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The ASK Blog is regularly updated and is an ongoing chronological list of events including company updates, product highlights, and technical alerts.




How to Keep K–12 Distance Learners Cybersecure this School Year

As Featured on malwarebytes.com

With the pandemic still in full swing, educational institutions across the US are kicking off the 2020–2021 school year in widely different ways, from re-opening classrooms to full-time distance learning. Sadly, as schools embracing virtual instruction struggle with compounding IT challenges on top of an already brittle infrastructure, they are nowhere near closing the K-12 cybersecurity gap.

Kids have no choice but to continue their studies within the current social and health climate. On top of this, they must get used to new learning setups—possibly multiple ones—whether they’re full-on distance learning, homeschooling, or a hybrid of in-class and home instruction.

Regardless of which of these setups school districts, parents, or guardians decide are best suited for their children, one thing should remain a priority: the overall security of students’ learning experience during the pandemic. For this, many careful and considerable preparations are needed.

New term, new terms
Parents in the United States are participating in their children’s learning like never before—and that was before the pandemic forced their hand. Now more than ever, it’s important to become familiar with the different educational settings to consider which is best suited for their family.

Full-on distance learning
Classes are held online while students are safe in their own homes. Teachers may offer virtual classes out of their own homes as well, or they may be using their empty classrooms for better bandwidth.

This setup requires families to have, ideally, a dedicated laptop or computer students can use for class sessions and independent work. In addition, a strong Internet connection is necessary to support both students and parents working from home. However, children in low-income families may have difficulties accessing this technology, unless the school is handing out laptops and hot spot devices for Wi-Fi. Often, there are delays distributing equipment and materials—not to mention a possible learning curve thanks to the Digital Divide.

Full-on distance learning provides children with the benefit of teacher instruction while being safe from exposure to the coronavirus.

Homeschool learning or homeschooling
Classes are held at home, with the parent or guardian acting as teacher, counselor, and yes, even IT expert to their kids. Nowadays, this setup is often called temporary homeschooling or emergency homeschooling. Although this is a viable and potentially budget-friendly option for some families, note that unavoidable challenges may arise along the way. This might be especially true for older children who are more accustomed to using technology in their studies.

This isn’t to say that the lack of technology use when instructing kids would result in low quality of learning. In fact, a study from Tilburg University [PDF] on the comparison between traditional learning and digital learning among kids ages 6 to 8 showed that children perform better when taught the traditional way—although, the study further noted, that they are more receptive to digital learning methods. But perhaps the most relevant implication from the study is this: The role of teachers (in this article’s context, the parents and guardians) in achieving desirable learning outcomes continues to be a central factor.

Parents and guardians may be faced with the challenge of out-of-the-box-thinking when it comes to creating valuable lessons for their kids that target their learning style while keeping them on track for their grade level.

Hybrid learning
This is a combination of in-class and home instruction, wherein students go to school part-time with significant social distancing and safety measures, such as wearing masks, regular sanitizing of facilities and properties, and regular cleaning of hands. Students may be split into smaller groups, have staggered arrival times, and spend only a portion of their week in the classroom.

For the rest of students’ time, parents or guardians are tasked with continuing instruction at home. During these days or hours, parents or guardians must grapple with the same stressors on time, creativity, patience, and digital safety as those in distance learning and homeschooling models.

New methods of teaching and learning might be borne out of the combination of any or all three setups listed above. But regardless of how children must continue their education—with the worst or best of circumstances in mind—supporting their emotional and mental well-being is a priority. To achieve peace of mind and keep students focused on instruction, parents must also prioritize securing their children’s devices from online threats and the invasion of privacy.

Old threats, new risks
It’s a given that the learning environments that expose children to online threats and risk their privacy the most involve the use of technology. Some are familiar, and some are born from the changes introduced by the pandemic. Let’s look at the risk factors that make K-12 cybersecurity essential in schools and in homes.

Zoombombing. This is a cyberthreat that recently caught steam due to the increased use of Zoom, a now-popular web conference tool. Employees, celebrities, friends, and family have used this app (and apps like it) to communicate in larger groups. Now it’s commonly adopted by schools for virtual instruction hours.

Since shelter-in-place procedures were enforced, stories of Zoombombing incidents have appeared left and right. Take, for example, the case of the unknown man who hacked into a Berkeley virtual class over Zoom to expose himself to high school students and shout obscenities. What made this case notable was the fact that the teacher of that class followed the recommended procedures to secure the session, yet a breach still took place.

Privacy Issues. When it comes to children’s data, privacy is almost always the top issue. And there are many ways such data can be compromised: from organizational data breaches—something we’re all too familiar with at this point—to accidental leaking to unconsented data gathering from tools and/or apps introduced in a rush.

