Weekly Security Roundup with Clinton Pownall

By Clinton Pownall
 President & CEO
 Computer Business

Microsoft Exchange Attack: Targeting Small Towns, Local Governments and Small Businesses. Microsoft warns that unpatched Exchange servers are being attacked. Krebs on Security reports: “At least 30,000 organizations across the United States—including a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments—have over the past few days been hacked by an unusually aggressive Chinese cyber espionage unit that’s focused on stealing email from victim organizations.” How big is this? The Hacker News writes: “The colossal scale of the ongoing offensive against Microsoft’s email servers also eclipses the SolarWinds hacking spree that came to light last December, which is said to have targeted as many as 18,000 customers of the IT management tools provider.” Microsoft has released patches for four security issues involved in the attack, but The Hacker News notes: “Merely installing the patches issued by Microsoft would have no effect on servers that have already been backdoored.” The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has issued an Emergency Directive about the hack.

Attacks on Your Taxes. Back in December we wrote about the dangers of hackers fraudulently filing tax returns using the Social Security numbers of others. As we get closer to tax filing season, the risks are even greater. Help Net Security reports that our “digital-first lifestyle opens consumers to potential risks during tax season.” The article points to McAfee’s 2021 Consumer Security Mindset study which revealed that while 63% of Americans plan to do their taxes online in 2021, 12% of Americans will be doing them online for the first time. The article notes: “With the increase in activities online, consumers are potentially exposed to more digital risks and threats, and it is crucial that they understand how to stay safe online.” Consumers need to be vigilant about responding to e-mails or social media posts offering tax help, or in any other way seeking personally identifiable information. The article warns: “Common attacks include email phishing attacks, phone calls posing as IRS agents, and robocalls that threaten jail time. Taking advantage of the current environment, many phishing attacks are now leveraging keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “stimulus.”

Dot.GOV Becomes “Critical Infrastructure.”  The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is taking over the administration of the .GOV top-level domain (TLD) as its new policy and management authority. Bleeping Computer quotes CISA as saying: “For those that use it, .gov is critical infrastructure: it’s central to the availability and integrity of thousands of online services relied upon by millions of users. Since it underpins communication with and within these institutions, all aspects of .gov’s administration have cybersecurity significance.” The article notes “CISA also wants to provide other services that should help government organizations maintain the privacy, reliability, accessibility, and speed of .gov domains and better protect their systems from security threats.”

When Working from Home . . . Patch Your Browser! BetaNews carries the headline “Browser patch lag can put home workers at risk,” citing new research form Menlo Security. The research notes a resurgence of ransomware attacks, credential phishing campaigns and new and novel attacks targeting cloud assets and resources. Menlo Security’s director of security research, Vinay Pidathala, writes: “Browsers have become even more powerful and are increasingly being used to access new applications and cloud resources, which also increases their importance in cybersecurity.” Yet the company’s research finds significant use of older browser versions—potentially opening users to attacks.

“Cybersecurity in 2021: Stopping the Madness.” That’s the headline in a recent CSO Online article that reads “Cybersecurity wins the award for Most Dismal Science. But if suffering attacks now amounts to a cost of doing business, then the time-honored approach of prioritizing risk and limiting damage when breaches occur still offers reason for hope.” The article, written by the Editor in Chief of CSO Online, provides pointers to a collection of articles from CSO, Computerworld, CIO, InfoWorld, and Network World which “delivers specific guidance on best security practices across the enterprise, from the C-suite to developer laptops.” It makes for good reading, and provides guidance to something we all want: “Stopping the Madness” of the unrelenting attacks against the world’s online resources.

Clinton A. Pownall is the President & CEO of Computer Business Consultants and has been in the IT field since 1990. Pownall served in the U.S. Navy for six years as a Weapons Systems Technician and has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering. Through Computer Business, he was one of the first to pioneer VoIP technology using satellite communications. Pownall serves on several boards and committees and has a strong affiliation with various education groups, local school districts, and served in regional efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates NextGen Foundation. He serves as a Vice President of the Board of Director for the Orlando Shakes Theater and is heavily involved in the South Lake Chamber of Commerce, West Orange Chamber of Commerce, and the Orlando Economic Partnership.