BOSTON (Mass.gov) – In response to an alarming increase in the frequency and impact of ransomware attacks across public and private sectors, Attorney General Maura Healey is urging members of the business community and government entities, including law enforcement agencies, in Massachusetts to immediately assess their existing data security practices and take appropriate steps to upgrade security measures to protect their operations and consumer information.
AG Healey’s advisory follows a memo from the Biden Administration discussing the urgent threat ransomware poses to American businesses and government entities with suggestions to mitigate its impact.
“Leaders from the public and private sectors have an important and critical responsibility to public safety and welfare to protect against these threats,” AG Healey said. “We strongly encourage all Massachusetts businesses and government organizations to take the appropriate steps to strengthen data security and ensure its computer networks are secure as required by law. Our office will work with federal law enforcement partners to identify and hold the criminals responsible for these ransomware attacks accountable.”
Ransomware is a form of computer malware that encrypts files on a computer or network, rendering the systems that rely on them unusable. Malicious actors then demand a ransom in exchange for decryption. Ransomware actors often target and threaten to sell or leak exfiltrated data or authentication information if the ransom is not paid.
Ransomware attacks are constantly evolving and on the rise. Just last week at the Steamship Authority in Massachusetts, ransomware caused massive disruption to its ticketing and reservation systems. And an attack on JPS SA, a Brazilian company known as the world’s largest meat processing company, led to production shutdowns and lost profits and wages. Last month, a criminal group employed ransomware to lock the systems of Colonial Pipeline, a pipeline operator for the East Coast, causing a multi-day operational shutdown and leading to a spike in gas prices, panic buying, and localized fuel shortages in the southeast.
On June 2, Anne Neuberger, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, issued a memo titled “What We Urge You To Do To Protect Against The Threat of Ransomware,” with the following recommendations:
- Implement the five best practices from the President’s Executive Order: President Biden’s Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity Executive Order outlines five, high-impact, best practices to safeguard networks: multifactor authentication (because passwords alone are routinely compromised), endpoint detection & response (to hunt for malicious activity on a network and block it), encryption (so if data is stolen, it is unusable) and a skilled, empowered security team (to patch rapidly, and share and incorporate threat information in your defenses). These practices will significantly reduce the risk of a successful cyber-attack.
- Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.
- Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware, in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk-based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.
- Test your incident response plan: There’s nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?
- Check Your Security Team’s Work: Use a third party tester to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.
- Segment your networks: There’s been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It’s critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure industrial control system (ICS) networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised. Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that safety critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.
The Massachusetts Data Security Regulations, which the AG’s Office regularly enforces, also requires entities to employ many of the above safeguards with respect to personal information about Massachusetts residents that an entity maintains, stores, transmits, or processes electronically.
All organizations, regardless of sector, size, or location, must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware. Detailed guidance and resources from the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency on how to guard your entity against ransomware attacks can be found here.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology also provide guidelines and practices for organizations to better manage and reduce cybersecurity risk. More information can be found here.