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Over 500 US schools were hit by ransomware in 2019




In the first nine months of the year, ransomware infections have hit over 500 US schools, according to a report published last week by cyber-security firm Armor.

In total, the company said it found and tracked ransomware infections at 54 educational organizations like school districts and colleges, accounting for disruptions at over 500 schools.

To make matters worse, the attacks seem to have picked up in the last two weeks, with 15 school districts (accounting for over 100 K-12 schools) getting hit at the worst time possible — in the first weeks of the new school year.

Of these 15 ransomware incidents, Armos said that five were caused by the Ryuk ransomware, one of today’s most active ransomware strains/gangs.

Name City State
Ava R-I School District Ava MO
Wallenpaupack Area School District Hawley PA
Mad River Local Schools Riverside OH
Papillion-La Vista Comm. Schools Papillion NE
Rockford Public Schools Rockford IL
Souderton Area School District Lansdale PA
Wakulla County School District Crawfordville FL
Jackson County School District Marianna FL
Wyoming Area School District Exeter PA
Mobile County School District Mobile AL
Houston County Board of Education Perry GA
Guthrie Public Schools Guthrie OK
Smyth County Public Schools Saint MArion VA
Northshore School District Bothell WA

Overall, Connecticut saw ransomware infections hit seven school districts throughout 2019, making them the state whose educational institutions were compromised the most by ransomware attacks this year.

But while Connecticut saw the most ransomware infections targeting school districts, it was Louisiana who handled the attacks the best when, in July, Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency in response to a wave of ransomware infections that hit three school districts. The governer’s actions rallied multiple state and private incident response teams together and helped impacted school districts recover before the new school year, without paying the hackers’ ransom demand.

Unfortunately, the Armor report doesn’t go into details of what districts paid the ransom demand and which did not, since not all this information is currently available.

However, based on currently available information we know that Crowder College of Neosho, Missouri, reported receiving the highest ransom demand among all school districts, with hackers requesting a whopping $1.6 million to provide the district with means to decrypt its systems.

Different report, different numbers, still huge

But the number of impacted educational institutions could be even much higher. A different report from antivirus maker Emsisoft, released today, claims to have identified 62 ransomware incidents that impacted US schools in 2019.

These 62 incidents took place at school districts and other educational establishments, and Emsisoft claims they impacted the operations of 1,051 individual schools, colleges, and universities, more than double the number reported by Armor.

But despite a difference in the number of impacted schools in the Armor and Emsisoft reports, both show a sudden spike in the targeting of US educational institutions with ransomware.

According to a report from the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, of the 119 cyber-security incidents US K-12 schools experienced in 2018, only 11 were attributed to ransomware, just a fraction of the 54 and 62 ransomware incidents reported this year along by Armor and Emsisoft respectively.

The only government sector targeted by ransomware more than schools and colleges were local municipalities, which saw 68 ransomware incidents in the first nine months of 2019, according to Emsisoft.

The Emsisoft report includes additional statistics about ransomware attacks in 2019. The Armor report lists all the 54 educational institutions impacted by ransomware this year. Readers who’d like to keep track of recent ransomware attacks in the US can follow the Ransomware War interactive map for new infections.

Last week, the US Senate passed a bill named the DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act, which would create incident response teams to help private and public entities defend against cyber-attacks, such as ransomware attacks. The bill previously passed the House floor and is expected to be signed into law by the President in the coming months.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise



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



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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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications



Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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