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Why True Autoscaling Is Out of Reach For The Average SMB

Autoscaling Cloud Services not CheapShopping for a cloud solution can be difficult. You’ll be sold on plenty of impressive-sounding features that you may not know anything about. One feature that you may have seen floating around is autoscaling, which sounds great on paper, but may not live up to its expectations. The only problem, though, is how you can identify those that deliver, and those that don’t, before investing in a project.

The idea of autoscaling for your cloud solution seems to be great. Workloads can automatically be adjusted depending on the scale and specific amount of resources they need to perform a task. The idea is that these processes are automated so that you can focus on doing your job. This always-on feature keeps your network monitored, preventing bottlenecks and traffic spikes from derailing operations. Supposedly, cloud autoscaling can handle all of this without any human intervention whatsoever.

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case.

The reality of the situation is that autoscaling to this degree requires an immense amount of human oversight and intervention, that the “auto” in autoscaling is hardly a qualifying term. ITProPortal explains, “To create a truly automated and self-healing architecture that scales with little or no human intervention requires custom scripts and templates that can take months for a skilled team to get right, and many organizations have neither the time nor those resources to make it work.”

Instead of investing so much time and effort into making a truly automated system, it’s often best to just have human oversight involved in your cloud solution. This is done best by allowing trusted IT administrators to keep tabs on network traffic and intelligent scaling. Besides, isn’t a human system better than an automated system in the first place?

This type of oversight for a cloud platform is important, especially since network computing can be unpredictable at times. For example, what would happen if your website was hosted in the cloud, and your business was featured in a TV spotlight on the local news? Your website might crash from the unexpected amount of traffic it receives. Any solution connected to the Internet is vulnerable to such a threat, particularly DDoS attacks, which are frequently used by both fledgling hackers and experienced criminals alike. If a network is being monitored with the proper oversight, the needed resources can be allocated and scaled to suit the situation, and (hopefully) prevent the attack.

However, nothing is as simple as it seems, even when people are involved. For a small business, it can be difficult for the IT budget to procure a salary for a dedicated IT technician who can constantly oversee their network. Furthermore, even if you can accommodate an in-house IT technician, you know how busy they can get. ITProPortal explains: “They don’t have time for this either. Couple it with the fact that they are chastised when systems are under-provisioned or fail, that re-starting a system may land it on an unfortunate server filled with noisy neighbors, and that all of this is happening at the scale of dozens or hundreds of servers at a time – and this feels like a great time to just over-provision everything and leave well enough alone.”

The SMB seems to be stuck at an impasse here; with true autoscaling being difficult, if not impossible to achieve, and onboarding new IT technicians being out of scope, the most effective way to achieve a semblance of autoscaling for your cloud solution is to use a managed cloud service. Excalibur Technology’s managed services provides affordable and accessible IT solutions for small businesses, which can include the oversight you need for your cloud solution.

In the end, you won’t be doing any of the work, so it’ll be just as good as any automated cloud solution could be. To learn more, reach out to us at (877) NET – KING.

Couple Jailed For Scamming More Than A Million Dollars From The IRS

Hackers Steal Millions from the IRSIt all goes to show: don’t mess with the IRS. The prison system has two new residents, after Anthony Alika, 42, and his wife Sonia, 27, were sentenced for filing fraudulent tax returns through the often-exploited “Get Transcript” site maintained by the Internal Revenue Service. In addition to their incarceration, the Alikas will each be responsible to pay restitution to the IRS.

Ultimately, Anthony is to serve 80 months in prison followed by three years of supervision upon release, in addition to paying $1,963,251.75 in restitution for conspiracy to commit money laundering. Sonia was handed down a sentence of 21 months of jail time, also followed by three years of supervision, and an IRS restitution totalling $245,790.08 for structuring cash withdrawals to avoid the required bank reporting. Each pled guilty to their charges.

These sentences were passed after the Alikas were found guilty of laundering $1 million in money stolen from the US Treasury by filing fraudulent forms, specifically income tax returns populated with data stolen from the Get Transcript vulnerability. The Get Transcript function, meant to allow taxpayers to review their past returns with clearly spelled-out information, also allowed the Alikas to obtain the data they needed to make off with their ill-gotten funds.

The Alikas, along with co-conspirators, would purchase prepaid debit cards and registered them to the identities they had stolen, before filing false returns for those identities and receiving the refunds on the prepaid cards. They would then use these cards to purchase money orders, deposit that money into bank accounts, and withdraw their loot in multiple small increments to avoid the bank reporting of the transactions.

