Top Tax Season Scams and How to Avoid Them

Doing taxes can be stressful enough without worrying that your sensitive information may fall into the wrong hands. With more and more taxpayers doing their taxes online, having awareness of potential threats is the first step in practicing cyber safety this tax season. Here are 4 of the most popular tax scams used by hackers each year to be on the lookout for:

 

  1. Tax Refund Fraud – This scam involves and filing false returns with them. They will typically claim a low income with high deductions and will file electronically. When a taxpayer goes to legitimately file their return, it is rejected by the IRS because someone else already filed under that identity. To prevent this, one can request an Identity protection PIN from the IRS before filing. This is a six-digit pin that must be used on a tax return in addition to an SSN in order to verify the identity of the taxpayer.

 

  1. W-2 Email Phishing Scam – Some hackers choose to go straight to the source for private information: employers. Cyber criminals have been known to trick major companies into turning over copies of W-2 forms for their employees. This is actually a CEO imposter scam, where a criminal pretends to be a top company employee and asks payroll or human resources for sensitive information. This information is then used to file bogus returns or is sold online to other criminals.

 

  1. IRS Phone Scam – Scammers make calls claiming they are with the IRS, acting as though a tax bill is owed that one must pay immediately or be arrested. They use common names to identify themselves and fake IRS badge numbers to appear legitimate, send fake emails to support their verbal phone claims, and they will usually call again claiming to be the police department or the DMV in an attempt to extort additional funds. Yikes! One thing to note: the IRS will NEVER call an individual. They send official notices in the mail, but if the IRS pops up on the caller ID, don’t answer.

 

  1. Canceling Your SSN – Criminals are making calls and threatening to suspend or cancel your Social Security numberuntil overdue taxes are paid. The scam may seem legitimate because the caller has personal information, including the last four digits of your SSN. If someone calls and threatens to cancel or suspend your social security number, hang up immediately. If they call back, don’t answer. Write down the number and then report the call on this site, and send an email with the subject of “IRS Phone Scam” to phishing@irs.gov and include the phone number, as well as any other details that are relevant, in the body of the email.

With more taxes processed online and scammers always thinking one step ahead, it’s important for every employee receiving their W-2s to have cyber awareness training. Understanding the risks that are out there help people to feel more empowered to thwart them when handling personal online transactions.

Combatting Tax Scams with inCyt

Circadence is here to help. Our newest product, inCyt, is a browser-based strategy game that invites players with limited cybersecurity knowledge to compete in cyber-themed battles. inCyt’s progressive, inventive cyber learning program teaches cybersecurity awareness through games and interactivity with colorful characters and friendly competition. Lessons are embedded in the gameplay, so players learn cybersecurity basics as soon as they engage with the program. Players start learning basic cybersecurity topics including email security and best practices for software updates before venturing to understand more nuanced concepts about social media, insider threats, ransomware and more. inCyt will be available in Spring 2020.

Empower your employees with persistent, hands-on cyber training. To learn more visit: https://www.circadence.com/products/inCyt

inCyt: Bring the Power of Cyber Safety to your Whole Organization 

What is at the core of cyber? Is it computer chips? Monitors? Servers? Cyber wouldn’t be where it is today, or at all, without: humans. Understanding what it takes to keep your organization cyber safe starts and ends with the human element. As the only constant in the world of cyber, professionals need to practice awareness and continued training in order to defend against looming threats. 

Circadence is excited to announce our newest product, inCyt. inCyt is a browser-based strategy game that invites players with limited cybersecurity knowledge to compete in cyber-themed battles. We believe that in order to prevent cyber attacks, cyber security must be woven into the very fabric of company culture. This platform will allow your entire organization, from Roger at the reception desk to Sally in the sales departmenteveryone needs to persistently practice awareness to gain a deeper understanding of cyber safe practices. 

 

Did you know: 

  • 52% of businesses say that employees are their biggest weakness in IT security, with careless actions increasing overall risk. 

 

To address these trends, we will be demo-ing inCyt live at this year’s RSA Conference in San Francisco, where the theme is The Human Element. 

Prior to showing off this exciting platform’s capabilities live, we will be hosting a webinar, inCyt: Inside the Human Element of Cyber, on February 18thRegister today to get a first look at this new technology and see how inCyt can help take your organization’s cyber readiness to the next level through games! 

Human Resources Takes on Cyber Readiness: How to Mitigate Cyber Risks with Security Awareness Training

Every year hackers come out of the woodwork to target various companies, specifically around the holiday season. In fact, cyber attacks are estimated to increase by as much as 50 – 60% over the holidays. With staff often spread thin and consumers taking advantage of online shopping and banking for added convenience, the timing is perfect for HR professionals to stay vigilant with how they onboard new employees with cyber education while encouraging good cyber hygiene among existing colleagues. Understanding the risks employees come across while online, how to train them to detect and mitigate these risks, and how you as an HR manager can ensure continued efforts to harden security posture will make you a cyber safety hero this holiday season!

