Let’s stop phishing and go fishing!

Phishing fishing

Summer is a time for having fun. I happen to love fishing. However, in the world we live in today, fishing gets no news – and phishing gets all the news. In order to provide some useful information of the various types of phishing attacks, I want to share an excellent posting from the Malwarebytes Blog here. Wendy Zamora did an excellent job of going through the various types of phishing attacks that you must learn to recognize. The recent events nationally and internationally show the importance of being able to recognize a phishing email. Events with the DNC, corporate data breaches and the like are gaining widespread notoriety on a daily basis – news stories are abundant. This post is required reading – so please share it with your employees, coworkers and family members. Another targeted group is senior citizens using computers- so please make sure that you share this with older family members and friends. All of our clients who are on our managed services plan for remote monitoring and maintenance, get the premium version of Malwarebytes  included with their monthly remote monitoring package. If you are interested in learning more about how we help with PCs and networks for your business- either click here or give us a call at 847 329 8600.

Posted: June 26, 2017 by 
Last updated: June 23, 2017

Dear you,

 It appears you need to update your information. Click here to tell us all your secrets.

 No really, it’s totally safe. We’re not going to steal your identity, we swear.

If only phishing attempts were that obvious.

Instead, these days it’s hard to tell a phish apart from a foul, if you catch my drift. Modern-day phishing campaigns use stealthy techniques to target folks online and trick them into believing their messages are legit. Yet for all its sophistication, phishing relies on one of the basest of human foibles: trust. Detecting a phish, in its various forms, then requires you to hone a healthy level of skepticism when receiving any kind of digital communication, be it email, text, or even social media message. In order to understand how we got here, let’s go back to the first instance of phishing.

The Nigerian prince and early phishing

Back in the early days of the Internet, you could marvel at your “You’ve Got Mail” message and freely open any email that came your way. You’d get one email a day, tops, from your new best friend you met in the “grunge 4EVA” chat room. There was no such thing as junk email. The only promotions you received were CD copies of AOL in the snail mail. It didn’t cross your mind that going online could bring about danger.

Then came the Nigerian prince.

Unfortunately, where innovation and progress lead, corruption and crime will inevitably follow. One of the nation’s longest-running scams, the Nigerian prince phish came from a person claiming to be a government official or member of a royal family who needed help transferring millions of dollars out of Nigeria. The email was marked as “urgent” or “private,” and its sender asked the recipient to provide a bank account number for safekeeping the funds. Gone were the innocent days of trusting your inbox.

Over the years, the Nigerian prince scam has fooled millions, raking in hundreds of billions of dollars. Why has this scam been so successful? Simple. It uses a time-honored criminal technique—the ole bait and switch—to fool folks into believing that they are being contacted by a legitimate organization with a legitimate concern. Threat actors use this social engineering method to trick unwilling participants into clicking on malicious links and handing over personal information. The end goal, as with most cybercrime, is financial gain.

Phishing attacks aim to collect personal data—including login credentials, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and bank account numbers—for fraudulent purposes. The attack is most commonly delivered as an email communication that spoofs a known enterprise, such as a bank or online shopping site, but it can also appear to come from an individual of authority or of personal acquaintance. These emails always contain a link that sends users to a decent facsimile of a valid website where credentials will be collected and sent to the attacker, instead of the supposedly trusted source. From there, the attacker can exploit credentials to commit crimes such as identity theft, draining bank accounts, or selling personal information on the black market.

“Truth be told, phishing is the simplest kind of cyberattack and, at the same time, the most dangerous and effective,” says Adam Kujawa, Director of Malware Intelligence. “That is because it attacks the most vulnerable and powerful computer on the planet: the human mind.”

The evolution of phishing

While the Nigerian prince attack vector remains in use today, most savvy Internet users can now spot this scam a mile away (hence the multitude of memes that have popped up over the years). The campaign has lost its edge and fooled way fewer users. Plus, email technology has progressed so that spam filters readily pick up on this phish and block it. And this is why cybercriminals have had to advance their tactics.

fry phishing

“Phishers had no other choice but to evolve and improve on where they fell short,” says Jovi Umawing, Malware Intelligence Analyst at Malwarebytes. “Nowadays, most sophisticated modern-day phishing emails are so polished and well-designed that one cannot easily differentiate them from legitimate ones.”

Case in point: Recent phishing campaigns have had great success impersonating big-name companies and fooling big-name recipients. In May 2017, a phishing email targeted one million Gmail users by purporting to be from a contact sharing Google Docs. In Minnesota alone, state employees were scammed out of $90,000 due to the Google Docs fiasco. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager for the 2016 presidential election, John Podesta, famously had his Gmail hacked and subsequently leaked after falling for the oldest trick in the book—a phishing attack claiming that his email password had been compromised (so click here to change it).

So how can we learn from these lessons? Let’s start by identifying the different types of phishing in use today.

Types of phishing

The most basic and commonly seen type of attack, of course, is the phishing email. Phishing emails are sent to a group of users who are unique enough to be used as bait but broad enough to ensnare a large number of people. The point is to cast as large a net as possible. In contrast, other forms of attack are much more targeted.

Spear phishing, as might be gathered from its title, usually targets a specific person or organization. Since these types of attacks are so pointed, phishers scour the Internet for available information about their target in order to craft a believable email to extort information (if not money) from victims.

Whaling is a form of spear phishing directed at executives or other high-profile targets within a business, government, or other organization, such as a CEO, senator, or someone who has access to financial assets. CFO fraud is an example of whaling.

Smishing, short for SMS phishing, is carried out via SMS text messaging on mobile devices. A similar technique, vishing, is voice phishing conducted over the phone.

Pharming, also known as DNS-based phishing, is a type of phishing that involves the modification or tampering of a system’s host files or domain name system to redirect requests for URLs to a fake site. As a result, users have no idea that the website they are entering their personal details into is fake.

Content-injection phishing is when phishers insert malicious code or misleading content into legitimate websites that instructs users to enter their credentials or personal information. This type of phishing is a form of content spoofing.

