Ransomware-as-a-Service, or RaaS, has taken the threat landscape by storm — so much so that in 2023, the White House re-classified ransomware as a national security threat. How has RaaS taken the impact of ransomware attacks to this next level of federal concern? By allowing potential cybercriminals to launch a ransomware attack regardless of their experience with programming or technical sophistication.
According to Cybersecurity Ventures, ransomware might cost companies nearly $265 billion annually by the end of 2031. Meanwhile, bad actors get a lot of bang for their buck with Ransomware-as-a-Service. RaaS kit subscriptions can be as little as $40 per month.
That said, security professionals shouldn’t roll over or wave the white flag. Implementing a few key strategies can minimize the effect and decrease the likelihood of falling victim to a RaaS attack.
What is RaaS?
Organizations should clearly understand what RaaS is to make their security strategies specific to the needs of ransomware defense.
So, what is Ransomware-as-a-Service? It’s a business model designed by larger, more sophisticated ransomware groups. These groups utilize their technical expertise to create portable ransomware packages — or kits — that they then sell to buyers aiming to launch their own ransomware attacks.
Basically, ransomware operators turn their processes into a program or software usable by other threat actors. RaaS packages are often advertised on forums on the dark web, and they can also come with downloadable features, bundled offers, and 24/7 support staff. Well-known examples of groups that produce RaaS kits include:
RaaS kits aren’t developed out of the goodness of ransomware groups’ hearts. As noted above, these kits operate similarly to SaaS business models in that users follow some type of payment plan with the original ransomware operators.
These plans might look like:
A one-time licensing fee
A monthly subscription fee
An affiliate program fee — which typically entitles a chunk of the profits to the ransomware group
Pure profit sharing
Defending against RaaS attacks
When it comes to Ransomware-as-a-Service, the best method of defense follows a pretty consistent cybersecurity theme: Prevention is protection. Ransomware attacks are extremely costly and time-consuming for security teams to retroactively address. So, implementing security strategies aimed at stopping RaaS users in their tracks should be considered essential.
However, RaaS attacks are evolving faster than ever, so it can be tough for security teams to know where to start. Here’s a cheat sheet of three easy ways to defend your organization from RaaS attacks — well before they even strike.
1. Patch, patch, and patch again
Patching is a critical part of cybersecurity maintenance. Ransomware operators are looking out for new vulnerabilities to exploit around the clock — after all, that’s their full-time job. So, it’s critical for organizations to amp up their vulnerability management strategy and stay on top of the growing list of critical vulnerability exploits (CVEs) that bad actors use to breach sensitive systems and assets. A rigorous patching program will go a long way in keeping the latest RaaS kits at bay.
RaaS Hack: Keep tabs on what vulnerabilities your organization might have by checking up on CISA’s Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog. This federal resource includes a bulletin that security teams can subscribe to, as well as downloadable versions in CSV and JSON formats.
2. Segment networks to prevent widespread environment proliferation
One of the biggest problems with RaaS attacks is that they move fast. Once RaaS users find an “in,” they can swiftly move into other connected environments — which can lead to an organization getting completely infested by ransomware.
To prevent the RaaS ripple effect, organizations should segment their networks. Network segmentation compartmentalizes one larger network into sub-networks, which allows security teams to devise security controls unique to each smaller network. Sub-networks not only make network security more manageable, they also make network security more diverse — mitigating the damage of one exploited vulnerability.
3. Build and maintain a culture of security
An organization is only as strong as its weakest link — and more often than not, humans are the weakest link. IBM’s 2023 X-Force Threat Intelligence Index found that successful phishing campaigns caused 41% of all security incidents. That means a critical remedy for RaaS attacks is providing organization-wide education on attempts via phishing, business email compromise, or other attack methods reliant on human error.
RaaS Hack: If your organization has limited resources for cybersecurity, leveraging managed services can implement cybersecurity “training wheels.” Managed services vendors can help educate your teams — and by proxy, your whole organization — on best practices for protection against RaaS attacks.
Next steps for RaaS defense
RaaS attacks are growing more frequent and more sophisticated, and it can be tough to match and meet bad actors where they’re at when you are inundated with a laundry list of other daily tasks.
That’s why we built Managed Threat Complete, an always-on MDR with vulnerability management in a single subscription that helps take the load off your security teams so they have space to innovate and strategize. Leverage the skill of our world-class cybersecurity experts and learn how to implement robust RaaS defense in your organization today.
You probably invested in a network attached storage (NAS) device to centralize your storage, manage data more efficiently, and implement on-site backups. So, keeping that data safe is important to you. Unfortunately, as NAS devices have risen in popularity, cybercriminals have taken notice.
Recent high-profile ransomware campaigns have targeted vast numbers of NAS devices worldwide. These malicious attacks can lock away users’ NAS data, holding it hostage until a ransom is paid—or the user risks losing all their data.
If you are a NAS user, learning how to secure your NAS device against ransomware attacks is critical if you want to protect your data. In this guide, you’ll learn why NAS devices are attractive targets for ransomware and how to safeguard your NAS device from ransomware attacks. Let’s get started.
What Is Ransomware?
To begin, let’s quickly understand what ransomware actually is. Ransomware is a type of malicious software or malware that infiltrates systems and encrypts files. Upon successful infection, ransomware denies users access to their files or systems, effectively holding data hostage.
Its name derives from its primary purpose—to demand a “ransom” from the victim in exchange for restoring access to their data. Ransomware actors often threaten to delete, sell, or leak data if the ransom is not paid.
Ransomware threat messages often imitate law enforcement agencies, claiming that the user violated laws and must pay a fine. Other times, it’s a blunt threat—pay or lose your data forever. This manipulative strategy preys on fears and urgency, often pressuring the unprepared victims into paying the ransom.
The consequences of a ransomware attack can be severe. The most immediate impact is data loss, which can be catastrophic if the encrypted files contain sensitive or critical information. There’s also the financial loss from the ransom payment itself which can range from a few hundred dollars to several million dollars.
Moreover, an attack can cause significant operational downtime, with systems unavailable while the malware is removed and data is restored. For businesses, especially the unprepared, the downtime can be disastrous, leading to substantial revenue loss.
However, the damage doesn’t stop there. The reputational damage caused by a ransomware attack can make customers, partners, and stakeholders lose trust in a business that falls victim to such an attack, especially if it results in a data breach.
As you can see, ransomware is not just malicious code that disrupts your business, it can cause significant harm on multiple fronts. Therefore, it’s important to understand the basics of ransomware as the first step in building a robust defense strategy for your NAS device.
Types of Ransomware
While the modus operandi of ransomware—to deny access to users’ data and demand ransom—remains relatively constant, there are multiple ransomware variants, each with unique characteristics.
Some of the most common types of ransomware include:
Locker ransomware takes an all-or-nothing approach. It locks users out of their entire system, preventing them from accessing any files, applications, or even the operating system itself.
The only thing the users can access is a ransomware note, demanding payment in exchange for restoring access to their system.
As its name suggests, crypto ransomware encrypts the users’ files and makes them inaccessible. This type of ransomware does not lock the entire system, but rather targets specific file types such as documents, spreadsheets, and multimedia files. The victims can still use their system but cannot access or open the encrypted files without the encryption key.
Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)
RaaS represents a new business model in the dark world of cybercrime. It is essentially a cloud-based platform where ransomware developers sell or rent their ransomware codes to other cybercriminals, who then distribute and manage the ransomware attacks. The ransomware developers receive a cut of the ransom payments.
Leakware steals sensitive or confidential information and threatens to publicize them if ransom is not paid. This type of ransomware is particularly damaging as even if the ransom is paid and the data is not leaked, the mere fact that the data was accessed can have significant legal and reputational implications.
Scareware uses social engineering to trick victims into believing that their system is infected with viruses or other malware. They scare people into visiting spoofed or infected websites or downloading malicious software (malware). While not as directly damaging as other forms of ransomware, scareware can be used as the gateway to a more intricate cyberattack and may not be an attack in and of itself.
Can Ransomware Attack NAS?
Yes, ransomware can and frequently does target NAS devices. These storage solutions, while highly effective and efficient, have certain characteristics that make them attractive to cybercriminals.
Let’s explore some of these reasons in more detail below.
NAS devices act as centralized storage locations with all data stored in one place. This makes them an attractive target for ransomware attacks. By infiltrating a single NAS device, bad actors can gain access to a significant amount of company data, maximizing the impact of their attack and the potential ransom.
Unlike traditional PCs or servers, NAS devices often lack robust security measures. Most NAS systems may not have an antivirus installed, leaving them exposed to various forms of malware including ransomware. Additionally, outdated firmware can further weaken the device’s defenses, offering potential loopholes for attackers to exploit.
NAS devices are designed to be continuously online, allowing for convenient and seamless data access. However, this also means they are constantly exposed to the internet, making them a target for online threats around the clock.
Default Configuration Settings
NAS devices, like many other hardware devices, often come with default configurations that prioritize ease of access over security. For example, they may have simple, easy-to-guess default passwords or open access permissions for all users. Not changing these default settings can leave the devices vulnerable to attacks.
Risk Factors: The Human Element
NAS devices are an easy-to-use, accessible way to expand on-site storage and manage data, making them attractive for people without an IT background to use. However, novice users, and even many of your smartest power users, may not know to follow key best practices to prevent ransomware. As humans, all of us are vulnerable to error. In addition to NAS devices having some unique characteristics that make them prime targets for cybercriminals, you can’t discount the human element in ransomware protection. Understanding the following risks can help you shore up your defenses:
Lack of User Awareness
There is often a lack of awareness among NAS users about the potential security risks associated with these devices. Most users may not realize the importance of regularly updating their NAS systems or implementing security measures. This can result in NAS devices being unprotected, making them easy prey for ransomware attacks.
Insufficient Backup Practices
While NAS devices provide local data storage, it has to be noted that they are not a full 3-2-1 backup solution. Data on NAS devices needs to be backed up off-site to protect against hardware failures, theft, natural disasters, and ransomware attacks. If users don’t have an off-site backup, they risk losing all their data or paying a huge ransom to get access to their NAS data.
Lack of Regular Audits
Conducting regular security checks and audits can help identify and rectify any potential vulnerabilities. But, most NAS users take regular security audits as an afterthought and let security gaps go unnoticed and unaddressed.
Uncontrolled User Access
In some organizations, NAS devices may be accessed by numerous employees, some of whom may not be trained in security best practices. This can increase the chances of ransomware attacks via tactics like phishing emails.
Neglected Software Updates
NAS device manufacturers often release software updates that include patches for security vulnerabilities. If users neglect to regularly update the software on their NAS devices, they can leave the devices exposed to ransomware attacks that exploit those vulnerabilities.
How Do I Protect My NAS From Ransomware?
Now that you understand the NAS devices vulnerabilities and threats that expose them to ransomware attacks, let’s take a look at some of the practical measures that you can take to protect your NAS from these attacks.
Update regularly: One of the most straightforward yet effective measures you can take is to keep your NAS devices’ applications up-to-date. This includes applying patches, firmware, and operating system updates as soon as they’re available and released by your NAS device manufacturer or backup application provider. These updates often contain security enhancements and fixes for vulnerabilities that could otherwise be exploited by ransomware.
Use strong credentials: Make sure all user accounts, especially admin accounts, are protected by strong, unique passwords. Strong credentials are a simple but effective way to avoid falling victim to brute force attacks that use a trial and error method to crack passwords.
Disable default admin accounts: Like we discussed above, most NAS devices come with default admin accounts with well-known usernames and passwords, making them easy targets for attackers. It’s a good idea to disable all these default accounts or change their credentials.
Limit access to NAS: Most businesses provide wide open access to all their users to access NAS data. However, chances are that not every user needs access to every file on your NAS. Limiting access based on user roles and responsibilities can minimize the potential impact in case of a ransomware attack.
Create different user access levels: Along the same lines of limiting access, consider creating different levels of user access. This can prevent a ransomware infection from spreading if a user with a lower level of access falls victim to an attack.
Block suspicious IP addresses: Consider utilizing network security tools to monitor and block IP addresses that have made multiple failed login attempts and/or seem suspicious. This can help prevent brute force attacks.
Implement a firewall and intrusion detection system: Firewalls can prevent unauthorized access to your NAS, while intrusion detection systems can alert you to any potential security breaches. Both can be crucial ways of defense against ransomware.
Adopt the 3-2-1 backup rule with Object Lock: Like we discussed above, NAS devices offer a centralized storage solution that is local, fast, and easy to share. However, NAS is not a backup solution as it doesn’t protect your data from theft, natural disasters, or hardware failures. Therefore, it’s essential to implement a 3-2-1 backup strategy, where three copies of your data is stored on two different types of storage with one copy stored off-site. This can ensure that you have a secure and uninfected backup even if your NAS is hit by ransomware. The Object Lock feature, available with cloud storage providers such as Backblaze, prevents data from being deleted, ensuring your backup remains intact even in the event of a ransomware attack.
