About Hilary Tuttle

Hilary Tuttle is the editor of the Risk Management Monitor and Risk Management magazine.

10 Lessons Learned from Breach Response Experts

SAN FRANCISCO—As hacking collectives target both the public and private sectors with a wide range of motivations, one thing is clear: Destructive attacks where hackers destroy critical business systems, leak confidential data and hold companies for ransom are on the rise. In a presentation here at the RSA Conference, the nation’s largest cybersecurity summit, Charles Carmakal and Robert Wallace, vice president and director, respectively, of cybersecurity firm Mandiant, shared an overview of some of the biggest findings about disruptive attacks from the company’s breach response, threat research and forensic investigations work.

In their Thursday morning session, the duo profiled specific hacking groups and the varied motivations and tactics that characterize their attacks. Putting isolated incidents into this broader context, they said, helps companies not only understand the true nature of the risk hackers can pose even in breaches that do not immediately appear to target private industry.

One group, for example, has waged “unsophisticated but disruptive and destructive” against a number of mining and casino enterprises in Canada. The hackers broke into enterprise systems, stole several gigabytes of sensitive data and published it online, created scheduled tasks to delete system data, issued ransom requests, and even emailed executives and board members directly to taunt them about the data exposed and increase the pressure to pay. Further increasing that pressure, the group is known to contact journalists in an attempt to publicize the exposed data. Victims have endured outages for days while trying to recover data from backups, and some have paid the ransoms, typically requested in the range of $50,000 to $500,000 in bitcoin.

Mandiant refers to this group as Fake Tesla Team because the hackers have tried to seem a more powerful and compelling threat by claiming they are members of Tesla Team, an already existing group that launches DDoS attacks. As that group is thought to be Serbian, they have little reason to target Canadian entities, and indeed, the bits of Russian used by Fake Tesla Team appears to be simply translated via Google.

In all of the group’s attacks that Mandiant has investigated, the hackers had indeed gained system access and published data, but they exaggerated their skills and some of the details of access. Identifying such a group as your attacker greatly informs the breach response process based on the M.O. and case history, Mandiant said. For example, they know the threat is real, but have seen some companies find success in using partial payments to delay data release, and they have found no evidence that, after getting paid, the collective does anything else with the access they’ve gained.

Beyond considerations of specific hacking groups or their motivations, Carmakal and Wallace shared the top 10 lessons for addressing a breach Mandiant has distilled from countless investigations:

  1. Confirm there is actually a breach: make sure there has been a real intrusion, not just an empty threat from someone hoping to turn fear into a quick payday.
  2. Remember you face a human adversary—the attacker attempting to extort money or make other demands is a real person with emotional responses, which is critical to keep in mind when determining how quickly to respond, what tone to take, and other nuances in communication. Working with law enforcement can help inform these decisions.
  3. Timing is critical: The biggest extortion events occur at night and on weekends, so ensure you have procedures in place to respond quickly and effectively at any time.
  4. Stay focused: In the flurry of questions and decisions to make, focus first and foremost on immediate containment of the attack.
  5. Carefully evaluate whether to engage the attacker.
  6. Engage experts before a breach, including forensic, legal and public relations resources.
  7. Consider all options when asked to pay a ransom or extortion demand: Can you contain the problem, and can you do so sooner than the attack can escalate?
  8. Ensure strong segmentation and control over system backups: It is critical, well before a breach, to understand where your backup infrastructure is and how it is segmented from the corporate network. In the team’s breach investigations, they have found very few networks have truly been segmented, meriting serious consideration from any company right away.
  9. After the incident has been handled, immediately focus on broader security improvements to fortify against future attacks from these attackers or others.
  10. They may come back: If you kick them out of your system—or even pay them—they may move on, perhaps take a vacation with that ransom money, but they gained access to your system, so remember they also may come back.

Organizational Complexity Poses Critical Cyberrisk

According to a recent survey on IT security infrastructure, 83% of businesses around the world believe they are most at risk because of organizational complexity.

“Employees are not following corporate security requirements because they are too difficult to be productive, plus policies hinder their ability to work in their preferred manner,” noted the Ponemon Institute’s “The Need for a New IT Security Architecture: Global Study,” sponsored by Citrix. “It is no surprise that shadow IT is on the rise because employees want easier ways to get their work done.”

