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Welcome to Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

I’m here to help

Would you feel comfortable with an EVIL STRANGER lurking inside your home with you and your family?

If you answered Yes to that… may as well just keep scrolling because this post is totally not for you…

We live in a time where online predators can enter our homes through the devices we use. We call these devices IoT (Internet of Things) I call them “Internet of Threats”. And in many cases you won’t have any idea they are watching or listening to you!

I’m told when I do speaking events that I tend to scare people when it comes to Cybersecurity. If you think this post is meant to scare you then… NAILED IT!

It is important that you take precautions to remove the risk of this happening. You don’t want to be another victim like that child who was talking to the predator through their bedroom security camera!

PLEASE make sure you enable two factor authentication on your accounts. It isn’t bullet proof but it is far better than not having it.

Do this on your social media accounts, your e-mail accounts, your banking accounts and EVERYWHERE that supports it.

I’ll just wait right here staring at you while you go do that…

Did you know that unprotected devices like many internet connected security cameras get indexed on a public site so that anyone can get access to them?

So, PLEASE do me a favor today and enable two factor authentication! If you ever need help setting up two factor authentication or (MFA) Multi Factor Authentication reach out so I can help.

NSA Warns Smartphones Leak Location Data

The agency known for its own questionable surveillance activity advised how mobile users can limit others’ ability to track where they are.

Mobile devices expose location data in more ways than most people know, and turning off services such as Find My Phone, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can help mitigate tracking, but are no silver bullet that prevents a third party from tracking users. That’s advice shared by U.S. top spy division, the National Security Agency (NSA).

The NSA released the advisory (PDF) this week informing people of the various ways mobile phones, by design, give up location information—which go beyond the well-known Location Services feature that people use on a regular basis. The agency also provided some tips on how privacy-minded people can limit the ways they’re being tracked.

Indeed, cybercriminals have been known to take advantage of the ability of smartphones to pinpoint a person’s location in the form of security threats such as stalkerware, spyware, socially-engineered phishing campaigns and others.

The NSA is in the business of collecting information and data for intelligence purposes using signals for the U.S. military and the intelligence community, and was notoriously outed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 for collecting surveillance on citizens in the United States via their telephone and computer activity.

But now the agency seems to be making a 180-degree turn and trying to help people protect themselves and hide their location data from anyone—from threat actors to law enforcement to even the government itself—who wants to find them using their mobile devices.

The move is inline with the release of Ghidra, a free, open-source software reverse-engineering tool that was released by the agency in 2019. It also comes as mobile location information is becoming more critical in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities aim to use mobile phone location data to help with contact tracing—or locating people who may have come in contact with an infected person—to try to control the spread of the virus.

NSA Privacy Awareness Campaign

Most people are aware that location services on devices can pinpoint where they are so people can have access to services in the area, as well as share their location with friends via mobile apps such as WhatsApp, among other useful activities.

But there are other activities on a mobile device that share location about which people may be less informed, the NSA said. One is the mere act of turning it on, which due to the trust relationship between cellular networks and providers, sends real-time location information for a device every time it connects to a network.

“This means a provider can track users across a wide area,” according to the agency. While this can be helpful, such as in the case of 911 calls, it also can put someone at risk if that info falls into the wrong hands, according to the NSA.

“If an adversary can influence or control the provider in some way, this location data may be compromised,” the agency warned, adding that network providers also have been found—and subsequently fined by the FCC for–selling data, including near-real time location data, to third-parties.

Other services that people use regularly such as Find My Phone, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth also provide device location data on a nearly constant basis when turned on, the NSA said, advising people to turn off these services when they are not in use to help mitigate any external tracking.

People also make the common mistake of confusing Location Services for GPS, which are not the same thing. Even if Location Services and mobile data settings are turned off for a device, it can still be tracked using GPS, the NSA said.

“Disabling location services only limits access to GPS and location data by apps,” the according to the advisory. “It does not prevent the operating system from using location data or communicating that data to the network.”

Even turning off a device’s cellular service, such as when it’s in Airplane Mode, does not totally protect someone from having their location pinpointed, the NSA warned.

“Inconspicuous equipment (e.g., wireless sniffers) can determine signal strength and calculate location, even when the user is not actively using the wireless services,” according to the advisory. “Even if all wireless radios are disabled, numerous sensors on the device provide sufficient data to calculate location.”

Even if people are vigilante and aware of the myriad ways their smartphones reveal their location, they can’t totally avoid having this data exposed, the NSA said. Ultimately, they can only reduce the amount of location shared and the ways third parties can have access to that information.

