Ways To Keep Your Data Secure

Data loss is crippling for any business, especially in the age of big data where companies rely on digital information to refine their marketing, contact prospects, and process transactions. Reducing the chances for data loss is a vital part of a data management strategy.

The first goal should be to prevent data loss from occurring in the first place. There are many reasons which could lead to data loss. A few of them are listed below:

1) Hard drive failures

2) Accidental deletions (user error)

3) Computer viruses and malware infections

4) Laptop theft

5) Power failures

6) Damage due to spilled coffee or water; Etc.

However, if a loss does occur, then there are several best practices you can implement to boost your odds of recovery.

Secondly, don’t put all your storage eggs in the cloud basket. The cloud is vital for cost-effective storage, but it does have some pitfalls that shouldn’t be ignored. Many examples of data loss have occurred from an employee simply dropping their computer or hard drive, so talk to staff members about best practices. SD cards are much more fragile and should never be used as a form of longer-term storage.

Here’s a look at top ways you can protect your data from loss and unauthorized access.

Back up early and often

The single most important step in protecting your data from loss is to back it up regularly. How often should you back up? That depends-how much data can you afford to lose if your system crashes completely? A week’s work? A day’s work? An hour’s work?

You can use the backup utility built into Windows (ntbackup.exe) to perform basic backups. You can use Wizard Mode to simplify the process of creating and restoring backups or you can configure the backup settings manually and you can schedule backup jobs to be performed automatically.

There are also numerous third-party backup programs that can offer more sophisticated options. Whatever program you use, it’s important to store a copy of your backup offsite in case of fire, tornado, or other natural disaster that can destroy your backup tapes or discs along with the original data.

Diversify your backups

You always want more than one backup system. The general rule is 3-2-1. You should have 3 backups of anything that’s very important. They should be backed up in at least two different formats, such as in the cloud and on a hard drive. There should always be an off-site backup in the event that there is damage to your physical office.

Use file-level and share-level security

To keep others out of your data, the first step is to set permissions on the data files and folders. If you have data in network shares, you can set share permissions to control what user accounts can and cannot access the files across the network. With Windows 2000/XP, this is done by clicking the Permissions button on the Sharing tab of the file’s or folder’s properties sheet.

However, these share-level permissions won’t apply to someone who is using the local computer on which the data is stored. If you share the computer with someone else, you’ll have to use file-level permissions (also called NTFS permissions, because they’re available only for files/folders stored on NTFS-formatted partitions). File-level permissions are set using the Security tab on the properties sheet and are much more granular than share-level permissions.

In both cases, you can set permissions for either user accounts or groups, and you can allow or deny various levels of access from read-only to full control.

Password-protect documents

Many productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office applications and Adobe Acrobat, will allow you to set passwords on individual documents. To open the document, you must enter the password. To password-protect a document in Microsoft Word 2003, go to Tools | Options and click the Security tab. You can require a password to open the file and/or to make changes to it. You can also set the type of encryption to be used.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s password protection is relatively easy to crack. There are programs on the market designed to recover Office passwords, such as Elcomsoft’s Advanced Office Password Recovery (AOPR). This type of password protection, like a standard (non-deadbolt) lock on a door, will deter casual would-be intruders but can be fairly easily circumvented by a determined intruder with the right tools.

You can also use zipping software such as WinZip or PKZip to compress and encrypt documents.

Use EFS encryption

Windows 2000, XP Pro, and Server 2003 support the Encrypting File System (EFS). You can use this built-in certificate-based encryption method to protect individual files and folders stored on NTFS-formatted partitions. Encrypting a file or folder is as easy as selecting a check box; just click the Advanced button on the General tab of its properties sheet. Note that you can’t use EFS encryption and NTFS compression at the same time.

EFS uses a combination of asymmetric and symmetric encryption, for both security and performance. To encrypt files with EFS, a user must have an EFS certificate, which can be issued by a Windows certification authority or self-signed if there is no CA on the network. EFS files can be opened by the user whose account encrypted them or by a designated recovery agent. With Windows XP/2003, but not Windows 2000, you can also designate other user accounts that are authorized to access your EFS-encrypted files.

Note that EFS is for protecting data on the disk. If you send an EFS file across the network and someone uses a sniffer to capture the data packets, they’ll be able to read the data in the files.

Use disk encryption

There are many third-party products available that will allow you to encrypt an entire disk. Whole disk encryption locks down the entire contents of a disk drive/partition and is transparent to the user. Data is automatically encrypted when it’s written to the hard disk and automatically decrypted before being loaded into memory. Some of these programs can create invisible containers inside a partition that act like a hidden disk within a disk. Other users see only the data in the “outer” disk.

