Just Because You’re Not a Big Target, Doesn’t Mean You’re Safe
Not too long ago, the New York Times’ website experienced a well-publicized attack, which raises the question – how can this happen to such a world-renowned corporation? If this can happen to the New York Times, what does this bode for the security of a small company’s website? What’s to stop someone from sending visitors of your site to an adult site or something equally offensive?
The short answer to that question is nothing. In the New York Times’ attack, the attackers changed the newspapers’ Domain Name System (DNS) records to send visitors to a Syrian website. The same type of thing can very well happen to your business website. For a clearer perspective, let’s get into the specifics of the attack and explain what DNS is.
The perpetrators of the New York Times’ attack targeted the site’s Internet DNS records. To better understand this, know that computers communicate in numbers, whereas we speak in letters. In order for us to have an easy-to-remember destination like nytimes.com, the IP address must be converted to that particular URL through DNS.
Therefore, no matter how big or small a company’s online presence is, every website is vulnerable to the same DNS hacking as the New York Times’ site. The good news is the websites of smaller companies or organizations fly under the radar and rarely targeted. Larger targets like the New York Times, or LinkedIn, which was recently redirected to a domain sales page, are more likely targets.
For now… There is no reason to panic and prioritize securing DNS over other things right now. But there is a belief that DNS vulnerability will be something cybercriminals pick on more often down the road.
Here are a few ways to stay safe
Select a Registrar with a Solid Reputation for Security
Chances are, you purchased your domain name through a reputable registrar like GoDaddy, Bluehost, 1&1, or Dreamhost. Obviously, you need to create a strong password for when you log into the registrar to manage your site’s files. Nonetheless, recent DNS attacks are concerning because they’re far more than the average password hack.
It was actually the security of the registrars themselves that was compromised in recent attacks. The attackers were basically able to change any DNS record in that registrar’s directory. What’s particularly frightening is the registrars attacked had solid reputations. The New York Times, along with sites like Twitter and the Huffington Post, is registered with Melbourne IT. LinkedIn, Craigslist and US Airways are registered with Network Solutions. Both had been believed to be secure.
So what else can be done?
Set Up a Registry Lock & Inquire About Other Optional Security
A registry lock makes it difficult for anyone to make even the most mundane changes to your registrar account without manual intervention by a staff registrar. This likely comes at an additional cost and not every domain registrar has it available.
Ask your registrar about registry locking and other additional security measures like two factor authentication, which requires another verifying factor in addition to your login and password, or IP address dependent logins, which limits access to your account from anywhere outside of one particular IP address.
While adding any of these extra safeguards will limit your ability to make easy account change or access your files from remote locations, it may be a worthwhile price to pay.
In an age where most business happens online, not showing up in Google search results can really hurt you. While there’s no real shortcut to showing up consistently on web searches, there are a few quick fixes to get your site to show up on your potential customer’s search results…
1. HTML tags – Important HTML tags include the title tag, meta description and meta keywords. Make sure each page of your website has appropriate HTML tags. The title tag of each page should be unique and relevant to that particular page.
2. Alternative text images – Ensure that most of the images on your website have alternative text tags. Alt tags are basically descriptions for images. By adding relevant alternative tags to images, you are allowing search engines to recognize them, which will improve the likelihood of your page showing up in search results.
3. File hierarchy – How simple is your HTML file hierarchy? Check to see if your website’s pages are logically situated and avoid too many unnecessary folders. For example: ‘NFL=>Teams=>PittsburghSteelers’ is a better folder structure than ‘NFL=>Teams=>NFCEast=>PittsburghSteelers’, because here ‘NFCEast’ is redundant and only serves to push the Steelers page deeper down the order. This complexity makes your site less likely to show up on search results for people searching for Steelers websites.
4. Sitemap – A sitemap acts as a navigational guide for your visitors as well as search engines. Does your website have one? If not, then it’s time to put up a site map on your website.
5. Content quality – Read your website content to determine its quality. Is your content written for search engines or actual visitors? Is it stuffed with keywords? Does it truly add value to your audience, or is simply there to fill up the page? Answer these questions and make sure it has value for your audience. Value for your audience translates to better search engine rankings.
Small-to-medium sized businesses and large enterprises may seem worlds apart, but they face many of the same cyber-security threats. In fact, in recent years, cyber-criminals have increasingly targeted SMBs. This is because it’s widely known that SMBs have a smaller budget, and less in-house expertise, to devote to protection. Thankfully, there are several things SMBs can do today to get more from even the most limited security budget. And, no, we aren’t talking about cutting corners. Far too often, SMBs cut the wrong corners and it ends up costing them more money in the long run. It’s a matter of taking a smarter approach to security. Here are five smart approaches to take
Prioritize – Every business has specific areas or assets critical to its core operations. Seek the input of valued staff and team members to determine what these are. Is there certain data that would be catastrophic if it was lost or stolen? If hackers compromise a network, or prevent access to certain applications, how disruptive would it be to daily business operations? What kind of potential threats or vulnerabilities pose the greatest risk to the company or your customers/clients? Focus on the most likely risks, not theoretical risks that “could happen.” Asking such questions gives you a clearer more complete perspective as to where to focus available security resources.
Develop and Enforce Policies – Every SMB needs to implement a security policy to direct employees on appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviors relative to network, systems, and data security. Merely drafting this document isn’t enough. Employees must be held accountable if they fail to adhere to policy. Such policies should be updated regularly to reflect new technology and cultural shifts. For example, a document written before social media took off, or before the BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) movement, doesn’t necessarily apply today.