While IT and cyber professionals are primarily responsible for securing a company’s networks and ensuring teams are up to snuff, the reality is that cyber risk extends beyond what occurs in the server room. Human error continues to be one of the top reasons cyber attacks are successful. This means that not only do security teams need to be trained, but cyber training across every department, with every employee who works on a computer, is essential to obtain and maintain good cyber hygiene across the company. If every employee in your organization understands how their actions can impact overall company security, more personal responsibility will be taken to maintain cyber safety.

Don’t fret! HR professionals need not be masters in cyber security. There are great tools out there to help anyone learn the basics and be able to share their foundational learning with others. So, what are some of the things you can learn and train employees on to mitigate attacks?

  • Phishing emails – With inboxes flooded daily, it can be hard to spot potential threats in emails. Hackers send targeted emails that may address a work-related matter from a co-worker or manager. One click on the wrong email, and you could be infecting your business device with malware. It is important every employee understand what suspicious emails “look” like and how to avoid nefarious click bait.
  • Using company devices for personal work – It’s an easy thing to do – grab a work device off the counter and start online shopping, emailing friends and family, or finally getting around to baking that chocolate chip cookie recipe from Martha Stewart. However, accessing un-secured sites and opening personal, and potentially phishing, emails on a work computer puts companies at risk. As an HR manager, you must recognize this common occurrence and be able to speak to it with your staff. If a hacker is able to gain access to a business computer through an employee’s personal use, they gain access to all of the company information on that employee’s device as well.
  • Using personal devices to conduct business – The same can be said for using personal devices to conduct business. It can be difficult to “turn off” after work hours and many employees answer some work emails on their cell phone, or load a work document on his/her personal tablet or laptop. When company staff access potentially sensitive business documents on their personal device, they risk leaking that information to a hacker. To prevent attacks company-wide, HR pros must be aware of how often this type of behavior occurs and work closely with their IT department to learn how company networks are secured when remote access is granted to employees outside of home and work IP addresses.

HR managers: Spread good cyber hygiene!

Security awareness training is becoming increasingly prevalent at companies that know what it takes to have good cyber hygiene. According to a recent report by Infosec, about 53% of U.S companies have some form of security awareness training in place. While this is still barely over half, it’s a start. So what can you do to rank among companies leading the charge in cyber security?

  • Offer continuous training – Cyber security awareness training is not a “one and done” event. This kind of training should continue throughout the year, at all levels of an organization, and be specific to different job roles within the company. Technology is always changing, which means the threatscape is too. When you are battling a constantly shifting enemy, your employees need to be vigilantly trained to understand each shift.
  • Perform “live fire” training exercisesLive fire exercises (LFX) happen when users undergo a simulated cyber attack specific to their job or industry. One example is having your IT department send out a phishing email. See how many people click on it and show them how easily they could have been hacked. This data can be used to show progress, tailor problem areas, and train to specific threats as needed.
  • Stress the importance of security at work and at home – Showing employees the benefit of cyber awareness in the workplace translates to awareness at home as well. Help prospective and existing employees gain a wide breadth of understanding about cyber best practices by making learning approachable instead of unattainable or intimidating.
  • Reward good cyber hygiene – Reward employees who find malicious emails or other threats with your company’s IT team and share success stories of how employees helped thwart security issues with vigilant “eyes” on suspicious activity. Equally, it is important to also empathize with employees who make mistakes and give them the tools to learn from their mistakes. Many employees receive hundreds of emails each day, and while training tips and education are helpful tools, it is not a perfect solution.

Training employees to be cyber aware can be difficult unless a structured program and management strategy is in place. We’re here to help! Circadence’s security awareness platform, inCyt, is coming soon! inCyt allows employees to compete in cyber-themed battles and empowers them to understand professional and personal cyber responsibility. By cultivating safe cyber practices in virtual environments, HR managers can increase security awareness and reduce risks to the business.

To learn more and stay in the know for upcoming product launches, visit www.circadence.com

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

8 Tips to Keep Your Small Business Cyber Safe this Holiday Season

The holiday season is a time of giving, however, for hackers it can be a time of swindling. We are all susceptible to cyberattacks, but small businesses can hurt the most from the fall out. With limited staff numbers, small IT departments (if any at all), and no money allocated toward remediation, it is of the utmost importance to protect your small business, especially over the holidays. So, what can you do to protect yourself?

