Blog: Cybersecurity

Many organizations are adopting Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) and businesses nationwide are seeing the benefits of improved productivity through its email and collaboration solution. Organizations of all sizes can benefit from a seamless user experience between mobile and on-premise environments.

While Microsoft 365 offers great flexibility, it mostly focuses on infrastructure management rather than data management. Meaning: You are responsible for your data.

Some businesses who have migrated their workloads to Microsoft 365 do not realize that the same reasons they had for backing up and protecting that data on-premises applies even in the cloud.

If you are still considering Microsoft 365 for office productivity and collaboration, this article may be for you: Microsoft 365: Is it the right choice for your business?

Without proper backup and recovery, your data is at risk, because Microsoft isn't providing complete protection. It's important to create a backup and recovery strategy to ensure you avoid permanently losing your critical data.

It's important to understand the difference in responsibilities of Microsoft and Microsoft 365 user organizations. Microsoft hosts the infrastructure, but you are responsible for your data.


What is Microsoft's Responsibility?

Cloud Infrastructure Uptime — Microsoft focuses on the infrastructure management rather than data management. By focusing on infrastructure, Microsoft ensures its cloud service is online and operational. Guaranteed uptime is based on your agreement level and outlined in the availability SLA (Service Level Agreement).

Basic Data Replication — Microsoft provides basic data replication with datacenter-to-datacenter geo redundancy, and limited retention for short-time data recovery.

Data Processing Compliance — Compliance and controls for data processing are limited to the processor, not the data itself. Microsoft ensures data privacy, regulatory controls, and industry certifications for compliance are in place and maintained for the infrastructure of its cloud service.

Physical Infrastructure Security — Security functions for Microsoft 365 are limited to physical infrastructure, not data. It includes app-level security, logical security, and access controls for users and administrators.


What is the Customer's Responsibility?

Business Data in Microsoft 365 — The customer is the owner of the data that resides in the Microsoft 365 data centers. As the owner, the customer controls the data and who can access the data. All responsibility of the data is on the user to ensure data security, privacy, and retention.

Enterprise-grade Backup and Long-Term Data Retention — Implementing an enterprise-grade backup solution for Microsoft 365 can give businesses confidence to recover from security breaches, compliance exposure, and data loss. With enterprise-grade backup, a copy of the data is stored outside the environment. In the event of an incident, it provides granular and point-in-time recovery options.

Data Owner Compliance — As the data owner, the customer has the ultimate responsibility of data for internal legal and compliance teams. The customer answers to the demands from corporate and industry regulations.

Security Functions to Protect Data — Protection of data is the responsibility of the user, not Microsoft. Security controls must be implemented to protect the data from internal threats, such as accidental deletion, insider threat, and disgruntled employees, and external threats, such as malware, ransomware, and rogue applications.


What happens when Microsoft 365 is used without backup?

Microsoft only provides basic and limited retention. If you don't implement a backup strategy outside of Microsoft's native capabilities, you are opening up your business for unnecessary risk. Lack of a Microsoft 365 backup plan is a risky data strategy.

Without proper backup and recovery, your organization can expose itself to the following risks:

  • Data loss from accidental deletions
  • Ransomware attacks and security breaches
  • Insufficient retention time for regulatory compliance policies
  • Lack of data control due to potential SaaS lock-in

Organizations investing in productivity and collaboration tools should also consider their backup and retention needs as a factor in efficiency and productivity. Considering a third-party backup solution is critical for data loss avoidance.


What is the best strategy for Microsoft 365 backup?

Your data is your business. By taking a data-driven approach to your backup strategy, you recognize the critical importance of your data for your business stability.

Make Microsoft 365 Backup a Key Priority

Backup for cloud services (SaaS), such as Microsoft 365, is imperative for security and data control. Full oversight and control of data is a boardroom priority. Without backup, organizations do not have an exit strategy or freedom from SaaS lock-in because they are not in complete control of their data. Backup should be part of the conversation when buying SaaS and not an afterthought.