The Role of Cybersecurity Training
While technical measures are a crucial part of NAS ransomware protection, they are only as effective as the people who use them. Human error is often cited as one of the leading causes of successful cyber-attacks, including ransomware.
This is where cybersecurity training comes in, playing an important role in helping individuals identify and avoid threats.
So, what kind of training can you do to help your staff avoid threats?
Identification training: Provide staff members with the knowledge and tools they need to recognize potential threats. This includes identifying suspicious emails, websites, or software, and understanding the dangers of clicking on unverified links or downloading unknown attachments, and also knowing how to handle and report a suspected threat when one arises.
Understanding human attack vendors: Cybercriminals often target individuals within an organization, exploiting common human weaknesses such as lack of awareness or curiosity. By understanding how these attacks work, employees can be better equipped to avoid falling victim to them.
Preventing attacks: Ultimately, the goal of cyber security training is to prevent attacks. By training staff on how to recognize and respond to potential threats, businesses can drastically reduce their risk of a successful ransomware attack. This not only helps the company’s data but also its reputation and financial well-being.
Also, it is important to remember that cybersecurity training should not be a one-time event. Cyber threats are constantly evolving, so regular training is necessary to ensure that staff members are aware of the latest threats and the best practices for dealing with them.
Protecting Your NAS Data From Threats
Ransomware is an ever evolving threat in our digital world and NAS devices are no exception. With the rising popularity of NAS devices among businesses, cybercriminals have been targeting NAS devices with high profile ransomware campaigns.
Having a comprehensive understanding of the basics of ransomware to recognize why NAS devices are attractive targets is the first step toward protecting your NAS devices from these attacks. By keeping systems and applications updated, enforcing robust credentials, limiting access, employing proactive network security measures, and backing up data, you can create a strong defense line against ransomware attacks.
Additionally, investing in regular cybersecurity training for all users can significantly decrease the risk of an attack being successful due to human error. Remember, cybersecurity is not a one-time effort but a continuous process of learning, adapting, and implementing best practices. Stay informed about the latest NAS ransomware types and tactics, maintain regular audits of your NAS devices, and continuously reevaluate and improve your security measures.
Every step you take towards better security not only protects your NAS data, but sends a strong message to cybercriminals and contributes towards a safer digital ecosystem for all.
This post was originally published during April of 2019 and updated in July of 2022 and July of 2023. Unfortunately, ransomware continues to proliferate. We’ve updated the post to reflect the current state of ransomware and to help individuals and businesses protect their data.
In today’s interconnected world, where our professional lives revolve around technology, the threat of ransomware looms large. It is a profitable business for cybercriminals, causing billions of dollars in damages. You might not have been subject to a ransomware attack yet, but that may not always be the case—unfortunately, the odds are against you.
This comprehensive guide aims to empower you with the knowledge and strategies needed to prevent and recover from ransomware attacks. With preparation and the latest cybersecurity insights, you can safeguard your digital world.
This post is a part of our ongoing coverage of ransomware. Take a look at our other posts for more information on how businesses can defend themselves against a ransomware attack, and more.
In their 2023 Ransomware Trends Report, Veeam found that only 16% of organizations attacked by ransomware were able to recover without paying a ransom. That means, despite almost every business having backups of some kind, only one in six of them were able to use their backups to resume business operations after an attack. As a cloud storage company where many customers store backups, we think that number should be closer to 100%. That’s why we created this guide—getting that number closer to 100% starts with knowing what you’re up against and putting strategies in place to protect your business.
The Ransomware Threat
In 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 2,385 ransomware complaints with adjusted losses of more than $34.3 million, and those are just the ones that got reported. Cybersecurity Ventures expects that, by 2031, businesses will fall victim to a ransomware attack every other second, up from every 11 seconds in 2021, every 14 seconds in 2019, and every 40 seconds in 2016. This exponential rise in victims translates to nearly $265 billion in ransomware damages by 2031 according to Cybersecurity Ventures.
Individual and average ransom amounts are also reaching new heights. In Q1 2023, the average ransom payment was $327,883, up 55% from Q1 of 2022 ($211,529) according to Coveware, a cyber extortion incident response firm. And, 45% of attacks had an initial demand over $1 million.
Ransomware affects all industries, from the public sector (state and local government and educational institutions) to healthcare and technology. No group is immune, as seen in the chart below.
Ransomware continues to be a major threat to businesses in all sectors, but the greatest impact continues to be leveled at small and medium businesses (SMBs). As the table below notes, a vast majority (66.9%) of all the companies impacted by ransomware attacks are SMBs with between 11 and 1,000 employees.
Regardless of your firm’s size, you’ll want to understand how ransomware works, including ransomware as a service (RaaS), as well as how recent developments in generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools are changing the ransomware landscape.
Ransomware as a Service
Ransomware as a Service has emerged as a game changer in the world of cybercrime, revolutionizing the ransomware landscape and amplifying the scale and reach of malicious attacks. The RaaS business model allows even novice cybercriminals to access and deploy ransomware with relative ease, leading to a surge in the frequency and sophistication of ransomware attacks worldwide.
Traditionally, ransomware attacks required a high level of technical expertise and resources, limiting their prevalence to skilled cybercriminals or organized cybercrime groups. However, the advent of RaaS platforms has lowered the barrier to entry, making ransomware accessible to a broader range of individuals with nefarious intent. These platforms provide aspiring cybercriminals with ready-made ransomware toolkits, complete with user-friendly interfaces, step-by-step instructions, and even customer support. In essence, RaaS operates on a subscription or profit-sharing model, allowing criminals to distribute ransomware and share the ransom payments with the RaaS operators.
The rise of RaaS has led to a proliferation of ransomware attacks, with cybercriminals exploiting the anonymity of the dark web to collaborate, share resources, and launch large-scale campaigns. The RaaS model not only facilitates the distribution of ransomware but it also provides criminals with analytics dashboards to track the performance of their campaigns, enabling them to optimize their strategies for maximum profit.
One of the most significant impacts of RaaS is the exponential growth in the number and variety of ransomware strains. RaaS platforms continuously evolve and introduce new ransomware variants, making it increasingly challenging for cybersecurity experts to develop effective countermeasures. The availability of these diverse strains allows cybercriminals to target different industries, geographical regions, and vulnerabilities, maximizing their chances of success.
The profitability of RaaS has attracted a new breed of cybercriminals, leading to an underground economy where specialized roles have emerged. Ransomware developers create and sell their malicious code on RaaS platforms, while affiliates or “distributors” spread the ransomware through various means, such as phishing emails, exploit kits, or compromised websites. This division of labor allows criminals to focus on their specific expertise, while RaaS operators facilitate the monetization process and collect a share of the ransoms.
The impact of RaaS extends beyond the immediate financial and operational consequences for targeted entities. The widespread availability of ransomware toolkits has also resulted in a phenomenon known as “ransomware commoditization,” where cybercriminals compete to offer their services at lower costs or even engage in price wars. This competition drives innovation and the continuous evolution of ransomware, making it a persistent and ever-evolving threat.
To combat the growing influence of RaaS, organizations and individuals require a multilayered approach to cybersecurity. Furthermore, organizations should prioritize data backups and develop comprehensive incident response plans to ensure quick recovery in the event of a ransomware attack. Regularly testing backup restoration processes is essential to maintain business continuity and minimize the impact of potential ransomware incidents.
Ransomware as a Service has profoundly transformed the ransomware landscape, democratizing access to malicious tools and fueling the rise of cybercrime. The ease of use, scalability, and profitability of RaaS platforms have contributed to a surge in ransomware attacks across industries and geographic locations.
Generative AI and Ransomware
The rise of generative AI has been a boon for cybercriminals in helping them automate attacks. If you’ve ever been through any kind of cybersecurity training, you’ll know that spelling mistakes, bad grammar, and awkward writing are some of the most obvious signs of a phishing email. With generative AI, the cybercriminals’ job just got that much easier, and their phishing emails that more convincing.
Now, a cybercriminal just needs to punch a prompt into ChatGPT, and it spits out an error-free, well-written, convincing email that the cybercriminal can use to target victims. It has also been a force multiplier for helping cybercriminals translate that email into different languages or target it to specific industries or even companies. Text generated by models like ChatGPT help cybercriminals create very personalized messages that are more likely to have the desired effect of getting a target to click a malicious link or download a malicious payload.
How Does Ransomware Work?
A ransomware attack starts when a machine on your network becomes infected with malware. Cybercriminals have a variety of methods for infecting your machine, whether it’s an attachment in an email, a link sent via spam, or even through sophisticated social engineering campaigns. As users become more savvy to these attack vectors, cybercriminals’ strategies evolve. Once that malicious file has been loaded onto an endpoint, it spreads to the network, locking every file it can access behind strong encryption controlled by cybercriminals. If you want that encryption key, you’ll have to pay the price.
When we say ‘hacker,’ it’s not some kid in his basement. They’re stealthy, professional crime organizations. They attack slowly and methodically. They can monitor your network for months, until they have the keys to the kingdom—including backups—then they pull the trigger.
—Gregory Tellone, CEO, Continuity Centers
Encrypting ransomware or cryptoware is by far the most common variety of ransomware. Other types that might be encountered are:
Non-encrypting ransomware or lock screens, which restrict access to files and data, but do not encrypt them.
Ransomware that encrypts a drive’s master boot record (MBR) or Microsoft’s NTFS, which prevents victims’ computers from being booted up in a live operating system (OS) environment.
Leakware or extortionware, which steals compromising or damaging data that the attackers then threaten to release if ransom is not paid.
Mobile device ransomware which infects cell phones through drive-by downloads or fake apps.
What Happens During a Typical Attack?
The typical steps in a ransomware attack are:
Infection: Ransomware gains entry through various means such as phishing emails, physical media like thumb drives, or alternative methods. It then installs itself on a single endpoint or network device, granting the attacker access.
Secure Key Exchange: Once installed, the ransomware communicates with the perpetrator’s central command and control server, triggering the generation of cryptographic keys required to lock the system securely.
Encryption: With the cryptographic lock established, the ransomware initiates the encryption process, targeting files both locally and across the network, rendering them inaccessible without the decryption keys.
Extortion: Having gained secure and impenetrable access to your files, the ransomware displays an explanation of the next steps, including the ransom amount, instructions for payment, and the consequences of noncompliance.
Recovery Options: At this stage, the victim can attempt to remove infected files and systems while restoring from a clean backup, or they may consider paying the ransom.
It’s never advised to pay the ransom. According to Veeam’s 2023 Ransomware Trends Report, 21% of those who paid the ransom still were not able to recover their data. There’s no guarantee the decryption keys will work, and paying the ransom only further incentivizes cybercriminals to continue their attacks.
Who Gets Attacked?
Data has shown that ransomware attacks target firms of all sizes, and no business—from small and medium-sized business to large coprorations—is immune. According to the Veeam 2023 Data Protection Trends Report, 85% of organizations suffered at least one cyberattack in the preceding twelve months. Attacks are on the rise in every sector and in every size of business. This leaves small to medium-sized businesses particularly vulnerable, as they may not have the resources needed to shore up their defenses.
Recent attacks where cybercriminals leaked sensitive photos of patients in a medical facility prove that no organization is out of bounds and no victim is off limits. These attempts indicate that organizations which often have weaker controls and out-of-date or unsophisticated IT systems should take extra precautions to protect themselves and their data.
The unfortunate truth is that ransomware has become so widespread that most companies will certainly experience some degree of a ransomware or malware attack. The best they can do is be prepared and understand the best ways to minimize the impact of ransomware.
Ransomware is more about manipulating vulnerabilities in human psychology than the adversary’s technological sophistication.”
—James Scott, Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology
How to Combat Ransomware
So, you’ve been attacked by ransomware. Depending on your industry and legal requirements (which, as we have seen, are ever-changing), you may be obligated to report the attack first. Otherwise, your immediate footing should be one of damage control. So what should you do next?
Isolate the Infection. Swiftly isolate the infected endpoint from the rest of your network and any shared storage to halt the spread of the ransomware.
Identify the Infection. With numerous ransomware strains in existence, it’s crucial to accurately identify the specific type you’re dealing with. Conduct scans of messages, files, and utilize identification tools to gain a clearer understanding of the infection.
Report the Incident. While legal obligations may vary, it is advisable to report the attack to the relevant authorities. Their involvement can provide invaluable support and coordination for countermeasures.
Evaluate Your Options. Assess the available courses of action to address the infection. Consider the most suitable approach based on your specific circumstances.
Restore and Rebuild. Utilize secure backups, trusted program sources, and reliable software to restore the infected computer or set up a new system from scratch.
1. Isolate the Infection
Depending on the strain of ransomware you’ve been hit with, you may have little time to react. Fast-moving strains can spread from a single endpoint across networks, locking up your data as it goes, before you even have a chance to contain it.
The first step, even if you just suspect that one computer may be infected, is to isolate it from other endpoints and storage devices on your network. Disable Wi-Fi, disable Bluetooth, and unplug the machine from both any local area network (LAN) or storage device it might be connected to. This not only contains the spread but also keeps the ransomware from communicating with the attackers.
