Ransomware Attack: What if this were your Billion $ mistake?

No one has ever heard of your company. Let’s call it, COMPANY X. And you like it that way. In 57 years, you’ve never once shut down your mission-critical operations that fuel the US economy. YOU are an honest, satisfied employee of Company X, and although your security team hounded you with preachy posters in every ELEVATOR to never use the same password twice (because passwords are like dirty underwear), you still did. You used the same totally UNGUESSABLE 10-character password for your work login and hotel loyalty program. Which got breached. You changed the stolen password on the hotel website, but forgot about your work login. And your company doesn’t require two-step logins, even though they bought the technology after a dashing keynote speaker SCARED the crap out of them.

In mid-February, you receive a promotion, and with it, a new login to the system. In spite of a $200 million per year IT budget, your company never decommissions your old login credentials, leaving access as wide open as the BACK DOOR into a college-town liquor store.

On April 27, DARKSIDE, (yes, even hackers have a sense of humor) a ransomware attack ring protected by EMPEROR PUTIN, buys your stolen loyalty credentials for approximately five cents and uses artificial intelligence to insert them on every login page on the Company X website, which they know you work at from your snappy LinkedIn profile. While outdated on the hotel site, your username and password still work for your vacated role at Company X.

By April 29, DarkSide has loaded ransomware onto your computer, which happens to be in the master control room of Company X. Company policy states that any sign of ransomware triggers an automatic shutdown of all operations, which suggests that Company X isn’t clear on how closely their business I.T. systems are tied to their operational or O.T. systems. PARTY FOUL.

And that’s how Colonial Pipeline, supplier of 45% of the East Coast’s fuel supply, shut down all operations for 6 days. 2.5 million barrels of fuel per day, stuck in Texas because of your single password that opened the company to ransomware attack. Ok, I realize this isn’t really your fault, but what if it was? What if you were the one who caused FLORIDIANS to queue at gasless gas stations as if KRISPY KREME and In & Out Burger had just merged?

Colonial chooses to defy the FBI DIRECTIVE to never pay a ransom (research says that doing so just invites the cybercriminals to come back for seconds) and pays DarkSide $4.4M dollars in untraceable bitcoin to get their pipes back in the game. Well, not totally untraceable, as the FBI HELPS Colonial retrieve half of its bitcoin. But don’t expect them to come to your rescue, as you probably don’t supply the East Coast with half of its carbon emissions. Even after the blackmail is complete, fuel doesn’t flow for 6 more days. Which causes Billions in damage to the US economy and Millions in reputational damage to Colonial. Because of a password. From one person.

Here’s what this ransomware attack means for you:

  • Every employee matters: One weak password can bring an organization to its knees
  • Don’t let your company get cocky, because it CAN happen to you.
  • The ransomware get-out-of-jail price tag is now often in the tens of millions.
  • Security is an obsessive, continuous pursuit, so make a long-term game plan.
  • Never forget to deactivate old user accounts.
  • Require two-step logins to minimize the impact of poor passwords.
  • Have a foolproof, off-site, offline backup of your data.
  • None of this works without a healthy underlying culture of security.

If you’re confused about how to prepare for a ransomware attack, consider a leadership crash course in cybersecurity. Because one small cyber mistake, and everyone will know your company.


John Sileo hosts cybersecurity crash courses that target the human element of cybersecurity. His clients include Amazon, the Pentagon and Charles Schwab, but his most fulfilling engagements are for smaller organizations and associations that can affect immediate change. 303.777.3221


Were Lebron’s Darkest Secrets Exposed by Hackers?

Grubman Shire Hack: REvil Scores a Blackmail Slam Dunk

How much is basketball megastar Lebron James brand worth to hackers? 

When you calculate it, Lebron’s name earns him more than his game. And to the cybercriminals who orchestrated the Grubman Shire Hack, that kind of payday is worth jumping through some hoops.

Consider what James makes off of his reputation alone, including endorsement deals with Nike, Coke, Beats and others: $55 million/year in endorsements vs. $37 million/year to play ball, to be exact. Yes, those sponsorship deals hinge on his superiority at basketball, but would be worth little if they weren’t backed by a stellar reputation. Just ask Tiger Woods, who lost most of his earning potential when his reputation crashed into a distasteful sex scandal. 

