Posts tagged with "Concentric"

illustration by Samantha Miduri for use by 360 Magazine

Ransomware: Piracy on the IPs

By: Casey Allen with Concentric 

Where there is commerce, thar be pirates! The techniques, tactics, and procedures of modern-day pirates have expanded significantly since the Lukkan buccaneers first raided Cyprus back in the 14th century. The practice of maritime piracy is still alive and well, but as technology has advanced from bronze to blockchain the booty of choice for 21st-century corsairs has evolved from gold to Bitcoin. Data has become the world’s most valuable commodity, and the submarine communications cables that form the backbone of the internet are the shipping lanes for trillions of dollars worth of global commerce. With so much at stake, it should come as no surprise that cybercriminals continue to raise the Jolly Roger in digital form. 

Ransom has been a staple of the pirate’s playbook since Teuta, the Pirate Queen of Illyria, captured the Epirus capital city of Phoenice in 231 BCE. Queen Teuta was successful in holding the city hostage long enough to force the Epirotes into paying her a ransom to release their citizens and vacate its borders. The extent of Queen Teuta’s means, the sophistication of her organization, and the insatiability of her greed made her an “Advanced Persistent Threat” (APT) to victims all over the Mediterranean. As cybercriminals have become more sophisticated and organized, they too have become APTs, with their reach extending the entire breadth and depth of our information superhighways. 

Ransomware is a specific type of malware that infects information systems with the goal of making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid in exchange for restoring the victim’s access. Such a disruption can be crippling for an organization, often leaving leadership with no other choice but to submit to the ransomer’s demands in order to resume normal operations as quickly as possible. Information security professionals and government agencies agree that paying these ransoms is incentivizing future attacks, and should only be done as a last resort. However, without adequate alternatives, the average cost of downtime remains 24 times higher than the average ransom amount, resulting in ransom payment being considered the most expedient and cost-effective solution for the victim. 

The U.S. Department of Treasury announced in October of 2020 that companies facilitating payments on behalf of ransomware victims may be in violation of federal law if the cybercriminals are on a list of sanctioned entities identified by OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control). Several states have followed suit and begun drafting legislation that would criminalize paying these kinds of ransoms. There is significant debate in the security community as to whether or not this outright ban on paying ransoms would cause more harm than good. Banning ransom payments would almost certainly result in the creation of another black market to facilitate these transactions and discourage victims from reporting ransomware incidents to the authorities. A similar position was taken by the USG in response to hostage ransom payments by families. Ultimately, however, punishing the victim was determined to be an ineffective—and unethical—deterrent, nor did we see ripples of that preclusion within the international hostage-taking market. The Treasury Department’s recent involvement in cyber extortion response, specifically their success in returning $2.3M of the $4.4M ransom paid for the Colonial Pipeline extortion event, is a significant demonstration of the benefit of including the USG in extortion response efforts. 

The scale and sophistication of ransomware attacks have been steadily increasing since Joseph Popp—widely credited as the father of digital ransom—first attempted to extort victims of the PC Cyborg Trojan he authored nearly 30 years ago. Once a system had been infected, Popp’s malware asked victims to send $189 to a post office box in Panama in exchange for a repair tool. By comparison, the largest single payout for ransomware to date was made in May of 2021 by CNA Financial in the amount of $40M worth of Bitcoin. 

The final step in any sales funnel is always the completion of a financial transaction. One of the major enabling factors for the profitability of cybercrime has been the proliferation of cryptocurrency. $40M worth of pirate booty would weigh around 1,370 pounds in the form of gold, or just over 880 pounds in the form of $100 bills. Bitcoin, on the other hand, weighs absolutely nothing. Not only is cryptocurrency easy to store and move around, but it’s also hard to track and easy to launder. While this is advantageous for the attackers it can present additional challenges for their victims. 

Many organizations that fall victim to ransomware don’t have the liquidity to pay such ransoms, let alone cryptocurrency assets on their balance sheets. Ransomware attacks typically involve a ticking clock intended to create a sense of urgency in victims. The time factor compounds victims’ panic by threatening to delete their data permanently if the ransom isn’t paid by a certain deadline. For organizations who don’t have any backups of their data, this could be the iceberg in their hull that sinks them for good. For organizations who have the means and foresight to maintain robust backups, attackers will often threaten to publish their sensitive data and invaluable intellectual property if their ransom demands aren’t met; this trend is called “double extortion”. For victims scrambling to make ransom payments, getting their hands on enough cryptocurrency can be a challenge. Cash is still king in terms of liquidity. Even Bitcoin—easily the most liquid of all cryptocurrencies—isn’t anywhere close to fiat currencies in terms of its liquidity. The popularity of Bitcoin has led to dramatic increases in the volume of transactions, which can lead to significant delays in conversions and transactions. When evaluating the risk ransomware poses to your organization it is critical to consider these secondary and tertiary risks beyond the inability to access your data. 