Man-in-the-middle phishing happens when phishers position themselves between people and the websites they use, such as a social networking sites or online banks, to extract information as it’s being entered. This type of phishing is more difficult to detect because attackers continue to pass on users’ information (after collecting it) so as not to disrupt any transactions.

And finally, search engine phishing starts off when phishers create malicious websites with attractive offers, and search engines index them. People then stumble upon such sites doing their own online searches and, thinking the sites are legit, unknowingly give up their personal information.

There truly are a lot of phish in the sea.

So, if your head isn’t completely swimming in fish puns, it’s time to talk about how to train your eye and your gut to sniff out the various forms of phishing attacks. I asked Labs researchers to tell me their top indications that an email, text, or other form of communication is a phish and compiled a list of their, and my, recommendations.

Something’s phishy if:

  • The email, text, or voicemail is requesting that you update/fill in personal information. This is especially dubious if it’s coming from a bank or the IRS. Treat any communication asking for your credentials with extra caution.
  • The URL shown on the email and the URL that displays when you hover over the link are different from one another.
  • The “From” address is an imitation of a legitimate address, especially from a business.
  • The formatting and design are different from what you usually receive from an organization. Maybe the logo looks pixelated or the buttons are different colors. Or possibly there are weird paragraph breaks or extra spaces between words. If the email appears sloppy, start making the squinty “this looks suspect” face.
  • The content is badly written. Sure, there are plenty of wannabe writers working for legitimate organizations, but this email might seem particularly amateur. Are there obvious grammar errors? Is there awkward sentence structure, like perhaps it was written by a computer program or someone whose second language is English? Take a closer look.
  • Speaking of content, a phishing email almost always sounds desperate. “Whether they’re claiming that your account with be closed, an urgent request is needed, or your account has been compromised, think twice before double-clicking that link or downloading that attachment,” says Umawing.
  • The email contains attachments from unknown sources that you were not expecting. Don’t open them, plain and simple. They might contain malware that could infect your system.
  • The website is not secure. If you do go ahead and click on the link of an email to fill out personal information, be sure you see the “https” abbreviation as well as the lock symbol at the beginning of the URL. If not, that means any data you submit is vulnerable to cybercriminals. (If the link is malicious, Malwarebytes will block the site.)

If you suspect or can verify that you’ve been phished, it’s best to report the attempt directly to the person or organization being spoofed. You can also contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to lodge a complaint. Once completed, delete the email, then empty your trash. (Same goes for texts.)

Now the next time someone attempts to scam you with fraudulent emails, you won’t have to wonder if the message is for real. You’ll scope out a phish hook, line, and sinker.

Cloud-Based File Storage Programs Enhance Business Collaboration, Safety and Simplicity

 

It’s become quite clear to us how valuable collaboration is to the health of a business in today’s marketplace. Today’s businesses cannot afford to have staff waiting around, in order to get access to the tools they need, so they can do the job.

As businesses grow from small teams to larger organizations, there is a growing need to communicate and collaborate effectively. The problem that central data storage solves is that it gives everyone on the team the ability to immediately retrieve, backup and share mission-critical files in real-time. Salespeople no longer need to wait around for support staff to send them follow-up files for customer contact. Managers can instantly access subordinate data in order to make sure that work is getting accomplished. In sum, everyone can get what they need, when they need it, wherever they are, without having to wait on other people.

 

When evaluating cloud-based data storage services, two primary concerns for businesses are security and ease-of-use. One of the pioneers of cloud-based data storage, Dropbox.com, is clearly a simple-to-use solution, yet they lack in security. According to Business Insider, “Nearly 7 million Dropbox usernames and passwords have been hacked, apparently via third-party services that hackers were able to strip the login information from.”  This security breach has huge implications for other off-the-shelf data solutions in that they lack the foundational feature of data storage technology; it must keep your company data safe

 

The second key factor is to examine a solution’s simplicity and ease-of-use. With many providers data storage can be set up at a secure physical location and a central file repository can work well within the confines of an office. Unfortunately, this falls short for the “71 percent of businesses who require technology that enables their staff to work anywhere, at any time.” Solutions that are cloud-based and work independently of employee location are clearly superior.

 

At Prime, we have a number of excellent data storage solutions available for business users. Feel free to reach out to us and let’s get the conversation started.

Your Step by Step Guide to Mitigating and Preventing a Ransomware Virus in your Small/Medium Business

With the recent epidemic of ransomware viruses (up over 600% in 2016 and with the newest batch of exploits wreaking havoc internationally), I thought it would be a good idea to go through the basic guidelines for mitigating and containing ransomware for your small to mid sized business. There are plenty of additional pieces to putting this together completely so please reach out to me if you would like some assistance. Some of these are simple recommendations and this is by no means a complete list. But, then again, eat healthy, exercise regularly and don’t smoke are simple recommendations – and if you don’t follow them, you know what to expect.