  1. Understand your vulnerability by industry – While every industry can be targeted by scammers, there are some more at risk than others. Specifically, retail, automotive, manufacturing, and financial. Not only do these industries process a lot of sensitive data and large quantities of money, but they also use automated process and many interconnected devices which are vulnerable to cyber attacks. Assessing your risk is the first step in preventing it.
  2. Adopt a cyber security policy – Whether you’re a sole proprietor or a company with 5,000 employees, cyber criminals are targeting your business. Smaller businesses may not have controls, processes, or policies in place for cyber security defense and offense. There are several options for securing a comprehensive cyber security plan such as a managed service provider (MSP), a systems integrator or security system provider, or a cyber security consultant. Take the time to put together a comprehensive policy for your employees to learn and reference.
  3. Educate employees on cyber risks and prevention – It won’t do you any good to adopt a cyber policy if you don’t train your employees on risk awareness and staying safe online while working. Ensure you utilize persistent, hands-on learning, such as a cyber range, to keep employees abreast of the latest threats while building confidence in their abilities to recognize threats and suspicious activity.
  4. Beware of popular scam tactics used against small businesses – From overpayment scams to phishing emails, hackers will try just about anything to get to your money and sensitive information. Be wary of anything that looks or sounds suspicious such as calls from unknown persons, pop-ups, and unfamiliar websites, only open emails from trusted sources, and NEVER give your credit card or personal information to anyone you don’t know whether over the phone, by email, or in person.
  5. Secure WiFi Networks – These days all businesses require WiFi to operate, so you need to ensure your network is safe. Hide your network, which you can do by googling instructions or working with your internet provider, so that your router does not broadcast the network name (or SSID) and ensure that a password is required for access. Be sure you change the administrative password that was on the device when first purchased as well to a complex password only you will remember. Setting up a private network for employees and offering a guest network to customers is a great way to keep customers happy while ensuring your cyber safety.
  6. Make backup copies of important information – Regularly back up data on every computer used in your business including documents, spreadsheets, financial and personnel files, and more. You can do this through many channels from uploading files to an external hardrive, USB, the cloud, or using a paid data storage site.
  7. Install and update antivirus software – Every device you use for your business needs to be protected with antivirus, antispyware, and antimalware software. You will need to purchase this software either online or from a retail store and will need to assess your specific needs based on a variety of factors, such as the type of operating system you use (mac or PC) and your budget. Here is a handy guide for things to consider before purchasing antivirus software. Be sure you install and update antivirus software regularly to ensure the newest and best iteration is at work protecting your sensitive information.
  8. Install a VPN – A virtual private network (VPN) is a software that enables a mobile device to connect to another secure network via the internet and send and receive data safely. If you regularly use your smartphone to access secure information for your small business, it can be technology that is well worth investing in. Setting up a VPN is a simple task but depends on what operating system you use. Check out this great article that guides you through VPN set up for various systems.

By following these tips and tricks, you can ensure that your business stays protected and profitable. Cyber security is an ever-changing field, and businesses must continually adapt to new attack methods and be able to defend themselves. Keep the latest in cyber training at your fingertips with Circadence’s inCyt security awareness game of strategy and if you have a small security team/IT professional, consider our flagship immersive, gamified cyber learning platform, Project Ares for advanced cyber training. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

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Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

 

Why Cybersecurity is Important for Higher Education Institutions

It might surprise you to know that the education industry is a prime target for malicious hackers. While threats in this sector are on the rise, many education institutions are not prepared for a cyber attack nor do they know how to recover from one. In fact, there were 122 cyber attacks last year at 119 K-12 public education institutions, averaging out to an attack every three days. A 2018 Education Cyber Security Report published by SecurityScorecard also found that of 17 industries, the education sector ranked dead last in total cyber security safety. Schools are leaving themselves open to student and faculty identity theft, stolen intellectual property, and extremely high cost data breach reconciliation. In fact, a study done by the Ponemon Institute shows the average cost of a data breach in the education sector is $141 per record leaked.

This industry faces some unique cyber security challenges:

  • Historically, this industry is based on the free exchange of information, i.e the philosophy that information should be readily available to all. The use of computers and internet in education has allowed information to be stored and accessed in many different ways, creating vulnerabilities in storage, network security, and user error which leaves systems susceptible to hacks.
  • Students and staff may have limited technical skills and prowess to know how to stay safe online.
  • Online education systems are highly distributed across multiple schools in a district or across state lines, making it easier to infect one system to gain access to all.
  • Computer systems used by schools often lack a single application, or “source of truth” to safely manage student and employee identities.
  • There’s a significant change in the user population every year due to students graduating and new students enrolling, making it difficult to track who is using certain resources and who has access to them.
  • Remote access is often required, with students and parents accessing systems from home computers and smartphones. When you access an online resource repeatedly from potentially vulnerable or unsecure networks, it creates more opportunity for hacks.

So how can educational institutions better protect themselves against looming cyber threats?

