The Internet of Things (IoT) relates to all those smart devices which can connect to your network and communicate with it, but how do you make the IoT safe?

We have smart devices not just at home, but also within our businesses and it’s no surprise to hear that it’s estimated up to 8.4 billion smart devices will be connected in 2017. Naturally, with such a huge number of devices accessing networks, it’s not surprise that they’re proving to be highly interesting to hackers.

As our business life is becoming more and more digital, the need for the IoT is increasing just as rapidly, that’s why I’m going to share 6 tips to keep the IoT secure.

1.  Understand What’s Connected

It’s important that you know which devices are regularly connected to your network. By understanding which devices offer a route into your network, you’re able to take preventative measures to help safeguard against any vulnerabilities. Make sure that a database is kept and regularly updated to include any new hardware so that you can fully understand the reach of your IoT.

2.  Keep IoT Devices on a Separate Network

If one of your IoT devices is compromised by a hacker then this represents a threat to everything on that network, so it’s important that you segment all your IoT devices onto a separate network. In the event of an IoT device being hacked you can then limit the data on offer to the hacker.

3.  Don’t Leave Devices Connected for Longer than Necessary

It’s impossible to hack a smart device which isn’t plugged in, so to completely minimize the risk it’s highly recommended that smart devices are disconnected from the network when they’re not being used. This is a good security practice that needs to be communicated to all employees as anything can be hacked be it a printer or a webcam.

4.  Always Install Firmware Updates

As with any other piece of hardware or software, firmware updates for smart devices need to be installed as soon as possible. Not many people are aware of the security risks associated with smart devices, so firmware updates are often ignored – this is why hackers are starting to target them more and more often. So, once you see that update request, make sure you click it.

5.  Limit Personal Device Usage

99.9% of the population appears to have a smartphone, so this means that almost all of your employees will be bringing a smart device to work every day. And, to ensure that they can keep up to date with Facebook, they’ll be piggybacking onto your company WiFi to create an internet connection. Therefore, it’s important that you limit personal device usage or, at least, create a sign in method which uses company email addresses. 

6.  Password Protect Everything

Finally, you must make sure that you password protect every single smart device within your business. As previously mentioned, it’s easy to assume that a printer is never going to get hacked, but it happens. By establishing a set of passwords (all different of course) for all your smart devices you’re putting that extra layer of defense in front of your business. And the more defenses you have, the less attractive your network becomes to hackers.

For more ways to secure and optimize your business technology, contact your local IT professionals.

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It’s easy to talk about the IoT (Internet of Things) security issues in theory, but what actually happens when the IoT gets hacked?

Understanding exactly what happens when IoT devices get hacked and how they get hacked is crucial in helping to protect your organization. Knowledge, of course, isn’t a cast iron guarantee you will avoid be hacked, but it certainly puts you in a much stronger position.

Let’s take a look at four real life examples of the IoT being hacked.

Unsecured University IoT

Verizon’s Data Breach Digest 2017 report details the example of an unnamed university where the network was flooded with Domain Name Service (DNS) requests for seafood restaurants. Whilst it sounds like a student prank, it was actually an outside attack by hackers which used 5,000 IoT devices such as vending machines and lighting systems. The hack was achieved through a brute force attack which took advantage of weak passwords so that malware could be deployed and bring the university’s network to a standstill.

IoT Cameras Hacked

The popular IoT security camera range – NeoCoolCam – has been found to contain a major security flaw which means that they can easily be hacked from outside the network they’re on. Given the security nature of the devices, these cameras can easily be compromised for unauthorized surveillance or even as a stepping stone to get even deeper into a network. Researchers at Bitdefender have found that all it takes is for the easily accessible login screen to be manipulated in order to take control of any of the 100,000+ cameras currently in use.

The Mirai Botnet

Poor password management is one of the biggest flaws in data security and the Mirai botnet certainly takes advantage of this. A piece of malware which infects network devices running on Linux, Mirai instructs these devices to constantly search the internet for vulnerable IoT devices. The fatal flaw contained within these IoT devices is that their factory set default username and passwords have not been changed. As Mirai is loaded with a list of these default details, it’s able to quickly take control of these devices and Mirai was even involved with an attack on Liberia’s internet infrastructure.

