Recently, we wrote about a study showing a connection between an increase in death rates and cybersecurity policies implemented after a data breach in the healthcare industry. We talked about the importance of ensuring that cybersecurity and operational interests are aligned. However, that study raises another, equally important point: hospitals shouldn’t wait for a breach to occur before implementing appropriate cybersecurity controls. This is a lesson that every industry should learn and is one of the main principles behind cyber resiliency: instead of just trying to prevent the worst from happening, we need to create a risk culture that assumes the worse will happen, then take steps to minimize its impact on essential operations.
And when it comes to the importance of cybersecurity and resiliency for our healthcare industry, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Within a period of two months in 2017, the healthcare industry across the globe was brought to its knees by two unrelated ransomware attacks. Strangely, neither of these attacks intended to target healthcare organizations. Instead, each attack contained a self-replicating virus that accidentally spread beyond their intended targets. But no matter the intentions, these attacks caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and affected 40% of healthcare delivery in the U.K.
Fast forward today and the potential consequences of such an attack—intentional or otherwise—on our healthcare system are clearer than ever. In his opening remarks at the CISA National Cybersecurity Summit, Josh Corman, visiting researcher at CISA and founder of I am the Calvary, put the stakes of healthcare cybersecurity into perspective. “In areas affecting the brain, the hearth, the lungs, where time matters, where minutes or hours could be the difference between life and death, mortality rates are affected if you can’t give time-sensitive health care.”
Corman joined CISA this spring to help assure the security of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S.’s initiative to rapidly develop and distribute vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics for COVID-19. “Now we need healthcare delivery more than we ever have,” Corman said, “Now an attack during a peak surge in traffic would be absolutely devastating.” And such attacks aren’t just hypothetical. According to one report, U.S. officials have already notified a number of healthcare companies about targeted threats. In particular, the biotech company Moderna, now in stage 3 of COVID-19 vaccine trails, has been targeted by hackers.
These examples drive home the potentially life and death implications of cyber resiliency. We can and should try and prevent attacks from happening, but the reality is that’s not enough. In his talk, Corman lamented a culture within healthcare cybersecurity to wait for “proof of harm” before taking corrective actions. Instead of waiting for harm to occur, Corman argued, a clear, “unmitigated pathway to harm” should be enough to trigger corrective action. This is a lesson that extends far beyond the healthcare industry. All organizations need to create a risk culture that acknowledges and prepares for the harsh reality that, in some shape or form, cyber incidents are going to happen. To prepare for this, Corman outlined a number of key questions every organizations should consider:
How do you avoid failure?
How do you capture, study, and learn from failure?
How do you have a prompt and agile response to failure?
How do you contain and isolate failure?
Today, attempts to hack, steal, and disrupt systems are not hypotheticals. They are the new normal. Alongside efforts to prevent cyber attacks, organizations needs to be prepared to minimize the impact these attacks will have on essential business and operations.
According to a new report by Coalition, one of the nation’s cyber insurance providers, ransomware attacks make up 41% of all cyber insurance claims in the first half of 2020. Unfortunately, that’s the good news. That number is actually down by 18% since 2019. The bad news? While the frequency of ransomware attacks are down, the severity of attacks has risen dramatically.
In particular, cyber criminals are starting to demand more and more money from their victims. According to Coalition, ransomware claims are in general 2.5x higher than other cyber insurance claims across all industries. And demands continue to increase in dramatic fashion. Coalition’s report states that the average ransom demand increased 100% since 2019 and has already risen an additional 47% between Q1 and Q2 of this year.
What’s more, not only have ransomware demands increased, but the attacks themselves are becoming more and more sophisticated. While traditional ransomware attackers encrypt data within the target’s network, now they are actually stealing the data and threatening to leak the information if a payment isn’t made, as happened to the cloud services firm Blackbaud this summer. This tactic may in part account for the of the increases in demands, as organization’s may be more motivated to pay in order to keep the incident private. However, there is no guarantee that paying will stop the attackers from leaking the data anyway.
