Tag: security bytes

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Uncovering the Complexity and Potential Future Trends of Cyber Threats Faced by the U.S.

Uncovering the Complexity and Potential Future Trends of Cyber Threats Faced by the U.S.

America’s critical infrastructure, the Federal government, and commercial institutions are undoubtedly under attack. The sophisticated cyber threats facing the country emanate from various parts of the world. A wide selection of state actors and hacker groups are working tirelessly to paralyze critical infrastructure, steal sensitive information, and conduct cyber warfare.

These threats are also directed at individuals. Cybercriminals hack into computers, smartphones, and databases to steal social security numbers, credit card details, and login credentials.



Recent Attacks

In recent months, the U.S. has experienced a spate of ransomware attacks aimed at critical infrastructure, government agencies, and prominent companies. The targets include the Colonial Pipeline, municipal servers, and a meat-producing company, JBS. According to reports, attackers netted ransom money worth approximately $350 million in 2020 alone. Victims paid the ransom using digital currencies – mainly Bitcoin.

Ransomware attacks also affected healthcare centers, police departments, educational institutions, and the state government in 2020.

The United States witnessed a sharp rise in ransomware attacks following the Colonial Pipeline hacking. Cities and ferries took hits as bad actors intensified their illegal activities.

According to recent reports, hacker groups have been targeting federal networks for many years. More than three billion attacks occur in the United States annually. On the other hand, the cost of hardening the security of networks is significantly high. A Bloomberg study revealed that government agencies could block up to 95 percent of attacks by increasing cybersecurity budgets sevenfold.

Sources of Attacks

A report presented to Congress in 2011 showed that China and Russia employ hacking to steal sensitive technology and economic information. The report stated that these two countries adopted the strategy as part of their national policies. Information stolen from the United States helps Russia and China gain a competitive advantage. Both countries view the U.S. as a strategic competitor.

China boasts the most advanced cyber espionage and warfare capabilities. It leverages its extensive resources to launch aggressive cyberattacks on the United States and other countries. The Asian country hosts countless hacker groups and cyber warfare military units. These groups and units work tirelessly to deploy logic bombs in strategic U.S. targets.

Meanwhile, Russia takes advantage of its technological prowess to launch sophisticated attacks against specific targets. The country allegedly launched attacks against Estonia and Georgia’s government and banking websites.

Response

The Colonial Pipeline incident triggered serious concerns about cybersecurity in the oil industry. It forced President Joe Biden to sign an executive order to harden cyber defenses of the nation’s businesses, government agencies, and critical infrastructure.

Congress approved a bill to invest $500 billion in local and state cybersecurity. However, various stakeholders still need to implement more changes before the crisis comes under control. Some experts recommend enforcing strict cybersecurity guidelines for privately owned critical infrastructure.

Approximately 85 percent of critical infrastructure in the United States is in private hands. The companies operate water systems, electric grids, and pipelines. A significant portion of the critical infrastructure is vulnerable to ransomware attacks and other cyber threats.

On the other hand, experts consider the ransomware problem as far from over. As such, private companies and the government need to invest heavily in robust measures to thwart future threats.

Complexity

Law enforcement agencies face considerable challenges when it comes to stopping the spate of cyberattacks. Hacking groups and state actors employ highly sophisticated tactics from multiple locations worldwide. In some cases, governments help protect criminals from prosecution or extradition.

Limited consequences to cybercrime contribute to the rising cases. As a result, American law enforcers explore legal and diplomatic channels to arrest the bad actors. The attackers’ capabilities also present another challenge to intervention efforts by local authorities.

Criminals prefer ransom payments in cryptocurrencies due to anonymity benefits. Colonial Pipeline paid $4.4 million in Bitcoin to recover its systems. Although the FBI confiscated some of the Bitcoin, bad actors claimed some degree of success.

Many cyber criminals use hacking tool kits sold on the dark web. It is also ironic that the National Security Agency (NSA) developed some tools employed by hackers. The tools ended up in the wrong hands after a hacking group known as Shadow Brokers allegedly infiltrated another group run by the NSA.

Shadow Brokers released the tool that helped other cybercriminals unleash the WannaCry ransomware attack. More than 45,000 targets in 99 countries took hits in the attack. United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) was one of the most prominent targets.

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Everything You Need to Know About Windows 11

Everything You Need to Know About Windows 11

In the fall of 2021, Windows will be releasing its new operating system: Windows 11. Big improvements and new features are on the horizon for this new OS.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect.

Windows 11

What’s New With Windows 11?

We all know that past Windows modifications have been all too often catastrophic for users (we all remember Windows 8, right?). Certainly, many tech gurus are understandably wary of Windows 11 for this very reason.

