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Office 365 Threats and Inversion of the Corporate Network



Written by Oliver Tavakoli, CTO, Vectra AI

2020 presented a tidal wave of challenges for businesses in every sector — from healthcare to hospitality to aviation. Every organization was forced to adopt some aspect of its strategy, whether by reducing spending, cutting staff, madly hiring, or changing operating models.

While the impact the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had on the technology industry lags in comparison to other sectors, there was still a significant amount of change. Many organizations were forced to implement and accelerate digital transformation initiatives to cater to a rapidly deployed remote workforce.

Organizations that had invested heavily in developing and creating robust on-premises security architectures had to significantly transform and update their security strategy to protect against threats on assets used outside of office walls. In fact, one of the biggest security realizations and lessons learned in 2020 is that the security of protecting an employee’s device, interaction with the internet, and access to corporate applications must be able to travel with them, independent of where they happen to be at a given point in time.

As a direct result of accelerated work-from-home initiatives, the adoption and daily use of cloud and SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications surged in 2020, presenting many new threats. Attacks that target SaaS and cloud user accounts were among the fastest-growing and most prevalent problems for organizations, even before COVID-19 forced the vast and rapid shift to remote work.

With organizations having increased their cloud software usage, applications such as Office 365 dominated the productivity space. The Office 365 platform experienced more than 250 million active users each month and became the foundation of enterprise data sharing, storage, and communication – also making it an incredibly rich treasure trove for attackers.

It was no surprise then that Office 365 became the focus of attackers in 2020, leading to some massive financial and reputational losses, despite the increased adoption of multifactor authentication and other security controls intended to serve as roadblocks to attackers. Among the breaches involving Office 365, account takeovers were the fastest growing and most prevalent attacker technique.

Attackers now focus on account takeovers rather than email compromise to gain initial access in an environment. According to a recent study, lateral movement is the most common category of suspicious behavior inside Office 365 environments, closely followed by attempts to establish command-and-control communication. Two Office 365 tools that have emerged as valuable to attackers are Power Automate and eDiscovery Compliance Search.

Microsoft Power Automate, formerly Microsoft Flow, automates day-to-day user tasks in both Office 365 and Azure and is enabled by default in all Office 365 tenants. It can reduce time and effort to accomplish certain tasks for users – but similar to PowerShell, attackers tend to want to automate tasks as well. With over 350 application connectors available, the options for cyberattackers who use Power Automate are vast. Office 365 eDiscovery Compliance Search enables the search for information across all Office 365 content using one simple command. All these techniques are actively used now, and they are frequently used together across the attack lifecycle.

The number of threats targeted towards Office 365 users and other similar platforms will undoubtedly continue to grow in 2021. Identifying user access misuse has traditionally been tackled using prevention-based, policy-centric approaches or have relied on alerts that identified potential threats as they occur, leaving little time to respond appropriately. These legacy approaches will continue to fail as they only show that an approved account is being used to access resources and do not provide any deeper insight into how or why resources are being utilized and whether the observed behavior might be useful to an attacker.

In 2021, security teams must focus on implementing measures that provide a more detailed overview of how their users utilize privileged actions — known as an observed privilege — within SaaS applications like Office 365. This translates into understanding how users access Office 365 resources and from where. It is about understanding the usage patterns and behaviors, not defining static access policies.

The importance of keeping a watchful eye on the misuse of user access to SaaS data cannot be overstated, given its prevalence in real-world attacks. SaaS platforms are a haven for attacker lateral movement, making it paramount to monitor users’ access to accounts and services.

As we look ahead to 2021, what are some of the other security considerations organizations should prepare for? The inversion of the corporate network will remain predominant as many enterprises around the world focus on adopting a more permanent hybrid or completely remote work structure to increase productivity, reduce overhead, and provide employees with better flexibility. It is no longer the case that highly sensitive and confidential data is only kept on-premises, where a small number of exceptions are made in the protective firewall policies to allow for outbound communication.

In 2021, de-perimeterization of the organization’s networks will finally be accepted as the norm, something which has been anticipated for years and that the pandemic has accelerated. One of the leading indicators for this is companies who are ditching Active Directory (on-premises legacy architecture) and moving all their identities to Azure AD (a modern cloud-enabled technology).

One of the best things an organization can do to prepare for security challenges in 2021 is investing in network detection and response (NDR) and deliver user access via a Zero Trust architecture. Enterprises should think about where their most important data is located (most likely in the cloud and SaaS applications) and determine how efficient their security team is at ferreting out attackers from all these places before they do any substantial harm.

