ransomware attacks in various industries

7 Industries Where Hackers Are Using Ransomware

ransomware attacks in various industries

Even before WannaCry spread throughout the world at an alarming rate, infecting millions of public and private organizations along the way, ransomware had already taken foothold across various parts of the world since 2012 and has been responsible for disrupting the everyday functions of all types of organizations in various industries. In many cases, the payment that the hackers demand in the form of ransom can range in the tens of thousands of dollars. And with 76 percent of ransomware attacks striking via email, the probability of ransomware attacks reaching your industry is high. Below are just some of the industries where ransomware has taken root:

1. Healthcare

Gone are the days of depending solely on handwritten logs, and hospitals are no exception when it comes to record keeping. With huge databases storing and patient records managing as well as other medical files, security is extremely important to health providers. Because medical data is highly valuable, hospitals are repeated targets of ransomware attacks long before WannaCry crippled several UK hospitals with devastating consequences. In February 2016 for example, it was reported that the Hollywood Presbyterian Memorial Medical Center paid $17,000 in bitcoin to restore and regain access to their systems. The hospital cited that paying up was the most effective way to quickly remedy the situation. The Hollywood Presbyterian case was one of the earliest cases in which a ransomware attack attempted to shut down a hospital, and it won’t be the last.

2. Entertainment

The infamous Sony hacking revealed that the entertainment industry is a major target of cyberattacks. The leak ended up costing the company millions thanks to  associated costs like legal fees, restoration fees and system upgrades. Last month, hackers obtained a copy of Netflix’s original series Orange is the New Black and threatened to leak episodes of the new season if ransom was not paid. The company remained unresponsive prompting the hacking group behind the threat to leak the episodes. While hackers did not compromise the internal systems themselves, it is evident that ransomware attacks have inspired cyber crooks to hold valuable web assets, in this case an entire online series, hostage for ransom.

3. Hospitality & Tourism

In the hospitality and tourism industries, it is top-notch customer service that sets a company apart from its competitors. After all, a happy customer is a loyal customer, and companies will go to great lengths to ensure customer satisfaction. For one Austrian luxury hotel, a ransomware attack meant customer safety may have been compromised. Initially, reports claimed hotel guests were being physically locked out of their rooms through their electronic door locking system until ransom was paid. Fortunately, their internal system was able to unlock the keypads but no new room keys could be issued. The ransomware attack prompted the company to not only pay up but also switch back to traditional keys.

4. Government

Because of their influence in public affairs, government and its officials have also become major targets of cyber attacks. Although government systems are sure to be highly secured, there is always the possibility of a hacker breaking into the system. Earlier this year, the democrats in Pennsylvania’s state Senate became victims of a ransomware attack leaving the government officials unable to access their computer network. While there was no indication on whether sensitive data had been compromised, officials declined to reveal further information or whether or not backups were installed. Besides monetary gain, there is no definite way of telling whether the ransomware attack was politically motivated.

5. Education

Educational institutions rely heavily on computer networks to store and manage data for both faculty and staff. From emails to school records, it’s hard to imagine how administrators can operate an entire school without access to computers. A ransomware attack would mean student records and grades are inaccessible, which can bring chaos with a new semester quickly approaching. Such was the case with the Los Angeles Community College District who agreed to pay a hefty sum of $28,000 to regain access to their systems and data after being hit with a ransomware attack. The school was able to use money from a cybersecurity insurance policy to cover the demands of the hackers and were given the decryption keys to unlock files and restore the files back to the computers.

6. Public Services

We rely on core infrastructure like electricity to operate our cities but because the average person is not typically at the forefront of these operations, we rarely think of the severe consequences that a potential ransomware attack on these key infrastructure may have on our daily lives. For example, an attack aimed at a city’s water treatment plant can mean repercussions for water management utilities and the general population’s heating, and air conditioning systems. At a recent RSA Conference, security researchers simulated a ransomware attack and demonstrated how hackers could hold critical utilities hostage until the city paid ransom (in this particular simulation, threatening to release dangerous levels of chlorine into water supplies, which would make water unsafe to drink). San Francisco’s transit stations were hacked in a similar case, leading city officials to open fare gates and to shut down ticket kiosks.

7. News media

Many find new sites to be credible sources of information, but that doesn’t mean readers are not subject to cyber attacks when visiting their sites. Big media names are a source of the current news around the globe, meaning daily readership is high, so what better way for hackers to reach their target of tens of thousands of readers through ads? Media sites such as The New York Times, the BBC, MSN, and AOL became victims of cyber attacks after hackers injected malicious ads into their sites which forcefully install ransomware on the computers of the visitors. While the ransomware did not infiltrate the computer networks of the big media sites, ransomware attacks found another pathway through malicious ads.  



Corporations or even small and medium sized businesses who were not affected by WannaCry should still be wary of ransomware attacks. Ransomware has hit different industries across the board, and with ransomware evolving to target IoT devices (coined “jackware”) there is a growing need to secure key infrastructure and vulnerable industries. Applying preventative measures like monitoring security networks and performing regular penetration tests to exploit the weaknesses in the network can be an effective form of defense but it’s not the only defense. For more information on managing ransomware check out these tips.


ciso working at business from a window

Why More Companies Are Looking for a CISO


A growing number of web and data threats has companies scrambling to find someone to take charge.

Since the birth of computing, there’s been a need for the “IT-guys,” the ones you could call when an issue required technical assistance and would come running to the rescue. But with the dotcom boom of 2000, this need has spiked even more. Not only has technology changed from centralized computer centers to cloud environments, but hackers’ strategies for attacking have become increasingly complicated. While IT geniuses used to be portrayed in popular TV shows or movies as hooded loners in basement corner offices, now the IT department is an integral part of any enterprise dealing with sensitive and valuable information. In fact, some companies are going as far as to place a Chief Information Security Officer, or CISO, in their c-suite.

