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When will the threat of a cyberattack be enough to spark real organisational resilience?

Recent ransomware attacks serve as another reminder of the impact cyberattacks can have on organisations, governments and society

Ransomware attacks are on the rise, with increasing persistence and sophistication by threat actors who are adept in evasion techniques. On Friday 7 May, a ransomware attack was reported by the largest gasoline pipeline in the United States. And they paid nearly $5 million in bitcoin for the encryption key. While the pipeline is fully operational now, many US gas stations were still without fuel two weeks later. On 14 May, ransomware took down Ireland's health service's IT systems, which left most of the country's hospitals without computers for over a week. That means medics had limited or no access to patients' records, among other critical impacts. The most recent attack on global food producer JBS shut down operations around the world.

These attacks on industrial, utilities, and life sciences and healthcare companies continue to grow in frequency and impact, leading industry experts to warn that failing to address key cybersecurity concerns may have even more devastating consequences in future attacks, to both economies and to critical infrastructure.

Every organisation is vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Ransoms are paid because the cost is less than rebuilding the IT infrastructure based on the most recent backups. Organisations should be continually monitoring their processes that have access to sensitive data. Access control and data encryption management is the key to securing an organisation – not only from ransomware, but from insider threats, rogue processes, malware and more. It's vital that the CEO and the board are fully equipped with the knowledge to deal with the prospect of a ransomware attack hitting their organisation and are doing as much as possible to ensure this doesn't happen.

When there’s accessibility to valuable data, attacks will occur
Next-generation disruptive technologies from ransomware attackers are making it increasingly difficult to reduce the attack surface.

Organisations that don’t mitigate that part of the hacker’s modus operandi are opening themselves up to costly and sometimes catastrophic consequences. Strong cyber hygiene practices should be prioritised, regardless of industry, to reduce the threat of ransomware attacks, which includes workforce training on sound cyber practices.

To complicate an adversary’s efforts to identify points of weakness between interconnected networks, development environments and cloud-enabled services, organisations should also consider a Zero Trust framework whereby users are granted access to a network service for a specific task and must reauthenticate for new tasks, and where continuous monitoring for anomalous activity is in place. Security planning should also reflect zero trust principles within the enterprise and software lifecycle to eliminate implicit trust in any network node or access point.

In an urgent memo on 2 June to American organisations, the Biden administration is urging corporate executives and business leaders to take immediate steps to prepare for ransomware attacks. On 12 May in the aftermath of the pipeline attack, US President Biden signed a cybersecurity executive order creating guidelines for responding to such attacks, mandating transparency by companies who have been attacked and increasing governmental involvement in the aftermath of any exploitation. The recent attacks continue to highlight the opportunity and importance for governments and the private sector to engage in more effective information sharing.

Cybercrime is not just a crime against a computer but against trust and the impacts are far reaching. Ransomware attacks are not going away any time soon, which means everyone has to get better at preventing a targeted attack from becoming a successful one.

A new precedent in ransomware attacks

Global businesses are expected to face a ransomware attack every 11 seconds, costing targets an estimated USD $20 billion (Source: Cybersecurity Ventures).

  • Lack of segmentation of OT and IT networks to confine an attack from expanding into critical networks and control systems
  • Limited awareness of attack surface vulnerabilities and paths to critical systems and assets
  • Lack of modern tools to provide remote and administrative access to OT systems, such as multi-factor authentication
  • Lack of redundant backups that have been tested for resiliency and business recovery effectiveness
  • Lack of ransomware incident response plans to bring critical systems back online and enable business continuity
  • Inadequate vulnerability management and lack of broad and efficient patching cycles and testing
  • Limited ability to monitor for anomalous uploads through user and entity behavioural analysis (UEBA) and data loss prevention (DLP) tools
  • Limited coordination between OT and IT, leading to siloed views of cyber threats and segregated incident response and resiliency plans
  • Are you identifying all your IT and OT assets and their associated risks, vulnerabilities and patching?
  • Do you have appropriate visibility into potential threats targeting your environment and adequate telemetry & analytics to identify suspicious and potentially malicious activity across the enterprise.
  • How prepared is your organisation to recover from a ransomware incident and follow your crisis plan?
  • Are you mapping your cyber footprint so you can look at it from an attacker’s perspective and identify potential vulnerabilities?

Steps to improve cyber posture

  • Proactively plan for a crisis: Prepare for technology disruption scenarios (including cyber incidents) with emphasis on security governance, strategic risk management and supporting policies to effectively monitor and measure risk.
  • Map out your most critical systems and assets: Identify assets critical to your operations which could appeal as targets for threat actors by mapping out your attack surface and maintaining a current inventory of assets continuously scanned for vulnerabilities.
  • Prevent compromise of IT from spreading to OT: Segment your critical systems and OT network, deploy advanced monitoring for suspicious activity and use jump-boxes to further control access.
  • Accelerate your adoption of Zero Trust: Assume breach and remove implicit trust from users, workloads, networks and devices. Protect administrative credentials with layered access controls and prioritise network segmentation as well as telemetry & analytics.
  • Increase resiliency of your business: Place as much importance on response efforts, telemetry and analytics as prevention and detection including business resiliency planning, and simulation exercises.
  • Go on offense: Modern security principles such as proactive threat hunting, machine learning cyber analytics and self-healing systems can help you take an offensive approach.
  • Perform a Ransomware Preparedness Assessment: Evaluate your cybersecurity programme for preparedness, response and recovery with respect to ransomware attacks to identify strategy and capabilities gaps.

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End notes:

1Source: Gartner, Market Share: Security Consulting Services Worldwide, 2020, Elizabeth Kim, April 2021
2Source: IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Managed Security Services 2020 Vendor Assessment by Martha Vazquez, September 2020, IDC #US46235320e
3Source: ALM Intelligence; Cybersecurity Consulting 2019; ALM Intelligence estimates © 2019 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Reproduced under license

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