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Where XDR Fits in Your Security Posture

Where XDR Fits in Your Security Posture

Summary

  • XDR provides holistic protection of your network and connected devices vs. operating in a silo with fragmented security products
  • Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, XDR will be constantly improving and evolving within your environment with smarter correlation so that it can proactively stop (or provide alerts for) previously unknown threats.
  • Organizations that collect sensitive data (financial, health, proprietary industry information, etc.) can benefit most from XDR

Cybersecurity threats against your business are more sophisticated than ever. Today, companies have more digital assets that they are responsible for than ever before, making the potential damage from a cyberattack greater than ever.

For many companies, Extended Detection and Response, or XDR, holds an essential place in their overall security posture. XDR offers multi-layered threat detection and response that is not just effective right ‘out of the box’ but also learns and evolves so that it can respond to new and unknown threats as they appear.

See also:

A person typing on a secure computer

What Problems Does XDR Solve?

The best way to determine where XDR fits into your security posture is to look at what types of problems it solves. Unlike discrete security tools, XDR takes a holistic approach to security. XDR provides you with full visibility into your security environment. Unlike standalone tools (e.g., MDR, EDR, etc.), XDR enables visibility and action throughout your entire environment.

Organizations have adopted XDR solutions in their environment when facing:

  • Difficulties with siloed cybersecurity tools
  • Alert fatigue for security and monitoring teams
  • Lacking proactive protection against unknown threats
  • A need to isolate and restore compromised systems

Below we explore these issues in more detail.

A person typing on a computer with a graphic of a secure network above

Difficulties with Siloed Cybersecurity Tools

With traditional cybersecurity systems, every protection point is going to get its own monitoring, alerts, and protection suite. For example, your virus and malware protection suite operates independently of your endpoint detection and response system. Once you add in all the other types of defense management systems, you will have a large number of systems that may detect a problem and issue an alert.

In this common scenario, a security professional will need to analyze each alert that is not automatically addressed. In many cases, a single cyberattack attempt could trigger alerts in multiple different silos. This means your team will be spending a lot of time attempting to correlate issues. This is an even bigger problem because these types of correlation efforts need to be attempted when an actual attack may be occurring.

Siloed defense management also takes a lot more time to set up and manage since you need to configure everything on each silo. With XDR, your security is a more centrally managed configuration that will allow you to handle things more efficiently and with minimal overlap.

Alert Fatigue for Security and Monitoring Teams

As mentioned above, traditional security techniques tend to create multiple alerts concerning a single potential issue. Not only does this eat up a lot of time, but it can also cause what is known as ‘Alert Fatigue’. This is where your security team is constantly seeing alerts that they need to investigate to either address or ignore.

Over time, people who are constantly seeing these alerts begin overlooking things or assuming that they know what an alert means before it is investigated. When this occurs, a real threat could fly under their radar for much longer than it should, leaving your systems exposed.

XDR is able to provide the same types of monitoring and threat detection from one system, which means far fewer total alerts that need to be investigated. In addition, XDR is able to respond to many types of threats automatically so that an active alert for your front-line teams is never actually produced. This means that your teams will be able to focus on other activities where they are able to provide significantly more value.

A sheild with some electronic lights and wires

Proactive Protection Against Unknown Threats

Most cybersecurity systems out there rely on constant updates from the system developer or other sources in order to be able to detect and block threats. This means that newly developed types of attacks are not blocked until the security software companies are able to find them, develop ways to block them, and distribute the updated protections to their customers.

For most companies, this represents an unacceptable level of risk.

On the other hand, XDR not only responds effectively to known threats, but is also independently learning about your network so that it can react to new unknown threats. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, XDR is constantly improving and evolving within your network so that it can proactively stop (or provide alerts for) previously unknown threats.

Isolating and Restoring Compromised Systems

While XDR is able to detect and respond to most types of threats, it is inevitable that some systems will become compromised for one reason or another.

If a virus, malware, or any other type of attack is able to compromise your system, XDR will be able to detect it. Once a compromised system is detected, you can configure XDR to isolate the system so that the problem does not spread across your network.

Once isolated, XDR (or your backup and restoration system) can be used to fix the problem and restore it to normal operation. After the system has been restored, it can be put back into normal production usage. This can all be done far more quickly than would be possible with most other types of cybersecurity solutions.

What Should You Have in Place Prior to Incorporating XDR?

If you have decided that adding extended detection and response solutions to your security posture makes sense, you want to make sure that you have everything in place that is needed before you get started. This is not a security solution that you can simply install and let it run.

Taking the time to evaluate your current situation and plan what your future security strategy will look like is the best way to ensure XDR is incorporated effectively. Specifically, you should:

  • Have a clear understanding of your existing security systems
  • Have an effective implementation plan
  • Have a designated XDR implementation and management team.

Let’s explore these in more detail.

Clear Understanding of Existing Security Systems

The first thing you will want to do is make sure that you have a complete understanding of your existing security systems. This will include basic things like ID and password requirements as well as any EDR systems, MDR systems, and antivirus programs. Anything that you already have in place to protect your network should be identified so that you can make sure it will work well with XDR.

In some cases, XDR will provide the same types of protections as other security tools, so the older tools can be removed. In others, XDR will work well alongside them so that you can get a more comprehensive security solution for your organization.

Effective Implementation Plan

An effective XDR implementation plan will include a plan on what systems the XDR will be monitoring, what types of settings are configured, who is responsible for the system, and more.

This may be done by a third-party XDR consultant or your own internal team. As long as everything is planned out before implementation begins, you will be able to avoid problems and get the level of protection that your systems need.

Two security professionals speaking in a room full of screens

XDR Implementation and Management Team

XDR is generally easier to setup and manage than most other types of security systems because it can provide such a broad level of security while still being configured from a centralized location. Despite it being easier, you do need to make sure you have the right teams in place to perform the initial setup and manage (and monitor) XDR going forward.

In some cases, this will mean training your existing network operations or security teams. In others, it will mean an experienced managed security services provider (MSSP) like us to handle this task. Either way, making sure that you have a team that is knowledgeable about XDR is essential for the long term success of this type of system.

What are Signs that XDR is a Good Fit for Your Organization?

While XDR is effective in strengthening an organization’s security posture, there are some organizations that have more to gain by adopting an XDR solution. Businesses that store sensitive data (healthcare, financial services, etc.) have a greater need to invest in market-leading security solutions due to financial/reputational risks of an incident. XDR can give your CISO some peace of mind.

Organizations with effective, but siloed security tools, such as a security information and event management (SIEM) platform, can benefit by adding XDR to deliver holistic visibility and improved correlation.

Every company should perform its own analysis of their digital environment to see if adding XDR would make sense or connect with a trusted expert.

If XDR sounds like it might be a fit for your organization and you’re looking for guidance, we invite you to connect with one of our cybersecurity experts. We will evaluate your systems, use cases, and overall needs, and help you make an informed decision about how to protect them.

The Benefits of XDR: How AI is Improving Your Cybersecurity Posture

The Benefits of XDR: How AI is Improving Your Cybersecurity Posture

Summary

  • XDR empowers organizations with holistic security while reducing administration and management
  • XDR reduces reliance on human resources, using AI to “screen” false alerts and alert the cybersecurity team when appropriate
  • XDR monitors your entire network as opposed to singular channels or devices
  • XDR is ideal for organizations that process sensitive information (payment data, customer information, etc.) or organizations in regulated industries
  • XDR acts as a strong second and third level of defense
programs running a security scan

An Introduction to Extended Detection & Response (XDR)

Modern digital security requires a more complex approach than simply installing antivirus software and setting up a firewall. While those activities are certainly important, hackers today are far more sophisticated, and you need to have additional layers of protection in place to keep your IT environment protected. 

For many organizations, Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions are the ideal way to get the holistic security that they need while still allowing for simple administration and management. Read on to learn more about what XDR is and how it may benefit your organization.

See also:

What Exactly Is XDR?

XDR is a relatively new idea to the concept of threat detection and response. The term itself was only coined in 2018.  While there are varying definitions, ultimately, XDR unifies disjointed and fragmented security solutions and data sources to provide organizations a single pane of glass for threat detection, investigation, and response. 

Once implemented, XDR delivers a more unified and holistic approach to defend against all types of attacks, including standard cyberattacks, misuse of networks, unauthorized access, etc.

XDR is designed to actively learn about evolving threats through artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. In many ways, XDR is the next major step forward for both endpoint detection and response (EDR) and managed detection and response (MDR), both of which have been long-standing key security components for organizations that need to keep their networks safe.

a lock on a screen grid

How Does XDR Work?

XDR takes a more proactive approach to threat detection and response than a standalone EDR or SIEM solution. An effective XDR solution automatically correlates all telemetry to drive detection, as opposed to narrowly focusing on endpoints. This telemetry focus helps to not only provide greater visibility into threats in your environment, but also allows for easier administration and management of your security efforts. 

