The Smart User’s Way to Avoid Holding the Ransomware Bag

By Adam Stern, founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual.

In the spring, young denizens of the Dark Web turn to thoughts of ransomware. Visions of instantaneous, friction-free fortunes dance in hackers’ heads. This season, attacks have hit like massive infusions of pollen, exhibits A, B, and C being Colonial Pipeline, Scripps Healthcare, and Dell Computer’s pre-installed firmware. Loads more are waiting in the wings.

For me, the takeaways aren’t so much strategies for prevention or even remediation but visceral awareness of how a risk management mindset can be at least an antidote to paralysis, if not an equalizer.

Consider this: Cows continue to leave long after barn doors have been sealed shut, which sounds like a recipe for frustration, if not for outright despair. But viewed through the proper prism – that hacks, attacks, and ransomware are simply endemic – it’s clear we need to change the infrastructure of our thinking, if not the actual infrastructure of our systems. As Sue Halpern recently put it in The New Yorker:
“We are a country that has seen nearly a thousand reported ransomware attacks on our critical infrastructure since 2013. This includes transportation services, wastewater facilities, communications systems, and hospitals. The average recovery cost of a ransomware attack for businesses is around two million dollars. And the damage is not just financial. A case in point was last fall’s cyberattack on the University of Vermont Medical Center. Not only was it estimated to have cost a million and a half dollars a day in lost revenues and remediation expenses but it also caused the hospital to temporarily furlough or reassign three hundred employees, halt most surgeries, and cancel or postpone some treatments, including those for cancer…
To alter the infrastructure of our thinking and get a much better grip on risk management, we need to fully understand the extent of the risk. According to Exposed, a new report from cloud security specialist Zscaler described in VentureBeat, nearly 400,000 servers belonging to 1,500 companies globally are exposed and discoverable over the Internet — meaning anyone in the world can try to access them, not just bad actors.

“Knowing a server exists is half the battle,” VentureBeat suggests. “If the actor knows about the server, the actor can then poke around the application stack or server configuration for potential vulnerabilities to exploit.” Exposed found that 47% of the supported protocols were outdated and vulnerable to attack and that the typical organization has on average 262 vulnerable servers. Collectively, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud represent attack surface exposure of glacial proportions, with more than 60,500 points of risk or 40 exposures per company, the report found.

Public cloud exposure can be particularly dangerous,” the report concludes. “Many IT security leaders may be unaware of the scope of cloud infrastructure in use within their organizations. IT leaders should take steps to discover the extent of public cloud usage across their organizations and identify ways to reduce the attack surface.”

Note that this is less about stopping attackers in their tracks than about recognizing the sheer size and scope of the playing field. So, what’s an organization to do? Take a very deep breath… and take in the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity. Colonial Pipeline is instructive: These were attackers with manners, animated by a mercenary spirit. They more than likely are a harbinger, in part because they grasp the enormity of the opportunity.

If you want your best shot at eluding the spoils of ransomware, it’s vital that you be able to roll back your systems instantly and easily. Your business needs to live by read-only backups and offsite storage. And, above all, everyone collecting a paycheck must understand at a gut level the profoundly shifting nature risk management.

About the Author: Adam Stern, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Infinitely Virtual, is an entrepreneur who saw the value of virtualization and cloud computing nearly a decade ago. Stern’s company helps businesses move from obsolete hardware investments to an IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service] cloud platform, providing them the flexibility and scalability to transition select data operations from in-house to the cloud. Stern established Infinitely Virtual in 2007 to provide virtual dedicated server solutions to growing enterprises, offering what was essentially a cloud computing platform before the term existed. Infinitely Virtual is a subsidiary of Santa Monica-based Altay Corporation, which Stern founded in 2003 to provide Windows, VMware, and other service solutions to small and medium-size businesses.