Category Archives: IT Security

Why Backup Data and How to Backup on Windows – A Simple Solution

WHY BACKUP DATA?

The most precious thing on your computer is the data. No, not the latest and greatest computer you have purchased recently. The most valuable asset on your computer is all the data stored on it, especially what you have created, collected, processed, organized for your work, learning, or even entertainment. Now here are some cold hard truth about data and the associated risks.

  1. More than 95% computer users have experienced data loss in some point of their life.
  2. Data loss cost US businesses $11.8 billion in 1998. 6% of all PCs will suffer an episode of data loss in any given year.
    Reference: http://gbr.pepperdine.edu/2010/08/the-cost-of-lost-data/
  3. An article from Boston Computing, provides the following statistics:
    • 30% of all businesses that have a major fire go out of business within a year. 70% fail within five years.
    • 93% of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster.
    • 31% of PC users have lost all of their files due to events beyond their control.
    • Every week 140,000 hard drives crash in the United States.
    • A 2013 poll found that 30% of computer users had NEVER backed up their data.
    • According to a 2013 report, 55% of disaster-related downtime stems from hardware failure, 22% from human error, and 18% from software failure.
    • More than half (53%) of the SMB organizations surveyed revealed they do not conduct daily backups.
    • According to a survey of SMB organizations, 32% responded saying backup is not an efficient use of their time.
    • Simple drive recovery can cost between US$5,000-10,000 and still success is not guaranteed.

  4. Refer to a USA Today 2006 News article.
  5. Refer to an Information Week 2011 News article.
  6. For many businesses, data is their lifeline. Data loss can make them to go out of business.
  7. Accidental delete, virus attack, hacking, disk failure are some of the common reasons for data loss.
  8. Fire, earthquake, storm, flood are some of the natural calamities which result into data loss.

As it shows above, data loss has been known and documented to be a major problem for long time — for about 20 years (definitely a lot more than that). The volume of problems has increased with growing ubiquity of computers among households and businesses. The widespread use of mobile devices has made the risk potential even higher. Add to that the recent rise in malware attacks and cyber-crimes, e.g., WannaCry, Petya, Bad Rabbit etc. It seems there is no end in sight for security breaches, information leaks, and data loss / damage. All this is scary. So, how to address such risks to your precious data? The best option is to practice “Safe Computing” (outlined below), and also take regular backups, which is a simple defense against data loss due any reason.

Here are a few basic points related to backup:
a) In case of a data loss, recovery of an earlier version (that is close to the latest) is the main reason for backup.
b) “Sync” vs. “Backup”: Sync is convenient and popular, but Backup is more robust, dependable, and legally compliant.
c) Network Attached Storage (NAS), especially with RAID, is a common and good backup medium.
d) Regular backup is a legal requirement for businesses in some countries.
e) Backup, preferably automated / scheduled, should be part of every business’s Disaster Recovery plan.

Backup is in general of two types — full and incremental.

  • Full backup saves all the files and folders selected for the backup. It generates a bigger archive and takes longer, but has the full data snapshot.
  • Incremental backup saves only the files that have changed or are new since the last backup (full or incremental). It’s smaller in size and less time to complete, but it depends on the last full backup and any incremental backups in between.

It is a good practice to take a full backup after a significant number of incremental backups. E.g., if incremental backup is taken every day, a full backup can be taken once every month.

Earlier restoration involved restoring the full backup, followed by differential backup, and then all the incremental backups – a tedious and time-consuming process indeed! Now all that can be achieved in a single step, such as “Structure Restore”.

Here are some trends / observations for the data management and backup area:

  • With the prevalence of offsite / cloud-based email services, on-site email servers are reducing and email backup is becoming less important.
  • Permission issues and PC unavailability are the biggest reasons for backup failure.
  • Automatic data backup is much better than manual backups as the latter takes extra time and can be forgotten or skipped under pressure.
  • A well-defined data retention policy is as important as the backup policy and arrangement.
  • In general a business should have a different backup and data retention policy for each of its departments.

