Securing your business and the world from ransomware
November 30, 2020
Ransomware is no longer an emerging trend—it is a widely-used tactic that threatens business and government, and the threat actors using it are growing more devious by the day. As our Cyber Threat Intelligence team discusses in the annual 2020 Cyber Threatscape Report, instead of just locking up data until a ransom is paid, threat groups are taking and releasing information publicly. This “name and shame” tactic turns what was already an expensive recovery process into a longer-term issue involving notification requirements and damaging victim enterprises’ credibility and trust—thereby creating new incentives to pay ransoms.
The U.S. federal government has taken notice and recently released an advisory, reminding businesses that they could be subject to enforcement and financial penalties if they have any role in paying a ransom to a sanctioned attacker. The advisory should be a wake-up call. It broadly applies to victims, insurers, digital forensics, incident responders, and financial services firms; it extends to U.S. persons helping foreign companies paying ransoms; and the enforcement can happen even if you don’t know who the attacker is. Government warnings like this are often followed by enforcement actions to make the deterrent effect stick.
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The advisory reinforces what should be a broadly accepted message: Don’t pay ransom.
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First, the advisory reinforces what should be a broadly accepted message: Don’t pay ransom. Paying ransom demonstrates to attackers that victims can be exploited and attacked again. It empowers bad actors and contributes to the growth of the ransomware industry, making victims and the world less safe.
Second, be on the look-out for these attacks. Leverage threat intelligence to understand signatures and industry-specific trends, and monitor for both the prolific and innovative actors and copycats. Remember that the security measures used to prevent ransomware are the same as those needed generally and must evolve in line with the threat. Knowing what evolving threats look like is key to staying out of trouble.
Third, have verified backups. Consider how the cloud can bring you operational resilience and added security.
Fourth, have robust practiced incident response (IR) plans. If you don’t have them, build them now. If you are building one or giving it a refresh, make sure to involve operations, finance, communications and legal teams. Practice. The plan may go out the window in a crisis but your trusted communication with your stakeholders will be key to recovery.
Fifth, build relationships with law enforcement. The first time you speak to law enforcement should not be during a crisis. If you have reason to believe or suspect that a threat actor could be a sanctioned entity, that line of communication could be even more important.
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The threat landscape is continually changing—and ransomware attacks are rampant and evolving. Our CTI team predicts that threat actor tactics will continue to escalate into 2021 – with their profits increasing along with their targets’ weakened security, enabling the threat actors to continue innovating and investing in even more advanced ransomware. Businesses should take this government advisory as a reason to pause, re-assess their security partnerships and plans, and practice their incident response plans.
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