Tag: firmware

ePidemiology: Applying concepts of herd immunity and public health to cyber security

Metaphors for cyber security tend to gravitate towards the adversarial. We break into teams. We assign colors. We talk in terms of warfare. We man battle stations and try to push back against bad guys on active fronts. When discussing cyber security in the mindset of battle, of raiders and defenders, we find our line of thinking entrapped by binary outcomes of victory or defeat. However, framing the conversation in a fresh conceit fosters perspectives that may otherwise elude us.

While stock photo options for warfare are objectively more metal, we would like to investigate cyber security through the lens of epidemiology. Public health is a struggle that does not produce 100% winners or 100% losers. Instead, the goal revolves around mitigating infectiousness to the point that a disease no longer possesses the means to reproduce its efforts en masse, thus undercutting its capability to evolve into more sophisticated strains. This change in victory conditions births discussion of herd immunity.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity is a term used in epidemiology describing a secondary line of defense against infection that benefits individuals who cannot or have not gained immunity already. Vaccines are widely regarded as the primary security point against the spread of infectious diseases but thanks to the effects of herd immunity, those persons who cannot receive vaccination find shelter in a majority of the population being unable to spread disease.

Like malware, the first goal of a disease is to spread to the greatest number of hosts possible. A higher percentage of individuals infected by a disease grants that disease better potential to spread to new hosts. However, as the percentage of the population with immunity to that disease grows, the ability for the disease to spread softens.

Simply put, a disease with fewer bridges available to cross is limited in the distance that it can travel. Without delving too deep into epidemiology theory, a concept exists of thresholds that, once crossed, generally spell the end of outbreaks. In some cases, a combination of vaccination and herd immunity has led to the effective eradication of a disease. When was the last case of polio in the United States? The elimination of wild polio strains in certain regions is thanks to the fact that widespread immunity makes it more difficult for a polio outbreak to gain footholds in a human ‘herd’ and even more difficult for an outlier case to spin out of control.

In the past, human populations were concentrated in small, isolated groups. This meant that the extent of outbreaks were limited by geological factors. Spatial limitations no longer come into play in the modern era where humans can travel over mountains, across oceans, and hop between continents in a day’s time. Increased globalization and greater access to remote geographical regions mirrors the growth of interconnected, Internet-connected devices represented by the Internet of Things.

If we think of the Internet of Things as a population, we see a growing potential for infections to spread over new channels and pathways. The threat of more interconnected and heterogeneous mixing pushes higher the necessary threshold to trigger the benefits of herd immunity.

What does this have to do with me?

Framed in the perspective of public health, cyber security is an issue that concerns everyone.

If, like polio, over 90% of the Internet-connect populace were immune to ransomware, what motivation remains for hackers to continue developing exploits and writing malicious code? The cost-to-benefit analysis would be a quick calculation: the risk of deploying a cyber attack would outweigh the peanuts that attackers stand to make off the 5% of computers still exhibiting vulnerabilities.

Ensuring that 100% of devices are exploit-proof is a pipe dream. But if we apply the ideas of herd immunity, we can see that the goal never was absolute immunization. Instead, it would suffice to balance the equation in such a way that cyber crime is an untenable career.

The question then becomes how to make a life of cyber crime unappetizing.

Washing our hands of accountability

There is more to public health epidemiology than distributing vaccines until we pass thresholds.

Consider the signs hanging in bathrooms all around the nation urging people to wash their hands. Spend one winter on a college campus and you’re sure to see plenty of warnings posted about hand washing, sneezing etiquette, and more. Over television and radio we receive public service announcements outlining precautions against the common cold and announcing schedules for flu shot season. Unfortunately, cyber security has no such mass public effort.

wash your hands to be free of cyber crime

Often, the only groups preaching cyber health gospel are organizations that sell cyber security products or the creators of targeted software. This raises a question: where would we be if public awareness campaigns for cyber security were as prevalent as those for physical well-being?

Imagine strolling down a corridor and spotting a sign on the wall asking “Have you updated your firmware yet?”

Imagine a world in which school children were taught about phishing alongside the practice of covering their mouth when they cough.

Imagine if the end of every fiscal quarter heralded radio airtime dedicated to the whens, whys, and hows of data backup.

We may one day consider it myopic that mankind did not charge into the age of information on the wings of federally-funded education and information campaigns. The facts bear out that there is no such public health campaign for our cyber well-being. The onus for protecting our networks rests in our own hands. Despite a mirage of isolation, we find ourselves in a constantly more connected community.

A herd.