CCPA: Everything you need to know about California’s new Privacy law

The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The most sweeping data-privacy law in the country kicks in Jan. 1. The CCPA, short for the California Consumer Privacy Act, gives residents of the Golden State the right to learn what data companies collect about them. It also lets Californians ask companies to delete their data and not to sell it.

The full impact of these new rights isn’t entirely clear because the regulations used to enforce the law are still being finalized. Still, companies inside and outside California are already scrambling to become compliant so that they can continue to do business in the country’s most populous state.

Nearly two years in the making, CCPA has prompted other states to consider their own privacy laws, some of which have already passed. The law is often compared to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, currently the benchmark for online privacy.

Here’s what you need to know about CCPA and how it will affect you.

Is this law a big deal?

Yes. Before it went into effect, companies weren’t legally required to tell you what data they’d collected and you had little say over what they did with it. Now, if you live in California, you’ll be able to ask them to delete it or refrain from selling it.  

What personal data does this cover?

CCPA covers all the stuff you might expect: your name, username, password, phone number and physical address. It also includes information used by companies to track your online behavior, such as IP addresses and device identifiers.

The law also covers information that can be used to characterize you, like race, religion, marital status, sexual orientation and status as a member of the military or veteran. It also covers biometric information like fingerprints or facial recognition data, your browsing history and location information.

Data found in public government documents is excluded, so companies can still learn if you’re married, for example. However, they have to collect that data directly from government records, not from other sources such as your social media accounts.

Can I tell Facebook and Google to get rid of my data now? 

Yes. In fact, some major tech companies, including Facebook and Google, already let you delete some or all of their data about you from their systems.

These tools might not do exactly what you’d expect, though. For example, Facebook has begun rolling out a feature that lets users “disconnect” the data it’s collected about your web browsing, but doesn’t fully delete it. Instead, it disassociates your name and profile from the data, which anonymizes it. Facebook then combines the data with other people’s, allowing it to monitor broader trends. 

CCPA still allows companies to use anonymized data. However, the law sets a high bar for separating your identity from the information, with the aim of stopping someone from re-identifying a person from the data.

What happens if companies don’t follow the law?

Businesses can be fined $2,500 per violation, or $7,500 if the violation is found to be intentional. That could mean big fines if the violations affect large groups of consumers. The California Attorney General is in charge of investigating companies suspected of violating the law.

Critics say companies will be able to get away with breaking the law because the attorney general doesn’t have the resources to catch every violation. Xavier Becera, the AG, has said publicly that his office isn’t equipped to fully enforce the law. He pushed for the passage of an amendment, which failed to pass, that would have let users sue companies directly.

The law gives Californians the right to sue businesses in one specific instance: if their personal information is lost in a data breach caused by a company’s negligence. Legal observers expect this to increase class action lawsuits against companies after they’re hit by hackers.

The law gives Californians the right to sue businesses in one specific instance: if their personal information is lost in a data breach caused by a company’s negligence. Legal observers expect this to increase class action lawsuits against companies after they’re hit by hackers.

Can I still use free services if I ask them not to collect my data?

Yes. The new law says companies can’t turn away users if they opt out of the sale of their data. However, the companies can give you a stripped-down version of their offerings if you go this route.

The point is to prevent companies from charging all users who don’t want their data sold. That would leave users who can’t afford a subscription in the lurch, forcing them to allow the sale of their data so they can use services we’ve all come to rely on to communicate and access information.

If companies want to charge users who opt out of the sale of their data, the law says they have to disclose how much a user’s data is worth.

I don’t live in California. Will this law affect me?

Almost assuredly. While you won’t enjoy the right to opt out of the sale of your data or ask companies to delete it, you’ll learn more about what companies are collecting about you. The law requires for-profit business to describe in their privacy policies and the categories of data they collect about users.

Many companies are likely to extend some of these rights to everyone. That way, they won’t have to fuss with deciding whether the law applies to you, and they won’t risk denying a user their rights under the law by mistake.

Finally, the state of California is often at the forefront of new forms of legislation, including plastic bag bans, animal welfare laws and worker protections. Once California passes a law, other states tend to consider following suit. California is the country’s largest market with nearly 40 million residents, and carries a lot of weight. Already, nine other states are considering similar laws, and Maine and Nevada have already passed narrower versions of privacy legislation.

How is this different from that other big privacy law, the GDPR?

