Friday, November 20, 2015

Protecting Your Network from Ransomware

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malware that holds the victim’s data ransom by preventing access to the computer by locking the desktop or by encrypting the user’s files where they cannot be read. The malware then displays a ransom note, possibly pretending to be from federal or local law enforcement of some sort.

The ransom note may even claim that the computer was used to look at illegal websites, videos, or images and will try to frighten the victim into paying up by threatening to bring them to court.

As we quickly approach 2016, researchers at Fox IT have successfully identified the “Big 3” Ransomware families, whose members have generated huge income in 2015:
  • CryptoWall
  • CTB-Locker
  • TorrentLocker

What are the Basic traits of Ransomware?

Although each ransomware variant is unique, they still work in similar ways. There are generic traits seen with these behaviors.

File-system behavior

Most ransomware will place payment instruction files in the directory of the files that it’s going to encrypt. These files are usually in the form of a text, image and/or URL. It may even include a popup window notifying the user that his files are being held ransom and require a ransom.

Network behavior

Ransomware will encrypt files on drives that are network mapped on the computer as a side effect. This can affect an entire business that relies on network shares for their data, potentially spreading from one computer, to the server, to all other computers that access that server. Having a proper backup solution in place may be the only solution to protecting your data.
As we find encrypted files on a network share, we can use that to determine which user was initially infected with the ransomware by checking the creator of the instruction files on the share. This tells us which computer to disconnect from the network. The goal is to disconnect the infected user as quickly as possible from the network to prevent any further damage.

So where did the Ransomware come from?

One method for installing ransomware is through certain websites. These may be malicious websites, set up by criminals for the sole purpose of infecting website visitors, or they may be legitimate websites that have been compromised by infected advertisements or links by the criminals and used to spread malware.
Another way ransomware can install on your computer is through the opening of email attachments in SPAM or infected emails. These malicious emails may have what looks like regular files attached, but once you open them, your computer is at risk of becoming infected with malware. You may not even see it happening.

Ransomware on Mobil Devices

Ransomware for mobile devices is becoming more common and now have the ability to lock your smartphone or tablet or even encrypt the files stored on these devices. Criminals have learned that we are more dependent upon our phones and tablets than ever before. In some instances, they are more frequently used than our computers, explaining the increase in “mobile malware”.

Follow these tips to stay protected from ransomware.

  • Make sure you have a quality, antivirus program installed on your network, and that it continues to be updated on a regular basis. This also includes installing a reputable security app on your phone and tablets.
  • Keep the operating system and all software on your computers & servers up-to-date by installing the latest security patches and updates.
  • Consider adding a mail-filtering service that not only protects your email from SPAM, but also adds manageability and virus protection. Some services, such as MailWatch from CMS, will continue to spool your email when your connectivity is down, protecting you from lost emails.
  • Avoid downloading software or mobile apps not necessary to your work and only download from trusted sources.
  • Most importantly, Backup! For your network, have a data backup solution in place that protects your critical data on your network so that if anything does happen, you have an untainted backup source to retrieve from and restore to your network. And don’t forget to back up your mobile device to a reliable cloud source that you can retrieve from and restore.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cloud Applications VS Installed Software

In the past when a person needed new software such as Microsoft Office, they would simply travel to their nearest retailer and purchase a brightly-colored box with a CD and a license key inside. The next transition from this became visiting a website, purchasing online, and downloading a file directly from the website.

And now it seems that we have hit the next phase. Applications now are going a step further by not requiring a download or installation at all, but by logging into the application via the internet. Welcome to the Cloud!

So what are "Cloud-based Applications" & How Does it Work?

We often see the term SaaS. SaaS is a term for Software as a Service; meaning that instead of buying software in disk form, you are paying for a service that is provided to you. You are no longer getting a CD and installing it on your computer, but accessing it by visiting a website and logging in.

So are Cloud-based Applications Really Better than Installed Versions?

There are certainly advantages to moving to the cloud. Small businesses should really look at their goals and potential growth and evaluate their current network situation. Contacting a local IT company to help with this evaluation would also be beneficial.

Some of the benefits of cloud-based applications include:
  • Less maintenance required
  • Reduction of start-up costs
  • Regular updates and patches, performed by the vendor
  • Reliable backups controlled by the vendor
  • Ability to access your data from multiple locations and devices
  • Flexibility; typically a per user fee.  Only pay for the users you have accessing it.

Questions to Consider:

As with any network changes, there are questions you should consider before making a switch in platforms. Again, it is always wise to involve your IT department or company to help with an evaluation beforehand.

System requirements; even cloud-based applications may have onsite needs. If so, what are they?

Network compliancy; is your environment compliant with current, up-to-date devices? This can be your PCs, the browsers that you use, and most importantly, your internet connection.

HIPAA compliancy; Do you require HIPAA compliancy and does the cloud provider you’re considering offer it?

