In order to understand how state and local government agencies can fall victim to such a devastating attack, one only needs to look at the IT budget the governments are operating with, its IT staff and backup recovery plans. As it turns out, Baltimore City’s IT budget is twice as less as other major cities in the United States. On top of that, four Chief Information Officers were fired from their positions over a period of five years indicating internal issues with operational management. To top it off, not all systems had backup ready in place or a disaster recovery plan for a ransomware attack
Baltimore ‘Robinhood’ ransomware attack is sure to teach many an age-old lesson, if you don’t invest in your cyber security and IT infrastructure willingly, you will be forced to incur huge monetary losses and end up having to double the budget. This incident occurred for many reasons, the negative effects are beyond what we used to encounter, and it would not be fair to say that the entire blame is that of the City’s. However, not having a decent budget for a network intrusion prevention system and other more sophisticated security tools that could have stopped the attack in its infancy is not justifiable. Having poor backup practices and no disaster recovery plan for the ransomware attack, even though you incurred one just a few months ago, is also problematic and unjustifiable. If only the last were untrue, the city could have been back up and running with far less monetary loss than it is presented with today.
Another proof that ransomware is still alive and well is the severe attack on an aluminum giant Norsk Hydro which crippled its operations worldwide in the beginning of March. On the adjacent continent in Oslo, Norway, the Norsk Hydro has been attacked by a crypto-locking ransomware and disrupted major business areas on a global scale. Norsk operates in more than 50 countries and has an enormous infrastructure and network under its control.
The situation at Norsk was quite severe as the global network had to be shut down offline while the remediation and mitigation process took place. The affected production plants were isolated from the rest of the global network in an effort to contain further spreading and damage.
The total monetary loss for Norsk combined over the period of time it took to get the operations back and running fully was $ 51 million. The reason for the very high sum is that Norsk employs over 35.000 people globally and deals with heavy metal production.
In the case of Norsk, a specific new strain of ransomware called LockerGoga is what hit their networks and infrastructure so hard. After gaining access into the system, the attackers leveraged the Active Directory and Group Policy to spread the virus. The attackers moved laterally to gain domain admin rights in order to push the encryption virus across the network.
In this case, Norsk was praised regarding their incident response as being very effective. The company was able to execute one of the best incident response plans seen and mitigate the virus as soon as possible. Without adequate cyber security staff and the coordination of the global IT departments, along with strict procedures in place of a disaster such as this, the attack would have caused far more monetary loss than it did.
However multiple things could have been done in advance in order to stop the virus from spreading to the extent it did. Norsk infrastructure could have been hardened using a least privilege approach to help with the lateral spread and additionally isolated by separating its critical systems from each other. Additionally, many industrial control systems are at the end of life but are still being used, with the problem being that patches no longer exist for those systems making them more susceptible to attacks.
To sum up this incident, Norsk didn’t follow some basic best security practices as they didn’t perceive the Active Directory to be a possible vector of a ransomware attack. Attackers are increasingly performing targeted attacks in order to up their chances of success and are getting far more creative in their efforts. Accent should be given on all best practices and patches should be applied regularly.