Cybersecurity Awareness

Reducing Risk with Ongoing Cybersecurity Awareness Training

Threat researchers and other cybersecurity industry analysts spend much of their time trying to anticipate the next major malware strain or exploit with the potential to cause millions of dollars in damage, disrupt global commerce, or put individuals at physical risk by targeting critical infrastructure.

However, a new Webroot survey of principals at 500 small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), suggests that phishing attacks and other forms of social engineering actually represent the most real and immediate threat to the health of their business.

Twenty-four percent of SMBs consider phishing scams as their most significant threat, the highest for any single method of attack, and ahead of ransomware at 19 percent.

Statistics released by the FBI this past summer in its 2017 Internet Crime Report reinforce the scope of the problem. Costing nearly $30 million in total losses last year, phishing and other social engineering attacks were the third leading crime by volume of complaints, behind only personal data breaches and non-payment/non-delivery of services. Verizon Wireless’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report, a thorough and well-researched annual study we cite often, blames 93 percent of successful breaches on phishing and pretexting, another social engineering tactic.

Cybersecurity Awareness Training as the Way Forward

So how are businesses responding? In short, not well.

24 percent of principals see phishing scams as the number one threat facing their business. Only 35 percent are doing something about it with cybersecurity awareness training.

One of the more insidious aspects of phishing as a method of attack is that even some otherwise strong email security gateways, network firewalls and endpoint security solutions are often unable to stop it. The tallest walls in the world won’t protect you when your users give away the keys to the castle. And that’s exactly what happens in a successful phishing scam.

Despite this, our survey found that 65 percent of SMBs reported having no employee training on cybersecurity best practices. So far in 2018, World Cup phishing scams, compromised MailChimp accounts, and opportunist GDPR hoaxers have all experienced some success, among many others.

So, can training change user behavior to stop handing over the keys to the castle? Yes! Cybersecurity awareness training, when it includes features like realistic phishing simulations and engaging, topical content, can elevate the security IQ of users, reducing user error and improving the organization’s security posture along the way.

The research and advisory firm Gartner maintains that applied examples of cybersecurity awareness training easily justify its costs. According to their data, untrained users click on 90 percent of the links within emails received from outside email addresses, causing 10,000 malware infections within a single year. By their calculations, these infections led to an overall loss of productivity of 15,000 hours per year. Assuming an average wage of $85/hr, lost productive costs reach $1,275,000 which does not necessarily account for other potential costs such as reputational damage, remediation cost, or fines associated with breaches.

One premium managed IT firm conducted its first wave of phishing simulation tests and found their failure rate to be approximately 18 percent. But after two to three rounds of training, they saw the rate drop to a much healthier 3 percent.1

And it’s not just phishing attacks users must be trained to identify. Only 20 percent of the SMBs in our survey enforced strong password management. Ransomware also remains a significant threat, and there are technological aspects to regulatory compliance that users are rarely fully trained on. Even the most basic educational courses on these threats would go a long way toward bolstering a user’s security IQ and the organizations cybersecurity posture.

Finding after finding suggests that training on cybersecurity best practices produces results. When implemented as part of a layered cybersecurity strategy, cybersecurity awareness training improves SMB security by reducing the risks of end-user hacking and creating a workforce of cyber-savvy end users with the tools they need to defend themselves from threats.

All that remains to be seen is whether a business will act in time to protect against their next phishing attack and prevent a potentially catastrophic breach.

You can access the findings of our SMB Pulse Survey here.


This article was provided by our service partner: Webroot

Patch Management Practices

Patch Management Practices to Keep Your Clients Secure

Develop a Policy of Who, What, When, Why, and How for Patching Systems

The first step in your patch management strategy is to come up with a policy around the entire patching practice. Planning in advance enables you to go from reactive to proactive—anticipating problems in advance and develop policies to handle them.

The right patch management policy will answer the who, what, when, why, and how for when you receive a notification of a critical vulnerability in a client’s software.

Create a Process for Patch Management

Now that you’ve figured out the overall patch management policy, you need to create a process on how to handle each patch as they’re released.

Your patch management policy should be explicit within your security policy, and you should consider Microsoft’s® six-step process when tailoring your own. The steps include:

Notification: You’re alerted about a new patch to eliminate a vulnerability. How you receive the notification depends on which tools you use to keep systems patched and up to date.

