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How to avoid ransomware

Did you know that ransomware attacks worldwide rose 350 percent in 2017? Ransomware continues to be a scourge for businesses and individuals alike, as cybercriminals cast a wide extortion net in hopes of snagging a lucrative payday.

Made (in)famous around the world by the global Wannacry strike in 2017, the premise is simple: Crooks infect machines with malware that locks up all the files on a computer or business network, and then they demand a ransom (usually in the form of Bitcoin) in exchange for releasing the hostage documents.

The good news is that defenses are improving, giving businesses a host of great options for combatting the threat – which means that keeping current with the latest security tools is critical. Ransomware authors are hardly slinking away in the night: Instead, they’re evolving their tactics, using clever, targeted social-engineering techniques to get malware onto targeted machines and changing up their encryption schemes to make it more difficult for companies to unlock impacted files.

If you’re a victim, the conventional wisdom (which we agree with) is to not pay up – there’s no guarantee that the files will be released after the payment is made, plus it only encourages and funds the threat actors. But ransomware cleanup isn’t easy nor cheap – even after decryption (more and more tools are available to clean the compromised files).  Securing the integrity of the network post-attack is a lengthy process.

The best thing to do is avoid becoming a victim in the first place. Managed security from TPx automatically keeps your defenses up-to-date with the latest state-of-the-art technology to combat the latest threats. That provides real peace of mind, but here are some best practices that every business should always adopt to protect themselves.

1. Educate and Inform Users About Ransomware

Training staff to recognize fake emails and to be wary of unsolicited mails is critical in the fight against ransomware. Malware generally arrives in the form of an email attachment or a malicious link. These scam messages will come in many guises.

Sometimes, the email will purport to be sending an important invoice or information on a shipped package. In other cases, the mail will claim to be sending HR information or other business-critical data. As attacks become more targeted, attackers are even doing reconnaissance on the business before sending the emails, tailoring the message to make it seem legitimate. In all cases, the point is to encourage users to open the attachment or click on a link, after which the ransomware is downloaded and then starts spreading through the organization.

If you think you can easily spot fraudulent emails, think again. The success rate in targeting the average human worker can be almost 20% in some cases, depending on the lure. Also, often the sender’s address will appear to be an internal address; or, the sender may even be someone in a user’s address book. The best course of action is to pick up the phone and verify that an unsolicited message is legitimate before clicking on anything.

2. Use a Good Backup Solution

Back up your systems and data both locally and offsite. Today’s leading hybrid local/cloud backup solutions, such as TPx’s MSx Managed Backups service, can significantly improve the performance and reliability of backing up and restoring important data. They offer the ability to back up systems multiple times per day to minimize the impact of a disaster. Advanced security technology available in some systems can also help you identify and recover from ransomware attacks without having to pay a ransom.

3. Keep Systems Patched and Updated

A critical method for preventing ransomware attacks is to make sure to keep operating system and software updates current. Installing a system or security update doesn’t have to be a hassle or an annoyance and take you offline for a few minutes if you leverage an automated patching software.  And, it’s far better than the alternative: being open to a host of security threats, including ransomware.

That’s because attackers often deliver ransomware by exploiting unpatched security holes on a victim’s machine. When a visitor lands on a compromised website or opens a certain kind of file, the malicious code launches in the background to find these holes and infiltrate the system.

It’s also critical to note that Windows XP devices are no longer supported by Microsoft with security updates, so migrating off this platform to a more current form of Windows should be a priority.

4. Use a Good Antivirus/Anti-Malware Solution

Business-grade antivirus programs have the ability to scan files to see if they might contain ransomware or other threats. It’s critical to make use of them before downloading files or programs.

5. Consider Managed Security and Backup

While implementing user awareness training is up to you, you can implement other best practices with managed services.

The TPx managed security suite is designed to keep up with the latest protections. Gateway AV thwarts downloads of viruses, worms or other malicious content by checking all content for malicious code embedded within the payload and by blocking access to infected sites. The gateway security service also includes web content filtering and application control as well as intrusion detection/prevention (IDS/IPS), which uses SSL deep packet inspection to analyze even encrypted traffic which attackers now use in an attempt to circumvent firewalls. Two 24/7/365 Security Operations Centers staffed by A-list experts are always working to anticipate, prevent and respond to any attack.

