Hacked But Not Yet Attacked: What You Should Do

Hacked But Not Yet Attacked: What You Should Do

A hacker got into your system, but you spot the problem before the hacker has a chance to carry out an attack. Best case scenario, right? Well, it all depends on what you do next. The government of Florence, Alabama found themselves in this exact situation, but their response is now costing them nearly $300,000. Here’s what happened:

In late May, cybersecurity report Brian Krebs received a tip that hackers known for ransomware attacked gained access to Florence’s IT system. Krebs made numerous attempts to contact city officials before finally receiving a voicemail thanking him for the tip and telling him that the city took care of the issue. However, on June 5th the city announced that a ransomware attack shut down the city’s email system. The city plans on paying the hackers the nearly $300,000 ransom to restore their system.

So, what went wrong? According to city officials, when the attack hit, the IT department was in the middle of securing approval for funds to investigate and stop the attack. Local governments are often slow to act, to be sure, but officials knew about the hacker 10 days before the attack and they still weren’t prepared. The bottom line is, given the rise in ransomware attacks on public institutions, Florence officials needed to have a detailed plan in place before an attack took place. Instead, they scrambled. And, to add insult to injury, hackers accessed to the city’s systems by stealing the Florence IT manager’s credentials through a phishing attack.

How to Beat the Hackers

So, what should you do if you know you’ve been hacked but haven’t yet been attacked? Here are just a few steps you can take:

1. Have a Plan in Place

One of the main reasons Florence was slow to act is because they waited until after the hack to figure out a game plan. Instead, the city needed to have a detailed incident response plan in place. This involves first identifying what types of attacks you are most vulnerable to. Then, you need to create a detailed step-by-step response for each type of attack, and create a team of employees responsible for carrying out each of the steps. You also need to ensure you have contingency funds readily availble to carry out the plan quickly. Finally, it is important to simulate each type of attack so that the team can practice carrying out their response. Overall, the goal of an incident response plan is to deal with potential attacks as quickly and efficiently as possible.

2. Shut Down and Isolate Infected Systems

In order to keep the hackers from accessing other systems, it is important to shut down and isolate infected systems and any devices connected to it. Remove the system from your network. Disconnect the system’s wireless and bluetooth capabilities. Any devices previously connected to the infected systems should be shut down and removed from the network. Along with keeping the hack from spreading, this also limits the hacker’s ability to encrypt or damage the infected systems.

3. Secure Your Backups

Having updated and secure backups are especially important for ransomware attacks. If a hacker encrypts your data, having a recent backup of that data could save you from having to pay the ransom. There are two important caveats, however. First, it’s important that you regular test your backups to ensure your data isn’t corrupted in the backup or restoration process. Second, keeping the copies of your backups secure and offline is essential. Otherwise, it is possible for hackers to gain access to your backups and encrypt of remove them from your systems.

4. When in Doubt, Rebuild

The hard truth is, the most reliable way to shut down a hack before an attack is to completely remove the infected systems and rebuild them from scratch. Of course, the time, resources, and personnel required to do this makes it a difficult pill to swallow for many organizations. However, it is the only way to guarantee that a hack is removed from your systems.

The Bottom Line

Spotting a hack before the attack can give you the leg up on the hackers. But, as the ransomware attack on Florence, Alabama makes clear, knowing that someone accessed into your systems is not enough. You need to have a game plan ready to go and carry it out as fast as possible. Using your time and resources to prepare for an attack now will give you piece of mind, and potentially reduce the cost of a hack later. 

Targeted Ransomware Attacks on the Rise

At the end of February, security experts at RSA 2020, a leading cybersecurity conference, warned that an increase in targeted ransomware is likely. These concerns echo a statement released by the FBI in October that ransomware attacks are becoming “more targeted, sophisticated, and costly.”

