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Three Ways To Survive A Ransomware Attack

Young Asian male frustrated, confused and headache by WannaCry ransomware attack on desktop screen, notebook and smartphone, cyber attack internet security concept

By Efrem Gonzales

There’s been a great deal of talk about the recent WannCrypt/WannaCry ransomware attack. The virus targeted computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in Bitcoin. The result was more than 230,000 computers in more than 150 countries hit, including FedEx, the UK’s National Health Service, Spain’s Telefónica and others. 

The biggest issue for those affected was that it all could have been avoided. Microsoft issued a “critical patch” for its newer operating systems nearly two months before to remove the underlying vulnerability. In other words, improper network management was the bigger culprit in this incident.

Take the lessons to be learned here. More to the point, here are three ways that companies can ensure the likes of a WannaCry-type of attack doesn’t wreak havoc on their organization.

Be Diligent In Security Updates

Establish processes to upgrade equipment systematically. This doesn’t mean to accept updates or set your gear to download modifications automatically. Nevertheless, your company should formalize stated policies and procedures that consistently looks at updates and their potential impacts — both good and bad — to your network. Prioritize which ones — especially ones deemed “critical” — to implement. Set up a “proof of concept,” or test environment, before going live with any updates.

Identify Roles and Responsibilities By Name

Highlight specific individuals by roles, job duties and the equipment they manage. This also helps orchestrate how data will flow through the network. Go a step further by empowering your team to take ownership of particular aspects of the network and incentivize their efforts to keep it operating in a highly efficient and protected environment.

Segment Your IT Network

Should a hacker infiltrate one area, it is far less likely their disruption will spread across your entire landscape. Segmenting the network can also make it easier to maintain your IT infrastructure. You’ll detect abnormalities, such as an unusually high level of activity or traffic at odd hours, faster and create fixes for them in quicker fashion.

As important, though, is how your organization segments its IT assets. Don’t arbitrarily decide what equipment and data are housed in one area versus the other. Keep servers and workstations separate. Doing otherwise defeats the purpose of segmentation. Otherwise, a user who takes a phishing bait will allow the perpetrator to bypass all protective firewalls and access to the entire server farm in short order.

While we don’t know when the next attack will come, it will be prudent to surmise that one is coming and organizations that haven’t keep a keen eye on their system’s network vulnerabilities will become victims.

About the Author: Efrem Gonzales is the Founder and CEO of Tec-Refresh, a nationwide provider of IT infrastructure, cyber security, data and networking solutions and support services. He can be reached at efrem.gonzales@tec-refresh.com.

Three “Never Do’s” In Cybersecurity

Child saying no. Toddler lifting hand in protest isolated on white background.

 

We recently penned a piece on three things organizations should always do when creating a stable foundation for a secure network. We understand how overwhelming it can get when trying to keep up with all facets of protecting the precious information housed within an IT infrastructure. We wrote that article to provide some perspective in what must occur at all costs.

With that in mind, let us provide you a similar piece on three things NEVER to do when running a network:

Take Security Lightly
Many organizations view the task as overhead; a cost center if you will. There’s a business case to be made for the strategic importance of planning and implementing company-wide security initiatives with the goal of driving behavior throughout the organization.

Instead, view security as a channel for doing business. That means ensuring that an adequate budget and right toolsets exist to help employees stay productive and drive revenue. The lack of appropriate security controls will only increase the risk of downtime — often when it’s least convenient — and kill profits as well as raise liability exposure.

Believe You Are Too “Small” To Be Hacked
We often hear the argument from small to mid-sized organizations that feel hackers will opt to not go after their networks and focus instead on larger firms. The belief is that these criminal elements won’t view the effort as worthwhile.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Hackers will not discriminate based on your size. Every organization is connected to each other in a wide range of forms, so accessing one organization to get to another is commonplace and, if not addressed, easy.

Moreover, deploying a program that infiltrates millions of networks simultaneously takes very little effort for the savvy criminal elements that operate in today’s cyber landscape. In fact, the chances are good that you’ve already been hacked at some point, but don’t even know it.

