This attack against the U.S. infrastructure is yet another harsh reminder of how fragile critical infrastructure can become when targeted by ransomware and may become the final catalyst for an executive order on cybersecurity from U.S. President Biden. According to the New York Times, the speculated order will “require federal agencies to take a “zero trust” approach to software vendors, granting them access to federal systems only when necessary, and require contractors to certify that they comply with steps to ensure that the software they deliver has not been infected with malware or does not contain exploitable vulnerabilities.”
Since August of 2020, Darkside operators (the group behind the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack) have become increasingly active, targeting bigger names across a diverse array of industries, culminating in more attacks against critical infrastructure operators.
Darkside also started reorganizing the ransomware business by adopting novel tactics such as creating a press center on their website to announce upcoming leaks and to encourage reporters to get in touch with them. They started partnering with dubious data recovery companies who help victims disguise ransomware payments as “data recovery fees.” Like a digital Robin Hood, the group has also been taking some proceeds from their attacks and donating to charities to show “moral principles.”
Since the release of our free Darkside decryptor this January, Bitdefender has seen an increased number of companies and Managed Service Providers (MSPs) reach out to us for help with decryption – a strong indicator that targeted ransomware attacks have become more frequent and effective.
This incident is not the first and will not be the last, as U.S. critical infrastructure, spans across the continent. Ransomware operators take advantage of vast networks of systems in remote areas, by probing networks for weak points of entry or by buying phished credentials to remote desktop instances that they can use to mount an attack.
Critical infrastructure is increasingly appealing to ransomware operators – particularly those who are involved in Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) schemes because of several reasons:
- Increased Notoriety - High-profile critical infrastructure attacks are extensively covered by the media which brings added attention to ransomware operators and their attacks. This increases their visibility and adds an extra pressure point on the victims to pay up faster.
- Added “Affiliates” - In the RaaS space, reputation is paramount. The more high-profile victims a group compromises, the more likely additional “affiliates” will join their team and share illicit revenue obtained through extortion.
- Likely to Negotiate – Last, but not least, competition among ransomware groups is fierce, with as many as 15 new families of ransomware showing up every month. Ransomware groups know that operators of critical infrastructure don’t have the luxury of losing data or shutting down operations (without massive loss) – not to mention regulatory fines. Ransomware groups know infrastructure operators may more open to negotiation than companies in less critical areas.
The current situation with Darkside and the Colonial Pipeline shows once again that protection and prevention are key factors, and that one missed sample can have dire consequences not only for the business in question but also for the local or global economy as well.
If you are worried about your organization becoming a victim of ransomware – here are three things you can do to become more cyber resilient against ransomware and avoid business disruption:
Basic security hygiene – It’s obvious but true that many of the most pervasive cyber-attacks have been possible because of an unpatched machine, or outdated antimalware. You should apply patches immediately and audit your systems regularly to ensure everything is up to date.