Information security often comes up a lot when we’re speaking with clients. Everyone is worried about being hacked, phished, compromised or ransomed in some form or fashion, whether in their home or at their business. Most large enterprises are heavily invested in their cyber protective programs, but small businesses and especially homeowners often overlook the importance of these measures.
Earlier this year, a public service announcement demonstrated how residences are vulnerable to information security threats. In May 25, 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to all citizens to reboot their home networking routers and mitigate the possible infiltration of Russian malware. The FBI believed 500,000 devices were already infected, with millions more at risk; however, most did not go home and power-cycle their network equipment.
The Risk: It’s Not Your Router – It’s You, and How You Support It
Home routers are devices that connect your family’s technology, including computers, phones, tablets, home automation and even security functions such as video and access control. These devices, now considered essential in most households and businesses, constantly channel and control information and activities.
The threat to these routers the FBI is concerned about is VPNFilter. According to the bureau’s announcement, VPNFilter is “difficult to detect because of its use of encryption and misattributable networks. The noted vulnerability has the capability to render the home router inoperable … as well as potentially collect information as it passes through the router.” This equates to shutting down your home network or capturing critical information, such as financial or personal identifiable records, without your knowledge or authorization.
The Who: In This Case, Blame Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear
While it is difficult to specifically identify a cyber-attacker unless they are boasting about the exploit following the incident, the methods and targets applied create a form of signature, which aids in the identification process. According to the New York Times on May 27, 2018, the Justice Department has reason to believe the malware infiltrating routers is the work of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. While cute names, these Russian hacking groups “may or may not be associated with the F.S.B., the main successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B, but is widely believed to be a Russian government operation.”
Traditionally these groups attack political, government or military targets around the world, including the Democratic National Convention (DNC). However, they can also have a detrimental effect on individuals and small businesses, which could ultimately have a catastrophic impact across the world.
The What Now: Tips to Protect Information Security at Home
This is one of those rare cases where simply power-cycling — as in turning off and on again — your home router is the primary way to remove this particular malware. Further network hardening efforts can be undertaken by:
- Using strong passwords
- Using encryption technology on network equipment
- Disabling remote management settings for network and computing devices
- Securing your wireless network
While these actions are often recommended to businesses big and small to protect confidential, financial and other business-related information, homeowners need to be actively engaged in data protection. Consideration should be given to implementing firewall technology at the front end of your home network for added protection including ad-blocker, IP anonymization, Smart-TV anti-spy and more. Additional URL filtering and parental controls can be added. Most residential-grade firewalls include some form of subscription-based service to keep devices current so they can thwart new cyber vulnerabilities. Many service providers certified in advanced networking technologies can install, manage and monitor your home network for those who truly want to protect their residence from cybercriminals.
Homeowners need to consider additional network security practices and procedures as cybercriminals constantly change their attack methods. In the future, the solution may not be as simple as power-cycling the home router.