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Meltdown and Spectre

Meltdown and SpectreWe have been covering the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities since they came to light a couple of weeks ago. These bugs, present in almost every computer processor, arise from the way they use predictive “out of order” instructions. Most processors from Intel, AMD and ARM have the faults – and Intel seems to be worst affected.

Meltdown and Spectre Update

The spectre and meltdown vulnerabilities enable attackers to steal information from within memory which is being used by other programs or the operating system itself. For example, malicious code in one web page could collect information, such as passwords, from another website in another browser tab.

There are in fact three separate vulnerabilities.

  • The first, called “bounds check bypass” (CVE-2017-5753), needs a firmware update to mitigate the risk.
  • Spectre, The second vulnerability, “branch target injection” (CVE-2017-5715) can be fixed with a firmware update or mitigated in software.
  • Meltdown, “rogue data cache load” (CVE-2017-5754) needs an operating system patch.

Meltdown and Spectre: Are you vulnerable?

By now, most PCs will have been updated with patches to protect them. If you are not sure whether or not your PC is vulnerable, software is available to check. Your Hull IT Support company will be able to check all of your business PCs to ensure you are safe. Some PCs need their antivirus software updating first, as it blocks the software update to patch the meltdown and spectre vulnerabilities.

As a rule of thumb, the older your machines, the more vulnerable they are likely to be – combined with the performance hit associated with the patches, it may be time to upgrade your business PCs. Contact a Hull IT support company to get a price for bespoke business computers.

Is My Web Browser at Risk?

The most likely way for a Spectre or Meltdown attack is via your web browser, and so browser companies are updating their software. It’s always important to keep your browser up to date, especially now. You could ask your Hull IT Support provider to enable “site isolation” if you use the Chrome browser. It offers a second line of defence against such attacks. It keeps pages from different websites in different “sandboxed” processes.

How Much Risk is There, Really?

The initial reports of Meltdown and Spectre were apocalyptic, but because the bugs were secretly disclosed in June, patching is now well under way. Most careful users of modern PCs should not have much to worry about… but the risk of Spectre malware cannot be underestimated.

Digitalquill – Experts in IT Security

If you are not sure how to upgrade your software or hardware, or your computer needs replacement, call our Hull business IT Support Team today to find out more about our affordable Hull IT Support solutions.

meltdown and spectre

meltdown and spectreIf you use modern PCs, they should have been patched against the Meltdown and Spectre security flaws by now.  Many businesses, however, still use older computers which, while running Windows 10, have not yet had a BIOS update to protect them from the newly found flaws.

How to protect PCs from Meltdown and Spectre

Many clients have asked if there are risks with continuing to run their older PCs with this known critical vulnerability unpatched? Is there an alternative way to mitigate it? Or must they replace their computers with new ones?

In all honesty, it is still too soon to say. Remember that there are still no known exploits for the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, so the current risk level is low. In the long run, every PC and computing devices will eventually need to be replaced. That would be the case even if Spectre and Meltdown had not been discovered. So, if your devices are approaching the end of their life, it may make sense to replace them sooner rather than later and remove the risk entirely.

What to do to protect against Meltdown and Spectre

Intel says that it has issued firmware updates for nine out of ten of its CPUs from the past five years, but they acknowledge there is more work to do, and there have been reports of strange behaviour in patched PCs, such as a drop in performance and spontaneous reboots.

We recommend that you:

  • update your operating system, web browsers and other software with the latest security patches to defend against threats.
  • If an update is available, update your PC’s BIOS or UEFI.

Only if these are not possible should you consult with your Hull IT Support provider to see if you need to replace your processors or motherboards – or if it is more cost effective to buy new custom-built business PCs.

Digitalquill – Experts in IT Security

If you are not sure how to upgrade your software or hardware, or your computer needs replacement, call our Hull business IT Support Team today to find out more about our affordable Hull IT Support solutions.

Password Security

Just days after inadvertently triggering a public emergency system that announced a missile was heading towards the US state, officials in Hawaii have been left red-faced a second time after a photograph was released by the state emergency office which clearly showed the password for their system on a Post It note! Find out why password security is so important.

Password Security

Password Security: Dos and Don’ts

Passwords are only as strong as you  make them, and even if you follow all of the best practice advice to keep your password secure it is worthless if you write it down! We are amazed at how many people store the passwords to access encrypted laptops in the same bag as the machine – completely defeating the point of the security!