If your organization maintains digital assets of any significant value, the possibility of falling victim to a ransomware attack should be high on the heatmap of your risk assessment. However, there are steps individuals and corporations can take to ensure that an extortion-level event does not become an extinction-level event. So, what can you do to not be a victim of piracy on the IPs? 

  1. Prepare. Conduct a business impact assessment to understand the impact a cyber extortion event could have on your organization. This should include a financial analysis for potential ransom responses and techniques for ransom payment, if necessary. Develop a robust incident response plan and conduct table-top exercises on a regular cadence to build muscle memory, test its efficacy, and identify gaps. 
  2. Prevent. Use a password manager and long, strong, unique passwords in conjunction with multi-factor authentication wherever possible. Keep systems up-to-date to limit vulnerabilities and restrict access to information systems according to the principle of least privilege. Educate your workforce with engaging security awareness training, especially with respect to identifying and reporting phishing emails.
  3. Partner. Experts in the cyber crisis field can assist you prior to and during these extortion events. All too often ransomware victims wait to reach out until after the breach has occurred. For best results, it is highly recommended to establish a relationship with a trusted partner prior to an incident occurring to enable efficient and effective solutions. 
Green Car by Mina Tocalini for 360 Magazine

Concentric Q×A

In the current age of digital technology, car owners are being forced to consider their vehicle’s susceptibility to ransomware attacks. These malicious cyber-attacks can expose your personal data to online hackers. However, there are certain measures that car owners can take to help prevent security breaches. Proactive car owners are utilizing services like Concentric to safeguard their technology and online identity. 360 Magazine spoke with Laura Hoffner, Chief of Staff at Concentric, and Sam Connour, Concentric Intern, about how to best practice car system security.

What steps can proactive car owners take to protect their vehicles from security threats and hackers?

First, understand that all digital property can be hacked.

Second, as a result, be conscious of what personal technology you connect to or tether with. Understand that if you connect your phone to your car via Bluetooth, someone hacking into your car will then result in vulnerability to your phone (and everything else connected to your phone such as your home Wi-Fi, addresses, credit cards.)

Third, ensure your vehicle’s software is up today. Car makers, like Tesla and Jeep, are known to push out patches for these potential holes hackers can access. Keeping your vehicle up to date will aid in that effort.

Finally, protect that vulnerability by being aware of the modifications you’re making to your vehicle’s software. Don’t let unknown devices connect to your car, and be wary of who has physical access to your vehicle

What makes a car susceptible to ransomware attacks?

Cars are now equal [in terms of susceptibility] to computers as a result of their connectivity capabilities both to the internet and to Bluetooth. If a car is connected to an insecure and unprotected internet connection, hackers are capable of installing malware into a vehicle’s operating or infotainment systems.

What models of cars are the most likely to encounter hacking/privacy issues?

Cars with self-driving capabilities, or features such as lane assist or automatic braking, are particularly at risk. But practically any vehicle made in the past 20 years can be hacked. Generally, vehicles [from] 2007 or newer run a higher risk of personal information being compromised. Car makers, with a warning from the FBI, are taking steps to beef up cybersecurity within their vehicles.

Should customers be weary of certain car brands when buying technology systems for their vehicles? How can consumers find quality retailers with safe car products?

Rather than it being a concern about specific car brands, consumers should instead educate themselves on the risk associated with these vulnerabilities and take proper protocol to mitigate those risks.

Can Concentric offer any services for car owners looking to safeguard their vehicles?

Concentric offers holistic security solutions for our clients. Included in that is a residential risk assessment that can identify specific concerns and vulnerabilities. This is where personal risk associated with property would be assessed, [as well as] physical and behavioral recommendations.

How did your experience as a Naval Intelligence Officer and in the Naval Reserves translate into your current role at Concentric?

Understanding the threat landscape both nationally and internationally– as well as the acknowledgement that we make both micro and macro decisions about risk daily– ultimately prepared me to understand the corporate security landscape. Holistically viewing a problem set and identifying creative solutions are [at] the core of Naval Intelligence, thus it wasn’t a large leap to bring that mindset over with me from the government side.

As Concentrics’ Chief of Staff, what is your best advice regarding car related security?

Car-related security advice is the same as all other security advice we have: educate yourself, your family, and your team to know what risk decisions you are making that have vast implications across your security vulnerability spectrum. Additionally, security is not something to think about when you’re in a crisis. Avoid or better prepare yourself for the crisis beforehand by taking steps to vastly reduce, or eliminate, your vulnerabilities to exploitation.