Russ Levanway, CEO, Tektegrity

As any Saturday Night Live fan can tell you, danger presents itself in many ways. (Candy-gram. Plumber. Flowers!) But unlike the iconic Land Shark, IT threats don’t ring the bell and wait for you to open the front door.

Today, having virus protection and a firewall aren’t good enough. As our reliance on interconnected devices and computer controlled systems increases, so do the stakes. Unfortunately, with higher potential for a big score, sophistication levels among hackers and cybercriminals are also on the rise. The internet is becoming more dangerous by the day.

Unlocked doors, windows, and ducts

We’ve all heard about Target’s data breach. Network credentials were stolen from a service company that had network access allowing them to perform electronic billing, contract submission and project management related to Target’s heating, refrigeration and air conditioning systems. The HVAC contracting company released a statement saying they believed malware-infected email had been sent to employees, allowing their credentials to be harvested.

The breach allowed hackers to access customer credit card, debit card and contact information. In essence, the hackers snuck into the contractor’s organization, crawled through the ductwork, and slid into the files full of financial and personal information of an estimated 110 million Target customers.

Any device with network access brings the potential for threats. Remote inventory monitoring systems by vending machine companies, videoconferencing equipment, printers and other network accessing devices have been implicated in recent losses. Expect more reports as vulnerabilities in the now-unsupported XP operating system are exploited in systems that haven’t yet been upgraded.

Dangerous watering holes

Another recent breach occurred when cybercriminals realized they could embed malware in the online takeout menu of a Chinese restaurant frequented by employees of the company they were targeting. Employees downloaded the menu using computers on the company’s network. Unlike the tasty morsels delivered to the front door, the surprises delivered via malware gave the company some pretty serious indigestion.

Unsuspecting victims

“My small business is safe. Nobody would target us.”

Unfortunately, rather than aiming for an obvious target with a single shot, cyber-outlaws often run wide-scale attacks looking for any system that will answer their knock.

Not long ago, we discovered that a client’s network had been compromised – spam email was being sent out from a computer on their network.  We checked all of their systems – they all had current antivirus software.  Manual scans turned up nothing.  We went on site and did a visual catalog of every system.  As it turned out, a security camera company had installed a new camera system that included a monitoring computer.  They had opened a port in the client’s firewall to allow them remote access to that computer without any regard to security.  The computer had no antivirus software and was not being monitored and maintained. One machine attached to the network quickly created a security issue, putting their entire network at risk.

Fast-moving predators

Firewalls, virus protection and mail filters can only protect users from known risks. New viruses, phishing schemes and malware protocols surface every day.

Many organizations have been monitoring and performing regular assessments to meet regulatory demands such as PCI and HIPAA patient data compliance, yet system changes in between these periodic assessments can result in vulnerabilities.

Your defense

Next month we’ll tell you what the IT service industry is doing to prevent malicious attacks and create more layers of protection for businesses. Until then, check your cyberlocks, use your peep-hole, and don’t click on those “Free Candy-Gram!” emails.

Russ Levanway is the CEO of TekTegrity, an IT Managed Services Provider serving the Central Coast and Central Valley. The organization’s Total Systems Management™ (TSM) service model provides preventative IT support at fixed monthly fee levels. For more information, visit www.tektegrity.com.