Because James’ reputation is his greatest financial asset, you can imagine the court lengths he goes to in order to defend it. For this reason, celebrities tend to be uber private with their personal lives – homes that are more like secret compounds, contracts and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to legally shield sensitive information, sophisticated data security tools to protect digital assets and most relevant to our discussion today, high-priced lawyers to handle all of the highly-confidential details. 

But Lebron James didn’t get hacked. 

His lawyers did. And with them, his highly-confidential, potentially damaging details. Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, a high-powered law firm to the stars, also had the contracts, NDAs (ironic!), home addresses, mobile numbers, private emails and correspondence of Lady Gaga, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Cam Newton and yes, even Run DMC, electronically hijacked as well. I can just picture the hackers, adorned in parachute pants, chanting the lyrics: “CAN touch this!”

The ransomware crime ring known as REvil (Are Evil) demanded a $42 million payoff after the Grubman Shire hack to NOT expose the data on all of its clients. So Grubman Shire had the unenviable job of choosing to lose $42 million overnight versus the much more expensive and long-term cost of watching disgruntled superstars take the bench because of the breach. 

But the attorneys clearly have to take responsibility and pay up for the Grubman Shire hack.

It was beyond question that Grubman Shire, like many companies before them, would pay the ransom to robustly defend the incredibly sensitive data, not to mention their profitable relationships, with their best “players”. 

But they didn’t. 

The law firm chose not to pay the ransom and thumbed their nose at the cybercriminals. I’m not sure how Lebron and the Lady felt about that, but the decision was wise, because even if you pay their demands, you’ve only secured a pinkie promise from a dishonest criminal; who’s to say that they won’t expose the data after they’ve cashed the Bitcoin? Steal, extort and share is the latest Dark Web craze.  

So which secrets of Lebron’s were inevitably exposed? 

None (yet), because the hackers weren’t done with their game. Remember, REvil’s goal is to make money, not to give away the product of their work for free. So they took their demands directly to the stars, baiting them with ugly consequences…

“Show business is not [just] concerts and love of fans only. Also, it is big money and social manipulation, mud lurking behind the scenes and sexual scandals, drugs and treachery.” 

The hacking group, also known as Sodinokibi, were upping the stakes, threatening to expose lurid details that could defeat even the most popular of athletes.

In doing so, REvil added a new twist to the old ransom game – they divided the information into files about individual celebrities and listed them for sale on an Internet auction to the highest bidder. It was like Southby’s for Scammers. 

Now Lebron, Bette Midler and The Boss were the masters of their own fate, simply needing to hand over $600,000 to $1 million each via cryptocurrency to keep their private data private. 

What did Lebron pay? Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey and Mr. DMC? That’s the problem with cyber blackmail – we never get to know the outcome, because no one in their right mind admits to being successfully blackmailed, extorted, and humiliated, for fear of attracting copycats. We will never know if they paid or what they paid. 

Clearly, none of the celebrities were at fault, and had little control over the situation, so what’s the point? There are three:

  1. You always have some control over the situation, but by the time your business data is hacked, it’s too late to keep it from being exposed.
  2. Preventing a cyber intrusion before it happens has the greatest ROI.
  3. Most specifically, your organization MUST immediately vet the security measures of all 3rd parties who have access to your sensitive information. This is especially true for organizations that store sensitive data on cloud servers, deploy 3rd-party software apps or utilize outside vendors like lawyers and accountants (with potentially lax security postures).  

Island hopping, which means gaining access into one entity’s systems in order to exploit the downstream systems of their constituents (clients, vendors, employees, voters), is the name of the latest cybercrime game, and it is quickly coming to an arena near you. 

What secrets would ransomware gangs go after in your business, and in the systems that support your partners? What’s your brand worth and how much should you spend to protect it? Because, for the record, most corporate reputations are worth far more than Lebron James’. 