  • Shift the focus to prevention instead of mitigation – by making the focus on securing data before an attack happens rather than after, organizations will be better prepared to protect students and staff against a breach.
    • IT directors and security operators within educational institutions would be wise to consider persistent training solutions for their teams to optimize existing cyber skills so they don’t go “stale” after a period of time.
    • Likewise, perform a security audit and work across departments to understand all the digital systems in place (financial, teacher, student portals, etc.) and where vulnerabilities might exist.
    • HR departments of institutions should consider updating or adopting employee security awareness training to ensure every education-employed professional working on a computer understands the basics of cyber security and how to stay safe online.
  • Minimize internal threats – Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report found that nearly 32% of breaches involved phishing and that human error was the causation in 21% of breaches. Proper and continued training and awareness around security issues is key in preventing possible attacks.
  • Make cyber security a priority in IT budgeting – Schools and other educational institutions need to recognize the growing cyber threatscape and prioritize allocating funds to training tools, IT teams, and continued education for internal staff.

Circadence is here to help. Cybersecurity in the education sector is more important than ever, and our immersive, gamified cyber learning platform, Project Ares, can help ensure that your cyber team is ready to defend against malicious attacks. Our inCyt product (coming soon!) will keep everyone else in your organization up to snuff on cyber defense and offense. We pair gamification with prolonged learning methods to make learning and retaining cyber security tactics simple and fun for all. Don’t let your institution and students be next in line for a breach–think inCyt, and Project Ares when you think cyber security for the education sector!

If you’re still looking for more information on education and cyber security, check out these handy references:

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Living our Mission: Creating Authentic Cyber Training and Learning Environments Inspired by Real-World Experience: Todd Humes, Sr. Mission Designer

Bringing his Air Force and military security engineering background to use, Senior Mission Designer Todd Humes understands what it takes to defend networks from adversaries. Prior to Circadence, he served in various government security roles including as a Systems Security Engineer and Systems Administrator and on the commercial side as a Director of Network Defense Operations at a Managed Security Service Provider. He noticed a gap in commercial cyber training and readiness that eventually lead him to Circadence.  

In his current role, Todd ensures that real-world training exercises developed meet critical training objectives and are authentic for the end-user. “We want to provide a safe place for trainees to learn cyber…so he/she doesn’t have to worry about causing damage on actual networks when trying to build skills,” he says.  

It’s important trainees in Project Ares experience true-to-life cyber threat scenarios that they would in their actual workplace.

In “mimicking a controlled environment that they would see” in the workplace, trainees gain “an experience that is highly relatable and allows for professional development,” Todd says.  

When developing new missions Todd and his team examine market verticals and threats associated with those industries to identify unique scenarios that can be built out in a Project Ares mission. “We do our own research and threat intelligence targeting verticals, brainstorm specific scenarios and begin designing what the network environment should look like,” he says. The automation and orchestration of how the mission will unfold require a great deal of programming. Between building the mission components, the layout, and the services that will be “affected” in the exercise, Todd and his team bring cyber threats to life in the most authentic way possible. Sometimes, he adds, “we have to reverse engineer the malware [for example] to get the capability we want,” adding layers of complexity and back-end work to produce the final product.  

But the intricacies of building missions is anything but dull. “It’s never boring! We’re always learning day in and day out and the people who are successful in this field are the individuals who continue to learn themselves,” Todd says.

To ensure missions stay relevant against today’s threats, Todd is always keeping a pulse on the latest research and vulnerabilities by studying online reports and attending cyber conferences and industry-related events to network with like-minded leaders.  

He believes by continuously learning about the industry, all professionals in this line of work and beyond can find new and better ways to address an exploit and stay one (or several) steps ahead of hackers. He considers cyber security one the few industries and specializations that requires persistent learning and skill building in order to “extend the life” of security across organizations and companies.   

Learn Project Ares, including recent mission and battle room updates here.   

Good Bots and Bad Bots: How to Tell the Difference to Stay Cyber Safe

You may have heard or read the term “bot” in the context of cyber security. Normally we hear this word in the wake of a cyberattack and relate it to breaches in computer or network security. While there are certainly bad bots, there are good bots too! So what exactly is a bot, how can you differentiate, and how do they work?

What are bots?

The term bot is short for robot and is a type of software application created by a user (or hacker) that performs automated tasks on command. There are so many variations, from chatbots to spider bots to imposter bots. Good bots are able to assist in automating day to day activities, such as providing up to the minute information on weather, traffic, and news. They can also perform tasks like searching the web for plagiarized content and illegal uploads, producing progressively intelligent query results by scouring the internet content, or helping find the best purchase deals online.

While we encounter bots like these in our everyday activities without really thinking about them, being aware of bad bots is important. Bad bots, used by adversaries, perform malicious tasks and allow an attacker to remotely take control over an infected computer. From there, hackers can infiltrate the network and create “zombie computers,” which can all be controlled at once to perform large-scale malicious acts. This is known as a “botnet”.

