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FBI’s new ransomware warning: Don’t pay up, but if you do, tell us about it

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Ransomware: Paying the hackers only makes things worse
“It seems like a fix but it really isn’t”. Paying the ransom might be the cheapest short-term option to get your data back, but it causes long-term problems.

After a spate of ransomware attacks on government organizations, the FBI has come up with a new stance on paying up ransomware demands. 

The latest groups to be targeted by high-value ransomware attacks are hospital organizations in Alabama, USA, and Victoria, Australia. Both resulted in hospitals turning away non-critical patients as employees worked to restore IT systems.   

The attacks on government and healthcare providers have forced victims to question whether it is better to restore systems that may not have been adequately backed up or just pay the attackers. The question is particularly acute when the cost of downtime is greater than the ransom demand. 

Individually, it may make sense to pay an attacker, but in a collective sense, paying just encourages more attackers to try their luck. 

So many local governments have paid huge sums to attackers that a group of 225 US mayors in July signed a resolution not to pay ransomware attackers.    

So what should victims do if their IT network is held captive by ransomware? The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has now offered updated and nuanced advice on that question. 

The FBI says it does not advocate paying the ransom. Paying up doesn’t guarantee restored access to data and “paying ransoms emboldens criminals to target other organizations and provides an alluring and lucrative enterprise to other criminals”.

But the FBI says it also understands that executives running businesses that have become crippled by ransomware “will evaluate all options to protect their shareholders, employees, and customers”.

In other words, sometimes it pays off to just pay up, even though paying comes with risks and could worsen things for others. 

The advice is more nuanced than the view expressed by one FBI agent at a conference in 2015, when ransomware was more often deployed indiscriminately, as opposed to today’s targeted attacks. As Security Ledger reported at the time, the agent said: “To be honest, we often advise people just to pay the ransom.” 

The FBI also noted that “since early 2018, the incidence of broad, indiscriminate ransomware campaigns has sharply declined, but the losses from ransomware attacks have increased significantly, according to complaints received by IC3 and FBI case information”.

While the FBI stance has clearly changed in that time, it is encouraging executives, whatever choice they make, to report the incident. 

“Regardless of whether you or your organization has decided to pay the ransom, the FBI urges you to report ransomware incidents to law enforcement,” the FBI said. 

“Doing so provides investigators with the critical information they need to track ransomware attackers, hold them accountable under US law, and prevent future attacks.



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The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security

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This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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