Firewalls.com continues to push for a larger umbrella of security for the Internet community not only because it benefits our own security, but that of the entire herd. Everyone has a stake in the outcome of this struggle. Encourage a culture of cyber security in your workplace. Host open discussions about Internet safety measures. Ensure that policies are in place and understood by employees.

While we do not all possess the skills and knowledge to be soldiers in a cyber crime war, we can take steps to provide the herd with a robust profile of immunization.

Whether you’re an organization of three employees or three thousand, you have joined a pool of potential victims. Firewalls.com has the expertise to make that pool a little shallower. Whether it be endpoint security suites, physical appliances, or managed services, cyber security solution providers want to guide you to the vaccines and best practices that simultaneously protect your organization and deny the bad guys another attack vector.


Firewalls.com is a value-added reseller of firewall appliances & a vendor of managed security and Firewall-as-a-Service support. Our engineers are rigorously trained and certified by all of the major manufacturers that we partner with. Whether you’re looking to add an appliance to your security set-up or seek ongoing support from seasoned experts, we can provide the security solutions necessary to get you secure and keep you secure. Contact one of our knowledgeable sales staff to answer any questions you may have about your network, our firewalls, or endpoint protection!

You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Secrets of the Mysterious & Ubiquitous Internet of Things

Without peeking, tell me the number of Internet-connected devices in the room with you. How about in the whole building? In 2017, it’s likely that the building itself is connected to the Internet. Whether it be through mobile-controlled thermostats, security cameras, or the traffic lights right outside your window, you live in a reality in which an Internet-capable device is likely within a few steps of you at any given time. This is the Internet of Things. And while the name doesn’t seem all that inspired (the term was coined by Kevin Ashton of MIT’s Auto-ID Center in 1999), it describes a nebulous world of Wi-Fi, RFID, and microcode that affects just about every transaction and interaction throughout your day.

As years pass, the Internet of Things grows. When an app is launched allowing you to refill your dog’s food bowl while you’re at the office, the Internet of Things grows. When cutting-edge garden tech allows you to water your herbs from halfway around the globe, the Internet of Things grows.

It is important to understand, though, that the IoT is not Skynet biding time to build its cyberspace army. The IoT is used to automate inventory and improve communications between people. It assists in search and rescue operations and monitor heart implants. Nonetheless, for all of the good that the IoT is capable of, it nurtures growing security risks as well.

So What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things is an umbrella term describing the vast array of Internet-accessing devices that we interact with on a daily basis. This includes mobile devices, vehicles, buildings, thermostats, home appliances, street cameras, air purifiers, refrigerators, childrens’ toys, and much more. Objects that possess sensors, software, or microchips are known as cyber-physical systems and likely to fall under the IoT umbrella. The concept is hard to wrap your head around because it reaches across every industry and every channel one could imagine.

The great fear in the cyber security world in regards to the IoT is a potential for hackers to remotely access and control devices over networks shared by the IoT.

Welcome Aboard: An IoT Metaphor

Let’s picture the Internet of Things as a cruise liner. The klaxons sound in response to an engine room breach–in the case of the IoT, a hacker; in the case of our cruise liner, a hole in the haul—and seamen begin to combat the leak.

Water-tight hatches are sealed between various compartments of the ship, ensuring that water coming in through the engine room is unable to spread into neighboring compartments. However, in our IoT analogy, there’s an open pipe running from the engine room to the officers’ quarters because the sailors requested soda fountains. Another pipe runs from the engine room to the storage compartments because water is needed to humidify the air. A third set of pipes runs between the engine room and the ballast compartments for regulating buoyancy. Even though the maintenance team has sealed off all the main hatches between compartments, the leak continues to spread through the innumerable channels made possible by the demands of the crew.

Issues of IoT Vulnerability in the Real World





  • FBI Announcement for IoT Toys – On Monday the 17th, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a consumer notice to parents warning them of the threats associated with Internet-connected toys. As interactive toys grow in popularity, toys are being made with sensors, microchips, data storage, microphones, cameras, and more. The FBI warns that these types of toys may be used to compromise the privacy of children. The Public Service Announcement can be found here.
  • IoT Security is Expensive – The costs associated with IoT security are rapidly growing to keep pace with the sheer size of the Internet of Things and the ripe potential for bad guys to exploit it. According to a white paper published by Altman Vilandrie & Co., the IoT is projected to encompass 18,000,000,000 devices by 2022. That’s more than double the number of human beings on the planet. Altman Vilandrie also estimated that spending on IoT security will outgrow spending on “traditional” cyber security at a rate of nearly two and a half times.
  • Passenger Drones Over Dubai – And the award for “Most Terrifying Place to Learn About IoT Breaches” goes to… the inside of a passenger drone hovering hundreds of feet above the ground. Dubai has announced its intention to implement passenger-carrying quadcopters as exasperatingly luxurious taxis in the summer of 2018. Passengers will have no manual controls, relying instead on Internet-connected GPS to deliver them at their destination. Keep an eye out for this new cyber security threat to become a special effects whirlwind shoehorned into the next James Bond film!





