Homographs: The Newest Trend in Phishing

So much of cybersecurity depends on adequate awareness from users. Phishing for example, preys on people’s fears and desires to convince them to click on hyperlink images and text before checking where they actually lead to. However, with the latest trend in phishing, even the most cautious users can get swept up. Read on to educate yourself on how to avoid this dangerous scam.

What are Homographs?

There are a lot of ways to disguise a hyperlink, but one strategy has survived for decades — and it’s enjoying a spike in popularity. Referred to as “homographs” by cybersecurity professionals, this phishing strategy revolves around how browsers interpret URLs written in other languages.

Take Russian for example, even though several Cyrillic letters look identical to English characters, computers see them as totally different. Browsers use basic translation tools to account for this so users can type in non-English URLs and arrive at legitimate websites. In practice, that means anyone can enter a 10-letter Cyrillic web address into their browser and the translation tools will convert that address into a series of English letters and numbers.

How Does This Lead to Phishing Attacks?

Malicious homographs utilize letters that look identical to their English counterparts to trick users into clicking on them. It’s an old trick, and most browsers have built-in fail-safes to prevent the issue. However, a security professional recently proved that the fail-safes in Chrome, Firefox, Opera and a few other less popular browsers can be easily tricked.

Without protection from your browser, there’s basically no way to know that you’re clicking on a Cyrillic URL. It looks like English, and no matter how skeptical you are, there’s no way to “ask” your browser what language it is. So you may think you’re clicking on apple.com, but you’re actually clicking on the Russian spelling of apple.com — which gets redirected to xn—80ak6aa92e.com. If that translated URL contains malware, you’re in trouble the second you click the link.

The Solution

Avoiding any kind of cybersecurity attack begins with awareness, and when it comes to phishing, that means treating every link you want to click with skepticism. If you receive an email from someone you don’t know, or a suspicious message from someone you do, always check where it leads. Sometimes that’s as simple as hovering your mouse over hyperlink text to see what the address is, but when it comes to homographs that’s not enough.

In the case of homographs, the solution is unbelievably simple: Manually type in the web address. If you get an email from someone you haven’t heard from in 20 years that says “Have you checked out youtube.com??”, until your browser announces a fix, typing that URL into your browser’s address bar is the only way to be totally sure you’re safe.

For most, this trend feels like yet another development that justifies giving up on cybersecurity altogether. But for small- and medium-sized businesses that have outsourced their technology support and management to a competent and trustworthy IT provider, it’s just another reason to be thankful they decided against going it alone. If you’re ready to make the same decision, call us today at 800-421-7151.

When Did You Last Update Your Firmware?

Most IT consultants constantly remind clients of how important it is to update and patch their software, but neglect the importance of updating hardware. We don’t mean replacing it with new hardware; we mean updating the applications and settings coded into the physical IT powering every modern office.

What is Firmware?

Firmware is a very basic type of software that is embedded into every piece of hardware. It cannot be uninstalled or removed, and is only compatible with the make and model of the hardware it is installed on. Think of it like a translator between your stiff and unchanging hardware and your fluid and evolving software.

For example, Windows can be installed on almost any computer, and it helps users surf the internet and watch YouTube videos. But how does Windows know how to communicate and connect with your hardware router to do all that? Firmware on your router allows you to update and modify settings so other, more high-level, pieces of software can interact with it.

Why is Firmware Security so Important?

Firmware installed on a router is a great example of why addressing this issue is so critical. When you buy a router and plug it in, it should be able to connect devices to your wireless network with almost zero input from you. However, leaving default settings such as the username and password for web browser access will leave you woefully exposed.

And the username and password example is just one of a hundred. More experienced hackers can exploit holes that even experienced users have no way of fixing. The only way to secure these hardware security gaps is with firmware updates from the device’s manufacturer.

How Do I Protect Myself?

Firmware exploits are not rare occurrences. Not too long ago, a cyber security professional discovered that sending a 33-character text message to a router generated an SMS response that included the administrator username and password.

Unfortunately, every manufacturer has different procedures for checking and updating firmware. The best place to start is Googling “[manufacturer name] router firmware update.” For instance, if you have a D-Link or Netgear router, typing “192.168.0.1” into a web browser will allow you to access its firmware and update process, assuming you have the username and password.

Remember that routers are just one example of how firmware affects your cyber security posture. Hard drives, motherboards, even mouses and keyboards need to be checked. Routinely checking all your devices for firmware updates should be combined with the same process you use to check for software updates.

It can be a tedious process, and we highly recommend hiring an IT provider to take care of it for you. If you’re curious about what else we can do to help, give us a call today at 800-421-7151.

