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Cyber Hygiene: Elements to Enhance Your Cybersecurity Strategy

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Written by David Brown, Security Operations Director from Axon Technologies

The security strategy of an enterprise is a blend of traditional best practices and those that it develops based on multiple other internal drivers. This could include the experience baseline of the CISO, the number and level of skilled resources available within the enterprise, the culture of the organization, the market segment in which it operates, and lastly, its previous track record of managing cyber security incidents.

A typical list of best practices that every enterprise must follow includes ensuring that routers and firewalls are installed and properly configured; updating whitelists of authorized users and blacklists of prohibited or unauthorized users; ensuring that anti-malware protection software is functional and correctly configured; updating all operating systems, business applications, web browsers, and firmware with latest security patches; and activating strong password rules with two factor or multi-factor authorization procedures.

However, despite the rigorous implementation of these activities, threats from unanticipated sources and entry points are possible. Here are five other areas that if proactively maintained, go a long way in boosting the cyber hygiene of an enterprise.

#1 Disaster Recovery – How Quickly Can You Respond to and Recover from an Attack?
Disaster recovery processes are the foundation for a resilient security strategy. By default, backups are thought to be successful once completed but may become a source of failure at a late stage. Typically, parts of the backup process may fail and go unnoticed by administrators.

More seriously, threat actors may be successful in purging on-premises and cloud backups, while disaster recovery processes may never have included off-line backups or tape-based data backups. Going forward, best practices for disaster recovery should include routine exercises to detect backup failures and must follow the 3-2-1 backup rule.

#2 Digital Footprint – Keeping the Big Bad Wolves Away from your Door
One of the most vulnerable areas for an enterprise is leaving doors open that are facing the Internet. Typical examples include expired domain names; expired SSL Certificates; forgotten cloud servers or buckets; demo web services left running; exposed services and ports. A digital footprint audit gives deep visibility beyond a typical network boundary into areas that may provide a backdoor Internet entry into the enterprise. Knowing everything that you are exposed to will show not only where there are holes, but also where duplication exists.

Having one Windows Remote Desktop Server open to the Internet is never good but learning that you have twelve of them is eye-opening. By using security gateways and terminating nonessential and redundant Internet-facing services, the defensive profile of an enterprise is vastly improved. A well-maintained digital footprint consolidates Internet-facing assets, known and unknown, into a manageable inventory.

#3 User Policies – Clarity and Transparency Are Key to Security
The enterprise must define at an early stage what is allowed and not allowed inside the information technology and networking system. Certain practices can be detrimental to the well-being of an organization’s workflow and create additional challenges for administrators. For example, unrestricted usage of the Internet for e-commerce, file storage, social media, and media streaming, is mostly unrelated to business processes.

Continuous usage by employees, by adding notifications and popups from third-party interfaces, cloud the cyber hygiene of an enterprise. The enterprise must also have clearly defined policies about not allowing removable media such as USBs, external hard drives, mobile phones, and personal devices to be plugged into the enterprise network.

#4 Network Segmentation – Restricted Access: Authorized Personnel Only
At one stage industrial enterprises physically separated industrial control systems and information systems. However, with industrial enterprises also adopting digital transformations solutions post-pandemic, this is no longer feasible. Enterprises need to proactively segment their networks with built-in Zero privileges, while moving from one network segment to another, as well as setting up alerts in case there is an attempt to breach these segments.

Does a library PC in a remote university location need to access the central database server farm? Limiting access privileges exclusively to those who need it protects the enterprise network from widespread cyberattacks and enables better performance as it reduces the volume of users in specific zones.

#5 Data Encryption and Classification – An Organized Enterprise is a Secure Enterprise
Data should be classified based on importance and usage. Classification allows the internal security team to understand how to protect the data and locate it within the enterprise. If data is stolen from the enterprise, classification marks help to make it identifiable to the administrators. Any data that has a high classification level should be encrypted both in storage and transport. This ensures that an enterprises’ most valuable data is encrypted when it is travelling across the network.

These five processes, amongst others, are critical to reducing the risks and exposure of an enterprise. It leads to a huge improvement in cyber hygiene while building a resilient security strategy.

Cyber Security

New Hacktivism Model Trends Worldwide

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Check Point Research (CPR) outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. Five characteristics mark today’s form of hacktivism, according to researchers: political ideology, leadership hierarchy, formal recruiting, advanced tools, and public relations. CPR gives the hacktivist group Killnet an example of the latest model, detailing its attacks by country and attack timeline. CPR warns that hacktivism that originates in conflict-related geographies has the potential to scale worldwide.

