Editor’s note: Christopher Welty is CEO of Raleigh-based Aragonite Technologies, a provider of IT support and other services.

Christopher Welty

RALEIGH – “Survey: Rapid, disruptive changes in technology, cyber attacks are biggest worries for execs”

It is good to hear that executives are taking the risk of cyber attacks more seriously.  For far too long businesses have taken a lackadaisical approach to security.

Many businesses, especially those in the SMB space believe it will never happen to them, or they are too small and just aren’t a target.  They couldn’t be more wrong, the numbers tell a different story.

Some statistics:

  • 1 in 5 small businesses will suffer a cyber breach this year.
  • 81% of all breaches happen to small and medium-sized businesses.
  • 97% of breaches could have been prevented with today’s technology.

That said, I cringe when I see these reports of companies having their operations shut down by ransomware.  I also saw the WRAL article describing how Mecklenburg county was hit with ransomware, and how critical services to their residents are unavailable because they fell victim to ransomware and their computer systems are shut down.  You see the thing is,  the ransomware attack could have been prevented with today’s technology…

Aside from many businesses and government agencies not taking these threats seriously, the main problem, is businesses are still using traditional anti-virus software, which was created to deal with a problem from 20 years ago!  It is akin to trying to fight tanks with Calvary on horseback.  The game has changed, and traditional anti-virus is not effective in stopping ransomware, period. Companies need to, among other things, be looking into next-generation endpoint protection, that is designed specifically to deal with the old types of viruses, not the newer ever-evolving types of malware, like ransomware.

I think the question remains, why are businesses and government not taking steps to prevent these types of attacks.  We have seen them in the news with huge data breaches at Equifax, and global ransomware attacks like Petya all occurring in the last 6 months, so they have to be aware of them.  It seems that still many believe, it can’t happen to them, or perhaps it is that they simply aren’t sure what to do.

Twelve steps to better security

Here are 12 simple steps that every business and government agency can take to prevent a ransomware or cyber attack.

  1. Security Assessment-A critical first step.  It’s important to establish baseline and close existing vulnerabilities.  When was your last assessment?
  2. Spam Email- Spam has made a huge come back, and this attack Mecklenburg county originated from a Spam email  Secure your email.  Most attacks originate in your email.  Seek help in choosing a service designed to reduce spam and your exposure to attacks on your staff via email.
  3. Passwords-Apply security policies on your network. Examples: Enable enhanced password policies Deny or limit USB file storage access, set user screen timeouts and limit user access.
  4. Security Awareness-Train your users – often! Teach them about data security, email attacks, and your policies and procedures.
  5. Advanced Endpoint Security-Protect your computers and data from malware, viruses, and cyber attacks with advanced endpoint security.  Today’s latest technology (which replaces your outdated anti-virus solution) protects against file-less and script based threats and can even rollback a ransomware attack
  6. Mult-Factor Authentication-Utilize multi-factor authentication whenever you can including on your network, banking websites, and even social media.  It adds an additional layer of protection to ensure that even if your password does get stolen, your data stays protected.
  7. Computer Updates-Keep Microsoft, Adobe, and Java products updated for better security.  Make sure this process is automated and you can run reports to verify they are installed.
  8. Dark Web Research– Knowing in real -time what passwords and accounts have been posted on the Dark Web will allow you to be proactive in preventing a data breach.  Scan the Dark Web and take action.
  9. Firewall-Turn on intrusion detection and intrusion prevention features.  Send the log files to a managed SIEM.
  10. Encryption– Whenever possible, the goal is to encrypt files at rest, in motion (think email), and especially on mobile devices.
  11. Backup-Backup local. Backup to the cloud. Have an offline backup for each month of the year.
  12. Cyber Insurance-If all else fails, protect your income and business with cyber damage and recovery insurance policies.

Conact Christopher Welty via cwelty@aragonitetechnologies.com