Ransomware is a form of cyber-attack that hackers use to encrypt information on victims’ systems then demand a ransom before giving the victim back access to their files. In the past, these attacks were aimed primarily at individual consumers. However, in the past 2 years ransomware attacks have dramatically shifted focus toward businesses and institutions, including government agencies. According to a report by Malwarebytes, there was a 263% increase in ransomware targeting organizations in the second quarter of 2019.

Easy Money

So what exactly has led to the increase in ransomware attacks against businesses? Well, while there are a number of factors contributing to this trend, the main answer is money. According to the Malwarebytes report, attackers found that focusing on businesses provides a larger and more consistent return on investment. Not only do hackers expect businesses to have more money than indyuvial consumers, the loss of data can prove more harmful and costly for organizations than a single person. This gives businesses a larger incentive to pay up. What’s more, ProPublica has written a series of articles detailing how insurance companies and other firms offering ransomware solutions often opt to simply pay the ransom rather than work to unlock encrypted files by other means. Hackers are therefore becoming more and more confident their victims will cough up the money.

However, ransomware attackers are also learning they don’t even need the ransom to make money off their attacks. Ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) is a growing business model on the dark web, where groups will build and sell ransomware kits to those without the technical know-how to carry out an attack on their own. RaaS has therefore made ransomware a more accessible method of attack, contributing to the rise in attacks we have seen in the past few years.

Protect and Prepare

Given the dramatic rise in ransomware attacks against organizations, every business needs to invest time and energy in protecting against and preparing for the possibility of a ransomware attack.

Protecting yourself from a ransomware attack largely involves getting back to the basics of cybersecurity. Upgrading and patching outdated operating systems and software regularly, using anti-virus and malware protection, and restricting access privileges only to those who need them will all help to decrease the risk of an attack. Regular penetration test and vulnerability scans will show the areas in your systems that need the most protection. Routinely backing up your systems and information and testing those backups is also essential. If a ransomware attacks locks up your files, having a recent backup of your information could be one way to ensure access without paying a ransom.

However, even if you take every possible preventative measure, you can’t just assume you won’t be targeted. Given the dramatic increase in ransomware attacks, it is essential to also plan your response if something ever happens. Incident response teams should therefore understand the response plan and simulate ransomware attacks to ensure preparedness and find ways to strengthen your response should the worst happen.

Cyber Resiliency is the New Cyber Security

Here is the bottom line: when it comes to cyber threats, wshould of course take steps to protect ourselves and our businesses from attacks. However, we also need to prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that, at some point, someone will get into our systemsThat’s why many cyber experts are beginning to use the new term “cyber resiliency.”  

The concept of cyber resiliency stems from an understanding that the cyber threat landscape is so diverse that it’s important to make sure you can withstand and not simply prevent attacks. The overall goal of a cyber resilient system is therefore to maintain essential operating functions even when it is under attack. 

The Basics of Cyber Resiliency 

In the fall, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a cyber resiliency engineering framework that provides detailed steps organization can take to minimize the impact of attacks. However, the overall framework can be broken down into four basic goals: 

1. Anticipate 

According to the NIST framework, the first goal of cyber resiliency includes preventative measures often included in cyber security policies. However, anticipating a cyber threat goes beyond prevention by also focusing on preparing for an attack. This includes having an incident response plan in place, as well as changing your system often in order to preempt attacks.

2. Withstand  

Withstanding a cyber attack should involve steps taken to limit the overall damage an attack has, even if you haven’t detected the attack yetIn general, this involves deflecting the attack to areas that can take the most damage without disrupting day to day activitiesYou should also be prepared to entirely remove and replace systems that are badly damaged. 

3. Recover 

Before an attack even happens, you should know exactly how you plan to recover if one ever happens. This should primarily involve being prepared to revert your systems back to the state they were in before the attack. Recovery strategies will therefore depend heavily on having good backups of your system that you test regularly

4. Adapt 

At bottom, adaption means understanding that if the threat landscape continues to change, so do your security policies and systems. You should constantly be looking for new vulnerabilities within your system as well as new forms of cyber threats.  If an attack does happen, you should also be willing to take a hard look at how it happened and make changes accordingly.  

