Let’s Talk About Ransomware (Again)

Published On: 2020-01-07By:

I’ve posted about ransomware a few times before. At DCAC, we’ve worked with a few customers who’ve fortunately been able to help them recover from their attacks. But ransomware attacks are trending upward, as seen below–there’s a ransomware attacker that has pulled in $10 million dollars this year (this year being so far in 2020. 7 days in). This had been a number of announcements about ransomware attacks in recent days– a small company that went bankrupt and money exchange Travelex who was recently attacked.

Ransomware attacks are quite different from traditional hacking. Traditionally hackers are in pursuit of high value data, whether it be from a government agency or a large enterprise business, or someone with a vast array of customer data like Equifax. Ransomware is targeting easy targets, that the attackers think will pay, or hope they will pay. What that means is that if you work for a smaller firm, you are far more likely to be attacked with ransomware than you would be in a traditional hacking attack. Theoretically,  large enterprises have more network segmentation, and better security controls, that make them less vulnerable to these attacks. As the the last year has shown, this is definitely not always the case.

It’s All About the Network

The way ransomware typically works, is to find a vulnerability via user accounts, in order to run exploit software on your network. If the only thing that can be reached on your network is user PCs, that’s the only data that’s going to be encrypted. Where organizations get exploited by this, is that their user network is either directly connected to their business network, or there is just one flat network structure. This means if a user is attacked (typical attack vectors are emailing infected office documents or PDFs, but others do include more advanced attack vectors like the aforementioned Pulse VPN vulnerability) the ransomware can go after file servers and domain controllers and start encrypting all of your files.

Assume Breach

One of the most important approaches to this, is that in order to build your network structures appropriately, you need to assume that your user network is going to be breached. It’s what Microsoft does with Azure, and it’s what you should do on your network as well. This means you need to do a few things:

  • Segment your network
  • Separate accounts, and maybe even a separate domain for your all of your servers
  • Disconnected backups, you can encrypt a safe full of tapes
  • Frequent restore testing
  • Basically, if you can connect to a file or database server from your corporate laptop without multi-factor auth, changing credentials, and/or network, you’re at the mercy of your dumbest user to not launch an infected Word file

All of these controls make our jobs harder, and it sucks, but it’s what we have to do. The one benefit of modern technology is that the cloud makes all these things approachable to even the smallest of businesses. I can build a segmented network in about 20 min in Azure, whereas it would take me a few hours to find the the right equipment at the right price point from a networking vendor if you were trying to do it on-premises.

I’m Just the DBA, What Can I Do?

I get it, and I’ve been there–you’re the DBA at a company where IT isn’t exactly the priority. There’s a few approaches you can take–the first is the most self-serving for me, is to engage a consulting firm like DCAC. While you know what you are talking about, your management sees you as a worker bee, and may not listen to your complaints about having an open WiFi network that your regulatory agency can logon to and see the public file servers (yes, this actually happened to me). However, when they are paying a consultant $ALot/hr they tend to be more receptive of taking advice, even if it’s the same thing the DBA has been talking about for years.

Another approach is to hire a penetration testing firm–many large organizations are required to do this by regulation, and they do a good job of identifying vulnerabilities in a firm.

Finally, and the easiest thing to execute is to PATCH YOUR SHIT. This is where you can assist the most–you can patch Windows and SQL Server (or Linux if that’s your bag), and you can work with the sysadmin teams in your organization to ensure that all OS, application, and mouse software is patched regularly.  It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t fix all of your problem, but it’s a start. Also, test your god damned restores, it’s not enough to have backups if you don’t know that they work.

 

 

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