Disk encryption products can be used to encrypt removable USB drives, flash drives, etc. Some allow creation of a master password along with secondary passwords with lower rights you can give to other users. Examples include PGP Whole Disk Encryption and DriveCrypt, among many others.

Make use of a public key infrastructure

A public key infrastructure (PKI) is a system for managing public/private key pairs and digital certificates. Because keys and certificates are issued by a trusted third party (a certification authority, either an internal one installed on a certificate server on your network or a public one, such as Verisign), certificate-based security is stronger.

You can protect data you want to share with someone else by encrypting it with the public key of its intended recipient, which is available to anyone. The only person who will be able to decrypt it is the holder of the private key that corresponds to that public key.

Hide data with steganography

You can use a steganography program to hide data inside other data. For example, you could hide a text message within a.JPG graphics file or an MP3 music file, or even inside another text file (although the latter is difficult because text files don’t contain much redundant data that can be replaced with the hidden message). Steganography does not encrypt the message, so it’s often used in conjunction with encryption software. The data is encrypted first and then hidden inside another file with the steganography software.

Some steganographic techniques require the exchange of a secret key and others use public/private key cryptography. A popular example of steganography software is StegoMagic, a freeware download that will encrypt messages and hide them in.TXT,.WAV, or.BMP files.

Protect data in transit with IP security

Your data can be captured while it’s traveling over the network by a hacker with sniffer software (also called network monitoring or protocol analysis software). To protect your data when it’s in transit, you can use Internet Protocol Security (IPsec)-but both the sending and receiving systems have to support it. Windows 2000 and later Microsoft operating systems have built-in support for IPsec. Applications don’t have to be aware of IPsec because it operates at a lower level of the networking model. Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP) is the protocol IPsec uses to encrypt data for confidentiality. It can operate in tunnel mode, for gateway-to-gateway protection, or in transport mode, for end-to-end protection. To use IPsec in Windows, you have to create an IPsec policy and choose the authentication method and IP filters it will use. IPsec settings are configured through the properties sheet for the TCP/IP protocol, on the Options tab of Advanced TCP/IP Settings.

Secure wireless transmissions

Data that you send over a wireless network is even more subject to interception than that sent over an Ethernet network. Hackers don’t need physical access to the network or its devices; anyone with a wireless-enabled portable computer and a high gain antenna can capture data and/or get into the network and access data stored there if the wireless access point isn’t configured securely.

You should send or store data only on wireless networks that use encryption, preferably Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which is stronger than Wired Equivalent Protocol (WEP).

Use rights management to retain control

If you need to send data to others but are worried about protecting it once it leaves your own system, you can use Windows Rights Management Services (RMS) to control what the recipients are able to do with it. For instance, you can set rights so that the recipient can read the Word document you sent but can’t change, copy, or save it. You can prevent recipients from forwarding e-mail messages you send them and you can even set documents or messages to expire on a certain date/time so that the recipient can no longer access them after that time.

The Importance of Cloud Storage

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing (or cloud storage), is the process of storing data online and it is gaining in popularity for several reasons. It is a secure way to store information, data is password protected, it can be easily shared with others, it can’t get lost, damaged or stolen and it takes up no physical space on your computer.

Until now, data was stored physically on discs, hard drives or flash drives. The downside to this is that it takes up space to store the info, there is always the risk of materials getting lost, damaged or stolen and if you want to share it you have to make copies and somehow safely get it to another person at a different location.

There are many benefits that cloud computing companies offer, including:

Cloud storage offers you as much or as little space as you need-and you only pay the host for what you use. This saves you money and is great for businesses that may require more space, say, at busy times of the year and less space in off-season times.

Any required maintenance is taken care of by the host, so you don’t need a large IT department.

Access your files any time from any device

You may get access to documents, programs, templates and other applications provided by the host company. The main benefit of this is that you don’t have to download anything on your computer… it’s all on the host’s site. This saves space on your PC while everything you need is just a click away.

Password-protect specific files and folders to keep them private and share them with only those you choose to.

How do I get started?

To take advantage of cloud computing, you must first decide on a host. This is the cloud computing company that will build, maintain and protect the ‘cloud’ where your information will be stored. Cloud computing companies offer a wide array of services and can range greatly in price. Some are free, some are as little as $1 a month and still others can charge over $50 a year. It is important to choose the host that is right for your business.

