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Embrace Cybersecurity with Your Partners and Vendors

Embrace Cybersecurity with Your Partners and Vendors

Top 3 Things to Know BEFORE Partnering with Vendors


As cybercrime is always knocking on the door of your business, one of the most crucial things you can do is partner with vendors that embrace a good cybersecurity posture. This means that they value your business as much as they value their own!  But how do you know which vendor relationships are safe?  Here are three things to know before you partner.

  1. Does your business have a PROCESS to audit third-party vendors for their cybersecurity resilience before sharing sensitive information?
  2. VERIFY that your third parties have implemented strong third-party risk cybersecurity monitoring and plans.
  3. DEFINE cybersecurity risk expectations and requirements with your vendors.


It’s in the Data


Payroll Companies, Financial Institutions, Accounting firms — they all have one ‘big’ thing in common.  These industries store large volumes of data.  Data that is very interesting to cyber criminals. It really doesn’t matter what they actual data is — just know that criminals want it!   


Types of Risky Data Include:

  • Employee Data
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Bank Account
  • Health Care information
  • Client Data
  • Account numbers
  • Sensitive information owned by Client
  • Credit Card/Bank Account
  • Protected Information
  • Industry specific proprietary information
  • Controlled Unclassified Information



As a business leader, do any of these pain points resonate with you?


  • The Increase in ransomware /phishing schemes
  • Lack of compliance with increases in regulation
  • Lack of an incident response plan
  • Third-party vendor cybersecurity maturity
  • Our Insufficient in-house cybersecurity expertise


By understanding third-party security policies and procedures, you can take corrective steps to address the risks to your data. Without the proper controls, your vendors and contractors can become the weakest link to your organization and customers’ privacy.

Lessons From the Breach Hotline

Lessons From the Breach Hotline

Email Compromise Trends The Highest on Breach Hotline: Lessons Learned


Breaches happen to ALL businesses.  Of the calls into the Black Bottle IT  Breach Hotline, 33% directly resulted from email compromise and user error! Unsurprisingly, ransomware was a close second that resulted in calls to the Breach Hotline. 

Most often, scammers go right for the finance employees and their emails, and they use phishing or malware to access a finance employee’s email account, such as an accounts receivable manager. Then the scammer emails the company’s suppliers fake invoices that request payment to a fraudulent bank account.

Types of Breaches You Should Know About


  • Backdoor Attack: A backdoor is a malware type that negates standard authentication procedures to access a system. As a result, remote access is granted to resources within an application, such as databases and file servers, allowing perpetrators to issue system commands and update malware remotely.


  • Printer Cyber Attacks: Hackers can connect your printer to a botnet, which can be used to steal your data and carry out cyber attacks.


  • Spoofing Attacks: When someone or something pretends to be something else in an attempt to gain your confidence, get access to your systems, steal data, steal money, or spread malware.


  • User Error: An unintentional or lack of action results in a data breach; this category includes activities like downloading infected software and keeping a weak password.


  • Email Account Compromise: EAC is not limited to phishing and malware emails to compromise victims’ email accounts, gaining access to legitimate mailboxes.


  • Ransomware: During the first half of 2022, there were an astonishing 236.1 million ransomware attacks worldwide. The top five industries impacted include Banking and Financial Services, Education, Energy and Utilities, Government, and Manufacturing.


  • Third-Party Compromise: Third-party risk is the likelihood that your organization will experience an adverse event: data breach, operational disruption, or reputational damage. A third-party attack occurs when a criminal infiltrates your system through an outside partner or provider with access to your systems and data.


  • Data Leak: A data leak is when sensitive data is accidentally exposed physically, on the Internet, or any other form, including lost hard drives or laptops. This means a cybercriminal can gain unauthorized access to sensitive data without effort. The consequences may include the destruction or corruption of databases, the leaking of confidential information, and the theft of intellectual property.

What Can Businesses Do to Protect Themselves

According to Michael Valentine, Black Bottle IT’s Compliance Security Expert, the businesses that called their breach hotline over the last 24 months did not have monitoring; some only had Anti-Virus or nothing at all. 

Having an incident response plan to manage third partie
s is also a must. While the benefit typically outweighs the risk for many third-party relationships, partnering with third parties increases your attack surface risk. At Black Bottle IT, we answer third-party relationships as it is not necessarily “if” but when an incident will occur and how severe it will be.

Human error continues to be a concern.
Black Bottle IT  and industry experts agree that Cybersecurity training should occur about two to three times per year — or almost every four to six months. One of the most common reasons security training programs fail is a lack of adequate planning and effort on behalf of organizations.

