While your business may have a disaster recovery plan in place, it is equally if not more important to proactively put security measures in place to defend your cyber infrastructure from ransomware and similar threats. The following piece is by Ntirety CEO Emil Sayegh originally published in Forbes.
Building An Industry Response To Ransomware
The term ransomware will often trigger a detectable response in even the most hardened security professional, especially as the industry sees an 800% increase in cyberattacks in the early days of the Russia-Ukraine war. This well-known digital blight carries so much impact that the appropriate response to the word itself is justified. Year after year, we can see that the rate and scale of ransomware attacks are skyrocketing, and recent attacks on Samsung and Nvidia illustrate an even more rapid acceleration —thankfully, the response to ransomware is also on the way up. One of the actionable ways that the threat is being addressed is through proposed legislative acts.
A First Try: Ransomware Disclosure Act
Among the most significant legislative measures proposed in the last few months is the Ransom Disclosure Act. On the surface, this governmental initiative, like many other initiatives, seems like a great idea, until you dig into it. The provisions in the act create a 48-hour window in which a company that has paid a cyber ransom must report various details about that payment. The disclosure mandate includes information on the amount paid, the date of the occurrence(s), the type of currency used, and any available data about the parties that made the ransom demand. This information is then sanitized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and published on a public website. Still unquantified are the prospective penalties of non-compliance with the Act.
From an enforcement perspective, it cannot be denied that there is a deficiency of active data that could assist in criminal implications and recovery. Rapid, detailed information can make a big difference in the ability for governmental agencies to step in, tracking funds and potentially being able to seize ill-gotten proceeds.
For example, there was a partial but significant ransom recovery that occurred after the ransom payment in the case of the Colonial Oil Pipeline event. The Colonial incident was a major attack that had considerable national impact and publicity. Due to the publicity, federal agencies were involved in the response, and the partial financial recovery speaks for itself. Should similar actions be the response framework for all attack incidents? There are many practical points to debate in the matter, starting with whether the governmental authorities have the mandate, resources and capability to pursue these cases adequately and in a fulsome way.
While we all want actionable intelligence to maintain a level of awareness, the public aspects of this Act are cause for some legitimate concerns. Over the course of events, as they are publicly disclosed, it is possible that the proposed DHS site could amount to a ransomware leaderboard. This could add the unintended effects of increased ransoms, increased ransomware cybercriminal participants, increased volume of attacks and increased severity of successful attacks across the board. Here are some key flaws in this proposed reporting requirements by DHS:
- Public disclosure could result in the creation of successful ransom intelligence that cybercriminals can use by correlating data. It is possible to unintentionally disclose industry information, date, and time information, ransom amounts, and preferred payment methods. Even with the company names redacted from this base of information, cybercriminals can glean the identity of the biggest “scores” from public news, service information, and countless methods of dark web underground chatter.
- The collection of information proposed in the act only focuses on the impact of the attack upon targeted companies. Once published, an incident could serve as a reference point for unknown public and financial repercussions.
- Compliance and the roll out of a reporting program could lengthen the duration of disruption, extending the time needed to return to operations.
- There doesn’t appear to be a history of successful piloting of such a system, including the impact on an industry.
- Rival global cyber-gangs could derive intelligence from successful attacks, and fine tune their strategies.
What About False Security?
Starting with Cyber-liability insurance, beware of a false sense of security. Ransom payments should be exceedingly rare and even nonexistent. This should never be part of a response plan even if you have cyber liability insurance, but these principles somehow persist. Publication of these flawed decisions serve to highlight the prevalence of unfortunate planning and a perceived lack of available ransomware responses.
Numerous industry reports show that there is a false sense of security in ransom payment. Close to half of the companies that pay ransoms discover that their recovered data is corrupted. As we saw in the case of Ukraine, suspected Russian hackers used wiper code to completely destroy key data in banks and key governmental organizations. If, during the course of the attack, data made its way outside the company, that data is now “out in the wild” and there are no ransom-backed guarantees about what happens to that data. Further insult to injury, reports show that most organizations that are hit once with ransomware and pay a ransom will experience a second, likely-related ransomware attack.
Bad Ideas and Good Ideas
On the frontlines, organizations must continue to break free of the mentality and false sense of security that relies on outdated security such as cybersecurity insurance, vulnerability scanning, signature detection, and VPN systems. Instead, companies that are prepared to prevent ransomware threats must implement security measures that are comprehensive and full spectrum across the data center, cloud, endpoint, and applications.
Actions against ransomware gangs such as the arrest of the REvil gang by Russia, and the extradition of the alleged REvil Ukrainian Hacker from Poland are a good thing, but insufficient if done as one-time events, as more sophisticated gangs will quickly pop up. Reporting programs such as what is proposed in the Ransom Disclosure Act have the potential to provide great advantages for a new breed of cybercriminals. This information should be privileged as the public focus carries too many unknown implications. Public information should instead be focused on identifying information about the attackers when available and figuring out their apprehension and prosecution. More detailed information should be passed on only to a group of private companies that are entrusted to fight cyber-criminals, while protecting the privacy of the victims.
This First Step is Critical
Time will tell what becomes of this proposed measure and how much traction it will gain. It is an indication of an important first step into these matters. With some tweaking and industry partnership, it could possibly be the right step in the right direction.
In any case, the industry will continue to drive towards improvements in the defense and prevention of ransomware incidents but needs proper Governmental leadership. This type of partnership between industry and government is the best path for prevention of incidents in the first place.
As we build up these improvements, organizations will be looking at both next level and first level steps to address these novel and continued threats including threat model strategy, multiple-layer security, advanced anti-ransomware technology suites, and behavior-based incident detection. While many of these disciplines are needed now, the cybersecurity talent drought persists driving a need for outsourcing and security partnerships.