How do bots work?

Cybercriminals often use botnets to perform DoS and DDoS attacks (denial of service and distributed denial of service, respectively). These attacks flood target URLs with more requests than they can handle, making regular traffic on a web site almost impossible. Hackers use this as a way to extort money from companies that rely on their website’s accessibility for key business functions and can send out phishing e-mails to direct customers to a fake emergency site.

Protect yourself from bad bots

Don’t let this information scare you though! Awareness is a great first step to recognizing any potential harmful activity, whether on your own computer or on a site you visit online. Preventing bad bots from causing attacks before they start is easy with these tips:

  • Ensure your antivirus software is up to date by setting it to automatically update.
  • Routinely check the security options available to you for your iOS, web hosting platform, or internet service provider.
  • Only click on links and open emails from trusted sources. Avoid accepting friend or connect requests, responding to messages, or clicking on links from unknown persons on social media.

Bots can be incredibly helpful, and we use them every day. Knowing how to differentiate the good from the bad while taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself against malicious bots will ensure that you only need to deal with bots when they are telling you about blue skies or saving you money on that great shirt you’ve been wanting!

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Ransomware – The Attack Du Jour!

Ransomware is gaining traction among hackers; emboldened by financial success and anonymity using cryptocurrencies. In fact, ransomware is now considered a tried and true cyberattack technique, with attacks spreading among small and medium-sized businesses, cities and county governments. Coveware’s recent 2019 Q1 Ransomware Report notes:

  • Ransoms have increased by an average of 89% over Q1 in 2019 to $12,762 per ransom request
  • Average downtime after a ransomware attack has increased to 7.3 days, up from 6.2 days in Q4 of 2018, with estimated downtime costs averaging $65,645
  • Victim company size so far in 2019 is anywhere from 28 to 254 employees (small, medium, and large-sized businesses)

Let’s review how ransomware works and why it’s so effective. Ransomware is a type of cyberattack where an unauthorized user gains access to an organization’s files or systems and blocks user access, holding the company’s data hostage until the victim pays a ransom in exchange for a decryption key. As you can surmise, the goal of such an attack is to extort businesses for financial gain.

Ransomware can “get into” a system in different ways, one of the most common through phishing emails or social media where the human worker inadvertently opens a message, attachment, or link acting as a door to the network or system.  Messages that are urgent and appear to come from a supervisor, accounts payable professional, or perceived “friends” on social media are all likely ransomware actors disguising themselves to manipulate or socially engineer the human.

Near and Far: Ransomware Has No Limits

Many types of ransomware have affected small and medium-sized businesses over the last two decades but it shows no limitations in geography, frequency, type, or company target size.

  • Norwegian aluminum manufacturing company Norsk Hydro, a significant provider of hydroelectric power in the Nordic region, was shut down because of a ransomware infection. The company’s aluminum plants were forced into manual operations and the costs are already projected to reach $40 million (and growing). The ransomware name: LockerGoga. It has crippled industrial firms across the globe from French engineering firm Altran, and manufacturing companies Momentive, and Hexion, according to a report from Wired.
  • What was perceived as an unplanned system reboot at Maersk, a Danish shipping conglomerate, turned out to be a corrupt attack that impacted one-fifth of the entire world’s shipping capacity. Deemed the “most devastating cyberattack in history,” NotPetya created More than $10 billion in damages. To add insult to injury, the cyber risk insurance company for Maersk denied their claim on the grounds that the NotPetya attack was a result of cyberwar (citing an act of war exclusionary clause).  WannaCry was also released in 2017 and generated between $4 billion and $8 billion in damages but nothing (yet) has come close to NotPetya.
  • On Black Friday 2016, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency fell victim to a ransomware attack. The attacker demanded $73,000 for services to be restored. Fortunately, speedy response and backup processes helped the company restore systems in 2 days—avoiding having to pay the ransom. In March 2018, the City of Atlanta experienced a ransomware attack that cost upwards of $17 million in damages. The Colorado Department of Transportation fell victim, too, left with a bill totaling almost $2 million.

These headlines are stories of a digital war that has no geographical borders or structured logic. No one is truly immune to ransomware, and any company that thinks that way is likely not as prepared as they think they are. Beazley Breach Response (BBR) Services found a 105% increase in the number of ransomware attack notifications against clients in Q1 2019 compared to Q1 of 2018, as well as noting that attackers are shifting focus to targeting larger organizations and demanding higher ransom payments than ever before.

