On May 6th, a ransomware infestation from a Russian hacking group has shut down the 5,500 mile-long fuel pipeline that feeds MOST of the United States Eastern seaboard, just in time for the summer travel rush.
The group, named "The DarkSide" planted ransomware on end-points belonging to Colonial Pipeline, compromising the Georgia-based company, forcing them to shut down most of their key information technology systems, halting the flow of that sweet, sweet nectar of the gods that powers everything from cars and planes to the furnaces in many of our homes.
The DarkSide group is a participant in the alarming "ransomware-as-a-service" trend that's become more and more prominent over the past few years. The group, according to their website (which paints themselves as being eerily altruistic) claims they have no political ambitions or any sort of connection to the Russian government (uh-huh...sure) and their only focus is making money, some of which, they claim, is donated to charities.
Ransoms from The DarkSide typically range between $200,000 to $2 million.
It's unclear what exactly transpired on the 6th, but we do know a few things for certain:
- A Colonial Pipeline end-point was compromised by ransomware from The DarkSide
- The ransomware strain used is yet un-named but appears to have been developed internally by the group.
- According to the BBC, 100 gigabytes of information from Colonial Pipeline was encrypted and held hostage by the group.
We won't get into the socio-economic aftereffect of a hack like this, that'll be left up to better minds than mine to dissect and discuss, but if the pipelines don't open up soon, you should expect to see a fairly decent increase in gasoline prices at the pump, amongst increases elsewhere as well.
As for the hack itself, this feels like we're beating a dead horse. The attacks keep happening. And they're happening to companies and organizations (private, public, and municipal) that know better. That said, it bears repeating here that there are things one can do to protect themselves from ransomware and being held hostage by bad actors.
Here are seven things you can do, or start doing, right this very moment to protect yourself and your business from a ransomware attack:
- Implement a Security Awareness Training Program - Someone wiser than I once told me 'you can't stop or avoid what you're not prepared to handle.' That goes for ransomware attacks. Most ransomware attacks are solicited through Social Engineering campaigns and are end-user initiated (i.e. you, a coworker, or employee). A good security awareness training program can help educate people and stop a ransomware attack before it can get a foothold in your IoT ecosystem.
- Email Inbox Security is Imperative - As stated above, a ransomware attack is usually end-user initiated. How? Typically via a malicious link or file embedded in an email. The attacker will trick their unsuspecting victim into clicking through and, well, it's all downhill from there. By implementing things like DMARC or DKIM, or sign up for a service like Cyren's Office 365 Inbox Security platform, you can stop some of these attacks before human error becomes a part of the problem.
- Next-Generation End-Point Protection - Traditional endpoint protection products rely on outdated means of detection (like looking for specific signatures). Newer products like Blackberry Protect (formerly Cylance) uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to determine whether or not software that's trying to run on your machine is hazardous or not.
- Back-up your End-Points and Critical Data - This is a no-brainer. Even with the risk of a ransomware attack, you should be backing up your important data. A ransomware attack is only deadly to an organization if they don't have backups. Ransomware attacks encrypt your end-points and demand a ransom (duh) from the victim to get the decryption key. If you've got air-gapped, regular backups you don't need to pay. You can simply restore your ecosystem to a period before it was infected. Just make sure backups are in a secure location, not normally connected to your network, and password protected.
- Whitelisting and Blocking the Known Bad - You've got a pretty good idea of what people in your organization should be looking at while they work, or what programs they use, or what devices can talk to over the internet. Take the time to whitelist approved applications and processes. Blocking the known bad goes hand in hand with whitelisting. Now, I don't necessarily mean you should spend hours and hours blocking everything under the sun, or making sure your firewall's traffic policy is tighter than a frog's butthole, but you should take the steps to block traffic to and from countries known to be hazardous to an enterprise like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, etc. You can check out this article if you want to learn more about that.
- Discover Leaked Credentials, Look for Exposed Super-Admins, and Start Practicing the Principle of Least Privilege when it comes to Access Control - Pardon me, but we have to go back to human error and the part it plays in a successful ransomware attack, or for that matter, ANY kind of cybersecurity attack. We humans, as a species, are terrible when it comes to credential management and good password hygiene. We stink at it. But the first step in changing that is by acknowledging it. To help with this, you might want to start by running a dark web scan on your email domain. If the scan does discover linked credentials take a good long look at the report and check it against your records to see what privileges those users might have. The Principle of Least Privilege is the belief that people should have access to as little as possible beyond what they need to do their day-to-day tasks. That includes administrators and other high-ranking personnel.
- Make Sure you Monitor Your Files Around the Clock - Monitors your IT environment for changes to the critical OS, files, and processes such as directories, registry keys, and values. Watch for changes to application files, rogue applications running on the host and unusual process and port activity, as well as system incompatibilities.
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