5 tips to staying safe and secure when video conferencing from home

As the New Zealand Herald reported, Zoom has some serious security issues in its Windows client that can be “used for limited remote code execution and, worse.”

And for many of us this means about the same as E=MC2. What does this mean for us non-cybersecurity folks working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown? And how can you explain that to your mum, eh?

Here are our top five tips about working from home, video conferencing and staying safe.

1. Don’t talk to strangers

Businesses tend to use video conferencing solutions that allow anyone with a valid company email to join freely. If this sounds like your place of work, then stick to that. It means anyone from outside the company can’t join your discussions.

Some video conference solutions allow you to dial in from a mobile phone number as an alternative way in – if you see an unknown number pop-up on your chat, challenge them to make sure there aren’t any lurkers.

But for the rest of us, make sure the platform you’re using has an option to set an entry password that you can share separately with all attendees. That way you won’t have any random stranger suddenly pop-up in the middle of a shared lunch. Take advantage of the waiting room feature if it exists. You can vet and approve unexpected attendees prior to them potentially wreaking havoc.

Of course, there are those platforms that actively encourage people to drop in – Houseparty is one good example where you can issue an open invitation to anyone in your address book. If you are using these services, be aware that people you might not want on the call can join in. While that is unlikely to be problematic for your children’s schooling, Aunty Jean might think she’s joining a family dinner and a boozy flat game of virtual Truth or Dare might not be her cup of tea.

2. Do you even know what a .bz2 file is?

It’s simple. If you don’t know what a file is and if you don’t know how or what to use to view it, do not click on it, do not open it, and do not share it. If someone sends you a weird link over a video conference session, double-check that it is a real thing they’ve actually sent to you and not something that will hijack your computer. If you think dealing with tech support is hard work in the office, when you’re working remotely it’s doubly difficult. If the person is known to you, but there are attachments, check with them first – and not by email! Their account might have been hacked.

And of course, if you do need to share a file with your colleagues, then use file encryption, encrypted email, or whatever your company uses for secure file sharing. Emailing databases about the place is not considered smart, and certainly is not good practice.

3. Big brother may not be watching, but your housemate might be listening

Chances are your partner or flatmates find your work calls boring but you might not realise that your voice carries to the neighbours. Always consider who else is around when you’re on that conference call, especially if you’re working with sensitive information. Someone might be recording the call without your knowledge or just interested to find out about that big company deal you’re helping put together.

The lesson here is watch what you say. Check the participant list. Consider alternative communication channels for highly confidential conversations. The same applies for screensharing. Close your documents and shut down any irrelevant applications. And in the interests of not driving your family and flatmates nuts with your calls, get a good quality headset rather than shouting at your laptop. Trust me on that one.

4. You know what they say about repetition…

It might be boring, but it pays off. And so does accessing any system or application with more than one type of login.

Hopefully, your company has already introduced multi-factor authentication (MFA), which will require you to check your phone for a code before logging in to any vital system. But in case they haven’t, many platforms allow you to enable MFA yourself. This reduces the chances of someone using your stolen credentials to hack your account and again, wreak havoc. Again, if you think having to change all your credit card details and passwords is a pain when you’re able to move about the city, it’s doubly difficult when we’re all in lockdown, so avoid giving the bad guys access to your details.

5. If it smells funny, don’t sniff

Just because we are talking about video conferencing, doesn’t mean emails suddenly aren’t relevant. If you receive any unexpected emails or an expected email that seems ever so slightly off, don’t click on any links or open any files. Notify your IT team and delete the email. Always check before following those important orders you received from ‘YourCEO@gmail.com’, or similar that arrived in the dead of night, and need you to urgently pay an invoice or similar. It might be from your boss, but equally it might not.