GDPR applies to companies with users in the European Union, and it regulates how companies can collect the same kind of personal information as CCPA does. However, the European law puts some stricter controls on how companies must approach collecting user data.
First, GDPR requires companies to get consent to collect data or to have some other valid reason for collecting user information. Secondly, it requires companies to minimize the data collected. CCPA doesn’t require companies to go through these steps to collect personal information, so any limits on data collection will be imposed by individual users who make requests to delete and opt out.

I heard there might be a federal privacy law. Where does that stand?

After the California legislature passed CCPA, several major tech companies told federal lawmakers they would like to see one privacy law that covers the whole country. Legislators have submitted several different laws since then, and the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on two competing bills in December.

Several aspects of a federal bill are up for debate, including whether consumers should be able to sue companies directly for violations, and how much authority to give regulators who would enforce the law. 

Thank you Laura Hautala for the great breakdown of CCPA.

Top 5 Cyber Attacks You Should be Aware for Your Business

DSA Technologies works with a wide range of businesses, that face many of the same security challenges over and over. Most of these issues are preventable or can at least be mitigated with the right care and awareness. Here’s what the resident expert Michael Reese at DSA Technologies shared with being the most common problems that you should keep an eye out for.

  1. Phishing Schemes
    Phishing is the crime of deceiving people into sharing sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers. Nearly all successful cyber-attacks begin with a phishing scheme. These attacks are responsible for over $12 billion losses globally! Usually the attack is delivered in the form of an email and will demand that the victim go to a website and take immediate action. If the user clicks the link, they are sent to a fake website that imitates a real website. From here, they are asked to login. The criminal now has your information to cause more damage.
  2. Cloud Cyber Security Threats
    Cloud computing, or the use of an internet source to store information, has grown significantly. Most people assume that cloud storage is safe, but this isn’t necessarily the case. If your provider offers minimal security your sensitive data could be easily accessible to hackers. The amount of security your cloud server offers is usually in the terms and conditions. These can be muddy waters. Don’t be afraid to talk to an expert on how to navigate these threats.
  3. Ransomware/Malware Ransomware
    is like malware in that they are both criminal software used to take control of your computer and/or your information stored. Ransomware attacks are on the rise. Companies like DSA Technologies can help you build your line of defense through software against this type of attack. It’s estimated that an organization will fall victim to ransomware every 14 seconds in 2019. A single attack could leave you out of business for a week or more. Could you afford to be out of business that long?
  4. IoT (Internet of Things) What I call “Internet of Threats”
    IoT devices include internet enabled devices (i.e. iPhones, Amazon Alexa, Printers). There will be more than 20 billion IoT devices by 2020. How are the increasing amounts of data being secured? In most cases it’s not. There are manufacturers who have no security on their IoT devices, meaning anyone can access them. With so many devices being used, businesses should be aware of the security in place on IoT devices. Each device represents a different access point for attacks. With the rise of internet enabled devices the rise of attacks is inevitable. Ensure that your devices for your business are secure to protect sensitive data.
  5. Single Factor Passwords
    Single factor passwords are when you use a username and a passcode to log in. This is traditional and the method most websites maintain. Unfortunately, most passwords can be cracked in a matter of minutes. A second line of defense can help you and your business protect your data. An added defense line is the use of multi-step or two-step authentication passwords. This means that to log into your account, you can enter your password, but then a second step will require you to enter additional information, like a unique code sent to your cell phone. Having at least two steps make hacking your account more difficult in turn making your data less of an appealing target.

    DSA Technologies’ resident Cyber Security Expert, Michael Reese is there to assist businesses tighten their security.
    Visit DSA Technologies to learn more about how they can assist your business.

New bill would give parents an “Eraser Button” to delete kids data

.@NakedSecurity: New bill would give parents an ‘Eraser Button’ to delete kids’ data – The COPPA overhaul would ban targeting ads at kids under 13 and ad targeting based on race, socioeconomics or geolocation on kids under 15.

Two US senators on Tuesday proposed a major overhaul of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that would give parents and kids an “Eraser Button” to wipe out personal information scooped up online on kids.

The bipartisan bill, put forward by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), would also expand COPPA protection beyond its current coverage of children under 13 in order to protect kids up until the age of 15.

The COPPA update also packs an outright ban on targeting ads at children under 13 without parental consent, and from anyone up until the age of 15 without user consent. The bill also includes a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” that limits the collection of personal information on minors.

The proposed bill would also establish a first-of-its-kind Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that would be responsible for addressing the privacy of children and minors and marketing directed at them.