Consider Enterprise-grade Data Protection

When investing in backup solutions, consider integration between the Microsoft 365 environment and your existing data protection environment. Evaluate automation, security, and integration between systems when comparing enterprise-grade data protection and recovery features. Integrating SaaS into enterprise data protection can help unify data management.


What to look for in a Microsoft 365 backup solution

1) Freedom to use existing on-premise capacity for Microsoft 365 backup, or the ability to leverage another cloud for cloud backup.
2) Basic features provided, such as incremental backups, granular recovery, automation, and policy-based retention capabilities.
3) A solution capable of managing and protecting hybrid deployments and the ability to ease the full adoption of SaaS.
4) Integration between Microsoft 365 and the customer's existing data protection environment.
5) Advanced security features such as access control, SaaS usage metrics, and multifactor authentication for additional security.
6) Ability to scale up or down as business and data demand changes and as SaaS is rolled out more widely within the company.


Investing in productivity tools and the corresponding backup is an exciting adventure. When you are ready for a guide, we are here to help. We can advise on and implement a solution that fits your business needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.


 

Microsoft has been emphasizing Office 365 (now Microsoft 365) subscription services since the public introduction in 2011. As a result, the popularity of these services has grown to over 155 million active users as of October 2018, and is gaining new users at over 3 million seats per month. With this growth, on-going marketing, and the increasing acceptance of public cloud services, many businesses and financial institutions are starting to look at Microsoft 365.

In this article, we will highlight several pros and cons of Office 365 you should consider to determine if it's right for your business.

Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) encompasses several different products and services, but in this article, we will address these services in two primary areas: user applications and back-end services.

Microsoft 365 User Applications

Most Microsoft 365 subscription plans include Office applications like Word and Excel running on Windows, macOS, and portable devices running iOS and Android. Applications are also available through a web browser but most customers are interested in Microsoft 365 applications as a possible replacement for traditional Office licensing.

What are the primary differences between Microsoft 365 and traditional on-premise Office applications?
  • Microsoft 365 is an annual subscription per user or seat. Each user is entitled to run the Microsoft 365 applications on up to 5 devices for the term of the subscription. As long as you continue to pay the annual subscription, you are covered for the Office applications included in your plan.
  • Office applications through Microsoft 365 are designed to be downloaded from the O365 portal. There is no license key to determine if you have a valid license. After installation the applications routinely "check in" to the M365 (formerly O365) portal to ensure there is an active account. Because of this check-in process IT administrations must use a specific procedure for mass deployment of M365 applications. Additionally, installation on multi-user servers like Remote Desktop Services and Citrix requires a new approach.
  • Microsoft 365 applications are designed to install features and security updates directly from Microsoft when they are released. Legacy patch management solutions like Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and 3rd party solutions will not work with M365. This can create a challenge for regulated customers who are required to report on patch status. Scanning tools used by auditors to determine patch levels will need the ability to recognize the differences between M365 and traditional Office applications. The M365 update process could also create an issue for Office-integrated applications if a hotfix is released that affects the compatibility of those applications, as there will be no option to block that update from being installed.
  • Microsoft 365 applications utilize a feature called Click to Run. This feature, which was originally introduced with Office 2016, provides a streaming method for installing features and patches for Microsoft 365 and Office 2019 applications. Our experience is that Click to Run can use a significant amount of bandwidth if you are installing Office applications or large updates on multiple systems simultaneously.
Is licensing through Microsoft 365 less expensive than traditional licensing?

For most customers the biggest question is: "Is licensing through Microsoft 365 less expensive than traditional licensing?" The answer is "It depends!" Microsoft 365 licensing could be financially attractive if:

  • Your business always updates to the latest release of Office.
  • You want the flexibility of per user licensing.
  • You want to take advantage of the licensing of up to 5 devices for multiple systems, mobile devices, home use, etc.
  • You need a simplified update process that works anywhere the PC has Internet connectivity.
  • You need to use the browser-based applications for a specific function or employee role.
  • You plan to implement one of the Office 365 back-end services.

