It is Heaven! Using the Cloud to Challenge Big Business
Has anyone suggested you begin moving your business to the cloud? Cloud data storage or cloud computing? What is this, anyhow? And isn’t it something for huge companies?
In the last post we explained what cloud computing is. Simply put, it is the offsite storage of your data, and perhaps even the software packages you use. The primary benefit is pretty straightforward. Somebody else pays for all the hardware and support costs needed to store your data. You pack up all your own servers, wiring, etc. and take them to the recycling center, and save money. But is that all it is? There is a much stronger case for a small business to incorporate the cloud in their business model. The cloud allows you to become competitive with the big players in your industry.
The traditional issue holding back small business: they do not have the capital to create the infrastructure to compete with large firms. They are too small to enjoy economies of scale. One obvious area is software and hardware. Historically, the technology used by big business has been out of reach of the little guys. Most SMBs have neither the hardware budget nor internal resources to own a network infrastructure. A small business does not have capital to buy the equipment. Take a simple example: You run a storefront, but think you might be able to sell a bit more if you went online, but you don’t know how much more. You can’t justify the capital to buy the hardware, software, and the labor to design, build, and support it all. The cost of entry to the online world is just too much.
The cloud ends all of that. In simple terms, the cloud lets you rent just as little infrastructure as you need, and then lets you grow as incrementally as you like, paying only for what you use.Essentially, the cloud has become the great equalizer. The high cost of entry created by IT can be eliminated by the cloud.
Small-to-medium sized businesses and large enterprises may seem worlds apart, but they face many of the same cyber-security threats. In fact, in recent years, cyber-criminals have increasingly targeted SMBs. This is because it’s widely known that SMBs have a smaller budget, and less in-house expertise, to devote to protection. Thankfully, there are several things SMBs can do today to get more from even the most limited security budget. And, no, we aren’t talking about cutting corners. Far too often, SMBs cut the wrong corners and it ends up costing them more money in the long run. It’s a matter of taking a smarter approach to security. Here are five smart approaches to take
Prioritize – Every business has specific areas or assets critical to its core operations. Seek the input of valued staff and team members to determine what these are. Is there certain data that would be catastrophic if it was lost or stolen? If hackers compromise a network, or prevent access to certain applications, how disruptive would it be to daily business operations? What kind of potential threats or vulnerabilities pose the greatest risk to the company or your customers/clients? Focus on the most likely risks, not theoretical risks that “could happen.” Asking such questions gives you a clearer more complete perspective as to where to focus available security resources.
Develop and Enforce Policies – Every SMB needs to implement a security policy to direct employees on appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviors relative to network, systems, and data security. Merely drafting this document isn’t enough. Employees must be held accountable if they fail to adhere to policy. Such policies should be updated regularly to reflect new technology and cultural shifts. For example, a document written before social media took off, or before the BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) movement, doesn’t necessarily apply today.
Education – Ongoing end user training must be provided. Many security breaches happen because employees fail to recognize phishing schemes, open emails from unknown sources, create poor passwords that are seldom changed, and don’t take proper precautions when using public Wi-Fi connections on personal mobile devices also used for work.
Take to the Cloud – Running applications and servers in-house is a costly endeavor. Leveraging the cloud today allows SMBs to cut costs while also strengthening their security. Cloud operators typically have built-in security features, alleviating SMBs of the burden of maintaining security themselves. Today, not only can SMBs shift much of the burden of IT to the cloud, but they can also outsource much of their security by taking advantage of the remote monitoring, maintenance, and security tools provided by Managed Service Providers (MSPs).
Don’t Aim for Perfection – There is no such thing as perfect security. Striving for perfection is expensive and can prove to be more costly in the end. Improving protection and response would be a more ideal allocation of funds. It can take a hacker several months to figure out your systems and do real damage. Having the ability to quickly detect their presence, and mitigate any potential damage they may cause, is a more realistic and less expensive approach than thinking you can completely remove any probability whatsoever of a hacker breaching your system.
Four Key Components of a Robust Security Plan Every SMB Must Know
Most businesses are now technology dependent. This means security concerns aren’t just worrisome to large corporate enterprises anymore, but also the neighborhood sandwich shop, the main street tax advisor, and the local non-profit. Regardless of size or type, practically any organization has valuable digital assets and data that should not be breached under any circumstances.
This makes it the responsibility of every business, especially those collecting and storing customer/client information, to implement a multipronged approach to safeguard such information.