Assessment: Based on the patch rating and configuration of your systems, you need to decide which systems need the patch and how quickly they need to be patched to prevent an exploit.

Obtainment: Like the notification, how you receive the patch will depend on the tools you use. They could either be deployed manually or automatically based on your determined policy.

Testing: Before you deploy a patch, you need to test it on a test bed network that simulates your production network. All networks and configurations are different, and Microsoft can’t test for every combination, so you need to test and make sure all your clients’ networks can properly run the patch.

Deployment: Deployment of a patch should only be done after you’ve thoroughly tested it. Even after testing, be careful and don’t apply the patch to all your systems at once. Incrementally apply patches and test the production server after each one to make sure all applications still function properly.

Validation: This final step is often overlooked. Validating that the patch was applied is necessary so you can report on the status to your client and ensure agreed service levels are met.

Be Persistent in Applying the Best Practices

For your patch management policies and processes to be effective, you need to be persistent in applying them consistently. With new vulnerabilities and patches appearing almost daily, you need to be vigilant to keep up with all the changes.

Patch management is an ongoing practice. To ensure you’re consistently applying patches, it’s best to follow a series of repeatable, automated practices. These practices include:

  • Regular rediscovery of systems that may potentially be affected
  • Scanning those systems for vulnerabilities
  • Downloading patches and patch definition databases
  • Deploying patches to systems that need them
Take Advantage of Patching Resources

Since the release of Windows 10, updates to the operating system are on a more fluid schedule. Updates and patches are now being released as needed and not on a consistent schedule. You’ll need to let your team know when an applicable update is released to ensure the patch can be tested and deployed as soon as possible.

As the number of vulnerabilities and patches rise, you’ll need to have as much information about them as you can get. There are a few available resources we recommend to augment your patch management process and keep you informed of updates that may fall outside of the scope of Microsoft updates.

Utilize Patching Tools

You don’t want your technicians spending most of their time approving and applying patches on individual machines, especially as your business grows and you take on more clients. To take the burden off your technicians, you’ll want to utilize a tool that can automate your patch management processes. This can be accomplished with a remote monitoring and management (RMM) platform, like ConnectWise Automate®. Add-ons can be purchased to manage third-party application patching to sure up all potential vulnerabilities.

Patch management is a fundamental service provided in most managed service provider (MSP) service plans. With these best practices, you’ll be able to develop a patch management strategy to best serve your clients and their specific needs.


This article was provided by our service partner : connectwise.com

Password Constraint Research

Password Constraints and Their Unintended Security Consequences

You’re probably familiar with some of the most common requirements for creating passwords. A mix of upper and lowercase letters is a simple example. These are known as password constraints. They’re rules for how you must construct a password. If your password must be at least eight characters long, contain lower case, uppercase, numbers and symbol characters, then you have one length, and four character set constraints.

Password constraints eliminate a number of both good and bad passwords. I had never heard anyone ask “how many potential passwords, good and bad, are eliminated?” And so I began searching for the answer. The results were surprising. If you want to know the precise number of possible 8-character passwords there are if all of the character sets must be used, then the equation looks something like this.

A serious limitation of this approach is that it tells you nothing about the effects of each constraint alone or relative to other constraints. (I’m also not sure if there were supposed to be four consecutive ∑s or if the mathematician was stuttering.)

We choose to use a Monte Carlo simulation to analyze the mathematical impact of the various combinations of constraints. A Monte Carlo simulation uses a statistical analysis approach that provides a close approximation of the answer, while also providing the flexibility to quickly and easily measure the impact of each constraint and combination of constraints.

A look at minimum length limits

To start, let’s look at the impact of an eight-character length constraint alone. There are 95^8 possible combinations of 8 characters. 26 uppercase letters + 26 lowercase letters + 10 numerals + 33 symbols = 95 characters. For a length of 8 characters, we have 95˄8 possible passwords.

If a password must be at least 8 characters long, then there are also about 70.6 trillion otherwise viable passwords you are not allowed to use (95+(95^2 ) +(95^3 ) +(95^4 ) +(95^5)+(95^6 )+(95^7)). That’s a good thing. It means you can’t use 95 one character passwords, 9,025 two character passwords, and so on. Almost 70 trillion of those passwords you cannot use are seven characters long. This is a great and wholly intended effect of a password length constraint.

