Semper Fi: Never Negotiate With Cyberterrorists

A recent report by the U.S. Marine Corps indicates an unintended data disclosure, the result of a single accidental keystroke. Never backing down from a fight, learn from Jarheads how to best defend yourself from a data breach and strengthen your position!

US Marines Data Disclosure

Have you ever thought twice about clicking “send” after drafting an email? We’re sure you have; everyone has. The most common reasons involve editing the text for clarity, context, or tone. Sometimes you verify the email addresses for the “to” field. These are all great measures that everyone can — and should — take before sending an email, especially one with sensitive data enclosed.

Yet, accidents happen. A recent accidental keystroke shared an email to an incorrect distribution list, which included the unencrypted personal data of more than 20,000 U.S. Marines, their families, and civilians. Social security numbers, bank details, credit card information, home and mailing addresses, and emergency contact information were all disclosed. Does this fall under the label of “data breach” if the disclosure was part of an “oops” and not a cyber attack?

Marine Forces Reserve spokesperson Andrew Aranda has said the Marines’ IT staff is reviewing cybersecurity and information assurance processes to update their overall guidelines and to better train team members at every level. More importantly, this was an accident without malicious intent, and a cybersecurity vulnerability was not the cause. Additionally, the United States Armed Forces branches fully understand the great responsibility to protect highly-confidential personally identifiable information (PII) stored in their records and a lengthy history of excellence in this arena.

More than 20,000 individuals will now need to diligently check their credit report on a regular basis to ensure this disclosure doesn’t leave them open to identity theft. Add to this number the family members potentially impacted, and the full amount affected could double or triple. This is a story too well-known by millions of Americans in recent years. Customers of Anthem, Target, eBay, and The Home Depot are just a few examples of organizations whose customers have been impacted by data breaches. Cybercriminals and cyberterrorists — hackers — are just waiting for a weakness to exploit. This introduces two key questions:

  • How effective are an organization’s cybersecurity protocols and training?
  • What can consumers do to protect themselves if they’ve been impacted by a data breach?

How aware are the individuals behind this incident of security protocols and risks? The basic information assurance training from as recent as a year ago isn’t current for today’s needs as a means of self-awareness and protection.

  • What is information assurance? When information is processed, stored, or transmitted (data) involving systems, there are risks. Information assurance is the effort a group takes to protect this data and these systems to ensure the security of the data and minimize risks involved.

The focus of information assurance is on the security of data. While “protection of data” may not be the first concept that comes to mind when you think of the United States armed forces, the protection of its people is an inherent byproduct of its very nature. The military does not operate in the same ways as Corporate America, with many factors contributing to the differences. One thing is certain: the military takes its duty to serve and protect American citizens very seriously and is dedicated to assisting those impacted.

How can consumers protect themselves?

Credit Reports

As we already mentioned, check credit reports regularly. Once a cybercriminal has a name, address, and a few pieces of personal information, this data can be used to misrepresent an identity online.

  • Consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year, at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
  • Anyone can add a fraud alert to their credit report with each credit reporting agency for added protection. This will prompt a two-step verification process for any attempt to open a new account in someone’s name, and is a very helpful feature to protect someone’s identity from being used by other parties.

Passwords

Aside from checking credit reports, we strongly suggest changing all passwords. Most importantly, start with changing passwords for online banking, credit cards, email, and social media accounts. After these, move on to seemingly innocuous accounts like the United States Post Office and those for magazines or local newspapers, with active subscriptions.

  • It’s worth it to keep a list of all locations with usernames and passwords. Imagine how helpful this list might be in this situation, cutting response time drastically and potentially reducing the overall impact. Just don’t store the list somewhere online, like email. If that is the first thing a hacker can access, they have access to everything after discovering this data goldmine!
  • Make sure new passwords created are complex, using a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols like ?!@#$%.
  • Change passwords on desktop systems to prevent a sophisticated hacker from accessing further personal data, or giving them the smallest access point to plant a virus or ransomware, or even mine cryptocurrency.
    • Running the most recent updates and install these packages immediately will help close any security gaps discovered by operating system manufacturers and application developers.

Credit Cards

In this case, credit card numbers were included in the disclosed data. It’s a huge pain, but it’s worth it in the long run for protection to report the accounts as compromised and have new card numbers issued.

Every day brings a story of new ways hackers use to access PII of consumers and how this information is used to their advantage – and to the detriment of the consumers affected. Consumers need to regularly assess their risk and do their best to eliminate the unknown, where possible by taking these measures to protect themselves. Maintaining a realistic perspective on this risk will be instrumental as “an ounce of prevention” here.

In modern days of digital communication, we can never be too careful as hackers are becoming far more sophisticated and staying one step ahead of consumers. Imagine if cybercriminals used their power for good!

Don’t let one mistake cause years of hassles and headaches – talk to an expert if you think you’ve been compromised in this or any other data breach, and protect yourself.

Microsoft Is Calling Every Single User For Feedback

Are you an expert at using Microsoft products? Microsoft wants to hear from you — and wants to make your feedback part of an update — but first, they need to know what you think. How can they find out?