  1. Use a reputable multi vector end point security – Use anti virus programs like Webroot/Kaspersky/McAfee/Avast. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Buy a proper license for each machine. Keep it updated for all new definitions. Keep it current and get one that is constantly being updated. No one program is going to be 100% effective. Also, make sure that you have a program that detects malware. Malwarebytes Premium is my favorite. Again – go for the full paid version and don’t try to cut corners on freemium or freeware versions. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  You need protection that is going to detect phishing from spam, detect unsafe websites and web browser protection.
  2. Put strong back up procedures in place– you should have back ups in place with a return point objective that you can live with. That means that you should have back ups both onsite on a device and in the cloud. Both of the back ups should be constantly tested for verification and the process should be monitored. When this is successfully in place, in case of an outbreak, you can restore to the last back up that was unaffected. Please note: tape drives, USB sticks, and removable hard drives are not adequate for business applications. You need a proper belt and suspenders- a properly sized on premise device that is backed up to the cloud.
  3. Make sure that you are updating your operating system and plug ins regularly – the current round of ransomware is exploiting unpatched and un-updated Windows vulnerabilities. We update our clients with whitelisted patches and updates from Microsoft. Make sure that you are constantly updating your operating system. Make sure that you are scheduling your updates properly- for all of your computers and all of your devices. Make sure you update all of your computers- even those that you may use less frequently. For example, we use micro pc’s in our conference room- for use with our large screen monitors. All of those units must be updated regularly.
  4. Make sure that your firewall is regularly updated and maintained– your firewall should be under contract and updated with the very latest definitions. Your firewall is all that stands between you and the virus filled Internet. We recommend Watchguard because it is constantly being updated and maintained – and it includes best of breed components that would be too expensive to buy separately bundled in.
  5. Disable autorun- make sure that you disable autorun for everyone!!Yes, autorun is useful. Yes, it is also used by viruses and malware to propagate itself throughout a network. In these dangerous times, disable it.
  6. Stop making everyone an Admin!! – administrators should be admins. However, if you give everyone admin rights, you open yourself up to more damage. User should be users and admins should be admins. Period.
  7. Enforce secure passwords– believe it or not, people use stupid passwords. Enough with stupid. If you want to get infected, use a simple password. If you don’t use a secure password (strong with characters, alphanumeric and symbols). Better yet, have your users get a password manager app.
  8. When relevant, encourage the use of two factor authorization– if you have compliance requirements (HIPAA or PCI) definitely use two factor authorization.
  9. Disable RDP– remote desktop protocol is used by all sorts of viruses and malware to gain access. If you don’t need it or don’t know what it is, disable it.
  10. Educate EVERYBODY– even if your office is a handful of people- but especially if you have less sophisticated users- education of the threat is important. Your staff should know what phishing, spear phishing and how to recognize and avoid suspicious emails. Incorporate this into your onboarding of new employees or have a meeting about this. If you would like a recommendation for videos, send me an email and I will send you a recommended list. Along with that, add pertinent sections to your employee manual about bringing your own device onto the network, using “free”USB drives, and clicking on links in emails.

Like I said, this is by no means a comprehensive list. I have learned Mark Twain may have had the last word. “It’s not what you know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”. The world of viruses and malware is changing. Yesterday’s method may be overcome in an instant and you have to keep on top of it. If you need help- just let me know!

 

The Feds just wiped out your online privacy…

Your ISP, browsing history, and what to do about it

Your ISP, browsing history, and what to do about it

Posted: April 4, 2017 by

In late March, Congress approved a bill lifting restrictions imposed on ISPs last year concerning what they could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data, and Social Security numbers. They additionally absolved ISPs of the need to strengthen their existing customer data holdings against hackers and thieves. For more on the particulars of the bill, you can see reports on the Washington Post and Ars Technica. Given that the repealed restrictions hadn’t yet come into effect, the immediate impact of the new bill is somewhat unclear. But given what typically happens with massive stores of aggregated, location-specific customer data, the prognosis is not good.

So what’s the worst that can happen? Let’s run through a few probable outcomes:

Ad retargeting

We all might be familiar with this; when we buy a product online and then see ads for it relentlessly for a couple weeks thereafter. But with increased granularity of metadata, ad retargeting can be significantly more ‘effective.’ As an example, certain tech support scam companies prefer to draw their staff directly from complicit drug detoxes and rehabs, largely in order to ensure a compliant, desperate employee base. So the next time someone searches for help with an intractable heroin addiction, they might get targeted ads for unlicensed rehabs that come with a new job opportunity of scamming the elderly. Perhaps if my browser history correlates to those of low income or unemployed people, my ads would fill with work from home scams. Or low literacy search phrasing, in conjunction with low income, could get me directed to multi-level marketing scams. There are a cornucopia of ways to target the weak and vulnerable via metadata and it’s both legal and profitable.

 

Stalking

As we can see with many domestic violence cases, abusers have no compunction against using technology to stalk and harass their victims. A 2014 article by NPR surveyed a series of domestic violence shelters and found 75% of their clients had dealt with abusers monitoring them remotely using hidden mobile apps. Some ill-conceived apps have linked multiple sets of user data together, to create inadvertent ‘stalking apps’. Once search metadata is openly sold, a person suffering domestic abuse would have a hard time searching for a local shelter without their partner knowing about it. Even with new homes and new identities, a victim would have to live with the fear of their search patterns combined with IP address identifying them, permanently. Stalking via metadata has been seen as an issue before and it will most likely happen again.

 

Browser History Ransom

We’ve seen doxware in the wild before. But when the barrier to entry is lowered to simply having enough money to purchase the incriminating data in question, why wouldn’t more criminals get in on the game? As seen with ransomware and tech support scams, when technical limitations to a crime are removed, people willing to try it multiply exponentially. Ransoming a victim’s browser history would seem to be easy money.

 

Time to Breach

Essentially, once this data begins to be collected, stored, and prepared for sale, there is a stopwatch set for time to breach and dissemination of your data to the highest bidder on the dark web. Think that’s hyperbolic? In 2015 Comcast published the personal data of almost 75,000 California customers due to operator error. In a separate incident in the same year, 200,000 Comcast customers had their data sold on the dark web. In 2014, Comcast hadn’t patched their mail servers adequately and hackers made off with extensive credentials. Not to be outdone, Time Warner had their customers breached in incidents here and here. Cox Communications paid the FCC a $595,000 fine for breach of its customer data. Given the track record of handling customer data thus far, how long until the next breach?

But this is bad and I don’t want this?

Although options are limited and sometimes frustrating, there are some things you can do. To combat ad retargeting, an ad blocker works quite well. It’s awfully tough to be taken in by deceptive or fraudulent, or just too intrusive advertising if you can’t see it. However, many of the most reputable news sites rely on advertising for revenue, so they ask users to disable ad blockers in order to access content. This doesn’t really address the issue of shadowy third parties doing untoward things with your data, which brings us to…

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

Here be dragons, though, because many VPN providers are no more trustworthy than the ISPs that we all love so dearly. If you go to a VPN review site you can see the latest VPNs and how they stack up on quality criteria, which generally include, but are not limited to:

  • Do they keep logs of your activity?
  • How much identifiable data do they keep on you?
  • Do they have physical control over their own VPN servers?
  • What countries are their servers located in?

Check out some reviews of popular VPNs based on answers to these questions here. Another question that you should be asking is how much a VPN costs. Free ones generally find some unsavory ways to monetize your traffic, which is what you’re trying to avoid to begin with.

