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Posted on: September 4, 2019 By: Lauren Epperly

Technology requirements of mid-market organizations (ranging from 1K to 5K users) are becoming increasingly complex. The potential of digital transformation to redefine business models and customer experiences is gaining the attention of smaller enterprises. More specifically, companies are looking to enhance collaboration among remote workers and dispersed teams, quickly add locations and users and streamline infrastructure.

UCaaS solutions that bundle basic collaboration with additional functionality such as perimeter security and the SD-WAN flexibility can help businesses address these challenges and boost competitive advantage. Historically, however, the needs of mid-sized businesses have been overlooked. Providers have focused instead on plug-and-play solutions for small businesses at the low end, and on resource-intensive sophisticated solutions for the high end. In the process, mid-sized companies have been limited to generic, cookie-cutter solutions.

A recent white paper by Frost & Sullivan concludes that this landscape is changing.

In response to market demand and increased competition, providers are bringing a wide range of robust solutions to market, giving mid-sized enterprises unprecedented options. According to the Frost & Sullivan report, emerging capabilities include:

  • Advanced collaboration functionality that includes multimedia conferencing, content sharing, instant messaging and presence and mobility
  • Integrated UCaaS and contact center as a service (CCaaS)
  • Greater service reliability and stronger SLAs
  • Improved security posture and compliance to regulatory requirements
  • Enhanced service provider implementation and support, specifically in the areas of assessment, professional and managed services
  • Flexible APIs and greater third-party software interoperability, enabling true customization and tighter multi-vendor integration
  • Broader selection of communications endpoints, including desktop and DECT phones, conferencing devices, headsets, PC and mobile soft clients

So the good news is that mid-market enterprises now have more choices than ever when it comes to UCaaS functionality. The challenge now, of course, becomes making the right choice.

One potential pitfall is to select an overly complex solution that requires extensive internal resources to manage. Focusing solely on price, meanwhile, can have the same result, since bare-bones functionality typically requires greater oversight. These poor choices, meanwhile, can result from a lack of understanding of available options, or of the potential of available functionality.

In other words, customers often don’t know what they don’t know about UCaaS

Mid-sized businesses that have tested the waters of UCaaS can be particularly susceptible to this trap. Buyers whose experience has been limited to sub-optimal technology are likely to have a low bar of expectations. If the tools work at a basic level, the thinking goes, that’s about all you can hope for. The idea that the tools might work much, much better doesn’t seem realistic.

In today’s environment of rapid technology innovation, that mindset can result in significant missed opportunities to leverage UCaaS to reduce costs, streamline operations and enhance collaboration across the enterprise. To avoid the trap, businesses exploring UCaaS options should take a rigorous due diligence approach with potential providers. Specifically, they should demand that technology partners invest the time and resources to assess and truly understand business issues and priorities.

Based on that understanding, providers can better explain – and customers can better understand – the art of the possible with today’s UCaaS solutions.

 

Posted on: By: Lauren Epperly

In this two-part blog, we will explore and define Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO). In part one, we will examine RTO (Recovery Time Objective).

What is RTO and RPO?

Recovery Time Objective and Recovery Point Objective may sound alike, but they are entirely different metrics in disaster recovery and business continuity management.

Calculating your RTO and RPO allows you to plan accordingly with the proper resources, before you need them. In this blog post, we will examine RTO and clear up any confusion.

RTO: Recovery Time Objective

RTO dictates how quickly your infrastructure needs to be back online after a disaster. Sometimes, we use RTO to define the maximum downtime a company can handle and maintain business continuity. This is often a target time set for services restoration after a disaster. For example, a Recovery Time Objective of two hours aims to have all servers with that RTO back up and running within two hours of service disruption notification.

In the case of a healthcare organization for example, they might ask themselves the following questions when determining RTO for their applications and data:

  • For hosted email servers: How long can we go without accessing our email without impacting the business?
  • For patient record storage: How quickly do we need to provide access to patient records to maintain compliance?
  • Operational applications: Which servers are critical to business operation? How quickly do we need each restored before serious impact to the business?

Depending on your business requirements, you may need better RTO for certain data and applications. With lowered RTO comes an increase in cost, though. Companies must balance downtime with business impact to ensure the RTO is appropriate. Whatever RTO you choose, it should be cost-effective for your organization.

Whether you need geographic redundancy, virtual backups, or a combination of the two, Data Canopy can help you develop the plan that keeps your business running when disaster strikes.

Ensure mission critical data is secure and available in the event of an emergency with a disaster recovery plan and solution designed for your business. Data Canopy offers geographical redundancy from data centers nationwide, full encryption and corruption detection capabilities, and virtual server backups for seamless fail-over in the event of an outage.

Posted on: August 23, 2019 By: Lauren Epperly

Everybody wants a secure mobility strategy, but what is anyone doing to make it happen? They don’t just spring into being, pulled whole and breathing out of the box you bought your mobile devices in. They’re the result of a lot of effort, planning, and resources that make a powerful strategy come together and protect our devices and the information contained therein. So how do you go from no strategy at all to the kind of strategy that stops hackers and other bad actors in their collective tracks? A few common elements will get you a long way down that road.

What Needs to Be Part of a Secure Mobility Strategy

Establishing a secure mobile strategy requires different things of every company, but there are some key elements that approach universality — with a few adaptations.

Start with the User. Many potential security failings start at the user level. The user is the one who installs apps and software without it being vetted because the user finds that software necessary to get a job done. The user doesn’t care about your secure mobility strategy; that’s not what keeps the user employed. If your secure mobility strategy gets in the way, you can imagine what the priority for the user will be. Prepare for this by including elements such as self-service provisioning and automated controls on data sharing. The more you can do to get the user on board, the less of a threat the user will pose to your strategy.