  • Create unique passwords with a combination of words, numbers, symbols, and upper- and lower-case letters.
  • Never use your username as your password.
  • Don’t use easy to guess passwords, such as “password” or “1234”
  • Do not choose passwords based upon personal details like your birth date, phone number, or names of children.
  • Don’t use words from the dictionary. Password-cracking tools often use dictionary lists to try thousands of words.
  • Don’t use adjacent keyboard combinations: “qwerty” and “asdzxc” and “123456” are trivial for a hacker to guess.
  • Avoid using the same password for multiple logins.
  • Don’t store your passwords on your computer in plain text – maybe write a clue only you will know if you do need your memory jogged from time to time.
  • Change passwords regularly to make life harder for anyone attempting to steal your data.

Most important of all, never share your computer login details with anyone else – even family or co-workers. If you do so your password is no longer secure, and most companies consider password sharing to be a serious disciplinary offence – not to mention you will be held responsible for any computer misuse if you shared your password!

Digitalquill – Experts in Cyber Security

For more information on keeping your business data secure, call us on 01482 424402 or email office@digitalquill.co.uk.

 

 

malware

A clearer picture is merging of the effect of the Spectre/Meltdown vulnerability patches on PCs.

meltdownWhat are Meltdown and Spectre?

Meltdown and Spectre are two security flaws that exploit critical vulnerabilities in almost all modern processors. These vulnerabilities in the hardware potentially allow malicious programs to steal data that is being processed by the computer. While programs are normally not permitted to read such data, a malicious program could exploit the Meltdown or Spectre vulnerabilities to acquire information stored in the memory by other programs. This could include passwords (even from a password manager). Meltdown and Spectre affect personal computers, tablets and mobile phones, and some cloud services.

Meltdown

Meltdown breaks down the fundamental isolation between “user applications” and the basic operating system functions. The attack allows a program to gain access to the memory, and thus also the data, of other programs and even the operating system itself.

If your PC has a vulnerable processor and is not patched with the latest operating system and hardware updates, it is unsafe to work with sensitive information – you could have the information stolen. This applies personal computers and also cloud infrastructure. Software patches against Meltdown have been written and pushed out to computers in the past few weeks.

Spectre

Spectre, like Meltdown breaks the isolation between processes the computer is running – this time between applications. It allows a potential attacker to trick programs into leaking their secrets – even those that have been written with best-practice security practices. In fact, the safety checks of the best practices actually increase the potential for attack.

Spectre is far harder to than Meltdown to exploit, but also harder to mitigate against. It is possible to prevent specific exploits through software patches.

How Will the Meltdown and Spectre Patches affect my Computer’s Speed?

After being patched, Windows PCs take a performance hit in some operations: PC World US’s Gordon Mah Ung performed some tests and saw storage throughput speed drop on his Surface Book after the firmware patches were in place.

“Sequential read and write performance doesn’t change much, But 4K performance ain’t pretty. While read performance was similar, the 4k write performance dropped by about 26 percent. 4K read and write  operations with high queue depth took a performance hit of 40 percent.”

–PC World, “Here’s how much the Meltdown and Spectre fix hurt my Surface Book performance” January 13, 2018

Frequent reboots issue:

Another potential problem, not related to performance, has been found. Intel said that both Haswell and Broadwell chips have had issues with reboots: “We have received reports from customers of higher system reboots after firmware updates. Specifically, these systems run Intel Broadwell and Haswell CPUs.”

 

Digitalquill – Experts in IT Security

No matter if you are concerned about a performance drop after installing the Spectre and Meltdown updates, one thing is certain: YOU MUST UPDATE YOUR SECURITY SOFTWARE AND INSTALLE ALL OPERATING SYSTEM SECURITY PATCHES. Do not delay this action, as now the vulnerabilities are known, hackers will be working to exploit them. If you are not sure how to upgrade your software, of your computer is now too slow and needs attention, call our Hull IT Support Team today to find out how to sign up for our affordable IT Support solutions.

Password Security

Earlier this year, we covered what are the most common passwords people use – and why you should not use them. We can now reveal, courtesy of The Independent, the final list of most used passwords in 2017. If you use any these passwords, change it immediately or you risk being hacked! Password security cannot be taken for granted.

Password Security

The worst passwords of 2017

In first place, for the fifth-year running is “123456”. In second place, for the fourth year is “password”. Variants of these make up a further six places in the top 25.

The report was again compiled by SplashDate, who said: “Useing any of the passwords on this list would put users at grave risk of identity theft.

It is estimated that about one in ten people use (or have used) at least one of the 25 worst passwords – with 3% using what is described as the absolute worst password of all – 123456.