TPx’s managed backup service, meanwhile, allows companies to back up complete systems locally and to the cloud on a continuous basis. That means you can resolve a ransomware attack by simply rolling back the affected systems to an earlier timestamp, to make it as if it never happened. This point in time rollback makes file restoration a breeze, and we’ll even work with you to get your backups restored.

We also offer help with system updates and patching with a managed endpoint service.  Our automated patching service ensures that key servers and workstations stay up-to-date with recommended security patches available for the Windows OS and supported third-party applications.

These tips are a good place to start, but of course it’s not an exhaustive list of precautions your business should take. Reach out to your TPx representative today to see how we can deliver peace of mind when it comes to ransomware and other threats.

 

About the Author

Jared Martin has been in the Information Technology world for more than 20 years. He co-founded a managed services voice and Internet service provider in 2001 and grew the business to significant revenue. In 2008, that company was sold to Tel West Communications, which in turn was acquired by TPx in 2012. Jared has been a technology leader in driving change and adoption of new technologies, such as Software-Defined Wide Area Networking. He is always looking for new ways to use technologies that are outside of the box and to influence TPx to innovate and to be on the cutting edge. In 2016, Jared took charge of TPx’s new MSx line of business, formed as a result of the merger of TelePacific and DSCI. This brought Jared back to his roots of providing managed services and a consultative sales approach to customers.

off-the-shelf security devices

When it comes to cybersecurity options for businesses today, the range of “off-the-shelf” options can be dizzying – and exciting – for those looking to cut administrative costs. A nice, new shiny router with what claims to be “business-class” firewalling and maybe even some DDoS protection for under 200 bucks? For many business owners the answer is “Yes please!” when the answer really needs to be “No way,” or maybe even “No freaking way!”

The consequences of going with one of the many routers (or other quick-fix security products) for sale at a big-box store can be devastating. These solutions may claim to offer business-class security, like firewall options, but the reality is that their features are limited and require frequent updates to make sure they’re ready to handle the latest threats. They also offer a false sense of security, given their narrow focus. Throwing a router with a firewall into the network and calling it a day is not a solid defense against the troublemakers out there targeting businesses every minute.  To be fully protected, businesses need to think bigger and broader – which is where managed services come in.

A good managed security product keeps you automatically up-to-date with a comprehensive set of the most powerful defenses against ever-evolving threats, while eliminating overhead. By way of comparison, to really do any good, that off-the-shelf router needs to be paired with additional security layers, including intrusion detection, traffic monitoring, antivirus and anti-malware software, plus work on the network/LAN side, like properly configuring user permissions to determine who has access to what data on the network. There’s also disaster recovery and backups to consider. Putting all of that together takes time and expertise—something that’s in short supply for most businesses except the largest enterprises.

Sure, many companies think they’re too small or their data’s too generic to find themselves in the sights of cybercriminals. The reality, however, is that 58 percent of all breach victims are categorized as small businesses.

It’s also worth noting that you never know when an on-premises device like a router can become a conduit for bad actors. The FBI, for instance, recently advised that the VPNFilter malware has infiltrated 1 million routers and counting – noting that everyone should reset their network boxes to help thwart the malicious code. “The FBI recommends any owner of small office and home office routers power cycle (reboot) the devices,” the Bureau said in a statement. “VPNFilter is able to render small office and home office routers inoperable. The malware can potentially also collect information passing through the router.”

The TPx managed services suite includes affordable device monitoring and management, network intrusion detection and prevention, antivirus, web content and spam filtering, plus disaster recovery options – all backed with our round-the clock Security Operations Center and highly experienced cybersecurity analysts.

Contact your TPx representative today to find out how managed services can help you avoid the consequences of hasty decisions in your security spend and keep your business safe and stable.

About the Author

Matt Mair is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Managed Services. His role includes marketing and communications for TPx’s suite of managed IT offerings including Managed SD-WAN, LAN Monitoring, Office 365, Managed Endpoint, Colocation and Server Backup solutions. Matt holds an MBA from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business and resides in Los Angeles.

cryptomining

You thought ransomware was bad? Cybercriminals are embracing a new scourge, in the form of cryptomining. The latest bug, dubbed the FacexWorm, is an example of just how dangerous it can be.

