They noticed increased activity of Natanz technicians in their white lab coats, gloves, and blue booties scurrying in and out of the “clean” cascade rooms, hauling out spent centrifuges. Any time the plant decommissioned damaged or otherwise unusable centrifuges, they were required to line them up for IAEA inspection to verify that no radioactive material was being smuggled out in the devices before they were removed. Normally Iran replaced up to 10 percent of its centrifuges a year, due to material defects and other issues. With about 8,700 centrifuges installed at Natanz at the time, it would have been normal to decommission about 800 over the course of the year.

But, when the IAEA later reviewed footage from the surveillance cameras they were stunned as they counted the numbers. The technicians had been replacing the units at an unbelievable rate. Estimates were between 1,000 to 2,000 centrifuges were swapped out over the course of a few months. Iran was not required to disclose the reason for replacing so many centrifuges. Officially, the inspectors had no right to ask. But, it was clear to the inspectors that something had damaged the centrifuges.

What the Natanz technicians and IAEA inspectors didn’t know at the time was that the answer they were seeking was hidden all around them, buried in the hard drives and memory modules of the computers in the Natanz plant. A highly destructive digital worm had been unleashed in Iran with one aim – to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and prevent President Ahmadinejad from building a nuclear weapon.

How was this cyberweapon discovered and how it was stopped? Watch the video for the rest of the story…


Friday, August 26, 2011

Trick and No Treat with Scareware - Part 4

Visiting a Web Site Can Be Dangerous to Your Computer's Health!

If you didn't fall for the fancy websites and advertisements promoting scareware as a legitimate virus protection program, how else can you get scareware installed on your computer? Unfortunately, you can get scareware installed on your computer with out you being aware of it. The same methods used to get different kinds of malware on your computer are used to infect your computer with scareware.

These methods have changed recently in response to better security protections being used by businesses and home users. What cybercrimals have discovered is that is more difficult to spread malware through the network with increasing adoption of firewalls. Email filtering has made an it more difficult to distribute scareware through email spam. As a result malware and scareware are increasingly distributed through web browsers. Simply by visiting a website your computer can be infected with scareware. What's more, virus protection applications rarely detect this kind of attack.

To infect a computer through a web browser, an attacker must accomplish one of two tasks. Either, they must find a way to get a victim to visit an infected website, or get the victim to click a link on a compromised advertisement. The website may be a site the cybercriminal has created. The website can also be a legitimate website that has been attacked then HTML code has been inserted by the cybercrimal and this compromise has not been detected by the website owner. Usually, large organizations have the IT staff and resources to detect when their organization website has been attacked and compromised. But, smaller businesses do not have these resources. As a result there are a lot of small businesses whose websites are being used to distribute malware and are not aware of it.

To combat this latest method of distribution, search engine companies such as Google and Yahoo have developed "blacklist" of websites that contain malicious code. This protection method is not full proof, and there are still many websites that come up on search results that are compromised. It is a cat and mouse game. Protections are put in place to thwart cybercriminal attacks, so the cybercriminals change their methods to get around the protections.

How do you protect yourself? Continue to use firewalls, virus protection, and the major search engines. You can add to the protections your are currently using by obtaining a website monitor software such as McAfee SiteAdvisor. A power user suggestion: If you using Windows XP, logon to a user account that does not have Administrator privileges, and if you use Windows 7 keep UAC (User Account Control) turned on. Perhaps, the best protection is to stay informed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Trick and No Treat with Scareware - Part 3

You think you installed the perfect virus protection…or did you get scammed?

You visit a website and see an ad touting an antivirus product second to none. You click on the ad link and are brought to the software manufacturer’s website. On the first page are recommendations and testimonials from third party security product testers ranking the product as the best in it’s class. You are impressed with how it stands up to Norton, McAfee, or Trend according to these recommendations. Besides, you are tired of your current antivirus slowing down your computer, and this product all but guarantees better performance. So, you take the plunge and buy the product.

Without realizing you’ve just been fooled into purchasing and installing a fake antivirus product. It is not only bogus, but all kinds of malware will be installed onto your computer. Welcome to one of cybercriminals favorite bait and switch scam. How do they get away with it?