“Rampant and nonstop” marketing at kids

Markey said in a press release that COPPA will remain the “constitution for kids’ privacy online,” and that the senators’ proposed changes would introduce “an accompanying bill of rights.”

As it is, Markey said, marketing at kids nowadays is rampant and nonstop:

In 2019, children and adolescents’ every move is monitored online, and even the youngest are bombarded with advertising when they go online to do their homework, talk to friends, and play games. In the 21st century, we need to pass bipartisan and bicameral COPPA 2.0 legislation that puts children’s well-being at the top of Congress’s priority list. If we can agree on anything, it should be that children deserve strong and effective protections online.

The right of kids to be forgotten

The proposed law has the flavor of the EU General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR), what with the greater control it grants citizens over how their personal data is obtained, processed, and shared, as well as visibility into how and where that data is used.

The citizens, in this case, would be children and their parents, who would be entitled to get their hands on any personal information of the child or minor that’s been collected, “within a reasonable time” after making a request, without having to pay through the nose to get it, and in a form that a child or minor would find intelligible.

The bill also requires that online operators provide a “clear and prominent means” to correct, complete, amend, or erase any personal information about a child or minor that’s inaccurate: in other words, what the senators are calling an Eraser Button.

What would change?

These are the specific privacy protections that the bill would strengthen:

  • Prohibiting internet companies from collecting personal and location information from anyone under 13 without parental consent, and from anyone 13 to 15 years old without the user’s consent.
  • Banning targeted advertising directed at children.
  • Revising COPPA’s “actual knowledge” standard to a “constructive knowledge” standard for the definition of covered operators. Here’s a discussion of the difference.
  • Requiring online companies to explain the types of personal information collected, how that information is used and disclosed, and the policies for the collection of personal information.
  • Prohibiting the sale of internet-connected devices targeted towards children and minors unless they meet robust cybersecurity standards.
  • Requiring manufacturers of connected devices targeted to children and minors to prominently display on their packaging a privacy dashboard detailing how sensitive information is collected, transmitted, retained, used, and protected.

Recently, the FTC has been flexing its COPPA bicep like never before. Last week, video-streaming app TikTok agreed to pay a record $5.7 million fine for allegedly collecting names, email addresses, pictures and locations of children younger than 13 – all illegal under COPPA.

These tech companies know too much about our kids, and we don’t know what they’re doing with that data, Senator Hawley was quoted as saying in Markey’s press release:

Big tech companies know too much about our kids, and even as parents, we know too little about what they are doing with our kids’ personal data. It’s time to hold them accountable. Congress needs to get serious about keeping our children’s information safe, and it begins with safeguarding their digital footprint online.

“Landmark legislation”

Markey’s press release quoted multiple children’s rights campaigners who lauded the bill. One was Josh Golin, Executive Director, Campaign for Commercial-Free Children, who called it “landmark legislation.”

The Markey-Hawley bill rightly recognizes that the internet’s prevailing business model is harmful to young people. The bill’s strict limits on how kids’ data and can be collected, stored, and used – and its all-out ban on targeted ads for children under 13 – would give kids a chance to develop a healthy relationship with media without being ensnared by Big Tech’s surveillance and marketing apparatuses. We commend Senators 
Markey and Hawley for introducing this landmark legislation and urge Congress to act quickly to put children’s needs ahead of commercial interests.

Citrix admits attackers breached its network

.@NakedSecurity: Citrix admits attackers breached its network – what we know – On Friday, software giant Citrix issued a short statement admitting that hackers recently managed to get inside its internal network. According to a statement by chief information security officer Stan Black, the company was told of the attack by the FBI on 6 March, since when it had established that attackers had taken “business documents” […]

Citrix admits attackers breached its network – what we know

WikiLeaks publishes ‘biggest ever leak of secret CIA documents’

The 8,761 documents published by WikiLeaks focus mainly on techniques for hacking and surveillance

The US intelligence agencies are facing fresh embarrassment after WikiLeaks published what it described as the biggest ever leak of confidential documents from the CIA detailing the tools it uses to break into phones, communication apps and other electronic devices.

The thousands of leaked documents focus mainly on techniques for hacking and reveal how the CIA cooperated with British intelligence to engineer a way to compromise smart televisions and turn them into improvised surveillance devices.

The leak, named “Vault 7” by WikiLeaks, will once again raise questions about the inability of US spy agencies to protect secret documents in the digital age. It follows disclosures about Afghanistan and Iraq by army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 and about the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ by Edward Snowden in 2013.

