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February 2016

3 High-Profile Hacking Stories Worth Reading

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

cyber-feb-2016-4If you know much about cyber security, then you know that hacking isn’t as exciting a subject as movies and television make it out to be. Most “hackers” are just guessing passwords or stealing credit cards. But, now and then, along comes a news story about hacking that can actually hold your attention. Here are some interesting high-profile cases in recent headlines:

British Agency Can Hack Any Phone With A Text

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has reported that British Intelligence Agency GCHQ can now hack smartphones by simply sending a text message to the phone. According to reports, there’s no way to prevent this hack, which allows the GCHQ to conduct audio surveillance through the phone, browse the owner’s files and web history, take pictures with the phone, and track the user’s GPS location. This is made possible, according to Snowden, through the “Smurf Suite,” which allows the agency to turn smartphones on and off, use the microphone and geolocation, and hide all of its actions from the user. Snowden says that the NSA has spent around $1 billion USD trying to develop similar technology.

Security Researcher Wins $24,000 Bounty From Microsoft

The general impression that we have of hacking is that it’s flat out illegal. In truth, hacking itself isn’t illegal at all. If you ever go into a “head shop,” they’ll let you know that they’re not selling “bongs,” they’re selling “water pipes.” Like a water pipe, hacking is just a tool, and what you use it for may or may not be legal. One of the legal things you can do with hacking is claim bounties from companies like Microsoft and Google, who offer rewards to people who can find security vulnerabilities in their websites, apps and services. A security researcher recently cashed in on a $24,000 reward for finding an easy hack through OAuth, the authorization code used for Outlook.com and Microsoft Live accounts. If you ever get tired of your dayjob, digital bounty hunting might be a fun career choice.

15 Year Old Gets 6 Months For Hacking NASA

A 15 year old hacker known as c0mrade made news last year after hacking NASA, leading to a 21-day shutdown of the computers supporting the international space station, and poking around in Pentagon weapons computer systems, intercepting thousands of emails and stealing passwords. After six months of plea-bargaining, he’s finally been sentenced to six months. Had he been tried as an adult, he’d be looking at quite a bit more time than that.

The everyday threats we have to deal with in cyber security are kind of ordinary, but these three stories prove that hacking really is just like the movies every now and then.

False Fears and Legitimate Threats

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

cyber-feb-2016-3The main thing to keep in mind when comparing real threats to false flags: The most boring interpretation of the truth is usually the one that’s closest to being correct.

Remember Y2K? Everyone was worried that turning our computer clocks over from 1999 to 2000 was going to crash the whole system and leave the world in chaos. Some companies even made a pretty penny by selling software that would make your system “Y2K compliant.” Then what happened when the clock actually turned over? Absolutely nothing at all.

All that wasted time and energy spent fretting over something as simple as a change of date, and the world just kept on turning.

We need to be able to distinguish between a real threat and an imaginary threat for the simple reason that managing those threats demands that we draw upon finite resources. The team that you have chasing after false alerts are going to be too busy to handle actual threats to your data. Skilled cyber-security professionals are in short supply, which means that even if you have it in the budget to double your current cyber-security staff, the candidates might just not be out there. You might need to make it work with the people you already have on board, and that means spending less time chasing after false alarms.

Here are some steps we can take towards wasting fewer resources in cyber-security:

  • Let the software do its job

Preventive antivirus software is a good start, but it’s also a good idea to cross-check with regular scans. This is common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t do this. A prevention-only based approach is going to lead to longer infection dwell time.

  • Follow your security team’s lead

You hire people so that you have less to do, and you’ve likely discovered that you tend to get the best results when you give your staff some breathing room and let them use their own judgment. Unless you’re a cyber-security professional yourself, there’s no reason to micromanage how your security team handles their responsibilities.

  • Don’t stress about far-fetched threats

You probably don’t have members of Anonymous working all day to crack your system. Don’t stress about it.

The truth is that cyber-security is something that a good security team and some professional-grade software can manage. It seems like every few years the business world goes into a panic about Y2K or hackers or some supervirus ravaging systems across the globe. The truth is that leaked passwords and garden-variety malware are your main concerns.