They build a legitimate appearing website, falsify third party security product tester tests, and advertise using the same methods as legitimate security product companies. Yep, that’s the formula that rakes in millions for cybercriminals. And, you are left with an infected computer, a stolen credit card number, and a bruised ego from feeling like a fool.

How do you fight back? First, do some research before purchasing any security product. These websites below will help. They list legitimate antivirus products, and the corresponding websites. These security product testers will also give you a better idea of how effective one product is compared to another.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Trick and No Treat with Scareware - Part 2

How do you recognize scareware?

It may not be as easy as you think. At first Scareware will appear to be a real-time, anti-virus scan of your hard drive. Then a pop-up message appears that your computer is infected with numerous viruses, spyware or other malware. There maybe a bombardment of pop-up warning messages that makes your computer difficult to use, but not in most instances. Keep in mind the scam artists want to fool you into believing the pop-up messages are legitimate. This way they can con you into purchasing the fake protection software, scan your computer for personal identity information, and use your computer to attack other computers.

The Scareware pop-ups will appear in a similar manner and appearance as messages you receive from anti-virus products manufactured by Symantec, McAfee, TrendMicro and other common anti-virus software companies. So, how do you know the difference between your legitimate anti-virus application and scareware? After all, you don't want to ignore a legitimate warning message.

First and foremost, get back to basics...

Know what anti-virus or protection software you have installed on your computer. The scam artists are counting on you not remembering what protection you've installed on your computer. Know the name of the software manufacturer (Symantec, TrendMicro, McAfee, etc.) and know the name of the product (Norton Internet Security, PC-cillin, Total Protection, etc). These products also come with a subscription for updates. Know how to find the subscription information so you can verify when the subscription expires.

Some of the scareware pop-up messages appear to be generated from the Windows Security Center. The Windows Security Center is part of Windows XP. Its purpose is to monitor the status of the presence of an anti-virus application or when the Windows Firewall is turned off. Essentially, the only legitimate messages you will receive from the Windows Security Center are warnings as to the absence of an anti-virus application or warning that your Windows Firewall has been turned off. You can recognize any fake "Windows Security Center" pop-up messages if there is a warning stating that there are infections on the system or if there is an inducement to download or purchase a product.

Unfortunately, if these scareware messages start popping up on your computer it means that your computer is already infected. If you click the pop-up message to purchase the software, a form to collect payment information for the bogus product launches allowing you to download and purchase the fake anti-virus product. But, that is not when your computer gets infected. In most instances, the scareware installed malicious code onto your computer before you saw any pop-up messages... whether you click the warning message, the purchase pop-up form, or not.

Parts three and four will deal with how the scammers get scareware infections on to your computer.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Trick and No Treat with Scareware - Part 1

According the latest research in the last two years, scareware (aka fake security software), emerged as the single most profitable scam strategy for cybercriminals. Thousands of users fall victim to the scam on a daily basis, and the gangs or organized crime syndicates themselves earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

What is scareware? In simple terms it is fake security software masquerading as a legitimately looking security application. Scareware is usually delivered to the end user through a compromised web site. A user will visit a web site, and it can be a legitimate web site, then the user will click on a link or advertisement. By doing so the scareware gets downloaded to the user's computer.

Once downloaded to a user's computer, scareware will not only prevent legitimate security software from starting, but it will also prevent it from reaching its update locations in an attempt to ensure that the security application will not be able to get the latest signatures database. When this happens your anti-virus application will not even recognize the scareware infection. Moreover, scareware will also attempt to make its removal a time-consuming process by blocking system tools and third-party applications that can be used to remove the infection.

There have also been cases where scareware is actually better described as "ransomware" which encrypts an infected user’s files, preventing the user from accessing their files. Then the scareware demands a purchase in order to decrypt the files.

In the next blog posts I'll go into more detail on how to prevent Scareware from getting onto your system, how to recognize scareware versus a legitimate protection application, and how to get rid of scareware if it gets on your computer....

Stay tuned!