Traditionally I like my year-end messages to be hopeful, but as I am someone who does not mince words when it comes to your technology, I don’t come to you at the close of 2022 with a message of optimism. If anything, I want to congratulate you for surviving this year with your sanity and health intact, if not your technology security. Accomplishing all three is something to be commended, and I am sad to report that not all of our clients were as successful, including a client and good friend who passed unexpectedly this year. This post is dedicated to him, and to everyone who fought the good fight this year, either against cyberattacks, Covid and everything between.
“Don’t take security for granted.”
This is my year-end message for you: If there is one trend I can clearly point to in this past year (and in years previous), is that you are the first and last line of defense in the war for your technology security. You are the first and last line of defense in maintaining your privacy. We here at C2 Technology are willing and able to throw ourselves in front of as many attacks as we can, but we can’t be with you in every moment, everywhere you touch technology, nor should you want us there. In almost nearly all cases of hacks that we have worked through this year, and numerous others I have read about, breaches and compromises have occurred because attackers are very successful at exploiting human, not technology, weaknesses.
One thing that I know for sure is that you can count on even more cybersecurity attacks in every aspect of your personal and business technology. There is big money in compromising your security – organized crime has moved, full-scale, into funding, staffing and managing highly effective fraud call centers and hit-squads whose primary objective is to trick you into giving them access to your stuff and then cleaning house. On top of this, there is no singular magic bullet, app, governing body nor enforcement agency that can protect you. Let me reiterate – there is no perfect, monolithic solution C2 or any other organization can provide to you to keep you perfectly safe. As with cold weather, layers are better than just a single, bulky jacket. Your best defense will be a collection of services, software and best practices. Your configuration of those layers will vary based on personal or organizational need, but everyone should at minimum be considering the following:
- Constant vigilance is the key. You should assume that you are under constant cyberthreat and act accordingly. As much as it feels distasteful say this given the current political climate, you should consider yourself on cyber-wartime footing with no armistice or ceasefire in your near future. You may have heard me jokingly compare this vigilance with paranoia, but my gallows humor may have done you a disservice in making light of this situation. Make no mistake, this is very serious, and I do not see anyone being able to let down their guard anytime soon. As I mentioned above, C2 can’t always be there for a magical, “Get down, Mr. President!” moment. All we can do is attempt to train you to spot the peril. If you have employees, you should bolster their vigilance with actual, formal training – not everyone will have the same level of urgency on technology security as the principals of the organization, but training and testing will help them understand the importance and impress upon them that this is a part of their job responsibilities, regardless of their role in the organization.
- If you aren’t using unique passwords and multi-factor authentication for your critical online accounts, you are doing the cyber equivalent of leaving the keys in your running car in a dangerous neighborhood. You should check your most-used passwords here, and if any of them show up on the list, immediately change that password everywhere you used it. Right. Now. If you can turn on multi-factor authentication for your banking and other critical service accounts and haven’t already done so, do so. Right. Now.
- Back up your files to a cloud provider on a daily basis. You can get a very reliable, easy to use service for as little as $7/month, and you might already have access to a form of cloud backups through Apple or Microsoft by virtue of other services for which you are already paying. Keep in mind, services like OneDrive and iCloud are a form of short-term backup, but do not normally provide long-term recovery of files deleted more than 30 days ago, nor can they fully protect against certain forms of ransomware attacks, so make sure you consult with your friendly neighborhood technology professional about what would be appropriate for your use case.
- Keep work and personal separate. This may be difficult to do especially if you work from home on your own technology, but the more you intermingle, the more risk you take from one side or the other. This also goes for using your home network if you have family that aren’t as security conscious as you, especially seniors and young children, both of whom are particularly vulnerable to scams that most of us spot in a heartbeat. Your technology professional will have ways to segment your work and home life, but it will result in additional expense and inconvenience.
- At the business level, antivirus and malware protection has evolved into what is now known as “endpoint protection.” The free software that comes with your new PC is NOT endpoint protection, nor is the product they are trying to upsell you. The primary difference between the two is that last generation products relied heavily on definition tables and scheduled scans of your files, which is not nearly as effective against modern malware tactics that sometimes don’t even involve something being installed in your hard drive, or software that literally changes by the hour. Endpoint protection relies on algorithms that are able to analyze the behavior of softwares and services to determine if they might be harmful, and more importantly, are designed not only to protect the device on which it’s installed, but also to protect the network to which it is connected, something that previous gen antivirus software could not do.
- If you deal with any kind of PII (personally-identifiable information) where that information is stored on your computer – even if only in transit – your hard drive should be encrypted, especially if the device housing it is easily stolen, such as a laptop. Fortunately, both Windows and Mac OS do include encryption, but it isn’t always enabled, and in the case of Windows, it is only readily available in the “Professional” (more expensive) variant of their OS.
- You should be making sure your operating system and main software apps are kept up to date. Microsoft releases updates on a weekly basis, and about half of them require a reboot to full apply. Windows 10 (and to a certain degree 11) is so stable that it can go weeks without rebooting but waiting that long can cause other problems that will be a lot more inconvenient than restarting your PC. We recommend clients restart their PCs as frequently as every 3 days – this accomplishes needed housekeeping tasks as well as clearing the “virtual crud” that all PCs accumulate through daily use, especially if you like having lots of windows and apps open.
Technology security requires a holistic approach, and I don’t mean tuning your chakras and making sure your gut biome is balanced. Every aspect of your technology, from internet provider to software services, every device used in the work process, all users, and even your clients’ and customers’ technology should be reviewed and considered when formulating your security approach. The days of “set and forget” are long gone. Protecting your technology is something that will require effort and, dare I say, constant vigilance.