Privileged Identity Management (PIM) is an essential security practice for businesses using the cloud. It focuses on securing and managing privileged accounts and access rights within an organisation. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of PIM for businesses, particularly those using the cloud, and why every business should consider implementing it as part of their comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.
What is PIM?
PIM refers to the processes, policies, and technologies used to manage and secure privileged accounts and access rights within an organisation. Cybercriminals often target privileged accounts as a means of gaining access to sensitive information and systems. PIM aims to reduce the risks associated with privileged accounts by providing a central solution for managing and securing these accounts. It involves identifying, managing, controlling access, and monitoring privileged account activity.
Importance of PIM for Businesses
Privileged accounts are a prime target for cybercriminals, and a breach can result in severe consequences, including data theft, business disruption, and reputational damage. PIM is essential for businesses because it helps to mitigate the risks associated with privileged accounts. By implementing PIM, businesses can control who has access, monitor, detect and respond to suspicious behaviour, and reduce the impact of a breach if one occurs.
Why Every Business Using the Cloud Needs PIM
Cloud computing has transformed the way businesses operate, providing flexibility, scalability, and cost savings. However, the cloud also presents new security challenges, particularly when it comes to privileged accounts. Cloud environments typically have many privileged accounts that can access critical resources, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals. PIM is especially important for businesses using the cloud because it provides a central solution for managing and securing privileged accounts across all cloud services and platforms. With PIM, businesses can identify and manage privileged accounts, enforce access controls, and monitor activity. Implementing PIM in the cloud can also help businesses to meet compliance requirements.
PIM is a critical component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, particularly for businesses using cloud computing. By implementing PIM, businesses can manage and secure privileged accounts, control access to critical resources, and monitor privileged activity. PIM can help to reduce the risk and mitigate the impact of a breach if one occurs. Every business using the cloud should consider implementing PIM as part of their cybersecurity strategy to protect against the growing threat of account breaches.
The risks of – and the potential fallout from – a cyber-attack is enough to keep any company director awake at night.
The costs of a breach can be huge, costing UK enterprises an average of £4.09 million per breach, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach study.
These figures are not surprising when you consider lost productivity and revenue, response, forensics, recovery, communications, data breach fines, and various other costs. Even a company with 100 employees can be looking at hundreds of thousands of pounds, just to get back to where they were before an event, such as from a ransomware attack.
Together with the significant reputational damage that can follow a data breach, the level of risk and likelihood means that most organisations have some form of cyber insurance to cover these substantial costs.
But as the number of cyber insurance pay outs grows, insurers are looking at ways to not pay out, or at least not for the full amount of damage. This is understandable in cases where a board has been negligent and not managed the risks, just as a motor insurer would not pay out where a driver had failed to get an MOT or put road legal tyres on their car.
Your responsibility to control risk
All cyber insurance providers expect policy holders to take responsibility for evaluating and mitigating risks.
Insurers expect best-practice cyber security controls to be in place, which typically includes the ‘absolute basics’ such as Cyber Essentials. This also means keeping on top of security operations year-round, not just a tidy up and certification every year or so.
If the basics are not in place at the time of a breach, then many insurers will not pay out. On top of this, the ICO and other regulators are likely to hand out significant fines. These amounts aren’t insignificant, as the ICO alone can hand out a data breach fine of £17.5 million, or 4% of an organisation’s total annual worldwide turnover, whichever is higher.
Cyber security basics should be viewed as seriously as other risk controls in your business, such as a fire alarm that is regularly serviced and tested.
Common cyber security measures
For a cyber liability policy to pay out in a breach scenario you need to check the small print. However, here are common areas that are going to have an impact on any claim:
Patches and Updates
Firewall Protection – IT equipment must be protected from unauthorised access by a suitable firewall. The firewall needs security updates and other updates at least once a month, if not automatically. An insurer will almost certainly not pay out if the firewall is not up to date at the time of a loss.
Software updates –It’s best practice to patch and update software and it is a standard cyber insurance term to mitigate known vulnerabilities. Important updates to firmware, operating systems, and other software must usually be installed within 14 days of being released by the vendor or provider. Some insurers will insist on seven days, which can be a tough clause to manage in some environments, so keep an eye out for this.
Tablets, phones, and other devices – It’s important that tablets, phones, and any other devices with access to your network are updated or kept off the corporate network. Your organisation is responsible for who and what connects to its network. If your network is breached from an insecure work or personal device, then your insurance could be void.
Outdated operating systems – Outdated operating systems and software that is no longer supported by the vendor in terms of security updates is going to invalidate insurance if they are breached.
Users and Passwords
Change default passwords – If you have default passwords or usethe password that came with an IT device when it was purchased, then your policy will be invalid. There are large databases on the internet that list all these default passwords, and these are always a go-to for hackers and automated attacks.
