Over the past few months during the post-hoc analysis of WannaCry-Petya, we have spoken in great lengths about what should have been done during the incident. This is quite a tricky thing to do in a balanced way because we are all clever in hindsight. What hasn’t been spoken about enough is understanding more generally what we need to do when things go wrong.
This question isn’t as simple as it appears, as there are a lot of aspects to consider during an incident, and only a brief window to identify, contain and mitigate a threat. Let’s look at just a few of these:
– Response times
This is often the greatest challenge but of utmost importance. The response is not only understanding the “how” and “why” of a threat but is also about putting the chain of events into action to make sure that the “what” doesn’t spiral out of control.
– Creating an effective playbook
A playbook should be a guide on how your incident response plan must be executed. Orchestration platforms contain these playbooks/runbooks. Also, note that these are not generic plug and forget policies. They need to be optimized and mapped to your business and regulatory requirements and are often unique to your organization. Otherwise, the incident will be controlled by an incorrect playbook.
– Skills and tool availability
Do you have the correct skills and tools available and are you able to leverage these. Do you understand where your security gaps are and do you know how to mitigate them?
On paper, incident response always works. Right until the moment of truth during a data breach that shows that it doesn’t. To avoid relying on theory only, it is best to run breach simulations and simulate some of the attacks that may affect your organization to find out if your processes and playbooks also work under more realistic conditions.
We’re always playing catch‒up for many reasons—new technologies, new vulnerabilities, and new threats. Software and hardware may possibly always be at the mercy of hackers, criminal actors and other threat actors, so prevention alone is futile. We have to become more resilient and better at dealing with the aftermath of an attack.
The key summary for me is this: How do you respond? Can the response be improved? Utilize the lessons learned in breach simulations to understand how you make the response better than before.
With all the damage done by the WannaCry and the Petya (also known as GoldenEye) ransomware attacks over the course of the last two months in mind, it is safe to assume that organizations that are a potential target of cyber criminals should move to enhance resilience to these types of attacks. There are various actions that businesses and government institutions can take to escape unscathed from this global ransomware epidemics.
Aside from using sophisticated tools that are designed to detect and remove ransomware, employees themselves are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to defending against targeted cyber-attacks. Raising employee awareness on cybersecurity can go a long way towards improving the ability of organizations to avoid damages caused by cyber incidents because the staff is often cited as one of the weakest links in cyber defenses.
Employees, the First Line of Defense Against Ransomware
One of the reasons why organizations need to raise cybersecurity awareness within their staff is that ransomware usually finds a way into IT systems through phishing emails opened by an employee. The main risk is a result of the fact that most employees are not very well-versed in distinguishing between legitimate emails and fake ones that aim to install malicious software onto their computers, which is done in one of two ways. One way is to include a call-to-action prompting recipients to download an attachment that contains a malware. Once that file is installed onto the computer, the malware basically disables the computer, preventing the user from accessing it, or from opening certain essential files.
The other way involves emails providing a URL that recipients are supposed to click, with the URL being created in such a manner that resembles a popular and well-known website. That way, recipients do not suspect that there is something wrong with the website they are prompted to visit by the email message, but once they click the malicious URL and go to that website, malware is instantly installed onto their computer.
After a piece of malware is installed on a computer, it has the ability to spread across other computers that it is connected to, thus infecting and blocking access to the entire network.
Tackle Social Engineering Through Education
Organizations can reduce the risk of getting hit by a ransomware attack by educating employees about the methods utilized in these scams, which involve a great deal of social engineering, taking advantage of certain psychological weaknesses. By making employees more aware of the most common ransomware schemes, as well as the fact that they have one of the key roles in the cyber defense of their organization, chances of preventing attacks can be greatly increased.
Cyber security professionals need to train all employees on how to detect ransomware scams, by pointing out to them that they need to pay extra attention to details when receiving emails from an unknown sender or containing suspicious content. The most important details that employees should pay attention to include the display name of emails, the salutation, and whether an email contains an attachment that they are not expecting.
Employee education is paramount when it comes to defending against ransomware attacks, and organizations need to invest more time and resources into this increasingly important aspect of cybersecurity.
While many institutions and businesses from various industries were still reeling from the WannaCry attack that took the world by storm back in May, cyber criminals launched another crippling ransomware attack earlier this week, catching a lot of cyber security professionals across 60 countries by surprise and bringing essential business operations to a halt.This latest high-profile attack, called Petya ransomware, bears many of the hallmarks of WannaCry, in that it is a typical ransomware scheme, paralyzing computers and spreading through internal networks after infecting one machine.
Another important similarity is that just like WannaCry, Petya exploited the same Microsoft Windows vulnerability – Eternal Blue, to spread within networks. On the other hand, there is one significant difference between the two attacks – Petya, unlike WannaCry, was not aimed at extorting money, but rather incurring serious damage to computer networks, with researchers saying that Petya was just disguised as ransomware, but its main goal was to spread throughout networks as fast as possible and cause the biggest infrastructural damages possible.
Containing the Damage
Petya ransomware was primarily designed to infect computers in order to prevent organizations from continuing their day-to-day operations, rather than gaining financial benefit, and the attack did affect business operations of many companies, inflicting severe financial and reputation damage upon them. Ransomware attacks are extremely difficult to prevent, and the best thing organizations can do to avoid serious long-term consequences in case they get hit by one, is to make sure they have the tools to respond to it and contain the damage as fast as possible.
That can be best done with the help of an incident response platform with automation and orchestration capabilities. These types of platforms can help security teams reduce their reaction time when responding to an incident, which is crucial when attacks such as Petya occur. With a set of playbook actions specific to ransomware attacks, an incident response platform will allow your team to detect and analyze the attack faster, and it will suggest a specific list of actions that can help contain the damage in the most effective way possible. When it comes to ransomware attacks, recommended containment actions include isolating compromised machines, blocking communication over ports, and disconnecting shared drives, among other things.
Once you have taken the suggested containment actions, the platform will help you accelerate the recovery and remediation processes, and perform the appropriate post-incident procedure. The post-incident reactions are particularly important when dealing with ransomware attacks, as they play a major role in ensuring compliance with breach notification rules covering these types of cybersecurity incidents, such as the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule in the US.
To conclude, even though preventing ransomware attacks is a major challenge and there is not much that organizations can do in that regard, there are a lot of things they can do to reduce the impact of such incidents and avoid long-lasting consequences, which are usually associated with these types of cybersecurity events.