Tools alone don’t do the trick. Implementing multi-factor authentication, or MFA, across all devices and updating software is necessary. We alleviate businesses’ pressures, such as assessing and remediating against new attacks, protecting their organization against data theft,  addressing skills shortages, and filling resource gaps.


Contact Black Bottle IT today for a no-obligation Cyber Risk Gap Assessment. 

The Breach: Final Chapter

The Breach: Final Chapter

The Breach: Final Chapter


Why Does The Attorney General of North Carolina Care About Our Data Breach?

Our Data Breach Coaches had filed the necessary communications with several state Attorney Generals.  We were advised that most states would acknowledge, and it would end there. However, the Attorney General’s Office in North Carolina reached out and requested more information. This was surprising to me, as I didn’t know how to respond or why they would be asking for more details. Fortunately, our Data Breach Coach fielded the request, and we had a call to discuss the strategy of how to respond. Our response was most reassuring that we had taken the necessary measures to prevent an issue like this from happening again. This was just another point, where had we not engaged the right people, we would have had no idea the reporting requirement existed and/or how to respond to requests for more information. As I learned, each state has different reporting requirements, and North Carolina was not the last state to request more information.

Credit Monitoring, Makes Sense

After two months, we were rounding the home stretch of our incident response. The final piece was to figure out how to protect the impacted individuals from any potential damages. Our Data Breach Coach asked us how we wanted to proceed. (Let’s pause for a second, this is a common theme throughout the process. At various points, third parties who had expertise in a subject matter would ask us our thoughts on how we’d like to proceed. We wanted guidance from the experts in areas we needed; I thought it strange we were asked this, rather than just presented options, back to the story) Obviously, we didn’t know how to respond, so we asked for options. 

As a sign of “goodwill,” they suggested offering everyone credit monitoring for two years. That seemed reasonable to us. So they referred us to a national brand that provides these services. During our first call, they offered credit monitoring, explained the process. All of which was acceptable, but then they started talking about setting up a call center, handling questions by the impacted individuals, printing notification letters, and lots of other services. All of which sounded like a great idea had the scope of our incident warranted. However, our situation was so small that it seemed like overkill and yet another way to spend the Company’s money needlessly. So, we set up the necessary processes with internal staff, contracted to offer the credit monitored, and sent out the notification letters. Materially, the incident response was effectively over.

You Want A Detailed Recap Of The Breach Response. Are You Sure?

Finally, after all notification requirements were handled, credit monitoring handed out, and all inquiries were answered, we had a chance to exhale a bit. The incident could have been much, much worse. But we’d made it through. After thinking about it, I realized I didn’t have a formal recap of our response from our Data Breach Coach. I thought, should any inquiries be going forward about how we responded, I should have something to prove that we satisfied all the legal requirements and acted ethically. So, I launched a call to our Data Breach Coach. Out of everything we experienced, this final chapter is something that surprised me the most. After a few days, the Data Breach called me back and acknowledged my request. 

Here is our dialog:

Data Breach Coach: What do you want a formal recap of all the activity that occurred on your behalf in responding to this incident?

Me: “Yes, I do; I want to be able to produce some formal documentation of how we responded to our incident in the event it is needed in the future.”

Data Breach Coach: “Are you sure you want this?”

Me: “Yes, I’m sure.”

Data Breach Coach: “Are you
really sure?”

Me: “Rather than ask me if I
really want it, can you just tell me why you are asking if I want it?”

Data Breach Coach:  “If we produced it, it becomes a legally discoverable document, which might not be in your best interest, should future legal action be taken against you and your Company.”

Me: “So, let me get this straight, we spent three months and 250K responding to this incident. We dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t.’, But it’s not in our best interest to have a formal recap of the actions taken, to prove that we handled the incident in accordance with all the requirements?”

Data Breach Coach: “We can add a high-level summary to your file, should you need it, you can call our office, and we’ll produce it, but having a detailed document isn’t in your best interest.”

Me: “Ok, if that’s what you think is best, then I guess I don’t want it.”

This last interaction left me a little dumbfounded. But in hindsight, I should have expected it. The whole experience was foreign to the Company and me. In the end, we spent our entire amount afforded to use by our insurance coverage to respond to this incident for the potential loss of 250 records. During the initial days, there was lots of confusion, unknowns, and decisions that needed to be made. We didn’t always make the right ones, but we did have enough presence of mind to slow the situation down, get as data as we could, and make informed decisions.

I’m hopeful that our story can help, inform or at least mildly entertain anyone reading. 


