Peter Bauer

Planning for Tomorrow’s Cyberattacks

by Peter Bauer - CEO and co-founder

December 6, 2016

The end of a year is often a time of reflection as organizations focus on what they might do differently in the year to come, how they might align themselves against their competitors, and up their game. As organizations think through their cybersecurity strategy for the coming year the challenge they face is how to plan for success. 

This past year we’ve seen how cybercriminals continue to become more sophisticated and insidious by constantly revising, updating and re-inventing their tactics and technologies to launch attacks. We’ve seen our share of DDoS attacks, key political figures emails hacked, and ransomware attacks. Recently, we saw cybercriminals target the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority with a ransomware attack. Free rides for all! And, that wasn’t San Francisco offering an early holiday gift to locals.

Knowing 100 percent protection against today’s cyber threats is not realistic - cyber resilience becomes the name of the game.  Building a cyber resilience strategy that layers state-of-the-art preventative systems, point-in-time recovery measures, and a means to maintain continuity during an attack can make a significant difference in fending off the myriad of sophisticated threats. We can’t predict all the attacks coming but we can build in cyber resilience and learn from what we have already seen.

Although we may not know all the answers of what’s to come, based on what we’ve seen over the year here are a few attacks that we, at Mimecast, think will rise up 2017:

 

  1. The Rise of Cyber Gangs - The past year has been rampant with attacks, and it’s only going to get worse. Not just in the number of attacks, but the sophistication. Attackers have been getting smarter, their data gathering techniques more sophisticated, and they’re becoming more organized. In 2017, we’ll likely see growing groups of attackers, as well as a network of shared information they’ve stolen. These groups will also likely clash, and we’ll see attackers going after each other as well as these virtual gangs grow, gain resources, and fight over territories in the digital landscape. As we all know everyone needs to protect against these threats, by taking a layered approach and ensure they have a proper cyber resilience strategy in place to combat these threats. But that can sometimes be out of reach for many organizations as they are always strapped for resources, budget and then management of said layers. Thus the massive shift of organizations moving to a cloud security strategy where you can get advanced security capabilities that would be out of reach to try and build on premise.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  2. Ransomware Continues to Evolve yet don’t take your eye off other threats - Ransomware will explode to become one of the biggest threats, fuelled by smaller ‘opportunist’ attackers using off-the-shelf kits to deploy malware. This is an easy and cheap attack method that produces fruitful results. Few organizations have effective defenses against this type of malware and now with bitcoins enabling the perpetrators to increase the distance from their victims further, it has never been so easy to get away with it. In the coming year, we should also expect more crypto-lockers and evolving forms of ransomware that deny access to desktops, network drives, and cloud services. And just as you focus your attention on ransomware issues you can’t be caught off guard by adversaries impersonating the CEO to transfer thousands of dollars to an offshore account or by basic phishing attacks that will cause employees to launch attacks on your organization.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  3. Focus on Data Mining - One theme that is still overlooked is that it’s not just about wire transfers. Attackers aren’t just focused on money, they’re focusing on data mining and will use the data they gather in more advanced attacks to gather important data to be either sold on the Dark Web or used in future attacks.  (Remember the W-2 fraud uptick earlier this year? We’re heading into tax season and can expect to see this again.)  While Wire Transfer fraud is and will be an issue in the future, organizations need to also think about where else they’re susceptible and ensure they have the appropriate protective measures in place. Backups are essential, but the evolution of ransomware is staggering and organizations need to ensure their gateway, firewall, endpoint and other security solutions are consistently up-to-date.                                                                                      

  4. Cyber Espionage to Cause More Political Disruption - Nation states and their sponsored operatives will use cyber espionage more and more to cause political shifts, disruption, and to gain economic advantage. This will involve, but will not be limited to, email hacking and disclosure of other forms of intercepted private communications, disruption of and interference with critical national infrastructures (Stuxnet 2).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
  5. Reigning-in Data Residency and Governance – The impending GDPR will focus European organizations on improving their security and privacy programs significantly in 2017. And, at the same time increased state-sponsored attacks will lead to more stringent rules around data residency and governance, as well as state firewalls being considered to mitigate threats and allow a regional business activity to continue. Advancements in managing internet traffic from different geographies may also become a focus as global trade landscape changes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  6. Impersonation Attacks in the Spotlight - 2016 has been the year of ransomware and it’s no secret that social engineering attacks, like phishing, spear-phishing, and domain spoofing have grown from being a nuisance to a huge problem. However, one of the lesser publicized problems is impersonation attacks. Whaling attacks can cost organizations millions in financial losses. In fact, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, whaling attacks led to more than $2.3 billion in losses over the last three years. We expect to see whaling attacks as the next “it” attack flooding the media.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  7. Macro Malware Still in the Game – Once thought of as a thing of the past, macro malware has reared its ugly head into the ring of attack methods cybercriminals are using. While most organizations choose to block executable attachments at the gateway by default, they must still allow files, such Microsoft Office documents, to pass freely if employees are to be productive. Attackers exploit this by weaponizing files in these common formats. According to our own research, we found that 50% of firms have seen email attacks that use macros in attachments increase over the last year. Why? Well, it’s such a simple tactic with little proactive AV detection, and that’s why we’ll continue to see waves of Macro malware into next year and beyond.

Taking the time to reflect on all the ups and downs we’ve seen in cybersecurity over the last year, offered me greater clarity into what we may expect to see in 2017. Stay safe this holiday season, as it’s unlikely that attackers will all be taking the holidays off…

What do you think the New Year may bring?   Voice your comments below. 

