United States: Don't WannaCry: Ten Questions Boards and Company Management Can Ask in the Wake of Recent Ransomware Attacks

The WannaCry ransomware attack that hit computers around the world last week is yet another reminder that computers play key roles in most enterprises, and that it does not take much to disable those computers. Questions remain about who was behind the WannaCry attack and whether it even was that sophisticated. But even the most robust of systems can be susceptible to attack, regardless of the attacker's level of sophistication. Here are ten questions that Boards and senior management can ask their information security and business teams to assess how prepared they are to respond to and recover from future attacks.

1. Do we have a patch management program in place?

WannaCry is a ransomware variant; ransomware has been around for a while, but this was a particularly virulent version, hitting and encrypting data on an estimated 230,000 devices in over 150 countries in just days. The attack appears to have taken advantage of known in dated versions of the Windows operating system, reportedly hitting companies using Windows XP and Windows 2003 particularly hard. Victims without readily available backups of their data could find themselves paying a bitcoin ransom to hopefully obtain a key to allow them to unlock their files.

Software providers routinely discover vulnerabilities in their software and often distribute patches to their products to address them. Vulnerabilities can range from simple performance issues to significant security holes, and patches from routine to critical. Even though Microsoft stopped supporting certain of the impacted products some time ago, it released a patch to address a vulnerability associated with WannaCry two months ago.

One way to help address this issue is to have a program in place to address patching – for example, a policy that provides for installing routine software patches on a scheduled basis and critical patches on an expedited basis, taking into account relevant business and technology considerations. For example, in many cases, patches need to be tested before deployment. A patch management program can help to maximize resiliency while minimizing business interruption.

2. Can users install their own software, and how do we manage admin-level access?

Users who are permitted to install software can introduce vulnerabilities into an otherwise secure system. One way to help address this risk is by restricting user rights to download software. Administrator-level user accounts are another area of focus because they have broad access privileges and are permitted to perform a wide spectrum of functions. These credentials, if compromised, can possibly allow a hacker to install malicious tools on local machines or, in some instances, move through the company's network with greater ease and, potentially even to cover its tracks to avoid detection. Controls that can help address this issue include limiting the use of elevated, administrative user accounts throughout the enterprise. They also include enhanced password complexity and a regular changes in user account credentials. Companies can also deploy privileged account management software to monitor administrator accounts, detect unusual activity and take action to quarantine an attack.

3. Have we considered multi-factor authentication?

Multi-factor authentication involves a log-in process that requires multiple means of authentication, such as a password plus a temporary token generated by a separate device at the time of user log-in, each of which is required to be entered by the user before network access is granted. This multi-step process can provide a layer of protection particularly where a user's password has been compromised, because an attacker cannot get into the network remotely using the password alone. Context is key, in that multi-factor authentication can be impractical or more than is needed for various implementations. But more regulators are showing an interest in exploring where multi-factor authentication has or has not been adopted as a control for remote access points into parts of an enterprise's network.

4. Will our back-ups be available to us, on an acceptable timeframe, if we are attacked?

A back-up system that allows for quick, seamless recovery of critical systems and data can bolster resiliency in the wake of an unexpected system outage or loss of data, whether caused by a ransomware attack or non-malicious means such as a natural disaster. Attackers know this, and according to security researchers, ransomware attackers are more and more looking to target back-up servers as well as main servers in their attacks. Understanding whether backup systems can withstand a ransomware or other attack on company systems is therefore important. Having procedures in place for regular back-ups can help minimize the impact of an outage or attack. Additionally, back-up systems can be further enhanced by maintaining them on separate networks or having tightly controlled write access to those devices, and by procedures for testing the efficacy of those controls.

5. Have we tested our systems to determine susceptibility and have we tabletop exercised our incident response plan?

The primary goal of testing information systems is to identify vulnerabilities before the attackers exploit them. Companies can retain experienced cybersecurity firms through legal counsel to provide a robust assessment, under privilege, of what may need to be improved so they can meet their legal obligations to protect information. These firms can work to identify vulnerabilities just as a hacker would and determine how well a company's cybersecurity program is functioning.