Most importantly, remember to strike a balance between risk and benefit.  Good cybersecurity is not about stopping business activity, but about using appropriate tools for appropriate tasks.  Houseparty is a great tool for remote classrooms, but not for executive communications. And finally, find a way to incorporate the norm into the new norm. Have fun with your calls, be kind to your colleagues, and screenshot the awkwardly frozen faces. Most certainly report back to your entire team when a colleague spontaneously decides to flash during your team catch up call. When we all get to back to the office, it’ll be good to have a little something up your sleeve for your next performance review.

Follow David Eaton, Associate Director, Cybersecurity at Datacom, on LinkedIn.

The weakest link

You may never find yourself exchanging phone numbers with a Saudi prince, but CEOs and business leaders swap contact details all the time. For Jeff Bezos at Amazon, this was just another routine step along the path that led to a massive breach of his security.  After a personal connection, what is more natural than accepting social media contacts?

Today, companies are under ever increasing pressure to ensure their business processes are robust enough to withstand a cyberattack. Firewalls and anti-virus software are installed, patches applied and staff required to change their passwords on a regular basis. Access to files is restricted to those who need them for particular aspects of their work, processes are put in place for staff who leave and user access to the computers they use is restricted to ensure they don’t do something stupid.

Yet at the same time, we see a rise in the number of possible attack vectors open to the criminals. Social media channels offer new ways to get past the watchdogs and security measures in place. Staff are making great use of cloud-based storage to share documents and larger files. Everyone in your business has a smartphone that’s capable of wreaking havoc yet we regularly let staff ‘bring their own device’ and companies like it because there’s more appeal for staff to work late or on weekends if they do so remotely.

All of this creates more opportunity for the bad guys and more risk for organisations, and especially for business leaders. Because while security restrictions are usually put in place vigorously across the company, the one person who should have extra layers of protection tends to demand fewer.

The boss tends to get the special treatment which allows him or her to have greater access to files and services. They may receive more leniency around passwords and security protocols, and have a hands-on role with their marketing team when it comes to a presence on social media including Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp, even if company rules prohibit such activity for others.

Jeff Bezos’s (and other high-profile business and political leaders) Twitter use demonstrates CEOs and organisational leaders are willing to live by a different rule to the rest of the team, and that leaves the organisation open to some serious challenges.

How do you tell the boss that he or she shouldn’t have admin rights on their laptop? That they shouldn’t give out their contact details to everyone they meet, no matter how royal? What about insisting they don’t use their work phones for personal use, such as social media, even when they use social media to talk with customers and represent the company?

It’s a minefield for the security team because, of all the staff in the organisation, those at the top are more likely to be targeted by criminals trying to harvest information and access sensitive information. ‘Spear phishing’, where criminals attempt to pass off communications as being from the CEO or financial department, is a growing area of concern. Having senior leaders who are active on social media, and use it interchangeably with email and other more formal channels of communication, makes life doubly difficult for the security team.

So in light of Jeff Bezos’s breach, here are five tips about cybersecurity for CEOs:

  1. Private vs company

If you do want to share your contact details, use a cut-out service. A phone number that you only use for those instances or an email address that your executive assistant (EA) manages. Keep some distance, and keep it ring-fenced so if there is a problem, it’s limited.

  1. Security isn’t optional

Boring but true. Talk to your cybersecurity leads about how best to handle your specific needs. Routine sweeps of your accounts and devices might be required – especially if you travel overseas a lot – so be prepared for some hassle and annoyance. It’s not their fault – it’s good that they nag.

  1. Set the boundaries for staff

Make it clear how you’ll communicate with the rest of the company. You might use a social media account to talk about the company publicly but you won’t use it to message the CFO at midnight to make an urgent transfer of money, for instance. That way if you are hacked it shouldn’t lead to the company running into financial strife.

  1. If in doubt, there is no doubt

Be suspicious of every communication you receive. If a competitor suddenly wants to share files with you, if a new supplier sends you something directly via an unusual channel, if someone offers to invest large amounts of money out of the blue, be suspicious and if in doubt, check in with your cybersecurity team.

