Companies across different industries around the globe, along with government institutions, cite cyber attacks as one of the biggest security threats to their existence. As a matter of fact, in a recent Forbes survey of over 700 companies from 79 countries, 88 percent of respondents said that they are “extremely concerned” or “concerned” by the risk of getting attacked by hackers.
This fact is a clear indication that organizations have to ramp up efforts for enhancing their cyber resilience, but to do that successfully and in the most effective manner, they need to have a clear understanding of where the biggest cyber threats come from nowadays so that they can shape their cyber defenses accordingly. We take a look at the most common cybersecurity threats today, ranging from internal threats, cyber criminals looking for financial gains, and nation states.
When talking about cyber security, some of the first things that usually come to mind are freelance hackers and state-sponsored attacks between hostile nations. But, many cyber security incidents actually come from within organizations, or to be more specific, from their own employees.
Pretty much all experts agree that employees are some of the weakest links in the cyber defense of every organization, in part due to low cyber security awareness, and sometimes due to criminal intent.
Employees often put their companies at risk of getting hacked without meaning to, by opening phishing emails or sharing confidential files through insecure channels, which is why organizations should make sure their staff knows the basics of cyber security and how to avoid the common cyber scams and protect data.
With so many devices connected to the Internet nowadays, including video cameras, smart phones, tablets, sensors, POS terminals, medical devices, printers, scanners, among others, organizations are at an increased risk of falling victim of a data breach. The Internet of Things is a real and ever-increasing cyber threat to businesses and institutions, deteriorating their vulnerability to cyber attacks by adding more endpoints that hackers can use to gain access to networks, and by making it easier for hackers to spread malicious software throughout networks at a faster rate.
The Internet of Things is one of the factors that make DDoS attacks more possible and more easily conducted, and these types of attacks can have a significant and long-lasting impact on organizations, both in terms of financial losses and reputation damage.
Private entities and government institutions that are part of the critical infrastructure in their countries are under a constant threat of different types of attacks by hostile nations. As the number of channels and methods that stand at the disposal of hackers aiming to gain access to computer networks grows, organizations in the public and private sector are facing a growing risk of cyber attacks sponsored by nation-states that might have an interest in damaging the critical infrastructure of other countries, hurting their economies, obtaining top-secret information, or getting the upper hand in diplomatic disputes.
Most commonly, nation-state-sponsored cyber attacks use malware, such as ransomware and spyware, to access computer networks of organizations, as a means of gaining control over certain aspects of the critical infrastructure of another country.
No matter what types of attacks are common today, the number and level of sophistication of cyber threats to organizations are certainly going to grow in the future, which is why they have to constantly update and adjust their cyber defenses accordingly.
We have recently experienced a devastating wave of ransomware attacks such as Wannacry or ‘WannCrypt’ which spread to more than 200 countries across the globe. While Russia was hit hard, Spain and the United Kingdom saw significant damage to their National Health Services. Hospitals were forced to unplug their computers to stop the malware from spreading even further. This is just one of the security threats posed by special malware that encrypts computer files, network file shares, and even databases thereby preventing user access (Green 18-19). It happens in spite of heavy investments in a wide array of security automation and orchestration solutions and staff required to triage, investigate and resolve threats.
The primary problem is that organizations seem to be losing the battle against cyber attackers (Radichel, 2). The security administrators are overburdened and compelled to manually perform time-consuming and repetitive tasks to identify, track, and resolve security concerns across various security platforms. Notwithstanding the time and effort, it is difficult to analyze and adequately prioritize the security events and alerts necessary to protect their networks. Still, the inadequate visibility into the present activities of the security teams, metrics and performance leave security managers struggling to justify additional resources. It has long been accepted that the organizational efficiency depends heavily on the ability of the security system to reduce false positives so that analysts can focus on the critical events along with indicators of compromise.