For the sake of your business, it’s a must to follow the Safe Computing Principles

  1. Use legal and up-to-date Operating System and other software
  2. Use a reputed and current anti-virus / anti-malware software
  3. Install the latest released stable updates to all your software, especially the Operating System
  4. Use automatic / scheduled regular backups of all important data
  5. Be paranoid… OK, just be super careful — do not trust random email attachments, links in emails, unknown websites / tiny URLs etc.

Please refer to Ransomware (in Wikipedia), in particular the “Mitigation” section.

Our two other posts related to this may also be informative and helpful:

  1. How to Handle Ransomware Threat: Be Cautious and Backup Data
  2. How to Create a Folder Accessible to only a Specific User (Data Backup User)

HOW TO BACKUP DATA ON WINDOWS?

SARANGSoft offers two software products for data backup on Windows:

  1. filexpertez for backup of individual Windows PCs and servers
  2. WinBackup Business for backup of all Windows PCs and servers in a Windows network (domain or workgroup)

SARANGSoft filexpertez is one of the first applications to
a) provide “Structure (one-click) Restore”, reducing the restore effort by up to 99%.
b) allow versioning of the backed up files.
c) enable backup to cloud as well as various local storage.
With the use of “Structure Restore”, the need for differential backup is almost eliminated.

SARANGSoft WinBackup Business performs decentralized backup with centralized control — providing best of both worlds.
a) The backup effort gets distributed across all the computers and is not imposed on a single computer. This results in more flexibility as well as faster backups.
b) The network remains clog-free as the files are not examined or transferred over the network.
c) Enables configuring multiple backups – use different backup specification for different computers or even for the same computer.
d) (Unlike many other backup products) Doesn’t force the users to put their files (to backup) in a single folder. Multiple folders on a user’s computer can be specified to backup.
e) No need to have a single folder-set apply to all computers. Specify a different folder-set to backup for every computer.
f) It’s a rare backup software that provides both Individual (flexible) and Common (easy to use) Selection of folders to backup — see more on that below.
g) Specify a different backup destination for each backup specification. It helps categorize the destination depending on backup contents or the department.
h) Get access to a number of important reports. Click on individual column headers within the reports to sort the data, toggle between ascending and descending order the same way.
i) To backup data locally (not accessible even to the administrator), set the backup destination to local storage media such as External USB Hard Disk / CD / DVD.

Individual Selection vs. Common Selection

Individual Selection
Specify a different folder-set for every computer to backup; not necessarily the same folder-set to backup for every computer.
Common Selection
(If Individual Selection is tedious) Specify a common folder-set for all the computers to backup.

NOTE: If there are permission issues in the network and you are unable to perform Individual Selection, you can still go for Common Selection of the folders to backup.
Individual Selection offers you flexibility, whereas Common Selection offers you ease of use. It’s you who decides what you want.

It is important to remember a few points about Backup Scheduling:

  • Use the same User Id to launch the “Admin Console” and configure backups as what was specified while installing WinBackup Business Server.
  • Scheduling may fail due to permission issues or unavailability of the remote agent computer. Use the ‘Failed Schedules’ report to retry scheduling at a more suitable time.
  • To re-schedule an existing backup, load it in ‘Manage Backup’, go to the schedule options page, modify the schedule, and click ‘Start’ on the Progress page.

CloudScape‘, bundled with WinBackup Business, helps upload backup archives to public cloud storage ‘Amazon AWS-S3’ and ‘Microsoft Azure’ for added resiliency and protection.
NOTE: The AWS and Azure accounts must be your own. SARANGSoft does NOT provide such accounts along with its backup products.

If you feel lost at any point, or do not find what you need, or for any other problem, use the context sensitive help on any topic by just pressing the ‘F1’ key on the keyboard or the ‘Help’ button on the toolbar.