Individual ID and password –It can be common for some users to share logins and passwords to certain systems, and for conference room PCs to have shared logins. These shared credentials are unacceptable as they are a common cause of a breach. It also makes the source of a breach difficult to trace.
Limiting access – System users should only have access to what they need, particularly logon credentials with enhanced security rights, such as administrator rights. It’s particularly important that users don’t have administrator rights on the device they log in to as that’s an easy way for an attacker, who may be an employee, to gain control of a machine and then the wider network and systems. Organisations will need to prove that administrator accounts are controlled and that passwords are changed regularly.
Work laptops should be controlled – Only authorised users should be able to use work devices. This will need to be controlled via policy and login restrictions. An employee’s child downloading and installing a game with ransomware on to a work device could lead to the insurance being invalidated.
Cyber insurance policies will always cover the backup and protection of data. They will typically include:
Two copies of backup data at different locations – It’s standard to expect two separate copies of backup data to be stored. One can be local to the IT environment, but another should be taken or backed up off-site, such as on a cloud backup platform. It’s increasingly common for insurers to ensure that backup data is air-gapped, so if someone gains access to your systems, they cannot get access to the backups. It’s common for ransomware attacks to seek and encrypt backups quickly.
Frequency of data backup –It’s usual to backup data daily, if not continually, in most modern IT environments. If your data is critical, then an insurer would want to know why you have not backed-up regularly.
Backup checks – It’s critical that you regularly evaluate your backups to make sure everything that needs to be is backed up. It’s even more critical to ensure that your backups are working as expected. Many systems will send automatic alerts, but it’s still worth doing a manual check and restore every now and again.
Virus Protection –Cyber insurance terms typically state that anti-virus software should be in full and effective operation at the time of a loss. It should also be noted that many insurers are now asking that businesses have at least EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response), which is a typically more advanced antivirus solution, supported by a specialist organisation. In fact, it’s generally considered a security basic now, as antivirus was 20+ years ago.
Cyber insurance will not pay out if you are aware of, or ought to have reasonably known about, a pre-existing issue, prior to the cyber insurance being taken out. This is particularly important if you’ve had security audits undertaken in the past but not dealt with any issues highlighted. Too often organisations know they have issues butstill take out insurance as a way of mitigating spend on security controls. This is a bad idea.
If you’ve been breached before it will impact your insurance, as there could always be something waiting to deploy at a particular time, or a hole left in the environment. Youmust declare if you have had a breach, usually over the last three years.
What can reduce premiums?
There are key areas that can make a real difference to your cyber insurance premiums and your security posture, such as:
Multifactor authentication, particularly for remote access and administration accounts
Privileged Access Management (PAM)
Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)
Secured, tested and encrypted backups
Email filtering and web security
Patch and vulnerability management
Cyber incident response planning and testing
Cyber security awareness testing and phishing testing
Security Information and event management solutions
Vendor and supply-chain risk management
All the above are sensible security controls that should already be in place in organisations of all sizes.
How do I know if I have the right controls in place?
If your organisation is considering SD-WAN (Software-defined Wide Area Network), then effective networking and built-in security should be integral to your decision.
In partnership with Fortinet, QuoStar is one of 15 SD-WAN specialised partners in the UK. We offer a solution that achieves safer, more cost-effective and efficient SD-WAN implementation. Here’s how:
With dispersed workforces, new digital tools and cloud adoption at an all-time high, many organisations are turning to SD-WAN. This virtual WAN architecture brings together existing internet connectivity options, such as MPLS, Broadband, DIA and LTE, to securely connect users to applications, while simplifying the control and management of this connectivity.
SD-WAN solutions help to remove complex and expensive routing, cut down on hardware costs and remove expensive MPLS networks. They can also greatly enhance access to Software as a Service (SaaS) and other cloud-based services and help to minimise downtime.
However, many available SD-WAN networking solutions have little or no built-in security, which can lead to organisations adding a range of disparate tools to address these risks. This increases capital expenditure, raises complexity and creates potential gaps for cyberattacks.
A fully integrated, secure SD-WAN solution is the best way to ensure effective protection, operational efficiencies, and on-going readiness for evolving network demands.
QuoStar’s SD-WAN solution
Working in partnership with Fortinet, who have been recognised by Gartner as a Leader in the 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for SD-WAN for a third year in a row, QuoStar’s SD-WAN solution brings extra security protection and enhanced performance to the existing benefits of SD-WAN. These improvements include:
Protection at all edges
Native security for both on-premises and cloud-delivered services, to provide flexible, secure access for a distributed workforce working on and off the network. Unified orchestration capabilities further provide end-to-end visibility and control of the network environment.
A world-class user experience
Our solution overcomes WAN impairments at all edges using our comprehensive self-healing SD-WAN as well as AIOps and Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM). There are no network slowdowns thanks to our purpose-built security processing units, and application performance is maximised with artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Reduced costs and complexity
Significantly lower operational complexity and low total cost of ownership is achieved with converged networking and security. Our unified SD-WAN solution secures remote workers and on-premises users with consistent policies.