Cryptomining is a type of malware that hijacks the CPU system resources of victim machines, slowing down performance and stealing power. It uses these resources to mine for virtual currency, especially Monero, which takes fewer resources to uncover than the more well-known Bitcoin.

It can be delivered as a standalone malware, but there are also drive-by versions, where online mining of Monero cryptocurrency starts when a user visits a web page. A product called Coinhive is offered as a legitimate service for webmasters looking for a monetization alternative to advertising, but criminals often embed it into websites without the site knowing, and unscrupulous websites use it without letting site visitors know.

Unlike ransomware, which usually results in only a small percentage of infected users actually paying the ransom and requires time and effort to interact with the victims, cryptomining is a “set it and forget it” proposition for attackers. It also tends to fly under the radar, and it can take weeks before a victim uncovers the infection. In other words, it requires minimal effort, but maximum reward. Perfect.

It’s lucrative too, with cryptocurrencies now reaching dizzying heights of valuation. To put the financial gains for the bad guys into perspective, an average system would likely generate about $0.25 of Monero per day, meaning that an adversary who has enlisted 2,000 victims could generate $500 per day or $182,500 per year.

Thus, it’s no wonder that it’s spreading rapidly. More than 4,000 government agencies in the US and the UK alone were recently found to be infected with it – and that’s just one section of one vertical. Various industry estimates postulate that as much as a quarter of all desktops are compromised.

A good example of the danger is that the FacexWorm is spreading via Facebook. Once it infiltrates a user’s account, it sends out faked Messenger video links to the victim’s contacts which, when clicked, replicate the malware onto those contacts’ machines. It has an impressive set of capabilities: It steals Google, MyMonero and Coinhive credentials when a victim logs in, injects a cryptocurrency miner that exploits the victim’s CPU, hijacks the user’s cryptocurrency-related transactions, detects when a user’s accessed a cryptocurrency trading platform, and thwarts removal and detection. It also communicates with a remote command-and-control server, from which it can download additional malware.

Further, FacexWorm has created the potential for building a large-scale malicious botnet. Facebook has an estimated 2.2 billion active users, so putting together a botnet consisting of hundreds of millions of devices would not be a difficult task. That botnet could be used for different kinds of attacks, including distributed denial of service.

So, FacexWorm presents a danger in and of itself, but it also acts as just the latest example of why organizations should be proactively protecting themselves from DDoS attacks.

The cyber landscape is a wild and wooly place, where financially motivated bad actors are always looking for the next big attack vector. Ransomware was the “it” malware last year. This year, cryptomining is catching fire. And there’s sure to be something else coming along the pike before not too long.

That’s why it’s important for companies to adopt comprehensive, real-time unified threat management (UTM), which can keep systems protected from malware, DDoS attacks and other concerns. A UTM appliance consolidates network security – including firewalls with anti-virus and anti-spyware protection, intrusion detection, web filtering and more – into a comprehensive and dynamic threat prevention solution.

TPx offers a managed UTM solution that’s always up-to-date on the latest threats, backed by the constant vigilance afforded by our Security Operations Center (SOC). With our SOC, you have access to dedicated certified security analysts with deep security expertise. They include ex-military, defense, and cyber security specialists with over 50 years of combined cyber security experience. We proactively monitor and manage the threats – before they hit you.

Contact your TPx representative today for details on how TPx can protect your valuable infrastructure, safeguarding your employees and business from ransomware, cryptomining and whatever the next major threat will be.

About the Author

Matt Mair is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Managed Services. His role includes marketing and communications for TPx’s suite of managed IT offerings including Managed SD-WAN, LAN Monitoring, Office 365, Managed Endpoint, Colocation and Server Backup solutions. Matt holds an MBA from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business and resides in Los Angeles.

When it comes to meeting business objectives, keeping up with the frenetic pace of innovation and competition – no matter what vertical or industry segment you happen to dwell in – is a top challenge for organizations. It’s the impetus behind digital transformation, DevOps and convergence – and it’s driving the implementation of critical collaboration tools like unified communications. But it’s creating trade-offs: Amidst this rapid growth and advancement of core business goals, cybersecurity measures are taking a backseat, with a significant shortage in workforce skills hampering efforts to protect the very networks supporting business transformation.