Security event automation and orchestration ensures that an organization detects a compromise in real time. A rapid incident response ensures a quick containment of the threat. Through the automation of common investigation enrichment and response actions, as well as the use of a centralized workflow for performing incident response, it is possible to minimize response times and thus make the organization more secure. Security events automation and orchestration expedites workflows across the threat life-cycle in various phases. However, for the security team to deploy security automation and orchestration of event-driven security, there must be access to data concerning events occurring in the environment that warrant a response. To effectively employ event-driven security, automation should be embedded into processes that could introduce new threats to the environment (Goutam, Kamal and Ingle, 431). The approach requires that there be a way to audit the environment securely and trigger event based on data patterns that indicate security threat or intrusion. Of particular importance, continuous fine tuning of processes is required to make certain the events automation and orchestration being deployed is not merely automating the process, but providing long-term value in the form of machine learning and automated application of incident response workflows that have previously resolved incidents successfully.
At a time of increased cybersecurity threats, a structured approach can expedite the entire response management process from event notification to remediation and closure through automated orchestration and workflow. An automatic gathering of key information, the building of decision cases and the execution of critical actions to prevent and/or remediate cyber threats based on logical incident response processes are enabled. With security orchestration and event automation, various benefits are realized such as cost effectiveness, mitigation of security incidents and improved speed and effectiveness of the response. Hence, security event automation and orchestration is the real deal in containing security threats before real damage takes place.
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.
The WannaCry ransomware attack sent shockwaves through businesses and governments all around the globe by bringing day-to-day activities in hospitals, banks, telecommunication operators, and local and state agencies to a grinding halt. Undoubtedly, this attack put a big spotlight on ransomware, highlighting it as a powerful, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening attack methodology exploited by cyber criminals as a means for quickly making significant financial gain. Recently, however, another method has emerged as an increasingly common tool for cyber extortion, one that is expected to gain much more traction in the near future.
The emerging threat in question is doxing and involves attackers obtaining confidential, proprietary, sensitive, or private information via social media or hacking, and threatening to publicly share that information if ransom is not paid. There have been a few notable doxing events in recent years involving hacker attempts to extort large corporations, with Walt Disney Pictures emerging as the latest victim. In another high profile case involving cyber extortion, hackers are today threatening to release a stolen upcoming blockbuster film, in advance of its premiere, unless they receive a pirate-like ransom of bitcoins in return. With doxing becoming a go-to modus operandi for an increasing number of cyber criminals, organizations seeking to safeguard their proprietary information need to become more aware of the threat doxing represents and implement solutions to protect against these extortion attacks.
Improve the Ability to Identify Doxing Attacks Quickly
Beyond implementing layered preventative and detective security controls, efforts for defending against doxing attacks should include devising a proper cyber incident response plan, preferably one established within the framework of a cyber-security automation and orchestration platform. Through the adoption of such a platform, organizations would address the first and most important part of the process for tackling doxing threats – being prepared to quickly and effectively respond to the attack.
A cyber incident response platform provides organizations with automation and orchestration capabilities through integration with existing security infrastructure and structured response playbooks. This level of preparedness vastly improves their ability to detect, track, and recover from doxing attacks. By providing a consistent and repeatable response strategy, a better prepared organization can reduce or even completely avoid the potentially substantial and damaging impact of a successful extortion attempt.
This platform allows cyber-security teams to detect, predict, and track breaches in their organizations’ computer systems, and to respond quickly and inline by leveraging integrations with existing security infrastructure. The inline response reduces overall reaction times and allows for quick containment and eradication of the threat.
The platform dramatically accelerates the incident triage and response process to improve efficiency, and can even integrate with an organization’s forensic systems, allowing for fast and efficient gathering of digital evidence to help identify attackers and support subsequent law enforcement efforts.
By leveraging the full capabilities of a cyber-security automation and orchestration platform, organizations would be able to more quickly determine the scope and impact of extortion attacks, respond accordingly, and provide authorities with the information necessary to accelerate their investigation. Collectively, leveraging these capabilities would ensure an increased chance for resolving and recovering from the incident without succumbing to ransom demands.