Back Up your Mobile Devices Now

Mobile phones’ sizes and styles went through massive changes in the last few years. And as their looks and dimensions changed, so did their functions. With better capacity and bigger storage, mobile phones turned into veritable mini-computers that businesses were quick to adopt as a vital office tool. Naturally, hackers got the memo. With new schemes targeted specifically towards mobile devices, you’d be well served backing up the files in your mobile device, now.

Malware On Mobile

More than 50% of the world’s adult population use a mobile phone with internet connection, so dangers in these handy devices are to be expected. Scarier than the thought of being offline is being online and exposed to malware.

If you use your mobile devices as an extension of your work computers, backing up is a must. Mobile phones have become as vulnerable to malware as laptops and desktops have, especially if you consider the fact that many professionals and business owners use them for emailing confidential documents and storing business-critical files.

Device Disasters

Other than malware, other types of disasters can happen on your device. Because you carry it wherever your go, your device can easily be stolen, misplaced, or damaged. They may be easily replaceable, but the data contained in them may not. Having completely backed up data on your devices helps prevent a minor inconvenience from turning into a disastrous situation.

Backup Options

Performing backups in iPhone and Android devices is a seamless process. Their operating systems require only minimal effort from users, and backing up entails nothing more than logging into their Apple or Google account. However, other users have different devices with different operating systems, slightly complicating the process.

Mobile devices’ safety is essential to business continuity plans. So whether your office users are tied to a single operating system or prefer different devices, there are options to back up all your organization’s mobile devices. There are cloud backup services that enable syncing of all devices and that back up files, contacts, photos, videos, and other critical files in one neat backup system. These mobile backup tools are offered on monthly or lifetime subscription schemes, which provides small businesses with enough flexibility to ensure protection.

Mobile phones have become so ubiquitous to how people function that many feel the need to have two or more phones, mostly to have one for personal use and another for business. With all these options on hand, there’s no excuse for not backing up data on your mobile devices.

Our experts can provide practical advice on security for your business’s computers and mobile devices. Call us for mobile backup and other security solutions today.

6 Ways To Dodge A Data Disaster

You stride into the office early one Monday morning. You grab a cup of coffee, flip on your computer and start checking e-mail…

A note pops up that rivets your attention:

“Your files have been encrypted. Send $5,000 within five days or they will all be destroyed.”

You start sweating as your throat constricts and your chest tightens. Sure enough, every time you try to open a document, the same message appears. Your phone rings. It’s Bob in accounting, and he’s having the same problem. All files across your entire network have been encrypted. You contact the local police. They suggest you call the FBI. The FBI says they can’t help you. What do you do next?

  1. You pay the five grand, desperately hoping you’ll get your data back, or…
  2. You calmly call your IT pro, who says, “No problem, your backups are all current. No files were lost. Everything will be restored by noon, if not sooner.”

If your answer is “b,” you breathe a sigh of relief and get back to work as your backup plan kicks in…

Ransomware attacks are more common than ever, especially at smaller companies. That’s because small companies make easy marks for hackers. The average small business is much easier to hack than high-value, heavily fortified targets like banks and big corporations. According to Time magazine, cybersecurity experts estimate that several million attacks occur in the US alone every year. And that figure is climbing.

So how can you make sure you never have to sweat a ransomware attack or other data disaster? One sure solution is having a solid backup plan in place. When all your data and applications can be duplicated, you have plenty of options in the event of an attack. Here then are six ways to make sure you’re in good shape, no matter what happens to your current data:

Insist on regular, remote and redundant processes. A good rule of thumb is 3-2-1. That means three copies of your data are stored in two off-site locations and backed up at least once per day.

Guard against human error. Make sure people doing backups know exactly what to do. Take people out of the loop and automate wherever possible. And watch for situations where backups aren’t a part of someone’s regular duties.

Check backup software settings routinely. When new software or updates are put into service, a change in the way the settings are configured can cause incomplete backups, or backups that fail. Do the people who maintain your backups include this on their regular to-do list?

Make sure critical files aren’t getting left out. As resources are added and priorities shift, documents and folders can get misplaced or accidentally left off the backup list. Insist on a quarterly or annual meeting with your backup management team to make sure all mission-critical files are included in your organization’s data recovery systems.

Address network issues immediately. Any component in your network that isn’t working properly can introduce another point of failure in your backup process. Every juncture in your network, from a misconfigured switch to a flaky host bus adapter, can hurt your backups.

Ask for help with your data backup and recovery system. You cannot be expected to be an expert in all things. Yet data is the backbone of your business – its protection and recovery should not be left to chance. Leverage the knowledge, skill and experience of an expert who stays current with all the latest IT issues.