About the Author:

This blog was written by John Hensberger, Managing Partner of Black Bottle IT.  Earlier in his career, John was also part of a company that experienced a cybersecurity breach. That experience fueled his passion for assisting other companies with their cybersecurity needs to mitigate their risk. As Technology Executive and Cybersecurity Advisor, John was recognized as the Pittsburgh CIO of the Year, 2014.  Connect with John here.

The Breach: Part 3

The Breach: Part 3

The Breach – Part 3


In “
The Breach – Part I”  and The Breach – Part 2, Black Bottle IT shares a true story of cybercrime that took place with a manufacturing client and how it unfolded. 

“The Breach” continues…


Engaging the Data Breach Coach


It turns out; Data Breach Coaches are law firms that specialize in cyber statutes.  It finally felt good to be talking to someone who I thought would guide us through our options.  Their role, as it was explained to me, was to quarterback the breach response.  They would:

  1. Take the lead and run point
  2. Advise our team on what to do next
  3. Bring in third-party expertise, if necessary, to help us mitigate any legal risk. 

This information all sounded great.  My first question was, “Where do we start?” 

A formal engagement letter was emailed to me shortly after our call ended.  I read it and found some language I didn’t like, as with most legal documents.  Most things I could live with, except the clause that says, “Data Breach Coach, acting in the best interest of the client, can engage and agree to terms with third party services, with all financial responsibility passed on the client, without client consent.”  It says the law firm can spend company money without anyone consenting or agreeing.  The second call we would have was to review the engagement letter.  When I questioned this language, “only to be told,” the response was, “It’s standard language, for your own good so that we can move quickly.”  I had this line removed from the agreement and officially engaged the Data Breach Coach.

Forensic Swat Team


One of the first things the Data Breach Coach advised was to engage a third-party computer forensic company to determine what data was lost when it was lost, etc.   We had a call, and the person leading the conversation had a super high sense of urgency.  He wanted to send 2-3 forensics technicians on-site the next day.  I paused and said, “How much is that going to cost?” 

Our insurance coverage was up to 250K of expenses.  Anything over was coming from the company coffers.  We were a small company; having thousands of dollars in fees would put the company in a vulnerable financial state.  So, I was always trying to walk the line of protecting the company, doing our duty to investigate, and being very mindful of the financial situation. 

Back to the story – The forensics company said we didn’t have time to wait, which was the best option.  I countered with, can’t we gather information with our staff and send you what you need?  Let’s start there, make a list, and we’ll begin compiling. 

Date of Discovery


All along the way,  third-party companies were lining up with their bags wide open, hoping to get them filled with “incident response” money.  Most of them were trying to create some real sense of urgency to engage and take action.  I never fell for the high-pressure tactics; I wanted to get some options, evaluate the risks, and make an informed decision.  However, in the days that followed, the attorneys started educating us in cyber statutes’ generalities.  Most of them had a requirement to respond with their timelines after the “date of discovery.”  This timeframe was the only timeline that mattered.  We had time to rationally engage third-party forensics to identify the scope of the data breach to formulate a responsible response plan.


Continue to Part 4



About the Author:

This blog was written by John Hensberger, Managing Partner of Black Bottle IT.  Earlier in his career, John was also part of a company that experienced a cybersecurity breach. That experience fueled his passion for assisting other companies with their cybersecurity needs to mitigate their risk. As Technology Executive and Cybersecurity Advisor, John was recognized as the Pittsburgh CIO of the Year, 2014.  Connect with John here.


The Breach: Part 2

The Breach: Part 2

In “The Breach – Part I,”  Black Bottle IT shares a true story of cybercrime that took place with a manufacturing client and how it unfolded. 

“The Breach” continues…

What Do We Do Know?


Immediately following, we start to take action to contain the incident.  We immediately block the traffic in/out from the bad actor IP addresses.  We look at some simple log data and verify that the Company has been transmitting data to these IP addresses —  for as long as we have logged data over 30 days. 

In the meantime, I’m getting SOS calls from the CEO, wanting an update from the FBI meeting and wanting to know, “How bad is this?”  Since I don’t know the extent of the incident, I don’t have much, other than we think we’ve contained it.  He asked good questions: “Don’t we have a firewall, AV, and a 3rd party that is supposed to help us with these things?” All of which the answer is yes.  This then follows by the inevitable, “How could this happen?”  Someone once told me that when you have bad news, the sooner it’s delivered, the better.  So my message to the CEO was, we think we’ve contained it; now we need to figure out what the damage is, which is something that I need to figure out now.

The Response


So, let’s recap:


  1. the FBI informs us that we have been “cyber-attacked” but offers no more information. 
  2. We think we’ve stopped it. 
  3. Our CEO is asking us questions about whether the company can survive this.  And we have no good answers.