While many ask if there really is a need for a CISO when you could simply have an IT-manager to look over the security of the organization, more companies are scrambling to find someone to take charge of this sensitive area, and we stand behind them in that choice. Here are three reasons that hiring a CISO can work in your company’s favor.

Preventing Damage Before It Happens

First and perhaps most obviously, a CISO’s job is to make sure that the information and assets of a company are secure. Unlike Chief Security Officers (or CSOs), a CISO has the added responsibility of making sure that digital assets are protected. This makes life a bit harder as digital assets don’t have a tangible presence, meaning that simply locking it in a safe and guarding it won’t do much in terms of security.

There are various things that CISO can do after an incident in order to take care of the damage, but a large part of being a CISO involves setting up protocols so that damage can be prevented before it even happens. For example, they can set up access controls so that only a select few at the corporation have access to certain servers and permissions, backup storage regularly, and utilize encryption solutions to protect sensitive data. CISOs are also the ones that have the final say in which web or data security solution to go with; whether it’s a web application firewall (WAF) or WAF service, data encryption solution, or a multi-factor authentication system, the CISO has it under control.

executive-2051414_1920Aligning Security Policy with Business Outcome

However, at this point you might say that the above is something that even an entry-level employee could do, if given the time and resources. However, most will agree that in any company, there’s a large gap between different departments. The IT department may not understand sales, business development might not understand web developers, etc. These miscommunications may be from the language, demeanor, or even the strategic mindset that the other may hold. While before, security managers were mainly technical in nature, at the end of the day, the corporation must stay financially viable in order to continue. Therefore, now the CISO must have both business and technical skills and ultimately be the senior-level executive who’s responsible for balancing the technical policies along with the business factors.

He or she is, in a way, a bridge to connect the gap between the two sides. A CISO offers a unique perspective on how to deal with the risks and dangers of data breach that neither side may be able to grasp. The CISO is a difficult position to fill because of this balance of business and technical: most corporations look for someone with an academic background in information security and/or business with CPA, CISSP or PMP certifications, OWASP or CISO forum memberships, as well as 10+ years of experience in information systems leadership. Not an easily acquired curriculum vitae.  

The Face of Security

Last of all, having a CISO for the organization tells the world that your company stresses the importance of valuing customer data. While other companies may be fully capable of dealing with vulnerabilities and threats on their own, customers can gain a tremendous amount of respect for a company if they’re able to see publicly and visibly that there is someone working on the company’s behalf to secure their sensitive information.

Many CISOs will work inside the office as well as outside to educate partners and the general public on information security issues. Other companies may see this and also be encouraged to hire their own CISO. If companies start to prioritize information security as much as they do finances, executive administrative duties, and technology and put a face to information security among the top level of executives, perhaps the entire world of business and industry will start to put security at the forefront of business decisions.

Smartest IoT devices

The 10 Smartest IoT Devices to Look Out For in 2017

Smartest IoT devices

According to Gartner, we should expect to see 8.4 billion connected devices by the end of this year, a 31% increase from 2016. With an increasing number of businesses jumping on the IoT bandwagon, it seems like every day there is a new connected device out on the market. Even a simple internet search on “IoT devices 2017” spews a comprehensive list of both current and upcoming smart devices that users can try out relatively easily. Smart devices are certainly no longer restricted to smartphones, tablets, and computers. In fact, the new IoT trend is gravitating toward the “home automation space,” meaning the concept of a smart home is not just a fantasy but an accessible reality. Lifestyle and home IoT appliances are making life easier and convenient, streamlining our household duties after a long day at work. From automatic smart cleaning devices to smart coffee machines, IoT is not only making life easier but also saving us time and money. Excluding smartphones and computers, here is a list of our top picks for the 10 smartest IoT devices and gadgets that you can look out for this year.

1. Smart Locks

Sometimes we leave our homes only to suddenly start wondering if we forgot to lock our doors. We’ve all been in this nightmare situation, so smart locks were obviously one of the first things that became “smart” when it comes to home appliances in IoT. Smart locks are in fierce competition as the industry is steadily growing. Researchers predict the smart lock market to reach USD$1.101 billion by 2024. Smart locks are also getting creative as several smart locks like the Schlage smart lock now allow for intuitive voice commands and include guest-access features. Others opt for simplicity, allowing you to unlock your doors with the tap of a finger on the lock itself.

2. Smart Sprinklers

Garden lovers, have you ever wanted to automate your watering habits? Besides giving you full control from the convenience of your smartphone, smart sprinklers like Rachio minimize runoff, saving you water and money in the long run. It also lets you input specific yard details such as plant types, soil types, and sun exposure to give you a more customized watering schedule. Like with most IoT devices, you can monitor the status of your yard and receive alerts when there are changes due to weather or seasonal changes right from your phone.

3. Smart Plugs

Small, convenient, and safe – it seems like smart plugs are here to stay with a myriad of models already on the market. Smart plugs save you the trouble of having to go directly to an app every time to turn your electronics on or off. Instead, you can create a daily schedule for them so they can automatically turn on and off at desired times. And even if they are not on a schedule, the smart device can turn them off based on an integrated heat sensor. Some smart plugs such as the Zuli Smartplug even recognize the edges of a room to help users automate lights based on which room they are in. Smart plugs are not only great for conserving energy but also reducing your electricity bill.

4. Smart Baby Monitors

Digital parenting is now an idea of the present with IoT devices such as smart baby monitors and smart cribs. However, it is the smart baby monitors that take the win as they are constantly evolving. High-resolution monitoring is possible with most smart baby monitors, and some are even implementing infrared vision wide lens making it a great option for nighttime monitoring. For worried parents who are concerned about their baby’s health, a monitor like Withings Home can even monitor air quality.

5. Smart Cookers

How can we forget about one of the most important duties in our daily life? Many take pleasure in preparing delicate meals, and smart kitchen appliances make it that much easier for us to maneuver our way around the kitchen. Imagine being able to cook while sitting in traffic on the way home. The Tefal Actifry Smart XL is one smart cooker that lets you “cook” directly from over 200 devices. It does the hard work for you by controlling the temperature and gives step-by-step video instructions for bits the fryer can’t quite do on its own.

