Power Grid Cybersecurity– Keeping America’s Lights On

Power Grid Cybersecurity– Keeping America’s Lights On

The Energy Department’s Warning

The U.S. Energy Department has released its Quadrennial Energy Review, in which it warned of U.S. electrical power grids being in ‘imminent danger’ of cyber attack. The Department also stated that a widespread power outage caused by a cyber attack could mean the undermining of “critical defense infrastructure” and much of the economy, as well as place the health and safety of millions of citizens in jeopardy. As attacks of this nature are becoming more frequent and sophisticated, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has gone as far as to say that an attack on a U.S. power grid by a foreign enemy is one of their top concerns because such an attack could be one of the quickest ways to destroy the U.S. economy.

The issue of power grid security has become a concern for the Energy Department after allegations of Russian hacking on the U.S. election last year, as well as a supposed Russian attack on a Vermont electric utility at the start of the new year; However, whether or not these alleged Russian hacker scares are true, attacks of this nature have actually happened in the past quite frequently, and it is important to learn from these previous attacks on grids across the globe in order to properly secure these sources of energy from further attack.

Cyber Attacks on Energy Systems Across the Globe

Idaho, United States

In 2007, researchers for the Department of Energy conducted a vulnerability test on the power plant system at their Idaho lab. The staged attack, dubbed ‘Aurora,’ was launched by researchers to see where vulnerabilities might be hiding which ultimately resulted in the self-destruction of a generator. experimental cyber attack caused a generator to self-destruct. Though these were not malicious actors hacking into the system, this experimental cyber attack highlighted just how easy it would have been for a hacker to break in and cause harm. This was a bit of a wake up call for the federal government and electrical industry, as it made them think about what might happen if such an attack were carried out on a larger scale and by someone looking to cause harm to the American people.

Thankfully, by researching the vulnerabilities of the power grid in Idaho, the Energy Department has learned how to strengthen the cybersecurity defenses on these devices more so than ever before; though this is good news, acting undersecretary of DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, Robert Jamison, said that vulnerabilities of this type cannot be easily eliminated, rather they need constant monitoring and updates that tests like these can aid in.

Kiev, Ukraine

Though the cyber attack on the Idaho power plant was a staged event and not malicious in its nature, some grid attacks do not pan out so nicely. Just last month, an alleged Russian cyber attack was launched on a Ukrainian power grid in the country’s capital. This was the second year in a row where a holiday-timed cyber attack hit the Kiev grid. Vsevolod Kovalchuk, acting chief director of Ukrenergo, stated that a power distribution station near Kiev unexpectedly switched off early on a Sunday morning, leaving the northern part of the capital without electricity, adding that the outage amounted to 200 megawatts of capacity, which is equivalent to about a fifth of the capital’s energy consumption at night. He said there were only two possible explanations for the accident: a hardware failure or external interference; either way, regardless of which of these was the actual cause, it comes down to an inherent cybersecurity flaw.

Grid Vulnerabilities in the Modern Age

In the continental United States, there isn’t a single national grid; instead there are three major grids, (1) the Eastern Interconnect, (2) the Western Interconnect, and (3) the Texas Interconnect (in addition to the grids covering Alaska and Hawaii). As these electric grids comes into the 21st Century through things like Smart grids, which automate operations and ensure that components of the grid can communicate with each other as needed, cybersecurity needs to be even stronger in order to properly protect these grids. There are four major vulnerability areas in 21st Century electric grids (detailed below), and it is important for the U.S. to take note in order to properly prepare for future cyber attacks on power grids.

  1. Platform Configuration– This vulnerability comes from improper OS and application security patches maintenance, inadequate access controls, and unenforced password policies.
  2. Platform Software– This security flaw is similar to what businesses and individuals face daily, with cyber attacks such as DDoS, lack of intrusion detection and prevention, and malware/ransomware threats as well.
  3. Network Configuration– A grid experiences Network Configuration Vulnerability if network configurations or connections are not protected by something, specifically a hardware firewall. If there is nothing between the hackers and the network to protect it, it falls into this category. Also under this category are Network Perimeter Vulnerabilities which include any network leaks or insecure Internet connections.
  4. Network Communication– This vulnerability occurs when communication between people via devices connected on the network are compromised. This, like Network Configuration Vulnerabilities, is primarily caused by a leak in network security.

In their Quadrennial Energy Review, the Energy Department also stressed the importance of incorporating cybersecurity in these grids because of their impact on the Internet of Things.

Grid control systems now handle, sense, and control endpoints numbered in the thousands. Widespread DER/DR penetration implies that future grid control systems may have to coordinate millions of end point control devices to support grid functions. These devices vary in type, from digital sensors and smart boards built into transformers, to mobile devices used by field operators and grid control managers… Grid control systems must evolve from being centralized to a hybrid of central and distributed control platforms… grid security and reliability assurance concerns mean that Federal authorities must be included in designing 21st-century grid control systems.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 01/25/2016

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Are you Vulnerable When it comes to Cybersecurity?

In the cyber world, we often hear about how everyone today is vulnerable to attack–Be it businesses, individuals, or even nations, no one is safe from the cyber threats that run rampant today. Though we know generally what the term means, it is important for us to define what it means to be vulnerable in the context of cybersecurity.

So, what is cybersecurity vulnerability? Vulnerability is a term that refers to a flaw in a company’s system which leaves it exposed to and defenseless against the attacks of cyber criminals. A company is considered vulnerable when there are little-to-no protections between its data and malicious actors who want to steal that information. It’s like protecting your car from being broken into–if you leave it unlocked, it is much easier for criminals to get inside; by locking the vehicle, however, you make it that much harder for people to break in, and they will likely skip over your car to get into one that is easier to attack. Hackers often do the same thing when it comes to secure and vulnerable entities.

