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08 Mar 2019

5 Best Practices to Improve Data Security

Cyber security starts internally. From new security solutions to software updates, there are plenty of ways you can help keep your company safe. So where to begin? We’ve put together the 5 best practices for you to implement to secure business data and give you some peace of mind.

1. Always Update!

When your computer gets that pop-up saying it’s time to update, it’s tempting to simply push the ‘later’ button. But you need to stop ignoring those updates! Updates improve information security by responding to current threats and fixing bugs. They address all the different security issues present in your computer. So by updating your computer, you’re actually keeping data protected without having to do any of the work.

2. Protect with Strong Passwords

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to keep your data safe is to have a strong password. Having simple or common passwords makes it easier for cyber criminals to access sensitive data. Fortunately, these data breaches are preventable by having your employees create strong passwords and regularly update their passwords.

There are a few easy ways to improve the strength of your password. For example, you can increase the length, include numbers, or include special characters. If you want to learn more about which passwords to avoid and creating strong passwords, check out our post on The Worst Passwords of 2018.

3. Keep an Eye Out For Phishing Scams

Phishing scams, ransomware, and other cyber attacks are something that all businesses have to deal with. You can’t stop these cyber threats entirely, but you can help reduce the risk of actually having your data stolen. The best way to stop sensitive information from being stolen through a cyber attack is to learn what to look for.

When you receive a phishing scam, it’ll probably look legitimate, but beware because they can cause a lot of damage. Typically phishing scams are emails that appear to be from a trustworthy source. They will ask you to follow a link or to provide some form of personal data. These attacks are often filled with grammatical errors, so keep an eye out for mistakes or strange wording. They’ll also want you to ‘act fast,’ claiming that your account has been hacked or is expiring. Don’t believe these emails – take the time to read them through and verify them before you click any links. Whenever unsure, contact the company by phone to verify that the email is legitimate. Stay vigilant and always double-check suspicious emails to prevent falling victim to phishing scams.

4. Secure and Encrypt Data

A lot of companies are encrypting their information. Encryption takes your data and converts it to codes. Only someone who has the ‘key’ can unlock the codes to access the information. If you don’t encrypt your information, you leave it more exposed to online threats.

By using encryption, you’re making it impossible for a hacker to read or make copies of data. So, while the information may be lost, you don’t have to worry about someone else having access to it. If you’re interested in other methods of protecting your information, you can also look into data masking or data erasure techniques. Alt-Tech has plenty of encryption options that have helped companies secure their data more easily and thoroughly.

5. Educate Your Staff

You can’t implement any of these practices if you haven’t taken the time to educate your staff. When you take the time to help them understand the different security threats and how they can counteract them, they’ll know why it’s important and how to manage threats. Make sure you explain your company’s online practices and procedures, hold sessions on how to recognize phishing and other scams, and make sure to update your staff on policy changes or new threats. This will make all the difference when it comes to protecting your business online. 

Want to improve your business’ cyber security? Alt-Tech is here to help! We offer data backup and recovery, system security services, and around the clock monitoring. To learn more check out our services page.

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22 Feb 2019

The Biggest Cyber Attacks of 2018

There are over a million people online, and every day there are people and companies that fall prey to cyber attacks. While security researchers are always working to keep our information safe, hackers are always looking for new ways to steal it. That means there’s always a major risk for cyber attack for companies operating online. 

2018 was a big year for security breaches in Canada, the United States, and abroad. A lot of companies experienced breaches that affected millions of people. We like to keep an eye on what’s going on in the IT world, so we’ve created a list of some of the biggest cyber attacks 2018 saw, as well as some advice to help businesses avoid breaches in 2019.

Quora

The popular question and answer website was hacked this year, affecting as many as 100 million users. A malicious third party hacked into the website, gaining access to users’ names, email addresses, profile information, and passwords. Very little has been said about this attack outside what information was compromised.

British Airways

The British airline had to deal with a massive online attack when criminals hacked into the airline’s booking records. This affected records on both the website and the app. Hackers gained full access to traveller’s personal information. This included about 380,000 people’s credit card information. The airline made sure to notify people about the breach as soon as possible.

Marriott

This year Marriott was informed of an information breach that had been occurring since 2014. In this case, thieves had access to the payment cards, personal information, passport numbers, and travel information of over 500 million people. Because of this, authorities believe it could have been the work of nation state hackers.