6. Smart Thermostats

Keeping your home cozy while saving money is ideal for homeowners. With electricity bills running high, a smart thermostat is a smart move. As with others on the list, a smart thermostat allows users to control heating or cooling settings from internet-connected devices like smartphones, wearables, or other devices. The majority of smart thermostats can learn temperature preferences like Nest so when you roll out of bed you won’t even have to touch the thermostat or open an app. It will automatically raise or lower the temperature depending on your preferences. Saving you time, perhaps it can even allow you a couple more minutes in bed.

7. Smart Mirrors

Besides our homes and gardens, IoT devices have made their way to.. .our faces –with a smart mirror. Smart mirrors enable users to intelligently analyze and assess skin conditions including wrinkles, dark circles, pores, and other blemishes. HiMirror, for example, recommends personalized skincare routines to improve whatever skin condition you may have. The device does this by anonymously collecting data and using the power of big data to develop custom routines. The mirror is equipped with a camera that can only be activated with an individual security key. With a built-in system and data protection, HiMirror promises to prevent any invasion of privacy.

8. Smart Cleaners

Robot vacuums aren’t anything new. But now, they are smarter than ever. Everyone dreads chores, and after a long day of work the last thing we want to do is clean the house. Coming home to a clean den is ideal for work professionals who may be living alone or lack time to tidy up. Depending on the design, smart vacuums come with various features, including being able to squeeze into tight corners, having a “self-rescue” function in the case it gets stuck, offering a multifunction navigation system, and offering different cleaning power settings. A smart cleaner like iRobot Roomba 870 automatically returns to its charging base when the battery is running low so there is no need to worry about it being out of commission when you are away from home gathering dust.

9. Smart Refrigerators

Who hasn’t woken up in the middle of the night and snuck into the kitchen for a late night snack? Weren’t there times you walked away disappointed that there was nothing in the fridge? Smart fridges are changing the way we manage our groceries. With Smarter’s FridgeCam users can visibly see what is in the fridge from the palm of their hands, even without getting up from bed. The Fridge Cam can also detect expiration dates, offer tips on how to use the groceries before they spoil, and even display the location of nearby grocery stores.

10. Connected Cars

To top off the smart IoT list, we’ve listed connected cars as our “smartest.” While self-driving cars make it seem like we are heading towards a futuristic “Jetson’s” world soon, in a way we are already there. Connected cars, not to be confused with fuel efficient gas “smart” cars, have been in existence since 1996. General Motors was the first automaker to introduce connected features to the market. However, a modern connected car can launch an automatic self-check once the engine starts. Features range from personalized greetings, alerts on weather conditions, and preferred destinations based on settings. Car owners can now remotely unlock and start their cars with a smart device and even track their cars if stolen.

IoT has become a field where creativity and innovation come together. Over the recent years we have seen the launch of intriguing concepts for everyday device and gadgets. But what makes a “smart” IoT device? An IoT device worth spending money on should be easy to install, customizable, flexible, and most of all – secure.

We’ve listed our top “smartest” IoT devices, did your favorite make the cut?

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The Blockchain Hype

blockchain hype blog post title

With technology advances a-plenty – what’s going to be the next revolutionary technological development?

Big data? The Internet of Things (IoT)? Nope.

It’s going to be the blockchain

With more than 25 countries investing in the technology, and $1.3 billion invested – it looks like individuals, companies, and governments alike are putting their eggs in the blockchain basket.

The public blockchain is, simply put, a digital ledger where digital transactions are recorded publicly. Most widely-known for its use with cryptocurrencies like the Bitcoin, blockchain technology has enabled peer-to-peer transactions to be conducted without a banking system middle man, thereby challenging the power of banks to control currency. However, the applications of blockchain go far beyond cryptocurrency transactions to include supporting all kinds of informational exchange.

The idea of the blockchain is revolutionary because it allows for transparency and a new way of organizing the millions of transactions that society now handles on a daily basis. Its workings are defined perfectly by its name: transactions are recorded in “blocks” and placed chronologically in “chains.” Once a block is complete of transactions, a new block is added on and chained. Therefore, when the chain gets longer and longer, it becomes nearly impossible for hackers to penetrate it for scams, defacement, or theft. With security at maximum – what is there to worry about?

But let’s cut to the chase. Is blockchain technology secure? The short answer is, yes — yes it is.

The long answer is: Maybe. It depends on your perspective.

Time is (not) of the essence

First, there are many who complain about issues in terms of transaction verification. Because the blockchain is a distributed ledger, every block of transactions must compete to be added to the chain. This is done through a consensus process of selecting blocks contributed by miners who solve complex mathematical equations in the fastest time to receive a reward. This process can be sped up by paying an added fee, bumping up the transaction, but the average wait can be upwards of 40 minutes. In rare cases, it may take days for a transaction to be verified. Just so you can see how slow that time is: MasterCard’s 2012 report claimed that its network could take upwards to 160 million transactions every hour, with average response time of 130 milliseconds per transaction.

The duration of the wait is not only a cumbersome issue in terms of service, it’s also a security issue – a lot can happen in 40 minutes, and most people aren’t interested in being patient in exchange for reassurance in security.

Where are my keys?

When people talk about the blockchain, you’ll also hear the word “bitcoin” quite often – but don’t interchange these two terms, as they’re two very different ideas. The blockchain is a decentralized ledger, a database of transactions. Bitcoin is a form of virtual currency, or the preferred terminology “cryptocurrency” (encrypted currency). Bitcoin or ether, another cryptocurrency, are used in transactions that are noted on the blockchain. The currency is stored in a virtual “wallet” that will store and manage these currencies.