Data Recovery Review Reveals Backup System Vulnerabilities

Don’t let your company become yet another statistic. Just one ransomware attack can result in a serious financial blow if you’re not prepared. Visit wamsinc.com TODAY or call 800-421-7151 by April 30 for a FREE Data Recovery Review, ordinarily a $300 service. We’ll provide you with a complete on-site assessment of your current backup system to check for and safeguard against any gaps that could prove financially lethal to your business.

Why You Should Review Social Media Practices

With more and more social media platforms popping up all the time, it can be tough to keep track of social media policies and assess their effectiveness. However, if you fail to review them annually, your employees might get so obsessed with what’s trending on Twitter that they miss their deadlines. That would impact productivity and ultimately, your bottom line.

Avoid Legal Trouble
Do you remember Chipotle’s social media debacle in 2015? It lost a lawsuit for firing an employee that posted negative content on social media because it turned out that Chipotle’s social media policy violated federal labor laws. That’s why you should work with your legal team to keep your policies up to date: so they comply with the Federal Trade Commission and the National Labor Relations Board.

Protect Company Information
Social media policies can actually help safeguard sensitive data from hackers and cyber attacks, especially in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) working environment. Employees must know the proprietary company information that must never be shared, as well as understand that confidential information – such as marketing tactics, non-public financials, and future product launches – are to be communicated only ‘internally.’ A good example is General Motor’s social media policy, which clearly spells out what can and can’t be disclosed to the public.

Define Which Kinds of Social Media Activities Aren’t Allowed
Although posting offensive or insensitive material on a company-branded social media page being is an obvious no-no, it still happens. For the people handling your company’s social media, what precautionary mechanisms are in place to avoid a public relations disaster? Are there rules for different platforms? Beyond that, however, is a lot of gray area when it comes to if and how employees will be held accountable for what they post on their personal profiles. When social media policies clearly outline how employees should behave online and the punishments that come with violating that agreement, you can deter rogue employee posts and avoid a viral fiasco.

Effective social media policies need to be fluid and responsive to the fast-paced modern business environment. Taking the time out to perform yearly social media policy reviews will save your employees a lot of confusion while helping your company steer clear of potential PR and legal nightmares. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to send us an email or give us a call at 800-421-7151. We can direct you to software to help you monitor online activity.

Should Your Fear Government Surveillance?

Accusations of inappropriate government surveillance have been swirling after Wikileaks recently released thousands of pages supposedly detailing the CIA’s exploitation of compromised devices and applications. But in today’s climate, every headline needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Read on to find out what’s actually at stake and why you probably don’t need to worry.

What Devices and Apps are Supposedly Vulnerable?

Wikileaks labeled its ongoing release of 8,761 classified CIA documents “Year Zero.” Nestled among those files are tools and correspondence that explain how operatives could snoop on communications, downloads, and browsing history. Here is a list of the “affected” applications and hardware:

  • Windows operating systems
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Samsung Smart TVs
  • WhatsApp
  • Signal
  • Telegram
  • Confide

Those are some very big names, right? Thankfully, it’s mostly hyperbole. The reality of the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

Two Considerations before Freaking Out

First, almost all these exploits require physical access to devices before anything can be compromised. For example, news organizations repeatedly reported that WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and Confide all had encryption protocols that had been subverted by the CIA. That is 100% false.

What the documents actually revealed is that the CIA was aware of security gaps in Windows, iOS, Android and Samsung’s Tizen OS, which allowed the agency to snoop on messages before they were encrypted. Messages sent in these apps are still totally uncrackable as long as the devices they are installed on haven’t been physically compromised.

Takeaway #1: Physical security is still one of the most important aspects of cyber security. Most data security regulations require certain physical security protocols as a deterrent to breaches that take place via theft of social engineering – and for good reason.

The second reason not to worry is the hardware devices and operating systems that supposedly left encrypted messages vulnerable haven’t been sold for a long time. For example, only Samsung TVs from before 2013 were vulnerable to the always-on microphone bug — which was patched in an OS update years ago.

But what about iOS – surely that’s the scariest reveal of them all, right? Not quite. Only the iPhone 3G, discontinued in 2010, was susceptible to exploitation. Furthermore, Apple immediately responded that they were aware of this vulnerability and patched it in the version of iOS that was released in 2011.

Takeaway #2: Updating software is critical to keeping your data safe. As we saw in the Year Zero leaks, just one piece of outdated software can cause a domino effect of other vulnerabilities.

In reality, the most recent Wikileaks releases shouldn’t change your approach to cyber security at all. As long as you consider data security a never-ending battle, you’ll be safer than everyone too lazy or forgetful to lock up their server rooms or update their operating system.

But running a business doesn’t always leave you a lot of time for fighting a “never-ending battle,” does it? Fortunately, that’s exactly what we do for our clients every single day. To find out more about how we can keep you safe, call today at 800-421-7151.