While the Coalition report shows that more and more businesses are turning to cyber insurance to help with ransomware attacks, relying on insurance should not be your solution. Sure, insurance may help pay the cost of the ransom, but if attacks know insurance companies will pay up, they may start to feel confident asking for larger and larger amounts of money. The FBI also discourages businesses from paying demands.
Instead, the best response is prevention. Even simple solutions like multi-factor authentication and good password management can help dramatically. In addition, the report found that 60% of claims are for attacks that originated as a phishing or other social engineering scams. Investing in effective cyber awareness training can help prevent attacks from occurring in the first place. Like with most things related to cybersecurity, it’s always better to take action now rather than wait for the worst to happen.
Like everyone today, our elections officials have to grapple with technological changes. And with those changes comes emerging security concerns. Take the 2020 democratic Iowa caucus, for example. The Iowa Democratic Party decided to use a new app to record results of the caucus that ended up causing a myriad of problems, delaying the results and sparking a controversy about the party’s use of the app. As more states begin to digitalize the election process, election security has become a topic of national concern. Of course, the stakes of an incident is probably not as high for a business as, say, protecting the democratic process. However, when looking at a case with such high stakes, incidents in our elections can clarify what we expect not only from our government but also what consumers expect from companies, and what organizations need to be taking seriously. Here are just three areas from which business can learn from the issues surrounding election security.
The first thing that business and election security officials have in common is the need to maintain public trust. One of the biggest concerns with digitalizing our elections is, if something goes wrong with the technology, it may harm the public’s trust in the voting process. This was certainly the case in Iowa this year. Despite the party’s assurance that even with the app down the results of the caucus could be accurately counted, disinformation and confusion quickly spread online.
That said, who even needs election interference to mess with a caucus if the app simply doesn’t work to begin with?
It’s not difficult to see how businesses can apply these election security concerns to their organizations. A public security issue with a produce or service could severely impact a business’s reputation and can be extremely difficult to repair. Consumers may feel like their privacy could be at risk and that your business doesn’t have their best interest in mind. To combat this, besides actively securing consumer data, businesses should be as transparent as possible with consumers about the organization’s cybersecurity efforts.
Soon after the Iowa caucus, it become abundantly clear that the app developers and the Iowa Democratic Party made a number of mistakes that lead to the problems on caucus night. For example, before the night of the caucus, the app was only tested internally, with no external review. The IDP even declined an offer from Homeland Security to review the app before roll out. Developers also didn’t have time to get the app approved through app stores, so required users to download the app through testing software, effectively by-passing the need to meet the security requirements from app stores.
The list of ways that the rollout was mismanaged goes on and on. However, this only highlights the need for business management to be involved in ensuring proper cybersecurity best practices are followed through the entire product lifecycle, from initial development, to implementation, and on going maintenance.
Businesses should also look at how election security officials respond—or, perhaps more accurately, don’t respond— to issues that arise. Without a proper response plan in place, problems could worsen and cause enough confusion to allow disinformation about the issue to spread. And that’s exactly what happened in Iowa. As the problem with the Iowa caucus came to light, instead of deploying a carefully planned incident response, the whole night turned into chaos and confusion, as caucus leaders sat on hold for hours to deliver results or even text pictures of their tallies to party headquarters.
This example shows just how necessary it is for businesses to have a proper incident response plan in place. This should involve sitting down with business leaders, IT staff, and other relevant employees to write out a detailed response for every incident that could arise. With a plan in place, businesses should also conduct regular incident response simulations, by asking the response team to test their plan for each possible incident. Responding to an incident quickly and efficiently will not only help limit the impact of the issue, but could help show regulatory bodies your proactive stance to cyber incidents, and even save your business money.
With the general election looming, election security officials are working hard to ensure no problems arise on election day. Hopefully, come November there won’t be any lessons for businesses to learn from.
