Building the blocks around the smartest cryptocurrency on the market



We’re talking Blockchain – but it began with Bitcoin.

So what is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and a digital payment system.  Invented by an unknown programmer (or a group of programmers), it was released as open-source software in 2009. There is a market cap with Bitcoin.  The value of an individual Bitcoin has increased substantially during this time, every year more and more merchants and vendors accept bitcoin as payments for goods and services, and millions more unique users are using a cryptocurrency (digital) wallet.

Why is there a worry about Bitcoin?
There are many concerns related to Bitcoin, price volatility, doubts around legal status, tax and (lack of any) regulation, Bitcoin has been notorious in criminal activity, and is well renowned for the role it has in cyber-attacks like Ransomware.  But for believers, Bitcoin has huge upsides, de-centralised thus outside the control of a central authority, privacy, deflationary, low cost to transfer funds across borders, but most it is an attractive “store of value”.

Why is Bitcoin important?
Bitcoin is important because it requires a blockchain.  A blockchain is an undeniably ingenious invention, but since Bitcoin, blockchain has evolved into something greater.  And the main question every person is asking is – what is a blockchain?

So what is a blockchain?
The simplest explanation “Blockchain is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one.”  Sally Davies, FT Technology Reporter.

How does blockchain work?
A blockchain is a distributed database that is used to maintain a continuously growing list of records, called ‘blocks’.   Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retrospectively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and a collusion of the network majority.   Functionally, a Blockchain can serve as “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016).

Blockchains are secure by design and are an example of a distributed computing system with high Byzantine fault tolerance.  Decentralised consensus has therefore been achieved with a Blockchain.  This makes Blockchains potentially suitable for the recording of events, medical records and other records management activities, such as Identity Management, transaction processing and documenting provenance.

The entire financial, legal, and record-keeping industries are being disrupted using this decentralised, secure, and inexpensive method. It has therefore caught the eye of the Bank of England plus other large organisations including Microsoft, IBM and Cisco have consequently started to take note of it.

In summary the opportunities are infinite.

People need to understand that “blockchain” is NOT the same thing as “Bitcoin”.

Bitcoin was the first blockchain system designed, but there have been a number of others since then which are very different, designed by different people, often for different purposes. These people are in the business of designing things for use by corporations to operate their businesses to drive a competitive edge. This is no different to what Amicus ITS has been doing for 30 years, problem solving and designing solutions that deliver business value as we look constantly to the horizon at future technologies.

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Work with your Security and Governance teams to thwart cyber attacks

A Petya ransomware attack suspected to be a modified EternalBlue exploit is currently spreading around the world as we go to press, with UK and European organisations already affected and shipping company Maersk and ad agency WPP announcing problems with systems down.

With only a few days since the attack on the UK Government on Friday 23rd June, security experts are describing such high profile attacks as the ‘new normal’.  Weak passwords on email accounts were to blame for around 90 parliamentarians being attacked.  An official spokesperson commented that users had failed to adhere to official guidance from the Parliamentary Digital Service.  Immediate remediation of disabling remote access was put in place as a precaution whilst further investigation were made.

This follows hot on the heels of last week’s report by Which, revealing that communications giant Virgin’s consumer Super Hub 2.0 router was found to be vulnerable to hacking for those who had not changed the default wifi password setting, felt by experts to be too short and not sufficiently complex.  Virgin are not alone amongst Internet Service Providers for issuing relatively simplistic wifi keys according to penetration testing experts.  Future success in thwarting attack will require 1) a change of culture from consumers to proactively change the default password on any wireless device and 2) for retailers to ensure that directions for changing the password are immediate to access the service, easy to read and quick to do.

And all of this just one month since the WannaCry cyber attack on NHS England which was amongst around 70 organisations hit worldwide.  Brian Lord, former Deputy Director for Intelligence and Cyber Operations at GCHQ commented in May that this was due to a change from low level theft and use of ransomware in the past few years to now internationally organised crime.  Todays criminal networks could generate sustained and co-ordinated attacks into the backs of ageing IT systems, delivering a simple tool at mass scale to vulnerable areas – in this case, systems where Microsoft security patches hadn’t been updated.

The clear messages from these tales of woe are:

•    Ensure effective security and governance procedures are in place for businesses and institutions – and that these are shared, understood and abided to by all staff without exception through regular training and education awareness.
•    Consider two factor authentication and more intelligent solutions around identity management and password tools to keep the door closed to wrongful access.
•    Protect older, more vulnerable Operating Systems through regular security assessments and vulnerability detection programmes to scan your networks and find holes in perimeter security to help target your patching priorities.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but organisations that do not have strong and effective preventative measures can easily fall in one day.  Keep security at the forefront of your thinking and actions.  Read our full article on Ransomware here

Countering ransomware – it’s time to patch the human

Ransomware relies on human fallibility crypto-ransomware, malware that extorts money from victims by encrypting their files and systems until they pay a ransom, has been much in the news since WannaCry hobbled IT systems around the world last month. While much was made of the fact that WannaCry spread through networks by exploiting SMBv1 vulnerabilities in unsupported Windows systems (such as Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003), it is unusual for ransomware to self-replicate in the way WannaCry did.

