Cybercriminals are attacking business IT infrastructure to steal and sell information, and for extortion using ransomware.
Many businesses are at risk of a financial and reputation loss and it will only be a matter of time until most businesses have been attacked. Law enforcement makes a great effort to prevent cybercrime, however many cyber-criminals are located in countries that are not friendly with the USA. Some cyber-criminal activities are state sponsored.
Cyber attacks on businesses are increasing and ransomware especially is increasing exponentially. Unfortunately many businesses do not invest in adequate cybersecurity protection and so when a ransomware attack occurs they are obliged to pay the extortion demand to unlock the business data if they want to continue in business.
Most businesses depend on technology to prosper, using computers to manage information and by doing business using the Internet. Cybersecurity is a necessary part of business technology and the cost must be included in the operating budget. Cybersecurity is not optional; it is as essential as a lock on a door to keep criminals out of a building and a burglar alarm to call the police if the building is invaded.
The situation of ransomware is summed up by a quote from the World Economic Forum, 2022 Report: Ransomware and 'ransom-war'
"As online working surged during the pandemic, so did cybercrime - ransomware attacks rose 151% in 2021. The World Economic Forum’s Global Cybersecurity Outlook found there were on average 270 cyber-attacks per organization that year, with each successful cyber breach costing a company $3.6m."
How is a business attacked by cybercriminals?
A business can be threatened in many ways by cybercriminals through data theft and ransomware.
Data theft; cybercriminals are seeking to exploit or sell stolen information.
Theft of information that can be sold, e.g. credit cards.
Theft of data for use by a competitor, e.g. new product information.
Theft of business secrets by an unfriendly country, military, industrial.
Theft to publish information and damage the reputation of a business.
Ransomware; a form of extortion where a ransom is demanded to unlock or return business data.
Criminals target businesses that are at risk if data is lost; healthcare is #1.
The cybercriminal gets access to business servers through hacking and encrypts the data, then demands a ransom to unlock the data.
In some cases the criminal gets the ransom payment and then sells the data; this is called double extortion ransomware.
In 30% of ransomware cases the cybercriminal does not unlock the business data after the ransom is paid.
Hospitals continue to be lucrative targets for ransomware groups because of their valuable data and higher rate of paying ransoms. TechTarget Security: 2/22/23.
The cybercriminals objective is to find a way to access to the network data servers and find the business data files. There are two approaches to attack the network.
Attack from the Internet through the ISP router, most routers have known weaknesses (exploits). A firewall will block this type of attack.
Attack through a remote access portal, a username and password are usually required which can be stolen using several methods. This method of access can be prevented by having 2-Factor authentication as part of the login process.
Attack by planting a Trojan virus on a user computer using several methods. The virus calls the cybercriminal and gives the criminals background access to the computer, this will bypass the firewall protection.
Attack by getting access to a device (called IoT) connected to the network, this might be a printer or production equipment that has a maintenance connection to the Internet.
There are several methods of planting a Trojan virus on a user computer. The methods are used simultaneously and repeated persistently until a user makes a mistake and installs the virus without realizing it. Once the Trojan virus is installed on the user computer the cybercriminal gets full network and server access. Some of the methods are listed below.
Send false information or impersonate a legitimate entity via email to the business staff with a link, when clicked a Trojan virus is installed on the computer.
Delivered by clicking on a malicious website which downloads a virus.
Delivered by sending infected flash sticks to staff which they plug into a business computer (the flash stick method works in 40% of cases!).
Use social engineering; impersonate another member of staff etc. to get usernames and passwords.
Steps of a Trojan virus ransomware attack: see the following diagram:
Send many phishing emails with the virus links until the user makes a mistake and installs the Trojan virus on the computer.
The Trojan virus calls the cyber-criminal to request programming commands. This communication is not blocked by the firewall.
The user is not aware the cybercriminal is programming the same computer.
The cybercriminal encrypts the server data files.
The cybercriminal displays the ransom message with Bitcoin payment information.