Optimizing Security for the IoT

  • Disable UPnP – Many firewalls and routers possess a feature known as Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). This setting allows a device to plug into a network and configure itself, making it more convenient and mobile. However, this extra versatility comes at a price: security experts believe that UPnP may allow exploits to automatically jump from the IoT to the network during configuration. Once your appliance is positioned, it is a great idea to disable UPnP. Learn more about UPnP from our friends at Sophos.
  • Strengthen Your Passwords – Yes, this is the same advice we give to those seeking to optimize their more traditional cyber security. However, the IoT carries with it further complications in this arena: in many cases when one wants to set a password, they are presented with a numpad and asked to enter a 4-digit PIN. This can make it difficult to secure your devices with strong enough passwords. We suggest that you create a unique password for each device. Yes, it will mean that you have a lot more passwords to keep track of, but it does protect your data in case of a breach.
  • Patch Your Firmware – Wow, I think we’ve heard this one before too! Again we cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your security patches and firmware up to date. If you dissect most major cyber attacks, you will discover over and over and over that the affected demographics tends to gravitate around those who shrug and ignore the latest updates. In the IoT world, firmware may also sometimes be referred to as “microcode.”
  • Segregate IoT Devices to Your Guest Network – Many businesses now provide guest networks that remain overtly separate from their private network. Doing so provides the peace of mind that some schmuck on the street isn’t going to walk into your lobby, connect to your wireless network, and spread his nasty bugs around your system. If possible, try to quarantine as many IoT devices onto this guest network as possible. This way if a breach does occur, your most precious data is sheltered.

The cyber security industry absolutely buzzes with excitement, anxiety, and doubt when the discussion turns to the Internet of Things. It is an explosive matter. The IoT will continue to grow. Its ability to make our lives more convenient and connected will continue to grow. So too will the threats and vulnerabilities that it represents. Expect to see high-profile news stories revolving around Internet-connected objects and expect to see your budget in this area balloon as the IoT expands. From cars to toys to cameras, every industry and interest contributes to the ever-expanding galaxy that is the Internet of Things.

Firewalls.com is a value-added reseller of firewall appliances & a vendor of managed security and Firewall-as-a-Service support. Our engineers are rigorously trained and certified by all of the major manufacturers that we partner with. Whether you’re looking to add an appliance to your security set-up or seek ongoing support from seasoned experts, we can provide the security solutions necessary to get you secure and keep you secure. Contact one of our knowledgeable sales staff to answer any questions you may have about your network, our firewalls, or the Internet of Things!

You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

The Holistic Approach to Cyber Security: A magical concept, but what does it look like?

If you’re reading this, chances are you spend a good chunk of your time keeping up with the latest news and opinions in the world of cyber security. And if that supposition is true, there’s also a strong chance that you’ve run across the concept of the “holistic approach” to cyber security culture already. In fact, headlines containing this phrase have been popping up like weeds everywhere info sec content grows. We sincerely hope that you’re not writing it off as another trendy platitude to sell endpoint protection.

The holistic cyber security approach is an idea that deserves discussion. It can be difficult though to glean some visualization clues as to what this holistic approach means beyond connotations of healing crystals and chakra therapy. What exactly would a holistic approach to cyber security look like in practice?

It may be prudent to first examine why this shift in ideology is emerging. First I’ll issue a warning: the following answer may be too cynical for readers that are faint of heart.

The truth is, we’ve been fighting the bad guys for over a decade and are no closer to “winning” the war than when it started. Don’t get me wrong, we have always put up a hell of a fight but even Sisyphus stops celebrating when he crests his thousandth summit. Daily, millions of network architects, security engineers, programmers, pen testers, and more are engaging in noble work and boasting massive strides in the protection of your data. New security layers are being added, threat signatures are being documented, and packet scrutiny is intensifying. But the bad guys are at their battle stations too. Every new feature or program unveiled is accompanied by its own unique slew of exploits. Let me be clear: this is a never-ending battle.