An accidental leaking incident happened in Oakland when administrators inadvertently posted hundreds of access codes and passwords used in online classes and video conferences to the public, allowing anyone with a Gmail account to not only join these classes but access student data.

In April 2020, a father filed a case against Google on behalf of his two kids for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) of Illinois. The father, Clinton Farwell, alleges that Google’s G Suite for Education service collects the data—their PII and biometrics—of children, who are aged 13 and below, to “secretly and unlawfully monitor and profile children, but to do so without the knowledge or consent of those children’s parents.”

This happened two months after Hector Balderas, the attorney general of New Mexico, filed a case against the company for continuing to track children outside the classroom.

Ransomware attacks. Educational institutions aren’t immune to ransomware attacks. Panama-Buena Vista Union School. Fort Worth Independent. Crystal Lake Community High School. These are just some of the total districts—284 schools in all—that were affected by ransomware from the start of 2020 until the first week of April. Unfortunately, the pandemic won’t make them less of a target—only more.

With a lot of K-12 schools adjusting to the pandemic—often introducing tools and apps that cater to remote learning without conducting security audits—it is almost expected that something bad is going to happen. The mad scrambling to address the sudden change in demand only shows how unprepared these school districts were. It’s also unfortunate that administrative staff have to figure things out and learn by themselves on how to better protect student data, especially if they don’t have a dedicated IT team. And, often, that learning curve is quite steep.

Phishing scams. In the context of the education industry, phishing scams have always been an ever-present threat. According to Doug Levin, the founder and president of the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, schools are subjected to “drive-by” phishing, in particular.

“Scammers and criminals really understand the human psyche and the desire for people to get more information and to feel in some cases, I think it’s fair to say in terms of coronavirus, some level of panic,” Levin said in an interview with EdWeek. “That makes people more likely to suspend judgment for messages that might otherwise be suspicious, and more likely to click on a document because it sounds urgent and important and relevant to them, even if they weren’t expecting it.”

Security tips for parents and guardians
To ensure distance learning and homeschooled students have an uninterrupted learning experience, parents or guardians should make sure that all the tools and gadgets their kids use to start school are prepared. In fact, doing so is similar to how to keep work devices secure while working from home. For clarity’s sake, let’s flush out some general steps, shall we?

Secure your Wi-Fi
Make sure that the router or the hotspot is using a strong password. Not only that, switch up the password every couple months to keep it fresh.
Make sure that all firmware is updated.
Change the router’s admin credentials.
Turn on the router’s firewall.

Secure their device(s)
Make sure students’ computers or other devices are password-protected and lock automatically after a short period of time. This way, work won’t be lost by a pet running wild or a curious younger sister smashing some buttons.

For schools that issue student laptops, the most common operating system is ChromeOS (Chromebooks). Here’s a simple and quick guide on how parents and guardians can lock Chromebooks. The password doesn’t need to be complicated, as you and your child should be able to remember it. Decide on a pass phrase together, but don’t share it with the other kids in the house.
Ensure that the firewall is enabled in the device.
Enforce two-factor authentication (2FA).
Ensure that the device has end-point protection installed and running in real time.
Secure your child’s data
Schools use a learning management solution (LMS) to track children’s activities. It is also what kids use to access resources that they need for learning.

Make sure that your child’s LMS password follows the school’s guidelines on how to create a high entropy password. If the school doesn’t specify strong password guidelines, create a strong password yourself. Password managers can usually do this for you if you feel that thinking up a complicated one and remembering it is too much of a chore.

It also pays to limit the use of the device your child uses for studying to only schoolwork. If there are other devices in the house, they can be used to access social media, YouTube, video games, and other recreational activities. This will lessen their chances of encountering an online threat on the same device that stores all their student data.

Secure your child’s privacy
There was a case before where a school accidentally turned the cameras on of school-issued devices the students were using. It blew up in the news because it greatly violated one’s privacy. Although this may be considered a rare incident, assume that you can’t be too careful when the device your kid uses has a built-in camera.

Students are often required to show their faces on video conference software so teachers know they are paying attention. But for all the other time spent on assignments, it’s a good idea to cover up built-in cameras. There are laptop camera covers parents or guardians can purchase to slide across the lens when it’s not in use.

New challenges, new opportunities to learn
While education authorities have had their hands full for months now, parents and guardians can do their part, too, by keeping their transition to a new learning environment as safe and frictionless as possible. As you may already know, some states have relaxed their lockdown rules, allowing schools to re-open. However, the technology train has left the station.