The hopeful news, however, is that Windows’ recent “What’s Next for Windows” event got fairly good reviews. Here are some of the main changes that users can look forward to.

A Whole New Look, Including a New UI (User Interface) Design

The entire look of Windows has changed to what will hopefully be a more fluid, attractive design. Productivity is at the forefront, however, so the design will ideally fade into the background and functionality will take center stage.

One useful feature is the grid layout system, which allows you to predetermine where you want your apps to be located on the screen. A “Snap Navigator” helps you rearrange windows with ease.

Also, the Taskbar is on the move.

For what seems like time immemorial, the Taskbar has been on the bottom left of the Windows screen. We also had the live tiles, which are now gone. Now, your pinned and running apps will be moved to the middle (just as they are on Apple computers). You’ve still got “Start” over to the left, though — that hasn’t changed.

An Easier Way to Chat in Teams

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Microsoft Teams has been used by an exceedingly large population. Riding on this popularity wave, Windows has built the chat app directly into the Taskbar for ease of use. It’s simple to share pictures, videos, texts, and files with anyone, including family members, friends, and work associates. Calls can also be directly made from the Taskbar app, and there’s a handy mute button nearby when you want to turn your sound off.

Widgets Are In Again

Over the years, we’ve seen widgets come in and go out of style with both Windows interfaces and Apple computers. With Windows 11, widgets are back again, and they will use Edge for rendering as well as AI-powered personalization features. You can expand any widget to fit the entire screen and use it for tasks such as looking through Photos, scheduling on your Calendar, and organizing your to-dos.

Windows 11 Has the Touch

The overall touch experience has been enhanced with the new OS as well. Several new finger gesture options will be featured, and these will allow for faster changes between apps and easier manipulation of windows and images. Those users who make use of the Pen Workspace will be happy with the new usability improvements as well, including easy pinning of apps to the launch bar and a more fluid configuration overall.

Other Features

Here are several other features you can look forward to with Windows 11:

  • Multiple desktops
  • New docking features
  • Tablet mode more similar to desktop mode
  • New Microsoft Store, featuring Android Apps
  • Improved Settings app
  • Improved security features

To Stay or Not to Stay: Do You Really Have to Switch to Windows 11?

One of the final things we should note about Windows 11 is that you don’t actually have to upgrade to it if you don’t want to (for now anyway).

While free upgrades will be offered to some Windows 10 users in the fall during the general rollout, it’s not absolutely necessary that users upgrade until 2025, when Windows will officially drop support for Windows 10.

For some businesses, it may be fine to stick to Windows 10 if you prefer the way it operates and you have other software programs and hardware that must be used with Windows 10. As the years’ progress, however, it would probably be a good idea to switch over to Windows 11 as soon as you can. As outlined above, there are some great new features to look forward to with Windows 10. Moreover, software and hardware companies will be updating their programs and equipment to work with the new Windows operating system, and you don’t want to be left behind.

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Google Mulling Mandatory Two-Factor Authentication For All Users

Google Mulling Mandatory Two-Factor Authentication For All Users

Google plans to bolster the security of user accounts by making two-factor authentication (2FA) mandatory. This approach ensures that all user accounts require two-factor authentication by default. 2FA enhances cybersecurity by providing an additional defense barrier.

The tech giant kickstarted the process of introducing 2FA by testing the system with the help of users who already activated the feature. During the tests, Google will check the interaction between its apps and users’ smartphone prompts. Once the tests are complete, the company will automatically enroll all users into 2FA.

The implementation of mandatory two-factor will depend on insights from the testing phase. For this reason, Google plans to request users’ input to make the entire login process seamless, easier, and secure. It seeks to understand how users feel about the impending changes and consider users’ suggestions.

Google’s Mark Risher noted that the testing phase involves users who are less likely to find the change disruptive. The company intends to expand the two-factor authentication based on its findings from the test phase.

Risher, the director of product management for identity and user security, confirmed that many people previously viewed 2FA as challenging and tedious.

Many tech companies were apprehensive about implementing multifactor authentication, fearing the measure would discourage new signups. Thankfully, the situation has changed significantly, allowing most users to adopt the new security measure.

Google two Factor

Improved Security

Google is pushing towards a future without passwords as it views them as a weak link in the cyber defense ecosystem. The tech giant recently announced that up to 66 percent of US citizens still rely on the same password to access multiple websites and apps.

In doing so, users undermine account security. Cybercriminals buy and sell stolen login credentials on the dark web, allowing bad actors to gain illegitimate access to user accounts across multiple sites, including Google services like Gmail.

Google urges users to configure account security according to the recommended standards. Adhering to the minimum security requirements is a surefire way to mitigate risks posed by cyber-attacks.