Today business leaders are rightfully concerned about mitigating their organization’s cyber risks. To address this concern, many businesses have begun to hire chief security information officers to allow for security leadership from the highest levels within an organizations. But unfortunately, old habits die hard. Instead of integrating CSIO into both cybersecurity and business conversations, many of these security leaders have become siloed from broader business strategy and goals. Of course, this also leaves the executive team under informed about the nature and scope of their organization’s cyber risk profile.
One of the main tenants of a new security principle, cyber resiliency, stresses the need to integrate approaches to security and business in order for either side to succeed. In fact, organizations should even stop thinking of business and security as two opposing side of an equation and instead learn to see and promote the integration of each with the other. However, this will require both security experts and businesses leaders to put in some work.
Business-Aligned Security Leaders
A recent report by Forrester found that just four out of ten security leaders can answer the question, “How secure/at risk are we?” and less than half frequently consult business leaders before developing security strategies. This, to put it lightly, is a big problem. If security leaders are just focused on implementing and maintaining technical controls, they end up missing the bigger picture of the risk culture that surrounds those controls. It is vitally important for security teams to understand an organization’s business-critical assets and work with leadership to develop a risk mitigation plan that prioritizes those assets.
Cybersecurity teams also need to be able to communicate their needs to business leadership. According to the Forrester report, more than half of security leaders lack adequate skills in benchmarking their security programs. In order to integrate cybersecurity and business needs, security teams need to develop benchmarking and risk reports that they can properly communicate to business executives. Taking a more business-oriented approach to security can also help security leaders advocate for the funds they need to reduce risk.
Cyber-Aligned Business Leaders
Of course, in order for security leaders to effectively integrate business strategy into overall cybersecurity goals, the business executives and board members need to regularly meet and communicate with their security team. To ensure this happens, it’s important for board members to assume ultimate responsibility for oversight of the organization’s security and to integrate cybersecurity discussions into the overall business strategy, risk management, and budgeting. It may even be a good idea to require cybersecurity training for all board members to ensure everyone has a proper understanding of the current threat landscape and regulations.
With a focus on outcomes, training, and a security team able to communicate benchmarks and risk reports, board members will be in a position to properly define the organization’s cyber risk tolerance that is consistent with business strategy andcurrent cybersecurity controls. Board members and executives teams must ensure the organization’s risk appetite is communicated throughout all levels of the organization and that they create a culture that reflects the cybersecurity and business interests of the organization. Many of these recommendations are included in a white paper from the World Economic Forum that details 10 essential principles and tools for boards to better integrate cyber resiliency with overall business strategy.
Today, most organizations understand the importance of maintaining an effective cybersecurity program. However, not many businesses are recognizing the interdependence of cybersecurity and business interests. And it’s a two way street. Both cybersecurity leaders and business executive and board members need to be mindful about taking a more holistic approach to cybersecurity and business for either to be effective.
In July, we wrote about a ransomware attack suffered by the cloud computing provider Blackbaud that led to the potential exposure of personal information entrusted to Blackbaud by hundreds of non-profits, health care organizations, and educational institutions. At the time the ransomware attack was announced, security experts questioned Blackbaud’s response to the breach. Now, the Blackbaud ransomware attack isn’t just raising eyebrows, with the company facing a class action lawsuit for their handling of the attack.
Blackbaud was initially attacked on February 7th of this year. However, according to the company, they did not discover the issue until mid-May. While the time it took the company to detect the intrusion was long, it is increasingly common for threats to go undetected for long periods of time. What really gave security experts pause is how Blackbaud responded to the incident after detecting it.
The company was able to block the hacker’s access to their networks, but attempts to regain control continued until June 3rd. The problem, however, was that the hackers had already stolen data sets from Blackbaud and demanded a bitcoin payment before destroying the information. Blackbaud remained in communication with the the attackers until at least June 18th, when the company payed the ransom. Of course, many experts questioned Blackbaud’s decision to pay given that there is no way to guarantee the attackers kept their word. And, to make matters worse, the company did not public announce the incident to the hundreds of non-profits that use their service until July 16th — nearly two months after initially discovering the incident.
