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 While outdated on the hotel site, your username and password still work for your vacated role at Company X.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

 

SolarWinds Hack: What Vladimir Putin Wants Every Business To Ignore

Summary of the SolarWinds Hack

Russian hackers inserted malicious code into a ubiquitous piece of network-management software (SolarWinds and other companies) used by a majority of governmental agencies, Fortune 500 companies and many cloud providers. The software potentially gives Russia an all-access pass into the data of breached organizations and their customers.

Immediate Steps to Protect Your Network

I would recommend having a conversation with your IT provider or security team about the following items, as much for future attacks as for the SolarWinds hack:

  • After reading through this summary, take a deeper dive into this WSJ white-paper: The SolarWinds Hack – What Businesses Need to Know
  • For small businesses, it is important that you check with any cloud software providers to make sure they have resolved any problems with affected software.
  • Patch all instances of SolarWinds network management software and all network management, security and operational software in your environment.
  • Make sure your security team keeps up with the latest fixes for the Sunspot virus.
  • Configure your network assets to be as isolated as possible so that your most confidential data caches are separate from less confidential data.
  • Review the security settings of every category of user on the system to tighten user-level access.
  • Make sure employees know the proper procedures for connecting remotely to your network. Verify that they aren’t using a free personal VPN to connect.
  • If you utilize Microsoft products, keep up to date with their Investigation Updates.
  • If there is a chance you have been affected, have a full security audit done of your network.

Details of the SolarWinds Hack

During the worst possible time – a contentious presidential transition and a global pandemic – dozens of federal government agencies, among them the Defense, Treasury and Commerce, were breached by a cyber espionage campaign launched by the Russian foreign-intelligence service (SVR). The SVR is also linked to hacks on government agencies during the Obama Administration.

Senator Angus King said Putin “doesn’t have the resources to compete with us using conventional weapons, but he can hire about 8,000 hackers for the price of one jet fighter.”

In addition to internal communications being stolen, the operation exposed hundreds of thousands of government and corporate networks to potential risk. The hackers infiltrated the systems through a malicious software update introduced in a product from SolarWinds Inc., a U.S. network-management company. This allowed unsuspecting customers of their software to download a corrupted version of the software with a hidden back door allowing hackers to access their networks from “inside the house”. SolarWinds has more than 300,000 customers world-wide, including 425 of the U.S. Fortune 500 companies. Some of those customers include: the Secret Service, the Defense Department, the Federal Reserve, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin Corp, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and the National Security Agency. (Note: more recently, it has been discovered that SolarWinds wasn’t the only primary software infected.)

A Solar Winds spokesperson said the company knew of a vulnerability related to updates of its Orion technology management software and that the hack was the result of a highly sophisticated, targeted and manual supply chain attack by a nation state. Like the FireEye breach, this was not a broad attack of many systems at once, but a stealthy, patiently-conducted campaign that required “meticulous planning and manual interaction.”

SolarWinds Hack was a Supply Chain Attack

These supply-chain attacks reflect a trend by hackers in which they search for a vulnerability in a common product or service used widely by multiple companies. Once breached, it spreads widely across the internet and across dozens or even hundreds of companies before the compromises are detected. Many companies have increased their level of cyber-protections, but they do not scrutinize the software that their suppliers provide. This is a concern because corporations typically have dozens of software suppliers. For example, in the banking industry, the average number of direct software suppliers is 83. In IT services, it’s 55.

To understand the severity and national-security concerns of this breach, think of this as a “10 on a scale of one to 10”. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency ordered the immediate shut down of use of SolarWinds Orion products. Chris Krebs, the top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security until his recent firing by Trump, stressed any Orion users should assume they have been compromised. Other investigators say that merely uninstalling SolarWinds will not solve the threat and that recovery will be an uphill battle unlike any we have ever seen. While the hackers may not have gained complete control of all companies, all experts agree that it will take years to know for certain which networks the Russians control and which ones they just occupy and to be assured that foreign control has been negated. Because they will be watching whatever moves we make—from the inside.


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

Nancy Pelosi Laptop Stolen for Sale to Russia by Capitol Rioter

And my prediction about the hidden risk in the capitol riot appears to be coming true…

“There are growing concerns that U.S. adversaries may be seeking ways to benefit from the Capitol assault – and that some of rioters may have been looking to work with them.

