PCI Compliance – An Ongoing Process

Recently Computer World published what’s most likely the very best article dealing with PCI Compliance.  Not so much what it entails to be compliant, but what it takes to remain compliant.

The ultimate unanswerable question: Are we PCI-compliant?

PCI compliance is Zen-like. It’s hard to determine, and even when a letter declares a company PCI-compliant, that declaration can always be retroactively reversed later – such as if you’re breached. Yes, when you most need to be able to say that you are PCI-compliant is when it’s taken away.

 

The issue with PCI compliance is that the business network and the business environment is constantly changing and evolving.  There are 12 requirements in the PCI DSS.  In order to be compliant, all of these must be current all of the time.  Some remain static, meaning they don’t change.

Let’s take requirement No. 1: Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data. firewall-156010_640 Your PCI specialist installs and configures a firewall.  Once it has been configured properly, you’ve met the first requirement, right?  Well, sort of.  Assuming the firmware is current, and nothing changes in the network environment, the answer would be Yes, you’ve met the requirement.

Let’s go down to requirement No. 11:  Regularly test security systems and processes.  Inside this requirement is 11.1, which requires that a hardware inventory be kept up to date of all devices on the “protected” or POS network.  This is the network that handles all credit card transactions (your guest wi-fi, or any other network should NEVER be on the same sub-net as your POS traffic).  You just replaced or added a POS terminal.  Did you log it in the inventory, including the model and serial number?  If the answer is No, then you’re not compliant.

On that very same replacement terminal, you need to make sure that you have met requirements 5 and 6: Use and regularly update antivirus software; Develop and maintain secure systems and applications.  If you’ve added a location on the network for this terminal, the network diagram also needs to be updated.

Now let’s move on the the human factor in being compliant.  Each individual who handles credit cards must be trained in the methods of handling cards safely and securely, which is part of requirement 12:  Maintain a policy that addresses information security.  If you’ve hired a new employee, they must first be trained and sign-off acknowledging that they’ve been trained.  A copy of the signature page must go in their employee file.

The article in Computer World makes some outstanding points.  First,  you’re only compliant on the date that you last checked and updated (successfully) the requirements:

The reason why compliance is tied to the date the assessment was wrapped is that, in theory, any change at all to anything on the network could make that merchant noncompliant. I get that. It makes sense. But what good is PCI compliance if a retailer never knows if it is compliant? 

This is where PCMDX comes in.  We take it off your shoulders and put it on ours.  We let you worry about the prime purpose of your business, and we take care of the things that we’re good at:  Keeping you compliant.

Further more, as the article states, it’s the human factor that makes you (and keeps you) compliant:

But it (software) can’t track PCI compliance — which is a human-dictated state — any more than it can declare a system “secure.” 

PCMDX is the only company in our service area (Alabama, Mississippi, Western Tennessee, Florida Panhandle) that creates a plan for your company to become, and remain, PCI Compliant.  We will visit your site, examine your existing network, create a plan to make your network compliant, implement the plan, and then keep it maintained on a regular schedule.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

Windows 10 Automatic Upgrades Getting Aggressive

Over the past month Microsoft has been getting aggressive with their Windows 10 “auto-upgrades”.  We call it an auto-upgrade because the user doesn’t seem to have a choice on the upgrade.  They will walk away from their PC and when they come back they’ve been upgraded without doing anything to start the process.

We’re sticking with your recommendation:  If you have Windows 7, stick with Windows 7 until 2020, when Windows 7 comes to end-of-life.  If you have Windows 8, go ahead and upgrade to Windows 10.  Microsoft is giving a deadline of July 29, 2016 as the date of the upgrade being free, so do it before then.

There’s been some adverse consequences for Microsoft for the auto-upgrades.  Some might say these were costly in nature for Microsoft.  Because of this, Microsoft has throttled back on their forcefulness in installing the upgrade, however, this is not been 100% true so far.

Remember, you do have 30 days to go back to the previous operating system, but the reversal doesn’t always work.

Because of this, we’re recommending the following install:  Go to www.grc.com/Never10.htm and select the green “Download Now” button.  Download the small file, and then go open it.  This will open up a window that will have to options on it.  The writing initially will be in a ref font and will read “Windows 10 Upgrade is ENABLED for this system!”.  Click on the button at the bottom of the window that reads “Disable Win10 Upgrade”.  The writing will change to “Windows 10 Upgrade is DISABLED for this system!” in green font.  By saving the file, you can always go back if you want to upgrade to Windows 10.

If you’ve been upgraded, and things aren’t working anymore, give us a call.  Some programs are NOT compatible with Windows 10, so be prepared to upgrade if you’ve been upgraded and you can’t go back.

Ransomware: Time to Pay Attention or Pay Big Bucks

This post is a very long one, but it’s important you read every word if your data is important.

If you follow us on Facebook.com/pcmdx you know we’ve posted twice over the past month about ransomware attacks that we’ve been called to.

The attacks usually use the same method.  The user will receive an e-mail from an unknown sender and it will have the subject line of “Invoice Attached” or something similar.  The word invoice is the common denominator.