Even as in-person instruction continues, educational tech will become even more integral to students’ learning experiences. Keeping those specialized software suites, apps, communication tools, and devices safe from cyberthreats and privacy invasions will be imperative for all future generations of learners.

Safe, not sorry
While IT departments in educational institutions continue to wrestle with current cybersecurity challenges, parents and guardians have to step up their efforts and contribute to K-12 cybersecurity as a whole. Lock down your children’s devices, whether they use them in the classroom or at home. True, it will not guarantee 100 percent protection from cybercriminals, but at the very least, you can be assured that your kids and their devices will remain far out of reach.

Stay safe!





Sophos Intercept X Advanced with EDR

EDR Starts with the Strongest Protection
To stop breaches before they start, prevention is crucial. Intercept X consolidates unmatched protection and endpoint detection and response into a single solution. This means that most threats are stopped before they can ever cause damage, and Intercept X Advanced with EDR provides additional cybersecurity assurance with the ability to detect, investigate, and respond to potential security threats.

The inclusion of EDR into a consistently top-rated endpoint protection suite enables Intercept X to significantly lighten the EDR workload. The more threats that are prevented, the less noise that is created for security teams to investigate. This means teams can optimize key resources enabling them to focus on the business of IT rather than chasing false positives and an overwhelming volume of alerts.

Add Expertise, Not Headcount
Intercept X Advanced with EDR replicates the tasks normally performed by skilled analysts, so organizations can add expertise without having to add staff. Unlike other EDR solutions which rely on highly skilled human analysts to ask questions and interpret data, Intercept X Advanced with EDR is powered by machine learning and enhanced with curated SophosLabs threat intelligence.

Security expertise: Intercept X Advanced with EDR puts security expertise into the hands of IT by automatically detecting and prioritizing potential threats. Using machine learning, suspicious events are identified and elevated as the most important and in need of immediate attention. Analysts can quickly see where to focus their attention and understand which machines may be impacted.

Malware expertise: Most organization rely on malware experts that specialize in reverse engineering to analyze suspicious files. Not only is this approach time consuming and difficult to achieve, but it assumes a level of cybersecurity sophistication which most organizations don’t possess. Intercept X Advanced with EDR offers a better approach by leveraging Deep Learning Malware Analysis which automatically analyzes malware in extreme detail, breaking down file attributes and code and comparing them to millions of other files. Analysts can easily see which attributes and code segments are similar to “known-good” and “known bad” files so they can determine if a file should be blocked or allowed.

Threat intelligence expertise: When Intercept X Advanced with EDR elevates a potentially suspicious file, IT administrators can gather more information by accessing on-demand threat intelligence curated by SophosLabs which receives and processes approximately 400,000 previously unseen malware samples each day. This, and other threat intelligence is collected, aggregated, and summarized for easy analysis. This means that teams that do not have dedicated threat intelligence analysts, or access to expensive and hard to understand threat feeds, can benefit from one of the top cybersecurity research and data science teams in the world.

Guided Incident Response
Intercept X Advanced with EDR allows administrators to answer the tough questions about security incidents by providing visibility into the scope of an attack, how it started, what was impacted, and how to respond. Security teams of all skill levels can quickly understand their security posture thanks to guided investigations which offer suggested next steps, clear visual attack representations, and built-in expertise.

When an investigation is concluded, analysts can respond with a click of a button. Rapid response options include the ability to isolate endpoints for immediate remediation, clean and block files, and create forensic snapshots.

Intelligent EDR Use Cases
Intelligent endpoint detection and response means that security teams have the visibility and expertise they need to answer the tough questions that are asked as part of an incident response effort.

Answer the tough questions about an incident:

Understand the scope and impact of security incidents
Detect attacks that may have gone unnoticed
Search for indicators of compromise across the network
Prioritize events for further investigation
Analyze files to determine if they are a threat or potentially unwanted
Confidently report on your organization’s security posture at any given moment

Beyond EDR
To stop the widest range of threats, Intercept X Advanced with EDR employs a comprehensive defense-in-depth approach to endpoint protection rather than simply relying on one primary security technique. This is the “the power of the plus” – a combination of leading foundational and modern techniques. Intercept X Advanced with EDR integrates the industry’s top-rated malware detection, top-rated exploit protection, and intelligent endpoint detection and response (EDR).
Modern techniques include deep learning malware detection, exploit prevention, and anti-ransomware specific features. Foundational techniques include antivirus, behavior analysis, malicious traffic detection, data loss prevention, and more. Intercept X Advanced with EDR combines endpoint detection and response capabilities with the modern features in Intercept X and the foundational techniques in Sophos Central Endpoint Protection. This is delivered as a single solution, in a single agent.