Hacking a Jeep

Perhaps the most disturbing and dangerous example of IoT devices being hacked is the case of a Jeep Cherokee 4×4 vehicle being compromised. Security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek were able to identify a zero day exploit which allowed them to send instructions to the vehicle through its entertainment system. Not only did this provide them with the opportunity to remotely change the in-car temperature, they could also influence the vehicle’s steering and braking systems. All it required was knowledge of the individual vehicle’s IP address to take control.

All four of these examples demonstrate just how far behind that IoT device manufacturers are when it comes to the security of their devices. Naturally, the manufacturers have a lot to do to ensure that their devices are safe from the moment they’re installed, but the owners of these devices also need to be mindful of good password practices.

For more ways to secure and optimize your business technology, contact your local IT professionals.

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Microsoft has been forced into rushing out an emergency security update to help counter security flaws that have been discovered in modern processors.

Discovered by Google’s Project Zero team, these bugs, called Meltdown and Spectre, have the potential to offer up highly sensitive information such as encryption keys, live access to running applications and passwords. As you can imagine, this is a major issue especially as the problems are likely to affect Intel, AMD and ARM processors.  This accounts for nearly all computers, smart phones, servers tablets and laptops on the planet.

Due to the widespread reach of these security flaws, I’m going to give you the lowdown on the situation and how the emergency security update is going to help.

Compromised Processors

To understand what’s happening with these compromised processors we need to take a look at the kernel. Now, you may be wondering what the kernel is, so here’s a quick explanation: the kernel is the beating heart of any operation system and, much like a heart, helps to manage everything happening in the PC. And this is why the kernel memory holds such sensitive information such as login and password details.

Meltdown demo showing a password being read from memory

Unfortunately, a flaw in the aforementioned processors allows other programs – which aren’t part of the kernel – to access the kernel memory. Usually, processors would simply ban any non-kernel applications accessing the kernel memory, but, by an admittedly rather complicated process, it’s possible to exploit this vulnerability and remove any obstacles. The kernel’s memory can then be not only accessed, but also changed by any external application.

Sample code showing the execution of Spectre

Microsoft has issued security patches pretty quickly in response to Google’s findings, but just how effective are they? Well, seeing as the fault lies within a piece of hardware, it’s difficult for a software patch to be an all-in-one solution. Whilst Microsoft’s patches will address the issue it’s not as effective as they would like, with the main drawback being a reduction in performance. The nature of a software patch is that it contains additional instructions for the kernel to carry out and adhere to, so this creates extra work for the operating system.

Whilst the patches for AMD and ARM processors are not affected by this slowdown in performance, Intel processors are going to be significantly affected with estimates of up to a reduction of 5 – 30% in performance. Naturally, any organization that wants to remain competitive needs their technology to be working to its full potential, so the impact of this lag in performance is very troubling in a business sense.

It’s reasonable to assume that older machines, with much less available memory, are likely to be hit hardest by these firmware and software updates. Going forward, new processors by the affected manufacturers are likely to avoid this error during their testing and manufacture thanks to information shared with them by Google, but this isn’t going to help those using PCs suffering the most extreme slowdowns.

However, the performance slowdown for most users is likely to be around 10% and this reduction is unlikely to be noticeable unless your PC has an exceptionally heavy workload. And, most importantly, the slight reduction in processor speed is surely more favorable than having highly sensitive data exposed to malicious parties.

For more ways to secure and optimize your business technology, contact your local IT professionals.

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The internet of things (IoT) is getting us connected like never before, but with its increase in popularity, the security challenges are intensifying.

With IoT creating an unprecedented number of connections into our organizations, it’s no surprise that hackers are viewing it as a potential entry point as opposed to traditional routes such as email attachments or USB sticks. And, as IoT is such a new technology, the vast majority of users aren’t as well schooled in the accompanying security challenges.

If you can understand these security challenges, though, you’re maneuvering your organization into a highly advantageous position. You may be wondering what the main security challenges that IoT faces are, so let’s take a look!