You should investigate SD-WAN if:
You’re a largely distributed company experiencing network problems.
You’re particularly vulnerable to internet outages.
Your internet connectivity costs need to be revaluated.
You want to simplify the branch architecture.
You’re in the market to affordably expand your company’s network.
Your company needs to scale quickly and easily.
You would like to enable reliable user experience on any transport with rich routing and advanced WAN remediation for self-healing networks
SD-WAN control and management across multiple locations is providing a challenge for businesses with IT resources facing skill gaps
Obtaining a Secure SD-WAN Assessment Report will give you unmatched insight into your current security posture and network activity. Learn more about your network by registering for a free assessment here.
It’s time to let go of the view that multi-factor authentication (MFA) provides enough security.
Hackers have the means to steal passwords, hijack users’ sign-in sessions and bypass the authentication process entirely, even when MFA is enabled. Adversary-in-the-middle (AiTM) attacks may be nothing new, but the ability of criminals to bypass MFA is.
Attackers can now intercept the legitimate session cookie issued by a real website, along with the authentication token.
The sophistication of these modern AiTM attacks has been highlighted by Microsoft, who explain how AiTM phishing attacks work.
In simple terms:
An attacker sends a cleverly crafted email (phishing attack) which looks legitimate
An unsuspecting user clicks on this link, which takes them to the attackers’ ‘spoof’ website
The attackers’ website silently and transparently forwards on the request to the real site (Office365, Google etc) for authentication
The user sees the real website and enters their credentials to authenticate
The attacker can now silently intercept this data while it passes through their website
Ever wondered how you can launch Edge or Chrome and navigate to your Office 365 email without being prompted for authentication? Or launch Outlook or Teams without being prompted for authentication?
This is because you have already done that once and have a safely stored session cookie which is valid for a set number of days. This is what the attacker is after and once they have it, they have easy, instant access to your email or Teams account.
Build multiple layers of protection
A multi-layered approach to security is the key. Relying on a single security mechanism such as MFA is like putting all your eggs in one basket. You need to reduce the possibility of security compromise by adding more control layers.
Enable MFA if you haven’t done so already. Without this, it’s like having a toy padlock on your front door.
Raise awareness. This is the most effective and essential step of all. Educate users on how to spot phishing emails and when they should and shouldn’t enter their credentials.
Implement advanced email filtering. Reduce the chance of attacker emails reaching users’ mailboxes by deploying Content Filtering, Sender Filtering and Safe Links. These are must-haves.
Implement a Web Proxy. These may be usually considered a mechanism to stop people accessing Facebook or eBay during working hours, but when combined with Deep SSL Inspection, a Web Proxy can inspect all traffic leaving the organisation and track known suspicious or malicious content and sites.
Implement EDR. Next Generation anti-virus/anti-malware technologies with an Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) service overlay can detect threats in your networking environment and respond to them appropriately, automatically, and ideally with a human interaction when required.
Implement Microsoft Conditional Access Security Defaults. Conditional Access policies allow IT admins to create conditions before events, such as authentication, can be accepted. This could include enforcing MFA when logging into any Azure integrated Cloud App, including Office 365, to block sign-ins from untrusted locations or from unknown devices.
Implement Least Privilege. If an attacker manages to penetrate all these layers you can still limit the damage done. If the end user does not have local admin rights, then there’s a good chance that the attacker will not have these when they compromise that machine. Another, possibly even more important, step is admin account separation
None of these controls are particularly new. They are in essence good practice and should be implemented as a base standard in all sizes of IT estate. The majority shouldn’t even cost significantly to implement if anything.
Find out how QuoStar can help to evaluate your IT security and safeguard your enterprise from attacks with a complimentary consultation with a member of our security team.
Since the Russian invasion began in Ukraine on 24th February 2022, businesses and government institutions globally are on high alert for state-sponsored cyber threats – with banks, energy companies and airlines undertaking additional work to strengthen their defences against such attacks. There is an underpinning fear that this could be the new era of global cyber-war.
Cyber-attacks on state-owned digital assets such as the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and Military websites increased in February, as they were hit with DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, along with two large Ukrainian banks – PrivatBank and Oschadbank. In this case, the websites were flooded with traffic to the point that they crashed, making the websites unusable.
At the end of February, there was the discovery of the new wiper malware that had been unleashed – dubbed HermeticWiper by some and FoxBlade by others. As well the as DDoS attacks mentioned above, it was designed to wipe the hard drives/system storage of the systems infected, corrupting all the data in the drive – making the data unrecoverable – then initiating a system shutdown. It has been found on Ukranian computers, as well as on machines in Latvia and Lithuania.
Furthermore, a “worm component” dubbed HermeticWizard, has been discovered that could be used to spread the HermeticWiper in local networks.
FoxBlade (HermeticWiper) also downloads and installs other programs – including other malware – onto infected systems, Microsoft has advised.
