Importance of Network Security Audits and Assessments

You wouldn’t want to fly on a plane that hasn’t had its regular safety inspection. Or miss an annual trip to the doctor — would you? Similarly, periodically assessing your IT security is an important part of your organization’s preventive maintenance plan.

Security is mostly an invisible attribute. We tend to set it up and then forget about it. But each of us has our blind spots, causing us to miss things. Our infrastructure changes over time, possibly opening it up to new vulnerabilities. And new methods of attack are invented daily, so what was secure yesterday may not be secure today.

Just as every car comes with a list of scheduled maintenance items, your IT organization should have a list of security features to audit on a periodic basis. You can do many of them yourself, but there’s no substitute for having an independent expert occasionally check for your blind spots.

Why undertake periodic assessments?

There is a long list of reasons why you want to do periodic assessments, and an equally long list of reasons why you should. An increasing number of organizations are bound by governmental regulations that dictate what security measures you should have in place and how they should be audited. HIPAA, PCI, FISMA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley all dictate how to secure different types of data and the systems that manage it. They also require regular security posture assessments, though they vary on specific requirements and time frames.

If you’re not actually bound by any of these governmental regulations, you still might want to use them as resources to help guide your own IT security practices. ISO 27002 is a good generic security standard, and we discussed the value of FISMA to every organization in the Q4 2006 issue of The Barking Seal.

There are many benefits to doing periodic assessments beyond simply complying with government regulations.

Undertaking regular assessments can help you to:

  • Find out whether your security has already been compromised. You might not know unless you look, and you will sleep better at night if you know.  Stay on top of the latest security threats — with new attacks coming on the scene every day, you could become vulnerable even if nothing has changed since your last assessment!
  • Make sure that your staff is being vigilant by maintaining a focus on IT security.
  • Increase awareness and understanding of security issues throughout your company.
  • Make smart security investments by prioritizing and focusing on the high-importance, high-payoff items.
  • Demonstrate to your customers that security is important to you — this shows them that you care about them and their data.

Is your data safe?

Only if you have a plan to keep it that way.

While most people think of Disaster Recovery Plans related to fire or weather related events, there are more frequent and more ominous events that could cause you to make damn sure your data is backed up and ready to restore.

But, just having data backed up locally is not enough. Unfortunately, despite best efforts to prevent malware and ransomware from attacking your network, it is still possible to get infected. Ransomware, like Cryptolocker, can corrupt you data and render it useless. Most of these attacks typically come in through email attachments. Your options are to pay the ransom or restore from backup.

This is where offsite backup becomes so important. If all of your backups are local to your network, then chances are they are corrupt also. Offsite backups are not locally attached to the network so they are safe. 

In my 31 years of doing this, I have seen where restoring from a recent backup saved the day. Unfortunately, I have also seen where backups were poorly managed and a good backup was not available. It is tough to tell a business owner that their data is gone. The impact on their business can be devastating. There are instances where companies have been forced to go out of business simple because they could not recover their data.

Backup systems have to be managed. They are simply to important assume that they are backing up the right data and in a routine and consistent manner. They should be configured to send an alert if even the slightest thing goes wrong during the backup process.

A comprehensive backup and restore plan is a must in today’s environment. And, offsite backup should be part of the plan.




Top 10 reasons to upgrade to Windows 10

The Start Screen is Dead, Long Live the Start Screen!

Windows 8’s foray into the Start screen was, for all intents and purposes, a failure. Still, compared to the old Windows Start feature, the Start menu, the Start screen was at least a break from the same old same old.

We understand, go ahead and let your Start screen hate flow.

Windows 10’s solution is to combine the Start screen and Start menu. It’s a pretty good compromise. It retains Windows 8’s modern style while restoring the Start menu’s essential functionality and familiarity.

The new Start menu is colorful, resizable, and ultimately configurable. Best of all, you’re not stuck in one mode or the other, if you use a touchscreen or simply prefer the old Windows 8 style, you can still use the new Start menu in full-screen or tablet mode.

Whether Microsoft’s new Start menu is the big hit we all think it will be, remains to be seen. The Windows-using masses are likely to embrace it, but it’s still going to take time to win the hearts of everyone.

Less Control Panel, More Settings

The Control Panel, which has remained more or less the same since Windows 95 is also changing, and that’s really more of a revolution than evolution. The Control Panel is a staid part of old Windows, and over the years has grown unwieldy under the sheer weight of its own importance.

The new “Settings” are definitely a breath of fresh air. They’re not so much different than the “PC settings” found in Windows 8 except they’re gaining more prominence and more of the Control Panel’s responsibilities.