HTTPS Everywhere

This is a browser extension published by the Electronic Freedom Foundation. It forces websites to use a more secure HTTPS connection when the website supports it. Encrypting traffic in this way does not protect the specific websites you visit from your ISP, but it does obfuscate specific content that you’re accessing on that page. And as a browser extension, it’s fairly easy to install, and probably falls under the category of things you should be doing anyway. If you want to find out more about HTTPS Everywhere, check out their FAQ here.

Calling your congressman

Privacy is a developing issue. As technology advances, its ability to infringe on our privacy in irritating and sometimes dangerous ways can increase. Letting your representatives know that this is a concern can help prevent worse legislation in the future. If you’d like to make your opinion on online privacy known, you can find your representatives here and here.

In conclusion, strong online privacy can sometimes be an inconvenience for those of us trying to catch cybercriminals. But its loss hurts all of us. Whether you have ‘something to hide’ or not, your data and your identity belong to you. Why shouldn’t you control how it’s used?

Prime Telecommunications Leverages State-of-the-Art Cybersecurity Techniques and Tools to Protect Customers

Prime Telecommunications, Inc., a leading provider of unified communications, announced today that the company is leveraging state-of-the-art cyber security techniques and tools to protect customers from cyber attacks that have become a daily occurrence in the small to mid-sized business marketplace. The company has been at the forefront of cybersecurity for many years and has taken their expertise to an entirely new level, well beyond their competition. Prime Telecommunications protects businesses from several key cybersecurity threats.

The first threat facing organizations is phishing. Phishing is essentially, using fake links to lure users into offering up sensitive information, by posing as an authority. Hackers can embed malicious links into emails, attachments or images, which usually lead to another page that requests the sensitive information, which will later be used against the user. One of the most creative ways hackers have found to attack SMBs is to call in and impersonate IT staff or Network Administrators, asking for specific information off the employee’s computer to resolve a potential “virus.” The employee will usually comply and supply the information, giving the hacker the exact keys they need to infiltrate the system.

The next area of concern is mobile security. As web traffic continues to migrate from PC to mobile, hackers have followed suit by redirecting their efforts to mobile attacks, as well. At an organization, whereby users are encouraged to BYOD (bring-your-own-device) to the network, this increases the exposure for network attack exponentially. SMBs need to be on the lookout for attacks from third party apps, mobile malware and unsecured public Wi-Fi locations. For example, employees will use their phone at an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot to work but they won’t realize that the network is rigged to enable hackers with easy access to sensitive apps, data and information on any phones connected to that particular unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot. In many cases, users will be attacked without even realizing that the attack has happened.

The last area for an SMB to monitor is malvertising. This threat is where hackers embed malware within advertisements, landing pages or even directly on reputable websites. Sites that offer advertising on a massive scale, such as Facebook, have a tough time regulating online security throughout the buying process. Facebook can do its best to ensure that the links on Facebook aren’t malicious; however, they have no access to monitoring the pages that those advertisements lead to, once the user has left Facebook. Malvertisers can embed a code on an advertisement which leads to a dummy checkout page or a fake application page, which phishes all of the sensitive information that the hacker needs to launch an attack.

“These threats all point to the importance of SMBs consulting with an expert in the cybersecurity field,” stated Vic Levinson, President at Prime Telecommunications. “We are well-equipped to deal with threats like these, in addition to the new threats that will undoubtedly arise over the coming years. For any business that leverages technology as one of its key productivity drivers, it pays to have a team like Prime Telecommunications to face the hackers of the world.”

Caveat Emptor- Buyer Beware- Get your Eyes Checked before you commit!

At a trade group meeting I met with one of my colleagues from the West Coast. He said that he had seen a lot of business coming in from getting his business listed in Yelp!. Upon returning to my office, I decided that I needed to do the same. I thought to myself “You have been doing this for 23 years. Your clients love you! This should be a no brainer!”. Well, unfortunately for me, the last five words proved to be prophetic.

As I was going through the process of getting my business listed on YELP!, I saw that they offered to boost views of your business profile if you bought advertising from them. I assumed – and we all know what happens when you assume (ass- u -me) – that it would be just like pay per click on Google or Bing. WRONG. It turned out that it was a budget that you put out and that they would bill you for regardless of whether anybody clicked on your ad or not. I use Google Analytics to monitor our site. I know where and who is referring, where people come in and where people leave. Who stays on the page and who bounces out. I monitor the Google Analytic religiously – almost with an OCD like focus. The first month, nothing. The second month, two referrals and the third month 3 referrals from Yelp. However, I didn’t think to track the results with the charges coming in on the company credit cards. OOPS! Almost $1500 in charges over three months.

It turns out that Yelp will bill your card – regardless of the result. I paid over $1500 over three months for what amounted to six leads. OUCH!

I am not one to complain when I make a bad decision. I look to collaborate and make things right. I never would dream of taking a client’s hard earned money and not doing the very best for them. As a matter of fact, when you go on Yelp- you see businesses trying to make it right with their own dissatisfied clients all over the place. I called up Yelp. Spoke to a very nice person- but guess what? They don’t have any intention of making it right. They only try to sell you more services. As a matter of fact, you can’t even review Yelp or your experiences with Yelp on their site. So much for transparency. It reminds me of the bully on the playground being bullied by others “You can dish it out but you can’t take it”. Nananana….

On the Internet, I found forums where the experience I had just had was repeated by many other businesses across the country. It was almost uncanny- everyone was pretty technical, pretty Internet SEO savvy, not new to online business, not a Luddite. Apparently, there is also no legal remedy. Yelp has been very successful in controlling the litigation against them.

So, what have I learned?

  1. Read the fine print. Don’t assume that just because something works one way on Google that it will work that way across platforms.
  2. Let the baker bake the bread. If you’re not an expert, hire an expert. They are less expensive and they are accountable for the results.
  3. Don’t let your expectations cloud your judgement. Verify and know your numbers.
  4. Don’t assume because something works one way for someone else, it will work that way for you.
  5. Make sure you have an exit strategy if something happens know who you are going to call and what they can do for you.

