The lure of having a Ransomware Fund

Introduction

What is the the lure of having a ransomware fund all about? It’s the idea that just paying is the best way to deal with a ransomware incident.While preventing as many ransomware attacks as possible is great, it is not something that will be 100% effective. Detecting an incident as early as possible is key to minimizing the effects. This even in the event of successful and early detection some data has been compromised (encrypted). The nature and function of that data will determine the blast radius and the fall out. To recover from that the attack needs to be stopped by finding and eliminating the points of infection.Next to that, the proven ability to restore data and do so fast is a key capability when it comes to recovering form a ransomware attack. If you don’t you’ll either need to eat the loss or try to pay up.

Dealing with Ransomware step by step

  • Prevention is not 100% effective. Don’t bank on it.
  • Early detection
  • Swift & adequate response
  • Quarantine, wipe (nuke from orbit) of contaminated systems & data
  • See if a free decryption solution is available via the security community or your police services cyber crime department
  • Restore your data. You must have multiple options. You must have implemented the 3-2-1 rule. But beware, your off site, air gapped copy cannot be too old. You need to have fairly recent backups in there to have a decent RPO that is meaningful to the business.
  • Bring data, systems and services back into production.

Now make sure you can do this for end user files, server data (images, VMs, Databases, configuration files,  backups) regardless of where it is (on-premises, private, hybrid & public cloud) what delivery model it comes in (Physical, virtual, IAAS, PAAS, SAAS, Serverless).

The lure of having a Ransomware Fund (Isn’t it cheaper to pay?)

Now some bean counter might come up with the idea that paying is cheaper (and easier) than prevention, let alone backup & restore capabilities.

The lure of having a Ransomware Fund

Some would even consider it a “cost of doing business”. This is the the lure of having a ransomware Fund. Ouch, well I know many parts of the world are a lot less save than mine but this is a path down a slippery slope so dangerous you will fall down sooner or later. Let’s look at why that is.

petya ransomware

The lure of having a Ransomware Fund

First, let’s not forget about the down time caused no matter how you resolve it. So prevention and early detection are key. You might not even survive if you pay and get your data back.

Secondly, while I love the idea of prevention and early detection this doesn’t mean that you can get rid of your backup and restore capabilities. Prevention is an mitigation strategy, it doesn’t eradicate the issue. Early detection minimizes the immediate and secondary damage in many cases. But not in all cases and it is also not perfect.

Third, when you pay your ransom how sure are you you’ll get your decryption key and be able to access your data? Well it seems only in 50% of the cases. Now, some ransomware “businesses’’ have a better customer service than many commercial companies and governments. But that doesn’t mean all of them do and by definition they are not honest people. Unless you consider ransomware “Encryption As A Service” that helps you with GDPR. I think not. You might think that a smart ransomware player delivers not to ruin future revenue streams by acquiring a bad reputation. Probably true, but they to can make mistakes, you can make mistakes, you can become road kill of vandals or of criminals who desire or are hired to incur havoc on a certain industry.

Finally, you might end up being a repeat victim as you have shown the willingness & ability to pay. Don’t forget that ransomware is not like mobster protection money. It will not protect you from others or the same ones doing it again.

Conclusion

Banking on having an emergency stash of Bitcoin (ransomware fund) just to pay ransomware isn’t your best option. It might be a last resort faced with the alternative of bankruptcy but even then it remains a costly and risky gamble.

I know that for some people in IT, backups seem outdated and from a gone by era, a solution to a problem form yesterday. I kid you not. Well, I advise you to think again and act upon what you concluded.

 

Spectre and Meltdown

Introduction

While working on an Active Directory upgrade, a couple of backup repository replacements, a cluster hardware upgrade, a few hybrid cloud projects as well as a couple of all flash array migrations we get word about what we already suspected due to the massive maintenance announced in December in AWS and Azure around our IAAS. Spectre and Meltdown are upon us. I actually did all the maintenance proactively in Azure. So naturally I wondered about the hardware we own, clients, servers, load balancers, storage etc. All driven by CPUs. Darn that will wake you up in the morning. Now to put the doom and gloom in perspective you can read Meltdown and Spectre exploits: Cutting through the FUDand-spectre-exploits-cutting-through-the-fud.html which will help you breathe normally again if you were panicking before.