Leaders are best equipped to drive cyber resiliency efforts 

It is important to understand that these four cyber resiliency goals were designed to encourage communication between leadership-level business risk management strategies and the rest of the organizationWe’ve written before about the importance of proper governance and business leadership when it comes to cyber security and the same goes for cyber resiliency.  

Because many executives don’t come from a background in cyber security, it may seem to make the most sense to leave the responsibility to the IT department or someone trained security. However, cyber resiliency is as much a function of culture as anything: how we govern, organize, and communicate about cyber threats are all necessary considerations for putting cyber resilient policies into action.  

That’s why Accenture Security’s 2019 State of Cyber Resiliency Report emphasizes the three skills business leaders have that make them essential to any cyber resiliency policy:  

Scaling

The report found that leaders who scaled technologies and security systems across all levels of the organization were far more effective at both preventing attacks and discovering attacks already in place.  

 

Training 

 

Offering comprehensive security training across all levels of the organization also proved to be an effective method for protecting and maintaining system during cyber attacksBusiness leaders are therefore key for investing in and maintaining robust training programs.  

 

Collaborating 

 

Perhaps the most important skill a business leader brings to cyber resiliency is the ability to collaborate. Putting in place a cyber resiliency policy requires cooperation and communication between all levels and aspects of the business. By bringing different groups together and keeping everyone on the same page, organizations can be confident their policies and practices are as effective as possible.  

The Take Away

At its root, cyber resiliency involves preparing all aspects of an organization so that any potential cyber threat has a minimal impact on business operations. This involves well-informed risk management strategies, effective communication and training for employees, updated intrusion detection systemsand a strong incidence response plan that is tested and revised regularly. Cyber resiliency takes a village but depends first and foremost on leadership team that takes the task seriously. 

Calling for Backup

It’s common knowledge that we should all be backing up our data. It’s important not only in case of system errors, but also in the event of stolen data and other security breaches. But what isn’t talked about as often is testing these backups.  

This is something that Arizona Beverages found out the hard way. Earlier this year, the company found themselves victim to a ransomware attack that wiped information on more than 200 servers and networked computers. But the real trouble began when IT staff realized that their backup systems where misconfigured, effectively making it impossible to recover their data without outside help. Because of the mistake, the company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on new hardware, software, and recovery services.  

While there is nothing good about suffering a ransomware attack, having backups of your data can severely limit the consequences of the attack — as long those backups actually work. This is why it’s essential to regularly test your backup systems. 

In order to ensure their systems are backed up frequently, organizations will often automate this process. And while this can be useful, it’s important to not just assume that everything is working as expected.  

And there is more to backing up your data then the actual backup process. You want to make sure that not only that you properly backedup targeted data, but that it can be successfully restored. This includes ensuring that no file corruption occurs in the process of backing up and restoring that data. There’s no worse feeling than restoring your data only to find it completely useless.  

How frequently you test your backups should be decided by each organization depending on regulatory constraints, risk-assessment, and business strategy. However, whatever is decided should be incorporated into your cybersecurity policy and carried out consistently 

Nothing keeps IT professionals up at night like the thought of irredeemably losing system data. Not only could months or years’ worth of work vanish in an instant, but it could end up costing tons in regulatory fines and recovery services. 

Simply put: test your backups, sleep easy.  

 

Reducing the Cost of a Breach

The thought of a data breach is enough to send a chill down any business owner’s spine. And rightly so. Last month The Ponemon Institute released its annual Cost of a Data Breach Report, showing that the cost for companies that experience a breach continues to rise. According to the report, data breaches cost U.S. companies an average of $8.19 million per breach — far above the global average of $3.92 million.  

