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hacked email

Marriott Hotels Exposed 500 Million Customer Records. Make Sure Your Business Doesn’t Suffer the Same Fate.

Up to 500 million travelers could be compromised as hotel chain Marriott International have announced a security breach in their guest database. Analysts recently alerted the firm to a vulnerability that has granted hackers access to the hotel chain’s systems since 2014.

The firm announced their Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program was compromised for an extended period which left customers vulnerable. The exploit exposed critical guest information which included names, addresses, passport numbers, and dates of birth. Marriott also announced an unknown number of customers had encrypted credit card details stolen in the attack.

If you have been a member of Marriott’s Preferred Guest Program or a customer of Marriott hotels in the past, you should take steps today to ensure your data security. By doing so, you can protect your finances, prevent identity theft, and defend your data from attackers looking to exploit an opportunity.

Secure Your Data

Changing your Marriott password should, of course, be the first step to protecting your accounts. Even more importantly, sites where that same password may have been reused should be updated with new credentials too. Hackers commonly try details stolen from one site to access popular services and pages. We encourage everyone to use a password manager to store their details for safe use in the future. A good password manager enables unique, random, and strong passwords to be used with ease for every single website.

While we can’t stop hacks on systems outside of our control; we can defend our other accounts from being accessed by criminals.

With secure password management, attacks on your business services or related accounts from a single hack are made impossible.

Performing Damage Control

The damage to the Marriott International brand following news of the leak will be undoubtedly huge. At a minimum, they have lost the trust of their customers worldwide. Asking customers to leave their personal and financial details again to pay for goods and services will be no small feat.

News of the hack made front page news as it broke, further damaging the firm’s reputation among potential future customers too. As a result of a simple security attack, Marriott International will be forced into damage limitation to keep customers returning to the brand. This is why business security matters to us; when done right it’s cheaper by far.

The total cost of this latest attack won’t be known for years to come. The firm is vulnerable to lawsuits worldwide, in some cases liable for financial losses, and required to purchase identity monitoring and security services for affected customers. Business owners can learn from Marriott’s costly lesson.

Stopping an Attack in its Tracks

Marriott’s security breach was recently discovered, hitting the headlines just this week, but the firm admitted unauthorized access took place since 2014. This means the firm had a security hole for four years that they were unable to detect or patch.

For a firm of any size, this should be unacceptable. As business owners, we shouldn’t accept security vulnerabilities that leave our records, finances, or services open to hackers. As customers, we shouldn’t accept our data being treated so carelessly. The recent Marriott hack underlines the need for businesses to maintain constant network monitoring, regular security updates, and a lockdown on data access.

Protect Your Business and your Customers – Any business can find their systems vulnerable to attack at some point. Whether waiting for updates, a newly released zero-day hack, or malicious employee; responsible firms take steps to limit their liability.

As a rule, staff accounts should be locked to only the systems the regularly need to access. Similarly, customer data should only be open on an as-needed basis when a legitimate requirement exists. These steps, alongside systems and data monitoring, prevent a small-scale attack resulting in an enormous data breach. Strong security enables customers to place and maintain their trust in a brand they can keep coming back to again and again.

If your business could use a security update to protect against a Marriott style attack in the future, give us a call today at 570-779-4018.

business disaster

Most Businesses Won’t Survive a Disaster. Could Yours?

With the crazy weather we’re seeing, natural disasters and cyber terrorism echoing for years, it’s not a case of ‘if’ a disaster will strike your business, but ‘when’. Surprisingly, it’s not the scope and scale of the event that influences how deeply your business is impacted, it’s your business continuity plan.

Put simply, this is the all-important set of precautions and pre-planned responses to an event, laid out in bullet-proof detail and implemented with one driving focus: keeping your business running with little or no downtime. Think about what would happen if your business was hit by a natural disaster tomorrow. Would it survive? How much downtime would it take to push you into dangerous territory?