Know that you may be dealing with more than just one “patient zero.” The ransomware could have entered your system through multiple vectors, particularly if someone has observed your patterns before they attacked your company. It may already be laying dormant on another system. Until you can confirm, treat every connected and networked machine as a potential host to ransomware.
2. Identify the Infection
Just as there are bad guys spreading ransomware, there are good guys helping you fight it. Sites like ID Ransomware and the No More Ransom! Project help identify which strain you’re dealing with. And knowing what type of ransomware you’ve been infected with will help you understand how it propagates, what types of files it typically targets, and what options, if any, you have for removal and disinfection. You’ll also get more information if you report the attack to the authorities (which you really should).
3. Report to the Authorities
It’s understood that sometimes it may not be in your business’s best interest to report the incident. Maybe you don’t want the attack to be public knowledge. Maybe the potential downside of involving the authorities (lost productivity during investigation, etc.) outweighs the amount of the ransom. But reporting the attack is how you help everyone avoid becoming victimized and help combat the spread and efficacy of ransomware attacks in the future. With every attack reported, the authorities get a clearer picture of who is behind attacks, how they gain access to your system, and what can be done to stop them.
The good news is, you have options. The bad news is that the most obvious option, paying up, is a terrible idea.
Simply giving into cybercriminals’ demands may seem attractive to some, especially in those previously mentioned situations where paying the ransom is less expensive than the potential loss of productivity. Cybercriminals are counting on this.
However, paying the ransom only encourages attackers to strike other businesses or individuals like you. Paying the ransom not only fosters a criminal environment but also leads to civil penalties—and you might not even get your data back.
The other option is to try and remove it.
5. Restore and Rebuild—or Start Fresh
There are several sites and software packages that can potentially remove the ransomware from your system, including the No More Ransom! Project. Other options can be found, as well.
Whether you can successfully and completely remove an infection is up for debate. A working decryptor doesn’t exist for every known ransomware. The nature of the beast is that every time a good guy comes up with a decryptor, a bad guy writes new ransomware. To be safe, you’ll want to follow up by either restoring your system or starting over entirely.
Why Starting Over Using Your Backups Is the Better Idea
The surest way to confirm ransomware has been removed from a system is by doing a complete wipe of all storage devices and reinstalling everything from scratch. Formatting the hard disks in your system will ensure that no remnants of the ransomware remain.
To effectively combat the ransomware that has infiltrated your systems, it is crucial to determine the precise date of infection by examining file dates, messages, and any other pertinent information. Keep in mind that the ransomware may have been dormant within your system before becoming active and initiating significant alterations. By identifying and studying the specific characteristics of the ransomware that targeted your systems, you can gain valuable insights into its functionality, enabling you to devise the most effective strategy for restoring your systems to their optimal state.
Select a backup or backups that were made prior to the date of the initial ransomware infection. If you’ve been following a sound backup strategy, you should have copies of all your documents, media, and important files right up to the time of the infection. With both local and off-site backups, you should be able to use backup copies that you know weren’t connected to your network after the time of attack, and hence, protected from infection. Backup drives that were completely disconnected should be safe, as are files stored in the cloud, especially if you use Object Lock to make them immutable.
How Object Lock Protects Your Data
Object Lock functionality for backups allows you to store objects using a write once, read many (WORM) model, meaning that after it’s written, data cannot be modified. Using Object Lock, no one can encrypt, tamper with, or delete your protected data for a specified period of time, creating a solid line of defense against ransomware attacks.
Object Lock creates a virtual air gap for your data. The term air gap comes from the world of LTO tape. When backups are written to tape, the tapes are then physically removed from the network, creating a literal gap of air between backups and production systems. In the event of a ransomware attack, you can just pull the tapes from the previous day to restore systems. Object Lock does the same thing, but it all happens in the cloud. Instead of physically isolating data, Object Lock virtually isolates the data.
Object Lock is valuable in a few different use cases:
To replace an LTO tape system: Most folks looking to migrate from tape are concerned about maintaining the security of the air gap that tape provides. With Object Lock, you can create a backup that’s just as secure as air-gapped tape without the need for expensive physical infrastructure.
To protect and retain sensitive data: If you work in an industry that has strong compliance requirements—for instance, if you’re subject to HIPAA regulations or if you need to retain and protect data for legal reasons—Object Lock allows you to easily set appropriate retention periods to support regulatory compliance.
As part of a disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plan: The last thing you want to worry about in the event you are attacked by ransomware is whether your backups are safe. Being able to restore systems from backups stored with Object Lock can help you minimize downtime and interruptions, comply with cyber insurance requirements, and achieve recovery time objectives (RTO) easier. By making critical data immutable, you can quickly and confidently restore uninfected data from your backups, deploy them, and return to business without interruption.
Ransomware attacks can be incredibly disruptive. By adopting the practice of creating immutable, air-gapped backups using Object Lock functionality, you can significantly increase your chances of achieving a successful recovery. This approach brings you one step closer to regaining control over your data and mitigating the impact of ransomware attacks.
So, Why Not Just Run a System Restore?
While it might be tempting to rely solely on a system restore point to restore your system’s functionality, it is not the best solution for eliminating the underlying virus or ransomware responsible for the initial problem. Malicious software tends to hide within various components of a system, making it impossible for system restore to eradicate all instances.
Another critical concern is that ransomware has the capability to encrypt local backups. If your computer is infected with ransomware, there is a high likelihood that your local backup solution will also suffer from data encryption, just like everything else on the system.
With a good backup solution that is isolated from your local computers, you can easily obtain the files you need to get your system working again. This will also give you the flexibility to determine which files to restore from a particular date and how to obtain the files you need to restore your system.
Human Attack Vectors
Often, the weak link in your security protocol is the ever-elusive X factor of human error. Cybercriminals know this and exploit it through social engineering. In the context of information security, social engineering is the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes. In other words, the weakest point in your system is usually somewhere between the keyboard and the chair.
Common human attack vectors include:
Phishing uses seemingly legitimate emails to trick people into clicking on a link or opening an attachment, unwittingly delivering the malicious payload. The email might be sent to one person or many within an organization, but sometimes the emails are targeted to help them seem more credible. This targeting takes a little more time on the attackers’ part, but the research into individual targets can make their email seem even more legitimate, not to mention the advent of generative AI models like ChatGPT. They might disguise their email address to look like the message is coming from someone the sender knows, or they might tailor the subject line to look relevant to the victim’s job. This highly personalized method is called “spear phishing.”
As the name implies, SMSishing uses text messages to get recipients to navigate to a site or enter personal information on their device. Common approaches use authentication messages or messages that appear to be from a financial or other service provider. Even more insidiously, some SMSishing ransomware variants attempt to propagate themselves by sending themselves to all contacts in the device’s contact list.
In a similar manner to email and SMS, vishing uses voicemail to deceive the victim, leaving a message with instructions to call a seemingly legitimate number which is actually spoofed. Upon calling the number, the victim is coerced into following a set of instructions which are ostensibly to fix some kind of problem. In reality, they are being tricked into installing ransomware on their own computer. Like so many other methods of phishing, vishing has become increasingly sophisticated with sound effects and professional diction that make the initial message and follow-up call seem more legitimate. And like spear phishing, it has become highly targeted.
4. Social Media
Social media can be a powerful vehicle to convince a victim to open a downloaded image from a social media site or take some other compromising action. The carrier might be music, video, or other active content that, once opened, infects the user’s system.
5. Instant Messaging
Between them, IM services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Snapchat have more than four billion users, making them an attractive channel for ransomware attacks. These messages can seem to come from trusted contacts and contain links or attachments that infect your machine and sometimes propagate across your contact list, furthering the spread.
Machine Attack Vectors
The other type of attack vector is machine to machine. Humans are involved to some extent, as they might facilitate the attack by visiting a website or using a computer, but the attack process is automated and doesn’t require any explicit human cooperation to invade your computer or network.
The drive-by vector is particularly malicious, since all a victim needs to do is visit a website carrying malware within the code of an image or active content. As the name implies, all you need to do is cruise by and you’re a victim.
2. System Vulnerabilities
Cybercriminals learn the vulnerabilities of specific systems and exploit those vulnerabilities to break in and install ransomware on the machine. This happens most often to systems that are not patched with the latest security releases.
Malvertising is like drive-by, but uses ads to deliver malware. These ads might be placed on search engines or popular social media sites in order to reach a large audience. A common host for malvertising is adults-only sites.
4. Network Propagation
Once a piece of ransomware is on your system, it can scan for file shares and accessible computers and spread itself across the network or shared system. Companies without adequate security might have their company file server and other network shares infected as well. From there, the malware will propagate as far as it can until it runs out of accessible systems or meets security barriers.
5. Propagation Through Shared Services
Online services such as file sharing or syncing services can be used to propagate ransomware. If the ransomware ends up in a shared folder on a home machine, the infection can be transferred to an office or to other connected machines. If the service is set to automatically sync when files are added or changed, as many file sharing services are, then a malicious virus can be widely propagated in just milliseconds.
It’s important to be careful and consider the settings you use for systems that automatically sync, and to be cautious about sharing files with others unless you know exactly where they came from.
Security experts suggest several precautionary measures for preventing a ransomware attack.
Use antivirus and antimalware software or other security policies to block known payloads from launching.
Make frequent, comprehensive backups of all important files and isolate them from local and open networks.
Immutable backup options such as Object Lock offer users a way to maintain truly air-gapped backups. The data is fixed, unchangeable, and cannot be deleted within the time frame set by the end-user.
Keep offline data backups stored in locations that are air-gapped or inaccessible from any potentially infected computer, such as disconnected external storage drives or the cloud, which prevents the ransomware from accessing them.
Keep your security up-to-date through trusted vendors of your OS and applications. Remember to patch early and patch often to close known vulnerabilities in operating systems, browsers, and web plugins.
Consider deploying security software to protect endpoints, email servers, and network systems from infection.
Exercise good cyber hygiene, exercising caution when opening email attachments and links.
Segment your networks to keep critical computers isolated and to prevent the spread of ransomware in case of an attack. Turn off unneeded network shares.
Operate on the principle of least privilege. Turn off admin rights for users who don’t require them. Give users the lowest system permissions they need to do their work.
Restrict write permissions on file servers as much as possible.
Educate yourself and your employees in best practices to keep ransomware out of your systems. Update everyone on the latest email phishing scams and human engineering aimed at turning victims into abettors.
It’s clear that the best way to respond to a ransomware attack is to avoid having one in the first place. Other than that, making sure your valuable data is backed up and unreachable to a ransomware infection will ensure that your downtime and data loss will be minimal if you ever fall prey to an attack.
Have you endured a ransomware attack or have a strategy to keep you from becoming a victim? Please let us know in the comments.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a joint ransomware advisory last Wednesday, reporting that LockBit ransomware has proven to be the most popular ransomware variant in the world after executing at least 1,700 attacks and raking in $91 million in ransom payments.
Today, I’m recapping the advisory and sharing some best practices for protecting your business from this prolific threat.
What Is LockBit?
LockBit is a ransomware variant that’s sold as ransomware as a service (RaaS). The RaaS platform requires little to no skill to use and provides a point and click interface for launching ransomware campaigns. That means the barrier to entry for would-be cybercriminals is staggeringly low—they can simply use the software as affiliates and execute it using LockBit’s tools and infrastructure.
LockBit either gets an up-front fee, subscription payments, a cut of the profits from attacks, or a combination of all three. Since there are a wide range of affiliates with different skill levels and no connection to one another other than their use of the same software, no LockBit attack is the same. Observed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) vary which makes defending against LockBit particularly challenging.
Who Is Targeted by LockBit?
LockBit victims range across industries and sectors, including critical infrastructure, financial services, food and agriculture, education, energy, government, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation. Attacks have been carried out against organizations large and small.
What Operating Systems (OS) Are Targeted by LockBit?
By skimming the advisory, you may think that this only impacts Windows systems, but there are variants available through the LockBit RaaS platform that target Linux and VMware ESXi.
How Do Cybercriminals Gain Access to Execute LockBit?
The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) Exploited section lists some of the ways bad actors are able to get in to drop a malicious payload. Most of the vulnerabilities listed are older, but it’s worth taking a moment to familiarize yourself with them and make sure your systems are patched if they affect you.
In the MITRE ATT&CK Tactics and Techniques section, you’ll see the common methods of gaining initial access. These include:
Drive-By Compromise: When a user visits a website that cybercriminals have planted with LockBit during normal browsing.
Public-Facing Applications: LockBit cybercriminals have used vulnerabilities like Log4J and Log4Shell to gain access to victims’ systems.
External Remote Services: LockBit affiliates exploit remote desktop procedures (RDP) to gain access to victims’ networks.
Phishing: LockBit affiliates have used social engineering tactics like phishing, where they trick users into opening an infected email.
Valid Accounts: Some LockBit affiliates have been able to obtain and abuse legitimate credentials to gain initial access.