Cyber attackers are finding these pursuits are clearly worth their time and effort. You don’t have to dig very far into our previous blog posts to be reminded of the glaring statistical evidence that ransomware attacks are increasing at an extreme rate. High-profile attacks such as WannaCry and Petya are making regular appearances in an already overwrought news cycle. As serious as these staggering trends are, though, the concept of the holistic approach did not emerge solely in response to highly publicized attacks or to surges in certain species of malware. In fact, nothing specifically birthed any new ideology in cyber security because the “holistic approach” is nothing new. It is, at best, a rebranding. A repackaging of the same advice that the info sec community has been preaching for years: train your staff to identify threats, patch your system often, secure your most sensitive data.

The fact of the matter is the anatomy of a cyber attack has not changed much over the last few years. Someone in the office clicked something they shouldn’t have, they hesitated in reporting it in fear of repercussions, your security patches just never got around to being installed, and no one’s been accountable for data backups since Nelly was putting out new albums.

Perhaps I am giving away the golden-egg-laying goose for info sec bloggers, but the holistic approach to cybersecurity is nothing more than fresh phrasing for the need of a cyber safety culture in the workplace. Dirty secrets aside, there are still pertinent lessons to be learned. Whether you consider this cutting-edge insight or a refresher course, let’s dissect what the holistic approach to cyber security looks like in practice.

Striking a Balance Between Efficiency & Security

We live in a dangerous world. In our virtual lives, we must remain vigilant in guarding our identities and data. In our real lives, we worry over crime and random misfortune. An ever-present aspect of our fight for safety rests on the delicate scales balancing security on one side and efficiency on the other. Certainly we could be 100% secure if each email and document entering our network was personally read and reviewed by a network engineer before getting the thumbs up or down. Unfortunately, this would eat up a lot of time and a lot of labor. Your employees can’t sit around half the day while necessary emails trickle through the gateway. Likewise, it would be super efficient to hand over admin credentials to every employee, contractor, and vendor on your payroll so that they can help themselves to whatever resources are needed to get the job done. Somewhere in the middle, a balance must be struck. I may be biased here, but I encourage you to err on the side of security over productivity.

You’re On the Crew, Like It or Not

If your employer has a computer on property, guess what: you’re part of the cyber security team! Whether you’re the sys admin or the janitor, everyone has a role to play. Empower and educate your employees at all levels in the basic habits most likely to prevent a breach. Email security best practices should not be optional curriculum for new hires or annual retraining.

What Is Governance Anyway?

Cyber security governance is a hefty phrase that could do with unpacking. In this case, governance is the codified operating procedures in place to manage and enforce cyber security in the workplace. This is the infrastructure behind the lectures. The bite behind the bark. Strong cyber security governance means having accountable parties tasked with monitoring and enforcing info sec protocol. It includes having clear, concise rules outlined in employee manuals. It includes real, visible consequences for flagrant disregard of those rules. Cyber security governance is corporate speak for a company walking the walk of cyber security instead of just talking the talk. If an employee unwittingly allows a threat onto the network because they’re unaware of the procedures that could have prevented it, you share the blame.

With Our Powers Combined..

firewalls are pretty much captain planet for computers

Technical! Physical! Human! Okay, maybe this dream team of cyber security assets isn’t quite as screen-ready as Captain Planet’s squad, but it gets the job done. Another aspect of the holistic approach is a widening of your cyber security scope beyond UTMs. Having the most secure network money can buy will amount to nothing if the bad guys walk into your unlocked server closet, unplug your appliances, and jet. Or worse yet, you may find yourself in a Scooby Doo situation wherein unmasking the bad guy reveals someone assumed to be on your side. Insider attacks are a growing concern across industries of all shapes and sizes.

Whether it’s malicious insider attacks or just gullible Dave in Accounting responding to a phishing scam, human beings are much more likely than technological assets to be the wrench in your cyber security gears. A holistic approach incorporates staff training to combat social engineering as well as physical security measures to secure your hardware from break-ins.

Your company will face with a cyber attack one day. The threat of ransomware has graduated from worrisome to inevitable. In the second quarter of 2017, UK businesses experienced an average of 105 breach attempts per day. A holistic approach, a culture of cyber security, a security awareness mentality, Uncle Admin’s Special Funtime No-No’s: you can call it whatever you dream up so long as you actually implement the pillars of breach prevention. Only when we all get on the same page and work towards a common goal will the dream of vanquishing the bad guys be possible. I encourage you to put me out of a job. If a ransomware attack is never again recorded in the info sec archives, Firewalls.com would be thrilled. Sure, we’d have to hang up our lucky engineering pants, but we could always go make Mobile games or something. Unfortunately this dream world does not yet exist. Until then, we’ll do our part in the fight.

What’s your next step?