This isn’t the first time hackers have used the Get Transcript portal, either. In May of 2015, 100,000 tax accounts were stolen and used to take almost $50 million from the IRS. This is all because the authentication requirements to access the necessary information are flimsy.

Reacting to this case, the United State Department of Justice put out a press release outlining some best practices to keep personal information and accounts as safe and secure as possible.

File Early
A tax refund criminal can’t file a false return if the return has already been filed by the actual individual who should be doing the filing. The longer a return goes without filing, the more opportunity a criminal has to file one fraudulently.

Use Strong Usernames and Passwords
This one goes for any and all online accounts, but especially for those containing information as sensitive as a tax return does. If a close family member could get pretty close to the credentials with a guess, those credentials are nowhere near strong enough.

BONUS TIP: Randomized strings of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and (if permitted) symbols are the most secure option when selecting a password.

For more tech security information to help keep your data–and yourself–safe, keep coming back to the Excalibur Technology blog.

Study: 95% Of All Cyber Attacks Are Financially Motivated

Cyber Attacks are Financially MotivatedBusinesses need to take security into account and make it a priority. In fact, security is so important that Verizon has compiled a report of the various types of attacks and data breaches that occurred in the past year. This is Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report, or DBIR, and it offers insights into how you can protect your business and secure your assets.

The DBIR has a method of outlining data breach types into nine separate categories. In particular, your business should focus on four of them. We’ll provide you with a basic outline of what the threat entails, as well as how your organization can protect itself from them.

The DBIR reports that crimeware is one of the most common trends in the business environment, citing that 39 percent of all attacks in 2015 involved ransomware. The DBIR’s definition of “crimeware” is quite large, and is used to refer to “any use of malware that doesn’t fall into a more specific pattern.” This lack of predictability makes crimeware rather dangerous, and only serves to show business owners just how many different types of threats exist that fall into this category.

The DBIR recommends that all workstations and servers be patched and maintained at all times, and that organizations have backup and disaster recovery solutions put into place to prepare for the worst. Additionally, it’s recommended that you monitor your systems for any changes to system configurations.

Web Application Attacks
E-commerce platforms are some of the most common targets, and it’s simple to understand why. In the DBIR, 95 percent of all web application attacks had some sort of financial motivation. These attacks are caused by successful phishing attempts to steal credentials and infiltrate networks. Additionally, content management system data breaches have become quite common, with some aiming to infiltrate and repurpose sites as phishing centers.

The DBIR suggests using two-factor authentication, and to promptly update and patch software as needed.

Cyber Espionage
Some criminals will primarily target intellectual property. These cyber-espionage tactics will stick to your typical methods of network breaches and utilize sophisticated means to meet their goals if simple tactics don’t work. Therefore, many of these attempts to steal sensitive data can be undermined by basic protection, like firewalls and antivirus, but these solutions shouldn’t be counted on to keep out more advanced threats.

Additionally, you need to take advantage of advanced security solutions, like remote monitoring and management, to ensure that your infrastructure’s configurations aren’t being tampered with, and implement a mobile device management solution to protect your organization’s mobile data infrastructure.

Miscellaneous Errors
This category consists mostly of mistakes of all kinds that leads to compromised security. Verizon reports that around 40 percent of miscellaneous errors are caused by server issues, and about 26 percent are caused by simple employee mistakes, like sending a message filled with sensitive data to the wrong person.

The DBIR suggests that business owners or technology professionals strengthen control over how sensitive data is distributed. Verizon suggests the thorough and proper disposal of any unneeded or irrelevant hardware, and we’d like to mention how employee education as a preventative measure. By ensuring that your team is informed of industry best practices and data management techniques, you’ll drastically cut down user errors.

The takeaway: Basically, the majority of security discrepancies were due to, with varying degrees, human error. This is natural, as hackers actively look to exploit the weaknesses of the human mind. Therefore, if the people that make your business tick are the weakest link in the chain of operations.

What can you do to safeguard your data? For starters, stay up-to-date on the various trends in security breaches, and always keep your systems prepared by installing patches and security updates. To learn more about cyber security and preventative technology solutions, reach out to Excalibur Technology at (877) NET – KING.

Alert: Microsoft’s Latest Patches Address 27 Vulnerabilities

Microsoft Vulnerabilities Addressed By PatchesMicrosoft recently issued security patches to fix 27 vulnerabilities, many of which are critical in nature. The vulnerabilities are significant and popular titles are affected like Windows, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and the new Edge browser. Microsoft users that ignore these security patches are putting their system at unnecessary risk.