How to Prevent a LockBit Attack
CISA provides a list of mitigations that aim to enhance your cybersecurity posture and defend against LockBit. These recommendations align with the Cross-Sector Cybersecurity Performance Goals (CPGs) developed by CISA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The CPGs are based on established cybersecurity frameworks and guidance, targeting common threats, tactics, techniques, and procedures. Here are some of the key mitigations organized by MITRE ATT&CK tactic (this is not an exhaustive list):
Implement sandboxed browsers to isolate the host machine from web-borne malware.
Enforce compliance with NIST standards for password policies across all accounts.
Require longer passwords with a minimum length of 15 characters.
Prevent the use of commonly used or compromised passwords.
Implement account lockouts after multiple failed login attempts.
Disable password hints and refrain from frequent password changes.
Require multifactor authentication (MFA).
Develop and update comprehensive network diagrams.
Control and restrict network connections using a network flow matrix.
Enable enhanced PowerShell logging and configure PowerShell instances with the latest version and logging enabled.
Configure Windows Registry to require user account control (UAC) approval for PsExec operations.
Disable command-line and scripting activities and permissions.
Enable Credential Guard to protect Windows system credentials.
Implement Local Administrator Password Solution (LAPS) if using older Windows OS versions.
Apply local security policies (e.g., SRP, AppLocker, WDAC) to control application execution.
Establish an application allowlist to allow only approved software to run.
Restrict NTLM usage with security policies and firewalling.
Disable unused ports and close unused RDP ports.
Identify and eliminate critical Active Directory control paths.
Use network monitoring tools to detect abnormal activity and potential ransomware traversal.
Command and Control:
Implement a tiering model and trust zones for sensitive assets.
Reconsider virtual private network (VPN) access and move towards zero trust architectures.
Block connections to known malicious systems using a TLS Proxy.
Use web filtering or a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) to restrict or monitor access to public-file sharing services.
Develop a recovery plan and maintain multiple copies of sensitive data in a physically separate and secure location.
Maintain offline backups of data with regular backup and restoration practices.
Encrypt backup data, make it immutable, and cover the entire data infrastructure.
By implementing these mitigations, organizations can significantly strengthen their cybersecurity defenses and reduce the risk of falling victim to cyber threats like LockBit. It is crucial to regularly review and update these measures to stay resilient in the face of evolving threats.
Take a look at our other posts on ransomware for more information on how businesses can defend themselves against an attack, and more.
If you’re responsible for securing your company’s data, you’re likely well-acquainted with the basics of backups. You may be following the 3-2-1 rule and may even be using cloud storage for off-site backup of essential data.
But there’s a new model of iterative, process-improvement driven outcomes to improve business continuity, and it’s called cyber resilience. What is cyber resilience and why does it matter to your business? That’s what we’ll talk about today.
Join Us for Our Upcoming Webinar
Learn more about how to strengthen your organization’s cyber resilience by protecting systems, responding to incidents, and recovering with minimal disruption at our upcoming webinar “Build Your Company’s Cyber Resilience: Protect, Respond, and Recover from Security Incidents” on Friday, June 9 at 10 a.m. PT/noon CT.
Plus, see a demo of Instant Business Recovery, an on-demand, fully managed disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) solution that works seamlessly with Veeam. Deploy and recover via a simple web interface or a phone call to instantly begin recovering critical servers and Veeam backups.
The Case for Cyber Resilience
The advance of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, geopolitical tensions, and the ever-present threat of ransomware have all fundamentally changed the approach businesses must take to data security. In fact, the White House has prioritized cybersecurity by announcing a new cybersecurity strategy because of the increased risks of cyberattacks and the threat to critical infrastructure. And, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2023, business continuity (67%) and reputational damage (65%) concern organization leaders more than any other cyber risk.
Cyber resilience assumes that it’s not if a security incident will occur, but when.
Being cyber resilient means that a business is able to not only identify threats and protect against them, but also withstand attacks as they’re happening, respond effectively, and bounce back better—so that the business is better fortified against future incidents.
What Is Cyber Resilience?
Cyber resilience is ultimately a holistic and continuous view of data protection; it implies that businesses can build more robust security practices, embed those throughout the organization, and put processes into place to learn from security threats and incidents in order to continuously shore up defenses. In the cyber resilience model, improving data security is no longer a finite series of checkbox items; it is not something that is ever “done.”
Unlike common backup strategies like 3-2-1 or grandfather-father-son that are well defined and understood, there is no singular model for cyber resilience. The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines cyber resiliency as the ability to anticipate, withstand, recover from, and adapt to incidents that compromise systems. You’ll often see the cyber resilience model depicted in a circular fashion because it is a cycle of continuous improvement. While cyber resilience frameworks may vary slightly from one another, they all typically focus on similar stages, including:
Identify: Stay informed about emerging security threats, especially those that your systems are most vulnerable to. Share information throughout the organization when employees need to install critical updates and patches.
Protect: Ensure systems are adequately protected with cybersecurity best practices like multi-factor authentication (MFA), encryption at rest and in transit, and by applying the principle of least privilege. For more information on how to shore up your data protection, including data protected in cloud storage, check out our comprehensive checklist on cyber insurance best practices. Even if you’re not interested in cyber insurance, this checklist still provides a thorough resource for improving your cyber resilience.
Detect: Proactively monitor your network and system to ensure you can detect any threats as soon as possible.
Respond and Recover: Respond to incidents in the most effective way and ensure you can sustain critical business operations even while an incident is occurring. Plan your recovery in advance so your executive and IT teams are prepared to execute on it when the time comes.
Adapt: This is the key part. Run postmortems to understand what happened, what worked and what didn’t, and how it can be prevented in the future. This is how you truly build resilience.
Why Is Cyber Resilience Important?
Traditionally, IT leaders have excelled at thinking through backup strategy, and more and more IT administrators understand the value of next level techniques like using Object Lock to protect copies of data from ransomware. But, it’s less common to give attention to creating a disaster recovery (DR) plan, or thinking through how to ensure business continuity during and after an incident.
In other words, we’ve been focusing too much on the time before an incident occurs and not enough on time on what to do during and after an incident. Consider the zero trust principle, which assumes that a breach is happening and it’s happening right now: taking such a viewpoint may seem negative, but it’s actually a proactive, not reactive, way to increase your business’ cyber resilience. When you assume you’re under attack, then your responsibility is to prove you’re not, which means actively monitoring your systems—and if you happen to discover that you are under attack, then your cybersecurity readiness measures kick in.
How Is Cyber Resilience Different From Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is a set of practices on what to do before an incident occurs. Cyber resilience asks businesses to think more thoroughly about recovery processes and what comes after. Hence, cybersecurity is a component of cyber resilience, but cyber resilience is a much bigger framework through which to think about your business.
How Can I Improve My Business’ Cyber Resilience?
Besides establishing a sound backup strategy and following cybersecurity best practices, the biggest improvement that data security leaders can make is likely in helping the organization to shift its culture around cyber resilience.
Reframe cyber resilience. It is not solely a function of IT. Ensuring business continuity in the face of cyber threats can and should involve operations, legal, compliance, finance teams, and more.
Secure executive support now. Don’t wait until an incident occurs. Consider meeting on a regular basis with stakeholders to inform them about potential threats. Present if/then scenarios in terms that executives can understand: impact of risks, potential trade-offs, how incidents might affect customers or external partners, expected costs for mitigation and recovery, and timelines.
Practice your disaster recovery scenarios. Your business continuity plans should be run as fire drills. Ensure you have all stakeholders’ emergency/after hours contact information. Run tabletop exercises with any teams that need to be involved and conduct hypothetical retrospectives to determine how you can respond more efficiently if a given incident should occur.
It may seem overwhelming to try and adopt a cyber resiliency framework for your business, but you can start to move your organization in this direction by helping your internal stakeholders first shift their thinking. Acknowledging that a cyber incident will occur is a powerful way to realign priorities and support for data security leaders, and you’ll find that the momentum behind the effort will naturally help advance your security agenda.
Cyber Resilience Resources
Interested in learning more about how to improve business cyber resilience? Check out the free Backblaze resources below.
Looking for Support to Help Achieve Your Cyber Resilience Goals?
Backblaze provides end-to-end security and recovery solutions to ensure you can safeguard your systems with enterprise-grade security, immutability, and options for redundancy, plus fully-managed, on-demand disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)—all at one-fifth the cost of AWS. Get started today or contact Sales for more information on B2 Reserve, our all-inclusive capacity-based pricing that includes premium support and no egress fees.
The following is background on ransomware, CIS, and the initiatives that led to the publication of this new blueprint.
The Ransomware Task Force
In April of 2021, the U.S. government launched the Ransomware Task Force (RTF), which has the mission of uniting key stakeholders across industry, government, and civil society to create new solutions, break down silos, and find effective new methods of countering the ransomware threat. The RTF has since launched several progress reports with specific recommendations, including the development of the RTF Blueprint for Ransomware Defense, which provides a framework with practical steps to mitigate, respond to, and recover from ransomware. AWS is a member of the RTF, and we have taken action to create our own AWS Blueprint for Ransomware Defense that maps actionable and foundational security controls to AWS services and features that customers can use to implement those controls. The AWS Blueprint for Ransomware Defense is based on the CIS Controls framework.
Center for Internet Security
The Center for Internet Security (CIS) is a community-driven nonprofit, globally recognized for establishing best practices for securing IT systems and data. To help establish foundational defense mechanisms, a subset of the CIS Critical Security Controls (CIS Controls) have been identified as important first steps in the implementation of a robust program to prevent, respond to, and recover from ransomware events. This list of controls was established to provide safeguards against the most impactful and well-known internet security issues. The controls have been further prioritized into three implementation groups (IGs), to help guide their implementation. IG1, considered “essential cyber hygiene,” provides foundational safeguards. IG2 builds on IG1 by including the controls in IG1 plus a number of additional considerations. Finally, IG3 includes the controls in IG1 and IG2, with an additional layer of controls that protect against more sophisticated security issues.
CIS recommends that organizations use the CIS IG1 controls as basic preventative steps against ransomware events. We’ve produced a mapping of AWS services that can help you implement aspects of these controls in your AWS environment. Ransomware is a complex event, and the best course of action to mitigate risk is to apply a thoughtful strategy of defense in depth. The mitigations and controls outlined in this mapping document are general security best practices, but are a non-exhaustive list.
Because data is often vital to the operation of mission-critical services, ransomware can severely disrupt business processes and applications that depend on this data. For this reason, many organizations are looking for effective security controls that will improve their security posture against these types of events. We hope you find the information in the AWS Blueprint for Ransomware Defense helpful and incorporate it as a tool to provide additional layers of security to help keep your data safe.
Let us know if you have any feedback through the AWS Security Contact Us page. Please reach out if there is anything we can do to add to the usefulness of the blueprint or if you have any additional questions on security and compliance. You can find more information from the IST (Institute for Security and Technology) describing ransomware and how to protect yourself on the IST website.
If you have feedback about this post, submit comments in the Comments section below. If you have questions about this post, contact AWS Support.
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Cybersecurity is a major concern for individuals as well as small businesses, and there are several strategies bad actors use to exploit small businesses and their employees. In fact, around 60% of small businesses that experienced a data breach were forced to close their doors within six months of being hacked.
From monitoring your network endpoints to routinely educating your employees, there are several proactive steps you can take to protect against cyber attacks. In this article, we’ll share six cybersecurity protection strategies to help protect your small business.
1. Implement Layered Security
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report, the cost of cybercrimes to small businesses reached $2.4 billion in 2021. Yet, many small business owners believe they are not in danger of an attack. Robust and layered security allows small businesses to contend with the barrage of hackers after their information.
System Level Security. This is the security of the system you are using. For instance, many systems require a password to access their files.
Network Level Security. This layer is where the system connects to the internet. Typically, a firewall is used to filter network traffic and halt suspicious activity.
Application Level Security. Security is needed for any applications you choose to use to run your business, and should include safeguards for both the internal and the client side.
Transmission Level Security. Data when it travels from network to network also needs to be protected. Virtual private networks (VPNs) can be used to safeguard information.
As a business, you should always operate on the principle of least privilege. This ensures that access at each of these levels of security is limited to only those necessary to do the task at hand and reduces the potential for breaches. It also can “limit the blast radius” in the event of a breach.
The Human Element: Employee Training Is Your First Defense
The most common forms of cyberattack leverage social engineering, particularly in phishing attacks. This means that they target employees, often during busy times of the year, and attempt to gain their trust and get them to lower their guard. Training employees to spot potential phishing red flags—like incorrect domains, misspelling information, and falsely urgent requests—is a powerful tool in your arsenal.
Additionally, you’ll note that most of the things on this list just don’t work unless your employees understand how, why, and when to use them. In short, an educated staff is your best defense against cyberattacks.
2. Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) has become increasingly common, and many organizations now require it. So what is it? Multi-factor authentication requires at least two different forms of user verification to access a program, system, or application. Generally, a user must input their password. Then, they will be prompted to enter a code they receive via email or text. Push notifications may substitute email or text codes, while biometrics like fingerprints can substitute a password.