And the news is even worse for small businesses. The report found that smaller organizations suffer higher costs relative to larger ones. While a data breach will cost a large organization $204 per employee, smaller organization see that cost jump up to $3,533 per employee.  

The report also shows that a single breach can have a long-term impact on a business. New in this year’s report is an analysis of so-called “longtail costs” that show how organizations feel the impact or the breach years after it occurred. It turns out that only 67% of the cost of a breach comes in the first year, with 22% in the second year, and 11% in the third.  

Reducing the Cost of a Breach

So that’s the bad news. Luckily, the report also lays out a number of steps that have proven to significantly reduce the cost of a breach.  

Incident Response Plan and Simulation 

By far, the most effective way to reduce breach costs is to respond quickly. The report found that on average it took companies 206 days to identify a breach and another 73 days to contain it. However, those that were able to find and stop a breach in under 200 days saved a whopping $1.2 million.  

The best way to ensure you’re able to response fast is to have a detailed incident response team in place and conduct periodic tests of your response plan. According to the report, the combination of an IR plan and regular incident simulations leads to greater cost savings than any single security process — saving an organization an average of $1.23 million 

Encryption 

The report also shows that properly encrypting your most sensitive data will help reduce the cost of a breach. Encrypting data essentially scrambles up your information so that it can’t be read without a key to unencrypt it. According to the report, companies that encrypt their data on premise, at the endpoint, in transit, and in the cloud reduced the cost of a breach by an average of $360,000. 

Security Automation 

More and more organizations are using security automation such as machine learninganalytics, and incident response orchestration to fast identify and contain system vulnerabilities. According to the report, the cost of a data breach is 95% higher for organizations without security automation in place. There are a number of automated security processes available, but even just conducting regular vulnerability scans will go a long way toward reducing the cost of a breach.  

Customer-Centric Governance

The report also found that companies with effective governance and leadership in place, such as a chief privacy officer or chief information security officer who focuses on preserving customer trust is a key driver in reducing breach costs and maintaining a companies key asset:  it’s reputation.

Keep Things Simple  

Another interesting aspect of the report is that it shows that, when it comes to security technology, more is not always better. Excessive use of third parties, extensive cloud migration, and system complexity all increase the cost of a data breach. It’s therefore important to minimize the complexity of your security technologies where possible.  

Conclusion

All in all, business owners can’t just cross their fingers and hope nothing bad happens. This past year, the chances of a company experiencing a breach in within two years increased to nearly 30% — a statistic that has jumped up by a third in just five years. As the report shows, preparing now can greatly reduce the financial impact if the worst does happen. The thought of experiencing a data breach is enough to make anyone feel powerless, but, from impact reduction to a fully prepared incident response team, there are concrete steps anyone can take to take back control of the situation.  

Invasion of the Data Snatchers

As you’ve probably heard by now, this week Capital One became the latest company to experience a massive breach of consumer information. According to the company, the breach includes the compromised data of over 100 million individuals. Those effected includes both Capital One customers and those who submitted a credit card application within the past 14 years. Most notably, the information stolen includes about 140,000 Social Security number and 80,000 bank account numbers. However, information such as names, addresses, reported income, and credit scores were also compromised in the attack.  

One of the most interesting aspects of the breach is that the hacker reportedly responsible for breach, once worked for Amazon Web Services, which hosts the Capital One database that was compromised. Paige Thompson, the woman allegedly responsible for the attack, gained access to the database by making use of credentials for the web application’s firewall. This makes the attack just the latest in a long list of breaches involving insider threats via a third-party.  It is also the latest in a long line of breaches where the access was gained through a web application.

Too Early for Key Takeaways Except for One Big Takeaway

A lot remains unknown about the role Ms. Paige was playing, how she moved through the AWS space (Capital One was not the only company she gained access to) and what her motives were.  However, it does show that Capital One’s Incidence Response team was prepared to move quickly once the incident was made known.  In some cases, being very good at dealing with a crisis is perhaps your strongest (and maybe only) defense.