Archive for December, 2017

What is Bitcoin, and the Business Implications of it?

Posted on: December 20th, 2017 by Jessica Diehl No Comments

Bitcoin has been around for years, but it has exploded in importance, and value, in the last few months.  Why care?

Too many people don’t understand the big picture, and it is worth a response that removes the hype that is connecting Bitcoin with cybercrime and currency speculation.  Let’s look at what is, why it is here, and what the direction of this technology looks like.  Pretend I am talking about the future of mobile technology while the only thing you have ever heard of and used is a flip phone that can’t send and receive text messages, yet.

Business Commerce

At the center of commerce is the ability for the buyer and seller to have a medium in which they can conduct business.  They needed a language to communicate what they had to sell and what they needed to buy, and they needed a tool to facilitate that transaction.  Because of original sin, people cheat and steal to get ahead.  The victims of their efforts always asked their governments to intervene, not only to create a restitution for the crime but to put in measures to prevent it from happening again.  Institutions and inventions are a result of this innate human failure.  Some examples include serial numbers, the Federal Reserve System, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI.  None of these exist without humanity having this desire to lie and steal to get ahead.

Bitcoin Background

Bitcoin is simply one of many cryptocurrencies, or ‘cryptos’ for short, that are out there.  When Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin in 2008, he had a simple set of intentions.  He wanted educated buyers and sellers to get back to the business of business.  He wanted them to be able to have a medium of transaction that didn’t have any third-party regulation, knowing good and well that educated buyers and sellers don’t want that.  It is the uneducated or the scared who want those services.  If I want to buy and you want to sell, no one else needs to be involved, EVER…that was his thinking.  That meant he needed to create a decentralized currency equivalent that didn’t require a bank or administrator to get involved to do business.  The ledger for accounting was distributed, meaning no one had “the whole” history of the item.  That “no one gets more than a piece of the checkbook” idea became known as blockchain technology.  He wanted to limit the number of bitcoins in circulation, to prevent people from printing currency.  He wanted to make it easy to exchange goods and services, with the currency used being as safe and secure against tracking and fraud as possible.

We have not used it that way.  My father-in-law is treating cryptos like they are assets, to be bought and sold with the frequency of stocks and other tradable assets.  He is not alone.  I, too, own some cryptos, and I have bought and sold them, and have made good money doing it.  But both of us are way off base.  We are using a hammer to pound in a screw.

Bitcoin, he imaged, would be a currency that people could use to buy pizza, get a haircut and pay their rent, without anyone ever having the power to regulate the transaction.  Today, though, Bitcoin has its greatest name as the currency of cybercrime, as criminals are using it to get paid when they deploy a ransomware attack via a thoughtful email.  Business asset owners are discovering bitcoin when they are approached by an IT guy who tells them that their network has been locked, and the only way to get a key to their data is to buy some bitcoin and send it to an anonymous person whom they can’t track.

Cryptocurrency Hurdles

Cryptocurrencies have some obstacles to overcome before they are a mainstream tool. To begin, cryptos can be stolen, and there is little if any unique offerings to prevent this theft from occurring; a password and a stolen phone can give you access to Fort Knox.  Another more daunting obstacle is the government.  Several governments like Australia have already slammed the door on the use of cryptos, making the routing of them through their banks a big no-no.  Governments' loss of ability to regulate and tax crypto transactions has taken their legs out from underneath them.   Unfortunately, a small number of people are ASKING our governments to be an obstacle and have the ability to trace/track bitcoin transactions to find bad guys and extract tax revenues.  The story currently doesn’t have a happy ending for anyone, as there is no method to get all the pieces of the checkbook together to track the exchanges to see who paid for who to commit a crime.  Governments have a bad image to address in their inability to do what is asked of them.  As such, when a law enforcement agency catches a bad guy and extracts his/her crypto from their computer/phone, they stand up and shout of their success. The truth is the bad guy left his cryptos is a public place that anyone could have taken it from, no different than leaving your wallet on the counter.  Even the most powerful computers used by the richest of governments can’t find out who held the bitcoin last week.  The definition of blockchain is truly a pain in the side of everyone both in law enforcement and regulation.

Finally, there is no mechanism to increase the supply of bitcoin using the current methods available.  Nakamoto didn’t perceive a need to support growth in value of hundreds of millions in a month, yet that is where we are now.

Bitcoin Future

I think bitcoin (or its technical replacement) will be a mainstream idea sooner rather than later.  People do not want to use cash or even credit card anymore to purchase goods and services.  The growth of Amazon’s Buy it Now service shows that folks are more interested in faster identity verification and convenience than they are in physical security associated with cash, checks, and credit cards.

Amazon has all but announced that it intends to begin use cryptocurrencies.  They have bought several domain names associated with cryptos.  What is the news here?  Amazon is formally in the weeds with the use of cryptos.  The odds are more than likely, government regulation will show up sooner rather than later, and the vision that Nakamoto had will be lost in translation.

Your response should be a desire for education.  An MSNBC reporter announced that he thought Bitcoin would hit 200,000 sometime in 2018.  Holy cow.  That means a Bitcoin could buy an entire house!  How cryptos work should be for you like the way your grandparents first viewed Mastercard and VISA when they were introduced in the late 50s.  This will become your mode of commerce.  You only control when.