The new documents appear to be from the CIA’s 200-strong Center for Cyber Intelligence and show in detail how the agency’s digital specialists engage in hacking. Monday’s leak of about 9,000 secret files, which WikiLeaks said was only the first tranche of documents it had obtained, were all relatively recent, running from 2013 to 2016.

The revelations in the documents include:
1. CIA hackers targeted smartphones and computers.
2. The Center for Cyber Intelligence, based at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, has a second covert base in the US consulate in Frankfurt which covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
3. A program called Weeping Angel describes how to attack a Samsung F8000 TV set so that it appears to be off but can still be used for monitoring.

The CIA declined to comment on the leak beyond the agency’s now-stock refusal to verify the content. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents,” wrote CIA spokesperson Heather Fritz Horniak. But it is understood the documents are genuine and a hunt is under way for the leakers or hackers responsible for the leak.

WikiLeaks, in a statement, was vague about its source. “The archive appears to have been circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive,” the organization said.

The leak feeds into the present feverish controversy in Washington over alleged links between Donald Trump’s team and Russia. US officials have claimed WikiLeaks acts as a conduit for Russian intelligence and Trump sided with the website during the White House election campaign, praising the organization for publishing leaked Hillary Clinton emails.

Asked about the claims regarding vulnerabilities in consumer products, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said: “I’m not going to comment on that. Obviously that’s something that’s not been fully evaluated.”

Asked about Trump’s praise for WikiLeaks during last year’s election, when it published emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman, Spicer told the Guardian: “The president said there’s a difference between Gmail accounts and classified information. The president made that distinction a couple of weeks ago.”

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, said the disclosures were “exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective”. WikiLeaks has been criticized in the past for dumping documents on the internet unredacted and this time the names of officials and other information have been blacked out.

WikiLeaks shared the information in advance with Der Spiegel in Germany and La Repubblica in Italy.

Edward Snowden, who is in exile in Russia, said in a series of tweets the documents seemed genuine and that only an insider could know this kind of detail. He tweeted:
The document dealing with Samsung televisions carries the CIA logo and is described as secret. It adds “USA/UK”. It says: “Accomplishments during joint workshop with MI5/BTSS (British Security Service) (week of June 16, 2014).”

It details how to fake it so that the television appears to be off but in reality can be used to monitor targets. It describes the television as being in “Fake Off” mode. Referring to UK involvement, it says: “Received sanitized source code from UK with comms and encryption removed.”

WikiLeaks, in a press release heralding the leak, said: “The attack against Samsung smart TVs was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s MI5/BTSS. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the internet to a covert CIA server.”

The role of MI5, the domestic intelligence service, is mainly to track terrorists and foreign intelligence agencies and monitoring along the lines revealed in the CIA documents would require a warrant.

The Snowden revelations created tension between the intelligence agencies and the major IT companies upset that the extent of their cooperation with the NSA had been exposed. But the companies were primarily angered over the revelation the agencies were privately working on ways to hack into their products. The CIA revelations risk renewing the friction with the private sector.

The initial reaction of members of the intelligence community was to question whether the latest revelations were in the public interest.

A source familiar with the CIA’s information security capabilities took issue with WikiLeaks’s comment that the leaker wanted “to initiate a public debate about cyberweapons”. But the source said this was akin to claiming to be worried about nuclear proliferation and then offering up the launch codes for just one country’s nuclear weapons at the moment when a war seemed most likely to begin.

Monday’s leaks also reveal that CIA hackers operating out of the Frankfurt consulate are given diplomatic (“black”) passports and US State Department cover. The documents include instructions for incoming CIA hackers that make Germany’s counter-intelligence efforts appear inconsequential.

The document reads:

“Breeze through German customs because you have your cover-for-action story down pat, and all they did was stamp your passport.

Your cover story (for this trip):

Q: Why are you here?

A: Supporting technical consultations at the consulate.”

The leaks also reveal a number of the CIA’s electronic attack methods are designed for physical proximity. These attack methods are able to penetrate high-security networks that are disconnected from the internet, such as police record databases. In these cases, a CIA officer, agent or allied intelligence officer acting under instructions, physically infiltrates the targeted workplace. The attacker is provided with a USB stick containing malware developed for the CIA for this purpose, which is inserted into the targeted computer. The attacker then infects and extracts data.

A CIA attack system called Fine Dining provides 24 decoy applications for CIA spies to use. To witnesses, the spy appears to be running a program showing videos, presenting slides, playing a computer game, or even running a fake virus scanner. But while the decoy application is on the screen, the system is automatically infected and ransacked.