Immersive cyber ranges – Protect Yourself, Your Business, Your People

If your own security efforts, staff practices, and business infrastructure are continuously hardened every time a new breach headline makes the news, the things that matter most to you and your company will be better protected. One of the ways to consistently harden security practices is via immersive and persistent training on gamified cyber ranges. Some benefits of using cyber ranges like this include:

  • Helping professionals of all skill levels learn and apply preventative measures such as: regular backups, multi-factor authentication, and incident response planning and analysis.
  • Understanding what ransomware looks like and how it would “work” if it infected their company’s network.
  • Cloud-based environments can scale to emulate any size digital system and help users “see” and respond to threats in safe spaces.
  • Providing user assistance and immediate feedback in terms of rewards, badges, and progress indicators, allowing organizational leaders who want to upskill their cyber teams to see the skills gaps and strengths in their teams and identify ways to harden their defenses.

When ransomware does come knocking at your business door, will you be ready to recover from the costly and reputational damages? If there is any shred of doubt in your mind, then it’s time to re-evaluate your cyber readiness strategy. As we’ve learned, even the smallest vulnerability or level of uncertainty is enough for a cybercriminal to take hold.

Photo by Michael Geiger on Unsplash and via website.

Cyber Attacks and Risk Mitigation in Critical Infrastructure

Critical infrastructure is a term used by the government to describe assets that are essential for the functioning of a society and economy (think oil and gas, water, electricity, telecommunication, etc.). According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are 16 sectors of critical infrastructure. In the past few years, we’ve seen attacks on departments of transportation, cities, and other network infrastructure that are prompting many cyber security leaders to pay closer attention to their readiness strategy and risk management. With the threat of cyberattacks against public and private sector infrastructure on the rise, it is important to understand the history of these attacks, as well as what critical infrastructure cyber security professionals can do to protect themselves against them. Today, we are going to focus on three sectors: oil and gas, energy and electricity, and transportation.

Oil & Gas Cyber Security

Much of how we live and work is dependent upon the energy produced from oil and gas production, including cooking, heating/cooling, driving, and use of electronic devices and appliances. There have been several successful attacks on this industry already:

  • One of the most famous noted attacks came in 2010 with Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm used to hijack industrial control systems (ICS) around the globe, including computers used to manage oil refineries, gas pipelines, and power plants. It reportedly destroyed a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. The worm was delivered through a worker’s thumb drive.
  • In August 2012, an unauthorized user with privileged access to one of the world’s leading National Oil Companies’ (NOCs’) computers unleashed a computer virus called Shamoon (disk-wiping malware). This virus erased three quarters (30,000) of the company’s corporate personal computer data and resulted in an immediate shutdown of the company’s internal network.
  • National Security Authority Norway said 50 companies in the oil sector were hacked and 250 more were warned to check their systems, in one of the biggest hacks in Norway’s history.
  • Ugly Gorilla, a Chinese attacker who invaded the control systems of utilities in the United States, gained cyber keys necessary to access systems that regulate flow of natural gas. In January 2015, a device used to monitor the gasoline levels at refueling stations was remotely accessed by online attackers, manipulated to cause alerts, and set to shut down the flow of fuel. Several gas-tank-monitoring systems suffered electronic attacks thought to be instigated by hacktivist groups.
  • In December 2018, Sapeim fell victim to a cyberattack that hit servers based in the Middle East, India, Aberdeen and Italy.The attack led to cancellation of important data and infrastructures.

Energy & Electricity Cyber Security

While we may not think of the energy sector as being a large cyber vulnerability, it is not only of intrinsic importance to a functioning society but necessary for all other sectors that make up the nation’s critical infrastructure.

There are not many documented cases of a successful power grid attack but that doesn’t mean they don’t occur! The first known instance taking place on December 23, 2015 in Ukraine. Hackers were able to compromise information systems of three energy distribution companies in the Ukraine and temporarily disrupt electric supply to end customers. A year later, Russian hackers targeted a transmission level substation, blacking out part of Kiev.

Although there may not be many examples of historical energy utility hacks, these kinds of attacks are no longer a theoretical concern. In 2014, Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, testified before Congress that China and other countries likely had the capability to shut down the U.S. power grid. An adversary with the capability to exploit vulnerabilities within the electric utility silo may be motivated to carry out such an attack under a variety of circumstances, and it seems increasingly likely that the next war will be cyber.

Transportation Cyber Security

Via plane, train, or automobile, the transportation sector supports nearly 10 percent of the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product), which includes monetary value of all goods and services produced within the United States. Over the past couple of years, the industry has grown in operational complexity with logistical chains, production, facility and manufacturing partners and plant management. As a result of this growth, it has become an even more alluring and accessible hacking playground for cybercriminals. There have been a few noteworthy attacks on this silo of infrastructure in the last few years:

  • Maersk: Petyamalware variant infected the IT systems of the world’s largest shipping company with 600 container vessels handling 15% of the world’s seaborne trade in June 2017.
  • LOT: A Polish airline canceled 10 flights due to an attack against the airline’s ground computer systems at Warsaw’s Okecieairport in June 2015.
  • Jeep Cherokee: A coordinated attack in 2015 by Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek demonstrated the ease by which a connected car can be remotely hacked into, in this case, using Uconnect.