Facebook

This well-publicized hack affected over 87 million users of the popular social network. Stolen information included people’s personal information such as relationship status, birthdate, and employer. While this breach actually occurred a couple of years ago, the information just surfaced in 2018. Due to that delay, many users are upset about Facebook’s lack of transparency.

Protect Your Company

You probably won’t experience a data breach as large as these companies, but having your information hacked could cost you thousands of dollars and significantly damage your company’s reputation. So, how can you prevent these attacks from happening in your company this year? There are a few quick and easy ways to protect your company:

  1. Protect your usernames and passwords. Making sure employees regularly update their passwords for computer logins and accounts. Changing your password protects makes it more difficult to hack into a computer, protecting you from a security breach.
  2. Update and secure your computer networks. The online environment is constantly changing and so are the risks. Have your IT team keep your security systems up to date with the latest online security.
  3. Be prepared for ransomware attacks. These attacks can happen at any time. They could come in an innocent-looking email or appear on a website. To avoid accidentally installing malware, make sure you can recognize attacks and respond appropriately.
  4. Promote cyber security training. The best way to avoid data breaches is to keep your employees informed. Educate them about cyber risks, how to recognize them, and what to do in case of an attack. 

At Alt-Tech, we can help protect your business from online attacks. We offer around the clock monitoring, system security and access services, virtual IT manager services, and more. If you’re ready to begin protecting your business online, contact us today.

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08 Feb 2019

5 Things You Need to Know About Cloud Computing Services

The cloud has been around for quite a while now, but it still feels pretty new and foreign to most of us. When someone says your data has been stored in the cloud what does that mean? Where has your information gone? Has it disappeared entirely? Is it stored on a computer somewhere else? 

While you may not know exactly what it is, cloud storage affects you every day and will probably be coming to your workplace – if it hasn’t already. For those who don’t know (or are to embarrassed to ask) we’ve compiled 5 things you absolutely need to know about cloud storage services.

1. What is Cloud Storage?

The cloud is a data center that takes your files and folders and stores them over the Internet, rather than on your computer’s hard drive. This allows you to access your files from anywhere, so long as you have Internet connection. It also makes sharing files and collaborating with multiple people much simpler. The key benefit, however, is that your information is stored safely and securely in an offsite location in case of any damage to your onsite computer or hardware.

2. There are Different Versions

When you begin using the cloud, you’ll find there are multiple versions. The most popular varieties are Software as a Service (SaaS), or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). This can get a little confusing, especially for beginners, but the basic difference is who is looking after the servers and storage. With SaaS, an external cloud provider hosts the servers and storage, whereas with IaaS, you’re the one managing the cloud.

3. You Probably Already Use It

That’s right; a lot of us store data in the cloud without realizing we’re doing it. That’s because, even though it may seem confusing, the cloud is already integrated into the computing services we use every day. There are several good examples of cloud environments you’re probably familiar with, including Google Drive, Netflix, iCloud, Microsoft Azure, and Dropbox. 

4. There’s a Hybrid Cloud

This uses a mix of third party (or public) services and private cloud services combining the benefits of both methods. Employing a hybrid cloud service often results in cost savings because you have more control when you need to scale your services. It also provides you increased data storage capability so it can handle spikes in data storage. You may actually already be using a hybrid if you’re using a combination of in-house IT services and external programs.

5. It Isn’t Free

If your company is just starting out and you’ve already integrated your systems with the cloud, then your job is pretty simple. However, a lot of companies will need their information to be migrated to the cloud and managed. You either need to hire and train new employees or find a trustworthy external company or consultant to help with the transition. While this can be costly in the short term, it helps you stay at the top of your industry instead of falling behind. And that, in the long-term, will give you a competitive edge.

Cloud computing resources are making a big difference in the way we do business. They provide a freedom and a security in how we store, save, and share our files. Are you ready to begin the move? 

At Alt Tech, we offer a range of cloud services including Email Hosting, Application Hosting, Server Hosting, and Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity Offsite Hosting. We can help you understand which cloud services will work best for your specific company, and how to use them effectively. To learn more, check out our Cloud Services or contact our team of cloud experts

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31 Jan 2019

Worst Passwords of 2018

Computer passwords aren’t something we pay much attention to. When we get to the office in the mornings, we enter our username and password and then forget about our password again until the next day. However, with increasing concerns about cyber security, many people are now paying more attention to passwords as simple step toward improving computer security.