Be Unclear On Security Roles
It’s one thing to have a plan but quite another to execute. We’ve seen many instances where an organization’s cyber security policies look good on paper but fail in its implementation.

Ensure staff members know their responsibilities for things such as log reviews, security patch management, and the like. Employ third-party services if necessary to keep up to date on these and other issues. What’s more, regularly review these activities against stated business goals, including uptime, data transfer rates and the like. The devil will always be in the details.

Keep in mind that these “never do’s” will assist organizations in balancing the divergent, yet business critical, objectives of maintaining productivity AND network security high. They will serve as the key elements to promote operational efficiency and ensure business continuance in the event of a disaster. Over time, your IT costs will not only be as small as possible but generate a measurable return on investment as it assists in driving the maximum amount of revenue per employee.

About the Author: Efrem Gonzales is the Founder and CEO of Tec-Refresh, a nationwide provider of IT infrastructure, cyber security, data and networking solutions and support services. He can be reached at efrem.gonzales@tec-refresh.com.

Inter Valley Health Plan Hires Tec-Refresh To Develop New IT Infrastructure

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Company to work with not-for-profit’s IT department to architect, design, implement new platform

Tec-Refresh, a nationwide provider of IT infrastructure, cyber security, data and networking solutions and support services, announced today that Inter Valley Health Plan has contracted them to develop their new IT infrastructure in anticipation of implementing new cloud-based solutions.

The company will work with the not-for-profit, federally qualified, Medicare Advantage Organization’s IT department to architect, design and implement a new platform while seamlessly migrate its network without disruption.

“We’re honored to be the firm of choice for this comprehensive project,” said Efrem Gonzales, Founder and CEO of Tec-Refresh. “With this initiative, we’ll add value and reduce operation costs, spearhead an expeditious and seamless transition of its data networks, and empower the organization to provide a measurable increase in service quality, communication and consistency.”

“We needed a partner that can take our design vision and implement it using best business practices. Furthermore, we operate in a highly regulated environment. It means the project has to be completed with minimal impact to end users and virtually zero downtime,” said Hatim Mouissa, Manager of Information Technology and Operations of Inter Valley Health Plan. “We went with Tec-Refresh because of their deep infrastructure expertise in implementing best of breed solutions to improve performance and allow for scalability. We’re looking forward to launching this new infrastructure in the coming weeks!”

About Inter Valley Health Plan

Since 1979, Inter Valley Health Plan is a not-for-profit, federally qualified, Medicare Advantage Organization with more than 25,000 members throughout Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties. In addition to the health plans offered, the organization provides useful health education and wellness programs for members and the community. More information is available at www.ivhp.com.

About Tec-Refresh, Inc.

Tec-Refresh designs, delivers and supports technology solutions that become the foundation of its clients’ businesses. This includes network storage, cyber security, managed services, virtualization and data infrastructure solutions. The company is headquartered in Ontario, Calif., with technicians deployed across the U.S. to serve the needs of customers nationwide. More information is available at www.tec-refresh.com.

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© 2017 by Tec-Refresh, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Three “Must Do’s” To Securing Your Networks

 

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Many organizations get bogged down in the litany of requirements related to protecting their data networks. The overwhelming feeling many executives face drives them to the point of inaction.

Ignorance will not adequately defend sensitive corporate and customer information. Moreover, businesses will create unnecessary risk by simply hoping for the best. If nothing else, companies should at least employ these three “must do’s” that will build the foundation for protecting their networks.

Outline roles and responsibilities

Identify specific individuals by roles, job duties and the equipment they manage. This also helps manage how data will flow through the network. Go a step further by empowering your team to take ownership of particular aspects of the network and incentivize their efforts to keep it operating in a highly efficient and protected environment.

No matter if the organization consists of five or 500 people, developing and maintaining a network security plan that spells out roles and responsibilities should take priority.