According to an IBM study of all the companies that had a major loss of data, 43% never reopen, 51% close within two years and just 6% will survive long-term. For a fraction of those survivors, business even continued as usual thanks to their ‘failsafe’ business continuity plan. It’s more than disaster recovery, it’s full preparedness that bypasses the need for 2+ weeks of downtime, financial ruin, wasted salaries and reputation loss – but it does require a higher level of planning…in advance.

Recommendations to Put You in the Surviving 6%

Prioritize: You’ll need to plan exactly what you’ll recover first and know who’s in charge of making it happen. It goes beyond jotting down a checklist of things to do, it’s taking an analytical, process-based approach to recovery for each unique business perspective. But it’s also realistic: there’s no point dedicating precious time to reviving the email system if your customer data is leaking onto the internet, even if email did rank as your top communication priority!

Backup: Of course, the most critical part of your business continuity is having full backups in three places. Why three? One copy locally which you use each day, a backup on another (disconnected) device in the same location, and one in the cloud. That local backup is your life-saver for system crashes, cyber-attacks and the like; the cloud backup comes into play when your business has taken a major physical hit, perhaps from fire or flood. Some businesses can run entirely location-independent when using cloud systems like Office365, which can be enough to put them in that 6% of disaster survivors.

Test: Make sure all employees know what the plan is if something goes wrong, and their specific roles in these scenarios. You can test, prepare and rehearse your continuity plan under simulated disaster conditions, which will uncover new obstacles, priorities and additional threats.

As your IT environment becomes more complex, carrying more responsibility and risk, so does the importance of a robust business continuity plan. The best BC plans look beyond disaster recovery, taking into account scalability of your system and scope of your individual business, to create strong battle lines that will keep your business operational, both now and for the long term.

Give us a call at 570-779-4018 to create a custom business continuity plan for your business.

6 Simple Tips to Protect Your Customer Data

As cyber-attacks continue to make headlines, hackers are exposing or selling customer data files in record numbers. But just like with any threat, there are actions you can take to minimize risk and ensure your business retains a positive reputation among customers.

  1. Stop using the same password on repeat. Set a mandate for all staff that passwords must be unique for each user and for your workplace. That means it can’t be remotely like the one on their home PC, tablet or online banking. Passwords are hacked more than ever, so when you’re prompted for a password change, dig deep and really think about what goes into a hacker-proof password. If remembering them is a problem, consider one of the latest password management tools.
  2. Go on a shredding spree. How much sensitive data is being dumped into the recycling bin? Valuable customer data is often taken from the bins of small businesses and quickly sold or published. It’s not just good practice to shred sensitive documents, it’s the law. Take 5 seconds to run documents through the shredder or book in the services of a secure shredding company.
  3. Ditch the accounting spreadsheets. Still using an Excel doc for all your number-crunching? Besides making your accountant’s job harder (and more expensive), you’re opening your business to a massive range of vulnerabilities. Even with password-protection, spreadsheets aren’t designed to safeguard your financials or those of your clients. Upgrade to a proper accounting solution with built-in customer data protections and security guarantees.
  4. Train staff explicitly. You can’t rely on common sense because what you think is a given might be news to someone else. It can be extremely beneficial to hold special data-safety training sessions once or twice a year as a reminder, as well as take the time to induct new staff into the way things are done.
  5. Limit access to data. Just like the bank manager who guards the keys to the vault, you can limit who accesses your data. Revoke employee access as soon as they leave your business for good, and set rules around who can access what – and when. Do they need access to sensitive information while working from home? Should they be able to change the files, or only view them?
  6. Keep your software updated. Possibly the most preventable hack, having outdated software can be an open invitation for cyber-criminals. They look for known weaknesses in business software and waltz right in. While the nagging pop-ups and reminders to update can feel like a selling ploy, they’re actually helping your business to stay in the safe zone. Updated software gives you protection against new viruses and hacking techniques, plus closes off those nasty weaknesses.

If you would like to make sure your business is secure from data breaches, give us a call!