Now, I really feel that everything happens for a reason. I understand that what we provide for our clients answers those five criteria. We explain to our customers in plain English what are all of the terms and conditions. We are the experts when it comes to migrating our clients to cloud unified communications. We manage the expectations and know when to set them high on reliability and performance. We always verify before we cut over- we test the circuits, we measure the quality and we verify the numbers. And…if the organic matter hits the ventilation system, we always have our client’s interests in mind and will fight for them to make them happy.

So, the take away for you is: read the fine print. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions. Make sure you understand the billing model. Make sure you can hold your provider accountable.

We still continue to business in the cloud – but we work with our clients the old fashioned way. Face to face. Technology or not, it is business. A hard hitting contact sport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prime Telecommunications Informs Small to Mid-Sized Businesses of the Top 5 VoIP Audio Issues

Expert in Unified Communications Shares Reasons Why Many Organizations Are Not Benefiting from VoIP

5 Factors Affecting Voice Quality

Prime Telecommunications, Inc., a leading provider of unified communications, has been informing small to mid-sized businesses of the top five VoIP audio issues so they can maximize utilization and reap the rewards of this technology. Unfortunately, many companies that have made the investment in VoIP have experienced subpar performance, particularly in the area of call quality. This is due to a variety of factors and left untouched, will cause frustration for everyone associated with the phone system including employees, customers and vendors. Prime Telecommunications has been educating customers on the five most likely culprits of subpar VoIP performance and what steps an SMB can take to fix these issues quickly and simply.

1) Disable The “Comfort Noise” Setting. This is a setting on many VoIP systems that inhibits the flow of data that simply doesn’t need to be turned on. Usually, its default setting is “on” but it’s as unnecessary as jazz music in an elevator. It’s especially important to turn off when users are having call quality issues, as this directly affects performance. Imagine an elevator that doesn’t stop at every floor because it’s running low on power, but you still are expending power on soothing jazz music.

2) Make Sure Your Firewall Isn’t Accidentally Blocking Out VoIP. Nowadays, intelligent CIOs are erring on the side of overprotection, and one of the byproducts of that aggressive approach is that sometimes firewalls block out mission-critical applications, like VoIP. Firewalls are built specifically to keep things outside of a network and SMBs would do well to make sure that VoIP audio packets aren’t being blocked from access. In other words, VoIP audio data packets should be treated like VIP data coming into the network, instead of having to wait in line to be let in. This often results in one-way audio.

3) Ports Aren’t Open or Are Misdirecting Data. Take a look at your gateways and ports on your network. If the correct configuration isn’t set up, your incoming data has no choice but to get mixed up, like an air traffic controller who has no idea which gates are open and which already have planes at the gate. This is happening all the time, but we notice it with audio because we can hear it immediately.

4) Make Sure Your Codecs Match. Since VoIP data is real-time-transport protocol (RTP), both sides of the interaction must be set to the same codec, otherwise the audio packets won’t function properly. It’s like one person speaking through a cell phone and the other using a walkie-talkie. Since, they’re not using the same frequency, there will be distortions even if they can vaguely hear what the other party is saying.

5) Make Sure You Have Enough Bandwidth to Avoid Jitter and Latency. Everyone has experienced spotty conference calls that sound crystal clear one minute, and then very choppy the next. The big culprits here are jitter and latency, which are the result of too much traffic on a network. Just like traffic, instead of focusing on optimizing the car, it’s best to just add lanes to your freeway so that all the data functions better. This is accomplished simply by purchasing more bandwidth for all your devices. It should be a last resort, after you’ve tried everything above.

“This is how we differentiate ourselves,” stated Vic Levinson, President at Prime Telecommunications. “We conduct all of this assessment up-front, instead of waiting until our customers report issues with call quality. Our clients can’t afford to have poor quality calls with their prospects, employees, and vendors so we take care of this with every customer. We take a consultative approach and become a trusted IT advisor to our customers so they can focus on their business, instead of IT and telecommunications.”

So Your Company Wants to Adopt VoIP… How Do You Know If Your Network Is Ready to Make the Transition?

While the cost savings and new applications of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are rapidly attracting many small to mid-sized companies to this popular communication solution, it may come with a significant price to your network.  Not only must your network carry more traffic, but VoIP traffic demands very high performance and is more sensitive to normal network problems like delays and choppy communication.  Even modest levels of impairment, unnoticed by users of most data applications, will cause significant caller frustration and will not sit well with your customers, business partners, or even your own employees.

Before investing in a large-scale VoIP deployment or even in a small trial, you need to know how well your network infrastructure will handle the additional, quality-sensitive voice traffic.  Many seemingly well-planned trials encounter delay after delay, exceed cost estimates, and are eventually cancelled when the network proves unable to meet the unique requirements VoIP places on it.  However, these business issues can easily be avoided if your telecommunications provider properly assesses your network ahead of time to truly understand the scope and type of work required to ensure a successful transition to VoIP.

Gartner reports that 85% of networks are not ready for VoIP.  What’s even more shocking is that 75% of companies that do not perform a pre-implementation analysis of their network infrastructure will not realize a successful implementation.  These are astonishing statistics because without conducting a network assessment with a quality assessment tool, the potential for wasting time and money is extremely high.  In order to increase the likelihood of a successful VoIP implementation, an evaluation of the network must be properly executed and should include the following four steps.

  1. Pre-Deployment Assessment

The pre-deployment assessment step analyzes the current capabilities of the network, evaluates its ability to support VoIP, identifies potential problems, and determines the requirements needed to handle expected call traffic.  It is strongly recommended that the pre-deployment test is conducted prior to the purchase or installation of any VoIP equipment.  The analysis should include such items as bandwidth, utilization, jitter, throughput and latency.

  1. Post-Deployment Assessment

The purpose of the post-deployment assessment is to gain a complete understanding of VoIP quality and network efficiencies prior to turning it on.  This step determines the level of success and prevents issues with call quality or dropped calls.  Whenever new equipment is introduced to a network the chance for unexpected issues rises; therefore, it is critical that post-deployment assessment is not overlooked.  This assessment should be immediately performed so any changes can be made in a timely manner.