Once Microsoft has completed this overhaul, you should expect to control the computer completely with the new settings. It might be premature to say that the actual Control Panel will die out in the very near term, but the writing is certainly on the wall for it.

Notifications: A More “Charming” Use of Space

What operating system, mobile or desktop, doesn’t have a notification center feature by now? Windows, that’s who, but that has changed with Windows 10.

The new Action Center replaces the much-loathed “Charms” (yes, the Charms are finally gone) and also provides a quick way to access system settings.

Granted, a notification center on Windows may seem pretty ho-hum, but this is the first time the system will actually consolidate notifications into one single location, meaning you won’t miss any more messages and important alerts.

Virtual Desktops

Windows 10 will also be the first version of Windows that will sport multiple desktop workspacesor as they’re often more commonly known, virtual desktops.

Linux distros, OS X, pretty much anyone with a desktop operating system that matters has virtual desktops. So this is exciting in an “it’s more than about time” kind of way.


Cortana is billed as a Windows virtual personal assistant. Maybe this is one of those eye-rollers because Android already does this so well with “Ok Google” and Apple’s Siri has things coveredon iPhone and iPads, but the idea of at least being able to interact with your desktop computer using only your voice is a concept that has eluded PC users for a long time.

Cortana first appeared on the Windows Phone platform but Microsoft is now migrating it over to its flagship OS. We’ve covered how to use and configure Cortana if you’re thinking about trying it out for yourself.

Aero is Back (A Little Bit)

There are reports that Microsoft is bringing back Aero, news which was celebrated by Windows 7 users everywhere. To be honest, Windows 10 has a significant uptick in transparent effects, but it’s still too early to say for certain whether Aero will ever return in full.

Still, the return of at least some transparencies is a sign that Microsoft is finally starting to relate to its user base in more meaningful ways.

One of the biggest problems Windows 8 introduced was the fact that Microsoft basically removed most of the stuff that people actually liked and used in Windows 7 – the Start menu, the Start button, glass-like transparent effects – so the fact that Windows 10 now appears to have partly embraced its Windows 7 roots is promising.

Compression and Smaller Installations

Here’s one of those things that might have missed all but the most serious Windows followers.

Windows 10 will feature not only a smaller installation size, but also incorporates a more efficient compression algorithm, meaning your files will be smaller (1.5 to 2.6 GB, depending on your version), so you’ll be able to store more of them in the same amount of space.

Microsoft says it has been able to thus far shave 4 GB to 12 GB off of Windows 10’s installation size, and with today’s modern processors dripping with power, feel it’s a great time for users to start using compression.

Since your computer is probably more than well-equipped to handle the little bit of extra CPU overhead compression requires, you end up with more storage space for your buck, and who doesn’t want more room on their hard drives?

Direct X 12 Means Gamers Will Like It

Direct X 12 is the most significant improvement in Microsoft’s venerable gaming API since probably the introduction of Direct X itself.


What is Direct X 12 and Why is it Important?
When Microsoft began detailing new features of its upcoming Windows 10 operating system, one of those features it talked about is… [Read Article]

The main goal of Direct X 12 is to reduce driver overhead, meaning that gamers will likely experience better performance on their existing hardware, which is another thing – if your graphics card is fairly recent but not bleeding edge new, you will still be able to use Direct X 12, that is to say, you will probably not have to upgrade one of the most expensive components in your computer.

Best of all, Direct X 12 will come installed with Windows 10 by default, which is the strongest indication of any that Microsoft is doing everything it can to change the perception that Windows 8 gaming sucks or that it is a “catastrophe.”

It’ll Be a Free Upgrade for Existing Windows Users

Despite the recent annoyances we’ve had with the Windows 10 upgrade application and tray icon, the fact that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for existing Windows users is a big step forward for Microsoft.

It’s essential that Microsoft get Windows 10 installed on as many Windows computers – past, present, and future – as possible. If this is to be last big, mainstream Windows release, as some are predicting, then we can assume that at some point in the future, nearly everyone will be using it.

Microsoft Seems Like They’re Starting to Get it

There are other things happening that are gaining attention such as the new Edge browser,intended to replace the aging, much maligned Internet Explorer; improved performance on older hardware; and a new, improved Windows Store and app experience.

The Windows Store now sports a cleaner, more streamlined interface.

Moreover, once Microsoft perfects its Continuum feature, it means that you will be able to seamlessly transition from a keyboard/mouse setup to a touch one or even use your Windows Phone like a computer. Thus, if you use a hybrid device like a Surface, then when you detach it from its base or keyboard, it will automatically switch to full-screen tablet mode, and vice versa.

Microsoft has further plans to take this a step further with Windows Phone, which will be able to dock with a keyboard, mouse, and display, making it an ultra portable but powerful computer.