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Cybersecurity Skills Shortage Increasing Companies’ Security Threat Risk

Posted on: December 15th, 2017 by Jessica Diehl No Comments

There’s a decent chance your IT team is woefully lacking in the skills needed to protect your organization from the growing cyber security threats.  New research reveals organizations are understaffed with employees lacking in skills to protect networks.

According to new research

  • 54% of organizations surveyed do not have cyber security skill levels appropriate for organizations of their size
  • 57% of organizations surveyed do not have enough security operations for organizations of their size.

This cyber threat skills shortage directly affects an organizations ability to detect, prevent, and respond to security incidents.

The professionals surveyed highlighted these particular weaknesses stemming from the skills and staffing shortages.

  1. Hunting for Security Threats IT: Staffers are often too busy responding to incidents to be proactively looking for security threats. And if they do have the time to look for threats, many have not taken the time to grow the advanced skills necessary to spot the increasingly sophisticated attacks.
  2. Prioritizing Security Alerts: The increasing number of tools that can alert security professionals about incidents has created a lot of noise. Many IT staffers don’t have the skills to assess and prioritize the growing number of alerts.
  3. Securing the Root Cause of the Incident: Security team members often respond to security events by putting out the obvious fires. Again, because of a shortage of staffers, and increasing demands, the security team can forget to take the vital step of discovering the cause of the incident, and working to prevent it from happening again.
  4. Thoroughly Tracking Security Incidents: Many organizations lack documented processes to track security incidents from discover, to investigation to remediation.

The Network Team has worked with dozens of small and medium sized businesses with similar concerns.  You’re not in the cyber security business.  Your IT department should be focusing on ways to further your business goals with technology.  TNT has a staff of highly trained and certified engineers, backed by world-class cyber security tools and solutions. Let us take the stress off of your employees, and handle your security.

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TNT Named Finalist for Union County Chamber Small Business Excellence Award

Posted on: December 11th, 2017 by Jessica Diehl No Comments

The Network Team is honored to be a finalist for the Union County Chamber of Commerce  Small Business Excellence Award.  The criteria for being a finalist include strategies and processes for business growth and improvement, quality customer service, excellence in the marketplace, and community contributions.

As a finalist, the incredibly talented team at Chain Reaction Studios came to TNT's headquarters to film a video about our company.  Take a look to learn more about who we are, and how we serve our clients.

 

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Mecklenburg County Server Hack: What You Need to Know

Posted on: December 6th, 2017 by Jessica Diehl No Comments

Residents in Mecklenburg County hoping to get a marriage certificate, or vendors hoping to get paid for work done for the county, may be out of luck, and could be for several days.  Hackers attacked the county servers Monday, locking access to files, and demanding 2 Bitcoins (about $25,000) to decrypt them.

County officials say no resident’s personal information has been exposed, but instead, the hackers encrypted information county employees need to do business.

Like nearly all ransomware attacks, the hackers gained access to the county servers because an employee clicked on an infected attachment in an email.  The county is considering paying the ransom, as well as looking into attempting to decrypt the files themselves.

The Rising Cost of Ransom

TNT has written extensively about the tactics of hackers, and dangers of Ransomware.  And the FBI itself discourages victims from paying the ransom.  But because it is easier for many victims, they do end up paying.  There are many reasons that is a bad idea, and here is just one:

Mecklenburg County Servers

Bitcoin became the standard for ransom in Ransomware attacks in 2016.  In just the past year, its value has gone up more than 1500%, and it continues to rise every day.  That means that on Monday, when the hackers made the demand, the 2 Bitcoins were worth $23,000.  But the value has already increased, and as of the writing of this blog, it’s $25,600.

Criminals Who Can’t Get Caught

These hackers are incredibly smart.  Their use of Bitcoin as a means of ransom is ingenious.  Because it is not considered money, there is often little law enforcement can do, even if they are able to catch the hackers.  Since the hackers are most often located outside of the reach of US law, figuring out who is responsible is a pretty tough task.

Law enforcement – even if they figure out what happened, it may not be considered a crime – reference FBI speaker and chamber presentation – he shared that it is often the case law enforcement can do nothing since bitcoin is not considered ransom or extortion as it is currently not considered legal currency.

 

Not if, but when

Regardless of which route the county takes (paying or not), they simply must come up with a plan to keep this from happening again.  However, the fact is that Ransomware is becoming an increasingly simple and profitable crime for hackers.  Just like there is no 100% sure-fire way to prevent yourself from catching a cold, there is no 100% sure-fire way to ensure you never get hacked.  While you can’t completely avoid catching a cold, you do have a contingency plan in place – you take medicine, you rest.  In the same manner, businesses need to have a business continuity plan in place before they fall victim to hackers.

TNT’s Business Continuity solution would mean a hack like this would have zero impact on business, as everything would have failed over in real time to one of 2 disaster recovery solutions.  Employees would have continued access to the files, applications and servers needed to do business, and the organization would not need to pay the ransom.

Learn more about Business Continuity below, and contact us today to learn more about protecting your data.

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The Network Team