There are numerous flaws within a company that can leave it vulnerable, and among some of the most dangerous of these cybersecurity vulnerabilities are access control issues, buffer overflows, and social engineering.

Access Control Issues

Access controls are a major factor for any business’ operations in that they determine who is allowed to do what. This authorization is referred to as privileges (or permissions) which are access rights granted by the operating system. This can mean figuring out who is allowed into a company’s server room or determining who has access to private files that include sensitive client data.

If used properly, access controls can keep your business safe by not allowing certain information or locations to be easily accessed by everyone, even some employees within the company who simply do not need access to that information. If these controls are misused or not used at all, however, it can put your company data at risk by having control out of your hands.

Buffer Overflows

Buffer overflow is a very common cybersecurity vulnerability that is, unfortunately, also very hard to detect. A buffer is a reserved memory space; in a buffer overflow attack, an application, one that stores data in more space than its buffer, is exploited into manipulating other buffer addresses and using them for the criminal’s vicious plans. The manipulation of other buffer addresses includes overwriting the data, damaging that data, and sometimes deleting the data as well. Thankfully this vulnerability is as hard for the hackers to carry out as it is for systems to detect.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is a focused attack which tries to trick users into divulging confidential information, such as organization secrets, or granting them access to private company computers without the victim’s knowledge. It is easier for cyber criminals to trick humans than to hack into your company through intricate code, so this is a common attack method for these malicious actors. There are multiple scams included in social engineering, but the most prevalent of this type of vulnerability appears in the form of phishing emails.

The best way to protect against a phishing email is to educate your employees on what to look for, including (1) an urgent request/deadline, (2) an embedded link within the email, (3) poor grammar or spelling throughout, and (4) the email appears to be coming from an unknown sender. Social engineering is different from other cybersecurity vulnerabilities in that it preys on the weaknesses and lack of knowledge in the human operators of computers, rather than entering the business through a flaw in the technology itself.

How to Reduce Your Company’s Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities are what cybersecurity companies like Axiom seek to reduce in businesses everywhere. As with anything in the cyber world, there is no silver bullet solution to keeping your company safe from its own network flaws; however, there are a few things you can do in order to reduce your company’s vulnerabilities:

  1. Educate your Employees– Employees can be your weakest link in regards to cybersecurity if they are not knowledgeable about looming threats and vulnerabilities–educate these employees, however, and you’ve got your greatest asset in the fight to stay secure. Not only should IT employees be well-versed in current cybersecurity vulnerabilities, but for all employees, from the highest level executives to the newest interns, cybersecurity education needs to be a company-wide mission. If an employee authorizes something that they are not aware is malicious, no firewall can say that it is not allowed; employees are the first line of defense in protecting your data.
  2. Run a vulnerability analysis– By running such an assessment, you can spot security holes and flaws that leave you vulnerable to attack. Generally this process first defines flaws, identifies them if they are present, and then classifies them into their proper categories. Once these existing threats are known to your company, you can take the necessary steps to secure your business in these areas. Knowing where you stand currently in regards to cybersecurity vulnerability can give you an idea as to whether or not your security defenses are where they need to be to give you the peace of mind that you are properly protected.
  3. Keep software security patches updated– These patches can remedy flaws or security holes that were found in your vulnerability analysis. For those who can be forgetful in keeping anti-virus and anti-malware software up-to-date, you can set up automatic updates to stay ahead of this security flaw.
  4. Back up and encrypt your sensitive data– Locate where your important data, such as names, social security numbers, bank account information, passwords, and other personally identifiable information (PII), is stored and make it as secure as you possibly can. By having backed-up copies of this sensitive information and then encrypting these files, hackers won’t even be able to use this data if they are sneaky enough to steal it.
  5. Talk to a professional– Taking on the task of securing your business can be a challenge, but you don’t have to go it alone. Many companies, particularly smaller businesses who lack an in-depth IT department, reach out to professionals to manage their cybersecurity defenses. Axiom Cyber Solutions is proud to be helping businesses of all sizes across the country to get and stay secure from those flaws that leave them vulnerable with our SecureAmerica Automated Threat Defense Platform.

All companies are vulnerable to attack–in fact IT professionals say it’s not a matter of if an entity will experience a data breach, but rather when. That being said, by implementing these steps above, you can make it harder for hackers to get to your private information and make yourself and your company less vulnerable to attack.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 1/17/2017

4 IoT Trend Predictions for 2017

4 IoT Trend Predictions for 2017

The Internet of Things (IoT) allows for every day devices to be connected to each other via the Internet. With each passing year, it appears as though we grow closer and closer to a world that is inherently connected– and 2017 is no exception. Experts have many predictions and expectations for what the new year will bring to the IoT world; here are four of the most hotly discussed of these predictions:

Government Acceptance and Regulations

Business and consumers are expected to be the largest areas of growth when it comes to IoT adoption and implementation; However, it is predicted that governments will be the second-largest sector to adopt IoT ecosystems during 2017. With the changing of presidential power in the United States later this month, and President-elect Trump’s planfor tackling cybersecurity threats, it is likely that at least within the next four years, some approach on the government end will be made to try and protect against the intrinsic security flaws of IoT devices. Many cyber security professionals are urging these government officials to require higher levels of strong security built into these vulnerable devices.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) was made widely popular among consumers in 2016 with wearable headsets that allowed you to become semi-immersed in a virtual world, just by looking around with a pair of goggles on your head. This area of IoT is expected to have a shift from growth that focuses on these wearable hardware devices to developing more software–primarily in regards to content creation.

2017 is said to be the year that top-level content creators will try and make this semi-immersive experience even more captivating and realistic than ever before. While primarily seen in the gaming industry thus far, the tourism industry is expected incorporate VR technology into their marketing strategies–allowing customers added benefits to their experiences while on their trips and in previewing future trips as well. This is just one of the advancements of digital marketing, another area of IoT that is expected to grow greatly in 2017.