The documents also provide travel advice for hackers heading to Frankfurt: “Flying Lufthansa: Booze is free so enjoy (within reason).”

The rights group Privacy International, in a statement, said it had long warned about government hacking powers. “Insufficient security protections in the growing amount of devices connected to the internet or so-called ‘smart’ devices, such as Samsung smart TVs, only compound the problem, giving governments easier access to our private lives,” the group said.


Cyber Ransom vs. Ransomware

By now, we have all heard about ransomware as it has taken over the cybersecurity scene over the last couple of years. However, we want to make sure that everyone is clear about the difference between cyber ransom and ransomware, as there is a very clear distinction. Cyber ransom and ransomware attacks have been the most popular forms of cyberattacks as of late.

Cyber Ransom

The most common form of cyber ransom is through a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. In a DDoS attack, hackers flood a business’ site with data requests, overwhelming the site’s legitimate functions. The flooding eventually forces that website to shut down. As far as the ransom is concerned, cybercriminals will threaten to launch an attack on an organization’s site unless the organization pays a ransom fee of a certain Bitcoin amount.

Another form of cyber ransom is through corporate extortion which is becoming more and more popular. This type of attack can be carried out in several ways. One approach, which Domino’s in Europe was hit with, is where a cybercriminal sends out a ransom letter threatening businesses with negative online reviews, complaints to the Better Business Bureau, harassing telephone calls, or fraudulent delivery orders.

Another variation of corporate extortion is where cybercriminals perform a data breach, where they gain access to a company’s network and gather sensitive data. The data collected is usually information on their clients such as credit cards, social security numbers, email addresses, and login credentials. While this seems like data breaches that we have heard about recently (Yahoo, Adult Friend Finder, and several social media sites), cybercriminals who are involved in corporate extortion are in it for the money. Once cybercriminals have performed the data breach, they will threaten to publicly release the information unless the company pays a set ransom fee.


Ransomware is the most common form of cyberattack seen today. In a ransomware attack, the cybercriminal will infect a machine with malware that encrypts all or some files on a user’s computer. Once the encryption process has completed, a ransom note will appear on the victim’s screen demanding payment in order to receive the decryption key. Payment for the decryption key is usually made in Bitcoins, which are extremely hard to trace back to the hacker. Ransomware is most commonly distributed through phishing campaigns where cybercriminals will send emails embedded with malware. Once the user on the receiving end clicks on a link or opens up an attached file, the malware will begin to download, and the encryption process will begin.

Cyber Ransom and Ransomware Connected

  • Cyber Ransom – Cybercriminals threaten to launch a DDoS attack on an organization’s site unless the organization pays a ransom fee.
  • Ransomware – Cybercriminals infect machines with malware that encrypts all or some files, then demand a ransom fee to receive the decryption key.


When put in these terms, cyber ransom and ransomware seem like they wouldn’t be connected at all. However, cybercriminals are becoming more and more sophisticated with their attacks every single day. So, here’s the kicker. Cybercriminals are starting to use the threat of DDoS as ‘smokescreens’ for more wicked attacks, such as ransomware. The hackers will use DDoS attacks to distract the IT department, so they are able to slip under the radar without being detected. While the DDoS attack or the threat of one will only distract IT individuals for a short time, that’s all the time hackers need. While the IT staff scramble to handle the momentary network outages, hackers can use automated scanning or penetration techniques to map a network and install ransomware.
To stop these types of attacks, look at some of the new technologies that continuously monitors your network traffic.

Obama’s Call for Encryption ‘Compromise’ Is Hypocritical


Image: screengrab

During his keynote speech at South By Southwest, President Barack Obama addressed the ongoing debate over encryption. Although he declined to discuss the specifics of the San Bernardino case, in which Apple is currently fighting a court order to hack its own device, the president spoke in more general terms about privacy and security. Obama joined several other political figures in calling for the tech industry to enable expanded law enforcement access to encrypted data.

Obama also advocated for the use of encryption by the government, saying that the technology is crucial to preventing terrorism and protecting the financial and air traffic control systems. But the president argued argued that ordinary citizens also need to expect some intrusion into their phones in order to ensure a safe society. Obama compared the weakening of encryption to going through security at the airport—an intrusive process, but a necessary sacrifice for citizens to make. (Obama’s own devices are, of course, secured with strong encryption.) In his speech, Obama said:

So we’ve got two values, both of which are important. And the question we now have to ask is, if technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there’s no key. There’s no door at all. Then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot? What mechanisms do we have available to even do simple things like tax enforcement? Because if, in fact, you can’t crack that at all, government can’t get in, then everybody’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket. So there has to be some concession to the need to be able get into that information somehow.