Using Poor Passwords Puts Your Data at Risk

The last year has been devastating for data security, with a number ofhacks, ransomware attacks and extortion attempts. Millions of records have been stolen from some massive companies.

We recommend using passwords of at least 12 characters in length, and mixing up different character types, upper and lowercase letters and numbers. You should use a different password for each different login, and consider a password manager program if it is tough for you to remember multiple logins.

The 25 worst passwords of the year are:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345
  6. 123456789
  7. letmein
  8. 1234567
  9. football
  10. iloveyou
  11. admin
  12. welcome
  13. monkey
  14. login
  15. abc123
  16. starwars
  17. 123123
  18. dragon
  19. passw0rd
  20. master
  21. hello
  22. freedom
  23. whatever
  24. qazwsx
  25. trustno1

Digitalquill – Experts in Password Security

For more information on password or IT security, call us on 01482 424402 or email office@digitalquill.co.uk. We can also provide you with a managed antivirus solution for business.

Meltdown and Spectre

Meltdown and SpectreAlmost every computer in the world – and many other electronic devices – have security flaws which leaves them vulnerable to attacks by hackers, the BBC have reported. What are the facts about the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities?

Intel, AMD and ARM chip scare: The Facts

Security researchers have discovered gaps in security in computer central processing units – which could allow private data stored in computers and networks to be hacked. No data breaches have so far been reported.

What are the security flaws?

Two separate security flaws have been found: Meltdown and Spectre.

Meltdown affects computers with Intel chips. Spectre has a wider reach as it affects chips made by Intel, ARM and AMD which are widely used in smartphones, tablets and computers.

How big is the problem?

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have said there is no evidence that the vulnerability has been exploited. Major industry players have been aware of the issue for six months – bur everyone involved has signed non-disclosure agreements. They aimed to keep the problem quiet until it had been dealt with. However, now the bugs are known, there is a risk that they may be exploited.

What information is at risk?

The bug could allow a hacker to read information stored in a computer’s memory and therefore steal information such as passwords or credit card details.

How do I protect my computers?

The makers of devices and operating systems will be pushing out security patches to protect your computer, tablet or telephone against the Meltdown vulnerability. You should – as always – install these, and all other, security updates as soon as they become available. Microsoft, Apple and Linux have all announced that patches will be issued.

Apple’s latest version of MacOS, numbered 10.13.2, is safe. Patches for earlier versions of will be made available soon. It is not clear yet whether iPhones and iPads are vulnerable.

Microsoft’s emergency Meltdown patch for Windows 10 was released on 4 January, and it will be applied to Windows 7 and 8 machines soon.

Google Android devices with the latest security updates are safe, and users of their web services like Gmail are also protected. Chromebook users will need to install an update and Chrome web browser users will receive a patch on 23rd January.

Amazon Web Services and Google’s Cloud Platform, have already patched most cloud services, and will be fixing the rest soon.

The Spectre bug is much harder to patch and no fixes have yet been made available.

Digitalquill – Experts in Computer Security

We will advise our clients on what actions to take in due course. If you need IT support, advice or upgrades in Hull, East Yorkshire or North Lincolnshire call Digitalquill on 01482 424402 today.

British Gas

British GasThe latest victim of cyber crime appears to be energy behemoth British Gas, who admitted in December that 1,600 of their customers’ account numbers, names and email addresses were stolen in a “breach of security” after the login details were taken by a third party from another website that the affected customers used.

British Gas Login Details Stolen

Although the energy giant claims its own systems weren’t breached, and that it only alerted the customers as a “precautionary measure”, it will nonetheless be sending them a £20 cheque for them to spend on signing up to a fraud protection service. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)has been informed of the incident and is looking into it.

Data Security – It’s Not Just About You

This latest cyber-theft serves as a reminder that it is not just your security you need to worry about – if you share data with others than you need to be aware of how secure their own systems are. With the advent in May of the General Data Protection regulations (GDPR)_ the rules around keeping personal data safe will become even more stringent – and the penalties for failing to do so will be even greater.

How can I protect myself online?

For individuals, the key to online security is to usea separate strong and unique password for each site or system. This can be difficult given the many different applications we all have logins for, but password managers exist for the most common web browsers to switch out a “master” password that you type in for a random, unique one transparently.

For businesses, you should have a cyber security strategy and invest in appropriate hardware, software and policy solutions to ensure that your systems remain secure – not to mention an appropriate backup regime in case the worst happens.

Digitalquill – Experts in Cyber Security

Call Digitalquill on 01482 424402 to find out how we can help your East Yorkshire or North Lincolnshire business stay safe from hackers, viruses and other online threats.