Expert Speak

Don’t Brush It Off – Plan Your Incident Response Now



In business, impermanence is the only certainty. An example is how organizations addressed the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a few weeks, many developed a plan to run their businesses remotely.

More than three-quarters of organizations worldwide don’t have an IT incident response plan in place because most believe they have little risk of becoming a cyberattack statistic. Unfortunately, that’s still likely to happen.

According to africanews, in the past year, Kenya has experienced a concerning rise in cyberattacks, with a remarkable 860 million incidents documented in 2022.

As wisely expressed by Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” Let’s explore a strategic incident response plan for your organization.

Create a Backup
Business networks are complex and large, and oftentimes, a network outage results in financial and reputational repercussions, including disgruntled clients. It’s imperative to create a backup of critical data and systems that you can’t run your business without, and store it in a safe location. When the inevitable breach occurs, your business will be able to recover as quickly as possible.

Never Say Never
While a workforce continuity plan might seem unimportant and nonurgent, the pandemic prompted IT departments worldwide to quickly realize the importance of being able to rapidly change the way their organizations conducted business.

Here are a few steps to help you draft a business continuity plan to address the next disruption:

  • Form a team with representatives from each department and understand their workflow.
  • Identify critical business functions and find a way to prioritize them.
  • Assess the risks for every process in your organization and record them.
  • Develop a risk mitigation strategy to protect your critical business functions from those risks.
  • Document the entire procedure and keep it up to date.

Train Your Employees
A common hurdle with an incident response plan is ensuring that employees take the plan seriously. To deter the mindset that the plan is “less urgent,” educate employees about its importance and the repercussions that can result from cyber threats and cyber incidents. It’s vital to conduct regular training sessions to address hardware failures, software glitches, network outages, and security breaches so that you efficiently mitigate a cybersecurity incident.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
Understand the points of failure in your previous incidents and find a way to rectify them. Single points of failure should be addressed by establishing a backup, not just in terms of network and systems but also in terms of staff allocation. Relying on a single person, especially when it comes to a critical network, is not a great idea. Delegate a second person to reach out and provide assistance in case of an incident.

While incident response might seem insignificant in the larger scheme of things, when a disaster hits, it could potentially devastate your business. Take some time to prioritize incident management and make it part of your organization’s culture by creating a backup, training your employees, drafting a workplace continuity plan, and learning from your past incidents. Learn more about IT incident management for your business.

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Cyber Security

Cybersecurity on a Budget: Affordable Cybersecurity Strategies for Small Businesses



According to a survey by Statista, typically, global enterprises dedicate a minimum of 12% of their IT expenditure to information security measures. While larger companies can afford to spend a lot on building a robust cybersecurity strategy, smaller businesses cannot. So, let’s explore some affordable cybersecurity strategies for small businesses that may cost less but have a greater impact.

Train your employees
An article from Forbes found that, annually, 34% of businesses worldwide encounter incidents involving insider attacks. Whether intentional or unintentional, employees tend to be the reason for most data breaches. Per the same article, phishing emails account for 67% of accidental insider attacks.

Phishing attacks mostly instil a sense of urgency in the victim, making it harder for them to think clearly before making a decision. For example, employees may click an email announcement about a bonus that actually came from a malicious outsider impersonating your company’s CEO.

To avoid such mistakes, it’s imperative to train employees on the types of phishing attacks and the ways to identify them. Even going as far as sending a mock phishing email occasionally to test their instincts and educate them can go a long way.

Assess your vulnerabilities
One of the most important cybersecurity strategies is to assess all your risk points by periodically reviewing all your business processes. Pay more attention to teams that deal with a lot of customer data. For instance, sales and marketing teams may handle customer data on a day-to-day basis, so they are at high risk of leaking or mishandling data. Assess their daily activities, create a record of all the risk points, and find ways to mitigate them.

Encrypt your data
Encrypting your data can be an effective method to protect it in case of data leaks. Let’s say a hacker gets hold of your company’s data, but it’s encrypted. Unless the hacker gets the encryption key from you, they cannot access your company’s data. This adds another layer of protection in addition to the everyday cybersecurity best practices that you should be following in your company. So make it a point to encrypt all your data, especially sensitive and critical data.

Limit access to critical data
Not everyone requires access to all data. Try to limit access to critical and sensitive data to fewer employees by basing access on work duties or requiring approval for access, making it a multi-step process to access it. Additionally, periodically review who has access to what data to ensure there aren’t any misallocations of access.

Secure your Wi-Fi
A secure network will reduce the chances of a hack or unauthorized access to your sensitive data. So switch your Wi-Fi to WPA2 or later, as it offers more security. Your business might already be using it, but it’s best to be sure. Additionally, change the name of your SSID and have a strong pre-shared key to keep your Wi-Fi safe from hackers.