Cybersecurity experts identified a second wiper cyber-attack, named IsaacWiper, targeted at Ukrainian governmental networks according to a report on Tuesday 1st March. The second wiper attack was detected on 24th February and is described to be a lot less sophisticated than HermeticWiper.
The UK’s NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) and the US CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) have released details about a new malware targeting network devices, which they attributed to Sandworm – a threat actor previously attributed to the Russian GRU’s Main Centre for Special Technologies (GTsST).
Cyclops Blink is a new piece of malware that targets network devices – supposedly being used by the Sandworm threat actor – a replacement for the VPNFilter malware 2018. The malware collects device information, sending it to a command-and-control server. It can download and execute files, as well as getting additional modules at a later date.
Researchers have identified a web service hosting cloned copies of websites. A number of Ukrainian government websites were cloned, along with the main webpage of the Office of the President. These sites were filled with malware links, that once clicked, would download on to the user’s computer.
What does this cyber-war era mean for nations other than Russia and Ukraine?
While the aforementioned attacks aren’t particularly sophisticated, and can be mitigated with the right cyber protection measures, these types of attacks have previously been used as a diversion tactic in order to lay groundwork for more damaging, sophisticated attacks.
Exposure or risk
As the EU, UK and the US impose sanctions on Russia and Belarus there is greater chance of being at risk of targeted cyber-attacks, as retaliations make take place from the Russian and respective forces. Companies across Britain have been warned to prepare for a heightened security risks as the UK placed sanctions on three of Russia’s wealthy allies.
UK organisations have been urged by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) ‘bolster their online defences’ and warned that there has been an ‘historical pattern of cyber-attacks on Ukraine with international consequences’.
According to Laurance Dine, global partner, X-Force Incident Response, IBM, businesses need to start operating under the assumption of compromise, and put in place the proper controls and measures necessary to defend their environment and critical data.
The UK government may well be taking their own measures to defend the cyber security of the nation, as secretary of state for defence, Ben Wallace, told parliament in reference to the National Cyber Force: “I am a soldier, and I was always taught that the best part of defence is offence… What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and that if necessary we could use cyber warfare to give as good as we get back to Russia.”
High alert for the energy sector
This week (28th February 2022) the UK Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is holding talks with the chair of National Grid amid anticipation of a surge in state-sponsored cyber-attacks from Russia. A wise move considering that, in a recent report published by IBM Security, the UK’s energy sector was the target of 24% of all cybersecurity incidents in the country last year. It is also thought that Russia was most likely responsible for the SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline attacks of 2020 and 2021.
It may seem obvious but evaluate the controls you have in place against cyber-attacks, particularly ransomware.
Pay close attention to the news cycle in relation to this situation.
Pay attention to the types of attacks that are coming through via security feeds.
Keep everything patched.
Watch out for any suspicious traffic that may be coming from outside of the country.
At QuoStar we are committed to helping you and your business remain secure. Our experienced industry professionals are here to give you measured and realistic advice.
Cybersecurity attacks strike at the heart of an institution’s reputation.
If data is compromised, trust can be shattered. Like all service providers, financial firms depend on their painstakingly-built reputations to stay in business. Consumers must be confident that their financial information – and money – is safe. Guarding against cybersecurity threats is crucial.
These risks increased in 2021, with ransomware attacks rising by 288% last year. Given the global ransomware industry now generates annual revenues of over $1.5 trillion, this growth is unlikely to slow.
A new critical vulnerability was also recently exposed in Log4j, an open-source logging library that is used by a range of apps and services. This offers criminals with minimal knowledge the chance to infiltrate IT systems in order to steal passwords and data, and compromise networks with malicious software.
Cybersecurity is now being taken seriously at the highest level. In May 2021, President Biden’s Business Office released new advice about ransomware and how firms should guard themselves. This guidance offers financial firms eight main lessons to take into 2022:
1. Back up your data
Many firms back up their data only at weekly intervals, or longer. Should a cyberattack occur, they could therefore lose up to seven days’ worth of data. Further, the longer the interval between backups, the longer it takes to restore lost data in the event of an attack. The effect on productivity could be devastating. Firms must equip themselves with technology to backup and restore data quickly and reliably, potentially by working with specialist partners. It’s also important to note that traditional backup systems are often a primary target in a ransomware attack, so firms need to ensure they have specific solution in place to protect backups from being encrypted.
2. Implement an efficient patching system
It is not sufficient to patch IT systems on a weekly or monthly basis. Firms should be constantly monitoring their systems and resolving vulnerabilities. But as patching can cause outages, firms should invest to mitigate its impact on productivity. Technology is available that increases the speed of patching, reducing the time systems spend down. Bursting frees up resources for critical IT applications, allowing high-priority work to continue during outages. Hot standby systems also ensure that essential systems continue to function.