It is expected that consumer use of these wearable devices, especially those with a connected smartphone adaptability component, will skyrocket alongside these expected software advancements.

Artificial Intelligence

While, to most of us, Artificial Intelligence (AI) sounds like something far off into the future, it is a component of the technological world that is already impacting our lives today. Smart cars, GPS, Virtual Personal Assistants like Siri and Alexa, and almost any other household smart devices fall under the broad category that is modern AI. Because these devices are connected through the Internet, experts have some predictions for Artificial Intelligence that are likely to affect the IoT world. These predictions are best stated by Code42 chief security officer and chief privacy officer, Rick Orloff:

“There is a big distinction between artificial intelligence (AI) and artificial general intelligence (AGI). The former is akin to your GPS finding the best route to the airport, with the latter being associated with actual intelligent thought, which ties into robotics. As we rely on artificial intelligence to handle more tasks and both these categories evolve, we’re going to see a huge demand in 2017 for security skills applied to AGI, AI, and robotics, even more so when you combine AGI and robotics. The need for better real-time data correlation to improve the service stack as well as the security stack will become a critical skill set.”

-Rick Orloff, CSO/CPO, Code42

Smart Cities

Smart cities are those cities that integrate technology, specifically IoT, solutions into the overall management of their assets–including schools, hospitals, power plants, and many more integral players in the community. According to the Internet of Things Institute, Singapore is currently the smartest city in the world for its use of IoT technology to run its operations. Along with other IoT related phenomena, smart cities are expected to be on the rise across the globe in 2017. There is predicted to be a special focus on investment models to support the implementation of city-wide energy efficient systems, according to Analysys Mason.

These smart cities are excellent in using technology to allow their citizens to collaborate, but it is not a challenge-less process. Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, global director, Smart Cities Strategies at IDC, had this to say in regards to the growing popularity of these IoT-run towns:

“The awareness of the potential of Smart Cities has grown exponentially over the past year. States, provinces, counties, cities, and national governments realize they can positively alter the lives of millions of urban residents with the technology and data-driven opportunities digital transformation provides. This transformation is not without challenges, as a broad ecosystems of partners must work together to implement complex initiatives, and this will affect the entire program life cycle from policies and regulation to worker training and process improvements.”

-Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, global director, Smart Cities Strategies at IDC.


While all of these advancements in the IoT realm of the technology world are exciting, one major flaw that is expected to continue is the hacking of IoT smart devices. This will bring about infinite new approaches, solutions, and business models in the fight to keep these devices protected. Among many other ways which will develop alongside their growing threat counterparts, here are a few ways in which you can protect your home against IoT threats.

  1. Turn off remote access to your devices when not in use–When at all possible, turn off remote access to your IoT devices. By leaving a device active while not in use, you are leaving it extremely vulnerable to use in a cyber attack, such as DDoS or even ransomware.
  2. Change all device login credentials from their default settings– Change your usernames and passwords to something hard to guess rather than leaving them vulnerable by using the same, basic credentials that came installed on your devices when you bought them. This is likely the same password used on similar devices, and using such passwords make them even more vulnerable to attack–once hackers figure out the password to one default device, they’ll be able to infect and take hostage any other device left in its default settings.
  3. Update your systems early and often– Stay on top of your system updates so that your network is well-protected. Activate fully automatic updates if it is hard for you to remember to update frequently, as it is for many of us. By doing this, you will never be behind in securing your devices with the most up-to-date protections.
  4. Research. Research. Research. Before you bring any connected devices into your home, you need to do your research to learn about the devices’ security features. As more and more consumers become cognizant of the security flaws that come installed in smart devices, such as vulnerable backdoors, manufacturers will need to begin taking note and creating these devices with security in mind. Until that time, protect yourself by doing a simple Google search to find out if your desired device is right for you.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 01/05/2017

The Real Costs of Cyber Attacks

The Real Costs of Cyber Attacks

Cyber attacks constantly top the news headlines–be it yet another massive data breach for Yahoo! or the findings that ransomware can now infect Smart TVs running Android OS, our world seems to always be threatened by some sort of cyber phenomenon or another. These cyber attacks threaten companies with their various costs, both measurable and immeasurable, and some of the most common costly cyber attacks are DDoS attacks, ransomware attacks, and data breaches.

Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attacks

A distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack occurs when an Internet circuit is flooded with so much Internet traffic, referred to as “packets,” that the Internet becomes jammed and then stops, similar to traffic build-up on a busy interstate that eventually leads to a bumper-to-bumper standstill. This is done by malicious actors to prevent legitimate users from accessing a website. When this type of attack occurs, it can either be meant to flood the company’s network infrastructure to block connections to the entirety of its site or more targeted at specific applications to block company use–and sometimes it can be both. When a company experiences a DDoS attack, it is important for them to know the costs involved.

The biggest costs surrounding a DDoS attack are related to getting the business’ domain operational again–meaning lots of money and time must be dedicated to fixing the issue. As of 2014, the average hourly cost to a company to try and mediate a DDoS attack was $40,000 an hour; as the the number of occurrences and the strength of DDoS attacks has increased since then, it is likely that this cost has risen as well. With two-thirds of attacks lasting 6 hours or more (16% of which lasted 1 to 7+ days), it is obvious that this can be a hefty price for a company to pay.

DDoS attacks are fairly preventable compared to other cyber attacks, and one of the best ways to prevent an attack is through early detection. Costs surrounding a DDoS attack can be reduced significantly with early detection, and there are simple steps a company can take in order to fight an attack once one has been detected. Companies can run a script on their servers that sends a message periodically with the recent traffic count. Monitoring and managing traffic is essential in preventing a DDoS attack. Once a pattern has been recognized, it is important for the bad traffic to be blocked without blocking those legitimate users who wish to access the site. It is important to be ready with strong incident response and DDoS mitigation plans in order to prevent the costs incurred by your company from getting out of hand.

Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money, or ransom, is paid. Though now primarily known by this definition as a cyber crime, ransomware has been around since before the internet gained its popularity. Since then, the threat has grown drastically with the flourishing of the Internet, not only in its complexity but in its reach as well. 2016 experienced record amounts of complex ransomware attacks–with attacks totaling over $1 billion as of September 2016 for the year and an average of 4,000 attacks each day in the United States alone. While it is known that one of the costs surrounding ransomware is the actual ransom paid to the criminals in order to regain access to a company’s precious files, there are other hidden costs that are important for organizations to know about as well.

According to a survey conducted by the market research firm Vanson Bourne on behalf of SentinelOne, it takes an average of 33 man hours for an organization to recover from a ransomware attack. Researchers who conducted this survey make the assumption that the average employee makes around $20 per hour, meaning that this cost alone is more than $6,000 for each attack, and this varies based upon the company’s size and the employees’ actual rate of pay. Ransoms are commonly collected in the form of Bitcoin, a digital currency that uses encryption, created and held solely online. The average ransom is worth around 1-2 Bitcoin, and the current exchange rates show that the currency is worth over 1,000 USD per coin–but some especially malicious hackers charge their victims even more to regain access to their important and private files.

Similar to handling a DDoS attack, prevention is preferable to reaction when it comes to combating ransomware. By setting up a plan that includes the use of an antivirus and malware software, keeping all of your operating systems and computers up-to-date, enabling automatic updates, the use of a pop-up or ad-blocker, use of strong and unique passwords, and avoiding suspicious links and emails, you can prevent ransomware from infiltrating your company to begin with. The greatest defense you can have is a strong, managed firewall, as well as cyber-aware employees.

Data Breaches

The cold, hard truth about data breaches is that most IT professionals adhere to the belief that it is not a matter of if a company will be affected by a data breach, but rather when–and 2016 was not exempt from this belief either.

According to the 2016 Cost of Data Breach Study: Global Analysis from Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach in 2016 was $4 million, with the average cost per record stolen in a data breach for this time being $158 (an increase of $4 per record from last year’s average); this cost was even greater for the healthcare and retail fields, at $355/record and $172/record respectfully. Costs associated with data breaches continue to climb yearly, so this Ponemon Institute Study took a look at why exactly this is occurring.

Researchers found three major causes for this hike in costs surrounding data breaches:

  1.  Nearly half of all data breaches are malicious attacks— Forty-eight percent of data breaches for 2016 were criminal and malicious attacks. This type of breach takes the most time to detect and contain, and this extra time devoted to remedying the situation results in a higher cost per record stolen. Since professionals believe it is only a matter of time before your company is hit with a data breach, it is important to prepare for the inevitable attack. By accepting that a breach will occur and creating a plan of action for when it does, you can protect your business from getting hit as hard as it might have been without proper preventative measures put in place.
  2. Costs surrounding lost business have increased As with other attacks, when a company faces a data breach, some of their customers will see this as a major fundamental flaw with the company itself and consequently, these enterprises will experience lost business. This is the biggest financial consequence to organizations that have experienced a data breach. Because of this cost being as significant as it is, after a company experiences a data breach, it is essential that they take steps to help retain customers’ trust in order to reduce the long-term financial impact.
  3. The cost of quality threat detection is growing rapidly— When a data breach is threatening an organization, the company needs to handle the situation as though it is a First 48 investigation–the more time that passes without a solution to the issue, the harder and more costly it becomes to resolve. According to the Ponemon Institute Study, detection and escalation costs have increased each year they have conducted this study, which suggests investments are being made in technologies and in-house expertise to reduce the time to detect and contain a breach. Companies who feel as though quality threat detection and escalation are out of reach for them financially can find an external cybersecurity management partner to help protect the organization from attack.

These threats, as well as others, torment businesses year after year, costing them millions upon millions of dollars as well as significant chunks of their time. It is important for businesses to be prepared to prevent each attack as much as they possibly can in order to keep their customers’ trust and reduce the costs surrounding such a devastating event as a cyber attack.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 01/02/2017

Cyber-Aware Employees: A Company’s Greatest Asset

Cyber-Aware Employees: A Company’s Greatest Asset

Cyber security professionals often harp on the importance of businesses adopting the latest technologies–Next-Generation Firewalls, cloud-connected-everything, two-factor authentication, and much, much more– to protect their enterprises from attack; However, none of these defenses are effective in the least if their operators are not aware of the vulnerabilities and threats that face them. Who are these operators? Your employees–and they need to know how to protect themselves and your company from attack.

Employee error was sited as the number one cause of data breaches in 2015, and though a small portion of these might have been caused intentionally by malicious employees, IT pros believe that nearly 80% of breaches they deal with are caused by employee negligence and lack of cyber security knowledge.  As Sir Francis Bacon and the characters on Schoolhouse Rock have taught us all, knowledge is power. It’s the kind of power that, when spread to others, makes us all stronger as a unit–and this applies to companies as well. You can strengthen your company’s overall cyber security defenses by educating your employees with these helpful tips:

Implementation of Password Best Practices

Almost every one of us could fill a Rolodex with the number of websites we subscribe to which require some sort of password to access the specific account, so it seems obvious that password security is a key issue when it comes to protecting yourself while online; however, in a world where ‘123456’ and ‘password’ still top the list as the most popular passwords, it is worth reviewing with your employees some of the ‘password best practices.’

  • Create unique, strong passwords for each accountEmployees should create passwords that are longer than 8 characters in length, have a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and these passwords should not contain “guessable” words and phrases, such as employee’s username or the company name.
  • Change passwords oftenOf those surveyed, 76% of employees are prompted by IT to change passwords on work accounts every 1-3 months. This not only allows for current employees to protect their active accounts, but it gives the IT department the ability to detect dormant accounts which are often the gateways which leave a company vulnerable to attack.
  • Require multi-factor authenticationIn addition to passwords, many companies require their employees to enter in another identifier in order to indicate their true validity. These include things such as a time-sensitive code, facial recognition, fingerprints, and even retina scan.