Block Off the End Runs. As much as you can do to augment the user experience, there are some things that just need to be prevented. One such event is known as the “quadruple bypass,” a complex and downright terrifying notion for any secure mobility strategy. This is described as a user taking a consumer-grade device, accessing corporate data, and sending that data directly to a cloud source. This leaves in-house IT utterly out of the loop, and it represents a loss of data that’s untracked, unwatched, and unaddressed. Again, the more you can do to prevent users from going off the page the better, but some points simply need to be shut down outright.

Don’t Forget the Training. While you want to do as much as you can for your end user to prevent them from going off the rails, and you want to outright forbid some things that are necessary to forbid, there’s a big middle ground that likewise needs to be addressed. As noted previously, end users represent some of the biggest threats around. Much of this is due to issues they’re not fully aware of, so making training a part of your secure mobility strategy will help address this immediately. It will not only help address these issues but, done properly, it will help encourage employees to stick to the plan as opposed to viewing it as a big hurdle to get around to get their jobs done. Better yet, it can also provide insight into what you can do to improve employee access and not get in the way.

Bring in Automation. Imagine a world where a lost or stolen device isn’t a calamity, but rather an annoyance so minor it’s fixed with a click. That’s potentially available today. With the right services, a user’s business apps and information can be transferred to the new device, and the old one can be locked and remotely wiped to the point of uselessness. This also makes it supremely easy to get new users on board. One click can load a device with all the necessary apps, tools, and information to get the user started quickly.

Protect the Important Stuff. Many companies here use a simple, three-step solution, sorting all data into categories of public, confidential, and restricted. Putting the strongest protection around restricted data and working downward from there — it’s also a good idea to make as little data “restricted” as possible — helps ensure that people have what they need. This is a better alternative than either leaving all data on the equivalent of the front lawn or locking up everything to the point where your network is a room with no doors.

Make Compliance Part of the Framework. While businesses will be impacted by compliance to different levels — some much more so than others — for those that must face regulatory ire, the best thing to do is to build compliance directly into the system. With hundreds of regulations around security and privacy potentially in play, and thousands of specific controls, systems not only have to be ready to meet these, but they must also be ready to demonstrate how these are met to the point of being ready for audit at any time. Thus, building these points into systems right from the start to the point they’re applicable is a vital part of any reasonably secure mobility strategy.

Start Future-proofing Immediately. There’s one major development out there that, over the course of the next several years, will fundamentally change the way you do business and will impact your network in a host of ways. That’s called the Internet of Things (IoT), and if you’re not preparing for it now, you’ll likely run afoul of it later. It’s the last word in mobility; it requires the use of remote sensors and similar tools in a range of ways, and all of these are poised to connect to your network. They do so for the best of reasons — to supply data generated remotely for use in analytics and other functions — but their simplicity and remote location makes them easy to hack. A secure mobility strategy must embrace the IoT, but that’s not where it stops. There are developments like these in the making right now, and building your secure mobility strategy so that it can effectively address future developments is crucial to getting the most out of these.

How to Get Help Establishing a Secure Mobility Strategy

Taking these elements together will go a long way toward producing a secure mobility strategy. But what do you do when you know what needs to be done but not how to carry it out? Drive your secure mobility strategy past the finish line by getting in touch with us at Acuity. Our line of mobility managed services will contribute to a secure mobility strategy by taking some of the heavy lifting off your shoulders and putting it squarely onto ours. Our dedicated approach to mobility services helps to ensure our focus on protecting these systems as they deserve. So just reach out to us for a fresh set of eyes to work on managing your secure mobility strategy.

Posted on: August 21, 2019 By: Lauren Epperly

 

In a market where SOC-as-a-Service can be purchased at “significant cost savings,” and where a la carte SOC services allow customers to order their security solutions piecemeal, one must wonder what is most important: the effectiveness of a SOC in protecting a company’s data and assets, or whatever cost savings and convenience it might offer? SOC services that cater to providing the latter do so at their clients’ peril, pretending that a two thousand-dollar SOC can somehow provide relevant detection and response capabilities to protect millions of dollars in data assets.

 

Unfortunately, the real cost of inadequate cyber security is not often realized until disaster strikes.

 

Truth or consequences

Learning the truth before a breach occurs will prevent the unpleasant consequences that will surely follow. Although a very low price is the first indication that a SOC doesn’t take security seriously, it is not the only one, finding a SOC that can deliver on its promises requires some insight into their operation.

A fair list of questions one should ask about their current, or prospective, SOC includes the following: Does my SOC provider have experienced analysts, who understand the data they’re looking at and turn it into actionable tasks? Are they tiered to escalate threats as needed (tier 1 – 4), or does one group do it all? Does anyone in the SOC have offensive experience?

Does my SOC provider optimize my monitoring or just does what I tell him? Is my SOC provider bringing in value or just an outsourced staff augmentation?

How many alerts did I receive from my SOC vendor in the past month? How many real cyber incidents has my SOC vendor taken part in for other clients? What were the outcomes? Does my SOC have true incident response capabilities (real experienced IR personnel with actual hacking background) or do they wait till damage is done before acting?

The biggest question – is my SOC provider giving me a fancy Help desk or a professional Security operations center??

These questions represent the bare minimum a SOC must do, if they are going to safeguard their clients’ data, networks, and reputation. You’re guaranteed that any service provider who balks at any of these questions will be paralyzed in the face of even a minor incident, not to mention a serious attack.

