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Ransomware: 11 steps you should take to protect against disaster

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Ransomware: Brute force attacks are on the rise
Researchers at F-Secure analysed attacks over the course of six months and found that brute force attacks are now the preferred means of spreading ransomware – but phishing emails remain popular.

Ramsomware continues to be one of the biggest menaces on the internet. Clicking on the wrong link could be enough to set off a sequence of events that ends with all your data being encrypted by crooks, who will only unlock it in return for a hefty ransom — usually in bitcoin or another hard-to-trace cryptocurrency.

Criminal ransomware gangs are well financed (thanks to all those bitcoin ransoms) and employ increasingly sophisticated tactics. Only low-level crooks are interested in encrypting PCs one-by-one: the big gangs seek backdoors into corporate networks and then explore until they are ready to cause maximum chaos (and a big payday) by encrypting as many devices as possible in one go.

It’s not just criminal gangs that have noticed the power of ransomware: state-backed hacking groups have also used ransomware to create both chaos and profit for their backers.

What we’re seeing is an arms race between the crooks looking for new ways to compromise systems and businesses trying to plug every gap in their defences.

This level of threat means there’s no way to absolutely protect yourself or your business from ransomware, or indeed any other kind of malware. But there are a number of steps you can take to minimise your attack surface.

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11. MAKE SURE YOUR ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE IS UP TO DATE

This seems obvious, but is occasionally neglected by smaller organisations. Many antivirus packages now offer ransomware-spotting features or add-ons that try to spot the suspicious behaviour that’s common to all ransomware: file encryption. These apps monitor your files for unexpected behaviour — like a strange new piece of software trying to encrypt them all — and aim to prevent it. Some security packages will even make copies of the files that are threatened by ransomware.

10. UNDERSTAND WHAT’S HAPPENING ACROSS THE NETWORK    

There’s an array of related security tools — from intrusion prevention and detection systems to security information and event management (SIEM) packages — that can give you an insight into the traffic on your network. These products can give you an up-to-date view of your network, and should help you spot the sort of traffic anomalies that might suggest you’ve been breached by hackers, whether they are intent on infecting your systems with ransomware or have something else in mind. If you can’t see what’s happening on the network, there’s no way you can stop an attack.

Magnifying glass showing a spam folder.

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9. SCAN AND FILTER EMAILS BEFORE THEY REACH YOUR USERS

The easiest way to stop staff clicking on a ransomware link in an email is for the email never to arrive in their inbox. This means using content scanning and email filtering, which ought to take care of many phishing and ransomware scams before they actually reach staff.

Serious woman boss talking to multiracial team at boardroom meeting

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8. HAVE A PLAN FOR HOW TO RESPOND TO A RANSOMWARE ATTACK, AND TEST IT

A recovery plan that covers all types of tech disaster should be a standard part of business planning, and should include a ransomware response. That’s not just the technical response — cleaning the PCs and reinstalling data from backups — but also the broader business response that might be needed. Things to consider include how to explain the situation to customers, suppliers and the press. Consider whether regulators need to be notified, or if you should call in police or insurers. Having a document is not enough: you also need to test out the assumptions you have made, because some of them will be wrong.

Make money

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7. THINK VERY LONG AND HARD BEFORE YOU PAY A RANSOM

Ransomware crooks have found their way through your defences and now every PC across the business is encrypted. You could restore from backups, but it will take days and the criminals only want a few thousand dollars. Time to pay up?

For some, that may be the obvious conclusion. If the attackers only want a relatively small amount then it might, in the short term, make business sense to pay up because it means the business can be up and running again quickly. However there are reasons why you might not want to pay.

SEE: 10 tips for new cybersecurity pros (free PDF)

First, there’s no guarantee that the criminals will hand over the encryption key when you pay up — they are crooks, after all. If your organisation is seen to be willing to pay, that will probably encourage more attacks, either by the same group or others. There’s also the broader impact to consider. Paying a ransom, either from your own funds or via cyber insurance, is to reward these gangs for their behaviour. It will mean that they are even better funded and able to run even more sophisticated campaigns against you or other organisations. It might save you some pain in the short term, but paying the ransom only fuels the ransomware epidemic.

Businesswoman Working On Computer

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6. UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DATA IS AND CREATE AN EFFECTIVE BACKUP STRATEGY

Having secure and up-to-date backups of all business-critical information is a vital defence, particularly against ransomware. In the event that ransomware does compromise some devices, having a recent backup means you can restore that data and be operational again fast. But it’s vital to understand where that business-critical data is actually being held. Is the CFO’s vital data in a spreadsheet on their desktop, and not backed up in the cloud as you thought? It’s no good having a backup if you’re backing up the wrong stuff, or backing it up so infrequently that it’s useless.