To make transactions, private keys (which many store in virtual wallets) are a necessity. Now, private keys are a completely separate entity from the blockchain, making security a bit more difficult to ensure. Despite the myriad of “must-do, top security tips” articles out there, many are still foolish in the way they store or remember their private keys. By choosing to save their keys in an unsafe digital or physical location, it no longer matters how secure the blockchain itself is – breach is still possible with a legitimate, albeit stolen, private key.

On top of possible theft, there’s the issue of the loss of a private key. Just like one may be able to lose a physical car key, private keys can also be lost. The loss isn’t a failure of the blockchain technology, but a result of the user’s misaction. This is a huge area of concern within the public blockchain, as some put the value of lost bitcoins at over $948 million.

Old habits don’t die hard

The reality of blockchain is that in order to truly deliver on the “revolution” in terms of economy, the traditional structures of government, financial institutions, and societal ideas of transactions will have to change.The most hyped up “security issue” with the blockchain technology was in 2016, when the Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (the DAO), an investment fund relying on the Ethereum platform, had 3.6 million “ether” (a cryptocurrency unit of the ethereum blockchain) stolen from them by a hacker who exploited a vulnerability in their system. With multiple heists, the DAO ended up losing around $150 million.

Now, did this mean that the blockchain technology isn’t secure? Not necessarily – the technology itself was and is secure, and strong cryptography is used to make sure that assets are transferred safely. Units of ether are also traceable, meaning that even if the hacker were to try to re-sell his goods, it would be flagged right away. Within the DAO, payouts also take a few weeks – which gave the DAO developers a bit more time to figure out how to remedy the hack. The damage was, however, done in terms of the credibility of the blockchain and the DAO. Ethereum enthusiasts were not fans of the incident, and it caused many to raise their eyebrows at the idea of a public ledger.

The future of the blockchain

So we can see that the “issues” deal more with the applications rather than the technology itself. But the reality is that resolving the security issues, albeit secondary from the actual technology of the blockchain, takes time and effort as public blockchains need acceptance by the community that is utilizing it in order to have any value within the social construct. Will the blockchain technology still catch on? Not only will it catch on, it’s already taking the world by storm. With the gargantuan amounts of money (both physical and virtual) being invested, this isn’t a hype that looks short lived. It still helps to keep in mind that no matter how secure a technology is, the applications surrounding the technology may still need quality security.

DDos types include volumed based, protocol, and application layer attacks

Types of DDoS Attacks: Explanation for the Non-Tech-Savvy

DDos types include volumed based, protocol, and application layer attacks

When major cyber attacks are made public, we often hear about their magnitude and strength. More often than not, the media is talking about DDoS attacks. Deloitte for example revealed that the year 2016 “saw the first two [DDoS] attacks of one terabit per second (Tbps) or more.” But what does this actually mean? One terabit in itself sounds huge, but in order to understand what these measurements mean it’s important to understand the different types of DDoS attacks. It’s likely that you’ve heard of very specific DDoS attacks with unique names like ‘Ping of Death’ and ‘Smurf DDoS.’ But in spite of these fancy names DDoS attacks can generally be divided into three broad categories: volume-based attacks, protocol attacks, and application layer attacks. With these frameworks in mind, you’ll be able to decode all that talk about DDoS – even if you consider yourself to be among the non-tech-savvy. 

Volume-Based Attacks

Volume-based DDoS attacks are the most common out of the three. To carry out this kind of cyber attack, hackers utilize many computers and internet connections (often distributed around the world) to flood a website with traffic so that an overwhelming amount clogs up the website’s available bandwidth. As a result, legitimate traffic is unable to pass through, and hackers are able to successfully take down the website. Volume-based attacks are measured in bits per second (Bps).

An example of a volume based attack is the UDP flood. Hackers take advantage of a sessionless networking protocol known as the User Datagram Protocol (UDP), which is essential to the Internet protocol (IP) suite. (To read about how UDP works read here). In a UDP flood, a hacker overwhelms random ports on the targeted host so that as more UDP packets are received and answered, the system is unable to handle the volume of requests and thus becomes unresponsive.

Protocol Attacks

Unlike volume-based attacks, protocol attacks aim to exhaust server resources instead of bandwidth. They also target what is known as “intermediate communication equipment,” which in simpler terms refers to intermediaries between the server and website, such as firewalls and load balancers. Hackers overwhelm websites and these server resources by making phony protocol requests in order to consume the available resources. The strength of these attacks are measured in packets per second (Pps).

One example of this type of attack is the Smurf DDoS. Hackers exploit Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) packets which contain the victim’s spoofed IP and then broadcast the IP to a computer network using an IP broadcast address (used to transmit messages and data packets to network systems). If the number of devices on the network is large enough, the victim’s computer will be flooded with traffic since most devices on network respond by default to the source IP address.

Application Layer Attacks

Generally, application layer attacks require fewer resources than volume-based attacks and protocol attacks. This type of attack targets vulnerabilities within applications (hence their name) such as Apache, Windows and OpenBSD. In true DDoS nature, application layer attacks bring down servers by making a large number of requests that appear legitimate at first by mimicking a users’ traffic behavior. But because application layer attacks are only targeting specific application packets, they can go unnoticed. Application layer attacks look to disrupt specific functions or features of a website such as online transactions. The strength of these attacks are measured in requests per second (Rps).

One example of an application layer attack is the Slowloris. Slowloris is able to cause one web server to take down another. By establishing connections to the target server and only sending partial requests, Slowloris “holds” open many connections to the server for as long as possible. As it constantly sends more HTTP headers (HTTP headers allow the client and the server to exchange additional information) and only sends partial requests, it never completes a request which eventually overwhelms the maximum allowed and prevents further connections from being made.