Some of the most significant ways that security engineers can benefit from XDR include: 

  • Detecting Sophisticated Threats – Modern cyberattacks do not require infected files to be successful. Instead, these cyber attacks are done through attacks on your website, DNS attacks, SQL injections, URL interpretation, and more. XDR actively monitors all traffic to detect anomalies to determine what is legitimate and what is a threat so that it can be blocked. 
  • Tracking Threats Across Devices and Sources – XDR offers a holistic approach to cybersecurity. It does not simply monitor one threat location such as endpoints or user activity. Instead, it monitors traffic throughout your network so that potential threats can be spotted no matter where they occur. 
  • Collecting and Analyzing Data from Multiple Sources – In addition to simply monitoring the traffic, files, and other data points throughout your network, XDR collects data trends so that automatic correlation can determine abnormal activity within your network. Each day your security environment becomes more secure by XDR’s automatic correlation and AI. 
  • Quicker and Custom Alerting to Unknown Threats – While XDR automatically reacts to varying threats, you can customize what you and your team needs to know when a particular event arises. 

To put it simply, XDR goes well beyond just watching your network for known threats and responding to them. XDR delivers a solution that centralizes all of your organization’s telemetry (across numerous tools and sources), correlates your telemetry, and equips you to detect and respond to more threats than ever. 

Who Needs XDR? 

Properly speaking, any company that wants to make sure that their environment is as safe as possible would at least want to consider adding XDR to their cybersecurity strategy. This would include companies that collect and store private customer data, companies that have any type of proprietary data on their systems, and companies that operate within regulated industries. 

The reality is, however, that XDR may be ‘overkill’ for some organizations. Many small businesses that use their computer systems for little more than communication and inventory tracking, for example, may not need to invest in an advanced security suite given their risk profile. 

When a company falls victim to a cyberattack that results in customer data being compromised, they are often unable to recover from the financial losses or the loss of reputation. Depending on your company’s risk profile, investing in a more comprehensive security solution like XDR makes sense. 

man reviewing stats on his laptop

What are the Benefits of XDR?

XDR offers many different benefits to your company that go well beyond a simple improvement in the level of security that is in place. Every organization faces unique challenges related to security and will experience benefits specific to their circumstances. 

The following are some advantages that virtually every company will appreciate once they have XDR in place: 

  • Immediate Protection Against Known and Unknown Attacks – As soon as you implement XDR into your system you will begin benefiting from its advanced monitoring and detection. Out of the box, it is able to block all known types of threats and also watch for new and unknown threats. 
  • Reduced Alert Fatigue for Your Security Team – XDR is able to detect and react to threats without the need of human intervention in the vast majority of situations. This means there are far fewer alerts that need to be presented to your cybersecurity or network operations teams in real time. This can help to reduce alert fatigue so that your teams are able to be more effective in their roles. 
  • Optimizing Technical Resources – While XDR and other software systems are extremely good at many things, there are some activities that are done best by real people. Allowing XDR to provide advanced threat detection and response, your technical teams will be freed up to work on additional projects where they will be more valuable. 
  • Continuous Improvement Over Time – Since XDR has AI technologies built right in, it is able to continuously learn and improve over time. This means that the protection your systems have will naturally evolve and improve to ensure they remain effective against whatever threats the future may hold. 
  • Rapid Restoration of Functionality After Compromise – In the event that one of your systems is compromised, XDR is able to quickly isolate it and help to clear off any problems. This helps to minimize downtime as well as reduces the risk of a compromised system from infecting other areas of your environment. 
  • Effective Security for Local and Cloud Environments – Most companies today utilize both local and cloud based environments. XDR is able to actively monitor and protect all types of environments to ensure your entire system is safe. 

Where Should XDR Fit in Your Security Posture? 

When developing your digital security strategy, you will need to make sure that your environment is protected at every level. 

In general, the first line of defense is going to be the common practices such as a good username and password policy, proper access control strategies including authentication, and other solutions that are built right into the environment. 

XDR strengthens your security posture both as a second and third level of defense. In the past, network monitoring tools and concepts such as endpoint detection and response (EDR) would be used to monitor systems and report up to the third level (humans) in order to mitigate the threat. Since XDR offers advanced monitoring as well as threat mitigation systems, XDR can be used to reduce the number of alerts requiring human review.

How to Find A Strong XDR Partner

If you want to implement XDR into your environment, you will want to work with an experienced managed security services provider. When determining which MSSP to work with, you want to make sure that you choose one that is able to handle every aspect of your XDR implementation and management. This means working with a team that has worked extensively with leading XDR technology partners. Virtual Armour has worked with businesses of all sizes in multiple industries including energy, finance, healthcare, retail, and more. We are focused on providing industry leading cybersecurity solutions to all of our clients, and we are ready to help you today. Whether you are looking specifically for an XDR partner, or you want full security consulting, we are here for you. Contact us to speak with an expert and learn how we can help protect your systems from the ground up.

The 7 Most Common Types of Malware

The 7 Most Common Types of Malware

In the internet age, organizations in all verticals are increasingly relying on digital tools to get the job done. From seemingly mundane tools such as email and digital calendars to highly specialized programs, more work than ever relies on digital and internet-connected tools, including the cloud. Unfortunately, this rapid increase in digital interconnectivity has brought with it a sharp rise in digital crime, including the distribution of malware. 

If your organization has recently been targeted or is currently being targeted in a malware attack please contact our team of experts for advice and practical assistance as soon as possible and consider reading our educational article: Hacked? Here’s What to Know (and What to Do Next).

comprimised phone

What is Malware?

Malware, short for malicious software, is a general term that encompasses a wide variety of malicious programs designed to steal sensitive data, damage equipment, or spy on unsuspecting users. In this article, we will discuss seven of the most common types of malware: 

  • Viruses
  • Worms
  • Trojans
  • Ransomware
  • Adware
  • Malvertising
  • Spyware
virus code

2021 Saw An Alarming Increase in Ransomware & This Trend is Likely to Continue

According to a joint cybersecurity advisory issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with the FBI and the NSA, and in partnership with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC-UK) 2021 saw the continuation of several alarming cybercrime trends, and found that “Ransomware [a type of malware] groups are having an increasing impact thanks to approaches targeting the cloud, managed service providers, industrial processes and the software supply chain” and that “More and more, ransomware groups are sharing victim information with each other, including access to victims’ networks.” 

The advisory also reported that the ransomware market, in particular, is becoming increasingly “professionalized”, with more criminals relying on cybercriminal services-for-hire to attack targeted organizations.

These alarming statistics highlight the importance of having an up-to-date and comprehensive cybersecurity incident response plan in place, investing in critical cybersecurity infrastructure to safeguard your digital assets, and offering all team members regular cybersecurity training.  

spyware on the web

The 7 Most Common Types of Malware (& How They Can Impact Your Organization)

1. Viruses

Computer viruses are a form of malware designed to infiltrate one program or machine and then spread to other systems, much like the viruses that target the human body. As it spreads, the virus wreaks havoc on business activities by encrypting, corrupting, deleting, or moving data and files or launching DDoS or ransomware attacks on other connected machines. 

Viruses are particularly insidious because they may remain dormant for a set period, allowing the virus to spread to as many machines and devices as possible before launching the attack. Viruses may be delivered via email or inadvertently downloaded from infected or malicious websites and can also be delivered via physical media such as USB drives. Cybercriminals may leave infected USB drives in lobbies or parking lots, hoping that a worker will pick them up and plug them into their network-connected computer. 

Unlike worms (discussed below), computer viruses must be embedded in a host program and often remain dormant until they are activated by unsuspecting users, such as when a user plugs an infected USB drive into their machine, opens an infected file, or clicks on a malicious URL.

2. Worms

Worms are similar to viruses, but they do not require human action to infect, self-replicate, and spread to other machines. As soon as the system is breached, worms can infect both the entry point machine and spread to other machines and devices on the network unaided by humans. 

Worms rely on network vulnerabilities, such as unpatched operating systems, weak email security protocols, and poor internet safety practices. Originally, the goal of most worms was to damage system resources to hinder performance. However, modern worms are often designed to steal or delete files and are typically deployed against email servers, web servers, and database servers. 

The Stuxnet attack is a particularly devastating example of a worm at work. This attack targeted operations technology systems involved in uranium enrichment and impacted organizations across Iran, India, and Indonesia. 

small trojan horse on a computer

3. Trojans

A trojan is a type of malware that has disguised itself as a piece of legitimate code or software. Once an unsuspecting user grants the trojan network access, it allows attackers to carry out the same actions as legitimate users, including exporting or deleting files, modifying data, and otherwise altering the contents of the infected device. Trojans are designed to appear innocuous and are often found in downloads for games, apps, tools, or even software patches. 

Many trojans rely on phishing, spoofing, or other social engineering attacks to trick users into granting them network access, but this is not always the case. Though trojans are occasionally referred to as trojan viruses or trojan worms, these terms are not strictly correct: unlike viruses, trojans cannot self-replicate, and unlike worms, they cannot self-execute. All trojans require specific and deliberate user actions to spread, such as convincing a colleague to try out this great new productivity app or download this fun game onto their work phone so you two can play together on your lunch break. 