Each aspect of Blackbaud’s response to the ransomware attack is now a part of a class action lawsuit filed against the company by a U.S. resident on August 12th. The main argument of the lawsuit claims that Blackbaud did not have sufficient safeguards in place to protect the private information that the company “managed, maintained, and secured,” and that Blackbaud should cover the costs of credit and identity theft monitoring for those affected. The lawsuit also alleges that Blackbaud failed to provide “timely and adequate notice” of the incident. Finally, regarding Blackbaud’s payment of the ransomware demand, the lawsuit argues that the company “cannot reasonably rely on the word of data thieves or ‘certificate of destruction’ issued by those same thieves, that the copied subset of any Private Information was destroyed.”
Despite the agreement among privacy experts that Blackbaud’s response to the attack was anything but perfect, lawsuits pertaining to data breaches have historically had a low success rate in the U.S.. According to an attorney involved in the case, showing harm requires proving a financial loss rather than relying on the more abstract harm caused by a breach of privacy: “The fact that we don’t assign a dollar value to privacy [means] we don’t value privacy.”
Whatever the result of the lawsuit, questions still persist on whether Blackbaud’s response violates the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR requires organizations to submit notification of a breach within 72 of discovery. Because many of Blackbaud’s clients are UK-based and the company took months to notify those affected, it is possible Blackbaud could recevie hefty fines for their response to the attack. A spokesperson for the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office told the BBC that the office is making enquiries into the incident.
As for the non-profits, healthcare organizations, and educational institutes that were affected by the breach? They have had to scramble to submit notifications to their donors and stakeholders that their data may have been compromised. Non-profits in particular rely on their reputations to keep donations coming in. While these organizations were not directly responsible for the breach, this incident highlights the need to carefully review third-party vendors’ security policy and to create a written security agreement with all vendors before using those services.
You can’t protect your network from an attack or a breach if you don’t know where you are vulnerable. Some vulnerabilities are easy to see, like application patching, but others can be very difficult to spot if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. Luckily, a piece of automation software called vulnerability scanning can help organizations detect and manage vulnerabilities across an entire network.
The scan works by first creating an inventory of servers, applications, devices, firewalls, operating systems, and anything else you include within the perimeters. The scan may also attempt to login to the network using default credentials. After completing an inventory, the scan will then cross check every item detected against a database and give a full list of known vulnerabilities.
By conducting regular vulnerability scans and including the information from those scans in a cybersecurity risk assessment, you’ll not only keep your networks more secure, but can also help reduce the cost of a breach should one ever happen. Here is a short overview of how to properly conduct a vulnerability scan and use it as a key tool for more effective risk assessments.
What to Include in Your Vulnerability Scan
When conducting a vulnerability scan, it’s important to set a scope that is appropriate for your business needs and network configuration. While every organizations should scan their entire network — along with external systems, vendor portals, and cloud services — it might be preferable to run more focused scans frequently and conduct a more expansive scan every quarter or twice a year.
Some scans can also run automatically when changes to the network are made or a new device is added. Because these scans can be intrusive, it’s possible they may cause temporary systems errors. You should also consider conducting scans after business hours or at a time when essential business operations will not be affected.
Putting Vulnerabilities into Context
The unfortunate reality is that organizations will always have some vulnerabilities. Vulnerability scans are the first part in a larger process that allows you to pinpoint your weak points and prioritize these vulnerabilities based on risk. It’s important to remember that vulnerabilities are separate from threats. A cybersecurity threat is a method of attack that exploits vulnerabilities. And fixing every single vulnerability is sort of like trying to plug a hundred of holes in a bucket all at once.