While volume-based attacks, protocol attacks, and application layer attacks define broad categories of DDoS attacks, not all attacks fall into a perfect category. This is because DDoS attack methods are evolving everyday. In fact, a new trend includes “blended attacks.” Hackers may launch a protocol attack to create a distraction and then launch an application layer attack since they take more time to find the vulnerabilities within the application layer. Blended attacks are increasing in frequency, complexity and size. Without the proper defense system in place, they have the potential to cause unimaginable damage. To read more about how DDoS attacks affect different industries check the blog post, “DDoS Attacks: Their Top 5 Favorite Industry Targets.”

six personalities and types of hackers online kids older white hat and black hat

The 6 Types of Hackers You May Come Across Online


These days it’s easy to look at the mountain of cyber crime news out there, and imagine a hoodie-wearing, tech-savvy loner in a dark corner of a room trying to get into a network for information. However, times have changed. It’s not just technology that changes or security measures that evolve. Hackers are also evolving.

In order to properly detect hacking attempts, it’s also important to understand who’s behind the attacks as well. Hackers come in all shapes, sizes, and intentions, so never judge a hacker by their cover as it might be a whole different facade then what you believe. We’ll give you our top six types of hackers you may come across online.

six personalities and types of hackers online kids older white hat and black hat

The White Hat Hacker

The least malicious of the bunch, the white hat hacker breaks into protected systems to either test the security of the system, or conduct vulnerability assessments for a client. Most of the time, they work for a security company which makes the security software or product and wants to find weaknesses in the software before releasing it for open or commercial usage. Most recently, white hat hacker Tavis Ormandy discovered the vulnerability for Cloudflare. Ormandy, employed at Google, found and reported the bug, termed Cloudbleed, which was affecting millions of sites worldwide. 

While they may use methods similar to “mal-intentioned” hackers, white hat hackers do not use the data that they’ve found for ill will. Simply put, the white hacker does what he or she does for ethical reasons, and there are even classes and certifications available to become a white hat hacker.

The Black Hat Hacker

A black hat hacker is most likely what the general public thinks of when they hear the word “hacker.” The black hat hacker is the opposite of the white hacker, where their intentions are always for personal gain rather than for the good of society. Also known as “crackers,” they gain joy from cracking into systems and bypassing security. A black hat hacker usually intends to profit from breaking into systems or does so simply to satisfy a craving for mischief – they can be differentiated from hacktivists who have a political motive for their hacking.

The Grey Hat Hacker

You guessed it, the grey hat hacker is a mix of the white hat and black hat hackers. While the grey hat hacker might break some rules and violate laws, they usually don’t have the malicious intent that the black hat hacker has. The white hat hacker will always hack under supervision or prior consent, but the grey hat hacker will not go to the lengths to receive permission before breaking into systems.

When a grey hat hacker finds a vulnerability, instead of alerting the authorities or the company, they will most likely offer to repair it for a fee – utilizing it as an opportunity to make some financial gain. Grey hat hackers argue that they only violate the law to help others, but because of the nature of their breaking and entering – companies may choose to prosecute rather than appreciate the “help.”

The Hacktivist

A hacktivist uses the world of computing and networks for a political movement. Whether it’s related to free speech, freedom of information, or proving a conspiracy theory, hacktivists span many ideals and issues. Many hacktivists work towards a common goal without reporting to a boss or an organization.

Even people unfamiliar with the IT world have heard of hacktivist groups like Anonymous, who have been active in their political movement over the past decade. Whether it’s combatting terror groups or calling for protests of retaliation, hacktivist groups hope to impact change in the real world through their programming skills in the cyber world.

The Script Kiddie

This is a wannabe hacker who lacks expertise. Just like it takes time to earn your Ph.D., it is difficult to go up the ranks to becoming a skilled hacker. A script kiddie is usually nowhere near the level of being able to hack into an advanced system, hence tending to stick to weakly secured systems. This “kid” may also get premade scripts or codes from other sources because they lack the knowledge to develop their own code. Script kiddies’ careers are generally short-lived as they might lack the discipline and creativity it takes to become an advanced hacker.

The Green Hat Hacker

Unlike a script kiddie, the green hat hacker is a newbie to the hacking game but is working passionately to excel at it. Also referred to as a neophyte or “noob,” this is a hacker who is fresh in the hacking world and often gets flak for it, having little to no knowledge of the inner workings of the web. Although it may seem unlikely that this newbie may cause any serious issues, because they’re blind to their own actions, green hat hackers can cause significant damage to a system without knowing what they’ve done and worse – how to reverse it.

It’s easy to compartmentalize hackers into good or bad, but it’s not always so black and white (pun intended). Whatever colored hat the hacker may wear, it’s important to note the differences in their techniques, results, and intentions. Then, once you understand the motives, it may be easier to either ask for assistance or perhaps look for a better security solution to guard your data and applications.

For more information on security solutions for your data or applications, visit www.pentasecurity.com or email us at info@pentasecurity.com.


Tax Season: Cyber Security Defenses to Make (and Keep) Your Returns

tax season cyber security tips

It’s that time of year again the time of the year where winter coats are abandoned, flowers are in full bloom… and everyone starts to rack their brains for how to deal with their taxes from the last fiscal year. Tax season is a stressful time for most and, whether you hire an accountant or decide to tackle the numbers yourself, it’s no time for haphazard calculations. Every single cent counts in order to get the best return possible. But could your hard work go down the drain with a single click? According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission, of the half a million complaints registered in 2015, nearly half were tax fraud-related, and these frauds are increasingly conducted online.

Cybersecurity and tax fraud are two ideas that people don’t usually look at side-by-side. After all, the IRS will never send out an email to contact you (if they do, it’s probably a scam), but with the rise of the digital age, many accounting firms have seen the benefits of having taxpayers fill out necessary forms online, facilitating the process for both the taxpayer and the agency. However, digitizing the process has opened up a Pandora’s Box in the realm of cybersecurity.

Now, by no means does this mean that taxpayers absolutely need to revert to the pen-and-paper method of tax filing. Electronic forms are an enormous load off everyone’s burden during tax season, but here are some tips to keep in mind as you file your taxes so that at the end, you do make returns and keep them. Here are our top five tips for making your tax season a little more secure:

Get it out of the way

Did you know that employers are by law required to provide W-2 forms to their employees by the end of January? Some may give their forms out earlier, and the IRS officially began accepting 2016 tax returns on January 23, 2017.