The latest ransomware attack that broke out last Friday, affecting more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries by Sunday, once again highlighted the need for improved preparedness to respond to large-scale cyber incidents by implementing advanced security automation and orchestration solutions capable of containing the damage from such events. In this case, the attackers exploited a vulnerability in Windows Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, which had been discovered and kept quiet for exclusive use by the National Security Agency (NSA).
WannaCry, as the virus is called, is delivered via an email attachment and when executed, paralyzes computers running vulnerable Windows operating systems by encrypting their files. Once it encrypts a computer’s hard disk, WannaCry then spreads to vulnerable computers connected to the same network, and also beyond, via the Internet. This is in many ways a typical ransomware attack, infecting computers with a virus that has the ability to spread quickly to other vulnerable systems; however, the infection in this instance, and the speed at which it spread, was more intense than any other such attack in recent memory. The consensus among cyber security experts around the world is that the damage from this attack could have been reduced to a minimum, and more serious consequences could have been avoided, if organizations had been better prepared and had more effective cyber incident response plans and solutions in place.
Early Detection and Damage Containment via Automation and Orchestration
When affected by an attack such as WannaCry, after an organization’s computer system has been breached, the best thing that the organization can do is try to keep the incident under control by preventing the infection from spreading. There are various security solutions designed to achieve this end, but an automation and orchestration platform is arguably the best suited for the task. When an infected computer is detected, this platform can quickly isolate it in the early stages of an attack, blocking traffic to and from it to contain its spread, and thus reduce the business impact to a minimum.
Recovery and Remediation
Once containment is achieved, the platform provides organizations with the ability to quickly remediate the incident by guiding cybersecurity professionals through the entire process, using pre-defined playbook actions for a faster and more effective execution. The playbook actions can suggest the best remediation and recovery methods, and how to enforce them in the most effective manner. For instance, how to restore files and update the appropriate firewall rules.
All of the above is only a fraction of the capabilities of a typical automation and orchestration platform, a security tool that has become critical for any organization seeking to avoid the immense cost and long-lasting consequences of cyber-attacks such as WannaCry.
Cyber-attacks such as this one are only expected to become more common and more sophisticated in the future, and for this reason WannaCry should serve as an example of why now is the time for organizations serious about cyber security to focus on improving preparedness and containment capabilities through investment in advanced security automation and orchestration.
Small businesses may not be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when talking about prime targets for cyber attackers. This is because government agencies, corporations, along with organizations and companies that are part of a country’s critical infrastructure are much more coveted targets, due to the high reward potential associated with them – both in terms of financial gains and retrieving confidential information. However, data breaches and other types of cyber incidents have recently become a common occurrence for many small businesses. Hackers are increasingly trying to gain access to the emails and acquire personal and other confidential information of their employees that are in charge of handling the companies’ finances.
One of the reasons why small businesses are seeing a rise in cyber attacks and data breaches is that cyber criminals have become increasingly aware of the fact that hacking into a small business’ computer network is fairly easy, in part due to the low cyber-security awareness of their employees. Additionally, the cyber defense programs and solutions that small businesses utilize are weak or even non-existent, thus making them easy prey despite not having a particularly high financial reward potential for cyber criminals. Lastly, small businesses have adapted to cloud services to conduct a large portion of their operations, and most cloud providers offer data encryption, making them extremely vulnerable to cyber threats.
What Criminals Are After
In most cases, the typical cyber attack on a small business’ computer network aims to retrieve a company’s financial information, employee records, customer records, as well as customer credit or debit card information, which they could later use to steal company funds, commit financial fraud, identity theft, or extortion.
The most common types of cyber security events faced by small businesses include phishing, SQL injections, malware, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and web-based attacks. The first line of defense against these attacks are a company’s employees. They need to go through cyber-security training to be able to recognize and detect a cyber threat – with statistics showing that a large part of data breaches are related to employee inattention.