  • Updates aren’t always automatic – PC updates never used to be automatic and this used to leave them open to attack. Thankfully, software/hardware manufacturers quickly realized the importance of this and built automatic updates into their products. Although this approach still relies on human compliance to authorize, it’s highly effective. With IoT devices, however, there’s such a rush to bring out new products mean that firmware updates are allocated little priority, so IoT devices can soon become unprotected. 

  • IoT devices are relatively simple – Many IoT devices are limited in their capabilities, be it in terms of storage or memory. Whilst this allows them to remain compact and low cost, it also leads to a lack of room for security. As a result, they become susceptible to security attacks and the chance of adequate encryption being in place is unlikely. Therefore, it’s crucial that extra security steps are put in place such as specific networks with dedicated firewalls to help house these IoT devices. 
  • More devices mean more monitoring – The amount of devices which can make up the IoT is staggering, but it also means that there’s an increased security risk. With all these entry points in your organization’s networks, the amount of data which needs monitoring is going to increase dramatically. And this means that you need to monitor the data coming in and out of your organization much more closely. Leading to increased labour and technology costs, this is one of the most pressing challenges presented by the IoT. 
  • Predicting and preparing for attacks – Advances in technology mean that more and more devices are entering the IoT market which, on one hand, means accessibility for almost anything you can think of is possible but, on the other hand, it’s making threat detection more difficult. Pinpointing exactly how a hacker will abuse an IoT device is difficult – will they use it as a stepping stone into your network? Will they simply misuse the device? Or a bit of both?

These challenges could easily be misinterpreted as a list of reasons why you shouldn’t get involved with the IoT, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, these are challenges which, if tackled correctly, can help your organization get the best out of the IoT. Sure, there’s going to be a level of investment and new structures to consider, but what price can you put on progress?

For more ways to secure and optimize your business technology, contact your local IT professionals.

 

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A backup can be the difference between your business trading and not trading, but it’s crucial that you test your backup to make sure it works.It’s nice to have the safety net of a backup to keep your data close at hand in the case of a data emergency, but this alone can’t be a guarantee that it’s safe and recoverable. And that’s why I would always recommend that you test your backup to help make your restoration as seamless as possible.

Understanding what to test and what to look for is vital when it comes to safeguarding the data in your backup, so I’m going to take you through some of the most basic checks.

Putting Your Backup Under the Microscope

What are the most important factors to take into account when testing your backup? Well, you can’t go wrong with the following:

  • Restore to multiple locations – A common mistake made with restoring backups is to only test them on the intended server or PC that they will be restored to. However, in the case of a data emergency can you honestly know for sure that specific servers or PCs will still be working? It’s possible for hackers to destroy servers, so it’s important that backup solutions are available e.g. laptops and temporary servers. Make sure that backups to these locations are tested as there could be compatibility issues behind them that need eliminating.
  • Scan the restored directories – It’s highly important that you monitor exactly what gets restored during your test backups. Remember, unless you investigate the contents of a folder then you can’t know for sure exactly what is in there. This may sound labor intensive, but once you’ve tested your backup and confirmed that entire directories are being restored, there’s less need to worry.
  • Don’t Just Test Once – Your network’s properties can change on a daily basis, so – although it’s not essential to test on a daily basis – you want to make sure that regular tests are carried out over the course of each month to ensure that factors such as software updates and configuration changes are taken into account. By regularly testing your restore, you’re minimizing the room for errors when your data is restored.
  • Test ALL your applications – Your organization’s IT continuity relies heavily on the ability to have access to all your applications, so it’s essential that you make sure all of these work following a restore. After all, whilst having access to your databases will be highly beneficial, if you’re unable to access your email server then you’re going to face all manner of communication issues.
  • Safeguarding your restore process – Your backup may be capable of fully restoring all your data and ensuring that your organization can continue to operate, but what if your restore software doesn’t work or the procedures aren’t understood? This can present a severe problem, so make sure that you keep install disks of your restore software and, whilst testing, make sure you document the entire process as this knowledge can easily be lost.

For more ways to secure and optimize your business technology, contact your local IT professionals.

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