If you’ve already applied the security patches, then rest assured, your computers are safe and what follows is an informative read of what you’re protected from. On the other hand, if you haven’t yet applied the security patches, then we’ll go over why you’ve got good reason to worry.

In relation to the critical vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and Edge, hackers have found a way to remotely execute malicious code through Office documents or web pages. Microsoft goes into detail about this in the following security bulletins:

Microsoft has also found and fixed vulnerabilities with the Windows Graphics Component, which affects Windows, Microsoft Office, Skype, and Lync. Hackers can exploit this vulnerability to remotely execute code through malicious documents and web pages.

Perhaps affecting the most users is a vulnerability discovered in Windows PDF Library, which comes bundled with Windows 8.1, Windows RT 8.1, Windows 10, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012 R2. This vulnerability involves a critical remote code execution flaw. The Edge browser is uniquely affected by this vulnerability, giving hackers an opening to exploit a malicious PDF document hosted on a website, which they’ll use to trick users into downloading.

Not all vulnerabilities fixed by Microsoft are categorized as “critical.” The security patches also take care of vulnerabilities deemed “important.” Still, the lessened severity of the threat doesn’t mean users can afford to ignore the patches.

Have you already applied Microsoft’s security patches? It’s important that you do and Excalibur Technology is standing by to assist if you require our services. To make this happen, simply call us at (877) NET – KING.

We should also mention that Excalibur Technology clients who are taking advantage of our managed IT service have no need to worry about applying the security patches; our engineers have already remotely performed this task for you. This is the case with all security patches and major software updates, meaning that you can rest easy knowing that your system is protected.  Call one of our friendly Technology Consultants today for additional information and a quote!

4 Easy Ways To Make Working Remotely Work For You

Telecommuting Worker with LaptopWorking remotely is made much easier thanks to today’s modern technology solutions. Many organizations have at least part of their workforce working remotely, but without the proper support, remote work wouldn’t be possible. With the latest technology and a couple of best practices, the remote worker can be just as productive, if not more so, than the in-house worker.

Here are four ways that you can maximize your productivity while working remotely.

Have a Dedicated Office
In the office, you might have your own cubicle or workspace. However, when you work remotely, the world is your office. As long as you have Wi-Fi, you could turn a restaurant booth into your desk, or a living room into a home office. Yet, this can often lead to counterproductive or distracting circumstances. Rather than let these distractions take over your workday, you should instead invest in a dedicated home office, where you have plenty of space and privacy. This is the place you want to go to if you need to get pressing work done. This also helps you avoid busy public places, like restaurants.

Set Specific Rules for Family and Visitors
Working remotely means that you’ll need a dedicated workspace, and as such, you should keep distractions out of it; this includes family or visitors, who may drop in unannounced. You should set clear boundaries to when they can (and can’t) drop by. Furthermore, you should keep your daily chores to a minimum while you’re working remotely. It might be tempting to do the dishes or clean up a bit so that you don’t have to do it later, but you’re working remotely to do your job, not clean.

Work Until the End of the Day
Sometimes you might get the impression that, since you’re working remotely, you could cut out early at the end of the day and nobody would notice. While you might be right, doing so could become a slippery slope that could affect your daily productivity. Before you know it, fifteen minutes could turn into a half-hour, then an hour, and so on. Be sure that you don’t abuse the privilege.

Implement the Right Technology Solutions
Since your remote workers aren’t in the office, they’ll need the proper technology to do their jobs as if they were in the office. This includes making your infrastructure as accessible as possible, but not without ensuring its security. A virtual private network and Voice over Internet Protocol can help your remote team stay connected to the office. If your business needs assistance making your infrastructure mobile-friendly, Excalibur Technology can help.

For more information about how to keep your remote workers productive, contact us at (877) NET – KING.

Client Feedback

Gold Star“We are a small business with a small budget. Excalibur came in and solved our hardware and software problems in one fell swoop! The tech was top-notch and fast – he didn’t need to keep calling the office for advice (really important when you are on an hourly rate…). The whole process was fairly easy and they delivered what they promised in one visit. My system is running faster than ever and we now have full sharing and backup capabilities. Don’t be afraid to call them if you are small – you will be very happy and so will your wallet.”

– Melinda H.
Largo, FL

Download The Wrong App And Have More Than Pokémon Fever Infect Your Device

Infected Cell PhoneThere’s a new augmented reality game on the market these days. Perhaps you’ve heard of it – a title called Pokemon Go, which lets you capture virtual monsters that “appear” on your smartphone’s camera. However, hackers have seized this opportunity to infect players’ mobile devices with a backdoor called DroidJack, which uses the mobile app’s immense popularity to its advantage.