 

Inadequate protection worse than none at all

Every SOC claims they can protect their clients from cyber threats. Some can, but most can’t, and the cost of those broken promises can be truly devastating. The damage of having a false sense of security should not be underestimated, nothing is more devastating and frustrating to a company than learning that the measures they took for security have turned out to be empty of content and redundant when push came to shove.

It’s a frustrating challenge, understanding who’s selling you buzz words and who actually has capabilities, but it is a challenge companies and management must take upon themselves as those responsible at the end of the day.

The regulators and legislators are 40 thousand feet up high, talking about general problems and generic solutions that in most cases don’t really guide companies as much as they force them to take misguided actions in IT and Cyber security.

It is up to organizations, large and small, to ask their vendors the hard questions, demand experienced services and field proven solutions, to no longer except buzz words and fancy terms for a commodity price and paint over the Cyber risks.

If someone were to offer you full health insurance for the entire family for 5$ a month, you wouldn’t consider it, knowing that there has to be a catch, understanding that there is no possible way you’re getting any value for that 5$. You would ask to see what is covered? who is liable? who is behind the company and so on….

So why is it when someone offers you an expert team of cyber analysts to work 24/7/365 including Incident response teams and various expert services, all for a few hundred dollars a month – that makes sense? Ask the same questions you would any other vendor who is offering an unrealistic proposition, see how the answers blow you away.

The best security advice? You don’t have to decide to have visibility and response capabilities, but if you do, make sure you buy capabilities and not buzz words.

At some point in time, you’re going to need that service you’ve been paying for, don’t wait for that day to find out what it really is you’ve bought.

 

 

Real defense requires an understanding of offense

With cyber criminals gaining access to over 200,000 confidential records per hour, only SOCs that are geared up for real life incidents can overcome the cyber challenges of today. Defending clients’ valuable resources against the technologically advanced hackers of today, demands that a SOC maintains an offensive posture on all fronts, strategically seeking out both vulnerabilities and exploits.

But at the very least it requires that those designing, operating and responding in the SOC, either have offensive experience or are being guided by those who do.

 

Tools of the trade

The majority of SOC providers offer little more than a patchwork of security products, accompanied by consumer-grade customer support (a low-level Help desk). Moreover, most have never met a seen a real hack, let alone participated in a real one (defensive or offensive). By contrast, a world-class SOC combines the following tools into a comprehensive security solution that becomes a core component in the client’s organization.

  • Multi-layer Monitoring: Monitoring means more than relaying alerts to the client. It involves a comprehensive, multi-layered monitoring center, with Tier 1 – Tier 4 alerts prioritization. It’s about knowing what to monitor (where to look) and what not to! Understanding how to separate the relevant from the noise is a challenge that requires experience and it is key to having an efficient monitoring center.
  • Proactive Services: From basic hunting actions in the network to simply being updated on IOCs and taking day to day actions as required in a live and active SOC. Constantly questioning and investigating the traffic is the only possible way to stay in the game.
  • Expert Response Team: A diverse team of highly-trained cyber-security professionals tap decades of combined experience to keep clients protected, around the clock, from threats internal and external to the organization.
  • Advanced Forensics: The SOC team brings cutting-edge forensics capabilities and technologies to bear against every threat, to include high-level digital forensics, server and network forensics, and the latest investigative tools.
  • Cyber Intelligence: To beat a hacker, you have to think like one. Effective protection of high-value client assets requires monitoring of Dark Web platforms to identify emerging threats that may involve the client – right down to cyber threats that may target a high-profile official.
  • Secure Remote Connection: Secure remote interfacing with the client’s existing system reduces impact on their operations, and ensures that all gateways, networks, servers, and data stores are constantly monitored by trained security experts.

 

The price of protection

In today’s ever-evolving world of cybercrime, threats come in a variety of guises. From threats as subtle as phishing emails and Trojan viruses, to full-frontal infiltration and service denial attacks, many companies are just one click away from disaster. Whether the motive for an attack is ideological, for personal profit, or for revenge, the outcome is the same – loss of data, loss of capital, and possibly loss of the company’s position in the market.

Companies hiding behind the “we are not a real target – who would want to attack us” simply do not understand the way the attackers work. Over 90% of attacks are absolutely random, the attackers attack vulnerabilities, weaknesses in technology or processes, not caring at all who or what the organization behind it really is or does.

More often than not, they have no idea who it is they are attacking. They don’t see the company behind the platform until they have already engaged in the attack. You may think you are not a target but unfortunately – attackers do not share your opinion.

The question isn’t whether or not a company will become the target of an attack – because sooner or later, they will. No, the question that should be on every CIO and CEO’s mind is whether they want to pay the price for a setting up a professional Managed SOC that can secure their digital assets, or do they want to pay the absolutely ludicrous price that comes with a data breach.

Posted on: August 15, 2019 By: Lauren Epperly

If you boiled down the concept of digital transformation to a single word, it would be “application.” The goals of digital business include adding functionality, improving operational efficiencies and enhancing the customer experience. To meet any of these goals, you have to add or enhance existing applications.

Applications provide the interface between customers and businesses. If they perform poorly, issue error messages or force users to wait too long for services, they create a negative impression of the company. Therefore, digital strategies should set application performance and usability as a priority. For that to happen, you must deal with these common roadblocks:

  • Aging, inflexible legacy infrastructure
  • Complex IT architecture
  • Data and application security

Failure to address these roadblocks results in underperforming, unsafe environments that frustrate users and complicate the life of administrators.