Training of All Employees

  • Have a cyber security plan–All companies should have a strong cyber security plan in order to protect their business. Many people think that the IT department of a company is the only place where people need to be well-versed in all that is cyber security, including knowledge of the company’s cyber security plans; however, the reality is that protecting a company on the cyber front is the responsibility of all employees. Pat Toth, a Supervisory Computer Scientist at NIST, said, “You can’t just rely on one person in a 10-person company; everyone needs to have a good understanding of cybersecurity and what the risks are for the organization.”
  • Educate everyone–Toth’s sentiment not only applies to lower level employees, or even solely to mid-level employees and below–Everyone from the CEO on down to the newest employee should be knowledgeable, not only of the corporation’s cyber security plan, but also current cyber threats and how to identify them.
  • Threat awareness & testingRansomware and DDoS have plagued companies more than ever in 2016, and the primary way they got access to private information has been through phishing schemes. Phishing occurs when impostors pose as reliable entities, such as banks, universities, or other well-known companies, via electronic communication, to solicit personal information which they can then use to steal people’s identities or infect their computers with malware. Employees receive emails with a suspicious link and when they click on it, they are infected with some cyber-attack which can either leak data from their own computer, or give the hacker unauthorized access to vital information. It is important for corporations to train their employees to be able to spot such threats. Companies like J.P. Morgan have taken a different approach to training employees on this when they sent out fake phishing emails to employees shortly after training them on the cyber-scheme. They were able to trick 20% of their employees–a scary thought when factoring in the massive size of the company.
  • Secure handling of sensitive dataEmployees need to know how to handle your company’s sensitive data. Be it digital encryption or hard copy paper shredding, employees need to take every precaution when it comes to protecting your data. Though it is important for employees to do things such as back up information to an external hard drive, they should be responsible in making sure that that is not stored in an easily accessible place.

Promotion of Open Communication Among All Employees

If an employee finds a suspicious email in their inbox, they should feel comfortable verifying its validity with others. It is important for employees to be able to ask questions when they are in doubt, as this shows that they have paid attention during training sessions and don’t want to do something that would put the entire company in jeopardy. Promoting open communication about cyber security best practices among all employees will help them to learn from and teach each other, making every member of the company cyber-aware.

Educated employees are able to recognize threats and they continually take simple steps that allow them to practice strong cyber security defenses– if you fail to teach your employees how to defend against attack in the first place, it is not them who have failed the company, rather you. By making your employees cyber-aware, you can protect your business better than with any other piece of machinery. Employees don’t have to be tech savvy to be technologically responsible and aware of their impact on the company’s overall cyber security.

For more tips on how to keep your employees educated on the latest cyber security threats, read Employees: The Greatest Risk and Defense In Cyber Crime, written by Axiom Cyber Solutions President, Shannon Wilkinson.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 12/22/2016

Women in IT: Empowering Innovation

Women in IT: Empowering Innovation

Throughout history, women have been fighting for the ability to pursue their dreams and a major part in this pursuit has been the fight to be able to participate in the workforce. Women started heavily joining the workforce during 1954-1980; Currently, 57% of adult women are a part of the labor force, and that number continues to grow. While this shows great progress for women determined to have careers, the mathematical and technical industries are still heavily male-dominated.

One industry that many are aware of this gender gap is I.T., with women only making up a mere 26% of the available positions. This statistic is surprising because the cyber-world itself is struggling to fill positions with qualified individuals. By 2020, it is predicted that there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing-related fields, however, U.S. graduates are on track to fill only 29% of those jobs, with women filling just 3%. Though this may seem disheartening, major companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are actively working to promote increases diversity in companies, as they recognize that the majority of workers in technology are white males. Studies show that hiring women in IT roles is beneficial to businesses, as tech companies with women in leadership positions have a 34% higher return on investment than their counterparts. This, coupled with the fact that 35% of young people interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers are girls, with that number growing increasingly each year, shows that there is hope for more women being a part of the future of technology.

shannon-wilkinson_las-vegas-woman-magazine-coverAxiom Cyber Solutions President, Shannon Wilkinson, is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Las Vegas Woman Magazine as being a woman of importance in the Las Vegas community, as a business owner, woman in IT, and as an example of a successful woman (read the full cover story here). In honor of her being both featured on the cover of Las Vegas Woman, as well as being an influential woman in IT, we decided to delve a little deeper into her experience in the technology world, what has aided in her success, and what she has to say to women with a similar career goal in mind.

How did you get into the IT field?

“The first time I used a computer was when I was in 5th grade and it was the beginning of my attraction to technology. My classroom received a donation of a computer and we were allowed to skip recess to use the computer and I spent many an afternoon waiting my turn to use the computer. Later in life, in college as I started to think about what I wanted to do as a career when I graduated, I realized that my idea of being a lawyer probably was not right for me and I should do something that I’ve always loved because I am a firm believer in the phrase “if you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day in your life” and the rest is history!”


What motivates you?

“I like to solve problems through the use of technology. America’s businesses are under constant attack by cybercriminals but for many, cybersecurity is a difficult and expensive endeavor. Through Axiom’s automated, intelligent, and innovative Threat Protection Platform that sits behind our firewalls, we are able to extend cybersecurity protection to all businesses that is easy to use and affordable.”

Do you find that you are treated the same as men in the industry?

“I personally have never felt any difference from being a female in the technology field. I’ve never accepted the idea that I couldn’t be successful in the technology field because I was female. I didn’t let the fact that I struggle with math due to numlexia (dyslexia of numbers) stop me from pursing a university degree that required advanced mathematics because that meant giving up on myself and my dreams.”