Microsoft 365 Back-End Services

Microsoft provides several cloud server applications through Microsoft 365 including Exchange Online (email), Skype for Business (voice and messaging collaboration), SharePoint (file collaboration), and OneDrive (file storage and sharing). These back-end services can be implemented individually, or as part of a bundle with or without the Office applications depending on the plan. However, Exchange Online vs. Exchange on-premise is receiving the most attention from our customers.

What should I look for when performing due diligence?

The security and compliance of back-end Microsoft 365 services is not significantly different than any other cloud-based application or service. The areas to research include:

  • External audit attestation – SSAE 18 or similar
  • Data location residency – production and failover scenarios
  • Data privacy policies - including encryption in transit and at rest
  • Contracts and licensing agreements
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Service Level Agreements – service availability, capacity monitoring, response time, and monetary remediation
  • Disaster recovery and data backup
  • Termination of service
  • Technical support – support hours, support ticket process, response time, location of support personnel
A few more things to consider...

As a public cloud service, Microsoft 365 has several challenges that need specific attention:

  • The business plans listed on the primary pricing pages may include applications or services that you don't need. All of the various features can be confusing and it's easy to pick the plan that is close enough without realizing exactly what's included and paying for services you will never use.
  • Most of the back-end M365 services can integrate with an on-premise Active Directory environment to simplify the management of user accounts and passwords. This provides a "single sign-on" experience for the user with one username and password for both local and M365 logins. Microsoft has several options for this integration but there are significant security implications for each option that should be reviewed very carefully.
  • Microsoft has published several technical architecture documents on how to have the best experience with Microsoft 365. The recommendations are especially important for larger deployments of 100+ employees, or customers with multiple physical locations. One of the notable recommendations is to have an Internet connection at each location with a next-generation firewall (NGFW) that can optimize Internet traffic for M365 applications. Redundant Internet connections are also strongly recommended to ensure consistent connectivity.
  • The default capabilities for email filtering, encryption, and compliance journaling in Exchange Online may not provide the same level of functionality as other add-on products you may be currently using. Many vendors now provide M365-integrated versions of these solutions, but there will be additional costs that should be included in the total.
  • Microsoft OneDrive is enabled by default on most Microsoft 365 plans. Similar to other public file sharing solutions like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, the use of OneDrive should be evaluated very carefully to ensure that customer confidential data is not at risk.
  • Several other vendors provide Microsoft 365 add-on products that provide additional functionality which may be useful for some businesses. Netwrix Auditor for Microsoft 365 can provide logging and reporting for security events in your M365 environment. Veeam Backup for Microsoft 365 can create an independent backup of your data to ensure it will always be available. Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) such as Fortinet FortiCASB and Cisco Cloudlock can provide an additional layer of security between your users and cloud services such as M365.

Discover why the default retention policies of Microsoft 365 can leave your business at risk.

It is certainly a challenge to research and evaluate cloud solutions like Microsoft 365. Financial institutions and other regulated businesses with high-security requirements have to take a thorough look at the pros and cons of any cloud solution to determine if it's the best fit for them.

CoNetrix Aspire has been providing private cloud solutions for businesses and financial institutions since 2007. Many of the potential security and compliance issues with the public cloud are more easily addressed in a private cloud environment when the solution can be customized for each business.

The combination of Office application licensing with back-end services like Exchange Online can be a good solution for some businesses. The key is to understand all of the issues related to Microsoft 365 so you can make an informed decision.

Contact CoNetrix Technology at techsales@conetrix.com if you want more information about the differences between Aspire private cloud hosting and Microsoft 365.


 

We've all done it before — searched for instructions on something we feel like we should be able to do ourselves. Whether it's how to tie a bow tie, how to change your oil, or how to repair a smartphone, people are constantly looking to do things for themselves. Naturally there are tasks beyond our actual ability, but can you blame any of us for trying? We have the information, resources, and always the desire to save money. That being said, one of the things that is likely beyond DIY abilities is combating cyberattacks for your business.

