The Colonial Pipeline Co. attack brought to light well-documented susceptibilities to our aging energy infrastructure in the US. It also demonstrates the real and growing threat that cyber-crime poses to our society, as well as a growing trend in the cybercrime market, that of RaaS, Ransomware as a Service. This is the consumerization of cybercrime, where hacker collectives literally operate as a business serving clients with ready-for-use ransomware tools that can be used to deliver attacks on global companies.

For more information on the hack and its perpetrators, DarkSide, read the Krebs on Security article that takes a close look at “DarkSide” and its operations.

Hacktivists turned Capitalists

Hacker groups or collectives are nothing new. The first documented incident of hacking dates back to 1971 and is attributed to a Vietnam Vet, John Draper, who figured out a way to make free phone calls. Inevitably, hacking has come a long way since John decided he needed to make free long-distance calls, becoming very much a part of the mainstream of social lexicon, even glamorized to a large extent by hackers themselves as well as a largely uninformed Hollywood portrayal of “hacktivist” culture. Far from the Hollywood “freedom fighter” portrayal of the hacker, the blackhat industry has always largely been about making money, but in recent years has become bolder and better, while seemingly losing all ethical values.

Who is at risk?

These hacking collectives will tell you that only the largest companies that can “afford to lose a few million” are targeted. They also claim that state actor projects, or geopolitics, are off the table with the sole aim of these groups to serve as a sort of online Robin Hood – taking from the rich… Oops, seems like they forgot about giving back to the poor. The reality seems far less “ethical” and far more indiscriminate. This week, a single, albeit major, pipeline operation was interrupted. Just three months ago, a small Florida city water company was hacked. School districts and universities have been targets and, of course, most industry sectors have been and continue to be targeted, from carpet manufacturers to the big banks. All in all,  it is estimated that 2,400 U.S.-based government, healthcare facilities, and schools were victims of ransomware in 2020 alone. Pre-IPO companies who are trying to safeguard sensitive data before going public are a popular target. The reality is that these attacks have a cascading fallout that impacts our safety, our health, our economy, our taxes, our livelihoods. Who is at risk? All of us it would seem.

Consumer Beware

Yes, based on the above, corporations are largely the chosen victims of ransomware. However, if you think this makes you immune as an individual, well, think again…

This attack crossed over into the public domain, closing a major US oil and gas pipeline, leading to a widespread fallout ranging from lines at the gas stations and a shortage of fuel, rising gas prices, to fallout – thankfully minimal –  in the stock market.

Corporations that have suffered ransomware attacks are lobbying governments to provide bail-out funds to enable them to beef up security practices to help protect against future attacks. What we may never know (of course we know) is whether appropriate security measures were in place prior to these attacks? From a consumer perspective, that cost is now being passed on to you in the form of higher product prices, lack of wage increases, and of course in your taxes.  If this sounds like the great TARP bailout of 2008, where citizens effectively paid the billion-dollar bonuses of bankers, well… your hearing might be good.

As Krebs reports, experts say ransomware attacks will continue to grow in sophistication, frequency, and cost unless something is done to disrupt the ability of crooks to get paid for such crimes. Last month, a group of tech industry heavyweights lent their imprimatur to a task force that delivered an 81-page report to the Biden administration on ways to stymie the ransomware industry. Among many other recommendations, the report urged the White House to make finding, frustrating, and apprehending ransomware crooks a priority within the U.S. intelligence community, and to designate the current scourge of digital extortion as a national security threat.

Corporate “Oversight”

As corporations either invest or receive bailout money to build out security, corporations will invest in tools to scan networks, environments, systems, and assets in an attempt to pre-empt and detect threats. However, this data needs to be managed effectively, prioritized, and applied to people, process, and technology to have any impact. This is where companies can fall short and is a gap that CyberOne is trying hard to help them fill.

We want all companies to build a culture of risk across their organization. This starts with effective governance and leadership commitment to risk awareness and providing resources for effective risk management. While many companies are able to provide compliance certifications as a demonstration of commitment to security, risk management is really the key to effective security.

For more information on risk management implementation contact CyberOne