5. UNDERSTAND WHAT’S CONNECTED TO YOUR NETWORK

PCs and servers might be where your data resides, but they aren’t the only devices you have to worry about. Thanks to the office wi-fi, the Internet of Things and working from home, there’s now a wide variety of devices connecting to the company network, many of which will lack the kind of built-in security you’d expect from a corporate device. The more devices, the greater the risk that one will offer hackers a backdoor into your network, and then use that access to move through your systems to more lucrative targets than a badly secured printer or a smart vending machine. Also, think about who else has access to your systems: are your suppliers aware of the potential risk of ransomware and other malware?

4. MAKE IT HARDER TO ROAM ACROSS YOUR NETWORKS

Ransomware gangs are increasingly looking for the biggest possible payday. Encrypting the data on one PC isn’t going to make them rich, so they are likely to gain access to a network and then explore widely in order to spread their malware as far as possible before pulling the trigger and encrypting everything. Make this harder by segmenting networks, and also by limiting and securing the number of administrator accounts, which have wide-ranging access. Phishing attacks have been known to target developers simply because they have broad access across multiple systems.

Worried stressed businessman shocked by bad news online using laptop

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3. TRAIN STAFF TO RECOGNISE SUSPICIOUS EMAILS

One of the classic routes for ransomware to enter your organisation is via email. That’s because spamming out malware to thousands of email addresses is a cheap and easy way for ransomware gangs to try and spread malware. Despite the basic nature of these tactics, it’s still depressingly effective.

SEE: The ransomware crisis is going to get a lot worse

Training staff to recognise suspicious emails can help protect against ransomware and other email-borne risks like phishing. The basic rule: don’t open emails from senders you don’t recognise. And don’t click on the links in an email if you aren’t absolutely sure it is legitimate. Avoid attachments whenever possible and beware of attachments that ask you to enable macros, as this is a classic route to a malware infection. Consider using two-factor authentication as an additional layer of security.

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2. CHANGE DEFAULT PASSWORDS ACROSS ALL ACCESS POINTS

Clicking on a bad link in an email is probably the best known way of getting infected with malware, but it’s far from the only way. Nearly a third of ransomware was distributed via brute force and remote desktop protocol (RDP) attacks, according to research by F-Secure. Brute force attacks are attempts by hackers to access servers and other devices by trying as many passwords as possible, usually with the aid of bots, in the hopes of hitting the jackpot. 

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

As many companies fail to change default passwords or use easily-guessed combinations, brute force attacks are regularly effective. RDP allows remote control of PCs, and is another common ransomware attack avenue. There are steps you take to reduce the risk of a attack via RDP, ranging from ensuring strong passwords are used, to changing the RDP port, to limiting its availability to only the devices that really need it.

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Image: F-Secure

1. APPLY SOFTWARE PATCHES TO KEEP SYSTEMS UP TO DATE

Patching software flaws is a painful, time-consuming and tedious job. It’s also vital to your security. Malware gangs will seize on any software vulnerabilities and attempt to use them as a way into networks before businesses have had time to test and deploy patches. The classic example of what happens if you don’t patch fast enough is WannaCry. This ransomware caused chaos in the summer of 2017, including significantly disrupting the NHS in the UK. A patch for the underlying Windows Server Message Block protocol exploit that allowed WannaCry to spread so far had actually been released several months before the ransomware hit. But not enough organisations had applied the fix to their infrastructure, and over 300,000 PCs were infected. It’s a lesson many organisations are still to learn: one in three IT professionals admitted that their organisation had been breached as a result of an unpatched vulnerability, according to a survey by security company Tripwire.

Hand inserting USB flash drive into laptop computer port closeup

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Bonus tip: Don’t plug that random USB stick you just found in the street into your PC. 

Seriously, do we still have to warn about this stuff? 



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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating Security Information and Event Management Solutions (SIEM)

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Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions consolidate multiple security data streams under a single roof. Initially, SIEM supported early detection of cyberattacks and data breaches by collecting and correlating security event logs. Over time, it evolved into sophisticated systems capable of ingesting huge volumes of data from disparate sources, analyzing data in real time, and gathering additional context from threat intelligence feeds and new sources of security-related data. Next-generation SIEM solutions deliver tight integrations with other security products, advanced analytics, and semi-autonomous incident response.

SIEM solutions can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud, or a mix of the two. Deployment models must be weighed with regard to the environments the SIEM solution will protect. With more and more digital infrastructure and services becoming mission critical to every enterprise, SIEMs must handle higher volumes of data. Vendors and customers are increasingly focused on cloud-based solutions, whether SaaS or cloud-hosted models, for their scalability and flexibility.

The latest developments for SIEM solutions include machine learning capabilities for incident detection, advanced analytics features that include user behavior analytics (UBA), and integrations with other security solutions, such as security orchestration automation and response (SOAR) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems. Even though additional capabilities within the SIEM environment are a natural progression, customers are finding it even more difficult to deploy, customize, and operate SIEM solutions.