  1. Less is more when travelling

Sure, you might need a laptop and a phone when you’re travelling but you’re also more vulnerable to an attack. Talk to your cybersecurity teams about risk mitigation when on the road and how best to handle that. You should back everything up before you go. You may also be advised to take a ‘travel-only’ laptop (and, depending on the country you are travelling to, perhaps a tablet only) and a phone that can be wiped when you return.

The best defence against cyberattacks is both preparation and planning. Consider the risks, and plan and anticipate the consequences of a breach in terms of your company, your business and you personally.  Doing these things means you’re in a better place to manage any potential attack. And remember that we all suffer from ‘optimism bias’ – “why would anyone target me?” Don’t rely on having never been attacked as proof that you won’t be. Just ask Jeff Bezos how that worked for him.

David Eaton is Associate Director of Cyber Security for Datacom.

Phishing Trilogy Part 3: The “Carrot and Stick” Approach

What’s the best way to fight phishing attacks? Is it punishing users or rewarding good behaviour?

By Emily Wang

This is part Three of the Phishing Trilogy, see the series introduction here:

Part 1 – From awareness to habits

Part 2 – A multi -layered defence

The ‘carrot and stick’ approach

People often scoff at phishing attack victims and put the blame on them. It needs to be recognised that this “blame culture” contributes to the real issue of slow reporting of phishing compromises which has a direct and material effect on organisations.

Studies collectively show, falling for phishing email is far from rare and the number of victims is growing. The real question is how to mitigate it? This article covers the discussion around the “carrot and stick” approach. They are not mutually exclusive and are most effective when used together to best suit your business.

Carrot

The consensus in the awareness training domain is not to blame the users. We should encourage them to report any suspicious activities, particularly if they are the originators of the breach.

Since a hacker only needs one person out of the whole organisation to click on a single malicious link, it is impractical to achieve zero click rate. However, if we have one person that reports the incident, it allows the security and the IT team to review and quickly stop the phishing campaign from spreading and causing further damage.

The Cyber Security Breaches Survey published by the UK government (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 2019) found that the most disrupting attacks were more likely to be spotted by employees than by software, which is the case for 63% of businesses. This also aligns with previous years findings. Hence, we should realise the importance of staff vigilance and to understand the power of empowering employees.

Stick

Another school of thought is to enforce punishment when people repeatedly fall for phishing attacks. For example, Paul Beckman, CISO at the Department of Homeland Security considered a policy to remove employees’ clearance if they repeatedly fail an anti-phishing test. Needless to say, this is a controversial idea and received a lot of criticism. One study showed that the perceived severity of consequences did not predict behaviour (Downs, Holbrook, & Cranor, n.d.).

Studies also show that training focused on prohibition of behaviour or attitudes can often have the opposite effect whereas training that emphasises positive effects can and do change behaviour (Robinson, 2011).

What is your mix?

This table outlines the differences between the two approaches. It is essential to understand your business to pick the right mix.

Be mindful about leaning too heavily on the “stick” approach. The ripple effects can put a strain on employees’ morale, leading to a sense of anxiety and distrust. In the worst case, it can lead to grudge attacks. Reports show that internal threats in cybersecurity are prevalent and cause more grave damage than external attacks (Tripwire, 2017).

It is our advice to develop an approach that balances the carrot and the stick. Taking into account the responsibility of the role and its importance in your organisation will help you to determine the appropriate balance. For example, an IT admin would be expected to be much more vigilant to phishing than a clerk our your logistics desk. It may well be appropriate for the IT admin as part of their employment agreement to agree to a policy where there is a sliding scale of consequence for phishing breaches, whereas that would not be appropriate for the clerk.

Food for thought

Regardless of what stance you take on the approaches. It is important to consider the following:

– Ask your HR, legal and management to contribute

  • What are the legal or contractual requirements?
  • What is the company’s policy on rewards and penalties?
  • What culture is the company trying to build?