4. Ransomware

Ransomware is one of the most common and widely discussed forms of malware, and for a good reason. According to a cyber threat bulletin from the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, 2021 saw the average recovery cost from a ransomware attack more than doubled between 2020 and 2021, from $970,722 CAD (roughly $757,852 USD as of the writing of this article) in 2020 to $2.3M CAD (roughly $1,795,380 USD) in 2021. The same bulletin revealed that the increased impact and scale of ransomware operations between 2019 and 2020 was largely fuelled by the “professionalization” of ransomware and the growth of the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model, which involves less-technically-savvy criminals hiring skilled attackers to distribute ransomware campaigns, with attackers being paid a percentage of the victim’s ransom payment.

Ransomware is focused primarily on financial gain and is designed to encrypt files on an infected machine and hold them hostage until a ransom is paid. With the invention of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which don’t rely on a central authority such as a bank and are therefore more difficult for law enforcement to trace, has made it easier than ever for attackers to extort victims.

Ransomware frequently relies on social engineering to manipulate unsuspecting users into downloading infected email attachments or clicking on URLs from untrustworthy sources. Once a device is infected, the program typically creates a back door, which allows the attackers to covertly access the device and begin encrypting files while locking owners and other legitimate users out. 

Even if your organization decides not to pay the ransom, you may still suffer financial loss. Employees who can’t access their work devices aren’t likely to get much work done, and your IT team and other technical specialists may need to be pulled away from other critical tasks to deal with the crisis. Depending on the nature of your business, even a few hours of downtime can have devastating consequences, as highlighted by the now-famous WannaCry attack that targeted the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) in 2017. The attack rendered the IT systems of hospitals and doctor’s surgeries inaccessible, which compromised medical care and put patient lives at risk. The attack knocked CT scanning facilities and MRI machines offline and left healthcare professionals unable to access vital data, including digital patient health records.

pop up on a website

5. Malicious Adware 

Adware, also called advertising-supported software, is legitimate software that is designed to display ads to a user when they are online, thereby generating revenue for the website’s owner. Though it is not inherently malicious, it can be used for malicious purposes. 

While most legitimate organizations will carefully vet what sort of advertisements they allow to appear on their website (to ensure they don’t accidentally damage their brand by serving hateful or controversial content or drive business away by showing competitor ads), not all businesses are as meticulous as they should be. Cybercriminals may use malicious ads to trick unsuspecting users into downloading malware when they click on the ad or may use pop-ups, pop-unders (where the pop-up is intentionally hidden from view by the active window), or permanent windows that allow for drive-by downloads (where a user’s device becomes infected with malware simply by visiting the site). Malicious ads may also preemptively block antivirus programs from opening, further weakening your organization’s defenses. 

6. Malvertising

Malvertising (malicious advertising) is similar to malicious adware. One key difference is that adware only targets individual users and relies on infected digital ads served via unsuspecting websites. Once a device is infected, adware operates continuously on that device unless actively removed. On the other hand, malvertising is served by the compromised web page itself (not via third-party adware programs) and only affects users while they are on the infected web page. 

Like malicious adware, malvertising may take advantage of browser vulnerabilities to deploy drive-by-downloads. However, because the entire webpage (and potentially the entire website) is compromised, it can also forcibly redirect users away from the legitimate site to a malicious one or display advertising, malicious content, pop-ups, or pop-unders that the website’s owners did not intend to display. In the case of a forcible redirect, users may be brought to a different site infested with drive-by download malware (allowing attackers to compromise multiple sites and simply redirect them to the malicious site) or direct users to a site that looks almost exactly like the legitimate site as part of a wider phishing scam and attempt to trick unsuspecting users into handing over private information such as banking details or login credentials.

Malvertisements Cost Organizations More than Just Revenue & Site Traffic

While redirecting users to a different site impacts both website traffic and can compromise revenue streams, these are hardly the only potential costs. Website publishers may suffer reputational damage (since users are less likely to trust compromised organizations with their personal information going forward) and may be found legally liable for any damage suffered by users visiting their website. 

7. Spyware

Spyware differs from the other forms of malware we have discussed so far in that its goal is not to extort funds, steal sensitive files, or damage files but instead to, as the name suggests, spy on you and your organization. Spyware is designed to gather data without your consent and forward it to a third party. 

Spyware can also refer to legitimate software installed by companies to monitor their workforce or programs, such as tracking tools embedded in websites that you visit that are used for advertising purposes. However, we will be focusing on malicious spyware deployed by cybercriminals against unsuspecting targets such as businesses so they can profit from stolen data, including proprietary data and usernames and passwords (obtained via keylogging software).

Malicious spyware is a type of malware that has been installed without your informed consent and is designed to monitor your activities and capture personal, confidential data, often via keystrokes, screen captures, and other types of tracking tools. This stolen data is then aggregated and either used by the party that gathered it or sold to other parties. 

Malicious spyware is typically interested in confidential information such as:

  • Login credentials
  • Credit card numbers
  • Account PINs

However, it will also monitor your keyboard strokes, track your browsing habits, and harvest email addresses (including your own and those of the people and organizations you are corresponding with). 

Unlike ransomware, spyware goes out of its way to remain undetected and obscure its activities. Spyware often embeds itself in other programs that users are likely to intentionally download and install, such as bundleware (bundled software packages), without the knowledge or consent of the company that is offering the legitimate software.

However, sometimes companies will purposefully embed spyware in their bundleware while describing and requiring you to agree to the spyware in the license agreement without explicitly using the term “spyware”, tricking users into voluntarily and unknowingly infecting their devices. Spyware can also infect devices using similar methods to other malware, including via compromised websites or malicious attachments. Trojan malware and malicious adware may also both include spyware.

Spyware can wreak havoc on any business environment, allowing cybercriminals to better:

  • Steal data
  • Commit identity fraud
  • Damage computers
  • Disrupt business operations
computer and coffee with lock logos

Safeguarding Your Business From Malware

There are a few steps you can take to safeguard your organization against malware. These include:

Avoid Abandoned USBs

Attackers will often leave infected USB drives in publicly accessible places such as lobbies or parking lots in the hopes that some unsuspecting employee will pick it up and plug it into their machine. Should you come across an abandoned USB drive, you should report it to security and then hand the USB drive over to your cybersecurity team for further analysis and proper destruction.

Keep Your Software Up to Date

Software developers frequently release security patches, small programs designed to address known flaws and improve security. However, your organization can only take advantage of these improvements if the security updates are installed.

Invest in Antivirus Software

While antivirus software may not seem cutting edge anymore, it still plays a critical role in any cybersecurity strategy.

Think Before You Click

While most email providers include built-in antivirus scanning that flags potentially harmful attachments or links, it never hurts to be cautious. If you encounter a suspicious link or file, do not open it. Instead, you should forward the email to your cybersecurity team for further analysis. If the email is purportedly from someone you trust (such as your company’s bank or your boss) but seems suspicious, you should reach out to that person independently to verify that they are the real sender. You should also carefully read the sender’s email address on any email you receive. 

For example, if your boss Jennifer Smith usually emails you from her work email ([email protected]com), but this email is from a different address, such as [email protected]org or [email protected], you should not reply to the email, but should instead reach out to your boss independently to verify that she sent the email. This is particularly important if the sender is asking you for sensitive or personal information, such as banking details or your password, or asking you to do something unusual, such as purchase a large number of gift cards or make changes to company banking details.  

If someone sends you a URL, make sure you read it carefully. While you may be expecting a URL that directs you to www.yourbank.com and instead see www.yourbaank.com (note the extra ‘a’), you should once again independently verify that the sender is who they say they are before taking any action or handing over any information. It’s always better to spend a bit of time verifying than rush and take actions that could potentially compromise the safety and security of your organization.

Invest in Cybersecurity Training for All Employees

Even the most comprehensive and robust cybersecurity incident response plan and cutting-edge cybersecurity infrastructure depends on educated users for maximum efficacy. Ensure all employees undergo cybersecurity training as part of your onboarding process and periodically receive additional training. 

Only Buy Devices from Trusted, Reputable Sources

While it may be more budget-conscious and environmentally friendly to purchase gently used devices, second-hand devices may offer more than you bargained for in the form of pre-downloaded malware. If you still intend to purchase second-hand equipment, make sure you do so from a trusted, authorized retailer of pre-owned devices and audit each item thoroughly for suspicious programs before connecting it to your network.

Opt for the Paid Version

One of the easiest ways to avoid falling victim to malicious adware is to opt for the paid, ad-free version of the software you are using whenever possible. Most organizations that offer premium subscriptions to otherwise ad-supported free products do not serve ads to premium users, so opting for the paid version can dramatically reduce your attack surface.