Microsoft Feedback

How often do you use a Microsoft product? Are you a daily Microsoft Word user? Is your primary email client Microsoft Outlook? What about SharePoint? The list goes on (Teams, Flow, you get the idea). And those are just the software products! Maybe you have a Surface Book, too? Or a Surface Book 2?!

One of the great things about Microsoft is they love user feedback. Software updates are often based entirely on suggestions from users on what features they’d like to see, what improvements can be made, and how to make daily use easier for users in general. The main goal is to increase efficiency with the Microsoft product while increasing productivity at the end user perspective. This is a win-win-(win). That last “win” was in parentheses because it’s silent – Microsoft sees increased dependence and therefore long-term customer loyalty, which translates into an ongoing revenue stream. That’s understandable.

What’s often less clear is how Microsoft tries to collect user feedback. No, they don’t really call users at home. Well, actually, they might – but in this case, the most effective way to communicate a suggested feature is through the Microsoft Excel Community, a forum of over 16,000 members in which to communicate about all things Microsoft Excel. If you’re in search of a feature, this is the place to peruse. Formula got you flummoxed? Need help with a pesky pivot table? Is a macro making you crazy? You’re most likely to find your answers here. The best part is that this community has super users, and we don’t mean users who wear capes. One such super user has over 400 posts, and these users can be found under “Experts” – a clear indicator they know what they’re talking about in Microsoft Excel!

There is also an active Blog, where Microsoft posts content about Excel. Content ranges from posts aimed at beginners, like how to use general features for newbies, to content focusing on new features released to satisfy the needs of super users (“experts”). These Blog posts are great for deeper insights and step-by-step instructional processes, but the forums are the better space for finding tips and suggestions for specific needs.

Microsoft loves to hear from users about what’s working and what can be improved and encourages engagement through a custom portal on their Community page. Roughly halfway down this page, on the right-hand side, users will see a vivid green box — the green will be instantly recognizable as “Excel” green — with “Submit your ideas”. Clicking on this will open a dialogue menu for users to submit as a digital version of a suggestion box.

Trust us when we say, Microsoft listens. This is their way around getting you on the phone for a personal interview. Recent updates have been made that actually result from feedback in this manner. Users can submit ideas, and other users can “vote up” suggestions. The recent features that have been added to Microsoft Excel have gotten anywhere between 200 to over 1,000 votes from users supporting the suggestion. This is one of the most effective ways to communicate directly with Microsoft – because they’re watching this forum closely.

Stalker Level: Microsoft

Based on user feedback, Microsoft recently updated Excel to include features expanding the use of foreign languages. Before the update, users would attempt to import a CSV file that included text strips that did not contain traditional Latin characters, like Arabic. Users would then get an error message that this information would be lost in the text encoding process upon opening the file. Users affected by situations like this need no longer worry as CSV UTF-8 file formatting is now permitted.

  • This error dialogue used to pop up all the time in situations like this, no matter how many times a user followed the same process. Excel now allows you to select “Don’t Show Again” to disable this warning for the same user. But even if a user only accidentally clicks the “Don’t Show Again” option, this can be toggled on again. Microsoft is trying to allow users to cater their Excel experience to their custom preferences, and it’s starting to show.

Another feature that came into existence through user feedback via the Community is the improved pivot table experience. Users can now alter pivot table settings and then establish these as the default settings for pivot tables at the user level. No more re-formatting pivot tables with each file! Users can even create a pivot table in a new worksheet and import the settings from the existing table data, to save time. Microsoft realized how big of a time saver this would be, and jumped at the opportunity to satisfy a huge community user base with this update.

A cool feature Microsoft just released for Excel Online is an improved search experience. Remember when you would open the “Find” dialogue box, enter your search parameter, and then Excel would show you the next location? And then to find the next location, you had to repeat the process? Well – good news! The search window no longer disappears with each search query. BONUS: users can search within the pivot experience, as well! These filters work on Excel Online just like in the desktop version.

When Microsoft makes an update to any of their products, the goal is to improve efficiency and productivity, as already stated. That’s why they began including the Quick Access icons in the toolbar at the top of the application window several versions of Microsoft Office ago.

  • Did you know the Quick Access toolbar is customizable? Users can change the icons that live in this section, at the very top of the document window. This is where your magical “undo” button is, by default. If you select the drop-down arrow just to the right of the last icon, there is a short list of actions you can include, and an option for “More” under these. Imagine the possibilities!

Microsoft also likes to share lesser-known features with users to make sure they are getting the most out of their Microsoft products. One of their recently-highlighted features was the Document Location Information, where users can toggle on the ability to see the full address for the location of a file, should the user need to access the file, perhaps for sharing.

  • One cool workaround for file sharing is that you can click on the icon next to the file name at the very top of the window on the desktop version and use a drag-and-drop feature this way to attach a file to an email or to cloud storage platforms.

Visit the Community to check out all the top features that are packed into Microsoft Excel to see how to simplify your day-to-day tasks, automate reporting processes, and improve overall efficiency. And remember – if you think of something else, tell Microsoft. You never know, the next Microsoft Excel feature that gets announced may be your suggestion!