Unfortunately, many people still aren’t aware how to create stronger passwords. This is why, for the last 8 years, SplashData has released an annual list of worst passwords. These are passwords that are incredibly weak and overused, making it a breeze for hackers to gain access to your computer files and more. 

What Were the Worst Passwords?

SplashData recently released its annual list of the Top 100 Worst Passwords of 2018. They gathered this information from more than 5 million leaked passwords. The top 10 on the list were:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 123456789
  4. 12345678
  5. 12345
  6. 111111
  7. 1234567
  8. sunshine
  9. qwerty
  10. ioveyou

Yes, that’s right; people are still using passwords like ‘password’. This is starting to be a bigger problem for businesses concerned about online threats and hackers. While using passwords like ‘123456’ might be easy to remember, it’s significantly easier for you to be hacked and have company information or your information or identity stolen. If you see your password on this list or anywhere on SplashData’s Top 100, it might be time to update your password.

What Makes a Password Secure?

Password strength can make a huge difference when it comes to protecting information online. It’s important to ensure your business and personal information are secure, and the easiest first step to be secure is by creating a strong, unique password. Password cracking becomes a lot harder when you’ve created a strong, secure password. There are a number of factors that make a password stronger including:

Length

The longer your password is, the more secure it is. It might not seem like an 8-letter password is much stronger than a 6-letter password but those extra two letters can make a huge difference. According to digicert:

  • “A 6-character password with only [lowercase] letters has 308,915,776 possible combinations.
  • An 8-character password with only [lowercase] letters has 208,827,064,576 possible combinations.”

By adding just a couple extra letters you can make your password much harder to crack.

Special Characters

You might think it’s enough to have a really long password, but if you begin mixing upper and lowercase letters with numbers and special characters, you can vastly improve the strength of your password. 

Digicert found that “an 8-character password with letters (upper & lower case) and includ[ing] numbers and symbols has 6,095,689,385,410,816 possible combinations.” Adding special characters and numbers into your password can go a long way toward improving your security.

Multi Factor Authentication

Multi factor authentication is fast becoming a more popular way to improve login security. Essentially, this requires one additional step in authentication beyond the traditional username and password. This can include being sent an additional one-time password, using fingerprint recognition, swiping a card, or attaching a USB. However, these are also more time-consuming and costly solutions.

Master Password

Many of us save passwords in our browsers because we simply can’t remember them all. Unfortunately, this is a really unsafe online practice. If you use Firefox, there’s a way to secure these save passwords. Firefox’s master password requires that you enter the master password before you can use any of the saved passwords. However, this still isn’t an ideal solution because, as a general rule, you should never have your passwords saved online.

Mix it Up

Use different passwords for your logins. While it can be hard to remember a different password for every email, computer, and website login, you should try to avoid using the same password for everything. If you do use the same password, you’re making it much easier for hackers to steal sensitive information. 

How to Move Away from Bad Passwords

The problem many businesses are now facing is how to deal with weak, unsecure passwords. The best way to do away with weak passwords is to educate your employees. Many of them are probably unaware how simple it is to create a stronger password.

Your passwords are the first line of defense against data breach. Make sure your employees are using strong passwords that help protect your company’s information. If you’re concerned about network security give us a call; we can help set up a unique solution custom-built for your business.

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18 Jan 2019

Start 2019 By Building a Cyber Security Culture

As we move into 2019, we continue to rely on automated programs and technology in our day-to-day lives. With this growing reliance comes a growing concern about online safety. From personal information to threats of national security, our advancements affect us all. As we continue to rely on computers, the threat of cyber attacks will only continue to grow. 

The risk of cyber attacks and viruses is more than a threat; it’s a reality for many companies. That’s why it’s become so important for organizations to begin promoting a cybersecurity culture in the workplace. Keep your company safe online this year, follow these simple steps to help build a lasting cyber security culture.

Create a Plan

Creating a Cybersecurity Program means you need to start with a comprehensive plan. This plan should include everything from a risk assessment, to a list of current practices, to achievable goals. This will give you a framework for how to address your organization’s current state of security and an outline for how to get to where you’re aiming. To protect your company, make sure you take action by building a comprehensive cyber security plan.