 

You can see that attacks on these silos of industry have already begun (and show no signs of stopping) and we need to be prepared for what the future holds. To mitigate cyber attacks and protect critical infrastructure against looming threats, teams need to be prepared to address all possible scenarios that can occur on said attack surface in order to effectively protect and defend IT and OT critical infrastructures.

Reducing Risk in Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security

Project Ares® cyber security learning platform can prepare cyber teams with the right skills in immersive environments that emulate their own IT and OT networks to be most effective. In fact, there are exercises within the cyber range platform that have players detect threats on a water treatment plant and in an oil and gas refinery. It is designed for continuous learning, meaning it is constantly evolving with new missions rapidly added to address the latest threats in any critical infrastructure sector. Further, targeted training can be achieved from the library of battle room scenarios to work on specific skill sets like digital forensics, scripting and Linux.

Training in cyber ranges is a great way to foster collaboration, accountability, and communication skills among your cyber team as well as cross-departmentally. Persistent and hands-on learning will help take your cyber team to the next level. Benefits of this kinds of learning include:

  • Increased engagement – by keeping learners engaged they are able to stay focused on the subject matter at hand
  • Opportunities to close gaps immediately – instant feedback, instruction, and critique make it easy for learners to benefit from interaction with the instructor and peers and immediately implement this feedback to improve
  • Risk mitigation and improved problem solving – hands-on training allows learners to master skills prior to working in real-world environments. People can work through tough scenarios in a safe training environment – developing problem-solving skills without risk.

By placing the power of security in human hands, cyber security teams can proactively improve a company’s ability to detect cyber-related security breaches or anomalous behavior, resulting in earlier detection and less impact of such incidence on energy delivery, thereby lowering overall business risk. Humans are the last line of defense against today’s adversary, so prioritizing gamified training for teams will foster the level of collaboration, transparency, and expertise needed to connect the dots for cyber security across these critical infrastructure sectors.

Photo by Ian Simmonds on Unsplash

How to Launch a Cyber Security Career

Preparing for a cyber security career is more enjoyable than you may think! The technical challenge, problem-solving, constant change (you’re never bored!), and continuous learning opportunities are positive experiences one can have when entering the field of cyber security.

For any interested student or autodidactic, a cyber career path may seem a little daunting. But with the right cyber security tools and teachings in place, coupled with the latest proficiencies, any person can learn cyber and garner the skills necessary to enter the workforce with confidence and competency.

The earning potential for an individual pursuing a career in cyber is significant. The national average frontline cyber security career salary is $93,000 (on the low end) for a security-related position in the U.S. according to the Robert Half Technology’s 2019 Salary Guide. The industry offers high paying jobs, yet many positions continue to be unfilled with an estimated 3.5 million open cyber positions by 2021. Today, there are more than 300,000 open positions nationwide.

This begs the question: what is the best way to fill the cyber security skills gap with motivated and budding professionals? The answer is multi-faceted but at its core is a fundamental shift in how we prepare and train them with the skills needed to thrive.

Pro Tips for Building a Cyber Security Career Path 

Just like many other career paths, cyber security needs people who possess a mix of academic, theoretical-based knowledge, practical skill sets, and a lot of creative thinking. An aspiring cyber security professional can learn the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed in the industry, seek out internships and/or apprenticeships, and learn of careers in cyber without actually being on the defensive frontlines of cyber attacks. Details of each approach are below.

IDENTIFY INDIVIDUAL CYBER STRENGTHS AND KNOWLEDGE/SKILLS/ABILITIES (KSAs)

The first suggestion for an individual who wants to learns on their own is to match their unique strengths (technical and non-technical) to the kinds of knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do certain cyber jobs in the workplace. Understand what kinds of jobs are available too. For students, they will likely learn these details in traditional classes and in their coursework assignments. With Google at our fingertips, however, it’s easy to find a variety of online resources to learn cyber security KSA’s including ISACAISC(2)ISSA, and The SANS Institute—all of which provide information about the profession and detail certification and training options. Understanding the kinds of tasks performed in certain work roles and the kinds of behaviors needed to perform certain jobs, an aspiring cyber professional will be better prepared during the interview and job search process. He/she won’t be surprised to learn about what is required to start a job in cyber security.

PURSUE INTERNSHIPS, APPRENTICESHIPS, ALTERNATIVE PATHWAYS

As a self-guided learner, you likely have the go-getting attitude needed to find a cyber security internship, apprenticeship, or alternative trade school to start building your knowledge, skills, and abilities more.