Evaluate how your network currently PROTECTS and ENABLES

Regardless of industry — finance, healthcare, energy, construction, fitness, fast food or any other market — identifying what and how your network currently protects and enables your operations will provide the framework for improving your infrastructure for today as well as in the future.

The art of this initiative lies in the ability to perform two seemingly conflicting tasks. Your data network needs to ensure that hackers are thwarted in their efforts, while, at the same time, enabling staff to accomplish mission-critical tasks in the most effective and efficient way. Anything less puts a drain on productivity and profits. Understanding how your network performs both these tasks will help identify current and future cybersecurity needs.

Data and network protection seek to balance several divergent, yet business critical, objectives simultaneously. Determining how the different technologies and processes within your system are working to this end will allow your organization to promote operational efficiency and ensure business continuance in the event of a disaster. At the same time, evaluating your network’s current efforts along these lines will help minimize both operational and capital expenditures in addition to proactively identifying and remedying security issues before they become catastrophic.

View cybersecurity differently

Most organizations label cybersecurity expenses as overhead. Reality shows us otherwise, though. Placing appropriate emphasis on establishing effective protocols and investing in employee training on safe practices will reduce liability risk while, at the same time, increasing productivity. This perspective considers cyber security initiatives as business drivers; not something to simply check off on a list.

Given that data is the cornerstone of your business, your company cannot afford to ignore security. Without proper plans and understanding as to what your networks do in both protecting and enabling your operations, both you and your customers take on greater risk. Creating a solid plan that aligns with your organization and ensuring protections are integrated into your IT infrastructure is key. Do that if nothing else to get started on creating the fundamental foundation to a workable, secure network platform.

About the Author: Efrem Gonzales is the Founder and CEO of Tec-Refresh, a nationwide provider of IT infrastructure, cyber security, data and networking solutions and support services. He can be reached at efrem.gonzales@tec-refresh.com.

 

 

The Right IT Segmentation Can Save Your Network

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It’s not uncommon for an organization’s IT network’s topography to be relatively flat. By this, I mean a company’s data infrastructure has many ways for someone to access it from the outside.

At first glance, it would appear that such configurations would be clean, efficient and easy to manage. The opposite is true. These types of systems are easily infiltrated, hard to maintain and a great risk to business operations.

Hackers will find that there are plenty of opportunities to trick an employee into providing them a conduit to their company’s mission critical data in a flat IT architecture environment. They are sophisticated in their outreach and effective in making the team member believe their request for personal and corporate information is a legitimate one. Before you know it, your network is breached and a large operational, legal and financial headache is on your shoulders.

If the network I described sounds remarkably similar to yours, it might be a good idea to develop a plan to segment duties across multiple networks. Should a hacker infiltrate one area, it is far less likely their disruption will spread across your entire landscape. Believe it or not, segmenting the network can also make it easier to maintain your IT infrastructure. You’ll detect abnormalities, such as an unusually high level of activity or traffic at odd hours, faster and create fixes for them in quicker fashion.

As important, though, is how your organization segments its IT assets. Don’t arbitrarily decide what equipment and data are housed in one area versus the other. Keep servers and workstations separate. Doing otherwise defeats the purpose of segmentation. Otherwise, a user who takes a phishing bait will allow the perpetrator to bypass all protective firewalls and access to the entire server farm in short order.

Be sure to also set up processes to upgrade equipment systematically. Don’t “blanket” accept updates or set your gear to download modifications automatically. Formalize stated policies and procedures that look at the updates and their potential impacts to your network. Prioritize which ones are necessary as opposed to “nice to haves.” Set up a “proof of concept,” or test environment, before going live with any updates. It will be important to ensure no downtime occurs when upgrading your network.

Segmenting your IT infrastructure is becoming a more common practice, as it should be. For a network to be as secure as it can be, it’s vital to have the right segmentation scheme. In this day and age where employees have access to critical company data 24/7 and from multiple devices, there is no other recourse. The time period of granting access only through a desktop computer during normal working hours is long gone. Businesses fully appreciate that employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders need access to information around the clock and through many different ways. Properly segmenting your network is no longer a nice to have, but a “must do.”