Aging, Inflexible Infrastructure

As organizations add more applications to automate processes and enhance usability, data traffic increases substantially. Some originates within the network while a lot more flows in from a growing number of devices – smartphones, tablets, social media applications and in some cases purpose-built industrial devices.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G will create even more data through sensors and trackers deployed in a variety of settings, from smart buildings to smart cities to vast, distributed industrial environments where equipment and people are monitored around the clock.

Legacy networks cannot handle the added demands of digital strategies, creating a serious obstacle. Companies need intelligent, adaptive networks to transport data between billions of devices, edge sites, data centers and cloud environments worldwide. Otherwise, they cannot accommodate traffic fluctuations or an unexpectedly large boost in demand.

In recent years, companies have experienced downtime as a result of the “Reddit hug of death,” a phenomenon that floods a website with so much traffic that it crashes. Here’s what happens: A company or product gets highlighted on Reddit, bringing attention to it. Reddit users then flock to the company’s website, overwhelming it with traffic beyond capacity, effectively shutting down online business. What starts out as a positive quickly turns into a negative for the company. Similarly, multiple theater websites’ order systems went down after the tickets for Avengers: Endgame went on sale.

These incidents are avoidable with an adaptive infrastructure that dials up resources when needed. As such, a business experiencing the “Reddit hug” or a similar phenomenon doesn’t get hobbled by its own success. Adaptive networks provide the flexibility, control and automation to provide the necessary availability and responsiveness to scaling needs. In the digital economy, organizations simply cannot afford downtime, especially in verticals such as finance, retail, healthcare and communications, which rely heavily on the network.

Complex IT Architecture

Another roadblock businesses face on the path to digital business is complexity. Largely driven by cost, companies are making important decisions about which applications move to which clouds. Certain applications run better – and are more affordable – in one cloud than another.

This explains why enterprises on average use five clouds, according to RightScale’s 2018 State of the Cloud Report. Cloud adoption among enterprises has risen to 96%, and 81% have a multi-cloud strategy, the report says.

Multi-cloud environments, mixing public and private clouds, can create challenges such as figuring out which application to run in which cloud based on data-transfer needs, security and other factors. Think of an application that handles medical records. Because of the sensitivity of the data, all information has to be archived and transmitted in compliance with privacy regulations. If housed in a cloud environment, this data should be in a private cloud with the proper security controls in place. If the data has to travel between multiple locations, you want dedicated, private connections that keep it out of the public internet, where the chance of security is higher.

Beside the complexity of managing multiple clouds, businesses increasingly operate in a continuous integration, continuous delivery mode as new features are constantly added to applications. At the same time, new architectures are being introduced to support emerging technologies and operating systems are being updated all the time.

All of these factors ensure environments are dynamic, not static, which adds management complexity. So while the flexibility and scalability of multi-cloud environments are welcome attributes, organizations need well-defined strategies and capable tools to secure and manage their environments in a simplified way.

Data And Application Security

Another obstacle to digital strategies is the need to secure more endpoints and applications. Securing the perimeter is no longer enough because mobility and IoT are making the network ubiquitous. Virtualized network security services and load balancing are replacing perimeter-based security.

In the near future, autonomous cars will generate several terabytes of data each day while smart cities are collecting data from digital street signs and traffic lights to communicate with vehicles and a control center. Securing all this data as it travels back and forth isn’t easy but it must be done. Here, too, the answer is in the network you choose. Networks must have built-in security to securely recognize and prioritize application data.

Since you can’t put a firewall on every smartphone and source of data, the data must be secured as it travels on the network, with monitoring and analytics that constantly improves through the use of machine learning.

For instance, an intelligent network can identify a command and control (C2) center that is communicating with compromised machines around the world. If the C2 center isn’t a recognizable data center, it is possibly operating a botnet getting ready for a distributed denial of service (DDoS) or other type of cyber attack. The network can detect and block the C2 servers to stop such attacks earlier and faster than a perimeter-based approach.

Removing Obstacles

Removing the obstacles to digital strategies isn’t impossible but requires a lot of planning and proper execution. Businesses should look for experienced partners that deliver a secure, flexible network as well as consulting services and expertise to draw up and achieve their digital goals. With these elements in place, organizations can better position themselves to run the applications that open the path to a successful digital future.

Looking to take the next steps in your digital business journey? See how CenturyLink can help your company innovate faster.

Learn More

Posted on: July 29, 2019 By: Carolyn Kuczynski

By ERIK NORDQUIST 

Small and medium business (SMB) retailers are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks because their in-house expertise and monetary resources for cybersecurity are typically modest. In fact, according to the 2018 Security Scorecard Retail Cybersecurity Report, small retailers are more likely to be the subject of cyberattacks, accounting for 43 percent of all attacks last year in the retail space.

In addition to looking at managed security services  as a cost-effective way to implement protections and mitigate cyberattacks, SMB retailers can shore up their security profile by addressing these six issues.

1. Don’t Focus Exclusively on Compliance.

Many SMB retailers orient their security strategies around maintaining compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for handling credit and debit card transactions; it’s mandated by law, and non-compliance carries steep penalties. However, focusing only on PCI DSS compliance often means neglecting other areas where threat actors are operating: for instance, retrieving tempting morsels of personally identifiable information (PII) from cloud storage. Make sure that any security approach takes into account the protection of all of your data, not your customers’ card information.