The second step prevents unauthorized users from gaining entry even if login credentials have been compromised. Moreover, the code or push notification alerts the user of a potential breach—if you receive a notification when you did not initiate a login attempt, then you know your account has a vulnerability.
3. Make Sure Your Tech Stack Is Configured Properly
When systems are misconfigured, they are vulnerable. Some examples of misconfiguration are when passwords are left as their system default, software is outdated, or security settings are not properly enabled. As businesses scale and upgrade their tools, they naturally add more complexity to their tech stacks.
It’s important to run regular audits to make sure that IT best practices are being followed, and to make sure that all of your tools are working in harmony. (Bonus: regular audits of this type can result in OpEx savings since you may identify tools you no longer use in the process.)
4. Encrypt Your Data
Encryption uses an algorithm to apply a cipher to your data. The most commonly used algorithm is known as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES can be used in authenticating website servers from both the server end and the client end, as well as to encrypt transferred files between users. This can also be extended to include digital documents, messaging histories, and so on. Using encryption is often necessary to meet compliance standards, some of which are stricter based on your or your customers’ geographic location or industry.
Once it’s encrypted properly, data can only be accessed with an encryption key. There are two main types of encryption key: symmetric (private) and asymmetric (public).
Symmetric (Private) Encryption Keys
In this model, you use one key to both encode and decode your data. This means that it’s particularly important to keep this key secret—if it were obtained by a bad actor, they could use it to decrypt your data.
Asymmetric (Public) Encryption Keys
Using this method, you use one key to encrypt your data and another to decrypt it. You then make the decryption key public. This is a widely-used method, and makes internet security protocols like SSL and HTTPS possible.
Server Side Encryption (SSE)
Some providers are now offering a service known as server side encryption (SSE). SSE encrypts your data as it is stored, so stolen data is unable to be read or viewed, and even your data storage provider doesn’t have access to sensitive client information. To make data even more secure when stored, you can also make it immutable by enabling Object Lock. This means you can set periods of time that the data cannot be changed—even by those who set the object lock rules.
Combined with SSE, you can see how it would be key to protecting against a ransomware attack: Cyberattackers may access data, but it would be difficult to decrypt with SSE, and with object lock, they wouldn’t be able to delete or modify data.
5. Have a Breach Plan
Unfortunately, as cybercrime has increased, breaches have become nearly inevitable. To mitigate damage, it is paramount to have a disaster recovery (DR) plan in place.
This plan starts with robust and layered security. For example, a cybercriminal may gain a user’s login information, but having MFA enabled would help ensure that they don’t gain access to the account. Or, if they do gain access to an account, by operating on the principle of least privilege, you have limited the amount of information the user can access or breach. Finally, if they do gain access to your data, SSE and Object Lock can prevent sensitive data from being read, modified, or deleted.
Hopefully, you’ve set things up so that you have all the protections you need in place before an attack, but once you’re or in the midst of an attack (or you’ve discovered a previous breach), it’s important that everyone knows what to do. Here are a few best practices to help you develop your DR plan:
Back Up Regularly and Test Your Backups
The most important thing to do is to make sure that you can reconstitute your data to continue business operations as normal—and that means that you have a solid backup plan in place, and that you’ve tested your backups and your DR plan ahead of time.
Establish Procedures for Immediate Action
First and foremost, employees should immediately inform IT of suspicious activity. The old adage “if you see something, say something,” very much applies to security. And, there should also be clear discovery and escalation procedures in effect to both evaluate and address the incident.
Change Credentials and Monitor Accounts
Next, it is crucial to change all passwords, and identify where and how the issue occurred. Each issue is unique, so this step takes careful information gathering. Having monitoring tools set up in advance of a breach will help you gain insight into what happened.
It may sound out of place to consider this, but given that employees are your first line of defense and the most targeted security vulnerability, there is a measurable impact from the stress of ransomware attacks. Once the dust has settled and your business is back online, good recovery includes both insightful and responsive training as well as employee support.
Is Cyber Insurance Worth It?
You may want to consider cyber insurance as you’re thinking through different disaster recovery scenarios. Cyber insurance is still a growing field, and it can cover things like your legal fees, business expenses related to recovery, and potential liability costs. Still, even the process of preparing your business for cyber insurance coverage can be beneficial to improving your business’ overall security procedures.
6. Use Trusted Services
Every business needs to rely on other businesses to operate smoothly, but it can also expose your business to risk if you don’t perform your due diligence. Whether it is a credit card processor, bank, supplier, or another support, you will need to select reliable, reputable, and businesses that also employ good security practices. Evaluating new tools should be a multi-faceted process that engages teams with different expertises, including the stakeholder teams, security, IT, finance, and anyone else who you deem appropriate.
And, remember that more tools are being created all the time! Often, they make things easier on employees while also solving security conundrums. Some good examples are single sign on (SSO) services, password management tools, specialized vendors that evaluate harmful links, automatic workstation backup that runs in the background, and more. Staying up-to-date on the new frontier of tools can solve long-standing problems in innovative ways.
Cybersecurity Is An Ongoing Process
The prevalence of cyber crime means it is not a matter of if a breach will happen, but when a breach will happen. These prevention measures can reduce your risk of becoming the victim of a successful attack, but you should still be prepared for when one occurs.
Bear in mind, cybersecurity is an ongoing process. Your strategies will need to be reviewed routinely, passwords need to be changed, and software and systems will need to be updated. Lastly, knowing what types of scams are prevalent and their signs will help keep you, your business, your employees, and your clients safe.
Business disruptions can be devastating, as any business owner who has been through one will tell you. This stat isn’t meant to stoke fear, but the Atlas VPN research team found that 31% of businesses in the U.S. are forced to close for a period of time as a consequence of falling victim to ransomware attacks.
It’s likely some, if not most, of those businesses had backups in place. But, having backups alone won’t necessarily save your business if it takes you days or weeks to restore operations from those backups. And true disaster recovery means more than simply having backups and a plan to restore: It means testing that plan regularly to make sure you can bring your business back online.
Today, we’re sharing news of a new disaster recovery service built on Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage that’s aimed to help businesses restore faster and more affordably: Continuity Centers’ Cloud Instant Business Recovery (Cloud IBR) which instantly recovers Veeam backups from the Backblaze B2 Storage Cloud.
Helping Businesses Recover After a Disaster
We launched the first generation version of this solution—Instant Recovery in Any Cloud—in May of 2022 to help businesses complete their disaster recovery playbook. And now, we’re building on that original infrastructure as code (IaC) package, to bring you Cloud IBR.
Cloud IBR is a second generation solution that further simplifies disaster recovery plans. The easy-to-use interface and affordability make Cloud IBR an ideal disaster recovery solution designed for small and medium size businesses (SMBs) who are typically priced out of enterprise-scale disaster recovery solutions.
How Does Cloud IBR Work?
Continuity Centers combines the automation-driven Veeam REST API calls with phoenixNAP Bare Metal Cloud platform into a unified system, and completely streamlines the user experience.
The fully-automated service deploys a recovery process through a simple web UI, and, in the background, uses phoenixNAP’s Bare Metal Cloud servers to import Veeam backups stored in Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, and fully restores the customer’s server infrastructure. The solution hides the complexity of dealing with automation scripts and APIs and offers a simple interface to stand up an entire cloud infrastructure when you need it. Best of all, you pay for the service only for the period of time that you need.
Cloud IBR gives small and mid-market companies the highest level of business continuity available, against disasters of all types. It’s a simple and accessible solution for SMBs to embrace. We developed this solution with affordability and availability in mind, so that businesses of all sizes can benefit from our decades of disaster recovery experience, which is often financially out of reach for the SMB.
—Gregory Tellone, CEO of Continuity Centers.
Right-Sized Disaster Recovery
Previously, mid-market businesses were underserved by disaster recovery and business continuity planning because the requirements and efforts to create a disaster recovery (DR) plan are often foregone in favor of more immediate business demands. Additionally, many disaster recovery solutions are designed for larger size companies and do not meet the specific needs for SMBs. Cloud IBR allows businesses of all sizes to instantly stand up their entire server infrastructure in the cloud, at a moment’s notice and with a single click, making it easy to plan for and easy to execute.
In addition to being a stand-alone offering that can be purchased alongside pay-as-you-go cloud storage, the Cloud IBR Silver Package will be offered at no cost for one year to any Veeam customers that purchase Backblaze through our capacity-based cloud storage packages, B2 Reserve. Those customers can activate Cloud IBR within 30 days of purchasing Backblaze’s B2 Reserve service.
If your business is looking into cyber insurance to protect your bottom line against security incidents, you’re in good company. The global market for cybersecurity insurance is projected to grow from 11.9 billion in 2022 to 29.2 billion by 2027.
But you don’t want to go into buying cyber security insurance blind. We put together this cyber insurance readiness checklist to help you strengthen your cyber resilience stance in order to better secure a policy and possibly a lower premium. (And even if you decide not to pursue cyber insurance, simply following some of these best practices will help you secure your company’s data.)
What is Cyber Insurance?
Cyber insurance is a specialty insurance product that is useful for any size business, but especially those dealing with large amounts of data. Before you buy cyber insurance, it helps to understand some fundamentals. Check out our post on cyber insurance basics to get up to speed.
Once you understand the basic choices available to you when securing a policy, or if you’re already familiar with how cyber insurance works, read on for the checklist.
Cyber Insurance Readiness Checklist
Cybersecurity insurance providers use their questionnaire and assessment period to understand how well-situated your business is to detect, limit, or prevent a cyber attack. They have requirements, and you want to meet those specific criteria to be covered at the most reasonable cost.
Your business is more likely to receive a lower premium if your security infrastructure is sound and you have disaster recovery processes and procedures in place. Though each provider has their own requirements, use the checklist below to familiarize yourself with the kinds of criteria a cyber insurance provider might look for. Any given provider may not ask about or require all these precautions; these are examples of common criteria. Note: Checking these off means your cyber resilience score is attractive to providers, though not a guarantee of coverage or a lower premium.
You encrypt data at rest and in transit. Note: Backblaze B2 provides server-side encryption (encryption at rest), and many of our partner integration tools, like Veeam, MSP360, and Archiware, offer encryption in transit.
You store backups off-site and in a geographically separate location. Note: Even if you keep a backup off-site, your cyber insurance provider may not consider this secure enough if your off-site copy is in the same geographic region or held at your own data center.
Your backups are protected from ransomware with object lock for data immutability.
AcenTek Adopts Cloud for Cyber Insurance Requirement
Learn how Backblaze customer AcenTek secured their data with B2 Cloud Storage to meet their cyber insurance provider’s requirement that backups be secured in a geographically distanced location.
By adding features like SSE, 2FA, and object lock to your backup security, insurance companies know you take data security seriously.
Cyber insurance provides the peace of mind that, when your company is faced with a digital incident, you will have access to resources with which to recover. And there is no question that by increasing your cybersecurity resilience, you’re more likely to find an insurer with the best coverage at the right price.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to ensure you have a robust backup strategy and security protocols in place. Even if you hope to never have to access your backups (because that might mean a security breach), it’s always smart to consider how fast you can restore your data should you need to, keeping in mind that hot storage is going to give you a faster recovery time objective (RTO) without any delays like those seen with cold storage like Amazon Glacier. And, with Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage offering hot cloud storage at cold storage prices, you can afford to store all your data for as long as you need—at one-fifth the price of AWS.
Get Started With Backblaze
Get started today with pay-as-you-go pricing, or contact our Sales Team to learn more about B2 Reserve, our all-inclusive, capacity-based bundles starting at 20TB.
Micro-Star International—aka MSI—had its UEFI signing key stolen last month.
This raises the possibility that the leaked key could push out updates that would infect a computer’s most nether regions without triggering a warning. To make matters worse, Matrosov said, MSI doesn’t have an automated patching process the way Dell, HP, and many larger hardware makers do. Consequently, MSI doesn’t provide the same kind of key revocation capabilities.
Delivering a signed payload isn’t as easy as all that. “Gaining the kind of control required to compromise a software build system is generally a non-trivial event that requires a great deal of skill and possibly some luck.” But it just got a whole lot easier.
Cybersecurity insurance was once a niche product for companies with the highest risk profiles. But recently, it has found its way into the mainstream as more and more businesses face data disasters that can cause loss of revenue, extended downtime, and compliance violations if sensitive data gets leaked.
You may have considered cybersecurity insurance (also called cyber insurance) but maybe you weren’t sure if it was right for your business. In the meantime, you prioritized reducing vulnerability to cyber incidents that threaten business continuity, like accidental or malicious data breaches, malware, phishing, and ransomware attacks.
Pat yourself on the back: By strengthening your company’s prevention, detection, and response to cyber threats, you’re also more attractive to cyber insurance providers. Being cyber resilient can save you money on cyber insurance if you decide it’s right for you.
Today, I’m breaking down the basics of cyber insurance: What is it? How much will it cost? And how do you get it?