With mandatory two-factor authentication, the system verifies the identity of users by dispatching codes via smartphones. These prompts become standard for all attempted logins into Google accounts. 2FA drastically reduces illegitimate access to user accounts. Identity verification via mobile device is undoubtedly a more convenient and safer authentication method.

Experts recommend using on-phone alerts than SMS messages because bad actors can intercept text messages.

Expanding Two-Step Verification Options

By making 2FA mandatory, Google demonstrates its commitment to implement the best security measures for all users. On the other hand, the company realizes the need to provide a wide selection of two-step authentication options. Doing so helps meet different users’ needs based on the accessibility of specific technologies.

According to Risher, Google is working tirelessly to ensure an equitable authentication experience. The company aims to achieve equal access by developing suitable authentication technologies. In the end, Google aims to eliminate the reliance on passwords.

Increased Adoption

Once Google makes 2FA mandatory, it hopes to influence the wider adoption of two-factor as a baseline standard for login authentication. The wider tech industry usually follows in Google’s footsteps. The tech giant continues to play a prominent role in web security transitions.

In the past, Google steered the tech industry towards sandboxing, auto-updates, and ubiquitous HTTPS encryption. When it comes to multifactor authentication, Google joins notable tech companies like Apple in introducing the security solution. In recent years, Apple started actively promoting the feature to its users.

Industry experts have praised recent efforts by leading companies to eliminate the reliance on simple credentials. These changes are highly beneficial to all account users. Financial institutions and healthcare organizations are increasingly adopting security measures that make two-factor authentication compulsory.

Increased cyber-attacks necessitate a radical shift in account security. The entire tech industry needs to complement each other’s efforts to maximize adoption levels.

Cybercriminals find it easier to compromise account security by stealing users’ passwords. Using the same password for several platforms allows bad actors to gain illegitimate access to more than one site. It is no surprise that Google considers the continued use of simple credentials like passwords as the biggest threat to cybersecurity.

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Cyber Criminals Are Actively Exploiting a WordPress Plugin Zero-Day

Cyber Criminals Are Actively Exploiting a WordPress Plugin Zero-Day

The Fancy Product Designer plugin — commonly used to configure visual products on WordPress, Shopify, and WooCommerce — has been compromised. Cybercriminals are actively looking for sites that use this plugin so as to exploit a recently-discovered vulnerability.

Wordpress Security

What Is a Zero-Day Exploit?

The term zero-day exploit, or just “zero-day” or “0-day”, refers to a type of vulnerability in computer software that the software vendor is aware of but that doesn’t yet have a patch or fix. During the space of time between when the exploit becomes known and when there is a patch or fix for it, the flaw makes the affected software extremely vulnerable to sinister activity.

Naturally, zero-day vulnerabilities are never intended. They are usually found where the software company least expected to find a problem. At the same time, it is up to the software company to alert affected users and to find a patch for the flaw as soon as possible. Keeping the public and/or private software users in the loop is the best thing a software company can do to help stave off complications such as leaked or corrupted data or other compromised resources.

What Is Fancy Product Designer?

Fancy Product Designer is a plugin. In other words, it’s a type of software that complements an already-existing software program with a unique feature.

In the case of Fancy Product Designer, the website explains that the plugin enables “you and your customers to design and customize any kind of product. Limited only by your imagination it gives you absolute freedom in deciding which products and which parts of the product can be customized.” As of early June, Fancy Product Designer had been installed on over 17,000 websites worldwide. These sites include WordPress sites, Shopify sites, and WooCommerce sites.

What Are Hackers Doing With the Exploit?

The bug in the Fancy Product Designer has made it possible for hackers to take advantage of Fancy Product Designer websites by deploying executable PHP files. This, in turn, allows them to entirely take over a website in any way they please.

As the majority of websites being exploited are selling something online — either a good or a service or both — most hackers will use this newfound power to obtain order information. The affected e-commerce sites will, of course, possess information such as personal names and addresses, credit card information, and in some cases, social security numbers and other personal data.

Zero-day exploits should be announced to the affected parties as soon as possible so that actions can be taken on the company level to deter hackers and possibly disable the vulnerable plugin entirely. Security preventions vary from company to company, so some affected businesses will already have security measures in place. However, others will not.

As for the Fancy Product Designer zero-day, the product designers announced that active exploitation had been going on since January 30th, 2021. A new, patched version of the plugin has been available since June 2nd, 2021, but it must be manually downloaded.

How Can I Avoid Running Into a Zero-Day Exploit That Affects My Company?

If you are a business owner or manager, chances are, you use at least one type of software to operate your company. Unfortunately, this means you’re at risk of being exploited by zero-day vulnerabilities.

These vulnerabilities crop up from time to time and are becoming relatively normal. As software and technology, in general, becomes an increasingly large part of daily life and business affairs, and as threat actors disappointingly become more adept at their craft, zero-day vulnerabilities will continue to be a problem.