As one of Nintendo’s most popular gaming franchises, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Pokemon Go has experienced such a warm reception amongst both new and old fans of the series. It’s ranked as the #1 most downloaded app on both the Apple Store and Google Play store, and was so wildly successful that Nintendo’s stock surged following its release. With over 75 million users worldwide, it has more users than some of the most popular smartphone apps, including Tinder, Twitter, and Google Maps.

Of course, hackers have to ruin the most popular of things, and they made an attempt to exploit this in the form of a malicious APK (Android application package). The game experienced a soft release, probably in order to ensure that the servers (which many Pokemon Go gamers suspect is simply a closet full of potato electrodes due to frequent crashes) could handle the traffic volume, which left many countries around the world without access to the game at first.

Thus, impatient fans made attempts to download the APK file and “side-load” it onto their devices – a major no-no for any security-minded mobile device user. Basically, you have to allow app installation from unknown sources, which is frowned upon due to some apps containing malware, or unnecessary permissions. Yet, those who wanted to play the game didn’t think for one second that what they were really downloading was a backdoor into their devices.

Due to the exclusivity of the application in the days before its release, many users outside of a select few countries chose to download the APK from an unknown source and just rolled with it. Today, the app is available in many countries, but a modified APK that was released online prior to the official release allowed remote access to the device, and can provide full control over the victim’s phone. In worst-case scenarios, this vulnerability extends to the rest of any network that the device is connected to. Security firm Proofpoint suggests that it’s entirely possible that, should infected devices connect to your network, networked resources can also be put at risk.

Take a look at the DroidJack-infected app’s permission request, and see for yourself just how strange they might look.

This is a valuable lesson to anyone who uses a smartphone: be careful of what apps you download, and ensure that you aren’t giving your apps too many permissions. There’s almost no reason that a game of any kind should be able to access your text messages, make phone calls, modify your contacts, record audio, or anything else of the sort. Exploitation of the APK hasn’t necessarily been observed in the wild, but a development such as this, where hackers use popular apps to spread their infections, sets a dangerous precedent that cannot be ignored.

You should never install apps from unknown sources in the first place, especially on company devices and smartphones. It’s especially important that you only download apps from reputable sources, like the Apple store and the Google Play store.

After all, “Gotta catch ‘em all,” shouldn’t refer to malware infections.

Why You Should Rethink Routinely Changing Your Password

Password SecurityOne of the main ways to keep an account’s credentials secure is by changing them consistently. However, we ran across an article recently that plays “devil’s advocate” on the password security issue, and they made some fair points about how changing passwords too frequently can lead to decreased security as a whole.

At first, this idea may not make a lot of sense. The reason that we change passwords so often is to prevent them from being used in attacks on sensitive accounts. If hackers steal passwords that don’t work, they can’t access the accounts. IT administrators often require user passwords to be changed on a regular basis, which may prompt users to choose passwords that are easy to remember or less complex than they should be.

In reality, there are several news outlets and security websites that suggest changing passwords regularly will lead to less-secure passwords as a whole. ZDNet, The Washington Post, and WIREDmagazine, all suggest that frequently changing passwords, despite its intended purpose, can lead to watered-down security. Consider this scenario: you’re using a password, but are suddenly forced to change it. Would you be more likely to create a whole new password, or use a slight variation of your current password?

The Washington Post writes, “forcing people to keep changing their passwords can result in workers coming up with, well, bad passwords.” This statement is backed by research from a study performed by Carnegie Mellon University, which found that those who feel that their organization’s password policy was annoying, created passwords that were 46 percent less secure. Additionally, users who need to update their passwords constantly often leave patterns that connect old passwords to new passwords, like replacing a letter with a number or special character.

ZDNet explains that changing passwords for the purpose of securing accounts in case of stolen credentials doesn’t make sense, simply because “stolen passwords are often exploited immediately.” The security website also cites that “regularly changed passwords are more likely to be written down (another vulnerability) or forgotten,” which only seems to add to the frustration of changing passwords on a regular basis.

The fact remains that passwords may not be the most reliable way of keeping accounts safe, but there are ways that you can make using passwords, and account security, easier to handle. One way is to use an enterprise-level password manager. You can store all of your organization’s credentials in one secure location, where they will be called from and propagate in the required fields when needed. This helps you utilize complex passwords without needing to remember all of them.

Another way that you can improve account security is through two-factor authentication. This adds a second layer of security to your accounts by requiring a secondary credential, which can be sent to a smartphone via SMS message, voicemail, an alternative email account, and more. There are also biometric or GPS-tracking two-factor authentication methods that are viable (and effective).

