Mortgage Software Solutions Blog

7 of the Most Interesting Facts About Cyber Security


pic blog-1.jpgAs technology of cyber security advances, so does the technology of hackers.

A computer hacker is the name given to the tech-savvy folks on both sides of the internet battlefront. Bad guys or “black hat” hackers are the ones trying to break into computer systems, steal data, and install harmful software. The “white hat” hackers are cyber security heroes that develop ways to catch bad guys and stop malicious programs from doing damage. That’s interesting nomenclature, right?

The world of cybersecurity is full of intriguing tidbits that help us understand the dangers and how to protect ourselves from the black hats of the world. Here are 7 of the most interesting facts about cyber security.

  1. The number of cyber attacks is going UP not down. Though white hat hackers continue to improve, the total number of cyber attacks doubled in 2017. That’s according to the Online Trust Alliance (OTA), which has named 2017 “the worst year ever in data breaches and cyber-incidents around the world.” 
  2. Ransomware is leading the way in modern cyber security events. Ransomware is a type of malicious software that holds a victim’s data hostage until a ransom is paid. Instead of selling victims’ information on the black market, ransomware has established a way to make money off this stolen information directly from victims. The threat of ransomware is based on doxxing (publishing of the personal data) or blocking a victim’s online access to their own accounts.
  3. 91% of cyber attacks in 2017 started with a phishing email. Phishing is the practice of sending fraudulent emails that seem to be from a reputable company. When the victim clicks on a link or freely reveals their passwords or credit card information as a response, the phish is a success. The two best ways to avoid phishing attacks are to (1) never click unknown links and (2) never send sensitive information that has been requested via email.
  4. Cyber-crime damages will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion just a year ago. This massive amount of money represents the greatest transfer of economic wealth in history (2017 Cybersecurity Ventures).
  5. Financial organizations are the biggest targets of cyber attacks. Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Report breaks down the hacks by percentage: Last year, 24% of breaches targeted the finance industry, 15% were aimed at healthcare, 15% were retail, and only 12% of breaches occurred in the public sector.
  6. Mortgage companies are the #1 target in the industry because of the treasure trove of information that they require from customers. Mortgage companies hang onto more non-public than any other type of financial organization.
  7. 93% of breaches could have been avoided by taking simple steps, such as regularly updating software or leveraging modern cloud based solutions. Can you believe that breaches are easy to prevent? There is an old saying that “the best defense is a good offense”. It applies to the cyber security world too.

If you take the initiative ahead of time to set up clear security mechanisms, your company’s data systems won’t be attractive to bad guys.

What are the new standards for security? Modernized IT including updated password policies and Multi Factor Authentication. Cloud-based data systems are key for getting your company data off those old office servers. Sophisticated cloud-based email gateways configured especially for the mortgage industry to protect against email-based threats. These are the foundations for data security when it comes to financial institutions in 2018.

Be the cyber security leader in your industry. Make the changes before hackers make the first move on your company. When you aren’t an easy target, your data remains safe and your customers stay happy.

The best thing a business can do to keep those black hats at bay is to stay informed about cyber security by reading articles like this and use their knowledge to implement solid security measures before a hack occurs.

Businesses protected by proven security measures like ABT’s Email Guardian remain safe and receive monthly reports detailing security threats. Contact us to learn more.

Topics: Mortgage Software Reporting dangers of ransomware email security data security mortgage company security financial data security creating strong passwords social networking safety phishing multi-factor authentication cybersecurity security productivity mortgage business malware network safety

Solid Steps to Safeguard Against Meltdown and Spectre

ghjfj.jpgTwo defects threaten computers and devices released on the market since 1995.

Meltdown and Spectre are the names given to two newly-discovered bugs terrorizing computers around the world.

At the sound of such unnerving names, it’s hard for security folks at enterprise-level companies to control the panic.

While protocols for dealing with these threats are still on the drafting board, there are solid steps that companies can take to protect themselves.

What are Meltdown and Spectre?

In early January of 2018, the tech world was rocked by the discovery of two colossal security flaws that affect almost every computer and smart device on the market since 1995.

First announced on January 3rd, the bugs’ initial discoveries are being attributed to Jann Horn at Project Zero, a Google-based program for security analysis.

These two separate flaws were simultaneously being probed and announced by a handful of security experts from around the globe. As bits and pieces came out about the exposures, the gravity of the situation became clearer.