Whether your company is a 10 person software as a service (SaaS) startup or a global enterprise, cyber insurance could be the difference between a minor interruption of business services and closing up for good. However, providers don’t opt to provide coverage for every business that applies for cyber insurance. If you want coverage (and there are plenty of reasons why you would), it helps to prepare by making your company as attractive (meaning low-risk) as possible to cyber insurers.
What Is Cyber Insurance?
Cyber insurance protects your business from losses resulting from a digital attack. This can include business income loss, but it also includes coverage for unforeseen expenses, including:
Forensic post-breach review expenses.
Additional monitoring outflows.
The expenditure for notifying parties of a breach.
Public relations service expenses.
Cyber insurance policies may also cover ransom payments. However, according to expert guidance, it is never advisable or prudent to pay the ransom, even if it’s covered by insurance. Ultimately, the most effective way to undermine the motivation of these criminal groups is to reduce the potential for profit. For this reason, the Administration strongly discourages the payment of ransoms.
There are a few reasons for this:
It’s not guaranteed that cybercriminals will provide a decryption key to recover your data. They’re criminals after all.
It’s not guaranteed that, even with a decryption key, you’ll be able to recover your data. This could be intentional, or simply poor design on the part of cybercriminals. Ransomware code is notoriously buggy.
What plans cover and how much they cost can vary. Typically, you can choose between first-party coverage, third-party coverage, or both.
First-party coverage protects your own data and includes coverage for business expenses related to things like recovery of lost or stolen data, lost revenue due to business interruption, and legal counsel, and other types of expenses.
Third-party coverage protects your business from liability claims brought by someone outside the company. This type of policy might cover things like payments to consumers affected by a data breach, costs for litigation brought by third parties, and losses related to defamation.
Depending on how substantial a digital attack’s losses could be to your business, your best choice may be both first- and third-party coverage.
Cyber Insurance Policy Coverage Considerations
Cyber insurance protects your company’s bottom line by helping you pay for costs related to recovering lost or stolen data and cover costs incurred by affected third parties (if you have third-party coverage).
As you might imagine, cyber insurance policies vary. When reviewing cyber insurance policies, it’s important to ask these questions:
Does this policy cover a variety of digital attacks, especially the ones we’re most susceptible to?
Can we add services, if needed, such as active monitoring, incident response support, defense against liability lawsuits, and communication intermediaries?
What are the policy’s exclusions? For example, unlikely circumstances like acts of war or terrorism and well-known, named viruses may not be covered in the policy.
How much do the premiums and deductibles cost for the coverage we need?
What are the coverage (payout) amounts or limitations?
Keep in mind that choosing the company with the lowest premiums may not be the best strategy. For further reading, the Federal Trade Commission offers a helpful checklist of additional considerations for choosing a cyber insurance policy.
Errors & Omissions (E & O) Coverage
Technology errors and omissions (E & O) coverage isn’t technically cyber insurance, but could be part of a comprehensive policy. This type of coverage protects your business from expenses that may be incurred if/when your product or service fails to deliver or doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. This can be confused with cyber insurance coverage because it protects your business in the case your technology product or service fails. The difference is that E & O coverage comes into effect when that failure is due to the business’ own negligence.
You may want to pay the upcharge for E & O coverage to protect against harm caused if/when your product or service fails to deliver or work as intended. E & O also offers coverage for data loss stemming from employee errors or employee negligence in following data safeguards already in place. Consider whether you also need this type of protection and ask your cyber insurer if they offer E & O policies.
Premiums, Deductibles, and Coverage—Oh, My!
What are the average premium costs, deductible amounts, and liability coverage for a business like yours? The answer to that question turns out to be more complex than you’d think.
How Are Premiums Determined?
Every insurance provider is different, but here are common factors that affect cyber insurance premiums:
Your industry (e.g., education, healthcare, and financial industries are higher risk).
Your company size (e.g., more employees increase risk).
Amount and sensitivity of your data (e.g., school districts with student and faculty personal identifiable information are at higher risk).
Your revenue (e.g., a profitable bank will be more attractive to cybercriminals).
But, generally speaking, if you are willing to cover more of the cost of a data breach, your deductible rises, and your premium falls. Data from 43 insurance companies in the U.S. reveal that cyber insurance premiums range between $650-$2,357 for businesses with $1,000,000 in revenue for policies with $1,000,000 in liability and a $10,000 deductible.
How Do I Get Cyber Insurance?
Most companies start with an online quote from a cyber insurance provider, but many will eventually need to compile more detailed and specific information in order to get the most accurate figures.
If you’re a small business owner, you may have all the information you need at hand, but for mid-market and enterprise companies, securing a cyber insurance policy should be a cross-functional effort. You’ll need information from finance, legal, and compliance departments, IT, operations, and perhaps other divisions to ensure cyber insurance coverage and policy terms meet your company’s needs.
Before the quote, an insurance company will perform a risk assessment of your business in order to determine the cost to insure you. A typical cyber insurance questionnaire might include specific, detailed questions in the areas of organizational structure, legal and compliance requirements, business policies and procedures, and questions about your technical infrastructure. Here are some questions you might encounter:
Organizational: What kind of third-party data do you store or process on your computer systems?
Legal & Compliance: Are you aware of any disputes over your business website address and domain name?
Policies & Procedures: Do you have a business continuity plan in place?
Technical: Do you utilize a cloud provider to store data or host applications?
Cyber Insurance Readiness
Now that you know the basics of cyber insurance, you can be better prepared when the time comes to get insured. As I mentioned in the beginning, shoring up your vulnerability to cyber incidents goes a long way toward helping you acquire cyber insurance and get the best premiums possible. One great way to get started is to establish a solid backup strategy with an offsite, immutable backup. And you can do all of that with Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage as the storage backbone for your backup plan. Get started today safeguarding your backups in Backblaze B2.
Stay Tuned: More to Come
I’ll be digging into more specific steps you can take to get cyber insurance ready in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for more, including a checklist to help make your cyber resilience stance more attractive to providers.
TechCrunch has learned of dozens of organizations that used the affected GoAnywhere file transfer software at the time of the ransomware attack, suggesting more victims are likely to come forward.
However, while the number of victims of the mass-hack is widening, the known impact is murky at best.
Since the attack in late January or early February—the exact date is not known—Clop has disclosed less than half of the 130 organizations it claimed to have compromised via GoAnywhere, a system that can be hosted in the cloud or on an organization’s network that allows companies to securely transfer huge sets of data and other large files.
The job of a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is never truly done. Just as soon as one threat is neutralized and mitigating controls have been put in place, some industrious cybercriminal finds a new way to make life miserable.
Even those of us working in information technology aren’t immune to these attacks. For example, Coinbase recently shared lessons learned from a phishing attempt on one of their employees. No customer account information was compromised, but the incident goes to show that “anyone can be social engineered.”
Coinbase took the right approach by assuming they’d be attacked and understanding that humans make mistakes, even the most diligent among us. In sharing what they learned, they make the whole community more aware. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say. In that spirit, I’m sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my career as a CISO that might help you be better prepared for the inevitable cyberattack.
Read on for best practices you can follow to mitigate your ransomware risk.
Ransomware Prevention, Detection, Mitigation, and Recovery Best Practices
The best way to address the threat of ransomware is to reduce the likelihood of a successful attack. First, help your employees through training and mitigating controls:
User Training: Making sure end users are savvy enough to spot a malicious email will ensure that you get fewer well-intentioned folks clicking on links. Things like phishing simulations can train users not to click on suspicious links or download unexpected attachments. While training is the first line of defense, you can’t rely on it alone. Even gold standard security training companies have been hit with successful phishing attacks.
Endpoint Detection and Response: An endpoint detection and response (EDR) tool can provide additional guardrails. Backblaze leverages EDR to help block and quarantine malicious payloads as they attempt to execute on the workstation.
Multifactor Authentication: Password strength can be weak, and people often reuse passwords across websites, so another essential component is multifactor authentication (MFA). If you click on a phishing link, or a cybercriminal gains privileged access to your system through some other means, they may be able to retrieve your account password from memory using readily available tools like Mimikatz on Windows or dscl on a Mac. MFA in the form of a logical or physical token, provides for an additional authentication credential that is random, and changes after a brief period of time.
Limiting Applications: Only allowing authorized applications to be installed by users, either through operating system configuration or third-party software, can help limit what employees can download. Be sure that people aren’t permitted to install applications that may open up additional vulnerabilities.
In addition to helping end users from falling for phishing, there are some best practices you can implement on your systems, network, and backend to reduce vulnerabilities as well.
Implement a Strong Vulnerability Management Program: A robust program can help you reduce your overall risk by being proactive in identifying and remediating your vulnerabilities.
Conduct Static Analysis Security Tests: These focus on looking for vulnerabilities in source code.
Perform Dynamic Application Security Tests: These look for vulnerabilities in running applications.
Execute Software Composition Analysis Security Tests: These can focus on enumerating and identifying vulnerabilities in versions of the third-party libraries and frameworks leveraged by your application.
Engage Third Parties to Conduct Penetration Testing: Third parties can discover weaknesses in your systems that your own team may miss.
Implement a Bug Bounty Program: Security researchers are incentivized to find security vulnerabilities in your application through bug bounty program rewards.
Stay on Top of Your Patching Cadence: Test and deploy system and application updates as soon as possible, but also have a rollback strategy in the event of a bad patch.
Implement Least Privilege: Users and programs/processes should only have the privileges they need to accomplish their tasks.
Use Standard User Accounts for Non-Admin Tasks: Admins can fall for the same types of phishing attacks as any other user. Using a regular non-admin account to read email, browse the web, etc., can help protect the admin from drive-by downloads, phishing, ransomware, and other forms of attack.
Segment Your Network: Implement physical separation, virtual local area networks (VLAN), and/or microsegmentation to limit what a server or device is able to communicate with.
Realistically, attacks may slip through, and smart CISOs work from that assumption (and assume breach mindset).
Limiting the Blast Radius
As I mentioned during a 2021 SpiceWorld presentation, limiting the blast radius is key. When you’re experiencing a ransomware attack, you also want to isolate the infected system before the ransomware can attempt to access and encrypt other files on network shares. Once it has been isolated, you can investigate whether or not the ransomware has spread to other systems, collect digital forensics, wipe the system, reimage the system, restore the data from backup, and block the command and control IP addresses while monitoring the network to see if other systems attempt to communicate with those IP addresses.
Restoring Your Data
Once you have identified and remediated the root cause of the compromise, you can restore the data from backup after making sure that the backup doesn’t contain the malware you just cleaned up.
Of course, you can only back up if you’ve planned ahead. If you haven’t, you now have a difficult choice.
Should I Pay?
That really depends on what you have done to prepare for a ransomware attack. If you have backups that are disconnected, there’s a high likelihood you will be able to successfully recover to a known good state. It’s in everybody’s best interest not to pay the ransom, because it continues to fuel this type of criminal activity, and there’s no guarantee that any decrypter or key that a cybercriminal gives you is going to unlock your files. Ransomware, like any other code, can contain bugs, which may add to the recovery challenges.
There is, of course, cyber insurance, but you should know that organizations that have been hit are likely to pay higher premiums or have a more difficult time securing cyber insurance that covers ransomware.
Planning for a Fast Recovery
It is important to have a robust recovery plan, and to practice executing the plan. Some elements of a strong recovery plan include:
Train and Test Your Team: Regularly test your plan and train those with incident response and recovery responsibilities on what to do if and when an incident occurs. Tensions are high when an incident occurs, and regular testing and training builds muscle memory and increases familiarity so your team knows exactly what to do.
Plan, Implement, and Test Your Backups: Ensure that you have immutable backups that cannot be compromised during an attack. Test your restore process frequently to ensure backups are working properly. Focus on your data most importantly, but also your system images and configurations. Have a solid change management process that includes updating the system images and configuration files/scripts.
Know Who to Call: Maintain a list of internal and external contacts, so you know who to contact within your organization.
Establish Relationships With Law Enforcement: Building relationships with your local FBI field office and local law enforcement before an attack goes a long way toward being able to take the steps required to recover quickly from a ransomware attack while also collecting legally defensible evidence. Sharing indicators of compromise with the FBI or other partner law enforcement agencies may help with attribution and (later) prosecution efforts.
Don’t Be a Soft Target
Ransomware continues to cause problems for companies large and small. It’s not going away anytime soon. Cybercriminals are also targeting backups and Windows Shadow Volumes as part of their attacks. As a backup provider, of course, we have some thoughts on tools that can help, including:
Object Lock: Object Lock provides the immutability you need to know your backups are protected from ransomware. With Object Lock, no one can modify or delete your data, including cybercriminals and even the person who set the lock.
Amazon Web Services is excited to announce that we’ve updated the AWS ebook, Protecting your AWS environment from ransomware. The new ebook includes the top 10 best practices for ransomware protection and covers new services and features that have been released since the original published date in April 2020.
