Tag Archives: data loss

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.

Preventing data loss on your computers

Introduction
Data have become intrinsic part of modern human life. We are constantly searching for data, right from the time we wake up every morning. While some of the data are live and online, a lot of data are collected, processed, organized, and stored for quick and easy access at any time. These data (stored in files and folders) are valuable for our personal needs. Those can be photos, videos, music, research outcomes, write-ups, important documents and so on. If those are lost for any reason, it would significantly affect our lives, professionally and/or personally (often emotionally). That’s why it’s easily understandable why we often fear of losing such data due to some unexpected problem.

Types of data loss and some precautionary steps
Though we often think about “data protection”, which includes guarding it against preying eyes and hands of hackers and such, “data backup” is intricately involved in the process. The term ‘data backup’ means to copy data files to another medium (such as a disk or tape) as a precaution, in case the original storage medium (generally the hard disk built into the computer) fails. Data backup is crucial for businesses as well as individuals.

There are many ways that your data can be lost. The common reasons are hardware failure, corrupted files, virus / malware, accidental deletions, and of course natural disasters (storm, earthquake, flood etc.) or man-made disasters (vandalism, theft, terrorist attack, arson etc.). Let’s look at few safekeeping approaches to prevent data loss as part of a comprehensive data protection plan.

a) Create a standardized file / folder organization
It helps to develop a standard way of organizing and storing your files, so that you (and your users) will know where a particular kind of file are expected to be. Once this first step is done, backing up data files will be more accurate and precise, and it will save time and hassle while retrieving any lost data to its original location.

Organizing files and folders is the key to a data protection and restoration plan.

b) Identify which (kind of) files need to be preserved
Once you have organized your files and folders, determine which are important for you. Though you are the best judge deciding what are your important files, here are some ideas for your convenience.

The following types of files are important:
  • The files you can’t do without
  • The files you will need in the future
  • The files related to products & services you sell (for businesses)
  • Files that you cannot re-create
  • Files that you can re-create but don’t want to
  • Files you regularly use and/or refer to and/or update

On the other hand, the following types of files are less important:
  • Files you have not used (not viewed or edited) for a few years.

The following types of files might be good candidates to not be included in backup (or should even be deleted from your computer to keep it clean):
  • Files you cannot remember why those are there.
  • Files you know are not useful for you any more or are known be outdated.

c) Avoid storing documents on the same drive where Operating System is installed
On Windows, most document editing applications save the document file in the ‘My Document’ folder, which is very well known. As a result, malwares and virus often target the files there, making the files vulnerable.

Whether it is a virus or software failure, the majority of computer problems affect the Operating System. Quite often the solution is to reinstall Windows, and at times after reformatting that drive. In such an instance, you must make sure to copy / backup all of your own files (not the system or application files) from the drive, including the ‘My Documents’ folder; otherwise everything on the drive will be lost. You can create a separate drive on the same physical hard disk, and store all your own files and folders on the second drive. If the OS drive needs to be reset, your data drive will still be unaffected.

It is also possible for the hard disk itself to go bad (disk crash), in which case all drives on that disk will be lost. You can replace the hard disk and reinstall Windows and the applications to get it back to working condition, but in this case your files and folders on the data drive has also been lost. To handle such cases, you can use an external hard disk to store your data files. Or you can just use regular backup from your data drive to an external disk.

d) Backup regularly
You can alert yourself to take a set of security measures to protect data loss, but if your data is not backed up, it’s very likely that you WILL LOSE IT. So, ensure that your data is backed up regularly, and test the backup to ensure that your data can be recovered when you need it.

How often should you back up? That depends on how much data you can allow to lose if your system crashes completely. A week’s work? A day’s work? An hour’s work? Depending on that you have to schedule your backups.
There are numerous backup programs with varieties of features. You can easily try out
  • SARANGSoft filexpertez (file-expert-ease) for backing up a Windows PC. It’s a comprehensive file and folder management tool for home, office, school / college, everywhere.
  • SARANGSoft WinBackup Business for backing up all PCs and servers in a Windows network (domain or workgroup) through a centrally managed arrangement.

Both the products are feature-rich and flexible, yet easy to understand and use. These do not cost much, and there is a no-obligation 30-day free trial available.

e) Automate your backup procedures
All of us are busy. There are too many things to do every day, and too little time! Even though you might be very sincere about regular data backup, it’s quite possible that you forget to run backup at times, and that leads to an inconsistent data backup arrangement. Ideally, backup should be arranged to run in a consistent manner without any manual intervention. Depending on the importance of your data, you may schedule the backup operation to run it automatically. The only thing you should bother about is to check that the backup are really happening. It helps if the backup program can send you a notification when it backup is done, either successfully or ending in failure (in which case you can look into the issue and fix it).

f) Encrypt your data while backing up
Using encryption during backup of your data is another layer of protection for the data.
Encryption changes the backed up data in a way to making it unreadable by anyone, except who has the password “key”, which allows him/her to decrypt the data back to its original usable form.
There are various types of encryption mechanism available, and some programs use it.

g) Create a local backup arrangement
All the important files should be backed up locally first. Make sure that the backed up files are available at your office / home. That ensures for easy access and recovery, as well as control of the data.

h) Create an off-site backup arrangement
It’s a great idea to arrange for a different location than your office / home to keep a copy of the backed up files. It provides “redundancy” as well as prepares for “disasters”.
If the local backup is damaged or lost for any reason, the off-site backup copy will save your day.

i) Use of “cloud” as remote storage for backed up data
Nowadays, it’s increasingly common to use cloud as the remote data storage. There are many benefits to using cloud storage, most notable being the virtual indestructibility of cloud storage and its accessibility. Files stored in the cloud are assured beyond any other level for reliability and those can be accessed at any time from any place with Internet access and your own user credentials. As far as the disaster recovery is concerned, data from cloud can be restored without any hassle. Also, the cost of cloud data storage and restoration is significantly lower than traditional data storage and restoration.
SARANGSoft CloudScape is a unique cloud storage browser for the Windows platform to seamlessly integrate cloud storage (AWS-S3 and Azure) with local storage (PC’s hard drive). Its Windows Explorer-like user interface enables easy transfer (including drag & drop) of files and folders to and from cloud, thereby making cloud storage an extension of your local PC storage. It maintains full folder hierarchy between a PC and cloud storage, which is not very common for such tools.

Ending Note
Making plans and implementing those takes time, effort, resources, and costs money. That’s why many of us defer doing it. However, the cost of not backing up data can be so severe, the upfront effort for the backup process is worth everything you put into it.