Vet Ads Partners Carefully to Avoid Malvertisement

Ad networks serve users ads from millions of advertisers, and most rely on real-time bidding, which means the ads shown on a website are constantly changing. This can make it difficult, if not nearly impossible, for individual website publishers to separate malicious ads from innocent ones. As such, it falls primarily on the ad provider to carefully vet ads, so it is critical that all website publishers choose their advertising partners with care. 

Be Cautious About Cookies

With GDPR compliance affecting more organizations each day, almost all websites now ask users for their explicit permission before creating cookies. Cookies are considered by some to be a form of spyware, so make sure you only accept cookies from trusted sites and consider limiting your permission to essential cookies only.

Consider Using an Anti-Tracking Browser Extension

Not all of your browsing activities need to be tracked by third parties, whether for legitimate means like advertising or otherwise. Anti-tracking tools can allow you to better opt-out of omnipresent tracking, which helps keep your browsing activities and data private.

Avoid Third-Party App Stores

Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting people through their phones, often using apps. Third-party app stores may not vet the apps they offer as carefully as Apple and Google, so it is best to be cautious and stick to the official app stores. 

Stick with Official App Publishers

Apps are an increasingly common delivery mechanism for malware, particularly spyware. Before you download an app, make sure that you trust the company that developed it.

Limit App Permissions

A troubling trend in the app space is apps that ask for more generous permissions than they require. Many apps ask to access your microphone, camera, or location data without justifying why they need this information. To avoid handing over more data than you need or want to, you should regularly review your app permissions and ensure your current settings reflect your actual preferences.

Nothing is Ever Really Free

As the old saying goes: if something is free, it’s because you are the product, not the customer. While sometimes free can mean a limited-time trial that allows prospective customers to try out the product for themselves, it can also mean that its creator is profiting off of the data you generate. Before you start using new software, make sure you take the time to read through the terms of use and only agree to them if you understand and accept them. 

a comprimised usb drive

Are You Concerned About Malware? VirtualArmour is Here to Help!

While it may feel like malware is lurking around every corner, there are concrete steps you can take to better safeguard your organization and its data. In addition to the advice above, you should also consider partnering with a trusted MSSP like VirtualArmour. With offices in both Denver, Colorado, and Middlesbrough, England, we are able to offer live, 24/7/365 monitoring as well as industry-leading response times. 

The cybersecurity experts at VirtualArmour have extensive experience working with organizations in a variety of verticals, including healthcare, finance, retail, and energy and are also familiar with the unique needs of service providers and offer tailored plans based on your level of need, including essential services, premium services, and one-time consults. We offer a wide selection of cybersecurity services, including:

For more information, or to get your free, no-obligation quote, please contact our team of experts today.

Suggested Reading 

Cybersecurity is a complex and continually evolving field, and keeping up to date is critical if you want to effectively safeguard your organization and its digital assets from malware and other threats. 

To help you stay up to date on the latest in cybersecurity news and trends, please consider visiting our Articles and Resources page and reviewing these educational articles.

Cybersecurity Basics For All Organizations

Cybersecurity Basics By Industry

Minimizing Your Risks

Common Threats (and How to Avoid Them)

OT Security: Safeguarding Your OT Assets in An Increasingly Connected World

OT Security: Safeguarding Your OT Assets in An Increasingly Connected World

While once rare, cybersecurity incidents targeting Operations Technology (OT) assets have become increasingly common in the past few years. This unfortunate trend prompted Verizon (in their 2020 Data Breach Investigation Report) to examine, for the first time in its then 12 year publication history, the involvement of OT assets vs. IT assets in security incidents. This report also included a section specifically aimed at organizations in the Mining, Quarrying, and Oil & Gas Extraction business. 

Norsk Hydro & Stuxnet: The Canaries in the Coal Mine

man pressing touchscreen with ot services

Norsk Hydro

Verizon’s 2020 report was released in the wake of the devastating 2019 ransomware attack on Norsk Hydro, which forced the organization to resort to manual operations at 170 sites in 40 different countries and cost the company tens of millions of dollars in damages. While OT networks and assets weren’t the primary target in this attack, the spill-over from the IT-focused attack disrupted OT networks substantially and shone a light on how unprotected many OT systems and assets really are. 

Stuxnet

However, the Norsk Hydro attack was not the first widespread, OT-disrupting attack. In 2010, Stuxnet, a highly sophisticated computer worm that targeted computers involved in uranium enrichment, disrupted OT systems across Iran, India, and Indonesia. The program began by checking to see if an infected computer is connected to specific programmable logic controller (PLCs) models manufactured by Siemens (PLCs are devices that computers use to interact with and control complex industrial machines like uranium centrifuges). 

Computers that weren’t connected were ignored (and typically left unharmed). However, computers connected to the PLCs then had their programming altered, causing the centrifuges to spin too quickly and for too long, extensively damaging and even destroying delicate and expensive equipment. While this was happening, Stuxnet directed the PLCs to report that all equipment was working normally, which, in the world of remote monitoring, made it incredibly difficult to detect and diagnose the problem before extensive damage had already been done.

OT assets bring with them unique security implications, and as an organization’s footprint expands, their security risk scales as well. This reality, partnered with broader market changes, is significantly influencing OT security environments. To keep your organization secure, businesses with significant OT assets need to take steps to secure their OT devices and improve their overall cybersecurity posture. 

IT Security vs OT Security: A Brief Overview

While many organizations used to manage their IT and OT networks separately, IT and OT systems have a lot in common and rely on very similar tools. However, these tools are used in different ways: while IT tools are designed to interact with humans so they can complete their work tasks, OT tools are designed to interact with machines and ensure that the industrial control systems within your organization are operating correctly and available for the tasks your organization depends on them for.

One of the reasons OT and IT were kept apart for so long is that traditionally OT environments were “air-gapped”: kept isolated from the broader IT network and run in separate, siloed environments without internet access. However, the rise of IIoT (the industrial internet of things), which allows OT assets to be controlled and monitored remotely, has broken this isolation. While remote capabilities allow organizations to enjoy decreased costs and increased efficiency, the trade-off is that OT systems are no longer automatically protected from internet-based threats, such as cybersecurity attacks. 

woman pressing the ulcok button on a touchscreen

The Security Risks Associated with Operational Technology

IT security has been a priority for most organizations for decades, but unfortunately, OT security has not received the same amount of attention. According to the 2020 Global IoT/ICS Risk Report:

  • 71% of IoT and Industrial Control Systems (ICS) networks are running on outdated operating systems that are no longer receiving security updates,
  • 66% have not been updated with the latest antivirus software, and 64% of these networks rely on insecure passwords. These findings are alarming and highlight several pervasive problems.

Direct Internet Connections

Many OT reliant organizations depend on direct connections to the public internet; this is a serious problem, as even a single internet-connected device can provide a gateway for cyberattackers to introduce malware onto a network or infiltrate the network and gain access to sensitive or proprietary information.  

Insecure Passwords

While easy-to-remember passwords are great for providing convenient entry for authorized workers, it also makes it easy for attackers to brute-force their way onto your network. To improve password security, you should consider following the NIST password guidelines (please see section 5.1.1.1 Memorized Secret Authenticators) or investing in a secure password manager. 

Misconfigured APs Are a Security Risk

A single misconfigured wireless access point (AP) can compromise the security of your entire network. To help prevent unauthorized network access, you should audit all APs regularly and ensure any new APs added to the network are correctly configured.

Outdated Operating Systems

While transitioning to a new operating system may pose a bit of a headache, outdated operating systems that no longer receive security updates are a prime target for security attacks. To help improve your security posture, you should inventory all machines and access points on your network to ensure they are able to take advantage of their manufacturers’ latest security patches and updates. 

Operating systems that are no longer supported should be phased out as quickly as possible and replaced with more secure options. During the transition, your security team should monitor your currently outdated systems more closely than usual since they present a particularly tempting entry point to attackers.

Inadequate OT Employee Training

Without proper employee cybersecurity training, even the best policies, most secure systems, and the latest and greatest security products will fall short. All employees should undergo regular cybersecurity training, and you should include security training during your onboarding process.

Well-trained employees are an incredibly valuable security asset, giving you eyes and ears across your network. You should ensure employees can identify potentially suspicious activities (such as phishing scams) and know who to report potentially suspicious activities to. 

You should also consider running tabletop cybersecurity exercises. Tabletop exercises are similar to fire drills: allowing your employees to put their cybersecurity skills and knowledge to the test in a no-stakes environment. Employees are presented with a hypothetical cybersecurity incident which they have to respond to. This not only allows employees to get comfortable using their cybersecurity knowledge and helps them familiarize themselves with your incident response plan but is also a great way to identify gaps in your security posture and response procedures so that they can be addressed before those deficiencies can be used against you. 

hacker trying to breach a computer wiht brute force

As Your OT Footprint Expands, Industry Operators Need to Consider These Cyber Risks As Well

As your OT footprint expands, so do your cyber risks. However, by adopting a security-focused and proactive mindset, you can help ensure your cybersecurity posture remains robust. 