Both Meltdown and Spectre exploit weakness in the CPU of most current machines and all their predecessors dating back to 1995.

Since both faults affect major brand-name processors, it means that desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and servers all contain the defects.

The spooky truth is that they affect a majority of computers in use today.

How They Work

Often linked due to the widespread nature of both flaws and the fact that they were discovered around the same time, they do not work in the same way.

The first defect, Meltdown, is named for what it does to affected devices. It sort of ‘melts’ the wall between applications and the machine’s OS and makes it a devastating entryway for hackers.

The second issue, Spectre, is a named for the process from which hackers are able to steal information—namely ‘speculative execution’.

Speculative execution is the technique whereby your device records your computer activity in an attempt to predict future actions. This process helps your device execute tasks quickly, but the records contain sensitive usage information that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.

The name also refers to an apparition, which is fitting since companies don’t want intruders ghosting around their private information.

Meltdown affects Intel processors while Spectre affects three kinds of CPU chip: Intel, AMD, and ARM.

Using these newly discovered gateways, popular tech forum Bleeping Computer says, “Malicious program can steal passwords, account information, encryption keys, or theoretically anything stored in the memory of a process.”

Vendors React

In response to the potential devastation, the tech community has seen a wave of security advisories and patches to deal with the bugs.

At the pace that vendors are trying to get information out, some have produced conflicting stories: While AMD maintains that its CPUs have a near zero risk of vulnerability, Microsoft quickly pushed out a patch for AMD devices that has caused computers to stop working.

In the haste to calm the masses, it seems some solutions come with problems of their own.

Beyond the CPU

Browsers are also vulnerable due to these glitches.

Safari came out with a patch in December of 2017 while Microsoft just released patches for IE and Edge. Microsoft announced that Windows 10 is safer to use than older versions, but did not provide further details.

After other vendors bumbled, Google reneged on a patch that was promised for January 23rd. Google’s Chrome browser and OS patch came out Friday the 2nd of February, over a week late.

Adding yet another layer to this confusing frenzy, Anti-Virus programs may be incompatible with some systems (notably Microsoft) so don’t go AV-crazy just yet.

In order to be proactive, here are three solid steps you can take to make sure your company is protected.

  1. Assess Your Risk

Guidelines for action from patches to future fixes are available at each vendor’s site. Your company can build a customized response based on vendor-specific information.

  1. Follow Instructions

Take the recommended steps to mitigate any security risks that would leave your company vulnerable.

A smorgasbord of vendors, from Amazon to Cisco, has released advisories to protect their clients and business partners from dangerous activity.

It’s up to your company’s security team to follow instructions based on the software and hardware that your system uses.

  1. Hold Out for More Information

Unfortunately, these bugs were publicly announced recently. The scramble to provide permanent answers is on.

The best thing to do after the initial patch scare is to await further details and instruction from the tech security community.

Businesses protected by ABT’s monitoring service Network Guardian receive monthly reports detailing security threats. Contact us to learn more.


Topics: mortgage documents mortgage business mortgage industry cloud-based data Mortgage Lending disaster recovery malware network intel spectre meltdown network safety

Ransomware Alert: Don't Become a Victim of WannaCry Malware!


Ransomware Alert: Don't Become a Victim of WannaCry Malware!

You may have heard by now about the huge--global in scope--ransomware attack that happened May 12th and endured for three days into the following week. It's the largest ransomware attack to date, and has caused quite an uproar in the business world, disrupting and even dismantling some operations. What determines the severity of this attack, and others, for individual organizations? Vulnerabilities. If you don't want to become a victim of WannaCry malware--and nobody should--you need to learn more about the malware itself, and prevention methods. Let's start with a bit of background on WannaCry.

What gave birth to WannaCry Ransomware?

Cyber security experts point the finger at the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA apparently discovered the vulnerability in Microsoft Windows operating systems some time ago and kept the information secret so it could exploit the vulnerability for its own intelligence activities. Earlier this year, a group calling itself ShadowBrokers leaked the code for NSA cyber spy tools, including NSA's hacking tool called EternalBlue, online. It didn't take long before cybercriminals were at work creating WannaCry ransomware. Once the infection got started, the trojan virus infected a certain number of computers and then began to spread like wildfire using the vulnerability in the Windows Server Message Block to infect other computers on the same networks and then to connected networks.