Getting to work on the problem

Whilst prepping our plan of action for deploying the patches, checking anti-virus compatibility, firmware and BIOS updates I do notice that the CISO / DPO are missing in action. They must have learned we are normally on top of such things and have gotten better at not going along with too much FUD. Bar all the FUD and the incredible number or roadside scholars in CPU design that appear on line to discuss CPU designs we’ve worked out a plan.

The info out there is a bit messy and distributed. But I have a clear picture now on what to do. I’m not going to rehash all the information out there but here are a couple of things I noticed that can cause issues or be confusing.

Microsoft mentioned the patch would not be installed on systems that don’t have the registry key set to indicate there is no compatibility issue with the anti-virus software (Important information regarding the Windows security updates released on January 3, 2018 and anti-virus software)

Note: Customers will not receive these security updates and will not be protected from security vulnerabilities unless their anti-virus software vendor sets the following registry key:

Key=”HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE”Subkey=”SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\QualityCompat”Value=”cadca5fe-87d3-4b96-b7fb-a231484277cc” Type=”REG_DWORD”

This seems not to be working that well. We saw the CU being downloaded and installs attempted on systems with Antivirus that did not have the registry key set. Shouldn’t happen right? We killed the update service to prevent the install, but luckily it seems our anti-virus solution is compatible( (see https://kc.mcafee.com/corporate/index?page=content&id=KB90167 – we have McAfee Enterprise 8.8 patch 10). Now the above article only mentions this registry setting for AV on Windows 2012 R2 / windows 8.1 or lower but the OS specific patches also mention this for Windows Server 2016 / Windows 10. See https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4056890 (Windows Server 2016) for an example. Right …  One of my MVP colleagues also had to add this registry edit manually (or scripted) and need to download the latest Defender definitions for the update to be offered to him. So it seems not just 3rd party anti-virus. Your mileage may very a bit here it seems.

There is a great community effort on anti-virus compatibility info here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/184wcDt9I9TUNFFbsAVLpzAtckQxYiuirADzf3cL42FQ/htmlview?sle=true#gid=0

Anyway after a reboot you’ll see that the mitigations are active via a PowerShell module you can download.

Install-Module SpeculationControl

$SaveExecutionPolicy = Get-ExecutionPolicy

Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned -Scope Currentuser

Import-Module SpeculationControl

Get-SpeculationControlSettings

#When you’re done reset the execution policy …

Set-ExecutionPolicy $SaveExecutionPolicy -Scope Currentuser

Installing the patches is enough. You only need the extra keys mentioned in article Windows Server guidance to protect against speculative execution side-channel vulnerabilities on Windows 10 if you want to toggle between enabling them or disabling them. You do need to set them for Windows Server! These registry setting changes require a reboot to become effective.

#To disable the mitigations

reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management” /v FeatureSettingsOverride /t REG_DWORD /d 3 /f

reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management” /v FeatureSettingsOverrideMask /t REG_DWORD /d 3 /f

After a reboot you can see the mitigations are disabled. That allows you to work around issues these might incur. It’s better than uninstalling the update.

clip_image002

If you want to enable them for the first time on Windows Server or again after disabling it on Windows Server or Windows 10 do as follows:

#To enable the mitigations. Note that the FeatureSettingsOverrideMask value does remain 3, it’s not changed just left in place.

reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management” /v FeatureSettingsOverride /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management” /v FeatureSettingsOverrideMask /t REG_DWORD /d 3 /f

clip_image004

Do find the BIOS/Firmware updates you need from your OEMs and install them as well.If you don’t the output won’t be a nice and green as the above. I’m running tis on a DELL XPS 13 and that BIOS was patched a few days ago. Dell has been prepping for this before we ever knew about Spectre and Meltdown. Here’s an example: http://www.dell.com/support/home/be/nl/bedhs1/drivers/driversdetails?driverId=MXXTN

When waiting for the BIOS update or while you are testing the impact there is an other way to help protect your Hyper-V host while you’re at it to help mitigate VM to VM or VM to host attack: Alternative protections for Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V Hosts against the speculative execution side-channel vulnerabilities

Here is more guidance by Microsoft for both Hyper-V hosts, virtual machines and SQL Server installations.