Are Phones and Devices High-Risk Points?

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

cyber-feb-2016-2Here’s the irony when it comes to phones, tablets and other wireless devices: They’re less likely to be hacked, and more likely to compromise your sensitive information.

Why? Well… they’re easier to lose.

Good luck losing a desktop computer. Besides the fact that we tend to leave those at home, you’re going to remember where you put that thing after you break your back lugging it around, and it’s not going to be easy for someone to snatch it up off of your desk when you’re not looking.

Smartphones and tablets, on the other hand, wind up causing leaks all the time. It’s probably safe to say that more leaks come from lost phones and devices than from actual hacking. That’s not to say that hacking and malware aren’t a threat, only that a wireless device’s relatively resistant nature to cyber-threats is not something that makes these devices any less high-risk than your office network or home computer.

But, let’s reconsider the assumption that devices are relatively impervious to cyber-attacks. Does this actually hold up, or is it just good marketing? Let’s take two key points into account:

  1. Devices haven’t been around for as long as laptop and desktop PC’s. This means that there are fewer viruses out there designed to attack Android and iPhone operating systems.
  2. That doesn’t mean device-hackers aren’t catching up.

The general shift in computer culture right now is away from the keyboard and the monitor, and towards the device that fits in the pocket or the purse. Even in techier circles, you might walk into an office and not find a single old-school PC, Mac or Laptop. More people are using devices, fewer people are using laptops and desktops, and this means that the hackers developing new malware and looking for security gaps are going to be shifting their attention towards devices. As of the time of this writing, phones and tablets are relatively strong against cyber-threats primarily because they have fewer threats to contend with, but this won’t be the case for much longer. The short answer is that devices are not especially high risk when it comes to cyber attacks, but we’ll see what 2016 has in store for us.

Right now, there’s not a whole lot we can do about this but practice the same common sense as you would on your PC or laptop. There are antivirus apps available for most phones, but the unfortunate truth is that developers are still learning how to keep these devices safe, so these apps aren’t always effective. This means that it’s down to the user to understand that passwords and other sensitive data aren’t that much safer on the Android than they are on the Asus.

3 More Cyber Security Myths

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

cyber-feb-2016-1We’ve covered the subject of cyber-security myths before, but all it takes is one critical misunderstanding to harm your network, and we could write a phone book’s worth of content on all the misunderstandings floating around out there.

The Internet’s Safer Now

Some users are under the impression that the Internet is no longer the Wild Wild West that it was in the late nineties and early 00’s. Your computer is probably safer, cyber-security software has gotten more advanced, the general public has gotten smarter about web safety, but the Internet itself is still a Petri dish of viruses and worms that have only had greater opportunities to evolve and proliferate over the last two decades. Viruses don’t disappear from the Internet, they keep floating around out there, finding new means of distribution. The Internet is more dangerous than ever, we’ve just gotten a lot tougher.

Security is the Tech Team’s Job

Put simply: leaving security to the techies on staff is a little bit like leaving a tire to the mechanic when it’s low on air. There are a lot of things that you and the rest of your team can do to make the tech team’s job a little easier, and to keep the ship running a little more smoothly. Brief your people on basic security protocol, and you’ll be far less likely to have your tech guy come to you saying that he needs to hire three more people to handle all this extra workload.

It’s All in the Cloud, so What’s at Risk?

Your definition of valuable data might not quite be the same as a hacker’s. You’re thinking about work-related data and personal information. A hacker is looking for any access they can find. A hacker who gains access to your network might not even have any interest in accessing the encrypted information you keep on the cloud, they might be satisfied with simply using your system as a proxy through which to attack other users. Your system is a gateway, it isn’t just a locker for sensitive data, so keeping it empty won’t keep it safe.

Keeping your network safe isn’t that great of a challenge. All it takes is the right software, a little bit of common sense, and a basic sense of responibility. Invest a little time, money and effort into your system, and it’s not hard to keep it running clean.

7 Ways to be a Team Player at Work

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

em-feb-2016-4Most employers appreciate team players who put the goals and interests of the company and their coworkers before their own agenda. As a team player, you’ll also enjoy your job and coworkers more as you learn to play nice. Here are seven ways to become a team player at your job.