If you’re ready to improve your business’s security practices, reach out to Excalibur Technology at (877) NET – KING.

Warning: It’s Now A Crime To Share Your Netflix Password

Password Stuck to Back of PC“What’re you in for?” a prison inmate asks. “I shared my Netflix password with my sister,” you say. This conversation might be absurd, but according to a recent ruling in accordance with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it’s one that could actually happen. Now, sharing your Netflix password to let someone catch up on their favorite TV show can be considered a federal offense.

In a two-to-one ruling, three judges from the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals declared that password sharing is a federal crime. The case in question included a former employee of Korn Ferry, David Nosal, who was headhunting his former colleagues with the intention of obtaining valid user credentials to steal data from Korn Ferry.

As expected, this landed Nosal in court, and he was charged with hacking in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The CFAA has an extraordinarily wide reach, and allows the Justice Department to go after anyone who does something as meager as violating the Terms of Service agreement issued to the user of any end product (like, say, an online streaming service).

Though Nosal managed to get off the hook for his 2011 charges, he was convicted of his 2013 charges due to a ruling by a federal jury. His sentence was set for one year and one day, and earned him a felony. Yet, the one dissenting judge feels that this kind of sentence is harsh; Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who sees the larger implications of such a ruling:

“This case is about password sharing. People frequently share their passwords, notwithstanding the fact that websites and employers have policies prohibiting it. In my view, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals.”

What this precedent sets is that even “generally harmless conduct,” like sharing your passwords for subscription-based streaming services like Netflix or HBO Go, can be penalized under law. Netflix only allows its service to be used in one “household,” on six different devices, with streaming capabilities on two devices at a time. The new ruling gives Netflix a reason to crack down on those who are sharing passwords without first asking them for permission to do so.

This particular interpretation of the CFAA makes it more important than ever to keep your passwords safe and secure from anyone besides yourself. After all, the more people who have access to a password, the more likely it is that the password will fall into the hands of hackers. Therefore, you should practice proper password security and keep sensitive information away from everyone who has no business accessing it.

For more trending tech news, tips, and tricks, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

For This Ransomware, “Yes Or No” Really Means “Yes Or Yes”

Malware infected PCThe ransomware Petya (previously thought to have been eradicated) has unfortunately resurfaced, and it’s brought a friend to the party. Petya was delivered via an email containing an invitation to apply for a job, including the virus in an executable file that was disguised as a PDF job resume. When a helpless user clicked the file, Petya would get to work.

The original version of the ransomware operated by restricting access to the master boot record, allowing access only to a dark web payment portal that may (or may not) fix the problem. Since Petya required administrative privileges to do so, a savvy user could render it useless by denying them. Unfortunately, its developers have come up with an unpleasant way to work around this Achilles heel.

The malware now comes bundled together with a second ransomware program, a more traditionally operating one known as Mischa. Mischa blocks access to files until the user pays a ransom, providing the user with links to TOR payment sites and authentication codes to utilize there as well. The kicker is, Mischa also encrypts executable files, leaving the Windows folder and browser folders untouched. Once the computer has been sufficiently infected, Mischa leaves two files for the user with their payment instructions.

Just as when Petya was originally distributed, an email is delivered containing a file appearing to be a job application, which would ask to run an .exe file. Selecting “yes” will download Petya, and selecting “no” used to foil the attack. Not anymore – now selecting “no” will install Mischa.

The payment site for Mischa works in a very similar manner to Petya’s. After inputting the authentication code, the user is ordered to purchase enough Bitcoins to pay the ransom, currently set to the general equivalence of $875. The user is then provided with the Bitcoin address where they are to send the ransom.

Unlike Petya, there is no known way to recover files affected by Mischa without paying the Bitcoin ransom, but there are tools available online to remove the virus.

However, also to be found online are the rumblings of upcoming copycats of Petya and Mischa. posted a threat analysis of another dual-horned ransomware called Satana. Just like the Petya and Mischa bundle, Satana has the capability to lock the master boot record and the complete file record. The main difference is, while Petya and Mischa would only run one of the two malware options depending on the user’s actions, Satana goes right ahead and runs both, sequentially.

While Malwarebytes reports that Satana is currently flawed and appears to still be in the early stages of development, this news is still unsettling. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have no fighting chance after downloading a virus – and now consider that we could be approaching that point.

However, we will continue to monitor the situation and keep you in the loop with any updates that arise. Keep visiting the Excalibur Technology blog to check in for the latest news and security updates.

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