FILED IN

Mimecast Welcomes Email Privacy Act

by Peter Bauer - CEO and co-founder

Mimecast welcomes a new bill designed to protect emails and other electronic communications.   

Can you remember the world in 1986? Aliens, Top Gun and Labyrinth were on at the movies and brick phones weighed the same as a bag of sugar.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was also enacted by the United States Congress. This ancient legislation allows law enforcement to search through emails, instant messages and photos stored in the cloud once they are 180 days old.

Back then, emails stored on a third party server for six months were considered by the law to be abandoned. This allows law enforcement agencies to obtain the data with just a written statement certifying that the information is relevant to an investigation, without judicial review.

Thirty years later and business archiving requirements, cloud technology and public opinion has moved things on considerably.

Today, we are proud that approximately 16,200 organizations and millions of their employees from around the world have entrusted their email and data to Mimecast. We process more than 180 million emails per day and our customers look to us to protect them from cybercriminals, outage and unwarranted government snooping.

The new Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives, will require the government to get a warrant from a judge before obtaining private communications and documents stored online.

Email has gone from being just a communication platform to probably the greatest single repository of corporate knowledge any organization holds. Almost all corporate activity, discussion or ideas touch email at some point.

Due process should apply in digital world now more than ever before.

Our customers use Mimecast to improve the security, reliability and archiving capabilities of their own email servers or primary cloud email service. We take our responsibility to protect their email and the petabytes of business information this includes very seriously.

Public opinion is on the side of fair and reasonable control of law enforcement and government in this regard to protect the right of the individual to privacy.

This is a clarion call for governments around the world to continue to modernise law-making in wake of the unstoppable rise of cloud computing services. Laws written in the analogue and desktop computing age need rethinking for the cloud era. 

Email is the bedrock of modern day communication and deserves up-to-date protection enshrined in legislation. This bill is a step in the right direction to further protect citizens’ private historical data held in the cloud from unreasonable intrusion.

FILED IN

I am in San Francisco this week for the annual security event, RSA Conference. This year, aside from the normal discussions about attacks and defense techniques and technology, the industry has returned again to a topic close to my heart:  Skills training and recruitment.

As we see the security threat grow, anyone that runs a security team or a company creating technology like I do at Mimecast, is acutely aware of the pressure to recruit the talent you need to keep up.

One of the speakers at the conference speculated that while we are worried today about the thousands of unfilled vacancies we see in the industry this will be dwarfed quickly by a predicted global shortage by 2020 in the millions.

So what can we do?

First, we can use technology to better automate security activity. Reduce the burden of more simple security tasks that require people right now.

But I think the real requirement is to motivate and inspire young people in particular about the opportunity to make a real difference to their community (global, national and local) through a career in IT security.

The world’s economy and public services now rely on technology. In many ways you could say it is data that makes the world go round not money.

Protecting the technology, data and services of the world’s organizations is vital work. Inspiring work. An important public service even.

The damage both economic and social that cyber-attacks cause is substantial. We have all read the headlines and with each year, the stories seem more stark and worrying. Attacks on critical infrastructure like electricity grids as seen in Ukraine last year. The theft of personal data from healthcare providers. The extortion of critical funds from public and private organizations who have become the victim of whaling or ransomware attacks.  All of these seem to be daily events now.

So, as young people in particular start out in work and are looking at their options to make a difference in the world, we need to tell them how a career in IT security ranks alongside other inspiring professions of vital public service like healthcare, law enforcement and education.

Money and training will only go so far in tackling our recruitment challenge – tomorrow’s workforce want and deserve more than that. They want to make a difference and for those with the necessary skills, a career in IT security gives them just the opportunity they are looking for. We just need to tell more of them about it in those inspiring terms.

FILED IN

Today, we launched our new Mimecast Business Email Threat Report 2016. The survey of 600 IT security professionals shows that while 64 percent see email as a major cyber-security threat to their business, 65 percent also feel ill-equipped or too out-of-date to reasonably defend against email-based attacks.

Email continues to be a critical technology in business and the threat of email hacks and data breaches loom large over IT security managers. Consequently, confidence and experience with previous data breaches and email hacks play key parts in determining an organization’s perceived level of preparedness against these threats. Alarmingly, one-third of survey respondents believe email is more vulnerable today than it was five years ago.

We depend on technology, and email in particular, in all aspects of our work and personal lives. So, it’s very disconcerting to see that while we might appreciate the danger, many companies are still taking too few measures to defend against email-based threats. Budget and C-suite involvement were the biggest gaps found between the most and least prepared respondents. Among the IT security managers who feel most prepared, it’s not a surprise to me that their C-suite is most engaged with email security. But the results show that the reality for a large number of them is that their C-suite is only somewhat engaged, not very engaged, or not engaged at all.

As the cyber threat becomes more potent, email attacks will become more common and more damaging. It’s essential that executives, the C-suite in particular, realize they may not be as safe as they think and take action. They need to get engaged with email security planning and preparation, and allocate time, focus and budget.

Those who feel better prepared to handle email-based threats also allocate higher percentages of their IT budgets to email security. We estimate from our research that security confidence is achieved when you assign over 10% of your IT budget to email security.

Finally our research report also identifies five distinct security ‘personas’ we can all learn from inspired by the data. We call them Vigilant, Equipped Veteran, Apprehensive, Nervous and Battle-Scarred. For more information on the differences between these personas – including budget allocations, levels of C-suite involvement and the top attack vectors they worry about, download our E-book summary of the research here.

FILED IN