  • Before, hacktivism was mostly focused on a few individuals carrying small-scale DDoS and defacement attacks
  • Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured, and sophisticated
  • CPR believes the new model of hacktivism began in conflict areas in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and proliferated to other areas during 2022

Check Point Research outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. The hacktivism of the new model is better organized, structured and sophisticated, compared to the past. Hacktivist groups no longer consist of a few random individuals who carry out small DDoS or defacement attacks on low-tier websites. These are coordinated organizations with distinct characteristics previously unseen.

Key Characteristics:

  • Consistent political ideology (manifestos and/or sets of rules)
  • Hierarchy of leadership (Smaller groups relay attack orders to “commanders)
  • Formal recruitment process (Based on minimum requirements)
  • Tools that the groups provide to their members (Advanced tools for notoriety)
  • Robust public relations functions (Presences on major websites)

Why now?
CPR suspects the shift in the hacktivism model began roughly two years ago, with several hacktivist groups like Hackers of Savior, Black Shadow, and Moses Staff that focused exclusively on attacking Israel. CPR believes the Russian-Ukrainian war has proliferated the new model of hacktivism significantly. For example, The IT Army of Ukraine was publicly mobilized by the Ukrainian government to attack Russia. The new hacktivism also saw groups that supported the Russian geopolitical narrative, with groups like Killnet, Xaknet, From Russia with Love (FRwL), NoName057(16), and more.


Case Study: Killnet, from East to West
In April of this year, the group completely shifted its focus to support Russian geopolitical interests all over the world. The group claimed to have executed more than 550 attacks, between late February and September. Only 45 of them were against Ukraine, less than 10% of the total number of attacks.

  1. March: the group executed a DDoS attack on Bradley International Airport in Connecticut (US)
  2. April: websites belonging to the Romanian Government, such as the Ministry of Defense, Border Police, National Railway Transport Company and a commercial bank, were rendered unreachable for several hours.
  3. May: massive DDOS attacks were executed against two major EU countries, Germany and Italy
  4. June: Two very significant waves of attacks were executed against Lithuania and Norway in response to severe geopolitical developments between those countries and Russia
  5. July: Killnet focused their efforts on Poland and caused several government websites to be unavailable.
  6. August: Cyber-attacks were deployed on Latvia, Estonia and USA institutions
  7. September: the group targeted Asia for the first time and focused its efforts on Japan, due to Japan’s support for Ukraine

Sergey Shykevich, Threat Intelligence Group Manager at Check Point Software, said, “Hacktivism now has a whole new meaning. Before, the term meant a few random folks launching small DDoS attacks. Hacktivism is no longer just about social groups with fluid agendas. Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured and more sophisticated. I believe everything changed within the past year, especially with the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.”

“There are some key characteristics that mark the new model of hacktivism, including a consistent political ideology, a clear hierarchy of leadership, formal recruiting processes, sophisticated tool set, and robust PR capabilities. Though the change began in specific conflict-related geographical regions, it has now spread west and even further. Major corporations and governments in Europe and the US are being heavily targeted by this emerging type of hacktivism. All this allows the new hacktivism groups to be mobilized to governmental narratives and achieve strategic and broad-based goals with higher success levels – and much wider public impact – than ever before,” he said.

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The All-Seeing Eye: Why Data Privacy is More Important Than Ever

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In this day and age, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can confidently say their data is completely secure. The sad truth is, very little of our personal data is safe from prying eyes, and this is something more and more people are becoming aware of.

For instance, you’ve probably had an experience where you looked something up on the internet and then got assaulted by targeted advertisements for the very thing you were looking up. How does this work, though?

The answer is cookies. These crumbs of data that are stored on your device are what enable websites to track your activity.

Initially, websites weren’t even required to inform you when installing cookies on your device. The landmark General Data Protection Regulation, passed by the EU and implemented in May 2018, made it mandatory for websites to be transparent about their data collection and purpose, resulting in those notifications you get asking you to accept or reject cookies when you go to a website.

Cookies, however, are just a drop in the ocean when talking about data privacy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, describes the right to privacy as a basic human right, but the truth is most big tech corporations simply don’t care. Their argument is that we’ve already consented to their data policies. But, let’s be honest here—no one really reads through license agreements, do they?

They’re extremely drawn out and use complicated legal and technical jargon, and this plays into the hands of these corporations. They also argue that no one is being compelled to use their software and that we can always use an alternative if we’re unhappy with their policies, but that’s a moot point. No one should be expected to forfeit their privacy to use a product.