The FBI is investigating claims that Riley June Williams stole a laptop or or hard drive from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and intended to sell the device to Russia’s intelligence services by way of a friend who lives in the country.

“The idea that a group of so-called ‘patriots’ would sell a government computer to the Russians should tell you everything you need to know about the people who assaulted the Capitol,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “There are real counterintelligence concerns associated with a breach like the one that occurred on January 6th.”

Keep Reading about the stolen Pelosi laptop in The Washington Post.

The Massive U.S. Capitol Attack We’re Ignoring

Capitol Attack Could Go Way Beyond a Physical Breach

When Trump supporters occupied the US Capitol last week, hundreds of rioters gained unrestricted access to the offices of our Representatives and Senators . You can see one such invader sitting here in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. But we have to ask ourselves, did the breach stop there?

What we see in these images is not just a physical petentration of the very symbol of our democracy, but potentially a coordinated cyberbreach as well. In addition to ransacked filing cabinets, exposed desktops and confidential documents waiting to be shredded, it’s nearly certain that laptops were stolen, mobile devices pocketed and malware-enabled USB devices plugged into the same computers that run our government. From years of studying organized crime, let me assure you that any mob that has so premeditated an attack that they bring chemical agents and pipe bombs to the riot, has likely planned a corresponding cyber intrusion as well. In fact, physical destruction in corporate cybercrime is often just a diversionary tactic to keep investigators from focusing on a far more damaging digital takeover.

What if the rioters had access to and were reading all of the emails between Congress and the Capitol Police prior to the inauguration? What if they have the ability to freeze congressional computers during an impeachment procedure or transitional handoff?

As the FBI and Secret Service investigate members of the seditious mob attempting insurrection on American soil, I implore them to not forget the hallowed DIGITAL ground that underlies our legislative branch of government – and our way of life.

Twitter Hack Reminds Us That David Can Still Fell Goliath

twitter_hack_david

The twitter hack began as a quiet scheme to steal and sell unusual user names, which carry high currency in gamer and hacker circles.

But as the day wore on, the attack took over dozens of accounts belonging to corporations like Apple and celebrities like Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Kanye West. The hackers used the celebrity access to appeal to their followers for funds:

twitter hack of Joe Biden's accountAt least $180,000 worth of Bitcoin flowed into the hackers’ accounts.

By the time the hackers were done, they had broken into 130 accounts and dramatically exposed gaping holes in Twitter’s security.

What organized Goliath cybercrime ring was responsible?

Seventeen-year-old Florida resident, Graham Ivan Clark (David, for the purpose of this metaphor).

From the affidavit:

Graham Ivan Clark, 17  without authorization gain [sic] access to Twitter Inc.’s Customer Service Portal. Clark used social engineering to convince a Twitter employee that he was a co-worker in the IT department and had the employee provide credentials to access the customer service portal.

Clark then accessed the Twitter accounts of prominent individuals, including VP Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and business [sic] such as Apple and Coinbase. Clark then posted on their Twitter accounts a communication that if Bitcoins are sent to accounts they will be doubled and returned to the victim. 

Despite the hackers’ cleverness, their plan quickly fell apart, according to court documents. They left hints about their real identities and scrambled to hide the money they’d made once the hack became public. Their mistakes allowed law enforcement to quickly track them down.

If Twitter, a company that spends millions on security ever year, can be hacked by a 17-year-old, so can your organization. But it wasn’t the technology that was hacked, it was the people. 

It is no surprise that the twitter hackers used the same tool that leads to a majority of damaging corporate breaches: social engineering. Twitter says that a few employees were targeted in a phone spear phishing attack, which suggests that hackers called Twitter employees while posing as members of the Twitter’s security team, and got them to reveal the credentials they use to access internal systems.

Once inside the system, they had free rein to do anything they wanted with any Twitter account. The next time this breach happens, the criminals will be more organized, and will use their access to launch a much more devious, lucrative scheme.

I hope Twitter invests as readily in their security awareness training and social engineering defenses as they do on their technology. And I hope you do as well, as it’s no fun to be beaten by David.


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