The problem with a lack of constraints is that people will use a very small set of all possible passwords, which invariably includes passwords that are incredibly easy to guess. In the analysis of over one million leaked passwords, it was found that 30.8 percent passwords eight to 11 characters long contained only lowercase letters, and 43.9 percent contained only lowercase letters and numbers.  In fact, to perform a primitive brute force attack against an eight-character password containing only lower case letters, it’s only necessary to try about 209 billion character combinations. That does not take a computer very long to crack. And, as we know from analyzing large numbers of passwords, it’s likely to contain one of the most popular ten thousand passwords.

To beef up security, we begin to add character constraints. But, in doing so, we decrease the number of possible passwords; both good and bad.

Just by requiring both uppercase and lowercase letters, more than 15 percent of all possible 8-character combinations have been eliminated as possible passwords. This means that 1QV5#T&|cannot be a password because there are no lowercase letters. Compared to Darnrats,which meets the constraint requirements, 1QV5#T&|is a fantastic password. But you cannot use it. Superior passwords that cannot be used are acceptable collateral damage in the battle for better security. “Corndogs” is acceptable, but “fruit&veggies” is not. This clearly is not a battle for lower cholesterol.

As constraints pile up, possibilities shrink

If a password must be exactly eight characters long and contain at least one lower case letter, at least one uppercase letter and at least one symbol, we are getting close to one-in-five combinations of 8 characters that are not allowable as passwords. Still, the effect of constraints on 12 and 16 character passwords is negligible. But that is all about to change… you can count on it.

Are you required to use a password that is at least eight characters long, has lower and uppercase letters, number and symbols? Just requiring a number to be part of a password removes over 40 percent of 8-character combinations from the pool of possible passwords. Even though you can use lowercase and uppercase letters, and you can use symbols, if one of the characters in your password must be a number then there are far fewer great passwords that you can use. If a 16 character long password must have a number, then 13 times more potential passwords have become illegal as a result of that one constraint than the combined constraints of lower and uppercase letters and symbols caused. More than one-in-four combinations of 12 characters can no longer become a passwords either.

You might have noticed that there is little effect on the longer passwords. Frequently there is also very little value in imposing constraints on long passwords. This is because each additional character in a password grows the pool of passwords exponentially. There are 6.5 million times as many combinations of 16 character pass words using only lowercase letters than there are of eight character passwords using all four character sets. That means that “toodlesmypoodles” is going to be a whole lot harder to crack than “I81B@gle”

Long and simple is better than short and hard

People tend to be very predictable. There are more symbols (than there are in any other characters set. Theoretically that means that symbols are going to do the most to make a password strong, but 80 percent of the time it is going to be one of the top five most frequently used symbols, and 95 percent of the time is will be one of the top 10 most frequently used symbols.

Analysis of two million compromised passwords showed that about one in 14 passwords start with the number one, however for those that started with the number one, 75 percent of them ended with a number as well.

The use of birthdays and names, for example, make it much easier to quickly crack many passwords.

Password strength: It’s length, not complexity that matters

As covered above, all four character sets (95 characters) in an eight character password allow for about 6.634 quadrillion different password possibilities. But a 16 character password with only lowercase letters has about 43.8 sextillion possible passwords. That means that there are well over 6.5 million times more possible passwords for 16 consecutive lowercase letters than for any combination of eight characters regardless of how complex the password is.

My great password is “cats and hippos are friends!”, but I can’t use it because of constraints – and because I just told you what it is.

For years password experts have been advocating for the use of simple passphrases over complex passwords because they are stronger and simpler to remember. I’d like to throw a bit of gasoline on to the fire and tell you, those 95^8 combinations of characters are only  half that many when you tell me I have to use uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols.

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Asset Management

Don’t Ignore Security Activity That Could Help the Most

We tend to think of security as the tools—like email scanning, malware, and antivirus protection—we have in place to secure our network. But did you know that the process of asset management helps you minimize the threat landscape too?

Management of software and hardware has historically been treated as a cost-minimizing function, where tracking assets could be the difference between driving or reducing value, from an organizational perspective. However, even the best security plan is only as strong as its weakest link. If IT administrators are unaware where assets reside, the software running on them, and who has access, they are at risk.