  1. Regular Maintenance Assessment

As you’re probably aware, your network is dynamic and constantly evolves.  New devices such as IP phones, laptops, switches, and routers are added or removed.  Whether it’s a minor change or a major one it will impact your network.  Therefore, it is important to re-evaluate your network regularly to identify any faults so they can be corrected as soon as possible.  Conducting ongoing assessments will help your organization increase quality, optimize system infrastructure, and reduce costs.

  1. Break/Fix Strategy

Unfortunately, unforeseen things may happen to a network that’s not readily identified by your IT department.  The situation may be brought to your company’s attention by a customer, an employee or business partner.  The Yankee Group has reported that some companies’ labor costs grew 30 to 40 percent with VoIP because of dealing with network problems.  Having a network assessment tool in place enables one to take action quickly, diagnose the problem, and resolve it, while minimizing its impact to the system as a whole.

Essentially, these four key steps have illustrated the primary objective and the many benefits of conducting network assessments.  Whether your company is about to take the plunge into VoIP or has already gone down that path, it is critical to deploy a tool that can accurately analyze your network.  Surprisingly, most companies overlook this integral component of the VoIP implementation process and the research clearly shows its negative impact.

As you tap into this relatively new communication solution that’s changing how business gets done, make sure you ask yourself this question.  What is my telecommunications provider doing to create a network environment that enables my company to take full advantage of VoIP? If network assessment is not included in the response then something is definitely wrong.

The Increasing Threat to Network Infrastructure Devices and Recommended Mitigations

U.S. Department of Homeland Security US-CERT

National Cyber Awareness System:

 

09/06/2016 06:29 PM EDT
Original release date: September 06, 2016 | Last revised: September 28, 2016

Systems Affected

Network Infrastructure Devices

Overview

The advancing capabilities of organized hacker groups and cyber adversaries create an increasing global threat to information systems. The rising threat levels place more demands on security personnel and network administrators to protect information systems. Protecting the network infrastructure is critical to preserve the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of communication and services across an enterprise.

To address threats to network infrastructure devices, this Alert provides information on recent vectors of attack that advanced persistent threat (APT) actors are targeting, along with prevention and mitigation recommendations.

Description

Network infrastructure consists of interconnected devices designed to transport communications needed for data, applications, services, and multi-media. Routers and firewalls are the focus of this alert; however, many other devices exist in the network, such as switches, load-balancers, intrusion detection systems, etc. Perimeter devices, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, have been the traditional technologies used to secure the network, but as threats change, so must security strategies. Organizations can no longer rely on perimeter devices to protect the network from cyber intrusions; organizations must also be able to contain the impact/losses within the internal network and infrastructure.

For several years now, vulnerable network devices have been the attack-vector of choice and one of the most effective techniques for sophisticated hackers and advanced threat actors. In this environment, there has never been a greater need to improve network infrastructure security. Unlike hosts that receive significant administrative security attention and for which security tools such as anti-malware exist, network devices are often working in the background with little oversight—until network connectivity is broken or diminished. Malicious cyber actors take advantage of this fact and often target network devices. Once on the device, they can remain there undetected for long periods. After an incident, where administrators and security professionals perform forensic analysis and recover control, a malicious cyber actor with persistent access on network devices can reattack the recently cleaned hosts. For this reason, administrators need to ensure proper configuration and control of network devices.

Proliferation of Threats to Information Systems

SYNful Knock

In September 2015, an attack known as SYNful Knock was disclosed. SYNful Knock silently changes a router’s operating system image, thus allowing attackers to gain a foothold on a victim’s network. The malware can be customized and updated once embedded. When the modified malicious image is uploaded, it provides a backdoor into the victim’s network. Using a crafted TCP SYN packet, a communication channel is established between the compromised device and the malicious command and control (C2) server. The impact of this infection to a network or device is severe and most likely indicates that there may be additional backdoors or compromised devices on the network. This foothold gives an attacker the ability to maneuver and infect other hosts and access sensitive data.

The initial infection vector does not leverage a zero-day vulnerability. Attackers either use the default credentials to log into the device or obtain weak credentials from other insecure devices or communications. The implant resides within a modified IOS image and, when loaded, maintains its persistence in the environment, even after a system reboot. Any further modules loaded by the attacker will only exist in the router’s volatile memory and will not be available for use after the device reboots. However, these devices are rarely or never rebooted.

To prevent the size of the image from changing, the malware overwrites several legitimate IOS functions with its own executable code. The attacker examines the functionality of the router and determines functions that can be overwritten without causing issues on the router. Thus, the overwritten functions will vary upon deployment.

The attacker can utilize the secret backdoor password in three different authentication scenarios. In these scenarios the implant first checks to see if the user input is the backdoor password. If so, access is granted. Otherwise, the implanted code will forward the credentials for normal verification of potentially valid credentials. This generally raises the least amount of suspicion. Cisco has provided an alert on this attack vector. For more information, see the Cisco SYNful Knock Security Advisory.

Other attacks against network infrastructure devices have also been reported, including more complicated persistent malware that silently changes the firmware on the device that is used to load the operating system so that the malware can inject code into the running operating system. For more information, please see Cisco’s description of the evolution of attacks on Cisco IOS devices.

Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA)

A Cisco ASA device is a network device that provides firewall and Virtual Private Network (VPN) functionality. These devices are often deployed at the edge of a network to protect a site’s network infrastructure, and to give remote users access to protected local resources.

In June 2016, NCCIC received several reports of compromised Cisco ASA devices that were modified in an unauthorized way. The ASA devices directed users to a location where malicious actors tried to socially engineer the users into divulging their credentials.

It is suspected that malicious actors leveraged CVE-2014-3393 to inject malicious code into the affected devices. The malicious actor would then be able to modify the contents of the Random Access Memory Filing System (RAMFS) cache file system and inject the malicious code into the appliance’s configuration. Refer to the Cisco Security Advisory Multiple Vulnerabilities in Cisco ASA Software for more information and for remediation details.