    1. Meet Deadlines
      Group projects typically rely on everyone doing their assigned tasks. If you procrastinate, the entire team must wait for you, and the company could suffer. Make every effort to meet deadlines as you show that you’re dependable, reliable and trustworthy.

    1. Avoid Politics
      It’s a good idea to avoid discussing personal political views as you build camaraderie at work, but look out for office politics, too. Don’t get sucked into gossip sessions, avoid attempts to sabotage others and stay out of power struggles. By being neutral, you see all sides, make smarter decisions and maintain your ability to work well with everyone.
    1. Be Candid
      In the past, company culture viewed team players as the employees who did their jobs without asking questions. Today, many employers prefer employees who are willing to step up and be candid. That means you can offer constructive criticism and make helpful suggestions that support the organization as a whole.
    1. Be Active
      Everyone loves a coworker who’s active and gets things done. Being active doesn’t mean you do all the work, but you are willing to pitch in when you see a need, step up and help as necessary and take a leadership role.
    1. Adapt Quickly
      The workplace as a whole is becoming increasingly diversified and globalized. You’ll stand out as a team player if you can accept and handle change. Consider how you collaborate with team members from another location or learn new technology. If you embrace change and accept it, you’ll become known as a team player.
    1. Check Your Attitude
      The way you think about your coworkers affects how you treat them and your status as a team player. Instead of approaching coworkers with mistrust, negativity or pessimism, assume from the start that your teammates are capable, engaged and dependable.
    1. Appreciate Unique Work Styles
    Everyone works differently. Instead of demanding that your coworkers act like you, study your coworkers’ unique work styles. You can then accept what each person brings to the table, appreciate different contributions and create a well-rounded team that works well together and gets things done.

Being a team player goes a long way toward creating a productive and pleasant work environment. What can you change to ensure you’re being a team player?

What You Can do About a Wrongful Termination

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

em-feb-2016-3As an employee, you work at will. That means you are free to leave your job whenever you want. You also can be fired without notice or cause. Despite this truth, you can’t be fired for an illegal reason. Know your employee rights in case you face a wrongful termination.

Read Your Employment Contract

Both you and your employer must honor the employment contract, including any part that suggests you are not an “at-will” employee. For instance, your contract might state that you can be fired if you do not achieve certain sales quotas or other benchmarks. Get fired for any other reason, and you may have grounds to file a wrongful termination suit.

Illegal Reasons for Terminating an Employee

Your employer cannot fire you for these reasons.

  • Whistle blowing – In certain cases, you can violate your employment contract and be protected from termination. Examples of whistle blowing include informing an employer about sexual harassment, seeking to form a labor union, informing a federal agency of violations by your employer or participating in an official investigation of your employer’s practices.
  • Discrimination – You cannot be fired because of your race, age, national origin, ethnic background, gender, disability, pregnancy or religion.
  • Violation of employee protection laws – Your employer cannot legally fire you if the termination violates OSHA guidelines or the National Labor Relations Act. Also, you are protected from termination if you sit on a jury, take medical leave, serve in the military or take time off work to vote.

If you believe you’re fired for one of these reasons, take action.

Compile Evidence

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) needs written documentation of a wrongful termination. Write down as many details as possible that support your case, including dates, times, locations and people involved. You should also keep written performance reviews and any disciplinary notices you receive.

File an Official Complaint

Your next step is to file an official complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Follow the time limit guidelines or your case will automatically be dismissed. If your case is merited, you can file an EEOC Charge of Discrimination form. The EEOC will then interview your former employer and attempt to settle the complaint.

Hire a Lawyer

While the EEOC handles most wrongful termination claims, investigations can take up to three years. You may decide to hire a law professional who will evaluate your wrongful termination claim, assist you in assembling proof of your case, file necessary paperwork and negotiate with your former employer.

Wrongful terminations are illegal. Understand your rights as an employee and the steps you should take if you believe you’re the victim of a wrongful termination.

Facts to Know Before You Hire a Domestic Laborer

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

em-feb-2016-2A domestic laborer makes your home life easier. You could also land you in hot water with the IRS or face expensive liability bills, though, if you don’t follow certain laws. Whether you hire a nanny, gardener or cook, understand several facts before you hire a domestic employee.