Understanding the device, as well as the data, is what matters here. Having an in-depth knowledge of the network of devices and their data is the first step in protecting it. Often, organizations have the tools in place to support and maintain the device, but once in place on the network, it can be easy to set it and forget it until it need repair, replacement, or up for review. Conducting asset management on a regular basis should be a fundamental function for your security plan and can strengthen the security tools you already have in place. Remember, asset management has to be continuous for it to be truly effective.

When you’re conducting continuous asset management you can always answer the following questions should an incident occur:

  • What devices are currently connected to the internet?
  • How many total systems do you have?
  • Where is your data?
  • How many vendors do you have?
  • Which vendors have what kind of your data?

Companies struggle with consistent and mature asset management because they often don’t have the time or dedicated resources to stay on top of it. However, an IT asset management program can add value by reducing costs, improving operational efficiency, determining full cost, and providing a forecast for future investments. Oversight and governance help to solidify policies and procedures already in place.

ConnectWise Automate® complements and strengthens security tools and processes by significantly improving the ability to discover, inventory, manage, and report. Additional tool sets–like antivirus and malware protection—can be added to help further protect data and reduce operational risk.

recent study of the Total Economic Impact of ConnectWise showed, “Organizations estimated that they could shorten engineers’ involvement by 60%, thus cutting the cost of hardware maintenance by $1.2 million.”


This article was provided by our service partner : Connectwise.

msp evolving threats

MSP Responding to Risk in an Evolving Threat Landscape

There’s a reason major industry players have been discussing cybersecurity more and more: the stakes are at an all-time high for virtually every business today. Cybersecurity is not a matter businesses can afford to push off or misunderstand—especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which have emerged as prime targets for cyberattacks. The risk level for this group in particular has increased exponentially, with 57% of SMBs reporting an increase in attack volume over the past 12 months, and the current reality—while serious—is actually quite straightforward for managed service providers (MSPs):

  • Your SMB clients will be attacked.
  • Basic security will not stop an attack.
  • The MSP will be held accountable.

While MSPs may have historically set up clients with “effective” security measures, the threat landscape is changing and the evolution of risk needs to be properly, and immediately, addressed. This means redefining how your clients think about risk and encouraging them to respond to the significant increase in attack volume with security measures that will actually prove effective in today’s threat environment.

Even if the security tools you’ve been leveraging are 99.99% effective, risk has evolved from minimal to material due simply to the fact that there are far more security events per year than ever before.

Again, the state of cybersecurity today is pretty straightforward: with advanced threats like rapidly evolving and hyper-targeted malware, ransomware, and user-enabled breaches, foundational security tools aren’t enough to keep SMB clients secure. Their data is valuable, and there is real risk of a breach if they remain vulnerable.Additional layers of security need to be added to the equation to provide holistic protection. Otherwise, your opportunity to fulfill the role as your clients’ managed security services providerwill be missed, and your SMB clients could be exposed to existential risk.

Steps for Responding to Heightened Risk as an MSP

Step 1: Understand Risk

Start by discussing “acceptable risk.” Your client should understand that there will always be some level of risk in today’s cyber landscape. Working together to define a businesses’ acceptable risk, and to determine what it will take to maintain an acceptable risk level, will solidify your partnership. Keep in mind that security needs to be both proactive and reactive in its capabilities for risk levels to remain in check.

Step 2: Establish Your Security Strategy

Once you’ve identified where the gaps in your client’s protection lie, map them to the type of security services that will keep those risks constantly managed. Providing regular visibility into security gaps, offering cybersecurity training,and leveraging more advanced and comprehensive security tools will ultimately get the client to their desired state of protection—and that should be clearly communicated upfront.

Step 3: Prepare for the Worst

At this point, it’s not a question of ifSMBs will experience a cyberattack, but when. That’s why it’s important to establish ongoing, communicative relationships with all clients. Assure clients that your security services will improve their risk level over time, and that you will maintain acceptable risk levels by consistently identifying, prioritizing, and mitigating gaps in coverage. This essentially justifies additional costs and opens you to upsell opportunities over the course of your relationship.

Step 4: Live up to Your Promises Through People, Processes, and Technology

Keeping your security solutions well-defined and client communication clear will help validate your offering. Through a combination of advanced software and services, you can build a framework that maps to your clients’ specific security needs so you’re providing the technologies that are now essential for securing their business from modern attacks.

Once you understand how to effectively respond to new and shifting risks, you’ll be in the best possible position to keep your clients secure and avoid potentially debilitating breaches.