What woman/women inspire(s) you?

“Both my mom and step-mom (who I just call Mom as well) both have inspired me throughout my childhood and adult life. By watching them dedicate their lives to their careers, I gained a respect for hard-work and witnessed the power of confidence in self. It is through seeing them be successful in life that I learned that there is nothing that can hold me back except myself. I had to believe in me before anyone else would.

If I had to pick a historical figure, I would pick Eleanor Roosevelt as one of my favorite quotes comes from her. “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” Again, that speaks to me about having confidence and trust in yourself.”

What is your favorite part about your job?

“I enjoy trying to find new ways to solve old problems so in short, the innovation. Our ransomware algorithm arose out of a company discussion about how to help stop the rising flood of ransomware attacks that were crippling businesses. We knew that there had to be a better way to stop ransomware and it took about two days but we came up with a way to stop ransomware from activating through an algorithm that lives in each of our devices.”

What advice do you have to young women considering a career in an IT-related field?

“Don’t play into the nay-sayers that will tell you that your gender will somehow prevent you from being wildly successful. Believe in yourself and your abilities. If something is hard, work at it harder. Never give up on yourself.”

As you can see, Shannon Wilkinson and women such as herself can do anything they set their minds to, both within the IT world and beyond. Though statistics on women in technology may be intimidating, it is clear that with the right attitude, determination, and perseverance, your gender nor any other factor will stand in the way of your success. If you’re interested  in learning more about cybersecurity and what it takes to be in the field, please visit https://axiomcyber.com/.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 11/18/2016

The 2016 Presidential Candidates & Their Views on Cybersecurity

The 2016 Presidential Candidates & Their Views on Cybersecurity

No matter which side you might fall on, we all can agree that this has been by far one of the most interesting political seasons to say the least.

As chaotic and controversial as this election has been though, it is all finally dwindling down next Tuesday, November 8th, as we will finally find out who will be our next President of the United States. This election is one of the most important yet and it will surely go down in history as one that has been the basis for many discussions and disputes in the homes of Americans. Among the many issues discussed, cybersecurity has been a major talking point at many of this year’s debates and campaign rallies. Millennials have even weighed in saying that a candidate’s position on cybersecurity is an important issue to them.

Being a technology-related topic, this is one of the newer issues that candidates must weigh in on that has not been involved in many previous elections. Because of this, many people may have questions surrounding this topic. To help answer some of these questions, below is more information on each of the candidates’ views on cybersecurity as well as their plans of attack, should they be elected.

Hillary Clinton


Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, encompasses her cybersecurity plan under her more broad national security goals. Clinton focuses her plan on combating what she claims to be foreign threats from countries including China and Russia, though she recognizes that there are domestic threats as well. She sees that cybersecurity will be of great importance if she were to be elected, saying, “[Cybersecurity is] one of the most important challenges the next president is going to face…” Clinton promises to stay ahead of cyber-threats, saying, “Our country will outpace this rapidly changing threat, maintain strong protections against unwarranted government or corporate surveillance, and ensure American companies are the most competitive in the world.” Clinton has outlined a few preliminary steps that would be crucial to her cybersecurity plans, and consequently, her overall nation security plan as well:


  1. Promote cybersecurity by building upon the U.S. Cybersecurity National Action Plan and upgrading government-wide cybersecurity.
  2. Safeguard the free flow of information across borders to find alignment in national data privacy laws and protect data flows between countries.
  3. Protect online privacy and security through bringing together cybersecurity and public safety communities to work together on solutions that address law enforcement needs while preserving individual privacy and security.


Donald Trump


Well-known business man and former television producer/host turned politician, Donald J. Trump, is the 2016 Republican Presidential nominee. Similar to his Democratic rival, he believes that the threat of cybersecurity is not only real, but needs to be dealt with swiftly and with extreme precision. His overall view on the issue is well summarized when he says, “The scope of our cybersecurity problem is enormous. Our government, our businesses, our trade secrets and our citizens’ most sensitive information are all facing constant cyber-attacks.” During a campaign event in early October, Trump said that if he did become President, “…improving cybersecurity will be an immediate and top priority for my administration.” Though the candidates both agree that cybersecurity is a major threat, like most things, Donald Trump has a different view on how to handle it than Hillary Clinton:


  1. Order an immediate review of all U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities by a Cyber Review Team of individuals from the military, law enforcement, and the private sector and have this Review Team provide specific recommendations for safeguarding different entities with the best defense technologies tailored to the likely threats.
  2. Establish detailed protocols and mandatory cyber awareness training for all government employees while remaining current on various cyber-attacks.
  3. Instruct the U.S. Department of Justice to create Joint Task Forces throughout the U.S. to coordinate Federal, State, and local law enforcement responses to cyber threats.
  4. Develop the offensive cyber capabilities needed to deter attacks by state and non-state actors and, if necessary, to respond appropriately to attack.

Third-Party Candidates

The third party candidates also competing to become POTUS this year include Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, and Green party candidate, Jill Stein. Though the two have not participated in the televised Presidential debates, they each have a stance on cybersecurity. Johnson claims that he would have as little federal government control on the Internet as possible, having “criticized the Patriot Act and cybersecurity legislation for allowing the government access into the lives of private citizens.” Jill Stein says that were she elected, she would plan to negotiate an international treaty banning cyberwarfare with the nation’s overall security in mind.

Go Vote!


Regardless of your stance in this political race, make sure that you exercise your right to vote! No matter which issues matter most to you, Americans throughout history have fought for us all to have the freedom to participate in this political process, and it is extremely important for each individual to go out and vote in this election in order to have his or her voice heard!