Network Backup
There are two technology options for corporate level backup – push and pull.
a) Push mode backup: Backup agent runs on individual PCs to collect the files, packages, optionally compresses and encrypts, before sending to backup destination. It is more

  • Secure: data can be encrypted before sending over the network
  • Bandwidth Efficient: Data can be compressed before sending over the network
  • Faster: Backup effort is distributed across the workstations, thus achieving better overall throughput
  • Better Load Balanced: Backup effort is not put on a single machine and is distributed across multiple machines

b) Pull mode backup: Backup software pulls the data from individual PCs and then backs them up. All work is done by a single “Backup PC”.

WinBackup Business: Advanced Backup Options

  • Backup open files too (except on Windows XP, Windows Server 2003/2003-R2); no need to close files before backup.
  • Use Backup-on-the-Go for users who remain disconnected from office network for major part of the day (e.g., sales, field support team members etc).
  • Most backup applications fail to backup if the target computer is not in network at the scheduled backup time, but WinBackup Business backs up at the scheduled time to a local disk and automatically transfers the backup archives to backup destination when the computer is back in the network.
  • Configure for the powerful AES encryption for every backup, so that only the intended user can open the backup files.
  • Get email notification when the backup process completes on a computer.

WinBackup Business: Advanced Restore Options

  • Restore operation on a large archive can take quite some time. WinBackup Business can notify through email when restore is complete.
  • Restoration is decentralized, thereby enabling respective users to restore according to own requirements without bothering the administrator.
  • Restoration is made easy using Structure Restore. Restore the latest version of all the files in one go.
  • To restore an older version of a file, use the Restore Point functionality.
  • To restore all files created or modified on/before a certain date, use the Advanced Filtering option.

Backup is essential for computing. Some of the backup tools are hard to use, or inflexible, or expensive, or all of those. Now you have options that work well and do not cost much.

How to Create a Folder Accessible to only a Specific User (Data Backup User)

Data backup is like taking an insurance on your data. Just as we cannot predict what will happen with our life and property the next moment, and take cover of a good insurance, the same is true for our data too. Our precious data may be lost due to various reasons – natural disasters (earth-quake, flood, storm, fire), man-made havoc (theft, arson, violence), equipment failure, hacker attack etc. Backup acts as a good insurance against all such incidents. So, let’s make sure to regularly backup data.

It’s most common take backups onto another storage device, such as an external USB drive or a network share. It’s definitely a good step, but such storage also can be targeted by malware and virus. For example, if you map a network share to a drive (such as map \\myserver\backupshare to the drive x:) or attach an external USB drive to your computer, malware can identify such a drive and do the same damage as it does to regular drives in a computer. To protect the backup drive from malware attack, take the following steps so that the drive / folder is accessible ONLY to your dedicated backup user account as explained in our other blog post “How to Handle Ransomware Threat: Be Cautious and Backup Data“.

NOTE: Though the following set of steps use the folder name “BackupShared” as an example, DO NOT use such an easy-to-guess account name. Choose something suitable for your case that does NOT include your name, username etc.

a) Right-click on the folder (in this case E:\BackupShared as an example), and from the context-menu click on ‘Properties’ option.

b) Click on ‘Security’ tab to select it. You will see the dialog below.
Create Secure Drive - Step B

c) Click on the ‘Advanced’ button. You will then see the dialog below.
Create Secure Drive - Step C

d) Click on the ‘Disable inheritance’ button, which will show the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step D

e) Select the option ‘Remove all inherited permissions from this object’.

f) Remove all ‘Permission entries’ (if any) from the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step F

g) Now click the ‘Add’ button in the above dialog, and you will see the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step G

h) Click on ‘Select a principal’ and you will get the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step H

i) Specify name of the backup-only user created in step (b) above and click on ‘OK’.
Create Secure Drive - Step I

j) You will next see the following dialog. In the ‘Basic permissions’ section, select ‘Full Control’. The other options within this dialog should be as shown below. Then click ‘OK’.
Create Secure Drive - Step J

k) Now click ‘Apply’ in the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step K

l) Change the ‘Owner’ by clicking on the ‘Change’ link in the above dialog. This should be the same as the backup user.

