Events & Awards

Live from Conclave: Understanding Cybersecurity Risks

Events & AwardsApr 25, 2018

Live from Conclave: Understanding Cybersecurity Risks

Do your employees understand when an email should raise alarm bells? And are you patching your software when prompted?

Nashville, Tenn.—The hacks that make headlines are the ones that involve big companies and thousands, if not millions or billions, of files of customer data—Equifax, Yahoo and, most recently, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. 

But that doesn’t mean a small business, like a family-owned jewelry store, can’t be hacked. 

“Every organization is a target,” Mary Myers, an information security analyst with Jewelers Mutual Insurance Group, said. “There are just different rationales for why.” 

Myers presented a breakout session Monday morning at Conclave outlining the cybersecurity risks businesses face and detailing what jewelers should do if they are hacked.

She started with social engineering and phishing. 

Social engineering is the act of manipulating employees into doing something they otherwise would not do. Phishing is social engineering via email and can involve attachments, directing the recipient to fake websites, or fake emails.

Myers said phishing emails are often unexpected and written in a way that makes them seem urgent (your immediate reply is requested, etc.).

While they can contain misspellings and grammatical errors, she noted that hackers are getting smarter and cleaning up their emails so there are fewer of these. Phishing messages also can come from email addresses that are nearly identical to (or exactly the same as, which is called spoofing) those of people with whom the business owner and/or employees communicate regularly. 

The emails try to bait the the receiver into replying and engaging in a conversation, opening an attachment or clicking a link for the purposes of installing malware on the business’ computer systems.

The malware widely in use by hackers right now is called ransomware, Myers said. Hackers lock victims’ computers with encryption and demand they pay a ransom, via Bitcoin, to get their data back. 

Her initial recommendation is, of course, not to click on links or open the attachments in emails that seem suspicious. Delete the email, call the sender and ask if they sent that specific email with an attachment or consult IT support.

But that doesn’t always happen.

When a business owner or employee falls for a phish, Myers said options are somewhat limited. 

She said what business owners should not do is pay, as there is no guarantee they will get their data back. 
They should stop their system backup, wipe infected systems and devices, and restore using what was backed up before the malware was installed. (Systems need to be backed up regularly. Myers recommends having a set, repeating cycle; for example, it backs up every day at midnight.)

Jewelers also face cybersecurity risks from both employees and vendors/contractors who could accidentally load a virus onto a system by clicking a phishing link or visiting a disreputable site, or who could violate a business intentionally, by purposely loading or sending a virus or sharing sensitive customer information. Myers said business owners need to provide guidance to employees, vendors and contractors and to clearly define: what does acceptable internet use at the company look like?

While not heavily attended, the Conclave session did generate multiple questions from attendees.

One jeweler asked if should she turn off her servers at night to help protect against attacks. You can, Myers answered, but it won’t necessarily prevent anything, as some of this software is malware designed to enter the system and lie dormant until it can be activated.

Another asked if paid-for anti-virus software is better than free. Myers said anything that will help a business quarantine and clean up a virus is “great.” What will work best a particular business really depends on its size, needs and risk factors.

Myers wrapped up with a list of a half-dozen additional tips for increasing cybersecurity.
1. Keep an inventory of key systems and applications.

2. Keep an inventory of risks and threats, and use multiple layers of security.

3. Keep systems and devices patched.

All software has “gaps” that make it vulnerable to hackers, Myers said. “Patches” are released regularly by software companies and are intended to seal those gaps. Microsoft releases patches for its software on a monthly basis, but probably the most well-known example of a patch are the “updates” Apple regularly sends for iPhones and iPads.
“If you don’t close it,” Myers said of the gap, “you’re exposed. Patching is super, super critical.”

4. Back up systems and, Myers added, test the back-up.

Having a virus-infected system is going to create an “emotionally charged” situation. She said business owners don’t want that to be the first time they’ve ever walked through the process of employing their back-up.

5. Establish separation in key systems.

Business owners who host their own websites should separate it internally and not have it on the same server as the rest of their data. They also need to rotate job duties. They can’t “give the keys to the kingdom” to one person; hackers would have to have access to several people if there's separation.

Also, when someone leaves the company, take away their access to the company’s systems.

6. Train employees on cyber risks at least annually, if not quarterly.

In response to one jeweler’s question, Myers said business owners can require employees who connect personal devices to the store’s Wi-Fi to update those devices when prompted. She recommended writing it into the store’s policy.

The JSA also recently released a list of cybersecurity recommends, which was included in National Jeweler’s article about Saks getting hacked.

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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