There has been a rise in sophisticated, high-impact ransomware attacks targeting critical infrastructure organizations across the world in 2021, including various cybersecurity authorities like CISA. FBI and NSA have published a joint advisory.
The agencies report, in a joint bulletin said, “Ransomware tactics and techniques continued to evolve in 2021, which demonstrates ransomware threat actors’ growing technological sophistication and an increased ransomware threat to organizations globally.”
The top three initial infection vectors used to deploy ransomware on compromised networks are spear-phishing, stolen or brute-forced Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) credentials, and exploitation of software flaws. Various threat groups morphed into the professional market with the intention to gain initial access, negotiate payments, and settle payment disputes.
After the Colonial Pipeline, JBS, and Kaseya last year there has been a noticeable shift with many bad actors moving away from the “big-game” hunting in the U.S. in the second half of 2021 and focusing on mid-sized organizations to evade scrutiny from law enforcement.
According to the security agencies, “After encrypting victim networks, ransomware threat actors increasingly used ‘triple extortion’ by threatening to (1) publicly release stolen sensitive information, (2) disrupt the victim’s internet access, and/or (3) inform the victim’s partners, shareholders, or suppliers about the incident.”
Syhunt in a report published this week, over 150 terabytes of data have been stolen from victim organizations by ransomware groups from January 2019 up to January 2022. REvil alone accounts for 44.1TB of the total stolen information the group siphoned from 282 victims.
Other Tactics Used by Ransomware Gangs to Maximize Impact
- Strike cloud infrastructures to exploit known weaknesses
- Breach managed service providers (MSPs) to access multiple victims through one initial compromise
- Deploy code designed to sabotage industrial processes, poisoning the software supply chain.
- Conduct attacks during holidays and weekends.
How to Mitigate and Reduce the Likelihood and Impact of Ransomware Attacks?
- Update operating systems and software.
- Limit access to resources over internal networks, especially by restricting RDP and using the virtual desktop infrastructure.
- Mandate strong, unique passwords and multi-factor authentication to protect accounts from takeover attacks.
- Raise awareness among users about the risks of phishing,
- Encrypt data in the cloud.
- Implement network segmentation.
- Disable unnecessary command-line utilities, and restrict scripting activities and permissions.
- Enforce time-based access for privileged accounts.
- Maintain offline (i.e., physically disconnected) backups of data.
Agencies have cautioned organizations, “Criminal activity is motivated by financial gain, so paying a ransom may embolden adversaries to target additional organizations or encourage cybercriminals to engage in the distribution of ransomware. Paying the ransom also does not guarantee that a victim’s files will be recovered. Additionally, reducing the financial gain of ransomware threat actors will help disrupt the ransomware criminal business model.”
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