m) Click ‘OK’ to close the dialog. You will come back to the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step M

n) Open the ‘Sharing’ tab, and click ‘Share…’.
Create Secure Drive - Step N

o) Then you will see the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step O

p) If the “backup username” does not appear in the box, click on the dropdown list and select ‘Find people…’. Specify the “backup username” in that dialog and click ‘OK’ to come back to the File Sharing dialog. Then click ‘Add’. Choose ‘Owner’ or ‘Read/Write’ as the ‘Permission Level’ for the user.

q) Click the ‘Share’ button to share the folder. Click ‘Done’ on the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step Q

r) Click ‘Close’ in the following dialog to complete the security settings.
Create Secure Drive - Step R

Yes, you are really done! It took quite a number of steps to go through, but now you have secured a folder / drive from unapproved access by malware and hack attacks. This is a safe destination for your backup data. Go ahead, start the backup process now.

2016: IT Security Challenges

A recently published report by Gartner & Raytheon (Dec-2015) makes some security predictions for the year 2016. The picture is not comforting at all. The already scary level of attacks by cyber criminals will rise even more because of the cyber terrorists (including the “Syrian Electronic Army” or SEA in short), who will be working in sync with ISIS and other such groups.

1.  The US Elections Cycle Will Drive Significant Themed Attacks: The level of use of social and online media for US Presidential election process will exceed all earlier instances. The candidates have started opening websites with their own profile and are regularly updating those with campaign schedules, time tables, issue-based debates etc. They are also using facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. as campaign tools. A 2014 survey showed nearly 74% of US adults use social networking. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, nearly 92% of the Americans are on social media. Of them 96% adults read news on Presidential election there. They have less interest and trust in traditional media like TV, newspaper etc. The candidates also are paying more attention to their Ads in social media sites.
This will make things easier for the hackers and spammers. Pretending to campaign on behalf of some candidate(s), they will present attractive / interesting topics or use offers as bait to trap / cheat users visiting social media as well as push malware, spam etc. in their email / computer.

2.  The attack on Google, Bing etc. will reach an extremely high level. There will be attacks through facebook, Twitter “friend” / “connection”. Serious attacks like Highly Transient Web Threat (HTWT) will also happen.

3.  Addition of the GTLD system will provide new opportunities for attackers: The top ten botnets like “Cutwell”, “Rustock”, “Mega-D” etc. will become even more powerful and active. They have been spreading spam to about 100 million computers around the world, which is 88% of all the 100s of billions of spam sent daily. In 2016, it might grow by 15 times or more!
Since multinational corporations and marketing agencies are becoming increasingly dependent on online services and web-based systems, there is big growth in “cloud computing”. Now the cyber criminals / terrorists are making “cloud computing” systems as their major target.

4.  The cyber criminals will attack the “traditional customer authentication” methods used for online banking and financial transactions to steal funds from bank accounts. There will be tremendous rise in the “Man in the Browser” (MITB) Trojan attack incidents.

5.  The cyber terrorists will also attach in guise of lucrative offers in emails (possibly as attachments) with attractive topics, pictures, invites as well fake web links, so that you step into their trap to reveal important personal information.

6.  The criminals will also use “BlackHatSEO” to get the fake sites and/or links in front of you in search engine results by suppressing the genuine websites. For this they will use various SEO techniques, including paid SEO.

7.  Fake Advertisements in the name of reputed media houses will be used to inject virus into those organizations’ websites. The hackers and spammers will use the still-in-use outdated technologies, such as unsupported and unpatched old software.

8.  The tiny URLs used in facebook and Twitter are quite popular among users. Since those are easy to utilize, the criminals will target the tiny URLs to bring people to malware-ridden 100s of thousands of fake websites.
According to an estimate from a few years back by a security software firm, nearly 300,000 fake websites are launched EVERYDAY just to lure unsuspecting users and infect their computers with malware and virus.

9.  The cyber criminals are going to use “SQL Injection” attack against the famous multinational banks, commercial and marketing companies around the world, including USA. Along with that they will use Phishing (stealing data through browser / email), Vishing (stealing data via phone calls), Smishing (via SMS to mobile phones) attacks.