Engage and Inform All Employees

Many people believe cyber security is the job of the IT (Information Technology) team. In fact, cyber security is actually the job of everyone in your organization. However, many employees are still unaware, so it’s your job to instruct and engage them.

The weakest link in cybersecurity is people. Most of the online threats your company faces will come from everyday interactions and actions online. Your cybersecurity professionals can help take care of threats as they arise, but at the end of the day, preventative security is everyone’s responsibility. To lessen the risk people pose it’s absolutely necessary to continually educate and inform your employees. You need every employee to be aware and engaged in keeping your company safe.

Continually Educate

Cyber security education is the best way to make sure everyone in your company is aware how to stay safe online and what to do in case of a cyber threat. Related to the previous point, this education should be encompassing of everyone in your organization from the top down.

You have two goals in continuing education. One is to make sure everyone is aware what his or her role is in cyber security. The second is to keep everyone up to date as online threats and your responses change. Make sure to engage your online security professionals to help create the cybersecurity education materials and to help present them. Remember you need to continually raise awareness. People need to understand the risks in order to prevent them. 

Maintain a Dialogue

It’s not enough to constantly educate your employees. You also need to give them a chance to apply new practices in their work and to continually learn. As this happens, you need to remain engaged with them. Keep conversations going and continue to inform while also leaving room for employees to explore.

Remember, your employees need to feel comfortable asking questions about cybersecurity, or looking for guidance if they’ve encountered something suspicious. Should they encounter a cyber attack, they need to feel comfortable approaching a supervisor or cybersecurity professional. In order to keep your company safe you need to build and maintain an open dialogue about cyber security.

The most important thing you can do to create a cyber security culture in your company is to make sure all of your employees are engaged, aware, and taking action to prevent attacks. Building a culture of security starts with action. You’re responsible for taking action to protect your company. 

So why not start 2019 by promoting cyber security in your business? Begin building your culture of cyber security now. Alt-Tech can help you set up a protective plan for your specific business and employees. 

If you want to learn more about cyber attacks and how to identify them, you can also check out our post from cyber security awareness month.

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24 Oct 2018

The Business Toolkit for Cyber Security Awareness Month

Were you aware? October is Cyber Security Awareness Month. As more companies move in to the online space, computer security is becoming increasingly important. You need to know how to protect your company from costly data loss.

This Cyber Security Month, the Alt-Tech team has doubled down on helping businesses learn about cyber security. Find out the hidden costs of a cyber attack and learn what you can do to protect your business from phishing scams, ransomware, and other cyber threats.

 

What is a Cyber Attack?

A cyber attack is a deliberate attempt by either an individual or an organization to breach the information system of another individual or organization. In other words, it’s someone trying to access or tamper with your information.

There are many different types of cyber attacks, which makes it hard for businesses to recognize and respond to them. Some attacks aim to disable a computer and take it offline. Other attacks attempt to gain access to a computer’s data to gain personal information or to demand ransom in exchange for releasing the data. There have been many instances of data breaches in well-known companies who house millions of peoples’ personal and financial information. However, even smaller businesses are at risk.

These attacks can happen quickly and with little warning. That makes it important for businesses to recognize a cyber attack before it causes lasting damage.

 

How to Recognize a Cyber Attack

The top cyber-attack method? Phishing. Phishing is designed so you’ll ‘take the bait’ offered. Essentially, it’s the crafting of a message that influences you to follow a link or click on a malicious attachment which will install malware on your computer. This can directly infect your computer’s operating system.

 

Here are some quick tips to recognize a phishing scam and avoid a cyber incident:

It’s Too Good to be True

Whether they’re saying you’ve won something or it’s a claim that there’s a deal on, just remember, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

 

There’s a Sense of Urgency

Phishing scams will often prompt you to act quickly because it is a limited time offer or because your account is going to expire. It’s best to ignore these. Most companies allow you ample time for offers or to update your account.

 

It has a Strange Hyperlink

A link may not be what is appears. Hover over the link to view the URL where you will be directed. If there appears to be something wrong (like a spelling error or a person’s name), don’t trust it.

 

There’s an Attachment

Don’t open attachments in emails you weren’t expecting. An unknown file could contain ransomware or other viruses.

