Article | February 28, 2020
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has updated its guidance to organisations on how to mitigate the impact of malware and ransomware attacks, retiring its standalone ransomware guidance and amalgamating the two in a bid to improve clarity and ease confusion among business and consumer users alike. The NCSC said that having two different pieces of guidance had caused some issues as a lot of the content relating to ransomware was essentially identical, while the malware guidance was a little more up-to-date and relevant. The service said the changes reflect to some extent how members of the public understand cyber security. For example, it implies a distinction between malware and ransomware even though technically speaking, ransomware is merely a type of malware. “Not everyone who visits our website knows that. Furthermore, they might well search for the term ‘ransomware’ (rather than ‘malware’) when they’re in the grip of a live ransomware incident,” said a spokesperson.
Article | June 2, 2021
Cyber Security has quickly evolved from being just an IT problem to a business problem. Recent attacks like those on Travelex and the SolarWinds hack have proved that cyber-attacks can affect the most solid of businesses and create PR nightmares for brands built painstakingly over the years. Investing in cyber security training, cyber security advisory services and the right kind of IT support products, has therefore, become imperative in 2021.
Investing in cyber security infrastructure, cyber security certification for employees and IT solutions safeguards businesses from a whole spectrum of security risks, ransomware, spyware, and adware.
Ransomware refers to malicious software that bars users from accessing their computer system, whereas adware is a computer virus that is one of the most common methods of infecting a computer system with a virus. Spyware spies on you and your business activities while extracting useful information. Add social engineering, security breaches and compromises to your network security into the mix, and you have a lethal cocktail.
Article | December 15, 2020
Just about every single day, somewhere in the world, a company falls victim to cyber attackers, even with millions spent on cybersecurity.
Every company is a target because they have data and there are too many doors, windows and entryways for cyber attackers to get in, whether on-premise or in the cloud. It is not a question of if, but when, the attackers will get in.
Prevention efforts are of course important, but since attackers will get in, equal attention must be on detection going forward. And the focus must be on early detection, otherwise, it will be too late.
My book, Next Level Cybersecurity, is based on intensive reviews of the world’s largest hacks and uncovers the signals of the attackers that companies are either missing or don’t know how to detect early, apart from all of the noise. So, the attackers are slipping by the cybersecurity, staying undetected and stealing data or committing other harm.
In the book I explain the Cyber Attack Chain. It is a simplified model that shows the steps that cyber attackers tend to follow in just about every single hack. There are five steps:
command and control; and
At each step, there will be signals of the attackers’ behavior and activity. But the signals in the intrusion, lateral movement and command and control steps provide the greatest value because they are timely.
The external reconnaissance step is very early and the signals may not materialize into an attack, while detecting signals in the execution step is too late because by this time the data theft or harm will have already occurred.
My research uncovered 15 major signals in the intrusion, lateral movement and command and control steps that should be the focus of detection.
My research of the world’s largest hacks reveals that if the company had detected signals of the attackers early, in the intrusion, lateral movement or command and control steps, they would have been able to stop the hack and prevent the loss or damage.
My book shows how to detect the signals in time, using a seven-step early detection method. One of the key steps in this method is to map relevant signals to the Crown Jewels (crucial data, IP or other assets). It is a great use case for machine learning and AI. There is a lot of noise, so machine learning and AI can help eliminate false positives and expose the attackers’ signals early to stop the hack.
There are two blind spots that just about every single company world-wide faces that cyber attackers will exploit, beginning in 2019, that companies must get on top of.
One blind spot is the cloud. There is a false sense of comfort and lack of attention to detection, thinking the cloud is safer because of the cloud provider’s cybersecurity or because the cloud provider has an out-of-the-box monitoring system. However, if the company fails to identify all Crown Jewels and map all relevant cyber attacker signals for the monitoring, the attackers will get in, remain undetected and steal data or commit other harm in the cloud.
The other blind spot is Internet of Things (IoT). IoT devices (e.g. smart TVs, webcams, routers, sensors, etc.), with 5G on the way, will be ubiquitous in companies world-wide. While IoT devices provide many benefits, they are a weak link in the chain due to poor built-in security and lack of monitoring. Cyber attackers will focus on IoT devices to make the intrusion, then pivot to get to the Crown Jewels. Detecting early signals of cyber attackers trying to exploit IoT devices will be critical.
Companies world-wide need to make cybersecurity a priority, starting in the board room and with the CEO. It all starts at the top. My intensive reviews of the world’s largest hacks reveal in each case a common theme: inadequate or missing CEO and board cybersecurity oversight.
Here are five key questions from my book that the CEO must take the lead on and together with the board ask of the management team to make sure the company will not become the next victim of cyber attackers and suffer significant financial and reputational harm:
Have we identified all of our Crown Jewels and are not missing any?
Do we know where all of the Crown Jewels are located?
Have we identified all of the ways cyber attackers could get to the Crown Jewels?
Have we mapped high probability signals of cyber attackers trying to get to the Crown Jewels with each Crown Jewel?
Are we sifting through all of the noise to detect signals early and reporting to the CEO and the board in a dashboard report for timely oversight?
If your answer is No to any of the questions or you are unsure, you have a gap or blind spot and are at risk, and you must follow up to get to a high confidence Yes answer.
In my book, Next Level Cybersecurity, I provide other key questions to ask and a practical seven-step method to take cybersecurity to the next level to stay one step ahead of the attackers. It is written in plain language for boards, executives and management, so everyone can get on the same page and together mitigate one of the most significant and disruptive risks faced today, cybersecurity.
Article | August 30, 2021
Global leaders want to carve out specific areas of critical infrastructure to be protected under international agreements from cyber-attacks. But where does that leave others?