Given the rapidly expanding threat landscape, this is clearly a risky state of affairs for any business. Fortunately, security need not be an impediment to fast growth, thanks to managed IT services.

When Security Falls by the Wayside…

Despite an ever-growing crowd of cybercriminals and attackers lurking in the wings, many companies are finding themselves unable to match their security efforts to the speed at which they do business.

At the heart of the problem is an ongoing and oft-discussed issue: the workforce skills gap. DevOps and security teams are not routinely integrated, largely because it’s challenging to develop in-house competencies. All too often, developers are not trained in secure coding, and operations staff are not trained in basic security practices; meanwhile, security specialists are too few and far between in both areas.

Further, a lack of training and finding talent within existing employee pools is hampering the quest to close the gap, according to (ISC)². In its study, “IT Professionals are a Critically Underutilized Resource for Cybersecurity,” the group found that many organizations are not fully maximizing the opportunity to empower and equip their IT staff—the very individuals most often tasked with implementing security policy and technologies—with the education and authority they need to effectively bolster their cybersecurity.

The research, based on responses from more than 3,300 IT professionals worldwide who participated in the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study, revealed that 43 percent of organizations don’t provide adequate resources for security training; and more than half (55 percent) don’t require IT staff to earn a security certification.

These stats bolster many studies finding companies unprepared for today’s threat landscape. Most small and medium businesses (SMBs), which are the targets of most cyberattacks, are unprepared even for front-line cyberthreats like ransomware, DDoS, malware and phishing attacks.

Managed Services Put IT Back on Track

Faced with a lack of skills in-house, and a need to stay up-to-date with the latest threats and mitigations, businesses have an option to rely on managed security to meet their needs – while allowing the business to move forward unhampered.

By turning to managed services, which combine the necessary people, process and technology for world-class security operations, businesses gain a turnkey solution that requires little installation and provisioning time.

For instance, TPx offers 24/7/365 protection and mitigation against ransomware, DDoS attacks and an increasingly sophisticated panoply of threats to business information and security. Managed security is always up to date, which means that the latest threats and security incidents can be quickly identified and receive an immediate response.

These capabilities are backed up by state-of-the-art security operations centers (SOC) in St. Louis, MO and Portland, ME. Our SOCs are supported by a nationwide team of security analysts with deep military and intelligence backgrounds, which lets us take full responsibility for keeping an eagle eye on all the activity traversing TPx’s customer networks.

This approach is more cost-effective too: Outsourcing SOC capabilities costs a fraction of what it would require to build an in-house equivalent, with little to no lead time.

Contact your TPx representative today for details on how we can help you protect your company’s network against the latest threats and attacks – so you don’t have to sacrifice security for speed.

About the Author

Matt Mair is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Managed Services. His role includes marketing and communications for TPx’s suite of managed IT offerings including Managed SD-WAN, LAN Monitoring, Office 365, Managed Endpoint, Colocation and Server Backup solutions. Matt holds an MBA from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business and resides in Los Angeles.

frustrated man with computers locked by ransomware

It’s every business owner’s nightmare: You go to work, flip on your computer, and are greeted by a red warning screen trying to extort you into paying ransom in Bitcoin to unnamed shadowy figures hidden somewhere in the Dark Web. Frankly, unless you have advanced security in place, you shouldn’t be too surprised: Ransomware is on the rise, and has been for the past 18 months.

However, not all ransomware is created equal. In 2018 we’re seeing cybercriminals employing new tactics, rolling out new functionality, and aiming at new targets. Ransomware is evolving, and every business, large or small, needs to be aware of this shifting threat landscape.

Let us not forget that cybercriminals consider what they do to be a job. These aren’t 18-year-old script kiddies wearing hoodies and living on Doritos and Red Bull in their parents’ basements. They’re organized. They think about business models: ransomware as-a-service offers a lot of upside if you’re a black hat type. They are, above all, disciplined. They wake up in the morning, work long hours, and put a lot of effort into differentiating their tactics and their code in order to return as large of a profit as possible. Believe it or not, they even offer customer service and support! Most ransomware offerings on underground forums try to differentiate with a help desk function. In short, they believe themselves to be entrepreneurs, and just like legitimate business owners with a passion for their work, they hit it hard every day in an effort to be the best at what they do.