The user will look at the e-mail and see that it asks them to open the attached Word document, which is the “invoice”.  When they open the document, the ransomware attack begins, however, it is not noticeable to the user.

These particular attacks encrypted all of the users Office files (Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Access, Outlook PST) files.  It did not encrypt any PDF files or any image files, which usually would have been encrypted as well.

The user will notice that the attack has taken place when they attempt to open one of the files and the Windows program selector launches.  This is the Windows feature that comes up when you attempt to open a file and no program is associated with it, meaning it doesn’t know what program to use to open the file and it asks you to choose one.  In this case, there’s no program to launch an encrypted file.

We were called to attempt to recover the files and to remove the malware that encrypted the files.

The ransomware senders (we’ll call them the “bad guys”), usually have the ransomware program generate a text file that it leaves in each directory that has files that were encrypted.  We found this text file in all of the directories with Office files, as well as the Desktop.

The text file is the “ransom note”.  It explains what happened to the user’s files, and details how the files can be decrypted back to a usable state.

In a nutshell, the bad guys want a payment made via Bitcoin, usually ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

Although not always the case, once the ransom is paid, the decryption code is sent via e-mail.  Once the code is entered, the files are decrypted and are usable again.  It should be noted that this is some of the time, not all of the time.

In two of the cases, the ransom was not paid and the users accepted the fact that the files were gone.

In one of the cases the user felt that they needed the files, there was no backup, so they agreed to pay the ransom, although we recommended against doing so.  The payment process took about three hours to complete.

It included opening a Bitcoin wallet, which is a software based wallet.  Once the wallet was created, Bitcoin needed to be purchased.  We found a seller in Tennessee who would sell the amount of Bitcoin needed (B 0.74, which was about $350, the amount of the ransom).  Since there’s a trust issue between seller and buyer, the only way to pay the seller was to go to a Western Union type facility and wire the money.  In this particular case, the Walmart 2 Walmart method was chosen.  For those of you who don’t know what that is (and we didn’t know until this episode), you go to Walmart, fill out a form with the recipient’s name, address and phone number, give Walmart the cash amount, they then wire it to the Walmart closest to the recipient, who then picks it up.

Once the seller has been paid, he places the Bitcoin in an electronic escrow account, which the Bitcoin buyer then accesses and sends to his electronic wallet.  Once this has been completed, he sends the ransom Bitcoin amount to the wallet of the bad guys, which is given to him in the ransom note.  Once the bad guys confirm receipt, they provide a program to decrypt the files.  If this sounds complicated, it is.  Very complicated.

With this client, we received the decrypt program, ran it and it responded that the ransom had not been paid, therefore it shut down, without decrypting any files.

As odd as this may sound, the bad guys did have a “support” form on their web site where one could ask for help if the files didn’t decrypt.  We used this form and they responded by asking that we submit five of the encrypted files to them and they would send a new decrypt program.  Based on the timestamp of the response, we determined that they were in western Europe.

They provided a web site address to send the files to, but it required their e-mail address in order to send, which they refused to give, so we were unable to send the files.  After a back and forth requesting their e-mail address, they blocked any further conversation, so the episode was closed.

The client lost his files.  The client lost his ransom money.  The moral of the story is DON’T PAY THE RANSOM AND MAKE SURE YOUR FILES ARE BACKED UP! (PCMDX had recommended that they do not pay the ransom, however the client insisted).

The latest type of ransomware goes a step further.  It doesn’t encrypt the files.  It encrypts the entire hard drive, so nothing is usable.  Unless you have an backup image of your hard drive, you won’t even be able to log into Windows.

So what can you do to prevent ransomware from ruining your day, or your year?

First, ask yourself one simple question:  “Is there anything on my computer that I cannot absolutely, positively live without?”  If the answer is “Yes”, then you need to take steps to protect yourself against malware (including viruses, ransomware, Trojans, worms, rootkits, etc), hardware failures,  data theft, and other data losing issues.

The very first thing you need to do is to make sure you have a backup of your system.  PCMDX uses and installs two backup strategies, an image based backup and a file based backup.

An image based backup consists of an image, or “picture”, of you hard drive.  The backup software makes an exact replica of your hard drive.  In the event of failure or loss, the backup software recreates the hard drive onto another hard drive.  Think of it like cloning your hard drive.

PCMDX believes this to be a better system for one main reason:  time savings.

A conventional backup copies only the data from a hard drive.  Let’s say there’s a failure of the hard drive.  Here’s the recovery steps:  reinstall the hard drive, reinstall the operating system, reinstall the updates and patches,  reinstall the programs,  copy the data from the backup.  This could take hours, perhaps days until completed.

If there’s a hardware failure on a computer with an imaged backup, here’s the recovery steps:  reinstall the hard drive, insert rescue disk, point to image location, begin restoration.  45-60 minutes later it’s like nothing happened to the computer in the first place.  Everything is as it was when the image was created.

Depending on the software used, individual files can also be recovered from an image.  This is great if a user accidentally deletes a file.

The cost of setting up a backup system is less than what would be paid if there’s a ransomware attack.