In August 2016, a group known as “Shadow Brokers” publicly released a large number of files, including exploitation tools for both old and newly exposed vulnerabilities. Cisco ASA devices were found to be vulnerable to the released exploit code. In response, Cisco released an update to address a newly disclosed Cisco ASA Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) remote code execution vulnerability (CVE-2016-6366). In addition, one exploit tool targeted a previously patched Cisco vulnerability (CVE-2016-6367). Although Cisco provided patches to fix this Cisco ASA command-line interface (CLI) remote code execution vulnerability in 2011, devices that remain unpatched are still vulnerable to the described attack. Attackers may target vulnerabilities for months or even years after patches become available.

Impact

If the network infrastructure is compromised, malicious hackers or adversaries can gain full control of the network infrastructure enabling further compromise of other types of devices and data and allowing traffic to be redirected, changed, or denied. Possibilities of manipulation include denial-of-service, data theft, or unauthorized changes to the data.

Intruders with infrastructure privilege and access can impede productivity and severely hinder re-establishing network connectivity. Even if other compromised devices are detected, tracking back to a compromised infrastructure device is often difficult.

Malicious actors with persistent access to network devices can reattack and move laterally after they have been ejected from previously exploited hosts.

Solution

1.    Segregate Networks and Functions

Proper network segmentation is a very effective security mechanism to prevent an intruder from propagating exploits or laterally moving around an internal network. On a poorly segmented network, intruders are able to extend their impact to control critical devices or gain access to sensitive data and intellectual property. Security architects must consider the overall infrastructure layout, segmentation, and segregation. Segregation separates network segments based on role and functionality. A securely segregated network can contain malicious occurrences, reducing the impact from intruders, in the event that they have gained a foothold somewhere inside the network.

Physical Separation of Sensitive Information

Local Area Network (LAN) segments are separated by traditional network devices such as routers. Routers are placed between networks to create boundaries, increase the number of broadcast domains, and effectively filter users’ broadcast traffic. These boundaries can be used to contain security breaches by restricting traffic to separate segments and can even shut down segments of the network during an intrusion, restricting adversary access.

Recommendations:
  • Implement Principles of Least Privilege and need-to-know when designing network segments.
  • Separate sensitive information and security requirements into network segments.
  • Apply security recommendations and secure configurations to all network segments and network layers.
Virtual Separation of Sensitive Information        

As technologies change, new strategies are developed to improve IT efficiencies and network security controls. Virtual separation is the logical isolation of networks on the same physical network. The same physical segmentation design principles apply to virtual segmentation but no additional hardware is required. Existing technologies can be used to prevent an intruder from breaching other internal network segments.

Recommendations:
  • Use Private Virtual LANs to isolate a user from the rest of the broadcast domains.
  • Use Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF) technology to segment network traffic over multiple routing tables simultaneously on a single router.
  • Use VPNs to securely extend a host/network by tunneling through public or private networks.

2.    Limit Unnecessary Lateral Communications

Allowing unfiltered workstation-to-workstation communications (as well as other peer-to-peer communications) creates serious vulnerabilities, and can allow a network intruder to easily spread to multiple systems. An intruder can establish an effective “beach head” within the network, and then spread to create backdoors into the network to maintain persistence and make it difficult for defenders to contain and eradicate.

Recommendations:
  • Restrict communications using host-based firewall rules to deny the flow of packets from other hosts in the network. The firewall rules can be created to filter on a host device, user, program, or IP address to limit access from services and systems.
  • Implement a VLAN Access Control List (VACL), a filter that controls access to/from VLANs. VACL filters should be created to deny packets the ability to flow to other VLANs.
  • Logically segregate the network using physical or virtual separation allowing network administrators to isolate critical devices onto network segments.

3.    Harden Network Devices

A fundamental way to enhance network infrastructure security is to safeguard networking devices with secure configurations. Government agencies, organizations, and vendors supply a wide range of resources to administrators on how to harden network devices. These resources include benchmarks and best practices. These recommendations should be implemented in conjunction with laws, regulations, site security policies, standards, and industry best practices. These guides provide a baseline security configuration for the enterprise that protects the integrity of network infrastructure devices. This guidance supplements the network security best practices supplied by vendors.

Recommendations:
  • Disable unencrypted remote admin protocols used to manage network infrastructure (e.g., Telnet, FTP).
  • Disable unnecessary services (e.g. discovery protocols, source routing, HTTP, SNMP, BOOTP).
  • Use SNMPv3 (or subsequent version) but do not use SNMP community strings.
  • Secure access to the console, auxiliary, and VTY lines.
  • Implement robust password policies and use the strongest password encryption available.
  • Protect router/switch by controlling access lists for remote administration.
  • Restrict physical access to routers/switches.
  • Backup configurations and store offline. Use the latest version of the network device operating system and update with all patches.
  • Periodically test security configurations against security requirements.
  • Protect configuration files with encryption and/or access controls when sending them electronically and when they are stored and backed up.

4.    Secure Access to Infrastructure Devices

Administrative privileges on infrastructure devices allow access to resources that are normally unavailable to most users and permit the execution of actions that would otherwise be restricted. When administrator privileges are improperly authorized, granted widely, and/or not closely audited, intruders can exploit them. These compromised privileges can enable adversaries to traverse a network, expanding access and potentially allowing full control of the infrastructure backbone. Unauthorized infrastructure access can be mitigated by properly implementing secure access policies and procedures.

Recommendations:
  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication – Authentication is a process to validate a user’s identity. Weak authentication processes are commonly exploited by attackers. Multi-factor authentication uses at least two identity components to authenticate a user’s identity. Identity components include something the user knows (e.g., password); an object the user has possession of (e.g., token); and a trait unique to the specific person (e.g., biometric).
  • Manage Privileged Access – Use an authorization server to store access information for network device management. This type of server will enable network administrators to assign different privilege levels to users based on the principle of least privilege. When a user tries to execute an unauthorized command, it will be rejected. To increase the strength and robustness of user authentication, implement a hard token authentication server in addition to the AAA server, if possible. Multi-factor authentication increases the difficulty for intruders to steal and reuse credentials to gain access to network devices.
  • Manage Administrative Credentials – Although multi-factor authentication is highly recommended and a best practice, systems that cannot meet this requirement can at least improve their security level by changing default passwords and enforcing complex password policies. Network accounts must contain complex passwords of at least 14 characters from multiple character domains including lowercase, uppercase, numbers, and special characters. Enforce password expiration and reuse policies. If passwords are stored for emergency access, keep these in a protected off-network location, such as a safe.