10. There will be major increase in the cyber terrorists’ use of “foreign language spam” as well as “identity theft” attacks to steal our “digital signatures” for online (commercial / legal / financial) activities.

The only protection is to be super-careful (being paranoid is OK), even for individuals, because our own personal finances can be ruined by such attacks. A whole lot of people have already been burnt by “ransomware” (a kind of malware). Phishing and Vishing are still going on, and people continue to fall for those. On the other hand, a lot of computer users are oblivious about upgrading their software — Operating Systems, Applications, Browsers etc., even if free upgrades are widely available. There are a lot of people who derive extra pleasure in using pirated software, without understanding how dangerous it is for THEMSELVES. The big software companies can afford to lose a couple of billions in lost revenue due to piracy, but a compromised computer can terribly affect an individual’s life or a small business. It really doesn’t cost much when it’s spread over the lifetime of a computer and software. However, some people still find it necessary to avoid paying the dues and lead a risky life. Also, some computer users indiscriminately download and install “free” software from the Internet. Is “free” a business model for anyone? Yes, there are some legitimate “free” (mostly open source) software organizations, but they are well known. Why use software from a random company that pops up in a Google search? Does anyone buy any other thing like that? In real life do you use an item handed out by a complete stranger? Hopefully not.

It’s important to practice “Safe Computing”:
a)  Use ONLY legitimate software
b)  Use RELIABLE anti-virus from a REPUTED company
c)  Regularly update / patch software
d)  Monitor network to detect intrusion / infection
e)  Take automatic backup of all important data

The challenges are grave. The threats are real. The repercussions can be devastating. It’s worth being extra careful.

Threat to an IT Network from End User Activities

Background
A major goal of managing IT networks is to guard against security breaches. A hardware or software asset needs to be monitored on a regular basis, if possible continuously, so that appropriate preventive steps can be taken to keep the IT infrastructure running well as well as secured, because an organization’s success and reputation depends on its IT systems being protected. Though security threats may come from improper management of hardware and software assets, it is quite likely to be caused by end-user actions as well, such as unmonitored user activities.

What is meant by ‘Monitoring User Activity’
What does it mean to monitor “user activity”? It means checking for uncommon, unexpected, suspicious actions by users, including use of (specific) computers, network shares, applications, services, data etc. within the network. Being able to quickly identify any system misuse is an effective security mechanism, which might enable to stop an attack, and clean up any fallout.

In an IT environment users take many actions as part of day-to-day activities, such as run various applications, collect / create / process data, install & uninstall software, request to upgrade hardware & software etc. As part of managing the network, IT Administrators deploy new versions / patches of Operating Systems and applications, add and/or replace components / peripherals. The combination of existing software in the network and certain user actions might unknowingly open the door for security problems, such as attempt to hack the computers, copy / alter / delete data, download virus / malware etc. Sometimes these problems are inadvertent, but deliberate actions to compromise network security is possible, and are not uncommon. Effect of any such security breach can be devastating for an organization – ask the dozens of high-profile companies in the news for the wrong reasons over past couple of years! A potential problem indication can be as simple as a particular user logging into / trying to log into a computer (server / desktop) that is not expected or at an odd hour (beyond normal office hours), or a USB drive being plugged into a computer and such. At times it could be a genuine requirement, in which case the red-flag can be reviewed and discarded. In the other cases, that’s the main clue to track down and fix the problem. Being aware is essential to protect anything, or at least to assess and address any damage.

Challenges of monitoring user activity
Manual tracking of these events are hard to start with, and it gets increasing complex and time consuming. What is needed is an automated process that tracks users’ activities in detail as required. Every organization’s network has its own requirements, priorities, challenges. Accordingly, the relevant events can be setup to be monitored and alerts can be raised for review by the IT administrator.