While it may be tempting to push it off until April, there are benefits to being an early bird. Not only do you get to be stress-free for Spring, but filling early means you 1) give the IRS time to immediately process and check your return, 2) avoid the peak period when hackers fish for victims in March and April. The latter part of tax season is when potential victims tend to be a little more scatterbrained, not utilizing as much discernment as they should in their securing their tax returns. Hackers are less likely to be looking for prey in January or February.

Watch out for phishing scams and links

As mentioned before, the IRS will never, under any circumstances contact you via emails, texts, or phone to demand money. They will always send a postmarked notice to “kindly” remind you to pay your dues. However, because this is a rather unknown fact, many fall prey to the phishing and pharming scams that hackers love to execute.

Especially in emails or text messages, be careful not to click on any links or attachments. Although it may be tempting to see what the IRS could want, these seemingly harmless links could trigger malware, and viruses could get installed on your devices to infect entire systems. The IRS encourages users to forward any emails you suspect of being fraudulent to phishing@irs.gov and delete it permanently from your inbox.

Keep your devices and connections clean

Updates are cumbersome and might take more time than you are willing to put in. However, an update could be the difference between a vulnerability and a strong defense against a loophole. Software, browsers, and applications should have the latest updates and any unnecessary software is best deleted to avoid cluttering your system.

Additionally, when filing your taxes, make sure to use a secure wireless connection. Public Wi-Fi is not your safest bet (read about our research on public Wi-Fi networks here), and hackers may be able to take a clear look at your sensitive data if they intercept your wireless connection.

Use Encryption

When sharing information with your accountant, make sure that your information is well-encrypted to ensure that a hacker will not be able to see the contents even if they do succeed in interception. Along those lines, double-check to make sure your online tax-filing agency is using SSL, which applies encryption to sites. Look for “HTTPS” in the URL, with a lock icon signifying a secure SSL connection. While an agency may claim to be “easy filing,” you don’t want that to mean “easy access” to your financial information.

Be careful of your… social media???

While social media may seem to be the furthest platform from your tax returns, many hackers have been utilizing a social engineering method called “social sleuthing,” where they will stalk a high-level executive to see if and when they go away on holiday or travel during these chillier months. Then, impersonating the executive, they may reach out to a lower-level employee back at the office, asking for help with paying taxes, or for sensitive information that they conveniently “forgot.”

Although hackers work year-around to try accessing our data, tax season is ripe for harvest when it comes to getting sensitive information, making it much more lucrative for hackers. The sad reality is that though the IRS may do their best to put preventative measures in place in terms of your W-2 or through public service announcements warning of fraud, the consequences that you may potentially encounter are solely your responsibility. At the end of the day, taxes are owed to the IRS, regardless of the situation.

But remember, many prevention tips are simple to implement it just takes a bit of awareness and effort. Remember, no one enjoys tax season (except hackers), especially if there are any heavy consequences that may await in case of any loss, damage of data, fraud or scam.

Data breach on laptop with warning sign

Majority of Companies Are Not Disclosing Their Data Breaches

Data breach on laptop with warning sign

It is a common misconception to think that companies absolutely must disclose details of any internal breaches they may have suffered. In reality, the majority of data breaches go unreported, and details of the leak are rarely revealed to the public. Recently in the media, Yahoo came under fire and heavy scrutiny for late disclosure of two major data breaches of user account data. The Internet service company suffered two massive breaches in both 2013 and 2014 – resulting in the largest discovered data breaches in the history of the Internet – but this situation was only made public during the latter part of 2016.

This begs the question, should companies be forced to disclose data breaches? As we shall soon see being PCI compliant is only the beginning to assessing the security practices of a company.

False sense of security protection

Just because a company is internationally known it doesn’t automatically mean that your data is safe. Many users have a false sense of protection, simply because they trust the brand. But when it comes to these companies’ cybersecurity practices, quality security measures may not be a top priority since most are typically sales-driven. For example, besides the recent Yahoo breach, there have been numerous cyberattacks that have made headlines like Dropbox’s 68 million users’ data leakage that remains engraved in the minds of the public.

Part of that reason that so many attacks go unreported is because most companies simply do not need to disclose that sort of information in the first place. There is no current law requiring corporations to reveal when customer data has been compromised, so it makes sense that data breaches go unreported. A hacking incident could tarnish the reputation of the brand and instill mistrust among customers, which is never something corporations want. Even if large corporations choose to disclose data breaches, the extent to which data has been compromised are probably not revealed in full and downplayed.

For instance in the case of credit card breaches, customers will simply receive email reminders to change their account passwords or the bank will issue new cards to mask the data breach. Cases like this provide a sense that nothing is wrong and it is simply “routine procedure.” So, what can you as the customer do?

PCI Compliance?

If you are engaging in online transactions, ensure that the company is PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant.

Below is a clear definition of this industry standard:

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, or simply PCI DSS, is a set of security standards designed to ensure that ALL companies that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment.

With most brands moving their businesses online, there is a growing concern for the security implications of online transactions. When a corporation is not PCI compliant, there is a higher chance of data leakage – but even this industry standard is purely a minimal requirement. Just like how it is not a law for corporations to reveal internal data breaches, PCI compliance is just a security standard for online transactions – but not the law. That means businesses can continue to sell products online without the proper security standards intact. Furthermore, research by Verizon has shown that seven in ten businesses who achieve PCI compliance fail to maintain this compliance for a minimum period of one year.

Because corporations do not differentiate between what it means to “be validated” and to “be compliant,” this finding is extremely daunting especially in the light of recent data breaches. To be validated specifies a precise point in time when a business chooses to be assessed for compliance. This assessment is therefore a snapshot in time and says virtually nothing about the business during the rest of the year. For example, a company that suffered a data breach may reveal to its customers that they were validated for PCI compliance within the past year, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were compliant at the time of the actual data breach.