Keep Third-Party Risk Management Top-of-Mind

Many OT-heavy organizations rely heavily on third parties. While oil and gas businesses looking to transition to renewable energy sources are looking to partner with third parties to ease this transition, many mining companies also rely on third parties to provide support services such as equipment assembly and maintenance. However, without proper planning and integration, partnering with a third party can increase risk and create security gaps in both parties’ systems.

To help keep your OT ecosystem remains secure, you should ensure that your new partners are able to smoothly integrate with your OT and IT networks. Linking two systems introduces risk to both, so it is important to ensure that this partnership won’t inadvertently introduce security gaps that could leave either party or both parties vulnerable. You should also carefully vet all partners to ensure they meet your rigorous cybersecurity standards and limit third-party access to only the systems they require to do their work. Should a third party require access to a critical or sensitive system, this access should be carefully monitored for suspicious activity in case your third-party partner’s network or organization becomes compromised. 

Beware of Cyber Espionage

Cyber espionage, particularly in the mining industry, remains a serious threat. Common cyber espionage attackers include competitors looking for an economic advantage and state-sponsored attackers looking to disrupt or cripple a rival country’s economy (such as the suspected attacks by Russian hackers on power companies, government agencies, and banks in Ukraine starting in 2015). 

Mining Companies

Both state-sponsored attackers and corporate interest groups view mining companies as treasure troves of valuable data and may seek to use cyber espionage tactics to gain unauthorized access to geological exploration research (including details on the location and value of natural deposits), corporate strategy documents (containing pricing information), and sensitive information on proprietary extraction and processing technologies. 

At the same time, insights into business strategies and mine values could be leveraged during merger and acquisition negotiations in an effort to outbid a competitor or lower the price of an acquisition target. Stolen trade secrets and IP can also be used to reduce R&D costs for the attacker, providing a long-term competitive advantage. A good example of cyber espionage in action within the mining industry came in 2011 when global mining company BHP Billiton was targeted by both state-sponsored attackers and competitors in an attack that sought to gain access to market pricing information for key commodities. 

Energy Providers, Including Oil & Gas

Oil and gas companies, as well as other energy providers, are also vulnerable to cyber espionage attacks. In 2021, many large international oil and gas companies were targeted in an attack that leveraged malware called Agent Tesla and other RATs (remote access trojans) to steal sensitive data, banking information, and browser information by logging keyboard strokes. While the Agent Tesla cyber espionage campaign mainly targeted energy companies, the attackers also targeted a small number of organizations in the IT, manufacturing, and media industries. 

By fortifying your current cybersecurity posture, keeping security top of mind, and investing in robust and comprehensive employee cybersecurity training, you can help ensure your OT assets and other critical systems are better able to fend off potential cyber attacks. 

Phishing Attacks Target OT Assets As Well

Phishing attacks have begun to target OT assets and networks as well as IT networks. As such, all OT personnel should undergo cybersecurity training that includes how to identify potential phishing scams, what to do if they suspect they have been targeted by a phishing scam, and whom to report the potential scam to for further investigation.

Securing Your OT Devices: Steps for All Organizations

Take a Proactive Approach

As the old saying goes: the best offense is a good defense. A proactive approach to cybersecurity includes: 

Learn What to Look For

When it comes to cybersecurity and suspicious activities, It’s critical that your entire team knows what sort of red flags to look for. While false flags can temporarily divert personnel away from other critical tasks, underreporting can allow threats to sneak through, so it is always best to err on the side of caution. 

To help identify and investigate suspicious activities, many organizations turn to managed SIEM solutions. SIEM experts have extensive experience with cybersecurity and stay up to date on the continually evolving threat landscape, which allows them to quickly assess potentially suspicious activities and attacks that could impact your OT ecosystem.

You should also seriously consider investing in a managed firewall solution. Unlike passive firewall programs, managed firewall solutions include access to a team of security experts, who will monitor and fine-tune your firewall as well as ensure all necessary security patches are downloaded and implemented as soon as they become available. 

Invest in Network Mapping & Connectivity Analysis

It’s really easy to get lost without a map. Network mapping allows you to understand the physical and digital locations of all devices on your network, pinpoint issues, and isolate potentially compromised equipment quickly and effectively. This way, should an incident such as a malware or ransomware attack occur, your security team can quickly isolate infected machinery from the rest of the network, limiting or even preventing damage and disruption. 

Implement a Zero-Trust Framework

Zero-trust frameworks are built on the security philosophy of “never trust, always verify”. Zero-trust systems assume that every person, device, application, and network is presumed to be a threat until they have been properly vetted and verified. As such, each entity must prove its legitimacy (essentially show its digital ID badge) before it is allowed to connect to the OT network.

Many Zero-trust systems rely on dual-factor or multi-factor authentication (MFA) tools, which require users to provide more than one form of identification. Typically, this may require a user to provide a username and password, as well as an additional piece of identification, such as a short-lived code sent to their mobile device or a fingerprint scan, or provide the correct answer to a security question. By adding an extra layer of verification, organizations can make it more difficult for an attacker to gain access to your OT systems.

Control Identity & Access Management

Not every worker needs to be able to access every part of your network, and overly-permissive access can pose a serious security risk. Controlling who is able to access what parts of your system is a critical piece of your overall cybersecurity posture, especially since every set of access credentials issued presents another potential entry vector for attackers. 

If an employee falls for a phishing scam or leaves their credentials unsecured or exposed, it could allow attackers to access critical systems or gain access to sensitive information. As such, all organizations should:

  • Educate employees about the importance of safeguarding their access credentials
  • Teach employees about the dangers of credential sharing
  • Adopt a least-privilege policy, and ensure it is maintained across your organization. This will limit access rights to those users who absolutely need them.
  • Revoke access privileges of former employees as soon as possible. Attackers will often look to leverage dormant accounts, and since the person the account is intended for is no longer using it, the use of these credentials is often not discovered right away.
  • Revoke temporarily-granted access for visitors, guests, and other third parties as soon as it is no longer required.

Create an OT Systems Management Program

An OT systems management program is a great way to ensure you are covering all of your security bases. Most programs typically include:

  • Asset inventory management
  • Lifecycle management, including:
    • Defining system requirements to ensure desired physical system outcomes
    • Establishing specifications to ensure security and reliability
    • Control and supply chain management over these systems
    • A schedule for replacing outdated components
  • Configuration management
  • Patch and vulnerability management
  • Network and system design
  • User and account management
  • Log and performance monitoring (critical for both reliability and security)
  • Incident and trouble response
  • Backup and restore functionality

A good OT systems management program offers a wide range of benefits, including:

  • Providing valuable insights into all hardware and software on your OT network, allowing your security team to identify vulnerabilities swiftly
  • Properly updating and configuring systems, which reduces attack surface areas
  • Providing a way for your team to update automation systems for key operational tasks in an operationally efficient manner 
  • Providing a mechanism that handles reporting and monitoring across your OT and IT systems in a consistent manner, thereby simplifying the reporting process.
  • More advanced and effective security controls by offering both proper visibility and access to underlying endpoints and other network infrastructure

Segment Your Network

Network segmentation is a great way to safeguard your most valuable OT assets and systems. Segmenting your network is a physical security measure that sections off vulnerable or sensitive systems and networks from the wider network. In IT, this may take the form of segmenting the accounting department’s network (which contains both private financial information and sensitive employee information) from less-critical or sensitive areas of the network, such as the guest wifi.

Network segmentation is becoming increasingly common in organizations that deal with critical infrastructure, including oil and gas companies, power companies, utility companies, and manufacturing companies, and is a great way to improve your security posture by better isolating and safeguarding critical and sensitive systems and assets. 

Consider Partnering with a Trusted MSSP

Securing your OT assets and networks against cyber attackers can be a daunting prospect, particularly for organizations without their own in-house cybersecurity teams. Fortunately, experts like VirtualArmour are here to help. Our team has extensive experience working with companies in a variety of OT-heavy industries, including the energy sector, mining, and manufacturing

We offer a variety of security services, including:

We also offer tailored services à la carte, allowing you to select the services your organization requires so you can create a personalized premium or essential services package designed to meet your organization’s unique needs. We are also pleased to offer personalized, one-time expert consults

With offices in both Denver, Colorado, and Middlesbrough, England, we are able to offer live, 24/7/365 monitoring and assistance, as well as industry-leading response times. Whether you are looking to assess your current OT cybersecurity posture, update or create your incident response plan, or coordinate employee training via our VirtualArmour Academy, the experts at VirtualArmour are here to help. For more information or to get your free, no-obligation quote or free cyber risk report, please contact our team today.