There are ‘four or five steps you could take that could significantly mitigate this risk,’ Falk said. These are patching, multifactor authentication and all the stuff in the Australian Signals Directorate's Essential Eight baseline mitigation strategies. …”
Back in April of this year, a BBC News headline read, "The ransomware surge ruining lives."
And that was before the cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure sectors like Colonial Pipeline, meat-processing giant JBS, the Irish Health Service and so many others.
And when President Biden met with Russian President Putin last month in Geneva, he declared that certain critical infrastructure should be “off-limits” to cyber-attacks.
“We agreed to task experts in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what is off-limits,” Biden said. “We’ll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order.”
As an initial positive step forward, this cyber defense policy makes sense. In fact, most global experts applaud these moves and efforts to better protect and clarify international crimes in cyberspace.
Previous administrations going back to George W. Bush have taken aggressive steps to ensure critical infrastructure is protected in the U.S. and around the world through actions involving people, process and technology, both offline and online. The 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by DHS/CISA can be found here.
Still, many questions remain regarding this new policy: Will all global governments actually agree on the wording? More importantly, even if they do agree, how will the agreements be enforced? Also, what happens if some countries continue to allow criminals to attack these critical infrastructure sectors from their soil?
And my main question goes further: Even if all of these agreements and actions are 100 percent agreed upon and enforced, which most people don’t believe will happen, does this imply that every organization not covered under these 16 critical infrastructure sectors can be openly attacked without a response? Is this giving into cyber criminals for everyone else?
For example, would K-12 schools or small businesses be “fair game” and not off limits? Could this actually increase attacks for any organization not considered on the CISA list?
No doubt, some will say that schools are a part of government, and yet there are private schools. In addition, if we do cover all others somehow, perhaps as a supplier of these 16 sectors, doesn’t that make the “off-limits” list essentially meaningless?
Essentially, where is the line? Who is included, and what happens when some nation or criminal group crosses the line?
These questions became more than an intellectual thought exercise recently when the Kaseya ransomware attack impacted more than 1,500 businesses, without, in their words, impacting critical infrastructure.
CBS News reports, “Still, Kaseya says the cyber-attack it experienced over the July 4th weekend was never a threat and had no impact on critical infrastructure. The Russian-linked gang behind the ransomware had demanded $70 million to end the attack, but CNBC reported that the hackers reduced their demands to $50 million in private conversations.
"The Miami-based company said Tuesday that it was alerted on July 2 to a potential attack by internal and external sources. It immediately shut down access to the software in question. The incident impacted about 50 Kaseya customers.”
OTHER RECENT RANSOMWARE NEWS
Meanwhile, in a bit of a surprise, ransomware group REvil disappeared from the Internet this past week, when its website became inaccessible.
As Engadget reported, “According to CNBC, Reuters and The Washington Post, the websites operated by the group REvil went down in the early hours of Tuesday. Dmitri Alperovitch, former chief technology officer of the cyber firm CrowdStrike, told The Post that the group's blog in the dark web is still reachable. However, its critical sites victims use to negotiate with the group and to receive decryption tools if they pay up are no longer available. Visitors to those websites now see a message that says ‘A server with the specified host name could not be found.’"
CNBC reported: “There are 3 main possibilities for the criminal gang’s disappearance — each of which carries good and bad news for U.S. efforts to combat the ransomware scourge emanating from Russia.
The Kremlin bent under U.S. pressure and forced REvil to close up shop.
U.S. officials tired of waiting for Kremlin cooperation and launched a cyber operation that took REvil offline.
REvil’s operators were feeling the heat and decided to lay low for a while.
"This situation may send a message to some of the players that they need to find a less-aggressive business model, which could mean avoiding critical infrastructure, or it could mean avoiding U.S. targets.”
Also, the Biden administration announced several other measures to combat ransomware: “The Biden administration will offer rewards up to $10 million for information leading to the identification of foreign state-sanctioned malicious cyber activity against critical U.S. infrastructure — including ransomware attacks — and the White House has launched a task force to coordinate efforts to stem the ransomware scourge.
"It is also launching the website stopransomware.gov to offer the public resources for countering the threat and building more resilience into networks, a senior administration official told reporters.”
And yet, many experts are still predicting that ransomware will continue to grow in the near future. For example, TechHQ wrote that “identifying the culprits often isn't as big an obstacle as apprehending them.”
To show recent growth of ransomware attacks, Fox Business offered details on a Check Point report this past week that “ransomware attacks surge, growing 93 percent each week.”
Also: “'The ransomware business is booming. We’re seeing global surges in ransomware across every major geography, especially in the last two months,' said Lotem Finkelstein, head of threat intelligence at Check Point Software. 'We believe the trend is driven by scores of new entrants into the ransomware business.'"
For more background on this hot topic, a few weeks back I appeared on MiTech News to discuss the ransomware crisis.
I’d like to close with this article which offers a slightly different perspective on ransomware from ZDNet Australia:
“The threat of ransomware dominates the cyber news right now, and rightly so. But this week Rachael Falk, chief executive officer of Australia's Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, made a very good point.
Ransomware is ‘Totally foreseeable and preventable because it's a known problem," Falk told a panel discussion at the Australian Strategy Policy Institute (ASPI) on Tuesday.
‘"It's known that ransomware is out there. And it's known that, invariably, the cyber criminals get into organisations through stealing credentials that they get on the dark web [or a user] clicking on a link and a vulnerability," she said.
‘We're not talking about some sort of nation-state really funky sort of zero day that's happening. This is going on the world over, so it's entirely foreseeable.’"
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