Here are the 3 most popular cloud computing companies:

Google Drive-Google’s service is free for the first 15GB of space. Also, it not only stores your data, but also offers you the option to create, edit, store and share images, music, files and forms. It can be used with Google Docs-easy-to-use templates to help you create the best documents.

DropBox-They have a free and paid version. Dropbox is super secure and you can give password-protected access to specific folders to select people so they see only what they need to see and nothing else. Live chat and phone support take the guesswork out of setting up your site.

JustCloud-Offering free and paid accounts-as little as $3.95 a month-this company offers easy drag and drop customization, bank-grade encryption and the ability to sync multiple computers so you have 100{6f2164f8ff7b5ee2da77719c29729b567c9ab4ebd1e8b209930fd2d4e6097e34} access to your files, all the time.

Things You Need To Know About Data Protection

Where to start with “A Practical approach to Data Protection”

Customer Data Protection

When someone says data protection people’s eyes glaze over, it’s understandable that the data protection act of 1998 is important not just to businesses but the public in general. The Data Protection Act will however, be replaced in 2018 by GDPR.

Don’t worry, this article is not going to depths on the data protection act, instead we want to focus on what you can do to protect your data and the clients data.

This article applies to everyone in business no matter if you are a one man band with client contact details held on your mobile phone, a shop owner who does or does not have to comply with PCI DSS or a multi-national corporation. If you have data about your business and/or your clients held anywhere (even on paper) then this applies to you!

First Thoughts on Security Considerations

As Microsoft Windows has developed, one of the key issues that Microsoft has tried to resolve is that of security. With Windows 10 they have taken a leap forward in protecting your data.

Many people seem to have focused on the working of the licence for Windows 10 and what it allows Microsoft to do; removing counterfeit software etc. Is this wrong? Of course not. In fact if you are in business and your systems have counterfeit software you are opening yourself up to data loss in a big way.

Pirated software usually has additional code in it that allows hackers to gain access to your system and therefore your data. With Cloud Based services these days, using legitimate software should be easier than ever, after all the monthly cost of a copy of Office 365 is a pittance.

Whilst we are on Cloud Based systems, it is worth remembering that unless you encrypt your data on the cloud then chances are it could end up in the wrong hands no matter how security conscious the vendor is. New hardware is already being developed that will take care of this for you, but it isn’t here yet, so be warned.

We will come back to security a little later after we have looked at the severe fines that you could incur by not taking Data Security seriously.

This is about BIG companies isn’t it?

No, definitely not, your companies data security is the responsibility of everyone in your company. Failing to comply can be costly in more than just monetary terms.

Throughout this article I will drop in a few rulings from the ICO that demonstrate how important it is to take these issues seriously. This is not an attempt to scare you, neither is it a marketing ploy of any sort; many people believe that getting “caught out” will never happen to them, in fact it can happen to anyone who doesn’t take reasonable steps to protect their data.

Here some recent rulings detailing action taken in the United Kingdom by the Information Commissioners Office:

Date 16 April 2015 Type:ProsecutionsA recruitment company has been prosecuted at Ealing Magistrates Court for failing to notify with the ICO. Recruitment company pleaded guilty and was fined £375 and ordered to pay costs of £774.20 and a victim surcharge of £38.

and here’s another:

Date 05 December 2014 Type:Monetary penaltiesThe company behind Manchester’s annual festival, the Parklife Weekender has been fined £70,000 after sending unsolicited marketing text messages.

The text was sent to 70,000 people who had bought tickets to last year’s event, and appeared on the recipients’ mobile phone to have been sent by “Mum”.

Let’s look at the simplest way in which you can protect your data. Forget expensive pieces of hardware, they can be circumnavigated if the core principles of data protection are not addressed.

Education is by far the easiest way to protect data on your computer’s and therefore in your network. This means taking time to educate the staff and updating them on a regular basis.

Here’s what we discovered – shocking practices

In 2008 we were asked to perform an IT audit on an organisation, nothing unusual, except that a week before the date of the audit I received a phone call from a senior person in that organisation, the call went something like this:-

“We didn’t mention before that we have had our suspicions about a member of staff in a position of authority. He seems to of had a very close relationship with the IT company that currently supports us. We also suspect that he has been completing work not related to our organisation using the computer in his office. When we told him about the up-coming IT audit he became agitated and the more insistant we were that he should comply, the more agitated he became”.

This resulted in this individuals computer being the subject of an all but forensic inspection, apart from an un-licenced game, we found nothing and believing that the information we were looking for may have been deleted we performed a data recovery on the disk drive.

The results caused consternation and required us to contact the ICO. We found a lot of very sensitive data that did not belong on that drive. It looked as though it had been there for some time and most of it was not recoverable suggesting it had been removed a good while ago.