3. Vet your suppliers
Even if a firm’s systems are sound, there may be a way-in because of vulnerabilities in suppliers’ networks. Undertaking due diligence is therefore crucial. One way of vetting a supplier is to request their Software Bills of Material (SBOM), which lists all open-source components in their software for IT professionals to review. SBOMs also allow firms to see which software versions their suppliers are using. Firms should ensure that versions align throughout the supply chain, and that all suppliers operate within high-standard risk management frameworks. Ideally, all partners should be ISO27001 or SOC2-accredited bodies. Firms should not be shy in asking suppliers for certification or auditing their cybersecurity processes.
4. Maintain best practice
Firms should ensure best practice is in place, and that procedures are evaluated continuously. It is best to have evidence of these practices – such as by obtaining an ISO27001 certification, which recognises a high standard and continual management of information security. Systems must be regularly reviewed for any potential vulnerabilities and asset registers should be maintained, to ensure no risk is missed. Asset registers also mean a firm can prioritise by criticality – offering the most protection to its most important assets. Organisations should deploy well-established Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) practices. These embed risk management into everyday activity, making it easier to manage – and ensuring decisions are consistent and effective.
5. Obtain specialist detection systems
A Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution is now essential to continually monitor system logs within an organisation. This allows activity to be monitored comprehensively by professionals, who are also notified of anomalies, and can respond to block and remediate issues. This may require specialist security technologies and skills or working with external partners.
6. Segregate your networks
Both the UK and US governments state that network segments should be protected individually. Segmentation helps prevent attacks reaching other parts of the network, containing malicious activities to one part of the system and thus limiting damage. Micro-segmentation is even more effective, by establishing isolated zones within networks, protecting specific workloads individually. This stops lateral movement of malware through an entire system. Segregation is easy to install and manage, offering demonstrable benefits within a short period.
7. Consider hardware tokens
Hardware tokens are a physical device that are plugged into USB ports. They generate a random number, which expire after one use and are valid for a limited period. This number is needed to log into the computer along with a username and password. It is a form of two-factor authentication that is effective at preventing account takeovers and ransomware attacks.
8. Undertake resilience exercises
Financial firms should undertake resilience exercises to analyse their capacity to withstand cybersecurity attacks. By working through all the components of their technology infrastructure, organisations can analyse their resilience to cyber threats and review how strong the links within networks and systems are. Having identified the weaker links, firms can then ensure that appropriate mitigations are in place, or that the risks are understood. This helps business to respond to a cyberattack, while minimising the risk of any attacks being successful.
A growing threat which is often undertested is Denial of Service, where a bad actor swamps an organisation’s network connections, putting them offline. A financial firm needs to fully understand how they will respond, long before an attack ever happens.
The cybersecurity risks for financial firms are clearly increasing, but they are not unmanageable. By implementing this guidance, organisations can achieve more comprehensive and effective security operations, with systems resilient enough to withstand both emerging and existing threats. In turn, this will reduce the risk of reputation-damaging data breaches and regulatory scrutiny – whilst keeping clients assured they are in safe hands.
Security and privacy breaches are on the rise globally, with potentially serious implications for businesses that are not able to handle them promptly and efficiently.
This can feel like a vast and confusing maze to navigate, especially for small and medium businesses, if underprepared.
However, with just a few simple steps, businesses can ensure they are taking the most appropriate response to a breach and giving themselves the best chance of mitigating the impact of an attack. You can see the top five suggestions below from our Head of Security and CISO as a Service Consultant, David Clarke.
A 5 step guide
What to do the face of Security or Privacy breaches
Once a breach is discovered, getting all the key stakeholders together to establish some ground rules about how to deal with the breach is key. This should be done whilst maintaining a ‘no blame’ approach to operations. Additionally, the incident should be given a code name for use in emails and discussions to maintain clarity.
It’s then necessary to capture every piece of known, suspected or inferred information about the breach to get an overview of the situation. The targeted business should only work with verifiable facts, even if there are very few, and all decisions must be directly logged. Crucially, it’s vital to ensure that no suspicion or guesswork is released outside of the key stakeholders. Once ready to release information outside of the company, ensure that it is only via a named spokesperson.
In the case of a personal data breach, the business should, in the first instance, work on the data subject risk analysis. For example, will this breach cause detriment to the data subject? It will then be necessary to verify and check all possible evidence and challenges. After the breach, only 20% or less of the data will remain available. This is why the business should start to size, scope and quantify the breach on an ongoing basis.
Senior management should be briefed only with facts and factual based risk assessments. However, the business should also be prepared to notify the relevant authorities and/or Data Subjects in a controlled manner.
Regulatory bodies will judge a business based on how breaches are managed, not the breach itself. Ensure to register the issue with authorities if required, for example if the risks are very high. Initial focus must be firmly on gaining a level of control, confidence, and containment over the breach.
Ultimately, businesses should reach out for professional assistance if needed. Work on containing the breach to make eradication easier.