We cannot emphasize the two following points enough:

  1.  Have a backup plan in place.  If you don’t know how to implement one, call PCMDX today.  We’re not talking about backing up one or two files on a thumbdrive (although that’s better than nothing).  We’re talking about backing up your system, and other systems in your network in case of disaster.  Again, if you answer the question “Is there anything on this computer that I cannot live without” with a “yes” answer, and you don’t have a backup plan in place, you need to create one today.
  2. NEVER open any attachments from senders you don’t know, from senders you’re not expecting anything from, from e-mails that are vague in nature or have spelling and/or grammar errors in the body of the e-mail.  If in doubt, call the sender and ask them if they sent you an attachment.
  3. If you’re hit, DON’T PAY THE RANSOM.  Our latest experience proves that even after you pay it, you’re dealing with people who have no ethics, no morals, no sense of right and wrong, and very poor command of the English language.  Your files are lost and paying the ransom simply adds to the cost of fixing the problem without recovering your data.

One other bit of information:  If your PC is on a business network, and you have networked drives (places on a server where you can access your files), including Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive, those files can be encrypted as well.  Make sure they are also part of the backup plan.

Feel free to share this with your friends.

 

 

What exactly is “the cloud” and why should you care?

So many of our clients have heard of “the cloud” buy don’t know what it is, how it works, and why they should care about it.

Let’s take a look at the answers to these questions.  First, what is “the cloud”?  When a network diagram is drawn, one of the items on the diagram is the Internet.  The Internet is represented on the diagram by a basic drawing of a cloud.  So, anything that is not on the local network, inside the building(s) is considered to be on the internet, hence the term “the cloud”.  Anything not local (on the PC, or on a server located in the building) is on “the cloud”.  We can have software running on the cloud (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, Adobe applications, etc.).  We can also have storage on the cloud (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud).

How does it work?  Simple.  You install the client software from the cloud provider, enter a user name and password and you’re on the cloud.  Now, whatever you place into the folders on your cloud drive is on the cloud.  If your computer were to stop working, anything stored on the cloud would still be accessible from another computer.  If you have more than one device (a device is anything that can access the internet including a computer – PC or Mac, smartphone, tablet, game console, etc.) you can access your cloud data from any of these, provided you have the user name and password.

So is it safe to store things on the cloud?  It’s probably safer on the cloud than it is on your local device.  Malware Bytes just wrote an exceptional article outlining the safety of storing things on the cloud, which is well worth the read.

Here are some tips from the article:

If you’re ready to store data on the cloud, we suggest you use a cloud service with multi-factor authentication and encryption. In addition, follow these best practices to help keep your data on the cloud secure:

  • Use hardcore passwords: Long and randomized passwords should be used for data stored on the cloud. Don’t use the same password twice.
  • Back up files in different cloud accounts: Don’t put all your important data in one place.
  • Practice smart browsing: If you’re accessing the cloud on a public computer, remember to log out and never save password info.

What’s multi-factor authentication?  Probably one of the very best methods of protecting yourself.  If you own a smartphone, you give the cloud provider the number.  If someone logs into your account from an unknown device, and you have two-factor authentication enabled, before it allows them to log in, a code is sent to the smartphone via text.  Prior to gaining access, the code must be entered.  If the code is wrong or not entered, no access is granted.  It can be done via e-mail also.  Two-factor authentication should be used for any and all sensitive data and sites, including banks and credit card sites.

What’s encryption?  Encryption is where the data stored is encrypted, meaning that it’s useless unless the public and private keys are used to decrypt it.  Anytime you see the “https://” before a web site URL, the data is encrypted.  This prevents the bad guys from taking a hard drive containing data and simply hooking it up to a computer and reading it.

Hardcore Passwords:  In Alabama the most popular password is : rolltide.  Second most popular is: wareagle.  If you’re using either one of these, or variations of them, change them.  Now.  Don’t use your spouses name, your child’s name, your pet’s name, your birthday, or any word that can be found in the dictionary (combining words is OK).  Your password needs to be at least 8 characters long, contain both upper and lower-case letters, at least one number and one symbol.  The longer, the better.  We prefer passphrases instead of  passwords.  RedDog12! meets the minimum security, however it won’t take long to crack to an expert.  “The red Dog was running on the land with 12 friends!” won’t be cracked anytime soon and meets all of the requirements.  Yes, a space is considered a character.

Different Cloud Accounts:  We use all of the major cloud accounts.  We don’t store all of our data on each.  Some data on one, other data on others.

One neat thing that some cloud providers, like Dropbox, provide is sharing capabilities.  Person A can grant access to a folder in their cloud account to Person B.  Both A and B can look at the files in the folder, but only those files. Person B cannot see anything else on Person A’s account.  This is very useful for parents who have kids in college.  Instead of e-mailing something as an attachment, simply place it in the cloud folder and within microseconds the other person has the file.

This post only touches the very surface of the capabilities of the cloud.

Should you ever need help with your cloud account, or just need help setting one up, contact PCMDX today at pcmdxal@gmail.com or via phone at 205-201-0389.  We’ll service both business and residential accounts, and specialize in security.  And don’t forget to like us on Facebook so you can get updates on important computer and security information.