What the War in Ukraine Means for American Cybersecurity Engineers

What the War in Ukraine Means for American Cybersecurity Engineers

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shocked the world, driving millions from their homes as they seek safety. However, in the internet age, wars aren’t fought in the physical world alone, and cyber warfare has become an increasingly serious threat. 

woman on her laptop with a lock icon on the screen

The Invasion of Ukraine is Already a Cyberwar

Though most of the news coverage of the situation focuses on developments in the physical world, early cyber skirmishing has already begun. Cyberattacks have recently targeted the Ukrainian defense ministry, and two banks in what the country’s deputy prime minister stated is the largest attack of this type ever seen in the country. 

While the Kremlin has denied they are behind the denial of service attacks, the disruption has brought concerns about the threat of cyberconflict into the spotlight. Ilya Vitayuk, the cybersecurity chief of Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency, has stated that it is still too early to definitively identify the perpetrators behind the attack. This is because, as with most cyberattacks, the perpetrators worked hard to cover their tracks. However, he also added, “The only country that is interested in such … attacks on our state, especially against the backdrop of massive panic about a possible military invasion, the only country that is interested is the Russian Federation.”

Ukraine has accused Russia of cyberattacks in the past and believes the Kremlin is behind a string of cyberattacks against Ukraine starting in 2014. In an age when war is fought on battlefields, both physical and digital, combat is no longer confined to combatants on the ground. While Ukraine’s SBU has made cybersecurity a major security focus in the current conflict, a cyberattack on Ukraine by Russia or its allies could have wide-reaching consequences for Ukraine’s allies as well. As such, countries and private organizations alike need to remain vigilant.

The American Government Prepares to Respond

Cyberattacks, even those specifically targeting Ukraine, could seriously impact the United States. 

In response to the invasion of Ukraine, CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) has issued a statement. Entitled Shields Up, it states (as of the writing of this article):

“While there are no specific or credible cyber threats to the US homeland at this time, Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which has involved cyber-attacks on Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure organizations, may impact organizations both within and beyond the region. Every organization—large and small—must be prepared to respond to disruptive cyber activity. As the nation’s cyber defense agency, CISA stands ready to help organizations prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the impact of cyber-attacks. When cyber incidents are reported quickly, we can use this information to render assistance and as a warning to prevent other organizations and entities from falling victim to a similar attack.”

President Joe Biden has announced the American government is prepared to respond to cyberattacks from Russia if necessary, and “For months, we have been working closely with our private — with the private sector to harden their cyber defenses, sharpen our ability to respond to Russian cyberattacks, as well.” NBC News also reported that President Biden has a “menu of options for the US to carry out massive cyberattacks designed to disrupt Russia’s ability to sustain its military options in Ukraine.”

However, as the Shields Up announcement indicates, cyberwarfare concerns are not contained to the national and international stage. Organizations of all sizes and in all verticals need to be taking appropriate steps to proactively safeguard their digital assets. 

room of people on their electronic devices

What Sort of Cyberattacks Should We Anticipate?

While we have no way of knowing exactly what sort of attacks the cyber warfare front of the Ukraine-Russia conflict will bring, we can look to a history of previous international attacks for guidance. According to Forbes, organizations should be prepared to handle:

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

APTs is a broad term used to describe any attack campaign where an attacker, or group of attackers, establishes an illicit, long-term presence on a network in order to covertly mine highly sensitive data. Most intrusions of this nature that target private companies tend to focus on the theft of intellectual property, compromising sensitive data (such as employee or private user data), sabotaging critical infrastructure (such as deleting database data), or taking over websites with a goal of illegal financial enrichment, the strategies deployed against private companies can be used against nations and companies alike. 

With cyber warfare on our doorstep, now is the time to batten down the hatches and strengthen your cybersecurity posture. By improving your overall security posture, you can proactively guard against ATPs by making it difficult for intruders to infiltrate your network in the first place, preventing them from establishing a covert, long-term presence. 

Malware

Malware refers to any form of malicious software, typically spread by infected email attachments and suspicious website links deployed as part of phishing scams. While most email providers automatically filter out suspicious messages, one of the best steps organizations can take to improve their cybersecurity posture is to invest in employee cybersecurity training. 

Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, from the CEO down to the summer intern. Teaching workers to identify and report suspicious activities can stop an attack before it even begins, so all team members should receive robust cybersecurity training as both part of their onboarding process and on an ongoing basis. 

Ransomware

Ransomware is a subset of malware, which uses malicious code to encrypt files and prevent legitimate users from accessing data or systems on either their individual machine or the organization’s network. 

DDoS

DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are attempts to crash a web server or other online service by flooding the supporting infrastructure with more traffic than the network can reasonably handle. 

This type of attack can be instigated by either a large group of attackers working together or a single attacker with a sufficiently large botnet (connected computers performing repetitive tasks as directed by the user in charge). The goal of DDoS attacks is to overload the server, forcing it offline and preventing legitimate users from accessing the organizations’ products or services. 

Network Security Attacks

Network security attacks is an umbrella term for attacks aimed at disrupting an organization’s network and system for a variety of reasons, including causing service disruptions, stealing data, or corrupting files. While this is often done for financial gain, in the case of the cyberwarfare front of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, it is likely to be for political or military gain. 

To help safeguard themselves from these types of attacks, organizations should be taking proactive steps to safeguard their networks from network breaches. 

person being locked out of their phone

What Steps Should Your Organization Be Taking to Best Safeguard Your Digital Assets

Follow All Current Advice From Your National Cybersecurity Authority

The situation, both on the ground in Ukraine and in the digital sphere, is continually evolving, with new threats always on the horizon. To best safeguard your organization, it is vital to stay up to date on the situation and follow the current advice of your national cybersecurity authority. 

Establish A Relationship With Local Governments in Jurisdictions Where Your Company Operates

  • In the United States, InfraGard is responsible for coordinating information sharing between critical infrastructure providers.
  • Organizations operating in the United Kingdom should review information provided by NCSC’s Critical National Infrastructure hub.
  • Organizations in the European Union should speak to their local CSIRT (Computer Security Incident Response Team) and CERT (Computer Emergency Response Teams) contacts. A full list of these can be found here
  • In Germany, the BSI (Federal Office for Information Security) has released several cybersecurity warnings related to the situation. Current security warnings can be found here
  • In Australia, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ASCS) is providing guidance using ongoing alerts. You can also register to receive alerts from ACSC, and they provide general cybersecurity advice for small and medium businesses and organizations and critical infrastructure

Success Depends on Interorganizational Trust

Even the most comprehensive, best-designed cybersecurity strategy can be easily undermined if your organization lacks interdepartmental trust. A solid relationship between stakeholders and your security team is critical if you want to keep your organization secure. 

Building trust can be hard, but there are concrete steps your security team can take to build stakeholder trust. This includes:

Overcommunication 

Clear, concise, focused, and on-point communication is critical, and there is no such thing as too much information. Too many stakeholder-security team conflicts are rooted in a lack of communication, miscommunications, or misunderstandings. Opening the lines of communication, and keeping them open, is an excellent way to build trust.

Honesty & Transparency

When it comes to cybersecurity, honesty is the best policy. When it comes to admitting fault, acknowledging a mistake, or delivering bad news, stakeholders and security teams alike appreciate honesty. By being honest about your organization’s current security posture (including any deficiencies), security and stakeholders can work together to fortify your organization’s cybersecurity posture. 

On the other hand, lies, omissions, and misrepresentations cause cracks in your cybersecurity posture and foster inter-organizational distrust, with potentially disastrous consequences. All trusting relationships are built on a foundation of honesty.

Diligence

Hard work, dedication, and commitment from both your security team and your stakeholders is critical for building organizational trust. Both sides of the table need to know that the other side is working hard to fulfill their obligations and is willing to own up to any mistakes or shortcomings. It’s a lot easier to build trust when you know the rest of the team has your back.

A Willingness to Listen & Accept Feedback

Communication is a two-way street, and both stakeholders and security teams need to be willing to listen and accept honest feedback and not dismiss the other side’s suggestions and concerns out of hand. When one side feels that the other isn’t taking their concerns, expertise, or advice seriously, it undermines the relationship and damages trust, weakening the organization and compromising its security posture. 

Action

Talk is great, but only when it is followed by concrete action. When either the security team or the stakeholders promise to do something, the other side needs to see that they will follow through. When we can’t trust our teammates to act on their promises, those promises become meaningless. 

That being said, we are only human, and sometimes promises are broken. When this happens, it is critical to acknowledge that the promise was not honored, provide an explanation (budgetary concerns, staffing shortages, etc.), amend the promise so it can be reasonably accomplished, commit to action, and then act to fulfill the promise. A cycle of inaction and broken promises can impact more than your cybersecurity posture; it can poison your organization, driving away good workers and demoralizing those who remain.   

ransomware downloading on a laptop

Initiate a “Request for Intelligence” From Your Threat Intelligence Partner

You can’t adequately defend yourself if you don’t know what you are defending against. A request for intelligence is a comprehensive report compiled by your threat intelligence partner. When requesting your report, make sure you specify your intended audience (such as your board of directors or security team) and any specific concerns you may have so that your vendor can tailor the report accordingly and ensure all critical and relevant information is included. 