If you’d like more support or out any further information on measures you can take to protect your business, get in touch.
Any business can become a target to cyber criminals, but law firms are one of the top targets globally. Even a listed UK Law firm was hit by cyber-security a incidentthis year. It’s obvious that law firms are lucrative and have access to money, so they are often able to pay a ransom where other types of businesses might not.
However, cash flow is not the only reason firms become a target. Law firms have many interaction points and are in effect a service business – service businesses live and die by their reputation. That’s why they are a prime target.
Ransomware risks to law firms: why are they a great target for Ransomware attacks?
They have some great data, and that fits with the Ransomware business model. Ransomware is a revenue generator for cybercriminals. Ransomware encrypts your practice’s electronic data, and takes a copy of the data, which can then be:
Sold to other cybercriminals
Held to ransom over public release of sensitive information
Assumes control of your social media and broadcasts your data and failings
Sell the exploit details to another cybercriminal
Use the same exploit again and ask for another ransom
Are law firms financially protected from cyber-attacks?
Typically, a paid ransom will be reimbursed by Insurance, but of course only if the right controls are in place from a cyber-security / risk perspective in the first instance.
Many firms think they are protected financially by simply having insurance in place to reimburse a ransom payment. However, if there isn’t the right security in place, then insurance won’t pay out.
Money isn’t the only loss a firm faces when hit
Greater threats are posed, here are some other ransomware risks to law firms.
Some ransom groups will demand a ransom, but that will only be after they’ve posted all of the firm’s sensitive data, and client data onto the dark web.
The firm may be able to get operational again, but the real damage goes beyond that, as their client’s data is in effect spread globally for anyone to access. It’s easy to see that the ransom payment is just a fraction of the real cost a firm could face.
A breach means letting clients know their data is ‘in the wild’, that other parties can access it and can, in effect, use that information to do much greater damage. That’s big, it will seriously hurt the firm and all those they work with.
Regulators want to try to compound that damage. A firm is now looking at huge fines from the regulators, such as the ICO and the SRA. It’s a horrible place to be, hence the focus from those in the global ransomware business, which is now bigger than the drugs trade (theglobal cybercrime economy generates over $1.5 trillion).
This year 4 New Square Chambers took an unusual approach this year after they were attacked mid-June. For damage limitation purposes they took out a court order demanding the criminals not to share the stolen data. The mystery hackers were ordered to hand over any information they may have obtained by 27 September 2021 or face possible contempt of court proceedings – but only time will tell how well this has worked.
Risk and IT security are not separate entities
Too many in the legal industry view the ransomware risks to law firms and IT security as separate entities. They simply put being secure from a cyber perspective and all those risks down to the IT team. That’s just not going to wash with regulators, clients and very likely the media. Risk is a board responsibility/accountability, not IT’s.
Of course, the IT team plays it part. However, like every important functional operation in a firm, you need governance. The whole firm needs to be aware of its role in controlling risk, especially as most IT breaches come from an employee doing something they shouldn’t. The biggest threat to a firm’s security is more often that not going to come from something simple such as someone unsuspectingly clicking a link or giving information out over a phone.
IT can only so go far
New and emerging threats are often targeted at the end-user sat at their laptop or on their phone. Sure, technology has its risks, such as unpatched software or a lost laptop, but people are always the weakest link. Although employees pose one of the largest risks with one of the biggest impacts, the threats are of course much wider.
The other big risk is vulnerabilities within IT systems that face the Internet, both those run internally and through third parties, such as a website host, an IT supplier, or some form of partner organisation that links into a firm’s systems. Every link into a firm is risk. they need to be evaluated and tested. A firm should certainly penetration test their own systems, but they should also look at those they interface with, to ensure they also deal with their part of the wider risk piece.
So, how can the ransomware risks to law firms be avoided?
There are most certainly the basics that should be dealt with, especially where ransomware is concerned, such as:
Have you got an air gap in your backups?
Ransomware attackers want to encrypt your data. That may take you down for a few days. However, if your backups are also on the same network as your data they will be looking to ensure they are also encrypted. That leaves a firm dead in the water with no chance of recovery.
Do you have a rigid patch management policy?
Many businesses patch once a week, many once a month. That’s not enough. The IT team needs to be continually aware of brand new threats and needs to deal with them quickly, or they need to rely on a specialist IT security partner to deal with it.
Do you use a VPN to protect endpoints on public networks?
Too many firms allow their staff to connect at home or in other locations, such as hotels, over unprotected networks. That’s a risk that needs to be controlled via a VPN.
Do you consistently train and test your users how to spot suspicious email or call?
Again, staff are the weakest link and need to be able to spot suspicious behaviours online.
Do you control USB ports to ensure non-approved storage devices can’t be installed?
You can’t allow staff to plug anything into a work machine or a machine that accesses work machines without controls in place. For example, a Rubber Ducky Attack cyberattack, where a custom USB device emulates a USB keyboard to attack a workstation.
