A Breach of Breaches Past

A breach of breaches past has come back to haunt us. Last week, a cybersecurity expert discovered a that a collection of over 5 billion records from previous data dumps were left exposed and publicly accessible. What’s worse, the exposure reportedly occurred at the hands of a cybersecurity firm. Because all of the data was previously exposed, no new information was put at risk. However, the size and sensitive nature of the data involved could lead to renewed risk for victims of previous breaches

What was Exposed and How?

A UK-based firm created a database of exposed information from some of the biggest data dumps between 2012 and 2019. This includes records from well-known data dumps such as Adobe, Last.FM, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others. What’s more, the records within the database includes some highly-sensitive such as emails and passwords. The exact reason for compiling this database is not yet clear.

NOTE: Company’s data and customer records were not exposed, incident involved only previously reported data breaches collections.

The incident was not the result of any malicious action. Instead, the firm placed the records in Elasticsearch, an open source data and analytics search engine, and neglected to use any password protection or firewalls to keep the database private.

The lack of such basic protections may be because Elasticsearch’s security features are disabled by default. In fact, Elasticsearch has suffered a series of similar breaches within the past few years. Only two months ago, 250 million records of Microsoft customers were exposed through similar misconfigurations on Elasticsearch servers. Given amount and size of these exposures, it is unclear why Elasticsearch has not taken more steps to ensure the security of their services.

Consequences

Just because the data involved in this breach has all been previously leaked does not mean this incident isn’t something to be concerned about. According to reports, the records are extremely well structured, and the sheer size of the database makes the information easily accessible for hackers to use in phishing schemes or to resell online. This could lead to those whose records were previously exposed see a renewal of fraud attempts in the upcoming months.

Want to see if the breach of breaches past could come back to haunt you? We recommend going to haveibeenpwned.com. The website allows you to search any email address or passwords you have used to see if your information was exposed in previous breaches, including many of the breaches involved in this incident.

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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. 

2.4 Billion

That’s the number of records that, according to Identity Force, have been accidentally exposed since the beginning of the year.

In other words, someone misconfigured their systems to provide access to unencrypted data or accidentally emailed them to the wrong person.

And that does not include the hundreds of million of records that were exposed on Facebook this year.

Pogo had it right.  I see the enemy and he is us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  

 

Building Customer Trust Before and After a Breach

There has been a lot of news in the past few years about increased cybersecurity regulations and the potential fines they could impose on companies. From the E.U.’s General Data Protection Act to the California Consumer Privacy Act, the thought of government fines have left many businesses worried. And while it’s certainly something to be concerned about, studies have shown that the biggest cost to organization’s follow a breach isn’t regulatory fines, but loss of customers.  

In fact, according to this year’s Ponemon report, lost business has been the largest source of breach costs for four years running. The report shows that, above all other factors, customer loss accounts 36% of the total cost of a data breach — or an average of $1.42 million in lost business 

Placing more emphasis on customer retention both before and after a data breach will therefore greatly reduce the costs a breach could have on an organization. The Ponemon report shows that where businesses that were able to keep customer turnover below 1% experienced an average total breach cost of $2.8 million, organizations with customer turnover of 4% or more averaged a total cost of $5.7 million.  

And there are a number of different steps an organization can take to help keep customer turnover as low as possible. 

Customer Retention, Before and After a Breach

Before

You don’t want to wait until after a data breach to tell your customers that you prioritize cybersecurity. It will come across as insincere. After all, what reasons have you given to make customers believe it? That’s why placing an emphasis on your commitment to cybersecurity and protecting customer data before a breach is essential. 

A key way to show your commitment is to have a governance structure in place that shows you prioritize cybersecurity. The Ponemon report shows that organizations with an established executive position responsible for ensuring the protection of customer data directly helps to reduce lost business.  

Educating customers about privacy is another great way to build trust. Be upfront with your customers when it comes to how you use their information and why. This can involve having an accessible and clearly written privacy policyinforming customers about your use of cookiesand recommending the use of multifactor identification 

After

In the event a breach does occur, not all hope is lost. Your customers will be rightfully concerned, but making it a priority to show what steps your taking to mitigate the effects of the breach will go a long way toward retaining those customers.  

An important way to show this is first and foremost to promptly notify those effected about the breach. If a breach occurs, you don’t want to look like you were dragging your feet. There is no surer way to lose customer trust than to seem like you’re hiding the fact that customer data was lost.  

After notifying your customers, you also want to provide help for customers that were effectedProviding comprehensive identity theft prevention tools and requiring customers to reset their password are two good ways to do this. In fact, the Ponemon report found that organizations that offered data breach victims identity protection experienced a smaller amount of customer turnover.  

 

After a breach, companies are fond of talking about the how committed they are to protecting customer privacy. But the bottom line is that you want to prove this to your customers. Showing respect for their privacy before a breach occurs and especially afterwards will greatly reduce the impact your company will endure.