The data collected about an individual’s browsing habits can also be used to create a profile for advertising purposes, but this leads to yet another issue—not a single company, including today’s big tech companies, can say its data is completely safe. Data breaches still happen and compromise the personal data of millions, yet most companies simply view these breaches as ordinary setbacks.

The good news is more people are talking about data privacy, and some have even deleted their social media accounts. Whether this will impact how big tech views and handles our personal data, however, remains to be seen.

We at ManageEngine take data privacy very seriously and have done so before it became fashionable, politically correct, or legally binding to take such a position. We ask for only the least amount of information necessary, gathering only what we believe is essential for doing business or for the specific transaction at hand. In fact, we completely disable non-essential and intrusive third-party cookies from all our websites and products. You can even disable all cookies completely to prevent your browser from sending us any information.

To learn more about our privacy policy, click here.

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It’s Surprisingly Common for Criminals to Impersonate Your Brand and Customers Often Pay the Price

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Written by Werno Gevers, Regional Director of Mimecast Middle East

Cybersecurity experts are urging companies in the Middle East to take bold steps to protect against online brand impersonation attacks that could trick customers and employees into sharing sensitive personal information – or even passwords and banking logins. Werno Gevers, cybersecurity expert at Mimecast, says cybercriminals are increasingly hijacking trusted brands to launch cyberattacks from lookalike web and email domains to increase their chances at successfully duping their victims – and many companies are not keeping pace.

“A lack of technology and appropriate security policies can leave the door open to criminals using trusted brands to trick customers, partners, suppliers and the brand’s employees,” says Gevers. “Deploying online brand protection tools can help companies identify and take down malicious websites impersonating their web and email domains before customers fall victim. This should be supported by a robust regime of frequent and ongoing cyber awareness training to equip every employee with the knowledge to spot and avoid risky behaviour.”

In a survey conducted by Mimecast in 2021, 75% of consumers in the Saudi Arabia and 78% of consumers in the UAE said they’d stop spending money with their favourite brand if they fell victim to a phishing attack involving that brand. Compared to a global average of 57%, this places the region’s consumers among the most unforgiving of all markets surveyed. More than 80% of consumers in the region also believe it is the brand’s responsibility to protect itself from email impersonation, with a similar percentage saying it is the brand’s responsibility to protect itself from fake versions of its website.

Despite the risks, Mimecast’s latest State of Email Security 2022 report found that as much as 42% of organisations in Saudi Arabia and 38% in UAE were only somewhat prepared – or not prepared at all – to deal with attacks that spoof their email domains. This potentially leaves the door open to threat actors subverting trusted brands to trick consumers or employees into divulging information that could later be used in sophisticated social engineering attacks, or even to breach organisational defences.

Gevers says employees that receive suspicious email communication on their work email address should report it to their security teams immediately. “Security teams can use this information to contain the threat and protect the rest of the organisation. Security teams have tools and technologies that can protect people outside the organisation too, which can help keep threats from spreading to the company’s customers and partners. It is essential that dangerous communication is reported to security teams, as it helps improve the organisation’s security and resilience against attack.”

According to Gevers, there are some tell-tale signs that the person you’re speaking to may be a scammer, including:

  1. Receiving unsolicited communication from someone or some company that you aren’t expecting
  2. Messages that contain unbelievable offers, spelling errors or a sense of urgency
  3. Mails sent from webmail accounts, for example mimecast@gmail.com
  4. Mails containing redirects to login pages that have suspiciously long URLs
  5. Being asked for PIN numbers or login details

“If you see one or more of the above signs, stop immediately and verify the request by contacting the organisation who is purportedly reaching out to you. Don’t rely on the number provided in the communication: if the email claims it’s from your bank, for example, rather phone the bank on their main number and check the validity of the communication. Don’t ever share your login details, don’t make payments with cryptocurrencies, and don’t click on links unless you know they can be trusted.”

Despite a company or consumer’s best efforts, there is still a possibility that cybercriminals could successfully trick someone into sharing personal information that the criminal may use later to commit further fraud or breach organisational defences. If this is the case, Gevers advises that the victim take immediate steps to limit the potential damage.

“Firstly, change all your social media, email, and banking passwords. If an email communication was sent to you by a scammer, report it to your security team so they are aware of it. No one likes to fall victim to cybercrime but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Being honest and swift can potentially prevent other people from falling victim too.”

He adds that any such cases should be reported to the relevant authorities so that law enforcement may investigate and, hopefully, find and prosecute the perpetrators. “Countries across the Middle East have acknowledged the dangers cybercrime poses to their citizens, businesses, and critical infrastructure, and are taking steps to strengthen law enforcement capabilities to combat the scourge of cybercrime.”

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