Do you have an email security protection system in place?
You do need an advanced email security protection system in place that checks both links in email and the attachments. You can’t generally rely on email provider systems, not even Microsoft’s.
Do you have next generation antivirus in place?
Traditional antivirus systems aren’t enough to protect against ransomware. Once they’ve detected it with a scan it’s too late. You need NGAV (Next Generation AntiVirus) which can spot ransomware before it does its damage.
Do you have 2-factor authentication in place?
This is probably one of the biggest protections against ransomware available. A third party can steal a password, but they cannot get access to systems without a known device.
Do you have a SIEM and a 24x7x365 SOC?
A SIEM is a Security Information and Event Management system. A SOC is a Security Operations Centre. If you’ve done the other points, then you need a system that looks for suspicious behaviour (a SIEM looks for it) and a team that can take that alert and respond (a SOC). These systems can be expensive, so you need to really make a judged call on how far you should go.
So how do you decide how far you take your IT security?
Well, first you really need to understand the all the risks you face. You need to understand what the likelihood of those risks being exploited, and you need to understand the likelihood of it happening. How do you do that?
You need a system, you need a framework. Too many firms think they have Cyber Essentials so they are secure. That’s not the case. Cyber Essentials is the very basic and doesn’t make you secure, especially not from the ransomware risks to law firms.
Have a plan for resiliency.
The only way a firm, particularly the leadership, can get a grip on IT security is to work to a governance level – to implement an Information Security Management System (ISMS). If you have an ISMS you are doing the right thing from a leadership perspective. You can know your risks, you know the controls of those risks and you can make a call on what you need and want to do – based on real knowledge.
An ISMS, such as ISO 27001 will give you complete knowledge of your risks and how you deal with them. It will also let you manage all of your suppliers and third parties, ensuring they don’t pose a risk you are unaware of.
At Quostar we have a process called “Chain of Resiliency” which highlights the weakest links in your critical systems whether cloud or traditional server-based. This is so you can estimate the cost of lack of resiliency per system appropriate to your law firm, and do a cost-benefit realisation.
In short, a strong Executive action plan will:
Copy what the big tech companies do.
Enforce Backup and restore process (The important bit is the restore)
Implement an Information Security Management System (ISMS)
Use risk as a management tool not as a list
Implement Governance over risks with key stakeholders
Follow best practice
If you’d like any advice from ourCISOon your firms cyber security set upget in touchtoday.
“The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure (PSTI) Bill supports the rollout of future-proof, gigabit-capable broadband and 5G networks, and better protects citizens, networks and infrastructure against the harms enabled through insecure consumer connectable products.” [Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 24 November 2021]
This is a very interesting piece of legislation as the “Product Security Measures” apply to manufacturers, importers, and distributors in the supply chain for consumer connectable products.
“A consumer connectable product is an internet-connectable or network-connectable product.” [Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 24 November 2021]
The PSTI Bill
The government has stated that the security requirements will apply in relation to products including:
Connected cameras, TVs, and speakers
Connected children’s toys and baby monitors
Connected safety-relevant products such as smoke detectors and door locks
Internet of Things base stations and hubs to which multiple devices connect
Wearable connected fitness trackers
Outdoor leisure products, such as handheld connected GPS devices that are not wearables
Connected home automation and alarm systems
Connected appliances, such as washing machines and fridges
Smart home assistants
The security requirements, to be set out in regulations, will:
Ban default passwords
Require products to have a vulnerability disclosure policy
Require transparency about the length of time for which the product will receive important security updates.
The scale of devices with weak security is absolutely huge, Kaspersky research says there were 1.5 billion attacks against IoT (Internet of Things) products in the first 6 months of 2021.
The question is, will this legislation make a difference? Removing default passwords will of course make a huge difference, yes. And no. It may just delay the inevitable. Will the devices have to have a standard for passwords e.g. minimum length or complexity? Will the device have a lock out period e.g.10 fails and you are locked out? If not, enumeration software will eventually crack the password.
Good idea in principle, the difficulty will be whether these devices will auto update as it may be unlikely many users will have the technical capability to do it themselves.
Important security updates
If security updates are available for 2 years, similar to the average Android phone, what happens then? Will the consumers be alerted when the end of the 2 years is up? Will this then become part of built-in obsolescence, so new phones, doorbells, fitness wearables, washing machines need to be bought new again probably every 2 years.
“Ensure that consumer connectable products, such as smart TVs, internet-connectable cameras and speakers, are more secure against cyber-attacks, protecting individual privacy and security” [Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 24 November 2021]
This would seem to indicate that if there is damage to an individual’s privacy, there could be a group action against the TV manufacturer, importer, distributor, and manufacturers.
Should these devices go through a form of accredited security testing? In business-to-business relationships, there is usually a requirement that all systems should be updated within 14 days and be in support by the vendor.