Are all Windows operating systems at risk?

When Microsoft learned of the vulnerability, the company created security patches for all the updated operating systems which it released this past March. For those computers who update their operating systems through Windows Update automatic feature, the vulnerability no longer is an issue. Users can also manually update the security patch. Consider yourself fortunate if you did this.

Before the attack, the problem still was an issue with respect to legacy-operating systems Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003, which are no longer supported by the Microsoft security patches. However, after the attacks were discovered, Microsoft made security patches available to those legacy systems. Users who run one of these legacy systems and have not installed the security patches, should do so immediately, and of course, from a secure server.

A Serious Global Issue

How many computers are we talking about? Within a few hours of the attack the virus affected more than 100 countries and infected more than 200,000 computers. Unlike most viruses, WannaCry did not seem to rely on emails for the initial contact. It does appear that the virus propagated itself once it invaded a certain number of computers and did not rely on users to click on an email.

Where was the attack centered?

Russia and China were hardest hit. Russia's infection spread to 1,000 computers in its Interior Ministry as well as banks and mobile phone systems. In China, however, the virus infected more than 30,000 computers, many of them universities. China is vulnerable to cyber attacks because it encourages the use of pirated software.

The virus infected Federal Express here in the United States in the initial attack but the virus does not appear to have affected any U.S. government systems. The virus attacked telecommunications systems and gas utilities in Spain and France's Renault automobiles had to stop production.

What was the ransomware demand?

The demand and payment make this attack interesting. The virus encrypted files and then sent a screen message demanding $300 worth of Bitcoin. If the ransom remained unpaid after three days, it increased to $600 worth of Bitcoin. After seven days without payment, the ransomware threatened to destroy the encrypted files and all data would disappear forever. Researchers found only three Bitcoin wallets with a total of only about $50,000 in payments. For such a widespread attack, these numbers are quite low. Security experts say the attackers were not set up very well for Bitcoin payments.

Protecting yourself against ransomware

You've heard most of this advice before but it still holds true, and more so when attacks like this occur. Know that they will continue to happen, so just because you weren’t attacked this time, doesn’t mean you won’t be vulnerable in the future. Cybercriminals are often intelligent and quite sophisticated with their attacks, often upping the ante from any previous large-scale ones. You might be familiar with the following, but all across the world people still do these:

  • Don't click on emails if you don't recognize the sender. It’s simple. Just don’t do it.
  • Do not click on unknown attachments. Curiosity gets the best of us, but don’t let it dismantle your entire organization.
  • The same is true for links in emails. They aren’t harmless, and even when they are in an email from a familiar email address, check it!
  • Enable your Windows Update function so that all security patches update when released. This way you won't forget to do it.
  • Perhaps most important of all is to back up files on a separate server from the main computer. Consider backing up to the cloud or using an external drive that unplugs when not in use.
  • Users of legacy Windows operating systems may want to consider upgrading as soon as possible since they are longer supported by Microsoft patches.

Depending on your business type--some are more often targeted--the above will only help limit some attacks. Don’t be that business that thinks you won’t be targeted. Your operating expenses should have a high-priority line item for this type of protection. Why? If your business is severely impacted, nothing else will matter. If you don’t have the manning or systems in place now, consider a cloud-based solution, such as DeviceGuardian™ that can easily be installed on any existing or new devices. This allows Access Business Technologies to securely manage all of your mortgage software, data, and users. The best part of this is that ABT takes one of the most important aspects of your business off your plate, efficiently and effectively managing your data security  without skyrocketing your company’s expenses.  

In other news of the when-it-rains-it-pours variety, DocuSign confirmed today that hackers maliciously accessed a separate non-core system and stole more than 100 million email addresses from the company - only email addresses. The hackers took no personal information or addresses. Just another indication, however, that everyone needs to stay vigilant. Cyber criminals make a living off of your vulnerabilities.

As mentioned earlier, even if you weren’t attacked this time around, it doesn’t mean your company’s backend won’t be targeted next time. To find out how to protect your company from making negative headlines like DocuSign and FedEx contact us. ABT has an internal department that monitors all viruses, scams, malware, ransomware, cyber-attacks, etc. We work closely with hundreds of Microsoft IT security team members and have developed a cyber-security solution that we have successfully executed for more than 500 mortgage companies, banks, and credit unions.
Topics: Access Business Technologies cyber security data security malware