A risk assessment is therefore essential for putting your vulnerability scans into context and understanding where you need to focus your energy. When looking at a list of known vulnerabilities within your network, consider how much damage it would cause if the vulnerability is exploiting, assess the threat landscape to understand how likely an attack is, and explore what security controls are needed to fix the vulnerability. If a known vulnerability is easy to fix but would be costly if exploited, you will want to address that immediately. On the other hand, if a vulnerability would require a lot of time and money to fix, and the risk of an attack is very low, you may not need to focus on that right away. No matter what, the key is to have enough information on hand to make an informed decision on how best to protect or network and systems.
When it comes to cybersecurity training, it’s easy to focus your energy on employees who may not have an advanced understanding of your network and technological systems. And, of course, it is vitally important these employees understand the basics of cybersecurity and adopt behaviors that help protect your systems from compromise. However, implicit in this way of thinking is that your IT staff, who are incredibly knowledgable about your systems, don’t need to be trained in cybersecurity. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
While your IT team is likely more aware of existing cyber threats, they also likely have administrative access across your entire network, making their account far more costly if compromised. What’s more, IBM’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report found that 19% of all malicious attacks are initially caused by cloud misconfigurations, which is generally the responsibility of IT staff.
It is therefore vitally important to ensure your IT team is receiving role-specific cybersecurity training alongside the rest of your staff. This training should still cover a lot of the basics that every employee needs to know, but it should also include more specific and in-depth training in topics such as cloud configurations, access management and monitoring, network segmentation, and vulnerability scans. Your entire IT staff doesn’t need to be security experts, but everyone should have a good understanding of the current threat landscape and know how to spot any suspicious activity within your systems.
And, like all cybersecurity training, it’s important to use a program that focuses on helping your team build better, more secure habits, rather than simply throwing information at them. An important aspect of this is to simply make it easier for your IT team to do the job they need to do and do it securely. Because IT departments have highly specialized knowledge, it can be easy for business leadership to simply leave them to do what they think makes sense. However, executives should be actively involved in giving immediate feedback and listening to what IT staff need to make sure they can do their jobs efficiently and safely.
Business email compromise threats are a form of social engineering scams that have been around for a long time. “Nigerian prince scams,” for example, are what people often think of when they think of these types of attacks. However, as technology and modes of communication have gotten more sophisticated, so too have the scammers. Agari’s new report details the firm’s research on a new gang of BEC scammers based in Russia that call themselves “Cosmic Lynx.”
Unlike most BEC scams that tend to target smaller, more vulnerable organizations, the group behind Cosmic Lynx tends to go after gigantic corporations — most of which are Fortune 500 or Global 2000 companies. While larger organizations are more likely to have more sophisticated cybersecurity protocols in place, that doesn’t mean they can’t be tricked, and the payout for successful scams is significantly larger. The average amount requested through BEC is typically $55,000. Cosmic Lynx, on the other hand, requests $1.27 million on average.
How Does it Work?
While the basic’s of Cosmic Lynx’s BEC attacks are pretty standard, the group uses more advanced technology and social engineering tactics to make their scams more successful.
Typically, Cosmic Lynx uses a “dual impersonation scheme” that mimics indidvuals both within and outside of the target of the scams. Moreover, by manipulating standard email authentication settings and registering domains that imitate common secure email domains (such as secure-mail-gateway[.]cc), the group is able to convincingly spoof their email address and display name to look almost identical to a employees within the targeted business. Acting as the CEO, the group will typically send an email to a Vice President or Managing Director notifying them of a new acquisition and referring the employee to an external legal team to finalize the deal and transfer funds.
Cosmic Lynx will then impersonate the identity of a real lawyer and send the employee an email explaining they are helping to facilitate the payment. Of course, organization receiving the funds is actually a mule account — typically Hong Kong-based — controlled by Cosmic Lynx.
For now, Cosmic Lynx seems to be the only group carrying this new BEC threat, however it is very likely other groups, seeing the amount Cosmic Lynx is raking in, will begin to follow suit. Simply put, the level of sophistication involved in these scams will require businesses to have more sophisticated protections in place to prevent this new threat. While more advanced email filters may help to detect spoofed email addresses, the most effective method to prevent BEC scams is to have strong policies in place to verify payment requests before releasing funds.
