How worried should we be about the threats posed to our homes and incomes by the new kind of computer virus known as “ransomware”? The recent, very high-profile series of attacks in which over 150 different countries were targeted by the form of the ransomware virus known as “WannaCry” have made this question seem very urgent indeed. Essentially, these attacks have made us far more conscious of how much we are at risk from the nefarious activities of cyber criminals. According to some, the WannaCry attacks may even mark the start of a whole new era, one in which hackers have become dangerously adept in the art of finding vulnerabilities in our online security systems. New levels of interconnection mean that we need to be more aware of our cyber security needs and ready to apply all necessary measures quickly and effectively.
Cyber Security and Its Future
When certain Microsoft Windows operating systems were hit by the recent wave of WannaCry attacks, users found that ransomware had been downloaded onto their computers and that this malicious software was preventing them from accessing their computer systems. The cyber criminals responsible for these attacks instructed their victims that they would have to pay via the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin if they wanted to regain access to their computer systems. Microsoft spokespersons were keen to say that the U.S. government was to blame for these failures of cyber security, but others point out that, with its commercially driven software updates, Microsoft itself helped to create the vulnerabilities that the cyber criminals exploited.
The ransomware attacks raise profound questions. Will cyber insurance become a big business? If so, how is it even possible to assess the financial value of data? Will governments now have to provide funding to defend their citizens against cyber criminality?
Over half of all organizations assume that their IT networks have been penetrated, or will be in the future. The number of IT professionals admitting that they really don’t have complete control over sensitive systems and data is increasing each year.
The First Line of Defense Has Already Fallen
Perimeter detection is the first line of defense against any attack, whether it be physical, think an alarm going off when security in your home is breached, or an ATM blocking your back card if there have been too many incorrect PIN entries. The issue currently facing many IT experts, security analysts and information security professionals is that there has previously been an over reliance on perimeter detection as the ONLY line of defense. Not only are cyber-attacks completely bypassing perimeter detection, a recent survey reported that up to 30% of all security breaches never triggered the virtual alarms, but that preventative discovery is close to non-existent in many organizations.
What is even more alarming is what happens after a security breach.
The speed with which an organization reacts after a breach is vital in not only securing sensitive information but in examining and investigating exactly what happened, finding the compromised end-points and determining the full data risk impact as fast as possible. The problem is that most organizations are reactive instead of proactively aggressive in their search for potential threats at all times. In the same survey, it was noted that up to 25% of IT security professionals were notified of data breaches and cyber-attacks by a 3rd party. By then it could be too late.
Figuring out what happened after the fact is essential. Yes. Creating a secure environment that STOPS attacks is even more vital. To do that security professionals need to be vigilant, proactive and relentless in their hunt for cyber threats before they become cyber casualties of war.
Security experts have recently discovered a previously unknown Mac-based spy malware that preys on outdated coding practices to launch real-world attacks on computers in the biomedical research industry.
The unsophisticated and out-of-date code has remained undetected for years on macOS systems. The malware has been labelled Fruitfly and it was first discovered as ‘OSX.Backdoor.Quimitchin’. An IT administrator working for information security firm Malwarebytes was alerted to the malware due to unusual outgoing activity sourced from a Mac computer.
The First Malware of 2017
Researchers are labelling the Fruitfly the first Mac Malware of 2017. Fruitfly is said to contain code dating back to OS X and it has been conducting surveillance on targeted networks for over two years. Fruitfly uses a hidden pearl script which communicates with command and control servers. Disturbingly for targeted biomed companies, Fruitfly can capture webcam, screenshots, grab system uptime while moving and clicking the mouse cursor.
Fruitfly’s reach can extend to connected devices in the same network as the corrupted Mac as it attempts to connect to these also. Fruitfly uses a secondary script along with Java class to conceal its icon from displaying in the macOS Dock. It’s still unknown how the malware was distributed and infected the Macs.
Code Dating from 1998
Researchers have found that the malware’s code pre-dates Apple’s OS X and that it is running on “libjpeg” code, JPEG-formatted images files that were last updated almost 20 years ago in 1998.
How Has it Gone Undetected for so Long?
In a blog post written by Malwarebytes’ Thomas Reed, he speculated that Fruitfly has been used selectively in very tightly targeted attacks which have limited its exposure. International espionage is a buzz topic right now and the nature of this form of attack is a hallmark of past Russian and Chinese attacks aimed at US and European scientific research.
There is a reason that the military conducts repeated simulated training exercises: To ensure that the armed forces will be able to respond to military attacks immediately and effectively. Little wonder then that governments around the world have been doing the same when it comes to a nation’s cyber security. Interestingly, that while the threat of a physical invasion of any western country decreases each year, the threat of cyber-attacks, increases dramatically. A cyber-attack has the potential to decimate many countries’ vital systems including transport, infrastructure (power, water, banking, and healthcare) and ‘cyber war games’ help governments plan against attacks, increase security and lower the chance of complete decimation.
The Cyber Storm – 2006 War Games Begin
One of the earliest tactical training exercises and simulated ‘war games’ was called ‘Cyber Storm’ which took place over the course of a week in February 2006. It was the first ever cyber security exercise to take place and enabled the Department of Homeland Security to prepare for future attacks by highlighting vulnerabilities and weaknesses not only in electronic systems, but in their response to an attack.
Cyber Storm – Attacks on All Fronts
One of the principal objectives was to ascertain the preparedness and response times of different systems and departments to an attack on all fronts. The simulation sought to disrupt key targets, and thwart the government’s ability to respond. Unfortunately it was successful.
The controlled and simulated attack was leveraged against key targets around the world including Washington DC’s metro transport system, hazardous materials in Philadelphia, Chicago and on London’s Underground. People on ‘no-fly’ lists appearing at several airports across the US, utility disruption in Los Angeles and planes flying too close to strategic targets.
The outcome of the exercise highlighted the inability of systems and departments to connect attacks fast enough and not being able to focus on the entirety of the attack, but rather on specific incidences. Overall it was found that, if under cyber-attack, the US may not be able to adequately defend itself fast enough.
After having its systems frozen by hackers an Austrian high-end resort is dumping electronic room cards for old fashioned locks and keys. The management in the Austrian Alps, of Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, said that they have been repeatedly targeted by cybercriminals. One latest infection with ransom applications, on Dec. 6, led to an entire shutdown of resort computers. The couple needed to pay 1,500 euros worth of the electronic currency bitcoin to restore their network.
The story of the hack of the resort was broadly shared after several publications erroneously reported that the ransomware led to guests being locked in or from their rooms. But Brandstaetter stated that the attack only led to new guests being not able to get the keys to their rooms for a couple hours. New arrivals were treated to champagne and went trekking or skiing in the interim, she said. The spate of electronic intrusions has prompted the resort to update its network. Most radically, she said the resort would eventually go back to the lock and key system as in times of our grandpas.”