Who’s Considered a Domestic Laborer?

Domestic laborers or domestic service workers provide a service around your private home. They may live with you or live in their own homes and can work as:

  • Babysitters
  • Chauffeurs
  • Caretakers
  • Companions
  • Cooks
  • Gardeners
  • Handymen
  • Home health aides
  • Housekeepers
  • Nannies
  • Nurses
  • Personal care aides
  • Waiters

What Wages do you Have to Pay a Domestic Laborer?

Federal laws require you to pay a domestic laborer minimum wage for up to 40 hours of work per week. Overtime pay is one-and-a-half times the current minimum wage in most cases.

Is Your Domestic Laborer an Employee or an Independent Contractor?

A domestic laborer could be considered an employee or an independent contractor. You have to know the difference to ensure you remain compliant with labor laws.

An employee:

  • Works solely for you
  • Follows your directions for the work day
  • Uses your tools and equipment
  • Relies on you to prepare the payroll, withhold taxes and carry liability, Worker’s Comp and other insurance coverage.

Before you hire an employee, get an employer identification number at www.irs.gov. Also, check the individual’s immigration documents and verify that the person is legally eligible and authorized to work in the United States. An independent contractor:

  • May work for multiple clients
  • Owns and uses his or her own tools and equipment
  • Bills you for the hours worked
  • Carries their own insurance and pays their own taxes

You need no special paperwork or permission to hire an independent contractor.

What are Your Alternatives to Hiring a Domestic Laborer?

Because employment laws are complicated and carry heavy fines for non-compliance, consider two options.

  1. Hire a company. You pay the company, and it sends qualified workers to your home. The company also handles payroll and pays for insurance coverage and employment taxes.
  2. Go through an agency. As a third-party, an agency vets potential individuals who can perform services for you. You may choose the individual who works in your home and pay the agency. In most cases, the agency will take care of the payroll, taxes and insurance paperwork.

A domestic laborer assists you in your home, but you need to understand the laws and guidelines before you hire someone. Talk with your insurance agent, too, to ensure you have adequate coverage for your domestic helper.

Do You Need Insurance For Your Side Gig?

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

em-feb-2016-1Start a side business making birthday cakes, doing tax returns or playing guitar at weddings, and you bring in extra money and pursue your passion. Your homeowner’s, renters, auto and personal insurance policies might not cover your business venture, though. Learn more as you protect yourself and pursue your side gig.

What are the Risks of a Side Gig?

You may have thought of the financial risks of starting a side gig and considered how much time it would take. But there are other risks you need to consider depending on what type of business you run. Possible risks include:

  • You store sensitive client information on your laptop, and it’s stolen.
  • The UPS driver delivers a business package to your front door, slips on the steps and breaks her foot.
  • Your dog bites a client’s hand during a consultation in your home office.
  • Someone has an allergic reaction to the birthday cake you bake.
  • You’re in a car accident while delivering products to a client.
  • A broken water pipe destroys the inventory you store in a spare closet.
  • A promotional picture on your website features people who did not give you permission to use their photos.

These are only a few possible scenarios of things that can go wrong when you operate a business from your home. In these circumstances, you are liable for damages, including medical payments. Without the right insurance, you could face a lawsuit or bills that put you out of business and jeopardize your home, vehicle and other assets. Business insurance provides you with a layer of protection and gives you peace of mind.

How Much Does Business Insurance Cost?

The average business policy costs between $300 and $500 per year. Your specific business, inventory and assets determine how much coverage you’ll need and what the policy will cost.

What if You’ve Got a Sharing Gig?

Maybe you drive for Uber or have your home listed on Airbnb. Find out if your personal insurance policy covers liability if someone is injured while riding in your car or has valuable jewelry stolen while spending the night in your home. You may not have adequate liability, medical payments, comprehensive or collision coverage in your current policies.

In these cases, research a rider or endorsement. It’s an add-on policy that boosts your current coverage and protects you in case something goes wrong.

While operating a side gig might be a good fit for you, make sure you and your business are insured. Spend time discussing your needs with your insurance agent, and invest in the right insurance for your side gig.