Security Automation Is the Next Line of Defense
While cyber-security training for employees is something that every company needs to provide in this age of constant threat of cyber attacks, that alone is not enough to protect businesses against all potential cyber security incidents. Raising employee cyber-security awareness should be followed up by implementing appropriate solutions aimed at detecting, tracking, and eradicating cyber security incidents. In that regard, small businesses could use a security automation and orchestration platform, which can greatly reduce their reaction time following a cyber incident, and prepare them for more timely detection and prevention of future attacks.
Such a platform can help you protect customer and employee information, as well as valuable financial information, since it is capable of assessing the scope of the incident, identifying the affected device or devices, and containing the damage, by providing complete reports on the damages occurred, in addition to providing specialized rules and strategies that allow cyber-security professionals to react much more quickly and effectively to eradicate the incident. These types of platforms are the most straightforward and effective solution for small businesses’ concerns regarding cyber threats, which they are only going to see more of in the near future.
In March, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a report on the cyber performance of federal agencies, revealing that a total of 30,899 cyber incidents were reported by them in fiscal 2016. The OMB states that this is an alarming figure and that it indicates that there are significant gaps in the cyber defenses of federal agencies across the country.
According to the report, federal agencies have made good progress in improving their cyber defenses last year, but are still quite vulnerable to cyber attacks and need to ramp up their efforts for protecting their networks and data. Of the almost 31,000 incidents in 2016, a total of 16 have been designated as major incidents, which means they had the potential to threaten national security, the economy, civil liberties, or relations with foreign countries. With this in mind, federal agencies need to keep stepping up their efforts for strengthening their defense against cyber attacks.
Detecting and Preventing Malware and Phishing Attacks
Given that the report states the vast majority of cyber incidents reported by federal agencies involved phishing attacks and malware infections, they are now advised to look into improving their capabilities to respond to these types of attacks and detect and prevent them in the future. There are a couple of ways this can be done. When talking about cyber incident response, one of the most cost-effective and efficient solutions is employing an automation-and-orchestration cyber incident response platform, capable of keeping cyber security events under control, mitigating risks and improving an organization’s ability to prevent future attacks.
These platforms have wide-ranging features that give Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) the opportunity to detect, track and predict cyber security breaches immediately. There are platforms that can help reduce reaction times when responding to an incident, through the employment of automated playbooks designed to accelerate the response to specific types of attacks – such as malware or phishing attacks, which are often faced by government agencies.
Integrated Knowledge Base to Guide You Through the Response Process
Through the use of those playbooks, as well as the available integrated knowledge base, cyber security professionals can quickly identify where an attack is coming from and determine the location of the infected or breached device or part of the network, and follow that up with the containment of the damage to prevent it from spreading.
What’s more, these types of platforms can create automatically generated reports on every incident, in addition to collecting digital evidence for forensic investigations, allowing for the quick notification of law enforcement and provide them with the necessary documentation, thus complying with data breach notification and reporting regulations.
This approach can increase cyber security teams’ ability to resolve incidents in a timely manner and prevent government agencies from losing valuable and sensitive data that could be used by attackers for ransomware or to damage the country’s critical infrastructure.
Health care institutions are facing an increasing risk of cyber attacks. There are a few reasons why organizations providing health-care services are under such a high cyber security risks, with the increase utilization of IoT devices singled out by security experts as the leading one over the last couple of years. The fact that many hospitals around the world keep adopting BYOD policies only raises the risk of cyber attacks in the health care sector.
Considering that there is more than enough statistics showing that the most common cyber attacks on health-care organizations include phishing incidents and malware attacks, it is safe to say that IoT devices and BYOD policies are exposing this sector to an ever higher and constant cyber security threat, requiring increased efforts for raising cyber security awareness among employees and implementing advanced incident response measures.
Developing an Effective Incident Response Plan
Incident response plans are one of the essential elements of any organization’s efforts for mitigating cyber security risks. Having a comprehensive and constantly updated incident response plan helps organizations be prepared for any type of cyber attack in case their cyber defense is breached, and odds for that to occur are extremely high at any given moment. While establishing an effective incident response plans, health-care organizations are advised to start by acquiring a cyber incident response platform that provides an automated and orchestrated response to all sorts of cyber attacks.