As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”


Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 11/03/2016

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Password Security: The Most Basic and Essential Cybersecurity Defense

Password Security: The Most Basic and Essential Cybersecurity Defense

National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) is being recognized for the thirteenth year in a row this October, and with this anniversary comes the reminder that enhanced cybersecurity defenses are necessary for everyone from large, multinational corporations all the way down to families and individuals. The overall theme of the month is that cybersecurity is our shared responsibilitymeaning that it is not just the duty of IT professionals or CEOs to be cyber aware, but it is all of our collective obligation to act as a cohesive unit in the fight against cyber crime.

Many people become overwhelmed with the amount of information they are supposed to remember surrounding cybersecurity–“don’t click on this type of link,” “watch out for this sign of malware,” and so many more–but these issues cannot even begin to be addressed until we refine the most basic and essential cybersecurity measure of them all: strong password security. 

At this point in our technological age, everyone is well aware of passwords being of significant importance when it comes to safety and security on the Internet; though most may agree with this sentiment in theory, many are not implementing this idea in practice, despite being well-aware of the consequences.

The Myspace data breach from earlier this year left 360 million accounts’ passwords exposed on the Internet. Despite this massive amount of personal information now out there in the open, many people did not feel the same way about this breach as they might a breach of another website, primarily due to the fact that they had not visited the site since the prominence of Facebook and Twitter came about. Though many people may not have accessed that site in quite some time, some still use their Myspace password or one similar to it as passwords for other websites. Consequently, these dormant accounts with poorly secured passwords have left people vulnerable to a plethora of other attacks. Password security is an area of cybersecurity that needs to be taken much more seriously in order to avoid these types of threats.

Secure Password Tips

The average person today has a whopping 22 passwords just for their professional data, and that does not even include their personal information like social media and private email accounts. ‘Password hygiene’ is the active implementation of password security best practices and some tips to make keep your password hygiene squeaky clean include:

  • Do not use the same password for different accounts–Three-quarters of consumers use ‘repeat passwords’ across multiple platforms. When they do this, if one account is compromised, they leave all other accounts protected by the same password exposed to further attack.
  • Change your passwords often–By leaving passwords stagnant rather than changing them regularly, it is that much easier for hackers and other cyber criminals to guess your password and give them access to your personal information. Forty-seven percent of people are securing their financial accounts online with passwords that have not been changed in five years, and this is extremely dangerous. In addition to changing your own passwords often for both professional and personal accounts, it is important for employers to avoid using default passwords when setting up accounts for new employees. Default passwords give criminals an open, unsecured door into your entire enterprise.
  • Never give out your password to anyone–When you share your password with even one other person, you are exposing your accounts that much further to cyber criminals. By being solely responsible for your own data, you can contribute to the NCSAM philosophy of security being our shared responsibility by being personally accountable for your own data.
  • Do not use easy to guess words or phrases in your password–Though you may sincerely love your dog or favorite band, it is important to be aware of what information people know about you that they can use to guess your password. Though you should not blatantly use ‘dictionary words,’ this idea can be a good jumping off point for coming up with more complex passwords. One way to do this is by being liberal about character substitutions, such as replacing “o” with “0,” “e” with “3,” or “i” with !.”
  • When possible, utilize sites’ multi-factor authentication–Most websites now use two-factor authentication where there is not only a password used to protect your account, but also a one time code you enter in to verify your identity. This simple step takes a few minutes at most and can make a huge difference in your personal cybersecurity defense.
  • Use a password manager to make remembering passwords simple–A big complaint by most of us is that there are just so many passwords to remember across the different areas of our lives, and it can be very difficult to remember all of these when they are also meant to be intricate and hard for hackers to guess. One way to ease this burden is by utilizing a password manager. A password manager is generally a free database that you can download to your computer (often coupled with a smartphone application option) where you can store all of your passwords. When this is used, you only have to remember one complex password rather than your entire catalog of password information.

One of the biggest fallacies people believe surrounding cyber crime is “It won’t happen to me,” when in reality, it is likely that this will not be the case. A major philosophy of many cyber experts is that it is not a matter of if we will all be attacked online, but when. While this is a rather daunting thought, there are ways which we can lessen these chances, the most basic of which being securing our passwords. By coming together and taking this small step, we can be more accountable for our presence online as a whole, sharing the struggle of cybersecurity as our shared responsibility.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 10/21/2016

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Cybersecurity Fatigue: Overwhelmed by Online Security Issues

Cybersecurity Fatigue: Overwhelmed by Online Security Issues

No matter what side of the political fence you fall on, you are probably exhausted by now with the constant 24-hour a day news cycle bombarding us all with ads for politicians on both the local and national scale. While this is a fairly common occurrence, as we experience this feeling every few years, many people are feeling a similar weariness which has not been seen before when it comes to cybersecurity.

A new study published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in partnership with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has found that over 94% of people between the ages of 20 to 60 years old feel “overwhelmed and bombarded, and tired of being on constant alert, adopting safe behavior, and trying to understand the nuances of online security issues.” This exhaustion leads to many people flat out ignoring security warnings, while others tend to grow worn out by security updates and the ever-expanding grocery list of passwords which they must remember. These experiences of high levels of fatigue coupled with many of the respondents’ claims of not knowing anyone who has been attacked and being skeptical of an attack on themselves as well, leads to people throwing security and safety measures out the window, putting themselves and the companies they work for in danger of attack.

What websites can do to ease security fatigue

While many times it is recommended that users do something to combat security issues and cyber-crimes, this is exactly what is leading to their fatigue. Because of this, the study says websites and online services needed to do a better job of coordinating how they approach security to lighten the load on users. A few ways which they can achieve this are by:

  1. Limiting the number of security decisions users need to make
  2. Making it simple for users to choose the right security action
  3. Designing for consistent decision making whenever possible

These are some of the best ways we can combat security fatigue at the source, but one of the biggest issues raised from the study not resolved by these steps is that of password security.