Prevent physical theft
Through April 2023, there were 3,785 robberies in London, and 1,765 were of mobile phones. This highlights how important it is to secure your physical assets, as they might contain critical and sensitive information about your organization.

Here are some ways to protect your physical assets, such as PCs, laptops, scanners, and printers:

  1. Restrict unauthorized access to assets.
  2. Install a physical tracker on all devices to track down lost items.
  3. Enable remote wiping of data to erase information if a device is lost.

Cybersecurity strategies are seldom drafted with affordability in mind. However, it is crucial to consider them from a financial perspective, as small businesses are also increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks. These tips can help you take the first step toward creating a secure IT environment. Learn more about cybersecurity solutions for your business.

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Cyber Security

Managed Security Service: Right Choice for Your Company?



Written by Lev Matveev, SearchInform Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors

75% of information security experts consider insider threats more dangerous than hacker attacks. This is proven by the SearchInform survey conducted annually. Insider threats include data loss, fraud, theft, kickbacks, business on the side, etc. These are serious risks for any business, resulting in major financial losses, reputational damage and fines from law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, many companies still do not ensure reliable protection against insider threats.

The reasons are the following:

  • Hardware and software for data protection are costly
  • The market lacks data security experts
  • SMEs cannot compete with large enterprises to engage professionals.

According to our 2022 survey, one-third of companies recognize an acute shortage of information security experts and cannot ensure protection in-house. Therefore, in 2019 we decided to launch a managed security service based on our protection solutions, which gives the opportunity to use them without hiring security specialists.

The SearchInform service provides protection against data breaches, internal fraud, document forgery and other violations by employees. It solves the tasks of monitoring employee working hours, compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and many more.

We take on all tasks that are usually handled by in-house security staff. Our experts install and maintain security software, customize security policies for effective control, constantly monitor the situation in the company, detect incidents and investigate them. The client receives detailed and visual reports, as well as emergency alerts if it is required to take urgent measures and prevent an incident.

Availing the service, the client does not need to hire a security expert and therefore does not need to spend on social benefits, vacations or sick leaves. The client’s business remains protected if a security employee resigns or takes an unpaid leave. At the same time, our analyst has diverse work experience, knows the solutions well and has all the necessary competencies to work with them.  Since we are unacquainted with the client’s employees, our expert will be impartial and will not take anyone’s side. All this allows the clients to save time and money.

When do companies really need MSS?
According to our observations, the service is the best choice for companies with 30-500 employees and without an in-house IS department.  When the staff number increases, top managers can no longer control everything and face a high risk of incidents.

Here are a few common situations when you should choose managed security service.

  1. A company does not have internal security officers or lacks the budget to form a security department. Our service was originated to make data security more affordable. It significantly reduces the company’s costs, as there is no need to purchase software licenses, hardware, or hire a full-time information security officer. 
  2. Full-scale protection is required immediately. Companies often turn to managed security services after an incident has already occurred. It becomes clear that to prevent this in future, it is necessary to implement special security software, purchase additional equipment, and hire a data security officer. These steps will take a lot of time. The service will start protecting your business within 1-2 days.
  3. A company is not sure that the purchase of security systems will pay off eventually. Our service is an opportunity to test them in real conditions and assess whether they are worth purchasing in each specific case. One first month of the service is free.
  4. A company wants to conduct a security audit and get a complete picture of the corporate security. The service allows you to quickly find out what data is stored, where exactly it is stored and whether there are access rights violations. As far as the first month, our expert detects cases of corporate fraud, document forgery and other violations, as well as cases of idleness, business on the side or work for competitors. 
  5. For compliance with regulatory requirements. More and more regulations are being adopted or waiting to be adopted. SAMA, GDPR, and DCC incentivize companies to take measures to ensure data security. Some regulations, such as the UAE Information Security Regulation issued by the United Arab Emirates Telecommunications and Digital Technology Authority, even stipulate the use of DLP as a means of preventing data loss. To avoid the risk of hefty fines or lawsuits for non-compliance, you can use our managed security service.

I believe that outsourced data security should soon become as widespread as outsourced accounting or IT services. It is just a matter of time.

SearchInform offers a free trial version for one month! 

During this month, clients can assess whether the service really meets their needs. According to our experience, 100% of companies discover some kind of problems during the trial, ranging from the idleness of their employees to corporate fraud and confidential data leakage. 70% of companies that request a free trial continue to work with us.

Request a free trial of the service for one month!

Contact us for more information:
Office Address: 10C-15, I-Rise Tower, Hessa Street, Barsha Heights, Dubai, UAE.

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