Questions To Consider For Your Home Insurance Checkup

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

pp-feb-2016-4 (1)When was the last time you did a home insurance policy checkup? This important update ensures you have adequate coverage that will cover thefts, loss or damages, and it verifies that you aren’t paying for coverage you no longer need. Consider these questions during your next home insurance checkup.

Did you renovate or remodel your home?

Any changes to your home’s structure or size could affect the amount of insurance you pay. Even turning a basement into a third bedroom or adding a deck can increase the amount of insurance you need.

Did you install a burglar alarm?

An alarm system may lower your insurance costs and help you save money.

How much coverage do you really need?

Many homeowners overestimate or underestimate the value of their home and its contents. Use your property assessment to figure the value of your home, and remember to include outbuildings. A home inventory will give you an accurate value of your home’s contents and help you purchase the right amount of coverage.

Have you added new valuables or collectibles to your home’s inventory?

Your current insurance policy might not cover your newly-inherited jewelry or your new art collection. Find out if you need a specialty policy or endorsement to cover these valuables.

Do you have replacement value or actual cash value coverage?

Replacement value describes the amount of money you would need to replace your home or its contents with materials or goods of similar quality to what you have now. Actual cash value describes the amount of money you would need to repair your home or replace contents after calculating depreciation.

Did you start a home-based business?

Working from home in any capacity means you may need extra insurance. Share the details of your business with your insurance agent and verify that your business ventures are covered.

Do you need flood or earthquake coverage?

No matter where you live, you can benefit from flood and earthquake insurance coverage. Ask your home insurance carrier if these optional insurance policies are available as you protect your home.

Can you afford the deductible?

The deductible on your insurance policy affects the annual premium costs. Calculate how much deductible you can comfortably afford and raise or lower it on your insurance policy.

How frequently do you pay premiums?

Switching to an annual payment, if that’s an option, lowers your annual costs.

At least once a year, evaluate your home insurance coverage. Verify that you have the right amount and type of insurance for your needs.

PP 3 Feb 16 Car Insurance Options After a DUI

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

pp-feb-2016-3Get charged with a DUI, and you typically lose your license for one to six months. Your auto insurance coverage and rates will also be affected. Learn what you can do to find coverage and earn affordable insurance rates after a DUI.

Understand Insurance After a DUI

Every state has strict laws that prohibit driving under the influence. However, each insurance company uses slightly different criteria to evaluate your risk as a driver. Companies consider your traffic and driving violations differently, too. For example, some companies punish at-fault accidents more severely than DUIs.

Typically, your risk and rates are based on several factors, including:

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Credit rating
  • Employment status
  • Driving history
  • Other violations (speeding, recklessness, drug possession) that occurred at the time you received the DUI

After a DUI, your insurance company will look at these factors and decide how to handle your policy. They may continue insuring you at a rate increase or drop your coverage.

How to Qualify for Insurance After a DUI

If your current insurance coverage is significantly raised or dropped, you may still be able to get coverage. Contact national and local insurance agents, and ask for free quotes. To ensure you receive the most accurate quotes, tell the truth about details like your age, marital status, address and traffic violations, including your DUI. Also, use the same coverage limits for each quote.

Investigate SR-22 Proof of Insurance

Many DUI offenders use the SR-22 form to verify that they have insurance coverage. It’s designed for drivers with serious violations like DUIs, violent crashes and excessive speed. You still need to maintain the minimum insurance requirements for your state, but this form shows that you have auto insurance coverage.

The SR-22 is filed with your state’s department of motor vehicles or department of licensing by you or your insurance agent. In many cases, this form is necessary for up to three years after a situation where your driver’s license is suspended.

Lower Your Rates After a DUI

Of course, maintaining a pristine driving record after a DUI and keeping your credit score high will help your rates go down. Additionally, you can ask for a new quote every year. Be sure to notify your insurance company, too, after you move, when you buy a different vehicle or when you switch jobs. These actions might help you earn more affordable insurance rates.

While obtaining auto insurance after a DUI is challenging, it isn’t impossible. Try these tips and talk to your agent about other options that might assist you in finding the coverage you need.