But how to monitor effectively?
Finding the proverbial needle of security-threat in the haystack of activities is challenging. Automation is a viable way of identifying potential issues and narrowing down the list to actionable items. It’s not just the power of recording all possible actions & events in the network and analyzing those, the flexibility and ease of fitting the tool into an organization’s own requirement is just as important.

SARANGSoft SysExpertez is an application (Windows IT Asset management) that does this monitoring efficiently and with ease. SysExpertez enables the IT administrators to setup alerts on important user activities or even various status (e.g., a disk drive free space falling below a level, System Thermal State, System Power Supply State), so that all these events are reported with details, which can be reviewed as report as needed. A number of such reports are available in the ‘User Activity Reports’ section. Here are some of the reports generated on user activities in a network:
  • Currently Logged-in Users
  • Currently Logged-in Users by Computer
  • Users’ Login / Logout Times
  • Computer ON Status
  • User Logged into Different Computers
  • Users Logged into a Specific Computer
  • USB Device Plug-in
  • USB Device Plug-in by Computer

This variety of reports on end-user activities provide a good idea as to what is happening in the network related to the end-users. You can get a report as a whole as well as use ad-hoc queries regarding specific users or particular activities.

How important is to know the network inventory?

What is ‘Network Inventory’?
An IT network consists of various types of hardware (client PCs, servers, printers, and other peripherals) and software as well as the users. The hardware and software are commonly referred to as Network Assets, which constitute the entire network inventory.

At the simplest level, network inventory is a basic list of devices connected within the network. However, at a more advanced level, it can evolve to contain detailed information about software installed, hotfixes applied, services, and much more.

How important is to know your Network Assets?
Managing the IT infrastructure of an organization is undoubtedly a challenging task. The assets in the network get deployed, updated, removed fairly frequently, and often without any set pattern, to support the operational needs of the organization and the overall computing environment (security issues, virus / hacker threats, product updates and enhancements etc.). Keeping track of the users and their access privileges is an integral part of IT management. One of the biggest challenges to managing the network is the lack of comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the network, which are essential for decision-making and planning about the growth and improvement of IT infrastructure.
If you are a network administrator, you have to face these common questions:
  • How many computers (client PCs and servers) are in the network (domain or workgroup)?
  • Which of these computers are active vs. inactive, have been added / modified?
  • What hardware components (CPU, RAM, motherboard, hard discs and partitions, network card / chip, video and audio card / chip etc.) are in those client PCs and servers?
  • What Operating System (Windows) version is running on each PC and server?
  • What Service Packs for the OS have been installed on each PC and server?
  • What software applications (including version, manufacturer etc.) are running on each PC and server?
  • What all services are running on each PC and server?
And many more like these. Without these details you will never know the actual state of your network. Proper network asset management is impossible without the knowledge of the network assets.
What exactly is “IT Network Asset Management”?

IT Network Asset Management (also called IT Inventory Management) is an important part of an organization’s business strategy. It involves collecting detailed hardware and software inventory information, which are used to make decisions about purchase as well as redistribution of hardware and software over time.

IT asset management helps an IT organization manage its systems more effectively, and saves time and money by avoiding unnecessary asset purchase and/or disposing off existing resources.

How do organizations manage their network assets? Is it sufficient for them?
It’s quite common for System Managers / Admins to manually monitor the entire network, at times with dedicated personnel. That’s a challenging task, which is repetitive, error-prone, time consuming, and to a high degree wasteful of qualified systems professionals. A tool that automatically monitors the network for such information and presents a consolidated view helps with the latest status as well as not take up important human resources for such tasks.

SysExpertez: A solution for network asset tracking, monitoring, and management
SARANGSoft SysExpertez is a comprehensive asset, domain, and operations management application with a number of exciting features that help manage IT assets, Active Directory domains, and operations in the network. It automates and simplifies the repetitive tasks and quickly provides accurate results through an easy-to-use interface.

It’s like a set of CCTVs within your network, so that you as the System Manager / Admin can get a full view through the “Admin Console”, as if sitting in a “Control Room”. The powerful Admin Console is super-easy to use with a simple menu-driven UI that also looks and feels great.