Contact us today to try it now for free, with a free 30-day evaluation. 





Protection for Office 365

Simple, automated and secure backup of your cloud data

Protection for O365 ensures that your business can access, control, and most importantly protect the data that you entrust to the cloud. Protection for O365 is the leading cloud-to-cloud backup product offering an all-in-one backup, restore and export solution that covers Exchange Online, OneDrive and SharePoint Online.

As companies increasingly move data into cloud-based applications, many IT teams wrongly assume that Microsoft has a backup in place. After all, O365 is always available, accessible from anywhere, and highly redundant, so why is a backup needed?

An astonishing 1 in 3 businesses report losing data stored in cloud-based applications. In addition, out of all MSP reported SaaS ransomware attacks, 49% occurred in O365, up 17% from last year. Not only can the loss of the data itself be devastating to a company, but the time lost in attempting a recovery can be equally damaging.

The truth is that even data in cloud-based applications is vulnerable to:

End-user deletion, whether accidental or malicious
Malware damage or ransomware attacks
Operational errors such as accidental data overwrites
Lost data due to canceled user licenses
Misconfigured application workflows

With more and more businesses moving into O365 to run their productivity applications, like Word, Excel and Email, these risks are impossible to ignore.

Why Office 365 Backup is Insufficient

While O365 does include primitive restore capabilities for lost data, two major issues arise when using their tools: lost data and lost time. An independent data backup separated from the app itself is necessary to avoid the most common data loss pitfalls.

Data loss due to inactive licenses: As one would expect, an active O365 license is required to access data. Unfortunately, inactive or deprovisioned user data is permanently deleted, and there is no rollback option.

Data loss due to permanent deletion: When a SharePoint Online administrator deletes a site collection, all data will be placed in the Recycle Bin where it is kept for 93 days. At that time it is automatically and permanently deleted, and there is no rollback option.

Data loss due to ransomware: Microsoft recommends 3rd party backup as the only way to recover from data loss associated with ransomware encryption.

Data loss due to app outages: Uptime guarantees provide peace of mind…until an app outage occur. Planning for the unexcepted is key to recovering quickly should an outage occur.

Time lost in restoring files: Contacting Microsoft Support for assistance with any data loss issue can be time consuming, and still may not result in restored files.

Why Protection for Office 365? Trusted, Available Backup
Know that O365 data is backed up by the most reliable solution on the market today, Reduce risk, and spend more time and budget on strategic initiatives.

Point-in-Time Backups: Backups include daily snapshots of each users data, allowing you to browse through a user’s account as at specific point in time. Avoid data loss from ransomware by restoring entire accounts to a designated point in time before an attack occurred.

3X/day backup: Rest easy with automatic daily backups for O365’s Exchange Online, OneDrive and SharePoint Online.

On-demand backup: Perform additional backups as needed at any time. Running an on demand backup will not affect the three regularly scheduled backups.

Infinite Retention: Store an unlimited amount of data for no additional fees.

What Office 365 Protection Recovers

OneDrive: All files (including One Note) and folders with file structure in tact.

Contacts: All contact information excluding photos

Calendar: Events (including recurrence, attendees, notes, attachments and any calendars owned by users.

Mail: All emails, attachments, notes and folder structure.

SharePoint: Primary, custom, group and team site collections; Custom generic site lists, Folder structure, Document libraries and sets, and Site Assets, templates and pages.

Fast & Effortless Restore

One-click restore means you can avoid business downtime. Quickly identify and recover individual items or entire folders without overwriting existing files.

Quick and Painless Restore and Export: O365 Protection’s revamped architecture means data export and restore times have improved dramatically, making us the fastest backup and recovery solution.

Non-destructive Restore: Restore data without overwriting existing emails, files or site collections targeted at the same URL.

Item level restore: Retrieve data in the original format with file and label structure maintained in the backup.

No overwrites: Prevent data overwrites and differentiate restored data from current Exchange, OneDrive, and SharePoint production data for added protection.

Advanced search capabilities: Easily find data with the advanced search option and restore individual items or entire folders.

Security & Reporting

Balance security and transparency with powerful security controls and robust user lifecycle management. Protect valuable business data from accidents or malicious acts.

Security and compliance: O365 Protection backs up data in compliance with Service Organization Control (SOC 1/ SSAE 16 and SOC 2) reporting standards, GDPR and supports HIPPA compliance needs.

Custom Data Retention: Specify how long records should be maintained (days, years or infinite) to meet industry-specific compliance regulations.

Activity log: Maintain a detailed record of all administrator and user actions.

For more information please contact us today at (610) 617-0300. 