2. Don’t Rely on Legacy Tools.

Many existing systems and tools can’t keep up with new cybersecurity demands. As companies continue to move their applications, data, and workloads to the cloud, embrace mobility and SaaS apps, and implement IoT, the network is no longer restricted to a physical footprint. And because cyberattacks evolve so quickly, security policies and tools that were put into place even 18 months ago may be outdated. Make sure to do an audit of your existing security tools; ensure they address your entire footprint, even the parts that are off-site, and update them often.

3. Take Preventative Action.

Most cybercrime is financially motivated, with groups of hackers looking to knock over a store (digitally speaking) very quickly, grabbing lucrative information that they can sell or use for phishing attacks, and moving on. The adversaries’ business model is one built on volume. They can’t afford to spend a lot of time or effort penetrating a business, so low-hanging fruit is often the target. Instead of waiting for inevitable attacks and only focusing on remediation plans, SMB retailers should take action to stay out of the “easy pickings” category by making sure that internet-facing servers are properly protected, changing default passwords, patching all software as new versions come out, training employees on how to recognize phishing emails, and so on.

To the latter point, it should be noted that the Security Scorecard report found that 62 percent of attacks on retail SMBs arose out of phishing and social engineering.

4. Keep Up with New Threats.

Cyber criminals are always crafting new malware and stealth tactics with the goal of remaining undetected; it’s a space that never stands still. For the retail sector, new types of point-of-sale malware and ransomware variants are always cropping up. Take for instance the card-skimming crime conglomerate known as Magecart. The group generally installs a skimmer code on vulnerable e-commerce pages to scoop up payment-card data, but in March, they started injecting malicious code into third-party Java libraries used by e-commerce websites to serve advertisements. Make sure you know what’s going on out there so your security strategies can evolve accordingly.

5. Avoid Supply-Chain Woes.

Even if your own infrastructure is locked down, up-to-date, and actively assessed, many SMB retailers fail to protect their business-to-business (B2B) vendor connections. These can be significant weak links if suppliers have direct network interfaces with the retail infrastructure or are exposed to sensitive customer data. Make sure to do your due diligence around the security of your supplier connections.

6. Don’t Spend Too Little.

Organizations only dedicate an average of about 5 percent of their overall IT budgets to security and risk management, according to a recent Gartner report. That’s a woefully small amount given the damage that can come from a successful cyberattack. According to IBM’s 13th annual “Cost of a Data Breach” study conducted by Ponemon Institute, the global average cost of a data breach was up 6.4 percent in 2018, reaching $3.86 million per incident. The average cost for each lost or stolen record containing sensitive and confidential information also increased by 4.8 percent to $148. These costs add up quickly, and could be enough to send many SMB retailers into bankruptcy.

Cyber criminals will continue to target retailers as long as their efforts remain successful. Given retailers’ ongoing adoption of new technology and ways of working, it’s likely that the cyber criminals will find holes in the armor that they can use to continue to compromise businesses that don’t prioritize cyber defense.

This is particularly challenging for SMB retailers, because maintaining a strong IT security posture requires skills and resources that often strain their budget. Hiring a cost-effective managed services provider like TPx could be the remedy.

Visit tpx.com or call your TPx representative today to find out how TPx can help you stay up-to-date and prepared for the latest threats, without breaking the bank.

 

Posted on: By: Carolyn Kuczynski

Every day, your employees log onto your network to accomplish their jobs.

To know whether your network performs at a level that helps them innovate and grow your business—rather than impede employees’ progress—ask these four questions and consider these recommendations to improve efficiency.

Building a better business network

1. What is the size of your IT staff? Is it a small team or is IT non-existent?

Many businesses today rely on lean IT teams to manage their business networks. Others are forced to manage without an IT team, instead relying on employees without IT expertise to be “jacks of all trades,” or to depend on the services of IT vendors and consultants.

Facing a range of day-to-day user, hardware, software, and support issues, small IT teams often lack the time to keep up with long-term IT planning. They are too busy supporting the operational needs of the business.

Outsourcing day-to-day network management to a service provider that offers scale, expertise, infrastructure and dedicated customer service ensures that the expertise and assistance your business needs is always at hand. You gain 24/7 access to network management experts while freeing up your internal IT budget and staff to help your company grow.

2. Is your business network reliable enough to serve both employees and clients?

Inadequate bandwidth, high latency, downtime, and overloaded networks can frustrate both employees and clients. Without a reliable, fast network, employees can’t get their jobs done. Without reliable, fast access to your website, applications or digital platforms, clients could abandon your business for the competition—and may never return. Partnering with an experienced network services provider will offer your business:

• A secure and high-performing Internet connection backed by 24/7 monitoring and management to help ensure your staff remains productive and your customers have easy access to your digital properties.

• A reliable wide-area network (WAN) to connect all company locations across a single network.

• A scalable solution that enables you to rapidly add bandwidth to support your company needs.

3. Is your business network adequately protected against security threats?

Beyond time and money, data breaches, viruses, and denial-of-service attacks shake client confidence and hurt the reputation of your business. Even fortune 500 companies with large IT staffs have not been immune to security breaches.

Outsourcing end-to-end network security services to an experienced provider takes security headaches out of your hands. For example, a managed unified threat management solution is an attractive option that can integrate a range of security capabilities, including an advanced firewall, antivirus/antispam tools, and other vulnerability management capabilities.

4. Are network maintenance issues forcing your IT staff to be reactive rather than proactive?

If your IT staff spends the majority of its time dealing with day-to-day operations and maintenance, it has little time left to focus on the kind of long-term network planning that drives innovation and competitive differentiation.