Health-care institutions could use such a platform to contain the damage and prevent the loss of confidential and sensitive patient data in the aftermath of a breach. A cyber incident response platform can provide them with automated playbooks that allow cyber incident response teams to react to different types of attacks quickly and effectively.
Phishing and Malware Incident Playbooks
There are platforms providing playbooks for phishing attacks and ransomware attacks, which health-care institutions are often facing. Those playbooks will tell cyber security teams exactly what to do when their information systems and computer networks are attacked through one of the above-mentioned methods. Playbooks help CSIRTs prepare their systems for potential phishing attacks, identify them as soon as they occur, contain the damage, and recover from any incident in a timely manner. When it comes to ransomware attacks, playbooks help you reduce the time it takes you to establish a precise diagnosis, identify the kind of malware and the infection target, and assess the range of infection. Also, they help you determine the level of impact of an attack, suggesting taking specific actions that are appropriate for any given level of impact.
With that in mind, automation and orchestration platforms with automated playbooks are one of the best solution for any health-care organization that is under a threat of getting attacked by cyber criminals.
The healthcare industry is under a constant threat of cyber attacks, mostly due to the fact that organizations within this sector keep a variety of confidential and pertinent information, such as credit card information, social security numbers, insurance-related information, and some believe most importantly personal medical records.
A recent report states that healthcare entities have been under increased risk of targeted attacks lately, including phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, and network hacking attacks. The heightened risk for cyber attacks points to a growing need for enhanced protection, in addition to raising awareness of the different types of cyber attacks that many healthcare organizations are facing.
Healthcare Surpasses Financial Sector as the Most Frequently Attacked Industry
According to data provided by Advisen and Hiscox, the average cost of a cyber incident in the healthcare industry cost $150,000. A recent report published by IBM states that the healthcare industry was attacked more frequently than any other sector last year, replacing the financial services sector at the top. According to the report, over 100 million healthcare records were compromised in 2015, which is a staggering figure by all standards.
The Advisen and Hiscox report also notes that there has been a 1.6-times increase in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations in the last five years. This statistic suggests that entities such as hospitals and clinics, need to ramp up their efforts for ensuring HIPAA compliance because it is one of the key steps toward achieving improved protection against cyber attacks.
Detecting Ransomware and Phishing Attacks
Currently, the most common cyber threats faced by healthcare entities include phishing attacks and ransomware. These are the most commonly used techniques by hackers trying to retrieve confidential patient information that is critical to protect. The best practices for preventing such threats involve data encryption tools, which are recommended for all covered entities.
Another solution that can be useful to healthcare organizations is a software that can create rules and can be integrated with different tools that can be adjusted in a way that allows them to automatically detect and report problems. Platforms with such capabilities should be a crucial part of each entity’s cyber defense efforts.
How to React in Case You Are Attacked
Even though there are tools designed to detect and prevent ransomware and phishing attacks, hackers often manage to find a way to go around all sorts of defenses and breach even the most sophisticated security armors. When that happens, organizations must be prepared to react as quickly and as effectively as possible with a proven solution.
To that end, all covered entities, including healthcare organizations, need to have a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) in place. In order to help their CSIRT resolve cyber incidents, entities are advised to acquire platforms that have the ability to automatically notify CSIRTs when a cyber attack occurs, be it via e-mail or SMS, and gather a team of investigators to do the forensics on a given incident.
Incident Response platforms featuring specialized playbooks are also necessary for tackling healthcare-related incidents. They are the most indicated tool for resolving cyber incidents fast and efficiently, through their ability to accelerate the incident triage process, integrate with forensics and response systems, and predict similar events in the future. Some of those platforms (SIRPs) are also able to provide playbooks for vertical regulation, such as HIPAA and similar.