There are a seemingly unlimited number of cybersecurity solutions created to help businesses protect the personal and financial information of their customers. These services are best supported by cybersecurity companies, but far too often business owners and IT managers look to buy the tools and attempt to do it themselves. But can you really learn everything you need to about technologies like SIEM and then defend against cyber-attacks?

This blog will explain why you not only need cybersecurity tools, but also cybersecurity vendors to provide you with effective solutions.

SIEM Systems Need Constant Management

Depending on the SIEM system, there are different approaches for cybersecurity monitoring and protection. No matter if the SIEM tool is made by Intel, IBM, or Fortinet, the overall goal of being notified of attackers is the same. However, one may have a larger range of coverage for devices and log types, while another may have a specific log manager that picks up different events. Whatever it may be, the solution will collect information and present an analysis, but to optimize your security there should be someone managing the system full-time.

Let's say you want to build a shed in your backyard to protect some equipment and toys from the rain, and you have a hammer, plenty of nails, wood, and a few other tools. Unfortunately, nothing will get done if you don't pick up the hammer. While it is great that you have the necessary tools and supplies, but you will never build a shed to protect your equipment and toys if no one is utilizing the tools. It is the same with these SIEM services, or tools — without full-time personnel, ideally from a professional cybersecurity company, you are at risk of missing critical notifications and real threats.

Why Cybersecurity is not a DIY Product

If you don't necessarily think this is the case and you feel confident that you'll be able to check up on the program every now and again, you might want to reconsider. There were 668 million breaches in the U.S. just last year alone (the year before, there were over 1.5 billion breaches); this means that over 668 million times confidential information was exposed without permission. Also, 38% of the world's cyberattacks are targeted at the United States. While we are legally required to secure our customers' information, these numbers alone highlight the magnitude of the problem and the necessity to invest in a solid cybersecurity company's services. With a constant attack from unseen sources, are you really all that confident that you'll be able to manage it all yourself?

Let's again assume you are determined in doing this all yourself. Are you proficient in programming Java or C/C++? Do you understand web application technologies? Linux operating systems? Telephony technologies (analog and Voice over IP)? Okay, well…maybe you don't but you can learn, right? If that is the case, are you planning on learning on the fly from a couple of online videos? We don't want to discourage you from learning, but we need to be realistic. Installing a SIEM program and then following a manual to figure out how to make everything work is about as easy as putting a 4th grader, who is just able to read decently well, into a college-level biology and expect them to do be successful. The information is right in front of them, but can you really expect that?

Maybe we aren't giving you enough credit and you actually do understand all of these things — if that is the case, good for you for sticking with this blog and reading all the way to here — but can you handle reading all the analyzed data for every device for your entire company every day? That's where the benefit of hiring a cybersecurity company to manage the entire SIEM system for you comes into play. Not only will you have a service that is customized to your business, but you will also have a team of experts constantly reviewing your system for dangerous activity. With just the SIEM tool at your disposition, you may be alerted when a breach is detected but what will you do from there? A Managed Security Provider like this will not only notify you but also assist with a solution.

The wisest approach when you are looking to improve your company's cybersecurity is to not only purchase one of the many tools that are on the market, but make sure you also have a cybersecurity company on your side providing you with all the support you need.


 

The world of cybersecurity has had some fundamental shifts in the past several years that have made the vast majority of companies unprepared for today's threats. The extensive use of malware, for example, has dramatically reduced the value of traditional security solutions, such as firewalls, IDS/IPS, and anti-virus software. These solutions that used to adequately prevent attacks are now very limited in their risk mitigation value. Many organizations have not updated their cybersecurity technology and solutions to stop today's threats. It's like monitoring your front door for a break in while someone comes in through the back window.

Even companies that have taken cybersecurity seriously have not always been led the right way by cybersecurity vendors. In the past, an organization who was serious about cybersecurity was told that they needed 24x7x365 monitoring - paying for really smart cybersecurity professionals to watch the alerts and events as they happen in real-time so they could respond at a moment's notice to malicious events.