As it turned out the disk drive had been replaced several months before and the IT company had used the drive as a temporary data store for another companies data. They formatted the drive and put the new operating system on thinking nothing of it.

It just goes to show that formatting a drive and then using it for months won’t remove all the previous data. No action was taken other than a slapped wrist for the IT firm for poor practices.

So who should be trained?

The best way to demonstrate the importance of data protection is by using top-down learning sessions where management is trained first, followed by junior management followed by the staff. In this way it’s obvious to management as well as the staff the data protection is not something that one person does it is in fact the duty of every employee within a company.

A data breach will affect everybody within the company not just the person responsible but, those ultimately responsible as well.

The training is not lengthy or difficult, but it should be provided by an expert in the field or a company whose expertise is beyond doubt.

In-house training on this subject is not recommended as it is only an outsider who will be taken seriously and who will have the 3rd party credibility required to enforce the importance of the issue.

Information Security is everyone’s business

Information Security Awareness Training: Here’s what should be covered:

  • Provide an easy-to-use online 40 minutes information security awareness training course for your employees to log on and learn best information security practices from.
  • Provide best practice course content of your compliance requirements.
  • Teach employees in simple non-technical language, how and why hackers hack.
  • Instruct employees in the best methods of protecting your systems and the sensitive information you process.
  • Explain employee inherent responsibilities for protecting your business information and identifying and reporting suspicious activity.
  • Supply this information efficiently and effectively, an information security threats risk assessment should be completed.

A good threats and risk assessment should answer the following questions:

  • What do I need to protect and where is it located?
  • What is the value of this information to the business?
  • What other vulnerabilities are associated with the systems processing or storing this information?
  • What are the security threats to the systems and the probability of their occurrence?
  • What would be the damage the business if this information were compromised?
  • What should be done to minimise and manage the risks?

Answering the questions above, is the first and most crucial step in information security risk management. It identifies exactly what your business needs protect and where it’s located and why you need to protect it in real cost impact terms that everyone should understand.Don’t end up like these guys:

Date 22 December 2014 Type:Monetary penaltiesThe Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined a marketing company based in London £90,000 for continually making nuisance calls targeting vulnerable victims. In several cases, the calls resulted in elderly people being tricked into paying for boiler insurance they didn’t need.

In plain English, make it very clear to every employee within the company exactly what their responsibilities are to the data that is within their grasp on an everyday basis, explain how to protect it, explain why we need to protect it and point out the consequences to the business of not doing so.

Most un-trained employees would probably think that data protection has little or nothing to do with them; but, if a data breach occurred the company could lose business when the news hits the press, that may lead to lay offs due to lost business. It really does fall on everyone in the company from cleaning staff to the CEO to take responsibility.

Who should deliver the training?

This topic is not something that any training company can deliver correctly. You really need to work with real security experts, companies that are highly qualified and well experienced.

Unfortunately, in the IT industry many individuals and companies have presented themselves as IT Security Guru’s and most are just scare mongers with an agenda. They want to sell one specific service no matter if you need it or not.

However, there are some very well qualified, genuinely helpful professional companies out there.

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be at the eCrimes Wales when Richard Hollis from the RISC Factory spoke. His presentation spoke to the audience in a way that few others did that day, it established him in this authors mind as my go to person in the UK on data security issues. I managed to grab a quick word with him during a break and he was really helpful.

Why do I rate Rich so highly? Well his background is interesting to say the least, a background in service for the NSA means he knows what he’s doing and has more knowledge in this area than the average Joe. It also means that where other IT Security experts see an issue, Rich sees a much bigger picture.

Of course many other companies offer similar services and in the current economic climate it is good to shop around if you need to.

Getting started

First of all, watch and re-watch the video (linked below) and find it’s second part on YouTube, watch that as well. Take notes during the video and get those steps planned out in your mind, answer the key questions about your company, data and security.

Next, speak with your IT department if you have one, your IT support company if you don’t and see if they have any cost effective idea’s that you can implement without impacting on your IT budget too heavily.

You can start protecting your company data from outside sources for a couple of hundred GB pounds by installing the right kind of Firewall, with cloud based updates 24/7.

Quality Anti-Virus with built in Anti-Malware doesn’t have to cost the company a fortune either, but again, take advice. Many of these products slow the computer system down so much that they have a negative impact on performance. One of the most famous of these (beginning with N) is often sold in High Street electronics, stationary and consumer goods stores as being “the best”; in fact it is the best profit margin and not the best product, it slows the system down and needs a special piece of software to remove it completely!