For the most part, changing from an installed version to a cloud-based version should be a relatively smooth transition, especially if it is still with the same solutions provider or vendor. And as we are now seeing, it is becoming the current trend with most providers to move in this direction, forcing our hand so to speak.

The biggest point to make here is that if we don’t stay current with our technology, we only open ourselves to potential security threats or “old tech” that just keeps breaking. Staying current with your IT will help eliminate your downtime.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Who's Looking Out for Your Network?

Today I want to talk about the importance of using a consistent IT services provider.  Every business out there relies on some type of technology to make their business run, whether it is your phone system or your computer network.

At CMS, we work with a variety of customers both large and small.  Some customers employ their own IT personnel and simply rely on us as a provider of equipment and backup support, while others depend on us fully for managed services, using us as their "offsite IT department".  Regardless of your size and budget, having a local IT company that you consistently work with is important, and here is why.

Knowledge of your Network! 

Working each time with the same company, they will learn your network.  They will be better educated on the layout and design of your network, the applications that your employees use and the security policies in place.  If you're not using the same business to resolve your issues, each problem will cost you in additional time to pay for a learning curve.

 Elimination of Problems Before They Occur


Because there is a familiarity with your business and your network, your IT provider can help you eliminate problems before they occur.  They are more capable of seeing a device with declining performance if they are always the ones to work with it.  And as we know, fixing a problem is much quicker at the beginning than it is in the end, which can reduce your down time.

The Trust Relationship


Finally, it all comes down to trust.  Your IT provider should understand the nature of your business and only have your best interest at heart.  Your goal is to run your business as efficiently and effectively as possible, and your IT company should be up to the challenge to make that happen.

Sometimes, it may seem like it is salespeople just trying to make a sell, and we understand that getting your network up to standard can be expensive at first. However, we can say that customers who trust us and make the investment are more productive and suffer less downtime.

We encourage you to find a local IT provider in your area that you trust, check out their reputation with other customers, and build a relationship that will strengthen your business.  If you are in the Southeast Texas area and are looking for someone, visit with us and ask us questions.  We are always happy to meet new faces.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

VoIP Solutions for Business

What is VoIP and Why do I Need It?

TCP/IP is an amazing technology that allows for the convergence of data, voice and video on the same network.  What this means to you is that your path for growth is wide open.  For years your business has relied on TCP/IP to deliver data to your users.  This would be documents stored on your network file server, printing, email, internet browsing and more.  Now you are considering a Voice-over IP (VoIP) solution.  Congratulations!  This opens a whole new world of opportunities for you and your business. 
In today’s business environment it’s extremely important to maintain your competitive edge.  A Voice-over IP solution will make your company more efficient, improve communication among employees and customers and with advanced technologies from companies like Cisco, it will lower your total cost of ownership across your technology platform.  CMS IP Technologies has been delivering VOIP solutions for 10 years.  You can get more information on solutions from the CMS website –

The Future is Today! 

TCP/IP and VoIP technology is enabling small businesses to take the next step – Video.  The convergence of these technologies can eliminate travel for remote employees by using video conferencing.  Communicate with your clients face to face without leaving your office.  It’s here, it’s real and it’s affordable.
Everyone has used traditional telephone systems and cell phones.  As long as this technology has been around, how many times have you experienced a bad or static connection on a traditional land line?  How many times have you experienced a bad connection on your cell phone?  Over the years technology has matured but it’s still not perfect.  We have been using telephones for well over 100 years and we still experience issues.   VOIP technology is no different.  It’s a mature, stable technology that very soon we will all take for granted.  However there are times when it’s not perfect just like your cell phone, and your phone at your house or on your desk.  But even if it’s not perfect, they make our business lives easier.  We can get more done in a shorter time, we can talk to more people than we could without them – we are more efficient!

There are certain key ingredients to a quality VOIP solution:

  •  A sound, stable network infrastructure with quality equipment.
  •  A stable, mature VOIP telephony system such as Cisco or NEC.
  •  A stable broadband service such as an AT&T T-1.
  •  A thoroughly prepared plan by qualified, experienced engineers from a reputable company such as CMS IP Technologies to design and implement.

Don’t get left behind! 

Businesses all around you are taking the next step and taking advantage of this technology.   It’s up to you to decide if it’s time for you to improve your communication, increase your competitive edge and lower your total cost of ownership.  If and when that time comes, remember the key ingredients and do it right.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Importance of Password Security

Passwords are everywhere.  From your Windows login to your banking software, to the online store where you purchase your "can't put down" books from; everyone wants you to log in with your special login.

But how "special" is your login?

It's simple.  We are busy people with lots to do; so to remember long, secure passwords may not be high on our priority list.  And if we have to have a different one for every site or device that requires one, then we are really in trouble.  After all, we aren't just speaking of websites, but phone apps, computer logins, email accounts, and understand.  The list can be endless.