In fact, according to one of the authors of the Verizon report, “…data from the past 10 years shows, that not a single company that suffered a data breach was compliant with PCI requirements at the time of the incident.” PCI standards set a strong baseline protection for any business but at the end of the day it is just the “minimum bar” to entice competitors to reach that same level of security simply because customers expect at least that much.

But is it enough? In many cases, no.

For example, Home Depot, who was PCI compliant, suffered a massive data breach in 2014. Many questioned how this breach could have occurred to such a huge retailer especially when it was supposedly certified to the security standards associated with credit card transactions. However, according to CIO, Home Depot’s data breach stemmed from using outdated Symantec antivirus software, not monitoring the network continuously for suspicious behavior, and performing vulnerability scans irregularly at only a  few of its stores. Stolen customer information also went unnoticed for several months. This is a perfect example that demonstrates that there is more to being secure than being PCI compliant.

Security beyond PCI compliance

A larger company like Home Depot can certainly afford to hire a security team but because security was not prioritized, it was too little too late when they were struck with a massive data breach. Adhering to the PCI standards sets the minimum bar but there is more to security – to start off, companies should be incorporating a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to their security platforms. Not only does a good WAF do much more to protect your website against external threats including DDoS and data leakages, the best part is that they also do not require a special security team to operate and manage the system.

With the rise of cloud services, WAF-as-a-service has also become popular since it doesn’t require additional hardware.Only minimal technical knowledge is needed involving a simple DNS configuration to register websites under WAF protection. Cloud WAFs manage all inbound and outbound traffic and are able to automatically detect and filter malicious attacks. This is huge for businesses who may still be starting out and cannot necessarily afford specialized security teams. For example, Cloudbric, a cloud-based WAF service, offers easy to understand web traffic analytics and allows users with little to no IT-security knowledge to manually look at their web traffic data in search of any inconsistencies.

The reality is that hackers can gain access to confidential information with relative ease so data leaks will likely continue to prevail. It’s important to keep in mind that just because it doesn’t make news headlines doesn’t mean that data breaches are not a common occurrence. We can have a false sense of security believing that entrusting our sites to well-known and successful companies can keep our information secure. But while following standards like PCI DSS is a great start, when thinking about the best security practices it’s best to think about the long-term and how to implement a solution that has you covered any time and anywhere.

hearts on valentine's day

Love in All the Wrong Places: the Dangers of Online Dating

online dating can result in cyber crime or scams especially on valentine's day

As February 14th creeps closer, hype over finding a valentine is at its peak. But finding a significant other does pose more difficulty in this day and age with the rise of career-driven individuals, slaving away with the chaotic schedules of everyday life. Furthermore, with the digital world just an arm’s length away, it’s not surprising that many have opted to look for a match in cyberspace. The use of online dating apps has increased nearly threefold since 2013, and social stigma for online dating has largely subsided, with mentions in popular media and even attractive celebrity endorsements. But unfortunately, like any other new phenomenon, many fail to realize the security implications of finding love online.

The oversight is understandable as the desire for love and companionship often trumps over protective instincts, but with the increase of online dating also comes an increase in cybercrime. In the UK, as many as 350 online dating scams were reported monthly, with victims handing over not only their hearts but more than £39m to false lovers in 2016. There may be those who would be baffled by the enormous amount of money handed over to hackers and scam artists, but with love – anything is possible.

The Consequences of Finding Love Online

We’ve all heard of stories of someone getting “catfished,” when unsuspecting individuals may be lured by a fake online profile. The scammer could be using an attractive picture, extraordinary details, but suddenly disappear when the time comes to meet. Worse, they could extort money out of their innocent “catfish catch,” who being madly in love will gladly acquiesce to aid their partner.

But as scary as a “catfish” exchange may be, the consequences may stretch even further and deeper in cyberspace – as information can be transmitted across the world in just seconds. In 2013, Cupid Media, a media group housing over 30 online dating sites, had 42 million passwords in plain text taken from their server. While many of these passwords were taken from inactive accounts, the millions of members that were active users now have their personal information in the hands of hackers.

When Ashley Madison, a site serving as a platform for individuals looking for extramarital affairs and casual hook-ups, was hacked in the summer of 2015, many were harassed with ransom and blackmail threats to distribute their names, credit card information, and email addresses. The threats demanded payment – the alternative? All personal information and data on website activity would be openly displayed on a public website. Some paid up, and some didn’t – citing that information had already been leaked anyway.

Nevertheless, online dating can have dire consequences on both your wallet and ego. So for Valentine’s Day this year, while you don’t necessarily need to skip the web-browsing tango, take these tips with you to have a loving, safe February 14th.

1. Watch out for the telltale signs

Avoid the “catfish” traps. Blonde, loves sunsets by the beach, and has the body of a model? If someone looks too good to be true, it’s a real possibility that you’re talking to a made-up persona. Before you reveal your deepest and darkest secrets, check for inconsistencies throughout their profile. Even if it’s not a con-artist on the other side of the screen, it’s estimated that around one-fifth of all online daters have asked a friend or family member to help them “tweak” their profile

And with more than 60% percent of web traffic comprised of bots, it is not surprising to run into “chatbots” on online dating sites and apps. These chatbots are designed to simulate real-life conversation and can convince you to click on a link or give away personal information. The telltale signs include the “bots” responding suspiciously quickly, chatting  in an unnatural way or using weird syntax, or sending links without asking you.

2. No advance fees

No matter how in love you may be, don’t fork over the cash just yet. Once an online relationship has built a basis of trust, the requests for favors may start rolling in. Perhaps a loved one is having a medical emergency, or they’re a little short on rent that month.

After a certain, most likely pre-planned, amount of time has passed, the scammer may even ask you to wire some money to purchase a plane ticket… to finally meet. While some may be wooed by the idea of finally meeting in person – perhaps a safe way to respond would be to suggest that they borrow money from a family member or the bank.

