End User Awareness 7 – Protecting the Computers

Protecting Computers

It’s important to protect your devices. In this article I’m explaining the different types of threats we face when it comes to computer security and what you need to be aware of to ensure a safe work place. Beneath are three steps to use when coming out for a threat or accident.

  • Identify
    Know what computer threats look like and what to be suspicious of. Try to determine authenticity, but when in doubt assume the worst.
  • Mitigate
    Once we have identified a threat, we need to know what to do with it, how to handle it and how to prevent it from causing damage.
  • Report
    If a threat was able to get to us, that probably means it slipped through a security measure. Report the threat so it can be prevented in the future.

    Types of threats we face

    Dangers that fall under this type of threats are what many people know as “viruses”. These are nasty programs or files that get on our computer from things like bad downloads, malicious email links, or bad USB drives. We see symtpoms like our computer acting slow, fake/real virus alerts, or unusual activity on our web browser.

How does it get there?

Email links:
Everyone has seen what obvious spam emails look like. Improper spelling and grammar, an offer that is too good to be true, or a sense of urgency are all common in poorly constructed phishing emails. Some attackers; however, are much more savvy. These attackers construct very convincing targeted emails which may use bait such as warning us of a breach at a credit card company or impersonating someone who works with us. Links in these emails may take us to websites which will attempt to steal our information or install nasty software on our computers. Learning how to identify these links is the first step in keeping this malware off our computers.

Malicious Files:
When we are at work, we deal with different files on our computer every day. How do we access those files? Connecting to a folder on the network, using physical mediums such as discs and USB’s, and receiving files by email are the most common ways we access files that are not already on our computer. Attackers can very easily hide malicious programs inside other files. What may look like a word document has the ability to steal our passwords. A USB that we find on the ground may install a program on our computer that gives someone the ability to control it remotely. Always think twice about opening files or running programs, especially if you did not explicitly request them. Also, never plug in USB’s to your computer unless they have been scanned or approved by your IT department.

Fake Updates:
It seems like the programs on our computers need to be updated constantly. Programs such as adobe flash player and java are constantly sending us updates to better protect these programs from security threats. When we are on the internet; however, what may look like an update may be an attempt to have us install a malicious program on our computer. These look alike popups will tell us things like “Your Adobe Flash Player is out of date, click the link to update it”. If we are receiving this message on many legitimate websites, then it may be worth investigating if we need an update. However, we are seeing this message for the first time in a popup box or a sidebar ad, it could very well be an attempt to install a virus on our computer.

Physical Threats:

Physical dangers are those that the attackers has to be “in-person” in order to accomplish. People using our computer when we walk away, using impersonation to get our password or access to our computer, or simply stealing our computer and walking away are all physical attacks

Theft Prevention
Simply stealing our physical items can provide attackers with a means for monetary gain. Some steps to preventing physical theft:
– Lock office doors
– Lock cabinets and desk with sensitive files
– Secure laptop with cable lock / locking docking station
– Do not leave your badge anywhere without you
– Do not write your password down and leave it near your computer

Lock Computer
It only takes “Just a second” for data to be transferred off our computer or for someone to install a malicious program. Always lock your computer whenever you are not actively sitting at it or whenever your attention will be diverted away.
On windows computers it simply takes holding the windows key (the key to the left of the spacebar that looks like a windows flag) and pressing the ‘L’ key. “win + L”

Impersonation can come in the form of an attacker requesting to use our computer in person or an attacker calling us on the phone attempting to get us to reveal sensitive information or give them remote access to our computer

Never allow any unknown person to get on your computer or plug in any devices or USB’s to your computer. Even if individuals claim to be there to fix your computer, always ask if you can see their badge especially if you had not requested any IT support prior to them arriving.

Password attacks

Many attackers rely on attacking weak passwords in order to gain access to our computers and accounts. Keeping the same password for a long time, using a short, non-complex password, or making our password easy to guess are all ways that attackers crack our password.
Developing a strong password:

Company policy often dictates the minimum number of characters our password should be. Each additional character drastically increases the number of possibilities that an attacker has to try if they want to guess our password. Consult your company policy for the minimum amount of characters for your password; however, remember that longer passwords decrease the likelihood for it to be compromised.
For passwords that do not have minimum character restrictions try to ensure the password is at least 8 characters long.

While long passwords help make a strong password, long passwords that only include letters or numbers make it easier for an attacker to guess the password. Complexity means putting in more than just letters and numbers into our passwords. Our company may have a “3 of 5” rule in which our password must contain at least 3 of the following elements in our password:

Even when a password is long and complex it can still be guessed by an attacker if it is a commonly used password or something that someone else knows about our background. Passwords which use elements such as our birthdate, wedding anniversary, spouse’s name, pet’s name, favorite sport, or school mascot, can be guessed by a persistent attacker if they look at our social media accounts. Here are some examples of seemingly strong passwords that are among the first that attackers will try:

Once we hit the sweet spot and make a password that is long, complex, and random it is easy to want to use that password everywhere and never change it. This practice makes it convenient not only for us but also for attackers trying to get into our accounts. All it takes is for one of the websites that stores our password to be hacked, or someone looking over our shoulder at our keyboard every day and all of our accounts are now at risk. Using different passwords for different purposes and making sure to change those passwords regularly helps to make sure that we limit the damage done if one of our passwords gets discovered by an attacker.