Security Risk Assessment

You have the oil in your car changed regularly. You have your HVAC system serviced every season. You installed an UPS. You are doing everything you can to keep things running smoothly because you realize a disruption can have disastrous effects. So when was the last time you had an information security risk assessment?

An information security risk assessment is the best tool you have to help you:
prepare for defending your information;
understanding the risks to your organization;
target your spending;
knowing where you are;
plan to where you want to go.

An information security risk assessment includes:
CIS Framework Assessment
Asset Inventory & Patch-Management Health-Check
CIS Benchmark Assessment for Network & Endpoints
Vulnerability Assessment
Logging Health-Check
Next-Gen Firewall and VPN Health-Check
Malware Defense Assessment
Data Protection & Recovery Assessment
Threat Detection & Response Assessment
Active Directory Services Health-Check

Contact us today to learn more or to schedule your assessment.

Want to know what your employees know about information security? Contact us today for a free survey.





ASK Recognized as an Industry Leader Once Again

ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. is once again a proud recipient of the Philadelphia Business Journal prestigious awards for “Top Tech Employers”. This marks the seventeenth consecutive year that ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. has been recognized as an industry leader in the Philadelphia and Metropolitan Area. ASK provides our clients the ability to transform current information technology into productivity. Whether utilizing technology to bridge the gap between employees, business workflow and computers, or using technology to supply access to data, regardless of connection, location and time, ASK offers the solutions you need to survive in a very competitive world.





COVID-19

While there is currently no health or safety concern within ASK, we want to make sure you are aware that we are taking every precaution available and necessary as outlined by the CDC to ensure the well being of our valued team members.

In the event that there is an outbreak in our area, we have an emergency plan of action in place that would enable us to work remotely and continue to provide IT services to your company.

I urge you to reach out to ASK to discuss your current IT remote access plan. Your plan should include the ability for your staff to work from home with secure access to critical data, applications, and systems in the event of a mandated quarantine situation. If you do not have a plan in place, we recommend you immediately consider a Virtual private network (VPN) solution or another remote access solution to ensure your employees are using a secure, encrypted connection at home to gain access to corporate information. This will enable your company to continue critical business operations.

While we cannot predict what to expect during this unsettling time, rest assured ASK is taking every step possible to ensure our business continuity. We are strongly advising all of our clients do the same.





ASK Recognized as an Industry Leader Once Again

ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. is once again a proud recipient of the Philadelphia Business Journal prestigious awards for “Top Tech Employers”. This marks the sixteenth consecutive year that ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. has been recognized as an industry leader in the Philadelphia and Metropolitan Area.

ASK provides our clients the ability to transform current information technology into productivity. Whether utilizing technology to bridge the gap between employees, business workflow and computers, or using technology to supply access to data, regardless of connection, location and time, ASK offers the solutions you need to survive in a very competitive world.





ASK Celebrates 25 Years!

This month marks a major milestone year for ASK Technologies, Inc. – it’s our 25th anniversary! To put that into perspective, Microsoft had just released Windows NT when ASK was founded.

As we reflect on how far our company has come, we must give a huge thank you to our incredible clients – your loyalty and trust in us throughout the years allows us to push our boundaries and challenges us to strive for excellence in all that we do. Our clients are more than just clients, they are family. The relationships our company has built – and will continue to build – with each of our clients will always be our number one motivator for success.

Being in business for 25 years would not have been possible without the amazing people within our organization. We are incredibly thankful for the hard work and dedication from our employees, and are so appreciative to be able to work with each of them every day. This milestone would not be possible without them.

We are proud of the progress we have made and are thrilled to see what the next 25 years holds for our company.





ASK Recognized as an Industry Leader Once Again

ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. is once again a proud recipient of the Philadelphia Business Journal prestigious awards for “Top Tech Employers”. This marks the fifteenth consecutive year that ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. has been recognized as an industry leader in the Philadelphia and Metropolitan Area.

ASK provides our clients the ability to transform current information technology into productivity. Whether utilizing technology to bridge the gap between employees, business workflow and computers, or using technology to supply access to data, regardless of connection, location and time, ASK offers the solutions you need to survive in a very competitive world.





ASK Recognized as an Industry Leader Once Again

ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. is once again a proud recipient of the Philadelphia Business Journal prestigious awards for “Top Tech Employers”. This marks the fourteenth consecutive year that ASK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. has been recognized as an industry leader in the Philadelphia and Metropolitan Area.
ASK provides our clients the ability to transform current information technology into productivity. Whether utilizing technology to bridge the gap between employees, business workflow and computers, or using technology to supply access to data, regardless of connection, location and time, ASK offers the solutions you need to survive in a very competitive world.