3. Find a worthy website using a WAF service and encryption

Although the examples we’ve given so far may be on the scarier side, not all online dating sites are vulnerable. Especially if a company has taken the time to employ a Web Application Firewall (WAF) or WAF service, as well as encryption for their data, your personal information has less of a chance of being compromised.

Think this is a given? Many companies will keep their data in plain text out of sheer convenience – but they might have to face dire consequences. Don’t play with fire, and bet on a company that is transparent about their security practices. Better safe than sorry, especially when your future relationship is at stake.

4. Nothing’s as good as (secure) face-to-face

“Let’s meet in real life” are the words that an online lover might be impatiently waiting to hear. However, if you’re not feeling ready about a potential meetup – then be firm and put your foot down. If meeting in-person, meet in a predetermined and public location, never at home or in your office. Consider having a friend to be a “safe buddy” so that if things aren’t going well they will be on standby to get you out of a potentially risky situation.

Some might choose to “meet” via video chat programs like Skype or FaceTime. Even then, make sure to have a secure connection, turn off any kind of geolocation settings, and be on guard to not disclose too much about yourself.

The Future of Online Dating?

The majority of people will first think of the physical dangers of online dating. However, in this day and age, cybercrime can go a long way, and even faster at that. Be smart offline and online, but to not be a downer – keep your hopes up: 5% of Americans say that they met their significant other online, and with other statistics in the cyber realm, it seems like this number has nowhere to go but up.

Perhaps love is just around the website. And hopefully a secure one.

Penta given Data Privacy Day Champion badge

Online Safety Tips from Penta Security, 2017 Data Privacy Day Champion

Data Privacy locks

Penta Security named Data Privacy Day Champion

A Data Privacy Day Champion this year, Penta Security believes that organizations, businesses and governments are collectively responsible for being conscientious stewards of personal information. For Penta Security, this year marks two decades of experience in protecting an asset valued by all: personal data.

Data Privacy Day, held annually on January 28, is a worldwide effort to create awareness about the importance of privacy, safeguarding data and reminding organizations that privacy is good for business. Penta Security has consistently been committed to the cause by informing clients and the public about basic steps in protecting personal information, through security threat reports, eBooks, infographics, and other media.

To commemorate this significant day, here are Penta Security’s top five online safety tips for improving your data privacy efforts ahead of Data Privacy Day:

Change your passwords frequently

“The Most Common Passwords In 2016 Are Truly Terrible” by the Huffington Post reveals that despite living in era of cyber threats and data breaches, people are still resorting to using ‘123456’ or ‘password’ to keep guard of their personal data online. While it’s been mentioned repetitively, here is another reminder in enhancing your passwords (adding special characters are always a good idea) and to change them frequently, preferably once a year. Furthermore, it’s best to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts as this exposes you to a greater risk of data theft should one account be comprised. Lastly, consider enabling two-factor authentication as this adds an extra layer of protection to your personal accounts.

Recognize the signs of online phishing scams

Warding against phishing scams have come a long way, but many still fall prey to scams like the Nigerian prince email. With the right social engineering tactics, phishing scams can be convincing enough to solicit your personal information and, in a worst-case scenario, provide a gateway to your financial information. That’s why it’s extremely important to know the warning signs.

Avoid clicking on links within emails from unknown senders. Basic red flags include shortened links concealing their destination URL and website banner ads advertising too-good-to-be-true offers. Clicking on these will likely redirect you to a malicious site. Emails that impersonate major banking or retail corporations to ask for personal or financial information are commonplace these days. A good practice is to always enter a website address directly into your browser to avoid ending up on spoofed sites.

Be smart when using public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi should be used with extra caution since cyber criminals can use unprotected Wi-Fi networks to sniff out private credentials and other sensitive data online. While it’s great that many restaurants, cafes, retail shops, and other public places offer free Wi-Fi, these hotspots could also serve as inlets for unauthorized monitoring of your private web activity. Public Wi-Fi should therefore be reserved for basic web surfing like reading the latest news or scrolling through social media feeds. Logging into your social media accounts, making online purchases, or doing online banking should only be done over a secured connection.

Don’t ignore your computer updates

Reminders to update your current operating system or software are critical in reducing the risk of exposing your data to cyber criminals. Developers often roll out new updates not just for improved functionality but also for urgent security updates and vulnerability patches. If automatic updates isn’t an option, setting up a regular schedule to scan through all your software and operating systems to check whether they are up-to-date will help you keep up good cyber hygiene.

Consider encrypting data that matters most to you

Data encryption is no longer reserved for the techies. If you have data that is highly sensitive, then consider encrypting it. Currently, there are many tools available online that can encrypt and decrypt files either for free or at a low cost. Encryption ensures that your data is only readable by the intended recipients. This is because data encryption utilizes special keys to algorithmically scramble and unscramble data so only you and whoever possesses the right keys can gain meaningful access to your data. We also recommend that you do not store encryption keys in the cloud and leave them in the possession of your cloud provider.

By participating in Data Privacy Day, Penta Security is joining the growing global effort among nonprofits, academic institutions, corporations, government entities and individuals to raise privacy awareness at home, at work and in communities. Penta Security seeks to help cultivate a greater prudence in data-handling by educating others about online safety through our blog, press releases, and other media. If you have extra tips to share with us, follow us on Twitter @pentasecsystems and send us a Tweet with the hashtag #PrivacyAware!

About Data Privacy Day

Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008 as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe. Data Protection Day commemorates the signing of Convention 108 on January 28 1981, the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection. The National Cyber Security Alliance, the nation’s leading nonprofit, public-private partnership promoting cybersecurity and privacy education and awareness, leads the effort in North America. The Data Privacy Day initiative is advised by a distinguished advisory committee of privacy professionals. For more information, visit https://staysafeonline.org/data-privacy-day/about.