In the age of Teleworking would the “work” supply chain be fully in scope? Home routers should not use a default password, and all software/firmware under the legislation must be in support by the vendor. Should smart speakers be updated? The doorbell, fish tank thermometer, alarm system, Wi-Fi Garden lighting? These could all potentially be in scope, especially where someone works from home, as a vulnerability for the corporate workspace.
Just one vulnerable point can allow criminals into a network.
In 2018, attackers were able to compromise a connected thermometer in a fish tank that had a default password. The fish tank was in the lobby of a US casino, and attackers used this vulnerability to enter the network and access sensitive details, such as bank details.
It’s very difficult to ensure that every link in the chain has appropriate cyber security measures in place and it only takes one vulnerable point to allow criminals into a network. Once they’re in, the knock-on effects can be catastrophic.
This is a step in right direction, but how do we manage the consequences, and will enforcement be likely?
Even in theCode of Practice for Consumer IoT Security there is some mention about encryption and cryptographic keys, but it’s not very detailed. Without encryption how will personal data and passwords be stored on IoT devices?
Hopefully, this will be the start of safer online world. Although is it enough? Probably not at this stage.
Will there now be a possibility of a class action against a device manufacturer for privacy infractions? Does this mean that the device manufacturer, importer, distributor could inadvertently (under GDPR) become a data controller if they are responsible or partly responsible for a breach? The bill raises more questions than it answers in the long term.
At Quostar we manage these types of issues for corporate clients regularly. Patch management, passwords, release management and regular upgrades as well as containing systems and devices that cannot be upgraded, so they need to be contained and segregated with special security layers.
David Clarke is the Head of Security and resident CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) consultant.
Businesses have done a phenomenal job to keep going throughout Covid to keep people working from home, and at the same time building in those layers of security as they go. However, as this new norm sets in, there needs to be more security in place for the post covid world.
Working from home needs additional cyber security post covid
With people working from home, it is important to realise that there are now layers of security your company can’t easily control. Although there has been an inherent layer of security during covid because people have had to work at home, rather than working out and about in cafes and public places.
We recommend giving guidance on these issues to staff as they may not realise that their homes aren’t as safe digitally as they might think they are. Training helps, and it is essential. It’s also essential for organisations to undertake risk assessments of their new agile/remote working environments.
Things you should be considering:
Home environments are a business environment
If you want to breach a corporate network, then you seek out the weak links. People themselves, and home networks/devices are without a doubt weak links that need protecting.
Review your remote working environments
It’s essential that security risk registers and controls are revisited regularly. It’s also important to perform regular penetration tests.
Are the roles now paperless?
Do we need collection of classified documents for shredding?
We are sharing screens more
We need to be cautious about what we are inadvertently sharing.
The use of smart speakers and technology at home
We all know of Alexa, but there are hundreds of varieties. They are all managed by different countries using different clouds. They are recording all the time. IoT and AI are likely to further erode the privacy and autonomy of users.
Avoiding successful attacks and creating better cyber security post covid, the short answer…
Before you hide, go seek!
The biggest key to it all: do you know where all of your data is?
Layer it up
It’s essential that you rely on all 7 layers of cyber security post covid. You can’t just have one control to stop a threat, just as having antivirus software will not protect you from getting a virus. The same way locking a door won’t stop someone burgling your house. It’s best to apply theSwiss cheese modelof risk management.
It is much cheaper to get your security layers in there first. The layers don’t need to be expensive, just suitable, with good architecture.
Your data, particularly sensitive data, needs to be protected whilst traveling over non-corporate networks and whilst at rest – sat on a server, the cloud, a mobile or on a laptop.
Work with what you’ve got
Most companies, even big ones, don’t have the budget or endless resources to do everything, the key is optimising what you have got. A simple one, privilege management – what are the entry limits to your digital technology?
Know your risks
It’s essential for all businesses to have a risk register, however large or small. If you don’t know all the risks your organisation faces, how can possibly ensure you are protected against them? It’s negligent to not do so. It’s important that board understands and signs off risks, and doesn’t just leave it to IT. Ask yourself what are your risks to cyber security post covid.
It’s essential that you monitor all network attached devices for anomalies. If you aren’t looking you aren’t going to see a breach until it’s too late. Many organisations don’t know they’ve had a breach until months after.
Business Continuity has been put to the test
Covid has made us test all major categories of business continuity. A few years ago, we’d test things like ‘building unavailable’. Businesses have been put into the real-life working situation of no building available, no public transport, fewer staff numbers and sick and absent staff. We have been hit with all the major categories of business continuity at the same time.
A shortage of senior cyber-security professionals
However, with a global shortage of senior cyber-security professionals, coupled with the prohibitively expensive costs of retaining a full-time, dedicated expert, many businesses may struggle to access the appropriate level of support required.
Businesses get access to a dedicated Chief Information Security Officer who will provide senior security leadership and take responsibility for identifying, controlling, and managing risk. Making sure the business’s security posture is strengthened.