It was a pretty bad 24 hours.  So, the real challenge for us was, what do we do next?  First, we mobilized our third-party MSP to help.  They scheduled time over that weekend to visit our location, install some advanced security tools, and “clean” every machine in the building.  We didn’t know what had caused the breach, but this seemed like a good place to start.   

Next, I got on the phone and started calling companies for advice/help.  Most of these calls went something like this: “Yes, we’d love to help you; you need to determine what data was lost.  So, you can buy blocks of time for 50K each. When do you want us to start?”  Our Company was small, so spending money in chunks of 50K would also very quickly lead to the company’s financial demise.  So, after calling and listening to multiple solutions, I had some options.  In the background, Company stakeholders are asking me, “How bad is it?” “Are we out of business?”

Ah-Ha. We Have Insurance for That


At some point during the first 48 hours, the CFO had inquired to our insurance agent about having cyber coverage.  It turns out we had coverage.  She launched a call to our service representative, who then told us, we would receive a call within 72 hours with instructions.  I was in the mindset that the company might not survive 72 hours.  I didn’t wait around and continued searching to find some resource to help; that made sense.  Then, I received a call from the insurance customer service rep.  She told me that if I checked the policy, I would find instructions for utilizing the “Data Breach” services that our company was entitled to as part of our coverage.  I thanked her, started reading, and found that we indeed had access to a “Data Breach Coach” or a list of them.  I picked the first name and called them.


Continue to Part 3



About the Author:

This blog was written by John Hensberger, Managing Partner of Black Bottle IT.  Earlier in his career, John was also part of a company that experienced a cybersecurity breach. That experience fueled his passion for assisting other companies with their cybersecurity needs to mitigate their risk. As Technology Executive and Cybersecurity Advisor, John was recognized as the Pittsburgh CIO of the Year, 2014.  Connect with John here.


My Breach Story: Part 1

My Breach Story: Part 1

The Breach – Part 1

I’m not sure how many cyber security professionals have been on the receiving end of a data breach and had to navigate their way through it.  But, part of my passion for this industry was born in my experience.  I was a typical IT Manager, supporting a companies software and infrastructure.  They had a few on-site IT professionals, and some  outsourced partners, and were focused on growing revenue, operational efficiencies, and doing more with less.  The Company had what I’d consider typical security tools in place.  A firewall with IP blocking and blacklisting, a modern AV/Anti-Malware agent, email security tools, etc.

The Call


One typical day, I’m at a lunch meeting with the CEO at Panera.  I got a call from my IT Manager since I was at lunch with the CEO. I wanted to stay focused on our conversation, so I ignored the call.  Immediately following I got an SOS text to call her ASAP.  This was not like her, so I knew something needed to be addressed, so I excused myself from the CEO and stepped outside to call her back.  I could sense a little panic in her voice, so I immediately asked her “What’s wrong?”.  She tells me that they received a call from the FBI, stating that an agent would be on-site the next morning to discuss a cyber security incident and that IT leadership and any 3rd party related to infrastructure should be present.  I paused, and being somewhat skeptical, I said, call the FBI office and verify the information provided (thinking it was a scam call).  She said, I already did, and it’s real.  After returning the table, the CEO asked me “What’s wrong?”, I relayed the information, and his first question was  “Is this something that could put the company out of business?”, to which I replied, “I don’t know yet”.  This was the beginning of a very long and hectic three months.

FBI On-site


True to their word, the FBI showed up the next morning, and we had all the necessary players around the table to ask questions and determine the scope of the situation.  Before we could open our mouths the FBI proceeds to tell us that he’s not even a cyber crime agent, he’s a kidnapping/ransom agent.  That he doesn’t know anything about  cyber crime, and his job is to read us the information about the incident.   So, he begins and reads a document that says the FBI had been monitoring some bad actors in eastern Europe and that our Company was 1 of 30 companies transmitting data to foreign IP addresses.  After reading the statement, he gave us the specifics of which IP addresses were in scope.  We start asking questions, to which he simply says “My job was to inform you of this activity, if you need more specifics, here is a card of a cyber crime agent that might help you”.  We shake hands, the meeting is over.

Continue to Part 2



About the Author:

This blog was written by John Hensberger, Managing Partner of Black Bottle IT.  Earlier in his career, John was also part of a company that experienced a cybersecurity breach. That experience fueled his passion for assisting other companies with their cybersecurity needs to mitigate their risk. As Technology Executive and Cybersecurity Advisor, John was recognized as the Pittsburgh CIO of the Year, 2014.  Connect with John here.