– Be consistent with your approach

  • For example, if enforcement is going to be implemented, senior management need to follow the policy as well. They need to be role models

– Understand that people make mistakes and don’t blindly blame your staff

  • As discussed, aiming for zero click-rate is unreasonable. Therefore, we need to acknowledge honest mistakes can happen.

– Ensure that you have an incident-handling process in place. For example, who/how to report them.

  • Your staff needs to know the proper process to be compliant with the company’s policies

For more details on phishing and user awareness, contact Emily Wang or the Cybersecurity Advisory Practice .

References

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, T. (2019). Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019. London. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/791940/Cyber_Security_Breaches_Survey_2019_-_Main_Report.PDF

Downs, J. S., Holbrook, M., & Cranor, L. F. (n.d.). Behavioral Response to Phishing Risk. Retrieved from http://payaccount.me.uk/cgi-bin/webscr.htm?cmd=_login-run

Robinson, L. (2011). How the Science of Behavior Change Can Help Environmentalists. Retrieved from https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2011/how-science-behavior-change-can-help-environmentalists/81401

Tripwire. (2017). Insider Threats as the Main Security Threat in 2017. Retrieved November 19, 2018, from https://www.tripwire.com/state-of-security/security-data-protection/insider-threats-main-security-threat-2017/

Phishing Trilogy Part 2: A multi-layered defence

By Emily Wang

This is Part Two of the Phishing Trilogy, read Part One here

We can see how modifying habits can help to combat phishing attacks from the part 1 of this trilogy: “From awareness to habits”. However, it is unrealistic to expect no-one to click on a malicious link by only changing people’s email behaviour. In fact, some argue that a “Zero Click” goal is harmful (Spitzner, 2017). It doesn’t matter how much training is provided; people will make mistakes.

This is evident from many of our phishing simulation reports, where a few people would ignore the education page after they fell for a simulated phishing email. They realised their mistake as soon as they clicked on the link and would immediately close whatever popped up as a reflex act. This doesn’t in itself show that awareness training is futile; like many other defensive tools, awareness training should be used to reduce risk even though it is not possible to completely eradicate it.

The three pillars

Let us not forget about the three pillars of cybersecurity, namely people, process and technology. Using them together is like building a 3-legged stool. If any of the legs are too short, it will cause an imbalance.

Google recently announced that none of their 85,000+ employees have been phished since early 2017 (Krebs, 2018). What is their secret? Google requires all staff to use security keys to log in. This security key is an inexpensive USB-based device that adds to the two-factor authentication. That is, the user logs in with something they know (their password) and something they have (their security key). This is called “2-factor authentication”. It is a perfect example for aiding a person with technology and process measures, or as the security experts like to call it – defence in depth.

A multi-layered approach

The guidance splits the mitigations into four layers:

  • Layer 1: Make it difficult for attackers to reach your users
  • Layer 2: Help users identify and report suspected phishing emails
  • Layer 3: Protect your organisation from the effects of undetected phishing emails
  • Layer 4: Respond quickly to incidents

Take layer 1 as an example, here is how we can defend ourselves from all three angles:

Many controls can be placed into your organisation at different layers. To holistically implement counter-measurements, we need to consider your organisation’s constraint and what is suitable for your employees. At Datacom, we look at how to help customers reduce risks from all six areas. Importantly though:

Don’t wait until it’s too late and don’t rely on just one defence mechanism.

For more details on phishing and user awareness, contact Emily Wang or the Cybersecurity Advisory Practice .

References

Krebs, B. (2018). Google: Security Keys Neutralized Employee Phishing. Retrieved from https://krebsonsecurity.com/2018/07/google-security-keys-neutralized-employee-phishing/

National Cyber Security Centre. (2018). Phishing attacks: defending your organisation. Retrieved from https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/phishing

Spitzner, L. (2017). Why a Phishing Click Rate of 0% is Bad | SANS Security Awareness. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from https://www.sans.org/security-awareness-training/blog/why-phishing-click-rate-0-bad