This is not the end

This is not the end of the world, but it’s also not the end of the issue. CERT was very clear, probably due to Spectre, that the real fix was to replace the CPUs. So the heat is on and this might very well lead to an accelerated replacement of systems at the bigger cloud players and large hosters. They cant afford to lose 20 to 30 % of CPU performance. I have no insight on the impact they’re seeing, they might shared that in the future, but it could ruin their economies of scale. There’s always money to be made from a crisis right. But I have seen anything between 0 to marginal and 5-20% loss in testing, the latter with SQL workloads. It all depends on what the workloads is asking the CPU to do I guess and if that leverages speculative execution. It’s not going to that bad for most people. But for the cloud players who really max out their systems this might have a bigger impact and their risk profile (mutli-tenant, shared resources) + the potential rewards for hacking them makes it a  big concern and top priority for them. But we have done our homework and can mitigate the issue.

Replacing consumer devices and in all the IoT, sensors, domotics, cars, etc. out there is another matter. I’d be happy to see them all get patched in a reasonable time, which is also a pipe dream and that isn’t likely judging from the current state of things. Security is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better

And finally, hats of to the Google engineers who found the issues. Technically it’s quite fascinating even when explained at my level (I am not a CPU designer, so I need the Barney Bear version).

Microsoft Security Bulletin MS16-045

Just a quick post to make sure you all know there’s an important security update for Hyper-V in the April 2016 batch of updates.

Please review Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 3143118  and Microsoft Security Bulletin MS16-045 – Important for details. Realize thatthis ios one you’d better test en deploy asap. In my deployments I have not seen or heard o any issues with the update so far.

Why this little shout out? Well it’s a remote code execution vulnerability that can leverage the guest to run code on the host.

This security update resolves vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows. The most severe of the vulnerabilities could allow remote code execution if an authenticated attacker on a guest operating system runs a specially crafted application that causes the Hyper-V host operating system to execute arbitrary code. Customers who have not enabled the Hyper-V role are not affected.

It affect Windows 8.1 (x64), Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, and Windows 10 (x64). Test and patch a.s.a.p. When you’re a hosting provider, I hope you’re already on top of this one.

 

CryptoWall 3.0 Strikes To Close for Comfort

Instead of testing Windows Server 2016 TPv4 a bit more during “slow” hours we got distracted from that a bit CryptoWall 3.0 strikes to close for Comfort. Last week we, my team and I, had to distinct displeasure of having to tackle a “ransomware” infection inside a business network. Talk about petting a burning dog.

We were lucky on a few fronts. The anti malware tools got the infection in the act and shut it down. We went from zero and 100 miles per hour and had the infected or suspect client systems ripped of the network and confiscated.  We issue a brand new imaged PC in such incidents. No risks are taken there.

Then there was a pause … anything to be seen on the anti malware tools? Any issues being reported?  Tick tock … tick tock … while we were looking at the logs to see what we were dealing with. Wait Out …

Contact! The first reports came in about issues with opening files on the shares and soon the service desk found the dreaded images on subfolders on those shares.

image

Pucker time as we moved to prevent further damage and started an scan & search for more encrypted files and evidence of damage. I’m not going to go into detail about what, why, when and how. As in all fights you have to fight as you are. No good wishing for better defenses, tools, skills or training. At that moment you do what you think you need to do to contain the situation, clean up, restore data and hope for the best.

What can I say? We got lucky. We did our best. I’d rather not have to do that again. We have multiple types of backup & restore capabilities and that was good. But you do not want to call all data lost beyond a point and start restoring dozen of terabytes of corporate data to a last know good without any insight on the blast radius and fall out of that incident.

The good thing was our boss was on board to do what needed and could be done and let us work. We tried to protect our data while we started the cleanup and restores where needed. It could have been a lot uglier, costlier and potentially deadly. This time our data protection measures saved the day. And at least 2 copies of those were save from infection. Early detection and response was key. The rest was luck.

Crypto wall moves fast. It attempts to find active command and control infrastructure immediately. As soon as it gets it public key from the command and control server that it starts using to encrypt files. The private key securely hidden behind “a pay wall” somewhere in a part of the internet you don’t want to know about. All that happens in seconds. Stopping that is hard. Being fast limits damage. Data recovery options are key. Everyday people are being trapped by phishing e-mails with malicious attachments, drive by downloads on infected website or even advertisement networks.

Read more on CryptoWall 3.0 here https://www.sentinelone.com/blog/anatomy-of-cryptowall-3-0-a-look-inside-ransomwares-tactics/  Details on how to protect and detect depend on your anti malware solution. It’s very sobering, to say the least.

It makes me hate corporate apps that require outdated browsers even more. Especially since we’ve been able to avoid that till now. But knowing all to well forces are at work to introduce those down grade browsers with “new” software. Insanity at its best.