When we think about cybersecurity, we usually think about it in terms of an inside and an outside. You have your network, application, and data all instead one system, and cybersecurity is about keeping the bad guys on the outside. For awhile, this “castle and moat” model of cybersecurity made a lot of sense. However, as technology has advanced and business needs have changed, experts are now shifting towards a new way of thinking about cybersecurity: zero trust.
The problem with the traditional approach to cybersecurity is that the lines between inside and outside are now blurred. Instead of keeping all our applications and data in a central location, the introduction of cloud-based services has spread out our network into multiple locations with multiple points of access. What’s more, with the recent rise in remote work, our networks are less centralized than ever before.
In many ways, hackers have understood the implications of these changes far faster than we have. Today, brute force attacks have taken a backseat to credential compromise, phishing, and other attacks that allow bad actors to gain access by using your network settings rather than breaking them. And if you use the traditional cybersecurity model, once a hacker gains access to your network, they can spend months freely moving around your network before launching an attack.
That’s why cybersecurity experts are pushing what is called “zero trust” cybersecurity. In essence, this strategy involves verifying the identity and access needs of every single user — no matter if they are coming from inside or outside your network. Instead of assuming that it’s okay to trust anyone already in your network, zero trust means everyone should be mistrusted until proven to be legitimate.
One aspect of zero trust involves using technology to secure your network from the inside out. Multi-factor authentication, network segmentation, and identity and access management systems are all key tools for a zero trust security posture. It’s important to keep a close watch on the access employees have to move around your network. Best zero trust practice means only giving access to an employee for specific business needs then revoking that access after a fixed period of time. Using these practices can help protect your network if an employee’s credentials are compromised.
While using cybersecurity technology will help you build towards a zero trust framework, without proper governance structures and an overall zero trust culture your organization will remain vulnerable. It’s essential that business leadership understands the concept of zero trust and are active in crafting a culture that values this model of security. If an employee receives an invoice from a vendor, for example, it should be standard procedure to verify the identity of the vendor and the payment request before releasing funds.
At the end of the day, a zero trust approach to cybersecurity requires an active and ongoing effort to prevent cyber threats. Security technology, policies, and culture should be built into your business strategy by design rather than retroactively applied.
According to this year’s Cost of a Data Breach Report, the majority of malicious cyber attacks are financially motivated. So, when prioritizing risk, it makes sense to focus on cyber threats that have direct financial implications, such as ransomware and business email compromise (BEC) schemes.
Given the recent rise in ransomware attacks and the targeting of public agencies, it’s pretty likely you’ve seen some news about ransomware within the past year. And while it is certainly important to protect against the possibility of ransomware, that doesn’t mean less-publicized cyber attacks like BEC should be taken any less seriously.
In general, business email compromise involves scammers sending employees an email that looks as if it is coming from a familiar source requesting some sort of payment. Usually, scammers will impersonate frequently used vendors or even CEOs. And these scams can be costly. Last year Nikkei, a Japanese media company, suffered a loss of$29 million when a scammer impersonated a company executive.
In fact, BEC scams have repeated topped the FBI’s annual Internet Crime Report as the costliest form of cyber crime. And, when you compare the costs of BEC and ransomware attacks, it becomes pretty clear which one poses the greater risk.
Cost Comparison (in millions)
Source: FBI Internet Crime Report (2015-2019)
While FBI’s report shows a sharp increase in ransomware losses in recent years, BEC scams continue to outpace ransomware by a staggering margin. If you were responsible for prioritizing risk activities in your organization, where would you focus? When you follow the money, the answer is pretty obvious. The good news, however, is that a lot of the procedures, guidelines, and training that can be done to prevent BEC can also help ransomware, such as anti-malware software and email authentication. It can be easy to base your cybersecurity processes off of what you see in the headlines, but that won’t always give you an accurate view of your risk profile. It’s essential to conduct regular risk assessments to gain a clear understanding of the biggest threats your organization faces.