Obama said the tech community should “balance these respective risks,” suggesting that the industry had not been proactive enough in compromising on encryption and that, if it failed to compromise, it risks being cut out of the conversation entirely by Congress. “I’m confident that this is something we can solve, but we’re going to need the tech community, software designers, people who care deeply about this stuff, to help us solve it,” Obama said. He added:

Because what will happen is, if everybody goes to their respective corners, and the tech community says, ‘You know what, either we have strong perfect encryption, or else it’s Big Brother and Orwellian world,’ what you’ll find is that after something really bad happens, the politics of this will swing and it will become sloppy and rushed and it will go through Congress in ways that have not been thought through. And then you really will have dangers to our civil liberties, because the people who understand this best and who care most about privacy and civil liberties have disengaged, or have taken a position that is not sustainable for the general public as a whole over time.

In Obama’s telling, the tech industry is painted as a spoiled child who runs back to his corner and disengages with the debate, snatching up his toys and taking them back to his mansion when he realizes he doesn’t like the way the game is being played. It’s a compelling image, and one that the industry, which is widely perceived as elitist and uninclusive, will have a tough time combatting.

But the industry has compromised on this issue, collaborating with law enforcement to provide access to data for criminal prosecutions. In the San Bernardino case, Apple has provided access to iCloud backups of the shooter’s phone and offered suggestions on how to create additional backups before it was revealed that the shooter’s iCloud password had been reset at the behest of the FBI.

Tech companies also routinely provide unencrypted metadata to law enforcement, which can provide a detailed portrait of a suspect’s life: where he’s been, where he is currently, who he communicates with, how regularly he communicates with others and how long the conversations last.

The government also wields a powerful investigative tool in CALEA (the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act). CALEA compels service providers like AT&T and Verizon to build backdoors into their systems to allow for real-time monitoring of suspects by law enforcement.

Yet another instance of compromise is Apple’s encryption of iCloud. As security expert Jonathan Zdziarski pointed out in post on his blog, iCloud offers an example of the type of “warrant-friendly” encryption that Obama called for in his SXSW keynote.

“I suspect that the answer is going to come down to how do we create a system where the encryption is as strong as possible. The key is as secure as possible. It is accessible by the smallest number of people possible for a subset of issues that we agree are important,” Obama said. His suggestion for solving the encryption debate mirrors the solution Apple has already developed for securing iCloud data: that data is encrypted, but Apple maintains access so that it can comply with warrants.

But, Zdziarski notes, the 2014 hack of celebrities’ iCloud accounts illustrates the dangers of “compromise” encryption.

“The iCloud’s design for ‘warrant friendliness’ is precisely why the security of the system was also weak enough to allow hackers to break into these women’s accounts and steal all of their most private information,” Zdziarski wrote. “The data stored in iCloud is stored in a weaker way that allows Apple to service law enforcement requests, and as direct result of this, hackers not only could get into the same data, but did. And they did it using a pirated copy of a law enforcement tool—Elcomsoft Phone Breaker.”

Obama mentioned this particular concern in his speech. “Now, what folks who are on the encryption side will argue, is any key, whatsoever, even if it starts off as just being directed at one device, could end up being used on every device. That’s just the nature of these systems,” he said. “That is a technical question. I am not a software engineer. It is, I think, technically true, but I think it can be overstated.”

Obama is right—it’s technically true that any key can end up being used on every device.

The president isn’t the only politician to call for compromise on encryption and he certainly won’t be the last, but what the FBI is asking for in the San Bernardino case (and beyond it) isn’t compromise—it’s total compliance. Compromise suggests that tech companies and law enforcement agencies will meet in the middle, each conceding some of their demands in order to find common ground. The industry has made an effort to do so by providing metadata, real-time surveillance, and data backups to law enforcement.

But Obama’s comments suggest that none of this information is enough—encryption needs to be completely backdoored in order for there to be “compromise.” If the government refuses to acknowledge the concessions that have been made and continues to demand universal access to encrypted data while clinging onto strong encryption for itself, there is no compromise at all. It’s just the government getting exactly what it wants, snatching up all its toys and heading back to its mansion.