Password security fatigue, solved

Many people in the study claimed that not only having to have different, intricate, and long passwords for each site was stressful, but trying to remember them all actually made them simply resort to the poor practice of using the same one for all sites. The average number of passwords per person today is 22 compared to just one not that many years ago, so it is easy to see how people can get overwhelmed when it comes to password security. The study says that you are not supposed to remember all of your passwords, however, rather you should use a computer password manager which can store everything for you and even generate new, complex passwords, saving you even more time. With this, you only need to remember one password and then you have access to all others. KeePass is just one of the many password managers out there that is free, easy-to-install, and gets the job done. By simplifying password security, we can ease the stress put on ourselves by security fatigue.

What companies can do to ease security fatigue

In addition to websites and users, companies have a significant role when it comes to easing user security fatigue. There will continuously be a new variant of ransomware, a more intricate phishing scam, or some other threat posed to companies and their employees. With all of these threats imposing themselves on employees constantly, companies need to have clear, specific guidelines to show users what to do in the event they become exhausted by implementing cybersecurity best practices. By clearly going over what to do in various situations with set ‘plans of attack’, companies can prepare their employees by instilling good cybersecurity habits in them. “If safe behavior becomes habitual, then when we feel swamped by the craziness of the online world we will at least fall back into habits that have been designed to protect us, rather than put us at greater risk,” says the reports’ co-author Mary Theofanos.

Security fatigue in America is a real thing and it is a major threat to the future of cybersecurity. By websites, companies, and users coming together to try and ease this process, hopefully, we can make the online world a little more safe and a little less overwhelming.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 10/14/2016

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National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Our Shared Responsibility

National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Our Shared Responsibility

From data breaches affecting multi-million dollar corporations to ransomware targeted at the health-care industry to the real-life repercussions of insulin pump hacking, cybersecurity threats are everywhere. Emphasized by both the current President and both major political party nominees as well as the director of the FBI, it is apparent that cybersecurity is a serious concern for the nation.

Because of these impending threats, it is important for awareness of cybersecurity to be a nationwide occurrence. This October marks the thirteenth year of celebrating National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). Created by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division (NCSD), the observance of this month has grown both in popularity and in importance.

In addition to being the thirteenth year of the month’s observance, it is also the sixth year of the STOP. THINK. CONNECT. campaign. This campaign is a movement to promote simple cyber-awareness for all individuals which they can use every single time they access the Internet. The steps are quite clear:

STOP: make sure security measures are in place. THINK: about the consequences of your actions and behaviors online. CONNECT: and enjoy the Internet.

The STOP. THINK. CONNECT. campaign is the focus for the first week of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, with the subsequent weeks’ topics including harboring a cybersecurity culture in the workplace, recognizing and combating threats, examining the future of tech and IT security, as well as emphasizing the importance of critical infrastructure. While it is important for individuals to be cyber-aware, it is equally if not more important for businesses to know their risks as well.

All Businesses Need Cybersecurity

Different things come to people’s minds when they think about cybersecurity in relation to business. For some, they think of the statistics surrounding small-to-medium-sized businesses such as how 71% of cyber attacks target SMBs. For others, the data breaches of major corporations such as Target and Sony come to mind. In reality, all of these entities have a dire need for cybersecurity. There is no silver bullet when it comes to securing cyber defenses, however, so it is important for companies of all sizes to put in place multiple layers of protection against threats. Some key precautions that need to be implemented regardless of size or industry of a business include:

  1. Anti-virus Protection—Utilizing an anti-virus software is one of the most basic ways to protect a company’s computers and system. A strong anti-virus software is necessary in order to detect and remove viruses before they harm your system.
  2. Firewall ImplementationUse of a firewall helps secure your network from cyber attacks by preventing them from accessing your system in the first place. Though there are both software and hardware options when it comes to firewalls, for businesses, it is recommended that hardware firewalls, especially Next-Generation Firewalls, be used since these protect whole systems compared to their software cousins that only protect the individual computer on which they are installed.
  3. Network Monitoring—Network monitoring, be it performed internally or provided externally through a cybersecurity partner, is a crucial aspect of cybersecurity defense. This service notifies the network administrator of any oddities such as intrusion detection and overloaded servers, which can help them to fix these issues quickly. Simply setting up cybersecurity will not be enough, these defenses need to be monitored often so that a company knows where its weaknesses lie.
  4. Employee Education—While employees are often a company’s greatest asset, they can also be its greatest cybersecurity threat. Malicious actors do make up a large portion of the threat, however, a major, fixable component is a lack of employee knowledge. The easiest way to fix this is to have company-wide training on various cyber-threats including phishing, able to trick nearly a third of employees, as well as ransomware threats. These two cybercrimes are the most egregious according to the FBI and are increasingly becoming their focus in the fight against cybercriminals, so it is especially important to educate employees in these areas. By educating employees, a company can both strengthen their cybersecurity defenses, as well as empower their employees to be more accountable for their behavior online.

Our Shared Responsibility

The major theme with National Cyber Security Awareness Month is the idea of a collective accountability when it comes to cybersecurity defenses. We are all connected through the Internet, and because of this, the NCSA emphasizes that it is our shared responsibility to protect this shared resource. This sentiment cannot be better summarized than by the following quote,

No individual, business or government entity is solely responsible for securing the Internet. Everyone has a role in securing their part of cyberspace, including the devices and networks they use. Individual actions have a collective impact and when we use the Internet safely, we make it more secure for everyone. If each of us does our part—implementing stronger security practices, raising community awareness, educating young people or training employees—together we will be a digital society safer and more resistant from attacks and more resilient if an attack occurs.

If you would like to find out more about National Cyber Security Awareness Month, please visit https://staysafeonline.org/ncsam/ to learn more about how you can get involved. If you would like to enhance your own cybersecurity defenses, regardless of the size of your company, please contact Axiom Cyber Solutions to see how our managed cyber solutions can help you get and stay secure.

Hailey R. Carlson | Axiom Cyber Solutions | 10/07/2016

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