But legacy technologies have relied mostly on human review, not machine intelligence. A common metric for a traditional Managed Security Service Providers (MSSP's) is to have a security engineer for every 30 devices under management. In the U.S., the average cybersecurity professional makes $116,000/year. This means the cost to monitor a single device is $322/month, forcing traditional MSSP's to charge between $500 and $1500/device/month to be profitable. Does this sound like your MSSP?

At those rates most customers can only afford for a few devices to be monitored; usually the firewall, IDS/IPS, and possibly a Windows domain controller. When asked why they don't need to monitor more devices, these MSSP's would state "As long as you are monitoring the choke points, you are safe."

Using the home security system analogy, imagine being told that monitoring the front and back doors are enough and then having your child kidnapped through a bedroom window. No choke point only security system would detect that, allowing the worst-case scenario to happen without your system even tripping. Home security systems relied upon a few choke points because it was very expensive to run wires to the whole home (especially after it was already built). However today many home security systems use wireless technology which has made it possible to place multiple sensors throughout the house without the use of wires. This makes the cost of securing the entire home from multiple threats much less expensive.

Thankfully, IT cybersecurity has evolved as well. Automated correlation and analytics from a properly deployed, configured, and tuned Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution has the ability to increase the ratio of devices per cybersecurity professional exponentially. Today, SIEM technology can quickly and efficiently find the "needle in a haystack" with far less human interaction. This dramatically reduces the number of cybersecurity professionals needed for a traditional Security Operation Center (SOC) which means a lower cost per device for customers. With a lower cost to monitor each device, we can now monitor more devices. Rather than just monitoring choke points, we can monitor all of the windows, doors, and rooms; which is really what was needed from the beginning.

When all of the critical devices are being monitored and correlated, you can now stitch together pieces of information across different systems and areas of the network to give you a much more accurate picture of what is happening. In other words, the more devices that you monitor, the more accurate the monitoring becomes and, therefore, the better economies of scale can be achieved.

So, what should a customer monitor? It's still a good idea to monitor the firewall and IDS, but we need to go beyond that and focus on today's threats. Routers, servers (especially Active Directory servers), wireless access points, and endpoint security solutions should all be monitored. With current SIEM technology, you can monitor all of these systems for about the same price as you used to be able to monitor just the firewall and IDS/IPS.

Monitoring only choke points and smaller areas of a network will not protect your organization from today's threats. Cybersecurity monitoring is more important than ever, but real risk mitigation comes with a holistic approach to monitoring all of the possible security events from every possible device. Stop only monitoring your front door for a break-in and assuming that your business is safe... because your back window is open.

Contact Technology Sales at 806-698-9600 or email techsales@conetrix.com if you want to improve your Cybersecurity Monitoring and Response solution AND lower the annual cost.


 

By:

Early this year the tech world was rocked with the announcement of two unprecedented vulnerabilities named Meltdown and Spectre.

These two vulnerabilities are a big deal because they are hardware vulnerabilities affecting any device with a silicon chip. This includes microprocessors on workstations and servers, mobile phones, tablets, cloud services, and other platforms.

Understandably there was a rush from three main industries, processor companies, operating system companies, and cloud providers to provide solutions. However, as a result of the urgent response, there were unanticipated update incompatibilities which crashed systems. This created a dilemma for IT professionals. "Do we install updates which may cause our systems to crash?" or "Do we sit-tight and remain vulnerable?"

Even in the weeks of uncertainty, there were calm voices of seasoned reasoning. Their message reminded us that basic security standards remain our first line of defense. No matter how bad an exploit may be, its impact can be limited if:

  • The vulnerability doesn't have access to your systems
  • Operating system or application weaknesses are patched
  • Security software is installed (advanced end-point protection software with artificial intelligence is a game changer)

So how do you do achieve these standards? Here are some fundamental best practices:

  1. Monitor availability of operating system and application updates. Be sure you find and establish good sources to inform you about the patches and updates for your systems and applications. Then, monitor the sources or subscribe to notifications.