So how can we make things easier for ourselves and harder for the criminals? Let's break it down into 5 easy steps.

First, Don't Share Your Login.

As simple as it sounds, it's a very common problem.  It could be a matter of you giving your login to a best friend, or it could also be a case of 8 employees all logging into a network using the same username and password.  Either way, you're setting yourself up for disaster.

Next, Make Your Password Secure

Believe it or not, password is still one of the most commonly used passwords. It actually was the second most common password for 2014, preceded only by 123456 that came in at #1.  Others include 12345, qwerty, and letmein.  For a complete list, visit

Best password practice would recommend that your passwords are 8-12 characters long and include alpha, numeric and special characters.  Using both upper and lowercase is also good practice.  A perfect example might be: h*3Dxy8vM.

Worried about remembering your password?  There are multiple sources available for password keepers.  Just always look for one that is secure and from a reputable publisher.

Our Next Recommendation is Locking Your Desktop

This may be the easiest of them all.  If you're walking away from your desk, "Just Lock It".

In the "good ole days" when security wasn't an issue, we would leave our desktops unlocked and leave.  When we returned, we would have strange replies to emails that were sent from our account.  We always knew who the usual suspects were and it was all in fun & humor, but now, leaving your computer available for anyone's access is just not safe.  Information is more critical than ever and customer data is everywhere.  It's our job to protect both our company and our customers.

Let's Not Use the Same Password for Every Account

If someone steals your only username & password, they could access everything you own.  Many of us are guilty of using one login for everything.  When you add that to the simplicity of our passwords, we have just done a major portion of the legwork for the criminals.  Use different credentials for different sites.

Finally, Don't Use Your Username as Your Password

Again, this is done as a time-saver and for ease, but you are only making it easy for the password stealers.  Your password should be unique, only used as a password and nothing else, and only by you. 

Unfortunately, we are in a time where malware and viruses are accessible everywhere as little bots do nothing but infect networks and break passwords all day. And the sad truth is that, for some, creating these infections is a full-time job.

If you are concern about your network or how to determine where your network stands on security, contact a local IT provider, such as CMS IP Technologies in Beaumont and set up an appointment for a no-obligation network evaluation.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Value of Managed IT Services

So, What is "Managed IT Services"?

We like to call it...your virtual IT department.  Imagine staffing an entire company just to be your IT support, but not having to worry about training, employees calling in sick, or any other issues with an in-house staff.  Managed IT services means that you have access to an entire technology company when you need it, staff who is watching and proactively protecting your business data and network.

Here's How Your Business Can Benefit from Managed Services.

Remote Support - Most managed services providers will offer some type of remote support. Here's your scenario....
It's the end of the month and Sally comes to work to get payroll done. She turns on her computer first thing in the morning, opens an email attachment from a "customer", and sees an alarming pop-up on her screen, warning her that her PC has been infected and to immediately click below to fix her computer.

Instead of clicking, Sally places a quick call to her IT support help desk so that her managed services support can gain remote access to her PC and verify that the popup is indeed part of the virus.  Being trained and familiar with this type of malware, they then properly remove any traces of the malware without the PC getting completely infected and Sally is able to go back to work.

If caught quickly before anything else was loaded into the PC, this call may have only taken 15-30 minutes of her time. Now, there are instances where things are worse and it does take longer, but Sally's issue was resolved without having to schedule an engineer to come out on-site, saving both money and time. After all, productivity in a business is what really matters.

Scheduling Priority - So what if Sally's PC was already infected beforehand. This may prevent IT staff from gaining remote access to her PC, because unfortunately, that is what malware does. Your IT company may offer their managed services customers a scheduling priority. Basically, your emergencies take priority over other minor IT calls from customers who may not subscribe to managed services.

Proactive Network Management - aka..."Stopping threats before they happen."

Monitoring software can help manage your network, notifying staff when your server is no longer connected to the internet or your business network.  They can also receive status updates on possible hardware failures, keeping your network running and preventing problems before they happen.

Let's not forget to include email services that not only block SPAM, but blocks malicious programs that may try to enter your network through a email link or fake attachment.  What if Sally's virus-infected fake email was blocked before entering her email client?  She would have never seen the threat.

Management of your network security through your firewalls, routers, and even your antivirus software can prevent threats from ever entering the playing field as well.

Other benefits of managed services can include:
  • Disaster recovery planning & data backup management
  • 3rd Party vendor management & assistance
  • Software updates and Microsoft patch management 
  • and more depending upon your IT company's profile

How many people would you have to staff to take care of everything mentioned above?  

Don't forget, along with salaries, there's employee benefits to include. And the larger your company network is, the larger your IT staff would need to be to properly secure it.  So just maybe using a Managed IT services provider is what your business needs. And if you're not sure, find a local IT company like CMS IP Technologies that is willing to do a free evaluation of your network.