By offloading day-to-day network duties to an experienced provider of managed network services, you’re able to free up your in-house IT staff to work on more strategic initiatives. In return, you can also leverage the scale, expertise, infrastructure, and 24/7 monitoring and customer service support systems that a managed services provider offers.

Creating a business network to support innovation

By asking these four crucial questions before implementing a business network and by taking advantage of the expertise of an experienced provider of managed network services has to offer, your business can enjoy many benefits. To learn more, read this Q&A with FRONTEO COO David Wilner and CMO David Ahrens, discussing how their network boosts business performance.

Posted on: July 24, 2019 By: Carolyn Kuczynski

Today’s customers are eager for solutions. Business-owning customers want to spend their time running their business and not on solving complicated IT problems; they WANT to pay you to make IT easier.

That all sounds great, but again — how do you secure those clients?

Iteration. MCSPs must constantly communicate with their clients in a more personal way. Dashboards, reports, email blasts, automated tickets, and generic vCIO content is great. However, it is not enough to create a tailored solution with the complexity required at this point. Clients need a plan; they need to be able to absorb this massive transition slowly. You must create a progressive technology plan that takes them from where they are to where they need to be, leading to higher acceptance and better retention.

Start with your knowledge of their business. If you don’t have this knowledge, get it. Based on their vertical, their maturity and their concerns, start with what matters most. Compliance? Data Security? DR? Mobility? Scalability? Pick something to be the hub of your plan; something that justifies all the change and the necessary action for the client, or also justifies the early steps that don’t seem like they are immediately solving a problem. It won’t be the same for all clients. It needs to manage their concerns and reduce anxiety around the coming changes. In other words: solve a problem. Give them a plan that makes their business more efficient, not just cloudification. Once you have this, communicate, communicate, communicate — not just QBRs or automated communications. Sell the plan, get their buy-in and share what’s next and why it’s important. Remind them why this is happening every step of the way.

The critical steps will be the following, regardless of your justification:

Identity management. You are going to be distributing their services to the best place for the job, but this can’t add 20 different logins to their daily life. As you roll out the rest of the plan, start with single sign-on and access control from the beginning. As a bonus, select a provider that adds SaaS utilization management so that you can be efficient with the clients’ spend on SaaS — Okta and MetaSaaS, for instance.

Accelerate. Implement SD-WAN for reliable and responsive connectivity to the cloud – VMware’s Velocloud for instance. This will reduce the time that you spend managing the network connections that are critical to the solution, and it will keep the experience solid as they rely more heavily on the cloud via their WAN.

Secure. Secure the solution with a managed NGFW and SOC solution. Protect the endpoints — don’t just trust a firewall, no matter how next-generation it may be. Belts and suspenders. You want to start out secure, not by bolting it on after a breach or compromise. This is the first step that will feel like they are making progress. If this isn’t done right early, it will lead to similar failures as discussed above with the WAN. Cloud is inherently secure to end-users. You don’t want to misstep and have them question the solution mid-way.

SaaS offload. Find the needs best served by SaaS. No need to migrate a legacy app that is in need of a refresh and unable to realize the promise of the cloud due to its shortcomings from age. Don’t force it. Ask yourself, “Does the SaaS alternative really solve their problem?”

Migrate. Migrate their legacy apps to IaaS. Migrate their desktops to DaaS or a workspace solution. You won’t be able to replace everything with SaaS. It’s not the best solution for every workload and forcing it will just decrease the clients’ efficiency and happiness with the solution. DaaS and IaaS will give their legacy applications the SaaS-like feel of mobility and accessibility. One more note: Don’t force DaaS until everything else is in order. It’s another place you can undo a lot of trust if the predecessor tasks are not solid and complete.

Protect. Don’t forget a DR and backup strategy. That’s another place that clients think is magic in the cloud. Backup SaaS data, replicate IaaS data to multiple regions. Have a DR strategy for remote working. Don’t undersell the value of having a DR plan for not only major natural disasters but things like holidays, inclement weather, moving offices or growing quickly.

Measure and improve. The cloud offers an endless stream of information about your clients’ workloads. Use this technology to continually improve through discussions of changes to their business, growth of resources continued migrations to SaaS, auditing, etc.

Above are some tools to help with the planning of such a strategy and communicating the value. It’s time to evolve. It’s time to change the game again. You will differentiate yourself and secure long-term clients.

Posted on: July 10, 2019 By: Carolyn Kuczynski

In a market where SOC-as-a-Service can be purchased at “significant cost savings,” and where a la carte SOC services allow customers to order their security solutions piecemeal, one must wonder what is most important: the effectiveness of a SOC in protecting a company’s data and assets, or whatever cost savings and convenience it might offer? SOC services that cater to providing the latter do so at their clients’ peril, pretending that a two thousand-dollar SOC can somehow provide relevant detection and response capabilities to protect millions of dollars in data assets.

Unfortunately, the real cost of inadequate cybersecurity is not often realized until disaster strikes.

Truth or consequences

Learning the truth before a breach occurs will prevent the unpleasant consequences that will surely follow. Although a very low price is the first indication that a SOC doesn’t take security seriously, it is not the only one, finding a SOC that can deliver on its promises requires some insight into their operation.

A fair list of questions one should ask about their current, or prospective, SOC includes the following: Does my SOC provider have experienced analysts, who understand the data they’re looking at and turn it into actionable tasks? Are they tiered to escalate threats as needed (tier 1 – 4), or does one group do it all? Does anyone in the SOC have offensive experience?

Does my SOC provider optimize my monitoring or just does what I tell him? Is my SOC provider bringing in value or just an outsourced staff augmentation?