About the Author: Efrem Gonzales is the Founder and CEO of Tec-Refresh, a nationwide provider of IT infrastructure, cyber security, data and networking solutions and support services. He can be reached at efrem.gonzales@tec-refresh.com.

How To Implement A New IT Infrastructure in 8 Weeks

3D illustration. Image background concept of cloud computing.

3D illustration. Image background concept of cloud computing.

Most organizations putting up with legacy IT systems will tell you that they desperately want to migrate to a platform that will improve performance and allow for scalability. Their resistance to doing so may be partly due to budget constraints, but an even bigger issue is the time such initiatives take; months in many cases.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. The key to streamlining the design and deployment processes for mid-sized companies and non-profits is in the preparation work. I’ve been in this business for nearly two decades and have seen all kinds of environments. None were more challenging, though, then when an organization fails to take the time to plan a migration well.

In that spirit, here’s a framework from which organizations can create a workable strategy that allows you to implement a new infrastructure in as little as eight weeks.

Give Time For The Discovery Process, Including Due Diligence
This should include key business and technical stakeholders from the client’s IT organization as well as members of the vendor’s sales, engineering and professional services team. The objective of the process is to quantify the current environment and document the required as well as expected outcomes. Be sure all parties discuss and validate the business’ functional and technical requirements of the project and review any known or potential risks. Your service provider, if you’re using one, should present its findings and recommendations on this front to ensure complete alignment with your objectives before implementation, planning and execution.

Define The Test Planning Process
Make sure it identifies the various unit, system and functional tests required to adequately demonstrate that the new infrastructure is working as designed and intended. The process should also describe the methodology for executing the plan and reviewing the outcomes with you. Specify how you will accept and reject the results. As important, the document should discuss how the service provider must respond to the rejected results to gain acceptance.

Alerts for New System Releases / Planning for Upgrades
Require that your service provider notifies you of new system releases on a regular basis. I recommend a minimum of two strategic planning sessions per year to summarize all of the new system upgrades being proposed by the underlying manufacturers. As a general rule, I’m not one to promote blind upgrades unless they produce a compelling business impact. Planning for an upgrade can range from days to weeks or even months depending on the complexity. Schedule four to six weeks to complete a simple upgrade and eight to 16 weeks to perform a complex upgrade.

Outline Your Implementation Process Includes Three Steps
It’s not enough to know how you’ll do the prep, but exactly how the implementation will be done. It should include three distinct steps:

  • Initial Assessment and Integrity Check
    Be sure the technicians fully prepare and test your system before it arrives on site so it is ready for installation. This includes:

    • Performing a complete equipment inventory
    • Ordering any additional or missing equipment if necessary
    • Racking and installing all equipment in a specified lab
    • Serializing all of the equipment
    • Downloading all software licenses and right to use permissions
    • Conducting all software and firmware updates
    • Performing translations by an assigned specialist
    • Inputting all network IP addresses into the system
    • Burning in the system and run diagnostics to identify any problems
    • Conducting a complete test of all hardware and software
  • Evaluation For Cutover
    Make certain that the service provider and other stakeholders are on site when your new system goes live and ready to handle any issues that come about to make any changes necessary. This will ensure that your new infrastructure is working just the way you want it.
  • Registration & Maintenance
    Each manufacturer has a specific process for registration and deployment of gear. You’ll need to take great pains to make sure you deploy every system as per their specs. This ensures the manufacturer will accept the system for maintenance coverage, and that their records are properly updated to include the fact that the system went live. Be sure you and your team provide the vendors accurate inventories for their records. With more and more manufacturers requiring maintenance to get access to patches and updates, this thoroughness is more important than ever.

About the Author: Efrem Gonzales is the Founder and CEO of Tec-Refresh, a nationwide provider of IT infrastructure, cyber security, data and networking solutions and support services. He can be reached at efrem.gonzales@tec-refresh.com.