The result of this ongoing dedication is a level of innovation that shouldn’t be discounted. A critical component of staying ahead of the threat is to understand it in the first place. Here are five emerging ransomware trends to be aware of as we go forward:

1. Internet of Things (IoT) in the Sights

Cybercriminals are upping their game in 2018 to drive profits, and that means targeting IoT systems and mission-critical point-of-sale systems. According to Forrester Research, because chip-and-PIN cards and end-to-end encryption are making it harder for hackers to lift credit-card information the old-fashioned way (i.e., using malware to scrape data), attackers will instead look to extortion to make money from retail targets. To avoid having their entire payment apparatus locked down, retail businesses should focus their efforts on plugging the gaps exposed by default passwords, weak encryption implementations, and inadequate patching/remediation capabilities.

2. Targeting for Fun and Profit

Ransomware is becoming more targeted. It not only looks for certain file types, but also is taking aim at specific types of companies, such as law firms, healthcare providers, and tax preparers. Security researchers have flagged this evolution as an important change on the threat horizon from the “spray-and-pray” attacks most businesses are used to. Criminals have developed ransomware that targets databases, and can make small tweaks to their code to target critical proprietary files such as AutoCAD designs. The importance of this? A focused targeting of extensions means that ransomware attacks are more likely to succeed against legacy antivirus solutions. We can expect their frequency and severity to also increase.

3. Ransomware that Destroys Instead of Encrypting

Ransomware locks down files and demands payment in response for a de-encryption key. But some bugs are not what they seem. One example is a new malware called Ordinypt, which bills itself as ransomware. However, the code is really a wiper, with apparent twin motives of financial gain as well as disrupting business operations. Once an unwitting victim opens a malicious email attachment, the malware infects a victim’s machine, making files inaccessible, and then requests a ransom for recovering them, as is typical. Yet unbeknownst to the target, the files are actually destroyed, not encrypted, and the attackers have no code for “unlocking” them, even if victims pay up.

4. Necurs Never Sleeps

The Necurs botnet is one of the most omnipresent scourges on the cyber-front, believed to control more than 6 million zombie machines that have been enslaved to send out spam emails. Its scale is immense: It can average volumes in excess of 30 million emails per day, all aimed at spreading fraud and malware, including ransomware. Late last year, for instance, Necurs sent the Scarab ransomware to 12.5 million email addresses in just the first four hours of a massive campaign. It’s important to note that using large botnets like Necurs can give smaller ransomware actors the global reach they need to punch above their weight—making attacks much more prevalent.

5. Fooling Cloud Apps Like Child’s Play

Ransomware is also evolving for the cloud era. A new strain of Gojdue ransomware, dubbed ShurL0ckr, manages to evade being flagged by two well-known cloud platforms with built-in malware protection, Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365 – and it’s not alone in that capability. Increasingly, ransomware is being tailored to evade detection in cloud environments.

Don’t Be a Victim

All it takes is one employee clicking on the wrong email attachment for an infection to occur. To protect yourself, make sure you’ve backed up your systems and tested your ability to recover data in the event of a ransomware attack: Paying the ransom is not an option you want to take given there’s no guarantee you can trust the cybercriminal to release your systems and data. Also, many businesses are targets of multiple attacks—and those known to pay up will be among the first retargeted.

The better strategy is to make sure you’re protected in the first place. TPx offers a full suite of managed IT and business continuity services to help you protect your data and systems. We stay on top of the latest ransomware trends to deliver the latest detection, mitigation and prevention capabilities – all backed up by a state-of-the-art security operations center (SOC) staffed by a team of security analysts with deep military and intelligence backgrounds.

Contact your TPx representative today for details on how we can help you protect your company’s network against ransomware and other malware attacks.

 

About the Author

Matt Mair is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Managed Services. His role includes marketing and communications for TPx’s suite of managed IT offerings including Managed SD-WAN, LAN Monitoring, Office 365, Endpoints Management, Colocation and Server Backup solutions. Matt holds an MBA from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business and resides in Los Angeles.