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There’s no question that 2014 was a very good year for hackers as there were a number of high profile data breaches, including those in retail, communications, finance, and hospitality. According to a Ponemon Institute survey conducted last year, a successful cybercrime will cost a company on average $8.6 million, but there was a huge discrepancy among industries. For example, a business in the financial industry could take a hit of $20 million or more. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to safeguard against cyber threats with a combination of training, anti-virus software, and best practices. Here are some questions you might have about some of the cyber threats out there as well as how General Networks can help your organization stay on top of security.

How was Cryptolocker different from other malware seen by security experts?

Other viruses or system exploits may seek to obtain valuable data to be used against a business or its customers.  This could include obtaining personal information like credit card numbers and social security numbers for ID theft or fraudulent charges.  A leak of this data typically doesn’t entirely eliminate a company’s ability to conduct business.  Cryptolocker, on the other hand, seeks to slow or stop business operations by holding hostage critical data.  Cryptolocker hackers seek to create enough of a headache that paying a ransom to make the pain go away becomes a reasonable proposition.  These ransoms are often thousands of dollars, creating a direct impact on the bottom line to affected organizations.

Do you suspect copycats will try to have the same success with a different variation of the Trojan?

This “business model” will likely expand.  An entire cottage industry has formed around the cryptolocker concept.  They operate anonymously and their viruses are indiscriminate, making it an opportunistic enterprise without much capital required to get started.  They are able to cast a wide net and wait for victims to call them, requesting access to their encrypted data.  These groups have become so sophisticated that they provide their own tech support to those who pay ransoms.  If word got out that they weren’t handing the data back to their victims, businesses would be dissuaded from paying what they ask!

What are some of the biggest cyber threats out there for 2015?

The cryptolocker virus is near the top of the list, if not #1.  Phishing emails that ask for users to change their passwords or provide credit card numbers are troublesome, especially in environments where non-technical employees who are unaware of the risks of phishing attempts become victims.  While exploiting big networks can mean big money for hackers, effects on small businesses are disproportionately impactful on operations and bottom lines.

What can users do on an individual level to mitigate the threat?

User training is the best way to get proactive against all forms of cyber threats, fraud, etc.  Most malware can’t gain access to the data it seeks to exploit if a user isn’t giving the application permission in the first place.  The thinly veiled disguises used can be made more obvious to end users with a little training:

  • Infected email: is the sender familiar to you and is the language in it typical of your interactions with this user?  Is there a call to action (possibly termed as a threat or with a time limit) to click on an unfamiliar link within the email?  Does the URL of the link match what it claims to be, or is it a gobbled mess of IP addresses, .exe extensions, and other red flags?
  • Infected websites: Is the website you’re going to appropriate, safe, and familiar to you?  If not, it’s best to stay away or talk to a technical representative at your organization to help the end user understand what the signs of a malware-spreading site might look like.

What can be done on an organizational level?

In addition to end-user training, proactive and reactive steps should be used in tandem.

Proactive: Basic steps should be taken to keep virus definitions and patches up to date.  This includes endpoint protection of desktop antivirus programs and centralized network protection of firewall firmware updates, as well as operating system patches and 3rd party software patches (Java, Adobe, Chrome, Firefox, …).  Those are proactive steps to limit the number of exploits experienced.

Reactive steps to mitigate impact of a cryptolocker infection are important to have in place in case those do not prove 100% effective.  Backups should be in place and checked frequently for integrity and usability.  These backups will allow IT departments to restore critical data that would otherwise be lost to cryptolocker.  In general, data should be stored according to corporate policies in locations where impact of encryption would be minimized and all files will be backed up.  Storing files on unprotected local drives is a common reason that infected PCs lose data.

How can organizations calculate the value of IT security to optimize productivity and determine ROI?

This comes down to the value of their business operations as a whole.  With the understanding that some viruses eliminate an organization’s ability to operate or have regular access to critical data, a dollar value can be assigned by calculating the opportunity cost of lost productivity.  A virus can eliminate an entire business’s ability to operate, or just a single user.  This can either be temporary or permanent.  Calculating this ROI for security involves estimating the value of your employee’s productivity.

In a 2010 Gartner study, 43% of businesses were immediately put out of business due to major data loss.  A higher percentage of affected companies had folded in the year following the data loss.  Even in conservative estimates of cost based on worst case scenarios, the message is clear that investment in the basic proactive and reactive steps is critical.  Investing in IT security isn’t about increasing revenue – returns on investment are best measured by an absence of crippling issues.

How does General Networks assess and determine a client’s IT security needs?

The first step is to ask how the topic is addressed within the organization today.  If it hasn’t been addressed, we look to our experience in network infrastructure and starting from ground zero with our other clients.  We partner with our clients to implement a mix of proactive steps, reactive capabilities, and end-user awareness to address these challenges.  Throughout this process, we prioritize balancing investment with either basic or more advanced requirements (compliance standards imposed on certain industries).