Periodic testing of the incident response plan also can help a company prepare for an attack. Tabletop exercises involve practice drills of a "real world" incident simulation. These exercises can often identify flaws in a company's incident response plan and help team members learn the incident response process so they are prepared to respond when a real life incident occurs. A tabletop exercise can involve all members of the incident response team, including IT, legal and compliance, and provide other stakeholders like business teams, HR and corporate communications with an opportunity to practice coordinating and communicating effectively with each other across a range of possible scenarios.

Companies can also practice analyzing incidents against applicable notification statutes and industry-specific laws, as well as contractual commitments to notify business partners or other third parties. In the health care industry context, for example, ransomware attacks have been known to target hospitals, health care providers and other health industry entities because they tend to have rich repositories of personal and sensitive data. In practicing an incident response plan, healthcare providers who use, disclose or access electronic identifiable healthcare information can review and rehearse how they are meeting their obligations under relevant laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA"), as well as various state privacy and data security laws. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights has indicated that a ransomware attack involving health care information often results in a breach under the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule, unless the entity can demonstrate, after conducting a risk assessment, that there is a low probability that protected health information has been compromised.

6. What kind of security detection and monitoring capabilities do we have?

When a ransomware attack occurs, a company may learn almost immediately that its systems have been compromised because the ransomware is designed to lock a system, and then display an instruction for how to pay the ransom to secure the key to unlock the files. This is often not true, however, for other types of attacks. In its 2016 Trends Report, cybersecurity firm Mandiant reported that the median time from compromise to eventual discovery of the incident by the company was 146 days. One potential option that may help here involves the use of security information and event management (SIEM) technologies that help to detect and respond to suspicious behavior, potentially allowing a company to isolate impacted devices or systems until the issue can be investigated and resolved. In some cases, companies may elect to retain an outside security services firm to help triage alerts.

7. What type of security training do our employees receive and how frequently?

Employee training on information security can play a part in reducing information security risk. Depending on the business, its level of risk and the particular job function, training topics can include:

  • Good information security hygiene;
  • How to recognize and avoid falling victim to attacks, like spoofing and phishing; and
  • Company processes for responding to a security threat, including reporting the incident to the correct contact persons within the organization.

This training can occur upon hire and periodically thereafter.

8. What is our information security budget, and have we allocated the right resources?

An effective information security program requires appropriate budget and staffing. Boards and management may want to evaluate what their company spends on security and identify security requests that have been made but that may remain unfunded. It is helpful to consult directly with IT and information security leadership within the company to solicit input on gaps in resources. These inquiries can help determine whether the company has allocated the correct amount of funding and number of personnel to security, taking into account the size and scope of the organization and the level of sensitivity of the information and systems to be protected. 

9. Who is responsible for what aspects of our information security?

Information security is not just an IT function. Many organizations appoint a cross-functional team to consider and manage the overall enterprise risks that information security present. On this front, gaining a basic understanding of the high-level principles of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and how to apply them can help an organization develop, maintain and evolve proper administrative, technical and physical controls designed to protect the network.

10. Have we reviewed our cyber-insurance coverage lately, and does it appropriately address the risks we face, including ransomware attacks?

As cybersecurity attacks become more frequent, companies that depend on the Internet may want to consider obtaining cyber-insurance or reviewing existing coverage to ensure it appropriately addresses the risk profile of the company. Working with a qualified professional, companies can review policies to assure coverage is appropriate for their business in light of its risk profile and that any policies issued do not contain exclusions that would render the policies ineffective for the major risks a company faces. Companies may want to consider whether the policies cover ransomware attacks. Coverage limits should be selected based on a realistic analysis of a company's exposure, keeping in mind that certain laws may impact the amount of coverage a company should seek. For example, Europe's General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect in May 2018, dramatically increases a company's liability exposure to the extent it is covered by that law, and this exposure increase may warrant obtaining additional coverage.

Closing Thoughts

If a ransomware or other security incident happens, affected organizations should work closely with legal counsel, forensic specialists, IT professionals and others to determine an appropriate response, including whether a breach notification is required by law (such as HIPAA or any other applicable law) or by any contract into which the company may have entered.

With appropriate planning and resource deployment, companies can ensure they have the necessary information security infrastructure in place to maximize protection against ransomware and other cybersecurity attacks, and to quickly and effectively respond to attacks if and when they occur.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Emails

From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.