Education – Ongoing end user training must be provided. Many security breaches happen because employees fail to recognize phishing schemes, open emails from unknown sources, create poor passwords that are seldom changed, and don’t take proper precautions when using public Wi-Fi connections on personal mobile devices also used for work.
Take to the Cloud – Running applications and servers in-house is a costly endeavor. Leveraging the cloud today allows SMBs to cut costs while also strengthening their security. Cloud operators typically have built-in security features, alleviating SMBs of the burden of maintaining security themselves. Today, not only can SMBs shift much of the burden of IT to the cloud, but they can also outsource much of their security by taking advantage of the remote monitoring, maintenance, and security tools provided by Managed Service Providers (MSPs).
Don’t Aim for Perfection – There is no such thing as perfect security. Striving for perfection is expensive and can prove to be more costly in the end. Improving protection and response would be a more ideal allocation of funds. It can take a hacker several months to figure out your systems and do real damage. Having the ability to quickly detect their presence, and mitigate any potential damage they may cause, is a more realistic and less expensive approach than thinking you can completely remove any probability whatsoever of a hacker breaching your system.
Everyone in the office loves Eric. Sporting a different ironic t-shirt everyday, Eric is the one we call when technology spits in our face. Whether it’s a slow system, a bug that needs to be squashed, a website issue, or a crash that results in unexpected downtime and data loss, Eric is right there. Not only does he get to the bottom of any issue but he also rights the ship like he’s some sort of miracle-working captain who just happens to have a pretty wickedly funny Peter Griffinfrom Family Guy impersonation.
But business is growing and Eric is overworked. Eric has certain skills that you’d love to use to develop innovative applications and revenue-generating projects– but he’s too busy running around fixing things that break. Or he’s performing the most mundane and routine tasks day-in-and-day-out just to keep things secure and running smoothly.
You get a sense that Eric’s overburdened and he’s saddled with too many responsibilities. His demeanor has changed from pleasant to moody. He’s listening to angrier metal and punk music and you’re noticing cracks in his work. You fear Eric is being pulled in too many directions and the reliability of your server, network, and applications, as well as the integrity of your data, are all at risk.
Someone who has watched a bit too much of Donald Trump on The Apprentice might think Eric should be fired. We’re not going to fire Eric. But we’re also not going to hire a full-time salaried Robin to his Batman or Cheech to his Chong. We’re going to help Eric by exploiting IT automation and managed services to handle many of the monotonous tasks making Eric hate his job right now.
Let’s help Eric…..
Focus Primarily on Cost-Cutting and Revenue Increasing Projects: First things first, Eric has to realize that he can’t do everything himself. Where are his skills best used? Whether it’s processes that help drive down costs or ones with the potential to raise revenue, evaluate the projects in the queue and rank them by what impacts the bottom line the most.
Once that’s done, look at the day-to-day processes designed to keep things running securely and efficiently. What can be off-loaded from Eric? Determine which of those tasks can be automated either through the cloud or managed services.
Take to the Cloud: Some IT people fear the cloud spells the end to their job security. Meanwhile, the cloud can actually help them take on a more prominent contributing role in the company’s success. The cloud should be seen as another tool that further eliminates the mundane yet necessary daily drudgery from their workday. Those who work WITH the cloud will find that they have more available time to take on more meaningful cost cutting or revenue generating projects.
Use a Managed Service Provider: Using outsourced managed services not only alleviates much of Eric’s pressure and stress, but also boosts productivity and gives the company a much improved ROI (Return-on-Investment) on their technology investment.
While technology has gotten easier for the end user, it has become more complex on the backend with the advent of virtualization, cloud computing, and advanced infrastructure.
Using an MSP gives Eric access to a trusted advisor, a 24/7 help desk, remote monitoring and management tools, mobile device management tools, and much better disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. All without the overhead that comes with hiring more help for Eric. MSPs offer a consistency to not just your end-user but also your main IT guy who will certainly appreciate the help.
A recent article by The Guardian (UK) states that the cloud industry is set to see a growth of around 30% soon. But many small and medium business owners are still struggling to make sense of the cloud and how it can benefit them. If you are one of them, then here’s what’s in store for you when you migrate to the cloud:
1. Connectivity – Being on the cloud gives you unparalleled connectivity to your data—from anywhere and at any time. All you need is a device that can connect you to the web and you are set!
2. Save On Hardware Costs – Using the cloud for certain programs spares you the cost of investing in specific hardware. Even devices as simple as your smartphone or a tablet can help you access those applications so you don’t have to spend money on dedicated hardware. Studies have shown that cloud users end up enjoying as much as a 17% IT cost reduction compared to their non-cloud counterparts.
3. Cloud Enables SAAS – The cloud allows you to use software as a service. Microsoft 365 is one such example. When you use software as a service, you enjoy certain benefits such as more regular updates at a lower cost and the ability to have anyone work on the program for you by sharing the access credentials with them.
4. More Efficient Use of IT Staff – Moving to a cloud-based environment puts the burden of maintenance and downtime reduction on your service provider. That means you can use your limited IT staff more efficiently and also don’t have to worry about the costs associated with such maintenance or downtime.
5. Improved Productivity – Studies have shown that cloud users enjoy better productivity than their non-cloud counterparts. This could be because cloud service providers are better equipped to handle any IT eventualities than the average SMBs.
So, perhaps it’s time to ‘get cloudy’ and enjoy all that the cloud has to offer your SMB. And…if you need help in doing that, we are just a phone call away!