We know that customers care about ransomware. Security teams across the board are ramping up their protective, detective, and reactive measures. AWS serves all customers, including those most sensitive to disruption like teams responsible for critical infrastructure, healthcare organizations, manufacturing, educational institutions, and state and local governments. We want to empower our customers to protect themselves against ransomware by using a range of security capabilities. These capabilities provide unparalleled visibility into your AWS environment, as well as the ability to update and patch efficiently, to seamlessly and cost-effectively back up your data, and to templatize your environment, enabling a rapid return to a known good state. Keep in mind that there is no single solution or quick fix to mitigate ransomware. In fact, the mitigations and controls outlined in this document are general security best practices. We hope you find this information helpful and take action.
For example, to help protect against a security event that impacts stored backups in the source account, AWS Backup supports cross-account backups and the ability to centrally define backup policies for accounts in AWS Organizations by using the management account. Also, AWS Backup Vault Lock enforces write-once, read-many (WORM) backups to help protect backups (recovery points) in your backup vaults from inadvertent or malicious actions. You can copy backups to a known logically isolated destination account in the organization, and you can restore from the destination account or, alternatively, to a third account. This gives you an additional layer of protection if the source account experiences disruption from accidental or malicious deletion, disasters, or ransomware.
Learn more about solutions like these by checking out our Protecting against ransomware webpage, which discusses security resources that can help you secure your AWS environments from ransomware.
Last week, multiple organizations issued warnings that a ransomware campaign dubbed “ESXiArgs” was targeting VMware ESXi servers by leveraging CVE-2021-21974—a nearly two-year-old heap overflow vulnerability. Two years. And yet, Rapid7 research has found that a significant number of ESXi servers likely remain vulnerable. We believe, with high confidence, that there are at least 18,581 vulnerable internet-facing ESXi servers at the time of this writing.
That 18,581 number is based on Project Sonar telemetry. We leverage the TLS certificate Recog signature to determine that a particular server is a legitimate ESXi server. Then, after removing likely honeypots from the results, we checked the build ids of the scanned servers against a list of vulnerable build ids.
Project Sonar is a Rapid7 research effort aimed at improving security through the active analysis of public networks. As part of the project, we conduct internet-wide surveys across more than 70 different services and protocols to gain insights into global exposure to common vulnerabilities.
We have also observed additional incidents targeting ESXi servers, unrelated to the ESXiArgs campaign, that may also leverage CVE-2021-21974. RansomExx2—a relatively new strain of ransomware written in Rust and targeting Linux has been observed exploiting vulnerable ESXi servers. According to a recent IBM Security X-Force report, ransomware written in Rust has lower antivirus detection rates compared to those written in more common languages.
CISA issues fix, sort of
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Wednesday released a ransomware decryptor to help victims recover from ESXiArgs attacks. However, it’s important to note the script is not a cure all and requires additional tools for a full recovery. Moreover, reporting suggests that the threat actor behind the campaign has modified their attack to mitigate the decryptor.
The script works by allowing users to unregister virtual machines that have been encrypted by the ransomware and re-register them with a new configuration file. However, you still need to have a backup of the encrypted parts of the VM to make a full restore.
The main benefit of the decryptor script is that it enables users to bring virtual machines back to a working state while data restore from backup occurs in the background. This is particularly useful for users of traditional backup tools without virtualization-based disaster recovery capabilities.
Deny access to servers. Unless a service absolutely needs to be on the internet, do not expose it to the internet. Some victims of these attacks had these servers exposed to the open internet, but could have gotten just as much business value out of them by restricting access to allowlisted IP addresses. If you are running an ESXi server, or any server, default to denying access to that server except from trusted IP space.
Patch vulnerable ESXi Servers. VMware issued a patch for CVE-2021-21974 nearly two years ago. If you have unpatched ESXi servers in your environment, click on that link and patch them now.
Develop and adhere to a patching strategy. Patching undoubtedly has challenges. However, this event illustrates perfectly why it’s essential to have a patching strategy in place and stick to it.
Back up virtual machines. Make sure you have a backup solution in place, even for virtual machines. As noted above, the decryptor script issued by the CIA is only a partial fix. The only way to completely recover from attacks associated with CVE-2021-21974 is via operational backups. There are a wide variety of backup solutions available to protect virtual machines today.
By Christiaan Beek, with special thanks to Matt Green
DLL search order hijacking is a technique used by attackers to elevate privileges on the compromised system, evade restrictions, and/or establish persistence on the system. The Windows operating system uses a common method to look for required dynamic link libraries (DLLs) to load into a program. Attackers can hijack this search order to get their malicious payload executed.
DLL sideloading is similar to the above mentioned technique; however, instead of manipulating the search order, attackers place their payload alongside the victim’s application or a trusted third-party application. Abusing trusted applications to load their payload may bypass restrictions and evade endpoint security detections since they are loaded into a trusted process.
Attribution remains a topic of significant subjectivity, especially when attempting to connect an attack to a nation state. A common approach in determining the source has been to evaluate the techniques used by the perpetrator(s). DLL search order hijacking (T1574.001) or DLL sideloading (T1574.002) are common approaches used by nation state sponsored attackers.
The PlugX malware family, which has been around for more than a decade, is famous for using both techniques to bypass endpoint security and inject itself into trusted third party applications. PlugX is a remote access trojan with modular plugins. It is frequently updated with new functionalities and plugins.
In recent years, MITRE ATT&CK, CISA, and others have associated the PlugX family with various Chinese actors. Builders of the PlugX malware have been leaked to the public and can be used by other actors having access to the builders.
In January 2023, we observed activity from a China-based group called Mustang Panda using PlugX in one of their campaigns. In this particular case, they used a virtual hard disk (VHD) file, to hide the malicious files from antivirus detection. The VHD, which automatically mounted when opened contained a single archive file (RAR) that extracted the typical three files associated with PlugX:
Trusted binary (executable .exe)
Hijacked driver (DLL file)
Encrypted payload file (often a DAT file)
The trusted binary ranged from compromised AV vendor files, operating system files, and third-party vendor files. These files are signed and therefore most of the time trusted by endpoint technology.
This approach is known as a Mark-of-the-Web bypass or MOTW (T1553.005). In short, container files that are downloaded from the Internet are marked with MOTW, but the files within do not inherit the MOTW after the container files are extracted and/or mounted. When files are marked with the MOTW, if they are not trusted or downloaded from the Internet, they will not be executed.
While we observed Mustang Panda using aVHD file to hide malicious files, it is worth noting that ISO files may also be used, as they are also automatically mounted.
Hunting with Velociraptor
Since PlugX is injecting itself into a trusted process, abusing a trusted executable, this threat is often detected when the outgoing Command & Control Server (C2) traffic is being discovered (usually by accident or that someone flagged the IP address as being malicious). One classic mistake I’ve observed over the years is that when companies see in their AV logs that malware has been removed, they often don’t look further into what type of malware it is, its capabilities, and whether it is nation-state related or cybercrime related. However, the appropriate incident response handling differs in approach for each.
Many nation-state actors want to be long term persistent into a network and have established ways of staying inside, even if a few of their open doors are being closed (think about valid accounts added, webshells, other backdoors, etc.). A dead C2 server can indicate this, as the actor may have used it as a first entry to the network.
For example, we recently observed what appeared to be an incident where some suspicious password dumping tools were discovered. Although the security team removed the tools, they seemed to come back into the network.
After meeting with the team and reviewing some of the logs of the incidents, it was time to grab one of my favorite (and free) tools: Velociraptor. Velociraptor is Rapid7’s advanced open-source endpoint monitoring, digital forensic and cyber response platform. It enables users to effectively respond to a wide range of digital forensic and cyber incident response investigations and data breaches.
With a ton of forensic options and hunting possibilities, the first thing was to acquire live collections of data to investigate.
After investigating the initial memory dumps, remnants were discovered where a process was talking to an outside IP address. The process itself was using a DLL that was not located in a standard location on disk. After retrieving the folder from the victim’s machine and reversing the process, it became clear: PlugX was discovered.
There are several ways Velociraptor can be used to hunt for DLL search order hijacking or sideloading. In this particular case, we’ll discuss the approach for PlugX malware.
We could hunt for:
Process / Mutex
Network traffic / C2 URL/IP-address
Using the YARA toolset, we created rules for malicious or suspicious binaries and/or memory patterns. Velociraptor can use these rules to scan a bulk of data or process memory or raw memory using the ‘yara()’ or ‘proc_yara’ options.
Based on recent PlugX samples (end of 2022, beginning 2023), the we created the following rule (which can be downloaded from my Github page):
Using this rule, which is based on code patterns from the DLL component used in PlugX, Velociraptor will hunt for these DLL files and detect them. Once detected, you can look at the systems impacted, make a memory-dump, process dumps, etc., and investigate the system for suspicious activity. The directory where the DLL is stored will most likely also have the payload and trusted binary included, all written to disk at the same time.
Recently my colleague Matt Green released a repository on Github called DetectRaptor to share publicly available Velociraptor detection content. It provides you with easy-to-consume detection content to hunt for suspicious activity. One of the libraries Matt is importing is from https://hijacklibs.net/, a list of files and locations that are indicators of DLL hijacking (including PlugX). If you look at the non-Microsoft entries in the ‘hijacklibs.csv’, several instances are related to PlugX incidents reported by multiple vendors.
After importing the content, Velociraptor can start hunting and detecting possible signs of DLL hijacking and, for example, PlugX.
Ransomware events have significantly increased over the past several years and captured worldwide attention. Traditional ransomware events affect mostly infrastructure resources like servers, databases, and connected file systems. However, there are also non-traditional events that you may not be as familiar with, such as ransomware events that target data stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). There are important steps you can take to help prevent these events, and to identify possible ransomware events early so that you can take action to recover. The goal of this post is to help you learn about the AWS services and features that you can use to protect against ransomware events in your environment, and to investigate possible ransomware events if they occur.
Ransomware is a type of malware that bad actors can use to extort money from entities. The actors can use a range of tactics to gain unauthorized access to their target’s data and systems, including but not limited to taking advantage of unpatched software flaws, misuse of weak credentials or previous unintended disclosure of credentials, and using social engineering. In a ransomware event, a legitimate entity’s access to their data and systems is restricted by the bad actors, and a ransom demand is made for the safe return of these digital assets. There are several methods actors use to restrict or disable authorized access to resources including a) encryption or deletion, b) modified access controls, and c) network-based Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. In some cases, after the target’s data access is restored by providing the encryption key or transferring the data back, bad actors who have a copy of the data demand a second ransom—promising not to retain the data in order to sell or publicly release it.
In the next sections, we’ll describe several important stages of your response to a ransomware event in Amazon S3, including detection, response, recovery, and protection.
After a bad actor has obtained credentials, they use AWS API actions that they iterate through to discover the type of access that the exposed IAM principal has been granted. Bad actors can do this in multiple ways, which can generate different levels of activity. This activity might alert your security teams because of an increase in API calls that result in errors. Other times, if a bad actor’s goal is to ransom S3 objects, then the API calls will be specific to Amazon S3. If access to Amazon S3 is permitted through the exposed IAM principal, then you might see an increase in API actions such as s3:ListBuckets, s3:GetBucketLocation, s3:GetBucketPolicy, and s3:GetBucketAcl.
In this section, we’ll describe where to find the log and metric data to help you analyze this type of ransomware event in more detail.
When a ransomware event targets data stored in Amazon S3, often the objects stored in S3 buckets are deleted, without the bad actor making copies. This is more like a data destruction event than a ransomware event where objects are encrypted.
In addition, if you have enabled Amazon CloudWatch metrics for Amazon S3 prior to the ransomware event, you can use the sum of the BytesDownloaded metric to gain insight into abnormal transfer spikes.
Another way to gain information is to use the region-DataTransfer-Out-Bytes metric, which shows the amount of data transferred from Amazon S3 to the internet. This metric is enabled by default and is associated with your AWS billing and usage reports for Amazon S3.
Next, we’ll walk through how to respond to the unintended disclosure of IAM access keys. Based on the business impact, you may decide to create a second set of access keys to replace all legitimate use of those credentials so that legitimate systems are not interrupted when you deactivate the compromised access keys. You can deactivate the access keys by using the IAM console or through automation, as defined in your incident response plan. However, you also need to document specific details for the event within your secure and private incident response documentation so that you can reference them in the future. If the activity was related to the use of an IAM role or temporary credentials, you need to take an additional step and revoke any active sessions. To do this, in the IAM console, you choose the Revoke active session button, which will attach a policy that denies access to users who assumed the role before that moment. Then you can delete the exposed access keys.
In addition, you can use the AWS CloudTrail dashboard and event history (which includes 90 days of logs) to review the IAM related activities by that compromised IAM user or role. Your analysis can show potential persistent access that might have been created by the bad actor. In addition, you can use the IAM console to look at the IAM credential report (this report is updated every 4 hours) to review activity such as access key last used, user creation time, and password last used. Alternatively, you can use Amazon Athena to query the CloudTrail logs for the same information. See the following example of an Athena query that will take an IAM user Amazon Resource Number (ARN) to show activity for a particular time frame.