John Sileo is a cybersecurity expert, award-winning author and media personality as seen on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox & Friends. He keynotes conferences virtually and around the world and is the CEO of The Sileo Group, a technology think tank based in Colorado

Sextortion Scams & Cyber Blackmail on the Rise

Sextortion scams are on the rise, and cyber criminals are using our discomfort in talking about this subject to continue exploiting us. Because the topic is a bit embarrassing for some, communication and awareness of the scam are sorely lacking. This episode of Sileo On Security is meant to put an end to that.  

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Sextortion scams, simply put, are a type of blackmail. In a mass-generated email that feels like someone is watching you (they aren’t), the (s)extortionist most often claims to have photos or videos of you, the victim, in embarrassing situations such as watching adult entertainment on your computer. To put you in a panicked state where you react before thinking, the criminal threatens to send the compromising materials to your entire email address book if you don’t pay a ransom within a short time period. Sex + Extortion = Sextortion. 

At this point, the scammer can take the sextortion scam in several directions. They can try to get you to make an anonymous, untraceable and completely unrecoverable Bitcoin or cryptocurrency payment into their digital wallet. Or, they might request access to your device to help you clean the RAT off of your machine.

Hang on, what’s does a RAT have to do with sextortion scams?

In a new twist on old Sextortion scams, hackers claim to have downloaded a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) onto your system, allowing them to take complete control of the device. With this “control”, they threaten to send out compromised files (e.g., videos of you watching pornography) directly from your computer, making it look like you have sent the embarrassing materials in person.

To increase the credibility of their claims and your level of panic, they often reveal a password of yours within the email that they have supposedly “hacked in the process”. This is completely freaky and makes you feel grossly uncomfortable, like you’ve done something wrong – which is EXACTLY what they want. While the password they reveal may be a bit old, it’s often a password you once used, which gives credence to their legitimacy, putting you in a mindset to pay their ransom demands or otherwise follow their instructions.

You should know that the password they are using was most likely part of an earlier data breach that you were involved with. The password might have been part of the LinkedIn, Anthem, Equifax, Yahoo or other breach from years past. But the result is the same – you feel like you’ve totally been hacked.

To make matters worse and ratchet up the believability of sextortion scams, the “From:” field in the sextortion email has your name and email address in it, making it look like the hacker has in fact gained access into your email program and sent you an email through your own account. This is a simple technique called spoofing, and reinforces suspicions that your machine has in fact been taken over.

Dealing with Sextortion Scams without Losing Your Pants

Here’s what you need to know. Except in very rare cases, everything about sextortion is a complete hoax, including the fact that they have photos or videos on you, that they’ve successfully placed a RAT on your machine or that they can read and record your every keystroke. This is simply a more effective type of scam known as spear phishing, which just means that they are using previously obtained information (like your breached password) to gain your trust, to target you like a spear targeting a fish, before they use it against you.

If you’ve received the email at work, report it to your IT department and follow your organization’s procedures for scam emails. Everyone else should do the following:

  • Be suspicious of all emails, calls, texts or conversations that use fear or embarrassment to get you to act. If you have been in one of my keynote speeches, you’ve already been trained on a B.S. Reflex – a natural tendency to Be Skeptical before you act.
  • Never open any attachments or click on any links that you haven’t first verified as legitimate. When in doubt, delete the email and never respond to it.
  • Never provide personal information unless you can confirm the legitimate source of the request and safe transmission of the data.
  • Turn off and cover your webcam when not in use. I simply place a sticky note over mine and take it off when I am using it.
  • Finally, make sure that any passwords revealed in the email aren’t used on ANY of your online accounts. This is an excellent chance to update any weak passwords in password management software like 1Password, Dashlane or Lastpass.

And most importantly, don’t be ashamed. Cyber criminals are mass mailing sextortion schemes to hundreds of millions of people, playing on one of our greatest fears – that of being publicly embarrassed.

Take a minute to educate someone you care about on email extortion and then check back with Sileo On Security for updates on this and other scams. It’s my goal in life to never let the enemy win.

John Sileo is the award winning author of the newly released mini-book Your Data is Showing: 12 Privacy Tools for the Surveillance Economy. His greatest enjoyment comes from energizing keynote audiences to care about cybersecurity, privacy and cutting-edge tools of information weaponization. Watch him on 60-Minutes, Anderson Cooper, Rachael Ray or on stage. Contact him directly on 303.777.3221.