How many alerts did I receive from my SOC vendor in the past month? How many real cyber incidents has my SOC vendor taken part in for other clients? What were the outcomes? Does my SOC have true incident response capabilities (real experienced IR personnel with actual hacking background) or do they wait till damage is done before acting?

The biggest question – is my SOC provider giving me a fancy Help desk or a professional Security operations center??

These questions represent the bare minimum a SOC must do if they are going to safeguard their clients’ data, networks, and reputation. You’re guaranteed that any service provider who balks at any of these questions will be paralyzed in the face of even a minor incident, not to mention a serious attack.

Inadequate protection worse than none at all

Every SOC claims they can protect their clients from cyber threats. Some can, but most can’t, and the cost of those broken promises can be truly devastating. The damage of having a false sense of security should not be underestimated, nothing is more devastating and frustrating to a company than learning that the measures they took for security have turned out to be empty of content and redundant when push came to shove.

It’s a frustrating challenge, understanding who’s selling you buzz words and who actually has capabilities, but it is a challenge companies and management must take upon themselves as those responsible at the end of the day.

The regulators and legislators are 40 thousand feet up high, talking about general problems and generic solutions that in most cases don’t really guide companies as much as they force them to take misguided actions in IT and Cybersecurity.

It is up to organizations, large and small, to ask their vendors the hard questions, demand experienced services and field proven solutions, to no longer accept buzz words and fancy terms for a commodity price and paint over the Cyber risks.

If someone were to offer you full health insurance for the entire family for $5 a month, you wouldn’t consider it, knowing that there has to be a catch, understanding that there is no possible way you’re getting any value for that $5. You would ask to see what is covered? who is liable? who is behind the company and so on…

So why is it when someone offers you an expert team of cyber analysts to work 24/7/365 including Incident response teams and various expert services, all for a few hundred dollars a month – that makes sense? Ask the same questions you would any other vendor who is offering an unrealistic proposition, see how the answers blow you away.

The best security advice? You don’t have to decide to have visibility and response capabilities, but if you do, make sure you buy capabilities and not buzz words.

At some point in time, you’re going to need that service you’ve been paying for, don’t wait for that day to find out what it really is you’ve bought.

Real defense requires an understanding of offense

With cybercriminals gaining access to over 200,000 confidential records per hour, only SOCs that are geared up for real-life incidents can overcome the cyber challenges of today. Defending clients’ valuable resources against the technologically advanced hackers of today, demands that a SOC maintains an offensive posture on all fronts, strategically seeking out both vulnerabilities and exploits.

But at the very least it requires that those designing, operating and responding in the SOC, either have offensive experience or are being guided by those who do.

Tools of the trade

The majority of SOC providers offer little more than a patchwork of security products, accompanied by consumer-grade customer support (a low-level Help desk). Moreover, most have never seen a real hack, let alone participated in a real one (defensive or offensive). By contrast, a world-class SOC combines the following tools into a comprehensive security solution that becomes a core component in the client’s organization.

Multilayer Monitoring: Monitoring means more than relaying alerts to the client. It involves a comprehensive, multi-layered monitoring center, with Tier 1 – Tier 4 alerts prioritization. It’s about knowing what to monitor (where to look) and what not to! Understanding how to separate the relevant from the noise is a challenge that requires experience and it is key to having an efficient monitoring center.

Proactive Services: From basic hunting actions in the network to simply being updated on IOCs and taking day-to-day actions as required in a live and active SOC. Constantly questioning and investigating the traffic is the only possible way to stay in the game

Expert Response Team: A diverse team of highly-trained cybersecurity professionals, tap decades of combined experience to keep clients protected, around the clock, from threats internal and external to the organization.

Advanced Forensics: The SOC team brings cutting-edge forensics capabilities and technologies to bear against every threat, to include high-level digital forensics, server, and network forensics, and the latest investigative tools.

Cyber Intelligence: To beat a hacker, you have to think like one. Effective protection of high-value client assets requires monitoring of Dark Web platforms to identify emerging threats that may involve the client – right down to cyber threats that may target a high-profile official.

Secure Remote Connection: Secure remote interfacing with the client’s existing system reduces the impact on their operations, and ensures that all gateways, networks, servers, and data stores are constantly monitored by trained security experts.

The price of protection

In today’s ever-evolving world of cybercrime, threats come in a variety of guises. From threats as subtle as phishing emails and Trojan viruses to full-frontal infiltration and service denial attacks, many companies are just one click away from disaster. Whether the motive for an attack is ideological, for personal profit, or for revenge, the outcome is the same – loss of data, loss of capital, and possibly loss of the company’s position in the market.

Companies hiding behind the “we are not a real target – who would want to attack us” simply do not understand the way the attackers work. Over 90% of attacks are absolutely random, the attackers attack vulnerabilities, weaknesses in technology or processes, not caring at all who or what the organization behind it really is or does.

More often than not, they have no idea who it is they are attacking. They don’t see the company behind the platform until they have already engaged in the attack. You may think you are not a target but unfortunately – attackers do not share your opinion.

The question isn’t whether or not a company will become the target of an attack – because sooner or later, they will. No, the question that should be on every CIO and CEO’s mind is whether they want to pay the price for a setting up a professional SOC that can secure their digital assets, or do they want to pay the absolutely ludicrous price that comes with a data breach.

Posted on: June 19, 2019 By: Carolyn Kuczynski

Whether you work in a multi-hospital healthcare system or a private dentist’s office, protecting personal health information (PHI) is essential. HIPAA’s rules and requirements are clear — no matter what, PHI must be kept completely confidential.