Cyber Security

Cyber SecurityThere are some obvious things you can do to stay safe from malware, and some more technical answers that your Hull IT support company can help you with.

Use Antivirus Software

Install antivirus software such as AVG Cloudcare from Digitalquill on all computers. It checks constantly for the presence of malware in the computer’s memory and periodically scans your computer to find and remove malicious software. Make sure you keep it up to date as new threats come to light all the time. This will normally happen automatically but not if you or your staff have turned off the update function.

Use a firewall

A firewall is a hardware or software barrier that sits between computer networks. They are used between areas that are trusted – such as your own corporate network – and untrusted – such as the internet. A firewall offers protection by controlling traffic that enters and leaves the network using a series of rules (or filters) set by the user. By blocking certain types of traffic, a firewall can protect against hackers accessing your systems.

Backup your data

All small businesses in East Yorkshire need a backup regime. You can do basic backups yourself, such as onto a portable hard drive but IT experts will ensure that backups are retained for a certain time so you do not restore infected files back onto your system. A good Hull IT support company will automate the process so it is seamless from the users.

Implement Device Control

Another task for your East Yorkshire IT support company is to prevent malware from infecting your system by blocking devices such as USB drives from being connected to your system.

Digitalquill – Malware removal and Hull Business IT Support

We offer Avast virus protection subscriptions for businesses in Hull to protect against malware. Call Digitalquill on 01482 424402 or visit www.digitalquill.co.uk to find out more.

 

social engineering

social engineeringSocial engineering is when a criminal tricks you to enable criminal activity. It is becoming more common and people are being been persuaded to give out passwords or give access to computer systems and losing information or money as a result.

How to check the sender of an email

If you hover the mouse pointer over the “sender name” in your email program then usually the actual email address that an email was sent from will show in a pop up window. This does not always work, and you may have to ask you Hull IT support provider to check the “header” of the email.

Check that the organisation’s email address has not been spelt incorrectly – “PayPal” and “PayPaI” look similar but one has a lower-case “L” and one has a capital “I” at the end. Check for authoritative sounding names from free email addresses, such as: “Barclays@gmail.com” rather than their own domain name at the end.

What to do if you are asked to provide information

Think twice before sharing bank details, personal information or account login details. Contact the person or organisation making the request, but never by email addresses or phone numbers in the suspicious email. Always check independently. If in doubt, call your Hull IT support company.

What if I get an email asking me to verify a change?

Many companies will email you to let you know if a change has been made on your account, such as a new password being added. Usually you will be asked to click to confirm the change, so if the emails says “click here if you did not make this change” then it may well be a criminal trying to trick you out of your real password.

Digitalquill – Internet Security Experts in Hull

For advice on internet security for small businesses and all your Hull IT support needs, call Digitalquill on 01482 424402 or visit www.digitalquill.co.uk.

 

Uber hack

Uber hackIt seems like barely a week goes by without a large company having customer data stolen, and just as we thought this would be a quiet week, one arrives – right on time. It has been reported by the BBC this morning that taxi giant Uber has concealed a hack that affected 57 million of its customers and drivers.

Uber Hack – Data Belonging to 57 Million People Stolen

It is reported that the breach, which happened in 2016, was hidden by the firm. They paid the hackers a ransom of $100,000 to delete the data, although it is not known whether this was actually done. The hackers had taken some 57 million names, email addresses and mobile numbers from the company’s database. Of those were 600,000 drivers who had their names and driving licence details taken.

Uber Hack – Am I affected?

The drivers who had data stolen have been offered free credit monitoring protection by Uber, but according to a statement from Uber, customers who were affected will not be given the same protection. As yet, no evidence has come to light of the data being misused. Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer, has now left the company.

How did Uber get hacked?

Uber has not given precise details of how the hack happened – and so it is not known whether customers in the UK have been affected – but Bloomberg’s reports that two hackers accessed a private area of the Github online developers resource where they found Uber’s log-in credentials to Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is a cloud computing service that is used by companies to store data.

What are the consequences for Uber?

In the UK, companies are required to disclose significant data breaches to the ICO (Information Commissioner’s office). Covering up the hack is likely to land the firm with a large fine if UK citizens’ data was lost. In January this year, Uber was fined $20,000 in the United States for failing to disclose a less serious breach that happened in 2014.

Digitalquill – Experts in Cybersecurity

All firms are at risk of cyber theft. Call Digitalquill on 01482 424402 to find out how we can help keep you safe.