A good request for an intelligence report should go beyond the normal overviews your partner is providing and should include specific concerns related to your vertical, industry, and operating locations. It should also provide information on threat actors you should be concerned about, as well as the TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) those threat actors typically use. 

Collaborate Closely With Your Security Vendors

Your security vendor needs to take a proactive role when it comes to preparing your organization for cyber conflict and defense. 

  • Vendor account representatives can help ensure your organization receives the correct level of care and attention and help you get the most out of your security products and services.
  • You should also work closely with your product vendors to confirm turnaround times and automation options for ruleset and patch updates (to ensure your software automatically downloads and installs security patches as soon as they are made available).

A good vendor should be already communicating with you about the situation in Ukraine, but if you have not received any communications, you should reach out directly to your vendor, representative, or support team.

Keep an Eye Out for Disinformation & Misinformation

Disinformation and misinformation featured heavily in the lead-up to the conflict in Ukraine. On February 3rd, 2022, the United States even predicted that Russia might use fake graphic videos as a pretext for invasion, a prediction that came true two weeks later. Videos like these and other forms of misinformation and disinformation serve two purposes: to bolster internal sentiment for an invasion (or justify an ongoing invasion) and distort the narrative abroad. 

As such, it is vital to get your news from trustworthy sources and rely on the advice of local and national leaders as well as your security team to ensure you are getting the facts. As the situation continues to evolve, it is also vital that you are keeping your incident response plans up to date and keeping the lines of communication open both across your organization and between your organization and relevant third parties, such as your managed security services provider (MSSP) and relevant government bodies. 

Consider Adopting Secure Communications Tools

Organizations that are concerned about the security and privacy of their business communications (including eavesdropping, data loss, communications metadata exposure, or non-compliance) should consider increasing communications security or switching to more secure communications tools. Organizations with employees in and around Ukraine should also be aware that those individuals may face communications disruptions.

Encrypted messaging and calling solutions like Element and Wickr are ideal for low-bandwidth environments and can be used to enhance the security of your everyday communications as well as work as out-of-band communication channels during incident responses. They can also be used to provide traveling executives with improved communications security. If you are concerned about the security of your current in-house communication tools or are looking to replace them with a more secure option, your managed security services provider can help you make the right choice for your organization. 

Build Out Your Incident Response Ranks

Small and medium-sized organizations often don’t have the resources to support a full, in-house cybersecurity team, which is why many choose to partner with an MSSP. A good MSSP can help you augment your in-house security team, provide employee cybersecurity training, and help you evaluate your current cybersecurity position and incident response plans

Should an incident occur, your MSSP can help you respond effectively (mitigating, or even eliminating, damage), conduct a thorough investigation into the root cause of the incident, and help you prepare any reports required for relevant legislative bodies (such as GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA).

Safeguard Your Endpoints & Practice Good Software Hygiene 

Safeguarding your endpoints (smartphones, laptops, and tablets that have access to your network) and hosts (such as networks) is vital. Endpoint detection and response (EDR) involves using tools and solutions to detect, investigate, and mitigate suspicious endpoint and host activities. Unlike traditional anti-virus software, EDR isn’t reliant on known behavioral patterns or malware signatures, allowing it to quickly and easily detect new threats. Depending on the nature of the threat it has detected, EDR is also designed to trigger an adaptive response (much like your immune system springing into action).

One of the easiest yet most critical steps any organization can take to improve their security posture is to keep all their software up to date. When software developers discover vulnerabilities in their products, they release patches to address them. Cybercriminals often target recently patched software in the hopes that not all organizations have been as diligent as yours about installing new security patches. Installing patches takes a few minutes, and the process can often be automated and scheduled so that patches are installed during non-business hours to completely eliminate downtime. 

Take Proactive, Preventative Steps Before an Incident Occurs

As the old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. By being proactive and shoring up your cybersecurity defenses before an incident occurs, you stand a better chance of mitigating or even eliminating damage. Regular pen (penetration) testing, which involves hiring an ethical hacker to stress-test your defenses and search for vulnerabilities, can help highlight security deficiencies so they can be addressed before a cyber attacker is able to exploit them.

Investing in ongoing cybersecurity training is also critical: Employees who can’t identify potential threats are more likely to fall for things like phishing scams, and employees who don’t know how to respond to an incident won’t be able to respond effectively. As such, it is critical that you review your incident response plans regularly and make sure all relevant stakeholders are kept up to date.

You may also want to consider running tabletop scenarios. Tabletop scenarios work like cyber incident fire drills: Your team is presented with a hypothetical scenario and asked to respond, allowing them to put their cybersecurity training to use in a no-stakes environment. Tabletop scenarios not only familiarize your employees with potential threats and help them hone their response skills, but they are also a great way to identify and address security gaps before they can be exploited. 

Concerned About Your Cybersecurity Stance? VirtualArmour is Here to Help!

The situation in Ukraine has put many organizations on edge, and trying to figure out how to shore up your organization’s cybersecurity defenses against cyber conflict may be overwhelming. Fortunately, the VirtualArmour team is always here to help.

We offer a variety of security solutions, including:

We also offer tailored services à la carte, allowing you to pick and choose the services your organization requires to create your own premium services package or essential services package. We also offer personalized, one-time expert consults.

We have extensive experience working with organizations in a variety of highly-specialized industries, including energy, finance, healthcare, and retail, and are well-versed in the unique security and IT challenges faced by service providers. With offices in both Denver, Colorado, and Middlesbrough, England, we are able to offer live, 24/7/365 monitoring and industry-leading response times. 

Our team of experts can help you assess your current cybersecurity posture and create or update your incident response plans. We also provide cybersecurity training through our VirtualArmour Academy. For more information or to get your free, no-obligation quote or free cyber risk report, please contact our team today.

Suggested Reading & Useful Links

The Cybersecurity Situation in Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine is constantly shifting, and it can be hard to stay up to date and get the facts your team depends on to best inform your cybersecurity posture. To help you get the information you need, we have compiled a list of links to relevant organizations below. 

The United States

Europe

The United Kingdom

Australia

Educational Articles from VirtualArmour

Cybersecurity is a complex and continually evolving field. To best safeguard your organization and its digital assets, it’s important to stay up to date. 

To learn about the latest news and developments in the cybersecurity sphere, please consider visiting our Articles and Resources page and reviewing the educational articles listed below.

Cybersecurity Basics For All Organizations

Cybersecurity Basics By Industry

Minimizing Your Risks

Common Threats (and How to Avoid Them)

Ransomware: Don’t Get Locked Out

Ransomware: Don’t Get Locked Out

Over the past few years, ransomware has become increasingly sophisticated and remains distressingly common. As such, all organizations need to be taking steps to shore up their cybersecurity defenses in the wake of this common and devastating threat. To help you get the information you need, we sat down with VirtualArmour SOC engineer Kurt Pritchard to discuss what ransomware is, a brief history of recent notable ransomware attacks, and what steps your organization can take to improve your cybersecurity posture.

If you have recently experienced, or are currently experiencing, a ransomware attack, please contact our team straight away and consider reviewing our educational article: Hacked? Here’s What to Know (and What to Do Next).

man locked out of his phone

What is Ransomware?

The National Cyber Security Centre in the United Kingdom defines ransomware as a type of malware that prevents legitimate end-users (such as you or your employees) from accessing a computer, tablet, or smartphone on your network or the data that is stored on the infected device. 

A ransomware attack can also spread quickly, locking users out of multiple infected machines and cutting you and your employees off from all the data stored on your local network. Once the device has been seized, and the files have been encrypted, the attacker typically demands payment (the ransom), frequently in cryptocurrencies, before promising to unlock the impacted devices and restore usability. 

However, even if the ransom is paid, the attacker may not follow through on their end, leaving many organizations with locked devices and encrypted files even once the ransom has been paid.

Even if You’re Locked Out, The Attacker Isn’t

Users also need to be aware that while the attack prevents them from accessing the impacted device, it remains fully accessible to the attacker. As such, the data stored on it may be stolen, deleted, or encrypted during the attack. Depending on the nature of the data impacted, this can lead to serious legal and regulatory issues, as well as serious reputational damage.  

Ransomware & Phishing Attacks Go Hand-in-Hand

Ransomware typically targets users using social engineering, specifically phishing attacks. During a phishing attack, the cybercriminal poses as someone the user trusts (such as their boss or the company’s bank) and then tricks them into handing over sensitive information such as usernames and passwords or granting the attacker administrative privileges. 

Doxware: A Subset of Ransomware

Doxware (also called extortionate) is a type of ransomware. However, unlike traditional ransomware, doxware typically involves seizing sensitive files and threatening to release confidential information on the open internet. Such information could include private financial records, sensitive proprietary information, or other data that organizations do not want shared freely. Another major difference between ransomware and doxware also typically targets individual sensitive files (such as financial reports), while ransomware typically targets the device’s entire hard drive.

woman locked out of her computer

Ransomware May Have Peaked in 2017, but Remains a Serious Threat

Though information from Google Trends strongly suggests that ransomware peaked in 2017 with the devastating WannaCry attack, more recent attacks such as those conducted by the cybercriminal group REvil and the supply chain attack that targeted Kaseya software users remind us that ransomware remains a serious threat. 