Internships are available through many community colleges, technical colleges, and universities, each of which have well-oiled practices of connecting students with local companies. In fact, it’s not uncommon for most students, both undergraduate and graduate, to be required to complete an internship in their field of study before graduation.

Apprenticeships are a “learn while you earn” kind of model and are incredibly beneficial for both the company offering the apprenticeship and the student.

“This is absolutely fundamental, and a key plan in meeting the workforce needs. Our solution to the gap will be about skills and technical ability,” says Eric Iversen, VP of Learning & Communications, Start Engineering. “And the most successful of apprenticeship programs offer student benefits (e.g., real-world job skills, active income, mentorship, industry-recognized credentials, an inside track to full-time employment, etc.) and employer benefits (i.e., developed talent that matches specific needs and skill sets, reduced hiring costs and a high return on investment, low turnover rates and employee retention, etc.)”

The Department of Homeland security created a Cyber Corp Scholarship program to fund undergraduate and graduate degrees in Cyber Security. Students in this program agree to work for the Federal Government after graduating (with a one year service for every year of scholarship).

These types of opportunities are especially advantageous for recruiting individuals who may be switching careers, may not have advanced degrees, or are looking to re-enter the field.

Alternative pathways are also quite accessible for the college graduate or self-driven learner seeking a career in cyber security. One cyber career pathway is via “stackable” courses, credits, and certifications that allow learners to quickly build their knowledgebase and get industry-relevant experience. These kinds of courses are available in high school (taking collegiate-level courses) and at the college level. Another type of alternative pathway is via cyber competitions and hackathons. Learners can gain practical skills in a game-like event while meeting fellow ambitious professionals. Participating in these events also makes for great “extracurricular activities” on one’s resumé too.

Circadence is proud to lend its platform Project Ares® for many local and national cyber competitions including the Wicked6 Cyber Games, cyberBUFFS, SoCal Cyber Cup, and Paranoia Challenge so students can engage in healthy competition and skill-building among peers. For more information on cyber competitions and hackathons, check out the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriotCarnegie Mellon’s picoCTFMajor League Hacking, and the National Cyber League.

Cyberseek.org also has a detailed and interactive roadmap for hopeful professionals to learn more about how to start and advance their careers in cyber security. This interactive cyber security career pathway map breaks it all down. For example, if you’re interested in a software development role, you’ll want to build skills in Java or Python, databases, code testing, and software engineering, as well as, build cyber skills in cryptography, information assurance, security operations, risk management, and vulnerability assessment. You may also consider certifications in Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH), Security+, Network+, Linux+, Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), CISSP, and GIAC in addition to having real-world experience and training.

Cyber Security Career Requirements

We recommend three types of experience when considering a career in cyber security:

·     Degree experience for basic understandings of cyber theory and practice

·     Technical experience to demonstrate learned knowledge translates to skill sets acquired

·     Real-world training experience, either via an internship/on-the-job opportunity or via realistic cyber range training

Many entry-level cyber security job descriptions will require at least a bachelor’s degree or 4 years’ experience in lieu of a degree. Higher-level positions will require the academic degree plus some technical experience and/or real-world training.

It’s important to note that there are two types of cyber training available: A traditional classroom-based setting and an on-demand, persistent training option. Both are great in their own ways and can complement each other for holistic cyber learning. The classroom-based learning presents information to learners via PowerPoints, lectures, and/or video tutorials. Learners can take that knowledge and apply it in a hands-on virtual cyber range environment to see how such concepts play out in real-life cyber scenarios.

Since cyber security is an interdisciplinary field, it requires knowledge in technology, human behavior/thinking, risk, law, and regulation—to name a few. While many enter the field with the technical aptitude, many forget the “soft skills” to cyber security. To communicate effectively with a cyber team, problem-solve, analyze data, identify vulnerabilities, and understand the “security story” of the employer, a young professional needs to possess and demonstrate those social skills to thrive in their job.

The Variety of Cybersecurity Fields are Endless

There’s more to cyber security than being a network analyst or incident response manager. Interested, aspirant professionals can work in cyber security through other departments beyond security and IT. Cyber careers in human resources, marketing, finance, and business operations are all available sectors that allow a learner to “be in cyber” without doing the actual day-to-day frontline security defense tactics. It is important to know about the other careers individuals can pursue in cyber security because it is not just for the IT department to “manage” within a business. Furthermore, cyber security roles don’t have to be pursued at technology companies – there are many healthcare, banking, energy, and enterprise companies seeking cyber security professionals in their organizations. So, if a certain industry is of interest to you, you can explore cyber in that specific industry. In the age of digital transformation, practically every sector has a security need that needs hardened.

For young graduates entering the cyber security field, a multi-faceted approach to learning cyber security skills is recommended. The good news is that motivated learners have lots of avenues and resources available to them to pave a career path that best fits their needs and interests.