Data breaches are any type of cyber attack where the business data is accessed and stolen by a cybercriminal for financial gain. The criminal may sell the data or use the data to blackmail the business. A data breach might be due to a business or country seeking military or financial secrets.
#1 threat: stolen login credentials. Implementing MFA (Multi-factor authentication) will make stolen credentials unusable.
88% of breaches are via remote access. Add security features to prevent entry via remote access. If possible move applications to the cloud to eliminate remote access to the business network.
85% of data breaches are discovered only after weeks or months. A lot of damage has already been done. Remain vigilant with network monitoring.
The business will suffer serious financial consequences; blackmailed by the cyber-criminals, payment demands, lawsuits from the owners of the stolen data, reputation damage, loss of business.
Ransomware is a method of extortion where the cybercriminal encrypts business data to block access then demands a ransom to unlock the data. In some cases the criminal will also sell the data in addition to collecting a ransom.
The average ransomware demand is $500K to $1M.
In 30% of cases that the business pays the extortion, the criminal does not release the data.
Once a business has been hacked the criminal will share the vulnerability so more attacks will follow.
The preferred ransomware targets include education, healthcare and smaller businesses that pay quickly, large businesses and banks invest in cybersecurity and are hard to hack.
Ransomware theft is increasing exponentially as it is easy for the cybercriminal to exploit and victims pay quickly.
Most of the ransomware cybercriminals are located in nations that are not friendly to the USA.
Criminals do not need knowledge of programming, there are ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) businesses in foreign countries, the criminal pays for the hacking service.
A ransomware attack is very likely; the cybercriminals success will depend on the cybersecurity precautions that the business takes now.
All businesses should invest in cybersecurity urgently before they become the next victim of a cybercriminal.
Prepare a cybersecurity plan
Protecting a business against a cyber attack requires the development and deployment of a comprehensive business cyber-protection plan. The plan has three parts:
Training of staff to recognize a potential cybercriminal attack. The staff are the cyber-criminals #1 target to gain access. Frequent staff training will help to recognize and block a potential attack
Preparation and periodic testing of a recovery plan. Having a recovery plan ready is essential when criminals attack with ransomware. The only other two alternatives are pay the ransom and risk not having the data unlocked, or continue operations without the business data.
Upgrade the computer network with technology products that block a cybercriminals entry into the network. The upgrade should focus on network weak points, especially endpoint security. Always apply software upgrades and security patches as soon as they are available. It is not possible to protect a network 100% as cybercriminals will discover new methods of attack.
Cybersecurity is not a one-time investment but an ongoing process. Computer technology is constantly evolving and cybercriminals are constantly finding new methods to attack a business. A business computer network required constant review (monthly if possible) with frequent updates as software and hardware manufacturers release security updates.
The cybersecurity awareness staff training should include the following points.
Explain what a cyberattack is.
Explain how ransomware permits cybercriminals to extort a business.
Explain the damage that a cyberattack will do.
Explain the additional security procedures required.
Explain methods that cybercriminals will use to attack.
List the precautions that staff must follow.
Provide a cybersecurity awareness document.
Ask staff to report a possible attack.
Ask staff members to identify improvements for the cybersecurity procedures.
It is important to reward staff support for participation with the cybersecurity awareness training and encourage staff to help to identify potential risks.
A tested data recovery plan is essential to prepare for the worst case where the cybercriminal is able to break in to the network and plan ransomware. The recovery plan will permit the business to recover all data files from secure backup storage and continue working without paying the ransom. The recovery plan should include the following entries.
Prepare a budget to implement the plan.
Backup business data daily or hourly to offsite storage.
Keep 3-months of backups for a recovery history.
Have multiple drives prepared to install on the servers, have backups.
Test the procedure periodically.
Have the IT staff /provider ready for a recovery if required.
If a cyber attack occurs proceed as follows.
Disconnect the network from the Internet.
Replace the server drives.
Restore the data from the offsite backup storage.
Do not connect the Internet until the cybercriminals point of entry is found. If the network is connected to the Internet the cybercriminal will try to attack the restored system.
