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Ransomware Attacks Are Out to Get You!!

By | Cyber Security, Defensive Tactics, Tutorials | No Comments

Business owners, home computer users, executives, government officials, non-profit agencies, and employees who use computers; you will want to read and share this story; this article applies to you!

Response to Ransomware Attacks has become more mainstream, appearing in the news almost daily. A Ransomware Attack is when your data has been illegally accessed, encrypted, then the criminal demands payment for you to recover your data. This increase in Ransomware occurrences has uncovered a disturbing commonality; every organization, whether it be non-profit, for profit, government, etc…, has not proactively made any preparation for the attack. The most prevalent feedback? They never believed they would be attacked. They were too far off the radar to be in jeopardy. Sound familiar? These attacks, and the disbelief that follows happens in ALL vertical markets and all organization sizes, from small business to large enterprise, and everywhere in between; possibly even you!

With some simple planning, you can limit your attack surface. I just received a link to the following story; https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-20190508-story.html

The article starts off with;

“Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said all city employees were at work Wednesday as IT teams tried to recover from a ransomware attack, but that “everything that we’re doing, we just have to revert back to manual.”

Having a manual process is critical to your success and the City of Baltimore should be proud that they have such a process.

The article presents the idea that these attacks are unavoidable and are just going to happen;

“I don’t care what kind of systems you put in place, they always can find a way to infect your system,” said the Democratic mayor. “I know we’re going to do all we can to solve this issue and put up other protections.”

I don’t completely agree with this statement. There are many controls to put into place that will make it difficult for these attacks to be successful. I am confident that if you manage risk appropriately, you can make these attacks very difficult, if possible, at all. The truth is, we will never have perfect security, but if you manage risk appropriately, you will enable your business for success!

Cybersecurity EXPERTS know that our role is risk management. Our risk management techniques simply involve data and systems. The risks associated with ransomware are very manageable and should be managed to a level that limits your exposure to such attacks. The costs associated with this risk mitigation are minimal. The costs associated with becoming a victim are exponentially larger than the cost of the simplistic mitigation techniques. In addition, most organizations are completely or almost wholly stopped from performing their tasks, after ransomware hits. Understand, cyber-criminals are only successful because organizations make the choice, conscious or unconscious, to minimize the risk of being targeted.

Please, do not think that this is a one size fits all article, every company is different and has different risks, risk tolerance, processes, technologies, etc. My intent is to provide some of the most common risk mitigation techniques for these issues.

Most of you, if you are like me, are asking, “Where’s the secret sauce?” Well, here is the not-so-secret sauce;

  • It is important to block or limit access to publicly facing remote desktop protocol Services and other administrative access. If they are necessary, set access control lists or other filters to only allow access from you own systems and limit that to only administrators who have a need to access them.
  • Keep all systems and applications up to date. Look for vendor patches (updates) on vendor websites. Trusting 3rd party websites to download application updates could, and often does, lead to the installation of malware, capable of bring your business to its knees.
  • Strong Passwords MUST be used for any and all accounts. We recommend using a sentence for a passphrase (password). As an example; “CyberSelf_Defenseismygo2company4cybersecurity!”  NOTE: please do not use mine, choose your own.
  • Teach employees, families and friends to avoid clicking links or attachments in email; they can use VirusTotal.com to test links and attachments.
  • Have solid, tested backups of everything that is important to you. Your backups should be synced regularly to ensure up-to-date data if/when an event occurs.
  • Please ensure that these back-ups are kept isolated from production systems and that they use different login accounts.
  • Ensure they do not allow access (login) with your normal account.
  • Use web and email proxies to limit exposure to such attacks; web and email proxies are built into many of the antivirus solutions on the market. These are inexpensive and very manageable. A proxy simply tests the links and ensure that they are relatively safe.
  • Ensure you have antivirus software installed on all systems, including all servers. Ensure that the definitions are current; definition updates are released, at minimum, weekly and more regularly during a virus outbreak. We like BitDefender; let us know if we can help you get pricing.
  • Do not have open shares set up. These are corporate drives that allow everyone access. There should be no shared drives that allow “everyone” access. You should ensure that all folders allow only the people who need access to the folder have access.
  • Ensure that system admins log in as their normal (non-administrative) user and elevate privileges as necessary. Admins should avoid logging in as their administrative accounts to only those situations that REQUIRE this type of access.
  • Limit or block access to social media sites like Facebook, gambling sites, and anything that could be construed as pornography. These sites are breeding grounds for such attacks, as well as productivity vacuums. Most companies do not need their employees to have access to these types of sites.
  • Enable the system firewall to properly protect the system. I cannot believe how many companies shut their system firewalls off, as this is a line of defense that is effective add no additional cost for the protection it provides.
  • Use application whitelisting. This methodology gives you the ability to allow only approved applications. Allowing only approved applications ensures that users cannot run inappropriate programs. This methodology is even more important if your organization has outdated and unsupported systems, like Windows XP, on the network.
  • Remove local administrative rights from end users. Require them to get IT/Security approval for all software that is installed.