This has become increasingly important as more and more health care providers (or “covered entities,” in HIPAA language) use the cloud to store data and run software. Among other things, this means the vendors who provide those services must be certified HIPAA-compliant.

What does that mean for a cloud service provider? Or for a vendor offering business VoIP services? What if the data is encrypted so that cloud providers? Do they still need to be certified HIPAA-compliant? What is their responsibility when security breaches occur, or during natural disasters? What happens to the data when a healthcare provider terminates the vendor relationship?

Is your head spinning yet? Obviously, using a third-party to handle sensitive patient data requires a lot of careful thought.

HIPAA: The Basics

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires healthcare providers and their vendors to establish three types of controls when handling PHI (or “ePHI” for electronic patient data): administrative, physical and technical. Policies and procedures are examples of administrative controls. Protecting hardware is a physical control. Implementing data encryption is an administrative control.

Covered entities need technical vendors that offer multi-layer security frameworks with physical and technical safeguards enforced by stringent administrative policies. They should be certified HIPAA-compliant and offer a Business Associate Agreement (BAA). Thus, as a best practice, it’s a good idea to work with vendors who offer HIPAA-compliant solutions like MiCloud Connect, built on Google Cloud.

Business Associates

In fact, the law is quite clear when it comes to the responsibility of third-party vendors like cloud providers providing technical services to healthcare providers. The Guidance on HIPAA & Cloud Computing published on HHS.gov explains the obligations of Business Associates [italics ours]:

“When a covered entity engages the services of a CSP [cloud service provider] to create, receive, maintain, or transmit ePHI (such as to process and/or store ePHI), on its behalf, the CSP is a business associate under HIPAA. Further, when a business associate subcontracts with a CSP to create, receive, maintain, or transmit ePHI on its behalf, the CSP subcontractor itself is a business associate.

“As a result, the covered entity (or business associate) and the CSP must enter into a HIPAA-compliant business associate agreement (BAA), and the CSP is…directly liable for compliance with the applicable requirements of the HIPAA Rules.

“If a covered entity (or business associate) uses a CSP to maintain (e.g., to process or store) electronic protected health information (ePHI) without entering into a BAA with the CSP, the covered entity (or business associate) is in violation of the HIPAA Rules.”

The bottom line: Any vendor you choose to handle your ePHI must provide a BAA that spells out in detail each party’s responsibilities. The agreement can specify how the data will be used, stored, protected and transmitted; what will happen in case of a security breach or natural disaster; disposition of data at termination of contract; and any other requirements or conditions the covered entity deems important.

In addition to the BAA, clients can include provisions in a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to address HIPAA concerns, such as backup and data recovery. Whether you’re concerned about a hack or a natural disaster, ask the vendor what plan it has in place to protect and recover your data.

Use the SLA to specify the vendor’s security responsibilities. HIPAA regulations require that both covered entities and business associates abide by the Security Rule. Even when clients control access to the data via encryption, vendors still must be HIPAA-compliant. Consider requiring vendors to demonstrate how they remain current with the latest encryption standards.

As part of the agreement, be sure to cover what happens when the relationship ends. How will the data be returned to the healthcare provider? Under the Privacy Rule, HIPAA regulations require business associates to return or destroy all PHI at a contract’s termination.

HIPAA Certification

When evaluating vendors, look for partners that are certified HIPAA-compliant. Confirm that they’ve engaged a third-party organization to verify their compliance using the most recent Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Audit Protocol. Since HIPAA rules can change over time, certification is not a one-time deal.

All covered entities are responsible for their HIPAA compliance and open to audit. Consequently, your vendor should conduct regular internal checks. Ask each prospective partner how often it audits their processes and procedures.

Also, find out if the vendor has an internal, dedicated information security team responsible that monitors and HIPAA protocols on an ongoing basis. And make sure the vendor’s employees receive ongoing training to keep up with changes in HIPAA rules.

Risk Analysis

Whether you’re a healthcare provider or a business associate, HIPAA requires you to conduct risk analyses of potential threats and vulnerabilities to ePHI.

A recent study by CynergisTek found that third-party vendors were responsible for 23 percent of 2018’s healthcare data breaches. One reason: Many providers lack processes to address – and predict – risks.

David Rauschendorfer, senior director of CynergisTek’s Security Services Operations, highlights this finding. “Vendors lack activities that identify threats as well as the potential business impacts of identified vulnerabilities,” he explains. “These high-risk vendors often lack established or formally documented methodologies to prioritize and address identified risks.”

Ask your vendor about its procedures for not just protecting ePHI, but also identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities. You always want to be proactive, not reactive.

Breach Notification

If a security incident does occur, HIPAA is quite clear on the vendor’s responsibilities. The Security Rule requires business associates to “identify and respond to suspected or known security incidents; mitigate, to the extent practicable, harmful effects of security incidents that are known to the business associate; and document security incidents and their outcomes.” The Breach Notification Rule spells out the content, timing and other requirements for business associates to follow when reporting incidents to the covered entity.

Ask each potential vendor what policies and procedures it has in place to address and document data breaches or an attack on its systems. In particular, how does it discover data breaches? How does it identify the problem’s source, and what remediation steps does it take to limit damage? Require specific timing for notification and resolution.

All Secure In One Place

When choosing your cloud vendor, consider how it will enable your organization to access and use essential patient information while remaining compliant with HIPAA regulations. Ultimately, you have to store information in a way that’s both secure and accessible so that medical professionals can share and collaborate while patients can manage their healthcare.

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