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Data Risk and Ransomware: is your data staring down the barrel?

Data Risk and Ransomware: is your data staring down the barrel?


“As you know, we at Hawkins & Co. are very technology-driven.  This means we have to be aware of IT-related threats that might threaten our business-and those of our clients.

We’re aware of several local businesses that suffered attacks in the past month.  So we thought it would be timely to ask our IT service provider, Pareto Business Group http://www.paretobiz.com/ to write a guest blog on the topic.

If you are one of our clients: please be assured that we practice what Pareto preaches. Hope you find this useful!”

Thanks to all!


What’s threatening your data?

Most IT pros would rank malware, ransomware and phishing as the largest concerns for business IT networks. ransomware has most recently taken the spotlight by encrypting files or locking the hardware that is infected with it, then demanding ransom in order to regain access. The main point of entry are often a careless/uninformed employee that receives something via email which is disguised as a legitimate file. It can often appear to be from a trusted company or person.  When the user un-wittingly runs the virus program, it encrypts everything it can by crawling through the file system on the user’s PC; this usually includes folders shared from a server

Once a single device is compromised, hackers will gather credentials on the initial point of entry and gain elevated administration privileges in order to map out the network and move to new hosts to encrypt further machines. Once they have access to data (e.g. .pdf, xlsx., or docx.) they believe is valuable, they encrypt it. Without proper offsite backups, losing intellectual property, customer data, and financial records could have detrimental consequences to the business. Often the greatest risk to a crippled IT infrastructure comes from both company owner and personal laptops and other portable devices being network-connected endpoints at highest risk. Users can go outside of company protocol and install unauthorized apps to their devices that pose a security risk to the organization.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Just like in humans, good hygiene is essential to maintaining the health of your system. Be sure that your computer is protected with these 3 key tips:

  1. Install a business class antivirus: Many users may think they are protected thanks to free anti-virus programs like those that may have come included with their machine, but the reality is that these programs are often inadequate in the battle against the ever growing malware threat. Users should instead invest in their data by being sure to have a business class antivirus installed and running.
  2. Perform Scans Daily: Even with a best in class antivirus solution in place there is always the possibility of a virus outsmarting your system or an operator and planting itself on your system. For this reason, it is vital that you enable complete and daily scans of your entire system to insure that if a program does infect your system you get to it before it has time to do lasting damage.
  3. Avoid clicking links and attachments where possible: Now this is one we’ve all heard before, and for good reason. This advice often falls on deaf ears however as users frequently haphazardly click links  and attachments from all but most obvious traps. Because clicking a link or attachment can result in an infected machine within minutes it’s vital that users scan attachments for viruses  where possible, and navigate to websites manually. Additionally, be sure to never enter your sensitive data on web pages that you have arrived at via link as the links contained within many emails can be fraudulent and malicious.

What is the safest way to backup my network and client data?

To mitigate the risk and better prepare for the aftermath of a malware attack, a hybrid solution of onsite and offsite backup should be utilized. Installing a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device with redundant drive storage is a simple way to have multiple copies of your files in case of hardware failure etc. This however, does not help in the event of a malware attack as it could easily be infected with the rest of you on premise infrastructure. To ensure your backup is not compromised, many NAS devices can be easily setup to automatically back up to the Cloud. For a monthly fee to Cloud hosts (for example Microsoft Azure), you can be rest assured that your data is continuously backed up offsite in a secure data center.

On site or in the Cloud, where is my data safest?

If you ever find yourself in a conversation about data security and the cloud you are bound to hear something along the lines of “I don’t trust my data in the cloud,” or, “I feel my data is more secure under my own protection,” but the reality of the matter is that identical servers share the same vulnerabilities, regardless of whether they are located in your company’s personal servers or hosted within a cloud provider’s data center.

The actual difference between your onsite solution and a cloud hosted solution is the amount of money that these cloud providers have available to invest in the latest and greatest in data security. We’re talking astronomical spending on research and development here people. In just Q2 of 2014 Amazon, Microsoft, and Google (the 3 lead horses in the cloud computing race) invested a combined 4.7 Billion dollars into infrastructure, research and development. 4.7 BILLION!

Who can honestly say they can compete with that level of investment and commitment to the best in data security and stability? And that’s not even mentioning that their staff of hundreds of trained technicians and developers have years of experience in their fields.

A closer look at Microsoft Azure security

Taking a closer look at Microsoft and their Azure platform, you get a real feel for their commitment to a secure environment for your data. Microsoft Azure is protected at all levels; physical, network, host, application, and data layers ensuring the complete security of your system. The following are just 3 of the many security layers found in Microsoft’s Azure platform:


  1. Breach Simulations and the Incident Response Team: A dedicated team of security experts simulates real world attacks on the network, platform and application layers, challenging Microsoft Azure to detect, protect, and recover from security breaches. Additionally, the Microsoft incident response team is on around the clock, ready to resolve and identify any security incidents and vulnerabilities in Microsoft software and services.
  2. Encryption and Key Management: Microsoft services use encryption to guard customer data using a combination of secure transport protocols between users and the Microsoft data center, as well as a range of encryption options for data at rest. Additionally, Azure offers the flexibility to implement additional encryption as well as the ability manages one’s own keys (such as authentication keys, storage account keys, and data encryption keys). Security key management is an essential part of protecting your data in the cloud, and with the Microsoft Azure Key Vault there is no need to provision configure, patch, and maintain hardware security modules and associated software.
  3. Permissions and User Identification: The identity and access management features of Microsoft services help in the protection of businesses and personal information from unauthorized access while facilitating the availability of the services to legitimate users. At the core of this is the Azure Active Directory, which functions as an identity and access management solution which helps ensure that only authorized personnel have access to your cloud environment, systems, and data.

A call for security in the age of malware

With the malicious minds behind malware constantly improving on their software’s ability to corrupt and infect your system, the need for a secure platform for your business is more real than ever. And with ransomware wreaking havoc on businesses across the globe, it’s time to ask yourself:

Is your data secure… or is it soon to be staring down the barrel?