Listen, I know that not everyone will be able to do everything on this list. Again, we are risk managers and the more of these things you are able to accomplish, the lower your risk levels are. It is our belief, that if you do these things, you will place your risk at a lower level and will enable the business for success. Finally, when we talk about risk management, if you do not have a comprehensive risk assessment; one that you consult, every time you make a cyber purchase, you might as well be throwing your money into the trash! If your risk assessment is not comprehensive enough to help you in these situations, you should redo it. Your risk assessment should have told you that these attacks were coming and how you could have mitigated them.

NOTE everything I presented here, works on your home computers; home computers are frequently attacked! For more information refer to our recently posted article in the CDA Press at https://www.cdapress.com/local_news/20190519/hackers_make_enemies_of_local_cybersecurity_teams.


Cyber Self-Defense is an award winning holistic pure-play cyber-security solutions provider in North America and headquartered in Northern Idaho. The company’s diverse and talented employees are committed to helping businesses, governments and educational institutions plan, build and run successful security programs through the right combination of products, services and solutions related to security program strategy, enterprise risk and consulting, threat and vulnerability management, enterprise incident management, and training. Cyber Self-Defense represents over 50 years of combined experience within the cyber-security market, successfully helping the business community, regardless of company size, from Small Business to Large Enterprise. Here are some key differentiators;

  • We teach and mentor staff as we work. It is our hope that we can teach our customers how to defend themselves.
  • We build business through cyber-security versus hampering business with unrealistic security.
  • We use a risk-based approach to cyber-security that ensures an informed process for making purchases and decisions.
  • Our leadership lives by the mantra; “cyber-security does not need to be expensive, but it must be strategic.” This is important to Cyber Self-Defense, as we see companies spending money uselessly, purchasing tools that do not help to reduce risk.
  • It is our role to aid our customers in making decisions that effectively reduce risk and provide the best return on investment; versus hampering business with unrealistic security.
  • We have never and will never hire consultants. We hire professionals who have successfully built programs and “been in your shoes”. If you have ever dealt with a consultant, you know the real value of this point!

Blinky Light Syndrome

By | CISO/Management, Cyber Crime, Cyber Security, Defensive Tactics, Risk Management, Tutorials | No Comments

Far too often, I meet companies who are excited when I arrive. They pull me into their data center and show me their new KYZ 5000 and go on to explain that it has ended all of their cyber security concerns. I review the device and find out that it is plugged in and has a flashing light somewhere in the front and that is the end of the story. Other times, I go to a site and find that the company has just purchased an ABC 1000; plugged it in, turned it on, and perhaps even configured it.

In both cases, I tend to ask what problem(s) the piece of equipment is solving. Most of the time, I hear a story like; “Mike, you don’t understand, Joe down the street just bought one and it has solved all of his problems!”

Unfortunately, I find that these are simply impulse buys or worse, auditor pleasers. When we actually take a look, they are not working the way the purchasing company believes they are working. I frequently ask the company’s representative how this purchase has helped to lower the company’s risk. They usually give me a blank stare and asked what I mean. I usually ask to see the company’s risk assessment. The person then goes into panic mode and begins a hunt for the risk assessment. After finding the risk assessment (and knocking a year’s worth of dust buildup off), I ask how the purchase has reduced the risks listed in the assessment.

Risk Assessment

It is usually at this point that I must explain that the risk assessment is designed to help organizations manage their security spend, the effects of security on the end user, and the true need for security. After reviewing the risk assessment together, we usually agree that had the organization used the assessment as it was intended, the same spend would have reduced risk a great deal more than the purchase of the equipment; perhaps the piece of equipment reduced the risk by .5% and spending the money wisely would have reduced risk by 30%.

Cybersecurity experts MUST be risk managers. They MUST ensure that the security program is being managed to enable the success of the business. When we do not use our risk assessment to perform our duties, we run the risk of over spending, over protecting, or simply wasting time, money, and resources. It is also crucial for us to understand that our roles require that we understand all methods of treating risk. Many, in our community, believe that we must throw technology at everything and that it will solve all. Even the vendors (at least the honest ones) will tell you that their technology is one part of an overall strategy.

Many would agree that their technology must be fully implemented from a technology configuration, policy, procedure, and corporate strategy standpoint; having the equipment plugged in, whether configured or not, is only one piece. On that same note, the technology MUST work in harmony with all other security strategies. I have yet to find a tool that will solve all Information security problems; as cybersecurity experts we must layer our approach to cybersecurity. Our approach MUST include training, risk management, policy procedure, company buy-in, and technology. Note that technology is last; without the first pieces, you have (BLS) Blinky Light Syndrome.

Blinky Light Syndrome (BLS) describes a device that is plugged in, turned on, but not doing what the owner thinks it is doing or what the owner wants it to do. It can be used to describe either of the scenarios I covered at the beginning of this article.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a risk assessment is not just used once a year, to show auditors that you have it. It is a tool that takes on a living role in your success as a cybersecurity expert. It grows with you, as you add new processes, technologies, or the business changes; the risk assessment grows. As your company divests, the risk assessment should be consulted and adjusted to reflect the changes. When you purchase new security tools, your risk assessment should aid you in determining exactly how the solution will need to be set up and configured. At Cyber Self-Defense, we make it our business to help your organization to steer clear of Blinky Light Syndrome and equip you to truly be secure!