WannaCry: The 2017 Attack That Crippled the NHS

WannaCry targeted a number of organizations, including the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, impacting both hospitals and doctor’s surgeries, compromising medical care for patients, and putting lives at risk. 

The WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS ran from May 12th, 2017, to May 19th the same year and left doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals scrambling to care for patients while the IT system remained completely inaccessible. As a result of the attack, healthcare professionals were unable to access vital information, such as patients’ electronic documents, and critical life-saving devices such as MRI and CT scanning facilities were knocked offline. 

In total, around 230,000 computers in approximately 150 countries were impacted.

The attackers demanded $300 in Bitcoin per machine in exchange for unencrypting the impacted files. However, the attackers also introduced a time limit: If the payment wasn’t submitted within three days, it would double to $600 in Bitcoin. Unfortunately, some researchers who did pay the ransom were still unable to decrypt their files, and priceless research data was lost forever. 

WannaCry has been hailed as one of the most widespread and damaging cyberattacks to date. 

The Kaseya Attach Highlighted a New Trend in Ransomware: Supply Chain Attacks

Though WannaCry may be behind us, ransomware attacks continue to grow in both number and sophistication, with an increasing number of devices being impacted. 

One way ransomware is evolving is the recent trend of using ransomware directly, like in the case of the Kaseya attack of 2021. The group behind the attack, the Russian cybercrime group REvil, launched a ransomware attack targeting Kaseya (a cybersecurity company well known for their remote monitoring and management software) on July 2nd, 2021. However, unlike most ransomware attacks, the cybercriminals didn’t attack their victims directly but instead used Kaseya as an unknowing intermediary to target organizations that relied on Kaseya’s monitoring software. 

Unfortunately for the 200 businesses affected by the attack, Kaseya was the perfect target. According to John Hammond, a senior security researcher at Huntress, the Kaseya attack was “a colossal and devastating supply chain attack”, noting that because Kaseya is plugged into everything from large enterprises to small companies, “it has the potential to spread to any size or scale businesses.” This is because Kaseya’s VSA (virtual system/server administrator) is integrated into desktops, network devices, printers, and servers – leading to a potentially limitless impact. Ransoms varied from user to user, with demands ranging from a few thousand dollars to $5 million or more per organization.

Fortunately, REvil group members were arrested in Russia last January, with the FSB (Russia’s intelligence bureau) stating that the group now “ceased to exist”

Beyond Desktops & Laptops: Ransomware Attacks Now Targeting Android Smartphones

With users relying on their phones now more than ever, ransomware attackers are taking notice. Charger, a new ransomware program specifically designed to target Android smartphones, targeted unwitting users who downloaded the EnergyRescue app (purportedly designed to enhance the battery life of phones and tablets). Impacted users were subject to a ransomware attack that began by stealing contact data and text messages from the infected device. 

Next, the ransomware program asked users to grant it administrative permissions. Once the ransomware had admin access, the ransomware would begin to run, locking users out of their devices and demanding payment. The message warned that users who failed to pay up would remain locked out (ransomware) and have portions of the private information they had stored on their phone sold on the internet “black market” every 30 minutes (doxware).

Though it is still unclear who was behind the Charger ransomware, researchers noticed that one of the first things Charger did when installed was check the device’s location settings. If the device was located in Ukraine, Russia, or Belarus, the malicious code remained dormant, suggesting the cybercriminals behind the attack may be based in Eastern Europe. 

Android’s security team has since removed the EnergyRescue app from the Play Store, and though the malware is thought to have infected only a handful of devices, it remains an important example of how ransomware is evolving and may now include both ransomware and doxware strategies in a single attack. This incident also illustrates why it is important to only download applications and other forms of software from companies and developers that you know and trust and that if something appears too good to be true, it likely is.

maqn locked out of his laptop

Safeguarding Your Business and Its Digital Assets

Ransomware remains a serious threat to organizations of all sizes and in all industries and verticals. However, there are steps you can take to improve your cybersecurity posture and better secure your organization’s data and devices. 

Trust is Key: Opt for Reputable (& Verified) App & Software Developers

Make sure you, your employees, and anyone else whose devices have access to your network are only using apps and software from trusted companies such as Microsoft or Adobe rather than unknown, potentially malicious companies. 

It also doesn’t hurt to independently verify that “new Microsoft app” was actually developed by Microsoft and not a suspicious actor looking to catch less distracted users unaware. 

Everything Has a Price: Don’t Let it Be Your Privacy or Security

Everything has a price, whether the cost is laid out upfront or not. An app that promises to give you access to normally expensive software (such as the Adobe suite or a program that promises the same functionality) for free or at a fraction of the cost should give you pause. If you aren’t paying for it, it usually means you’re the product, not the customer. 

It’s always better to opt for a paid program or app from a reputable source than to download the “free version” from an unknown or suspicious entity in the name of saving a bit of money. If the app or program is full of ransomware or other forms of malware, you could end up paying much more than you bargained for.

Read Your Emails Carefully

Before you open that file or download that form, make sure to do your due diligence and check who it is from. If the sender appears to be your boss, your bank, or another trusted entity but they are asking you to do something irregular (such as purchase a large number of gift cards, hand over your login credentials, or provide your banking details), make sure you reach out independently (such as by phone) to verify the request.

You should also look for things like typos in the domain name (such as an email from Your Trusted Bank, not Your Trusted Bank) or variations on the sender’s name. For example, if your boss is Jane Smith, and her work email is [email protected]com, but this email came from [email protected]org, [email protected]hotmail.com, or jansmith instead of janesmith, you should proceed with extreme caution and reach out to the purported sender independently for verification before you click on any links, download any files, or complete any other actions the sender has asked you to. 

If you don’t recognize the sender it’s always safer to leave the attachment unopened or the link unclicked and consider forwarding the email to your security team. Passing the email along will not only help you determine if the request is legitimate, but can help your security team track phishing attacks targeting your organization and its employees and improve security for everyone.  

Backup Everything Regularly

Ransomware attacks prey on our fear of losing critical data. By regularly backing up all data stored on your network, you may be able to recover most, if not all, of the data that you can’t currently access without having to pay the ransom. Depending on the nature of your business, and the nature of the data being stored, you may want to consider opting for a cloud system such as iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox or consider backing up your files locally using an external hard drive. 

However, before you make your final decision, you should ensure your preferred choice complies with all relevant security, privacy, and data protection standards, such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS.

An Up to Date Operating System is a More Secure Operating System

One of the simplest things you can do to help keep your security posture strong is to keep your operating system and other software up to date. When developers discover vulnerabilities, bugs, or other security issues with their products, they develop and release patches to fix them. However, you can only take advantage of a new security patch if you actually download it, making out-of-date software a security liability. 

Because security patches are publicly announced, everyone, including cybercriminals, now knows about the vulnerability the patch is designed to fix. As such, attackers frequently target companies running recently patched software in the hopes that not all organizations are as diligent as yours about keeping their software up to date: It’s always better to invest the 20 minutes it takes to update your software than risk compromising your operational security. 

Anti-Virus Software Still Plays a Critical Role

While many people may think antivirus software is outdated, it still plays an important role in your cybersecurity defenses when combined with other security measures. Antivirus software is just one of many tools that, when combined appropriately with other security measures, help keep your organization safe.

It Always Pays to Have a Plan & Invest in Cybersecurity Training

Should your organization fall victim to ransomware or another type of cyberattack, it is critical you have an incident response program in place to help you and your team respond swiftly and effectively. All new employees should undergo cybersecurity training as part of your onboarding process, and all employees, from the CEO downwards, should also undergo regular cybersecurity training to keep their skills and knowledge top of mind and up to date.

secure laptop

Worried About Ransomware? VirtualArmour is Here to Help!

While the internet may feel like it is becoming more like the Wild West every day, there is hope. By partnering with organizations like VirtualArmour, you can take proactive steps to shore up your defenses and keep your data safe and secure. Our team of cybersecurity experts has your back every step of the way: Whether you are looking to develop or update your incident response plan, bolster your internal IT or cybersecurity team, or respond to an ongoing cybersecurity incident, we’re always here for you: 24/7/365. For more information, please contact our team today

Suggested Reading

Cybersecurity is a complex and continually evolving field, so it is vital that you stay up to date and in the loop if you want to safeguard your organization and its data effectively.

To help you stay on top of the latest cybersecurity news and trends, please consider visiting our Articles and Resources page and reviewing these educational articles.

Common Threats (and How to Avoid Them)

Cybersecurity Basics For All Organizations

Cybersecurity Basics By Industry

Minimizing Your Risks

About the Author

Kurt Pritchard is a SOC Engineer at VirtualArmour, you can learn more about him on his LinkedIn.

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