Shadow IT, the information technology systems built and used by an organization without explicit approval, has largely cropped up because employees feel official tools are too complex or otherwise difficult and inefficient. As a result, company data is being put on personal devices and official business is conducted on platforms that enterprise security teams can not monitor or secure.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said their business needs a new IT security infrastructure to reduce risk. With increasing amounts of sensitive data stored, new technology like the internet of things adopted, and new cyberrisk threats constantly emerging, addressing individual security challenges may be impossible, Citrix Chief Security Officer Stan Black told eWEEK. Rather, companies should focus on larger issues like controlling complexity, developing and maintaining strong incident response plans, and rigorously vetting vendors with access to systems or responsibility for storing data.

Check out more of the report’s findings in the infographic below:

organizational complexity cyberrisk

Lloyd’s Finds Extreme Weather Can Be Accurately Modeled Independently

In a new report based on research from UK national weather service the Met Office, Lloyd’s has found that extreme weather events may be modeled independently. While extreme weather can be related to events within a region, these perils are not significant correlated with perils in other regions of the world.

The study’s key findings include:

  • Met Office research found that the majority of perils are not significantly correlated, but identified nine noteworthy peril-to-peril teleconnections, most of which are negatively correlated
  • Lloyds’ modeling finds that these correlations were not substantial enough to warrant changes to the amount of capital it holds to cover extreme weather claims
  • Even when there is some correlation between weather patterns, it does not necessarily follow that there will be large insurance losses. Extreme weather events may still occur simultaneously even if there is no link between them
  • An assumption of independence for capital-holding purposes is therefore appropriate for the key risks the Lloyd’s market currently insures
  • The methodology released in the report enables scenario modeling across global portfolios for appropriate region-perils

“This important finding supports the broader argument that the global reinsurance industry’s practice of pooling risks in multiple regions is capital efficient and that modeling appropriate region perils as independent is reasonable,” the report concluded.

According to Trevor Maynard, head of exposure management and reinsurance at Lloyd’s, “This challenges the increasingly held view among some regulators around the world that capital for local risks should be held in their own jurisdictions. Lloyd’s believes this approach reduces the capital efficiency of the (re)insurance market by ignoring the diversification benefits provided by writing different risks in different locations and, in so doing, needlessly increases costs, to the ultimate detriment of policyholders. Insisting on the fragmentation of capital is not in the best interests of policyholders.”

Check out the map below for further insight from the Met Office about large-scale weather perils that do demonstrate statistically significant correlation:

lloyd's extreme weather perils

Charting the Rise of Ransomware

At the beginning of the year, Risk Management put ransomware at the top of the list when surveying the 2016 cyberrisk threat landscape, and these attacks have arguably come to the fore as cyberthreat of the year, whether you measure by buzz or by increase in incidents.

Indeed, ransomware is not just grabbing headlines—these cyberattacks have quadrupled in 2016, according to a recent Beazley Breach Response Services review of client data breaches. Authorities report a similar surge at large, with the Department of Justice estimating that more than 4,000 ransomware attacks have occurred daily since the beginning of the year, representing a 300% increase from 2015. In July and August alone, 20% more of Beazley’s clients suffered a ransomware attack than in all of 2015. While the ransoms remain low, often in the range of $1,000, the firm points out that the true costs are dramatically higher due to the extensive review of company systems and data required to ensure the malware has been removed and data is clean.

Looking at specific industries, Beazley noted a significant uptick in attacks against financial institutions in the first three quarters of 2016, with hacking and malware accounting for 39% of breaches in the sector, up from 26% in 2015, and in higher education, these attacks increased from 38% last year to 46% in 2016. Hacking and malware account for a relatively steady proportion of just over half of breaches in the retail sector. Among healthcare organizations, however, human error has spiked, with 40% of industry incidents caused by unintended disclosure compared to 28% last year.

“From what we are seeing, it appears that many hackers are finding it easier to make money by holding companies to ransom for bitcoin than through selling personal data on the dark web,” said Katherine Keefe, global head of BBR Services. “But, the persistently high levels of hacking and malware attacks of all kinds are a reminder that organizations across industries, and of all sizes, need actionable plans ready to implement when a breach occurs.”

Check out the infographic below from security intelligence firm LogRhythm for more background on the rise in ransomware, how these attacks are impacting businesses, and how businesses are responding.

ransomware logrhythm
ransomware logrhythm