5.    Perform Out-of-Band Management

Out-of-Band (OoB) management uses alternate communication paths to remotely manage network infrastructure devices. These dedicated paths can vary in configuration to include anything from virtual tunneling to physical separation. Using OoB access to manage the network infrastructure will strengthen security by limiting access and separating user traffic from network management traffic. OoB management provides security monitoring and can implement corrective actions without allowing the adversary who may have already compromised a portion of the network to observe these changes.

OoB management can be implemented physically or virtually, or through a hybrid of the two. Building additional physical network infrastructure is the most secure option for the network managers, although it can be very expensive to implement and maintain. Virtual implementation is less costly, but still requires significant configuration changes and administration. In some situations, such as access to remote locations, virtual encrypted tunnels may be the only viable option.

Recommendations:
  • Segregate standard network traffic from management traffic.
  • Enforce that management traffic on devices only comes from the OoB.
  • Apply encryption to all management channels.
  • Encrypt all remote access to infrastructure devices such as terminal or dial-in servers.
  • Manage all administrative functions from a dedicated host (fully patched) over a secure channel, preferably on the OoB.
  • Harden network management devices by testing patches, turning off unnecessary services on routers and switches, and enforcing strong password policies. Monitor the network and review logs Implement access controls that only permit required administrative or management services (SNMP, NTP SSH, FTP, TFTP).

6.    Validate Integrity of Hardware and Software

Products purchased through unauthorized channels are often known as “counterfeit,” “secondary,” or “grey market” devices. There have been numerous reports in the press regarding grey market hardware and software being introduced into the marketplace. Grey market products have not been thoroughly tested to meet quality standards and can introduce risks to the network. Lack of awareness or validation of the legitimacy of hardware and software presents a serious risk to users’ information and the overall integrity of the network environment. Products purchased from the secondary market run the risk of having the supply chain breached, which can result in the introduction of counterfeit, stolen, or second-hand devices. This could affect network performance and compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of network assets. Furthermore, breaches in the supply chain provide an opportunity for malicious software or hardware to be installed on the equipment. In addition, unauthorized or malicious software can be loaded onto a device after it is in operational use, so integrity checking of software should be done on a regular basis.

Recommendations:
  • Maintain strict control of the supply chain; purchase only from authorized resellers.
  • Require resellers to implement a supply chain integrity check to validate hardware and software authenticity.
  • Inspect the device for signs of tampering.
  • Validate serial numbers from multiple sources.
  • Download software, updates, patches, and upgrades from validated sources.
  • Perform hash verification and compare values against the vendor’s database to detect unauthorized modification to the firmware.
  • Monitor and log devices, verifying network configurations of devices on a regular schedule.
  • Train network owners, administrators, and procurement personnel to increase awareness of grey market devices.

 

Shadow Broker Exploits
Vendor CVE Exploit Name Vulnerability
Fortinet CVE-2016-6909 EGREGIOUSBLUNDER Authentication cookie overflow
WatchGuard CVE-2016-7089 ESCALATEPLOWMAN Command line injection via ipconfig
Cisco CVE-2016-6366 EXTRABACON SNMP remote code execution
Cisco CVE-2016-6367 EPICBANANA Command line injection remote code execution
Cisco CVE-2016-6415 BENIGNCERTAIN/PIXPOCKET Information/memory leak
TOPSEC N/A ELIGIBLEBACHELOR Attack vector unknown, but has an XML-like payload
beginning with <?tos length=”001e.%8.8x”?
TOPSEC N/A ELIGIBLEBOMBSHELL HTTP cookie command injection
TOPSEC N/A ELIGIBLECANDIDATE HTTP cookie command injection
TOPSEC N/A ELIGIBLECONTESTANT HTTP POST parameter injection

 

References

Revision History

  • September 6, 2016: Initial release
  • September 13, 2016: Added additional references

Prime Telecommunications Offers Innovative Cloud Disaster Recovery Solutions

Prime Telecommunications, Inc., a leader in unified communications, announced today that it has launched a program that focuses on cloud-based data safety. This program is aimed to help small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) to effectively store, manage, and transfer their critical business files seamlessly while simultaneously increasing the overall security of all of their business files. Whether employees are utilizing files on their servers, laptops, workstations or smartphones, this Cloud Disaster Recovery Program will change the way that business owners handle their sensitive corporate and financial information.

For those who aren’t yet familiar, disaster recovery, is a set of policies and procedures which enable the recovery or continuation of vital technology infrastructure and systems following a natural or human-induced disaster. The majority of enterprise-level organizations have recognized the blatant need for disaster recovery programs because they focus on strengthening the underlying IT or technology systems supporting critical business functions, especially in moments of need. For example, when an organization starts growing and adds on more staff, there are more possibilities for human-induced disasters or data theft. An accidental deleted or misplaced file can can cost companies dozens of hours in lost producitity. Futhermore, with more staff come more devices, which in an increasing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment, means that there are more vulnerability points for hackers to enter the network. When businesses begin to scale, these productivity interruptions are no longer tolerable.

“When a business begins its growth trajectory, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the success,” stated Vic Levinson, President at Prime Telecommunications. “We know that feeling. It’s so rewarding to see your business growth outpacing your operating expenses and all of the years of sacrifice make it completely worth it. It’s so easy to kick your feet up, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor in that moment, however, this is precisely when businesses need to take the steps to protect themselves so they can continue to grow at that same rate. This is when they are most susceptible to virtual disasters and without a comprehensive disaster recovery plan and cloud technology that is engineered specifically to shrug off these types of disturbances, they are putting that stable growth at risk.”

In years prior, many businesses were hesitant to purchase cloud-based disaster recovery solutions because they required large, up-front capital expenditures. Prime Telecommunications’ cloud disaster recovery program breaks this pattern because its on a pay-as-you go model, so businesses only pay for what they use, enabling them to scale up and down their disaster recovery program in perfect sync with the pace of their businesses. It’s file syncing, syncing with business growth, syncing with a cost structure that makes this technology easy to implement into any growth-oriented SMB.