Yes, we’re looking at you, Mr. Pizza Shop Owner who has our names, addresses, phone numbers, and credit card information stored to make future ordering easier and hassle free.
Today’s SMB Needs a Robust Security Plan Protecting your business and its reputation comes down to developing, implementing, and monitoring a robust security plan that adequately addresses everything from physical access and theft to the threat of compromised technology security. This involves defining and outlining acceptable uses of your network and business resources to deter inappropriate use. Here are four key components to consider.
Network Security Policy: Limitations must be defined when it comes to acceptable use of the network. Passwords should be strong, frequently updated, and never shared. Policies regarding the installation and use of external software must be communicated.
Lastly, if personal devices such as laptops, tablets, or smartphones are accessing the network, they should be configured to do it safely, which can be done easily with a reliable Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution.
Communications Policy: Use of company email and Internet resources must be outlined for legal and security reasons. Restricting data transfers and setting requirements for the sharing or transfer of digital files within and outside of the network is recommended. Specific guidelines regarding personal Internet use, social media, and instant messaging should also be clearly outlined. If the company reserves the right to monitor all communication sent through the network, or any information stored on company-owed systems, it must be stated here
Inappropriate Use: Obviously, any use of the network or company-owned system or device to distribute viruses, hack systems, or engage in criminal activity must be prohibited with the consequences clearly noted. Any website that employees cannot visit should be identified if not altogether blocked and restricted. For instance, downloading an entire season of True Blood from a Bit Torrent site isn’t an acceptable use of company Internet resources.
Every employee must know these policies and understand the business and legal implications behind them. Companies must also make sure these policies are clear and understood by all, and most importantly, strictly enforced.
Just Because You’re Not a Big Target, Doesn’t Mean You’re Safe
Not too long ago, the New York Times’ website experienced a well-publicized attack, which raises the question – how can this happen to such a world-renowned corporation? If this can happen to the New York Times, what does this bode for the security of a small company’s website? What’s to stop someone from sending visitors of your site to an adult site or something equally offensive?
The short answer to that question is nothing. In the New York Times’ attack, the attackers changed the newspapers’ Domain Name System (DNS) records to send visitors to a Syrian website. The same type of thing can very well happen to your business website. For a clearer perspective, let’s get into the specifics of the attack and explain what DNS is.
The perpetrators of the New York Times’ attack targeted the site’s Internet DNS records. To better understand this, know that computers communicate in numbers, whereas we speak in letters. In order for us to have an easy-to-remember destination like nytimes.com, the IP address must be converted to that particular URL through DNS.
Therefore, no matter how big or small a company’s online presence is, every website is vulnerable to the same DNS hacking as the New York Times’ site. The good news is the websites of smaller companies or organizations fly under the radar and rarely targeted. Larger targets like the New York Times, or LinkedIn, which was recently redirected to a domain sales page, are more likely targets.
For now… There is no reason to panic and prioritize securing DNS over other things right now. But there is a belief that DNS vulnerability will be something cybercriminals pick on more often down the road.
Here are a few ways to stay safe
Select a Registrar with a Solid Reputation for Security
Chances are, you purchased your domain name through a reputable registrar like GoDaddy, Bluehost, 1&1, or Dreamhost. Obviously, you need to create a strong password for when you log into the registrar to manage your site’s files. Nonetheless, recent DNS attacks are concerning because they’re far more than the average password hack.
It was actually the security of the registrars themselves that was compromised in recent attacks. The attackers were basically able to change any DNS record in that registrar’s directory. What’s particularly frightening is the registrars attacked had solid reputations. The New York Times, along with sites like Twitter and the Huffington Post, is registered with Melbourne IT. LinkedIn, Craigslist and US Airways are registered with Network Solutions. Both had been believed to be secure.
So what else can be done?
Set Up a Registry Lock & Inquire About Other Optional Security
A registry lock makes it difficult for anyone to make even the most mundane changes to your registrar account without manual intervention by a staff registrar. This likely comes at an additional cost and not every domain registrar has it available.
Ask your registrar about registry locking and other additional security measures like two factor authentication, which requires another verifying factor in addition to your login and password, or IP address dependent logins, which limits access to your account from anywhere outside of one particular IP address.
While adding any of these extra safeguards will limit your ability to make easy account change or access your files from remote locations, it may be a worthwhile price to pay.