5 Innocent Mistakes That Cause an IT Security Breach


Security breaches, also known as a safety violation, occur when a person or application illegally enters a confidential IT border. This could result in the hacking of unauthorized data, services, networks and applications that are highly critical.

Breaches can also cause bankruptcy and destroy a company’s reputation, which is why most businesses hire an IT solutions company. However, not all security breaches are intentional; mistakes can trigger a security violation, as well, and without any warning.

Here are five innocent mistakes that lead to an IT security breach.

Device Theft or Loss

A lost or stolen device like a smartphone or laptop causes 3.3 percent of confirmed security breaches and 15.3 percent of overall incidents.

People who forget their devices in a public place or vehicle have higher chances of losing their gadgets because of theft. Most of these cases are opportunistic and involve a huge number of public departments.

When the thief takes advantage of the device, he can access the person’s confidential images, videos, documents and business files without IT security measures in place.

Document Errors

Document-related errors are some of the common causes of a data breach. A few examples of these include forwarding sensitive information to incorrect recipients, publishing private data to public web servers, and carelessly disposing of confidential work data.

These events usually occur internally and accidentally. When this happens, hackers can use the stolen information as blackmail or as an asset to their group. They can also access bank accounts and other documents related to finance.

Weak and Stolen Credentials

Hacking is the biggest cause of security attacks, which is primarily instigated by weak passwords and stolen credentials. Employees who have access to password-protected files and applications should take caution when unlocking these documents, especially when the company asset contains confidential information.

If you are working on a public computer, avoid clicking on the “remember password” option, so that intruders won’t have the opportunity to access private accounts if your computer gets hacked.

Additionally, you should never leave your password in an open computer file or even written on a sticky note affixed to your desktop, as this can be used by an external actor like a service person to access the organization’s intranet.

At the same time, it is important that you create a strong, non-obvious password that includes numbers, symbols, and capital and lower-case letters. One of the most effective techniques is the Bruce Schneier Method, which takes a sentence and turns it into a strong password.

There are also password-generating sites and password managers that throw out efficient and strong passwords.

Internet Spyware

Did you know that over 50% of security breaches are caused by employees misusing access privileges? Whether maliciously or unwittingly, employees who naively click pop-up browsers or install a malicious application can welcome spyware on a company’s system.

Spyware is a type of malware that enters a computer without the knowledge of the owner to collect private information about internet interaction, keylogging, passwords and valuable data. Spyware can either be on a file you downloaded online or a malicious hard drive inserted on your desktop. This can also be found in unauthorized web searches and varying computer settings.

The risk of a security breach is very high with spyware but you can prevent this by generating a virus scanner and avoiding malicious websites and illegal downloads at work. Companies should also take the first step by implementing a spy trap, which is basically a filter for all work systems.

Vulnerable Systems and Applications

Using outdated software and web browsers can cause serious security concerns. Attack methods become more advanced each year, and hackers increase the number of ways that they can violate vulnerabilities like these.

When outdated systems regularly connect to the internet, they can submit valuable information online without the user knowing it.

You can prevent security breaches by taking note of these basic pointers.

  • Take care of your personal data, especially when on the road. Every time you bring your data on the go, you are opening yourself to a multitude of security risks. For example, when you access public Wi-Fi, you disseminate your information to the immediate public and to hackers who use meticulous processes to breach data. Avoid this by investing in a personal hotspot or by subscribing to your provider’s mobile data services.
  • Create strong passwords. Never create a password that contains basic personal information like your surname or birthday. Hackers can easily identify this and use it in your work and personal accounts. A strong password should be a combination of characters, numbers, and symbols. Apart from this, don’t use one password for every account you own. Although it may be easy to remember, it’s also easy to hack.
  • Be careful of file sharing. You share a number of important files every time you work with multiple clients. No matter how much you trust a colleague, you never know where he will use the data you shared. To prevent malicious use of relevant documents, make sure that the files you share with your clients are only for work purposes. If you share documents through a cloud, immediately delete the final ones after use.

The number of security breaches increases every year, but there are plenty ways to protect yourself and your company from this. Keeping your data secured is the most efficient way to prevent damaging security breaches.


About the Author: Vlad de Ramos has been in the IT industry for more than 22 years with focus on IT Management, Infrastructure Design and IT Security. Outside the field, he is also a professional business and life coach, a teacher and a change manager. Vlad has set his focus on IT security awareness in the Philippines and he is a certified information security professional, a certified ethical hacker and forensics investigator and a certified information systems auditor.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of TheDigitalAgeBlog.