Store sensitive data in an encrypted area of a RAID storage drive system with restricted access control. A NAS drive is a cheap and effective way of achieving this.

Don’t store sensitive data on Cloud Based systems like Dropbox, sure it’s cheap and easy to use, so if you are passing none critical data such as graphics, logo’s and promotional material; great! If you are passing your accounts to your accountant, a new product schematic to a machine tooling company etc. – use something else that has better security.

Nothing personal against Dropbox and similar products, but like Microsoft OneDrive as it is now both have been hacked in the past. Although the security has been improved dramatically, you should not take the risk.

Finally take advice from real experts when you have any doubts. People like Richard Hollis have dedicated their careers to security. As they park up outside a company for a meeting they have already analysed several security considerations automatically. When they walk through the front door they make a dozen more calculations and risk assessments. All before they even sit down and talk to you about your concerns.

Layers: Security is all about a layered approach. Think of it as an Onion. Here’s an example at a Physical level for a company that I used to work for many years ago.

As you entered the building you could not get past reception unless they “Buzzed you through” the security barriers in the reception area. These were swipe card controlled for staff.

Swipe cards for staff allowed them access only to those areas they were authorised to enter; so for example only IT support staff and some developers had access to the server room. Note here that unlike some companies the cleaner did not have access to the server room or to the developers area of work.

Get the idea?

On an electronic level, all critical systems were duplicated with independent power, backup power from a generator that had backup power from a UPS system.

Firewalls separated the different LANs and the inside from the outside of the company. Each department ran on its own LAN with connections between LANs for only those people who absolutely needed them.

You can carry on to much lower levels of protection like making sure that all USB drives are encoded and encrypted so that they can only be used to move data between the companies own PC’s.

These sorts of security measures are actually very simple to achieve, they are not rocket science, nether do they have to cost you an absolute fortune.

Remember – Plan, Do, Check, Act – repeat as required. But always get advice from professionals. Believe me, the kid next door who builds his own computers and sells them doesn’t know enough about the threats to your company.

If you are in the UK, consider undertaking Cyber Essentials the government scheme to get businesses to a minimum standard to protect data. This is seriously worth while looking at; during the recent NHS attack, none of the NHS Trusts that had completed and been certified Cyber Essentials standard establishments were penetrated.

We trust that you have found this article interesting, please tell your friends.

One final thing, May 28th 2018 will see GDPR replace the data protection act and businesses within the UK will need to be ready for the change, don’t wait. Get started today.

When Your Storage Data Going Failure

Context:
Unfortunately, most home users, and many business users, do not back up their systems. Moreover, many small businesses have older back-up procedures that are often ineffective for recovering files.

Of course, you can run down to your neighborhood electronics store and purchase a replacement drive for your computer, but what about your data on the failed hard drive? How important was it? Did you save it or back it up?

What to do:
If you need to recover data on the hard drive, the first thing to do is avoid trying to reboot or doing anything that involves the drive. Doing so can actually do more damage to your data.

The only irreversible data loss is caused by overwriting bits, physical damage to the drive platters or destruction of the magnetization of the platters, which seldom happens in the real world. In the majority of cases, the malfunction is caused by a damaged circuit board, failure of a mechanical component and crash of internal software system track or firmware.

In the case of actual hard drive failure, only a data recovery professional can get your data back. And the fact that you cannot access your data through your operating system does not necessarily mean that your data is lost.

As a “rule of thumb,” if you hear a clicking sound emitting from your hard drive, or if the computer’s S.M.A.R.T. function indicates an error during the boot process, something is wrong. You should immediately stop using the hard drive in order to avoid causing further damage and, potentially, rendering the information on the hard drive unrecoverable.

After receiving your failed hard drive, a data recovery specialist’s first step will be to try and save an image of the damaged drive onto another drive. This image drive, not the actual damaged drive, is where the data recovery specialist will try to recover the lost data.

The next step in the imaging process is to determine if the hard-drive failure was an actual malfunction, a system corruption or a system track issue.

System corruption and system track issues are normally fixed by using a specialist’s data recovery software. System corruption or system track recoveries do not require processing in a clean room environment.

Conclusion:
Unfortunately, damage to a drive’s circuit board or failure of the head drives is not uncommon. In each of these failures, a data recovery specialist should work on the system only in a clean room environment. There, the specialist can substitute parts such as drive electronics, internal components, read/write arms, writing/reading heads, spindle motors or spindle bearings from a donor drive in order to gain access to the data on the failed hard drive. In most cases, the data recovery specialist is able to retrieve and return the lost data.