Often, ransomware, in common with most other forms of malware, is spread by drive-by downloads or phishing campaigns, both of which exploit human error. So, even if you use robust anti-virus and anti-malware solutions, conduct regular penetration tests and ensure you keep your systems up to date and install the latest patches, your system could still be compromised thanks to a careless employee.

According to a 2016 report by SentinelOne:

  • 39% of organisations in the UK were hit by ransomware in the previous year
    • 72% of those infections were attributable to phishing
    • 38% were attributable to drive-by downloads from compromised websites

People are frequently acknowledged as the weakest link in any security system. But with better levels of staff knowledge, companies are more secure as you can, in effect, ‘patch’ your employees. Therefore, a best-practice approach to information security such as an ISO 27001 compliant ISMS (Information Security Management System), follows a holistic approach that addresses people as well as processes and technology.

Amicus ITS takes security seriously.  “We say security is part of our DNA here” advises  JP Norman, Director of Technology, Security & Governance, “and I consistently refer to the importance of “the squishy bits” (ie. the people) in IT management.  You can deploy the best systems and infrastructure money can buy –  but you have to ensure your people are trained too.”

WannaCry ransomware attack goes global

 

News on Friday 12th May that NHS England had suffered a major ransomware cyber attack has since been extended to a wider victim base. We now know that the attack has affected around 150 countries, with major hits on the UK and Russia. It is estimated to have affected over 200,000 users to date.  In the UK 48 NHS trusts have reported problems at hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacies, along with 13 NHS bodies in Scotland – and no doubt the early part of this week will result in more problems as staff come into work and switch their PCs back on.

The hack which targeted Windows machines was miraculously stopped in its tracks from spreading by a young security expert (under name @MalwareTechBlog) who accidentally hit the kill switch on the malware by registering the hard code as a domain name which had been seeded by its creator

SAFEGUARDS:

There are some urgent checks that all companies and organisations should be making in the next 24 hours:

  1. Ensure you are up to date on patching your environment– a lot of organisations were caught out because they didn’t (and Microsoft released a patch for the vulnerability exploited by WannaCry in March 2017).
  2. Check your Anti Virus is up to date (and preferably use a cloud based service ie Webroot)
  3. Ensure you back up all your essential data in line with your businesses Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO), so you can’t be held to ransom and fearful of operational losses.
  4. Communicate with your staff to alert them to avoid clicking on any suspicious emails and making sure that your operating system software is up to date (it was a rare move for Microsoft to release security updates for unsupported software such as XP as a direct result of this event)

Companies that want advice on data security, can contact Amicus ITS in confidence on 02380 429429.

 

Law firms face increasing cyber attacks in 2016

law society of ireland

The start to Summer 2016 has seen a sizeable increase in recorded attacks on legal firms in Ireland, as reported by RTE news on 5th June 2016.  Over a dozen firms have recently suffered ransomware attacks.

Why is the legal sector a prime target?
The legal sector is a prime target for cyber criminals on one side due to the sensitivity and volume of private client data held on their computer systems and secondly, because of the large sums of money held by solicitors in their client accounts on a daily basis.

What are common ways for ransomware attacks to take place?
Computer systems can be compromised by ransomware attacks either through email or a web browser.   A user might open what to them looked like an innocuous email, which once opened immediately encrypts files across their entire network.  The message (which can be remarkably polite), then warns that immediate payment is required by a given deadline, or the files will be destroyed.  Victims will often see a timer ratchet as well, whereby any delays to settlement increase the sum demanded.  The warning is stark and often along the lines of:  “Any attempt to damage or remove this software will lead to the immediate destruction of the private key to your server.”

What kind of sums are involved in ransomware attacks?
Sums can range from a few hundred to many thousands of £pounds.  In this particular spate of attacks, the Irish legal firms had had ransom demands of between 5,000 – 30,000 Euros from the criminals to unlock their computers.

One solicitor wishing to stay anonymous commented: “The accounts system was in jeopardy, which we would be accountable for a closing balance of E4-5m every day to clients.  Trying to identify 2,500 clients whose money was actually in the account to the very cent was never going to be achievable going forwards”.

The general advice is for all organisations would be:

•      To regularly review your data security policies and procedures (and ensure they are up to date and fit for purpose reflecting the current threat landscape).
•      To regularly back up your data to mitigate any losses
•      To act expediently and deal with the issue
•      To deploy up to date antivirus software
•      Have effective web filtering
•      To utilise up to date firewalls
•      To educate staff to heighten everyone’s awareness about cyber security – what different attacks look like – and importantly what their process and actions should be should they receive something they believe to be a cyber threat.

This news comes on the heels of the annual risk management survey by Legal Business and Marsh which found that “IT security breach / data management accident or breach” was the highest risk to law firms in terms of damage it could cause and the likelihood of it occurring.

For regulated industries especially, the demand for effective and contemporary security systems and knowledgeable management teams will serve as a significant reassurance to their customers.  Amicus ITS provides specific Security as a Services offerings to protect against cyber attack. These include ‘Foxcatcher’ and ‘Amicus Viper’.  Anyone wishing to discuss any cyber security issues in confidence can ring the security team on 02380 429429.