The best way to combat these vulnerabilities is to start with prevention. Choose to work only with software vendors who prioritize cybersecurity. When software is as airtight as possible, zero-days are far less likely to be a problem.

Still, they do happen. To handle them well when they occur, choose your own top team of managed service providers. Again, you want professionals who prioritize cybersecurity and those who stay abreast of zero-days that may affect your company. Cutting off connections with infected software right away can prevent major problems down the line.

If you don’t currently have a reliable managed service provider you’re working with, start speaking with companies in your area today. The sooner you ensure your business’s cybersecurity, the sooner you can rest easy when it comes to zero-day vulnerabilities.

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Could A Colonial Pipeline-Style Cyberattack Disrupt Your Business?

Could A Colonial Pipeline-Style Cyberattack Disrupt Your Business?

The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack garnered national headlines after hackers caused widespread gasoline shortages along the Eastern U.S. seaboard. Among the hardest hit, North Carolina saw more than two-thirds of local pumps closed, and 80 percent of fueling stations in the nation’s capital ran dry.

Images of long gas lines and the reported $4.4 million ransom paid to the criminal organization known as DarkSide highlight the fact determined cybersecurity has never been more essential to corporate survival. The question business leaders may want to consider right now is whether sophisticated cybercriminals could penetrate your defenses and disrupt operations.

Colonial Pipeline Ransomware

How Devastating Are Ransomware Attacks on Businesses?

The internet provides digital thieves a global reach, and penetrating outfits such as Colonial Pipeline represent just the tip of the spear. DarkSide reportedly forced 47 business decision-makers to hand over upwards of $90 million in Bitcoin payments on the dark web alone, according to reports. If that figure raises concern that your organization could be hit in the near future, cybercrime statistics offer no solace.

A recorded 304 million ransomware attacks were orchestrated in 2020, representing a 62 percent increase from the previous year. The average ransomware demand topped $233,000, with hackers routinely negotiating higher payoffs from more lucrative corporations. Approximately 1 out of every 5 small businesses are the focus of an attack and 80 percent of mid-sized outfits are targeted by cybercriminals in this fashion. While hacks that create widespread disruption such as the Colonial Pipeline make national news, companies often close for two weeks even if they pay the ransom. It’s also not unusual for digital business hijackers to take the cryptocurrency money and not provide the decryption code necessary to restore operations.

Although media outlets reported that DarkSide was shuttering its underworld activities after accumulating substantial wealth, business professionals have every reason to be even more afraid of what comes next. What non-cyber security experts may not be aware of is that DarkSide does not typically lead to ransomware attacks. Its group of online miscreants operates what technology experts call “ransomware as a service.”

That means they craft malicious software for others inclined to target an organization. If your business has international rivals or appears like low-hanging fruit to anyone online, they could task DarkSide or another digital mafia outfit with creating a ransomware file to upend your company.

How To Protect Your Company From Cyberattack Disruption

The Colonial Pipeline hack illustrates the fact that companies with substantial resources can fall prey to a nefarious individual if they let their guard down for a second. Ransomware attacks, like other incursions, typically stem from some type of human error. In many cases, cybercriminals target wide-reaching organizations by sending out thousands of emails laced with malware. Sophisticated hackers such as DarkSide may employ social engineering to gain the trust of someone with access to the network. Once an employee falls for the trickery, they may divulge network access information and a hack ensues. The critical point is that people too often make innocent mistakes and that’s why the following measures remain mission-critical.

  • Require employees to use strong passwords.
  • Mandate password updates on a regular basis.
  • Have a cybersecurity firm integrate multi-factor authentication technology.
  • Ensure all devices possess commercial-grade firewalls and antivirus software.
  • Implement “zero trust” network policies that limit employee access.
  • Deploy virtual private networks for remote workers.
  • Provide ongoing cybersecurity awareness training to all personnel.
  • Create a system of cyber-threat alerts for imminent dangers.
  • Back-up all digital assets to the Cloud and redundant hard drives out of hackers’ reach.
  • Conduct cybersecurity audits that include penetration testing.

Despite the splashy Colonial Pipeline headlines, many industry leaders continue to lag in cybersecurity vigilance. According to research, only 57 percent of decision-makers had a cybersecurity risk assessment conducted in 2020. That may be why nearly 80 percent reportedly lack confidence their operation could withstand a cyber assault.

Business leaders have a rare opportunity to learn from the Colonial Pipeline and avoid disruption. By enlisting the support of an experienced cybersecurity firm, the necessary defenses and employee awareness training can be implemented promptly. In a world in which an Eastern Bloc hacker can attack any company on the planet, hardened cybersecurity defenses are job one.