The inaccessible offsite backup with a write only encrypted link is important as the cybercriminal will try to encrypt the backup in addition to the business database. The last few backups that were saved may be encrypted.
Technology investments to upgrade the business computer network for the current cybersecurity standards are essential. Standards are evolving continuously as cybercriminals develop new methods and exploit the network and software weak points so the process of upgrading the business network is constant.
Update software and equipment firmware with security patches when released, with a weekly inspection by IT staff.
A cybersecurity expert should properly configure all firewall equipment to ensure the maximum level of security.
There are two network weak points, the first is the connection between the network and the Internet, and the second is both local and remote staff connections to the network.
Zero trust is a very important security methodology that all business networks should adopt yet few small and medium businesses install it. Zero trust network cybersecurity means never trust, always verify. All devices connect through zero trust cybersecurity which protects business data, software and infrastructure using strict protocols, and monitors network traffic for suspicious behavior or potential threats. Zero trust cybersecurity has four principles that are implemented by an end point firewall.
Identity verification and authentication of every user and device that is attempting to access the network. Verification uses device identity checks and multi-factor authentication of users.
Users and devices are given access only to the specific network resources they need to perform their tasks in order to limit the potential damage that can be caused by a compromised device.
Users have restrictions imposed for access to Internet services that block interaction with potential attack vectors and compromised websites.
Continuous monitoring of network activity can identify potential threats and provides the opportunity to take effective action quickly.
Zero trust identity verification requires multi-factor authentication (MFA) for network protection. 2-factor authentication is one version of MFA and is the biggest single cyber-criminal deterrent. When cyber-criminals see MFA is in use then most they will likely move on to the next victim.
Business network upgrades
There are a series of network upgrades that will improve the cybersecurity of the business computer network and protect the business data from attack by theft or ransomware. The network upgrades are explained in the following sections.
It is very important to install a firewall between the Internet and the business network as this connection is the first point that the cybercriminal will try to attack the network. There are many firewall products available but all require expert configuration to ensure that the business network is protected.
An important security feature is called zero-trust. This means that user devices are not allowed to connect to the network until the device has been authenticated and the user has been authenticated using multi-factor authentication (MFA). This will reduce the possibility that a device infected with a Trojan virus is connected to the business network. To protect the network users devices should not be permitted to connect to other networks that have no cybersecurity protection. User devices are connected through an end-point firewall that will authenticate devices and users using 2-Factor authentication.
The end-point firewall has several important tasks, listed below:
Authenticate devices and users onto the network and block any unauthorized access attempt.
Set limits on what each device can access in the network.
Set limits on what each device can access on the Internet.
Monitor network connections and alert unauthorized connection attempts.
It is important to install anti-virus software on every device that connects to the network and ensure that the anti-virus software is updated with .new profiles as they become available.
If the business has staff that connect remotely then the remote access is a weak point that the cybercriminals will attack. Remote connections should only be connected with a VPN and then the remote user should be authenticated with 2FA before being permitted to connect to the network. Password theft is common so 2FA will prevent a stolen password being used even if the criminal gets remote access.
The business should have a secure offsite backup that is only accessible via a server encrypted write batch transaction. If the backup is accessible in the local network the criminal will encrypt that before encrypting the main database.
A good security measure is to use cloud versions of application software as cloud services have good cyber-protection. A custom developed application can be transferred to a service such as AWS or Azure for greater security.
If the business provides open WiFi for guests or visitors a firewall should be installed to isolate the visitor network. This applies to motels, hotels and any retail business that offers free WiFi.
Finally the network should be checked for IoT (Internet of things) devices that have a connection to the Internet for monitoring or servicing. The IoT device may be a printer or air conditioning controller. IoT devices that are connected to the Internet can be hacked and can give the criminal access to the business databases.
All the business network upgrades that are explained here are shown on the network diagram. A business should call their IT service vendor to request that the computer network is upgraded with these cybersecurity specifications.
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