 

It’s from an Unusual Sender

If anything seems out of the ordinary in an email, be suspicious. Often, phishing scams are attached to long and unrecognizable email addresses. However, phishing can be done through hacked accounts, too. Even if it’s from someone you know, if anything seems out of character or unexpected about the email, don’t click on it. If you aren’t sure, call the sender directly to see if he or she sent it.

 

The Cost of a Cyber Attack on Your Business

A cyber attack can have a lasting impact on your business. It can damage your reputation, consumer perception, or even your bottom line. Some of the hidden impacts of a cyber breach include:

 

  • Loss or Damage to Electronic Data

A cyber attack can damage your existing files, rendering them unusable. Or, it can cause you to permanently lose your electronic data. When you think about the time needed to recreate (or pay to recreate) lost files, it can really add up.

 

  • Extra Expenses

If a hacker were to damage your computers, you would have to replace the equipment to maintain normal operations. Permanent damage could also mean loss of important files or documents essential to your business operations. Replacing your equipment and files is costly.

 

  • Loss of Income

Some cyber attacks cause your computer system to become unavailable, completely shutting down your online presence. This essentially shuts down your business causing you to lose customers. For online stores, even a short period of lost sales can be devastating.

 

  • Network Security and Privacy Lawsuits

A hacker may also steal the data you store on your computers. The information could belong to your business, but it can also belong to your customers, vendors, or employees. Because you’re responsible for protecting the data, this can result in a lawsuit (or several).

 

  • Extortion Losses

Ransomware is becoming more common online. Once a hacker has collected your important information, they will hold it hostage until you pay a ransom amount. Several well-known ransom attacks have been committed recently, and the price is typically steep – whether you choose to pay the ransom or not.

 

  • Notification Costs

You’re responsible for informing people when their information has been breached. This can be a very costly expense that involves a lot of lost time.

 

  • Reputational Damage

Your company’s reputation can be very seriously damaged by a cyber attack. Loss of personal information can cause your consumers to lose trust in your business. This may discourage people from doing business with you in the future.

 

All these potential effects on your business could cause lasting and expensive damage. That’s why it’s essential for you to protect your business from cyber attacks. It’s far less costly to take preventative measures than to deal with the fall-out from a cyber breach.

Even if you don’t think you’re at risk, it’s important not to underestimate the costs of a cyber breach. Businesses that use online transactions may be more at risk, but even a traditional business can have their files and accounts hacked.

 

How to Avoid Cyber Losses

Now that you know the risks of a cyber attack on your business, it’s time to be proactive. There are many different ways you can protect your business. The following is a detailed list of best practices you can use to protect your business’ critical infrastructure.

 

  1. Choose the right cyber security defense for your business.

Not all defenses are made equal. To keep your business safe online, make sure your security solution provides real-time protection, online protection, and can look for threats across all vectors.

 

  1. Don’t trust email links.

If you receive an email from someone you don’t know (or receive an unexpected email) be very cautious of the links. They may be infected. By clicking on them, you could be falling prey to an online scam. Always hover your mouse over a link in order to inspect the URL first. If it looks unsafe, delete the email.

 

  1. Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks.

On public Wi-Fi networks you are visible to everyone else on the network. Prevent unauthorized access to your files – don’t trust open networks, especially when you’re sending files and emails.

 

  1. Use strong passwords and change them often.

Hackers have a very easy time if you are consistently using the same password for all your accounts. Keep your accounts secure online, change your password often and make it difficult.

 

  1. Back up your data.

If your computer system is hacked or compromised, you’ll want to have critical data stored so you don’t have to replace it. This will also help you know what information a hacker may have access to in case of an attack.

 

  1. Raise awareness and educate.

Some of your employees may not know anything about internet security. Talk with your employees and share these best practices. Create a pamphlet or presentation to help employees in their daily activities. Cyber security is a shared responsibility in any business.

Whether you’re working in the public or private sector, cyber security is a growing concern for businesses. And, as we continue to rely more on technology processes and digital storage, the concern will continue to grow. Following these simple steps can keep your company safe and secure this month!

 

Want more information on cyber threats and cyber security in Canada? The Government of Canada recently launched the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. You can visit their website for more information.

Or, for information specific to your business, you can book a free consultation with an Alt-Tech cyber security expert. We’ll point out spots of vulnerability in your online presence and help you set up a strategy for better protection.

 

Happy Cyber Security Month from the team at Alt-Tech!

 

 

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