SELECT eventtime, eventname, awsregion, sourceipaddress, useragent
WHERE useridentity.arn = 'arn:aws:iam::1234567890:user/Name' AND
-- Enter timeframe
(event_date >= '2022/08/04' AND event_date <= '2022/11/04')
ORDER BY eventtime ASC
After you’ve removed access from the bad actor, you have multiple options to recover data, which we discuss in the following sections. Keep in mind that there is currently no undelete capability for Amazon S3, and AWS does not have the ability to recover data after a delete operation. In addition, many of the recovery options require configuration upon bucket creation.
Using versioning in S3 buckets is a way to keep multiple versions of an object in the same bucket, which gives you the ability to restore a particular version during the recovery process. You can use the S3 Versioning feature to preserve, retrieve, and restore every version of every object stored in your buckets. With versioning, you can recover more easily from both unintended user actions and application failures. Versioning-enabled buckets can help you recover objects from accidental deletion or overwrite. For example, if you delete an object, Amazon S3 inserts a delete marker instead of removing the object permanently. The previous version remains in the bucket and becomes a noncurrent version. You can restore the previous version. Versioning is not enabled by default and incurs additional costs, because you are maintaining multiple copies of the same object. For more information about cost, see the Amazon S3 pricing page.
Using AWS Backup gives you the ability to create and maintain separate copies of your S3 data under separate access credentials that can be used to restore data during a recovery process. AWS Backup provides centralized backup for several AWS services, so you can manage your backups in one location. AWS Backup for Amazon S3 provides you with two options: continuous backups, which allow you to restore to any point in time within the last 35 days; and periodic backups, which allow you to retain data for a specified duration, including indefinitely. For more information, see Using AWS Backup for Amazon S3.
In this section, we’ll describe some of the preventative security controls available in AWS.
S3 Object Lock
You can add another layer of protection against object changes and deletion by enabling S3 Object Lock for your S3 buckets. With S3 Object Lock, you can store objects using a write-once-read-many (WORM) model and can help prevent objects from being deleted or overwritten for a fixed amount of time or indefinitely.
AWS Backup Vault Lock
Similar to S3 Object lock, which adds additional protection to S3 objects, if you use AWS Backup you can consider enabling AWS Backup Vault Lock, which enforces the same WORM setting for all the backups you store and create in a backup vault. AWS Backup Vault Lock helps you to prevent inadvertent or malicious delete operations by the AWS account root user.
Amazon S3 Inventory
To make sure that your organization understands the sensitivity of the objects you store in Amazon S3, you should inventory your most critical and sensitive data across Amazon S3 and make sure that the appropriate bucket configuration is in place to protect and enable recovery of your data. You can use Amazon S3 Inventory to understand what objects are in your S3 buckets, and the existing configurations, including encryption status, replication status, and object lock information. You can use resource tags to label the classification and owner of the objects in Amazon S3, and take automated action and apply controls that match the sensitivity of the objects stored in a particular S3 bucket.
Another preventative control you can use is to enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA) delete in S3 Versioning. MFA delete provides added security and can help prevent accidental bucket deletions, by requiring the user who initiates the delete action to prove physical or virtual possession of an MFA device with an MFA code. This adds an extra layer of friction and security to the delete action.
Use IAM roles for short-term credentials
Because many ransomware events arise from unintended disclosure of static IAM access keys, AWS recommends that you use IAM roles that provide short-term credentials, rather than using long-term IAM access keys. This includes using identity federation for your developers who are accessing AWS, using IAM roles for system-to-system access, and using IAM Roles Anywhere for hybrid access. For most use cases, you shouldn’t need to use static keys or long-term access keys. Now is a good time to audit and work toward eliminating the use of these types of keys in your environment. Consider taking the following steps:
Create an inventory across all of your AWS accounts and identify the IAM user, when the credentials were last rotated and last used, and the attached policy.
Disable and delete all AWS account root access keys.
Rotate the credentials and apply MFA to the user.
Re-architect to take advantage of temporary role-based access, such as IAM roles or IAM Roles Anywhere.
Review attached policies to make sure that you’re enforcing least privilege access, including removing wild cards from the policy.
Server-side encryption with customer managed KMS keys
Another protection you can use is to implement server-side encryption with AWS Key Management Service (SSE-KMS) and use customer managed keys to encrypt your S3 objects. Using a customer managed key requires you to apply a specific key policy around who can encrypt and decrypt the data within your bucket, which provides an additional access control mechanism to protect your data. You can also centrally manage AWS KMS keys and audit their usage with an audit trail of when the key was used and by whom.
GuardDuty protections for Amazon S3
You can enable Amazon S3 protection in Amazon GuardDuty. With S3 protection, GuardDuty monitors object-level API operations to identify potential security risks for data in your S3 buckets. This includes findings related to anomalous API activity and unusual behavior related to your data in Amazon S3, and can help you identify a security event early on.
In this post, you learned about ransomware events that target data stored in Amazon S3. By taking proactive steps, you can identify potential ransomware events quickly, and you can put in place additional protections to help you reduce the risk of this type of security event in the future.
On February 3, 2023, French web hosting provider OVH and French CERT issued warnings about a ransomware campaign that was targeting VMware ESXi servers worldwide with a new ransomware strain dubbed “ESXiArgs.” The campaign appears to be leveraging CVE-2021-21974, a nearly two-year-old heap overflow vulnerability in the OpenSLP service ESXi runs. The ransomware operators are using opportunistic “spray and pray” tactics and have compromised hundreds of ESXi servers in the past few days, apparently including servers managed by hosting companies. ESXi servers exposed to the public internet are at particular risk.
Given the age of the vulnerability, it is likely that many organizations have already patched their ESXi servers. However, since patching ESXi can be challenging and typically requires downtime, some organizations may not have updated to a fixed version.
The following ESXi versions are vulnerable to CVE-2021-21974, per VMware’s original advisory:
ESXi versions 7.x prior to ESXi70U1c-17325551
ESXi versions 6.7.x prior to ESXi670-202102401-SG
ESXi versions 6.5.x prior to ESXi650-202102101-SG
Security news outlets have noted that earlier builds of ESXi appear to have also been compromised in some cases. It is possible that attackers may be leveraging additional vulnerabilities or attack vectors. We will update this blog with new information as it becomes available.
The compromise vector is confirmed to use a OpenSLP vulnerability that might be CVE-2021-21974 (still to be confirmed [as of February 3]). The logs actually show the user “dcui” as involved in the compromise process.
Encryption is using a public key deployed by the malware in /tmp/public.pem
The encryption process is specifically targeting virtual machines files (“.vmdk”, “.vmx”, “.vmxf”, “.vmsd”, “.vmsn”, “.vswp”, “.vmss”, “.nvram”,”*.vmem”)
The malware tries to shut down virtual machines by killing the VMX process to unlock the files. This function is not systematically working as expected, resulting in files remaining locked.
The malware creates “argsfile” to store arguments passed to the encrypt binary (number of MB to skip, number of MB in encryption block, file size)
No data exfiltration occurred.
In some cases, encryption of files may partially fail, allowing the victim to recover data.
ESXi customers should ensure their data is backed up and should update their ESXi installations to a fixed version on an emergency basis, without waiting for a regular patch cycle to occur. ESXi instances should not be exposed to the internet if at all possible. Administrators should also disable the OpenSLP service if it is not being used.
A vulnerability check for CVE-2021-21974 has been available to InsightVM and Nexpose customers since February 2021.
Chainalysis reports that worldwide ransomware payments were down in 2022.
Ransomware attackers extorted at least $456.8 million from victims in 2022, down from $765.6 million the year before.
As always, we have to caveat these findings by noting that the true totals are much higher, as there are cryptocurrency addresses controlled by ransomware attackers that have yet to be identified on the blockchain and incorporated into our data. When we published last year’s version of this report, for example, we had only identified $602 million in ransomware payments in 2021. Still, the trend is clear: Ransomware payments are significantly down.
However, that doesn’t mean attacks are down, or at least not as much as the drastic drop-off in payments would suggest. Instead, we believe that much of the decline is due to victim organizations increasingly refusing to pay ransomware attackers.
It may seem like ransomware is not in the news as much as it was in 2021 and the first part of 2022. Back then, major attacks and record-breaking ransom demands dominated headlines, and governments took action to make life more difficult for cybercriminals. But the spotlight is never a good place to be when you’re trying to defraud companies to the tune of millions of dollars. So, while you might be hearing about it less, that doesn’t mean that the threat of cybercrime is negligible. Exactly the opposite—the lack of media attention makes potential victims lower their guard, leaving vulnerabilities that cybercriminals love to exploit.
Staying up-to-date on the latest ransomware news keeps you informed of potential threats. And, keeping the latest threats fresh in your mind means you’ll be ready if and when cybercriminals turn their sights in your direction. We all hope that never happens, but it’s wise to be prepared in case it does. To arm you with the latest, here are some of the biggest developments in ransomware that we observed in Q4 2022.
This post is a part of our ongoing series on ransomware. Take a look at our other posts for more information on how businesses can defend themselves against a ransomware attack, and more.
And, don’t forget that we offer a thorough walkthrough of ways to prepare yourself and your business for ransomware attacks—free to download below.
1. Many Ransomware Attacks Go Unreported in the Media
One possible reason you don’t hear about ransomware attacks is that they simply don’t get reported in the news. A study released in late 2022 by Jumpsec found that 86% of ransomware attacks go unreported in typical media sources in the UK. The attacks that do get covered are typically ones where the victims are legally required to disclose the attacks due to personally identifiable information (PII) being compromised. While public disclosure is uncommon, keep in mind that reporting requirements—that is, the legal requirement to disclose to the authorities—in the UK, U.S., and elsewhere are becoming more stringent. For example, in 2022, President Biden signed a bill into law that requires operators of critical infrastructure to disclose cyber attacks to the government within 72 hours.
It may seem like there’s no real incentive to disclose a cyberattack publicly. Why serve the greater good at the expense of your reputation, right? But, some organizations have found that being open and honest positions them ahead of the game. Chip Daniels, head of government affairs at SolarWinds, shared the positive response the company has received about their transparency, “I meet with somebody for the first time, they’ll say, ‘I just want to tell you, you guys are the gold standard on how you should respond to a cyber incident.’” Being seen as the “gold standard” isn’t a bad place to land after an attack.
2. Hospitals and Schools Continued to Be Targeted
Sadly, it’s not the first time we reported on the threat to hospitals and schools. It was highlighted in our very first Ransomware Takeaways report. In Q4 2022, cybercriminals showed no sign of letting up as CommonSpirit Health, a Chicago-based health provider with more than 700 care sites and 142 hospitals in 21 states, suffered a major attack that made patient records vulnerable. And earlier in the year, over Labor Day weekend, one of the largest school districts in the country—the Los Angeles Unified School District—was attacked as well.
Nonprofit and public sector institutions need budget-friendly options for implementing ransomware protection that work with their existing purchasing programs. Through government IT aggregators like Carahsoft, public sector decision makers can purchase affordable, capacity-based cloud storage to support their recovery objectives.
3. Ransomware Attacks Take a Psychological Toll
In news that should come as a surprise to no one who’s been through a ransomware incident, cyberattacks take a psychological toll, and new research from cybersecurity company Northwave released in Q4 2022 quantifies it. They measured the mental impacts of ransomware attacks at three points in time, within the first week, month, and year after an attack. At a month out, 75% reported having negative thoughts, and at one year, 14% reported symptoms of trauma requiring professional help.
Companies involved in a ransomware attack can take action to minimize negative effects on employees’ mental health. Northwave recommends having regular check-ins and breaks during the first phase, making space for rest and recovery time in the second phase, and creating an open environment in the third phase, where employees can talk about what happened and decompress.
4. Some Ransomware Is Badly Made, and All the More Dangerous
Researchers analyzed the Cryptonite ransomware strain, which first appeared in October 2022, and found that its “barebones” functionality makes it even more of a threat—there’s no way to recover encrypted files. Researchers point out that it’s likely not an intentional feature, but simply poor design.
Since the software is broken to the point where decryption is impossible, there’s absolutely no reason to pay the ransom if you fall victim to a Cryptonite attack. Instead, it makes sense to spend some time creating a disaster recovery plan so you can resume normal business operations as soon as possible. Researchers also report that phishing seems to be the most common attack vector for this ransomware strain, so it’s a good idea to ramp up your cybersecurity training.
5. A Vast Majority of Ransomware Attacks Attempted to Infect Backups
In November, Veeam released their 2022 Ransomware Trends report, a study of more than 3,000 organizations across 28 countries. Among their key findings: 95% of ransomware attacks attempted to infect backups. Of those attacks that targeted backups, 38% of respondents had some backup repositories impacted, and 30% had all of their backup repositories impacted.
One word: immutability. Protecting backups with Object Lock costs nothing to implement and prevents backups from being modified or encrypted by ransomware. With backups that can’t be altered, recoveries are much easier and more reliable.
While you may not be hearing about as many high profile ransomware attacks as you once were, make no mistake that they’re still happening. Just know that there are steps you can take to keep your company from becoming the next victim, including protecting data with Object Lock, applying security best practices, and creating a disaster recovery plan.
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