Other improvements include better user experience and lower time-to-value for new deployments. To achieve this, vendors are working on:

  • Streamlining data onboarding
  • Preloading customizable content—use cases, rulesets, and playbooks
  • Standardizing data formats and labels
  • Mapping incident alerts to common frameworks, such as the MITRE ATT&CK framework

Vendors and service providers are also expanding their offerings beyond managed SIEM solutions to à la carte services, such as content development services and threat hunting-as-a-service.

There is no one-size-fits-all SIEM solution. Each organization will have to evaluate its own requirements and resource constraints to find the right solution. Organizations will weigh factors such as deployment models or integrations with existing applications and security solutions. However, the main decision factor for most customers will revolve around usability, affordability, and return on investment. Fortunately, a wide range of solutions available in the market can almost guarantee a good fit for every customer.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating Secure Service Access

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Since the inception of large-scale computing, enterprises, organizations, and service providers have protected their digital assets by securing the perimeter of their on-premises data centers. With the advent of cloud computing, the perimeter has dissolved, but—in most cases—the legacy approach to security hasn not. Many corporations still manage the expanded enterprise and remote workforce as an extension of the old headquarters office/branch model serviced by LANs and WANs.

Bolting new security products onto their aging networks increased costs and complexity exponentially, while at the same time severely limiting their ability to meet regulatory compliance mandates, scale elastically, or secure the threat surface of the new any place/any user/any device perimeter.

The result? Patchwork security ill-suited to the demands of the post-COVID distributed enterprise.

Converging networking and security, secure service access (SSA) represents a significant shift in the way organizations consume network security, enabling them to replace multiple security vendors with a single, integrated platform offering full interoperability and end-to-end redundancy. Encompassing secure access service edge (SASE), zero-trust network access (ZTNA), and extended detection and response (XDR), SSA shifts the focus of security consumption from being either data center or edge-centric to being ubiquitous, with an emphasis on securing services irrespective of user identity or resources accessed.

This GigaOm Key Criteria report outlines critical criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting an SSA solution. The corresponding GigaOm Radar Report provides an overview of notable SSA vendors and their offerings available today. Together, these reports are designed to help educate decision-makers, making them aware of various approaches and vendors that are meeting the challenges of the distributed enterprise in the post-pandemic era.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating Edge Platforms

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Edge platforms leverage distributed infrastructure to deliver content, computing, and security closer to end devices, offloading networks and improving performance. We define edge platforms as the solutions capable of providing end users with millisecond access to processing power, media files, storage, secure connectivity, and related “cloud-like” services.

The key benefit of edge platforms is bringing websites, applications, media, security, and a multitude of virtual infrastructures and services closer to end devices compared to public or private cloud locations.

The need for content proximity started to become more evident in the early 2000s as the web evolved from a read-only service to a read-write experience, and users worldwide began both consuming and creating content. Today, this is even more important, as live and on-demand video streaming at very high resolutions cannot be sustained from a single central location. Content delivery networks (CDNs) helped host these types of media at the edge, and the associated network optimization methods allowed them to provide these new demanding services.

As we moved into the early 2010s, we experienced the rapid cloudification of traditional infrastructure. Roughly speaking, cloud computing takes a server from a user’s office, puts it in a faraway data center, and allows it to be used across the internet. Cloud providers manage the underlying hardware and provide it as a service, allowing users to provision their own virtual infrastructure. There are many operational benefits, but at least one unavoidable downside: the increase in latency. This is especially true in this dawning age of distributed enterprises for which there is not just a single office to optimize. Instead, “the office” is now anywhere and everywhere employees happen to be.

Even so, this centralized, cloud-based compute methodology works very well for most enterprise applications, as long as there is no critical sensitivity to delay. But what about use cases that cannot tolerate latency? Think industrial monitoring and control, real-time machine learning, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and gaming. If a cloud data center is a few hundred or even thousands of miles away, the physical limitations of sending an optical or electrical pulse through a cable mean there are no options to lower the latency. The answer to this is leveraging a distributed infrastructure model, which has traditionally been used by content delivery networks.

As CDNs have brought the internet’s content closer to everyone, CDN providers have positioned themselves in the unique space of owning much of the infrastructure required to bring computing and security closer to users and end devices. With servers close to the topological edge of the network, CDN providers can offer processing power and other “cloud-like” services to end devices with only a few milliseconds latency.

While CDN operators are in the right place at the right time to develop edge platforms, we’ve observed a total of four types of vendors that have been building out relevant—and potentially competing—edge infrastructure. These include traditional CDNs, hyperscale cloud providers, telecommunications companies, and new dedicated edge platform operators, purpose-built for this emerging requirement.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

Continue Reading

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