  2. Test updates to ensure compatibility. It is best if your update and patching process includes a test environment where non-production systems are updated first in order to test functionality and compatibility. This allows you to postpone or avoid updates which might crash systems or applications.

  3. Apply updates and patches on a regular schedule. As a best practice, you should implement a schedule (at least monthly) to evaluate, test and install updates for systems and critical applications. In this way, your schedule can coincide with schedules of operating system and application vendors (e.g., Microsoft has "Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of each month).

  4. Install and maintain security software (e.g., antivirus software, endpoint security software, etc.). If possible, explore and utilize behavior based end-point protection software. This genre of software "watches" system behavior to notice and stop suspicious action.

  5. Prevent malicious code execution. The goal is to keep malicious code out of your network and systems. This is best accomplished with layers of security including Internet filtering, phishing detection, and security awareness training for system users. Security awareness is essential to help prevent users from falling prey to malicious emails.

 

On October 6, 2014, ISACA launched the Cybersecurity Fundamentals Certificate.  The Cybersecurity Fundamentals Certificate is aligned with the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Cybersecurity Workforce Framework. [more] It tests for foundational cybersecurity knowledge in five areas:

  1. Cybersecurity concepts
  2. Cybersecurity architecture principles
  3. Cybersecurity of networks, systems, applications and data
  4. The security implications of emerging technology
  5. Incident response

To see ISACA's press release visit http://www.isaca.org/About-ISACA/Press-room/News-Releases/2014/Pages/ISACA-Launches-New-Cybersecurity-Certificate.aspx


 

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) today launched a web page dedicated to cybersecurity (http://www.ffiec.gov/cybersecurity.htm). The website is designed to be "a central repository for current and future FFIEC-related materials on cybersecurity." [more]

As a part of the Press Release announcing the launch of the cybersecurity web page, the FFIEC also noted the launch of the website "coincides with a pilot program at more than 500 community institutions, to be conducted by state and federal regulators, which will be completed during regularly scheduled examinations."  According to the press release, the focus of the pilot program will be on:

  1. Risk Management and Oversight
  2. Threat Intelligence and Collaboration
  3. Cybersecurity Controls
  4. Service Provider and Vendor Risk Management
  5. Cyber Incident Management and Resilience
The pilot program is expected to last about 4 weeks and include regulators from the FDIC, OCC, Federal Reserve, NCUA, and the States.

 

This month, the New York State Department of Financial Services ("the Department") released results from a survey conducted in 2013 on cyber security.  154 institutions completed the survey, representing 60 community and regional banks, 12 credit unions, and 82 foreign branches and agencies.  The survey asked questions regarding information security framework; corporate governance around cyber security; use and frequency of penetration testing and results; budget and costs associated with cyber security; the frequency, nature, cost of, and response to cyber security breaches; and future plans on cyber security. [more]

In conclusion, the Department states:

"As part of its continuing efforts in this area, the Department plans to expand its IT examination procedures to focus more fully on cyber security.  The revised examination procedures will include additional questions in the areas of IT management and governance, incident response and event management, access controls, network security, vendor management, and disaster recovery.  The revised procedures are intended to take a holistic view of an institution's cyber readiness and will be tailored to reflect each institution's unique risk profile.  The Department believes this approach will foster smarter, stronger cyber security programs that reflect the diversity of New York's financial services industry."

This report comes on the hills of the FFIEC webinar, Executive Leadership of Cybersecurity: What Today's CEO Needs to Know About the Threats They Don't See in which the FFIEC introduced expectations of new examination procedures.

To read the full Report on Cyber Security in the Banking Sector by the New York State Department of Financial Services can be found here - http://www.dfs.ny.gov/about/press2014/pr140505_cyber_security.pdf


 
 

On October 1, 2009, President Obama proclaimed October 2009 as National Cyber Security Awareness Month.  This marks the sixth annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month.  The theme for 2009 is "Our Shared Responsibility".  To read the proclamation, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Presidential-Proclamation-National-Cybersecurity-Awareness-Month/

The following sites have been created to focus on safe computing practices by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): [more]