Unfair exchange: ransomware attacks surge globally amid Microsoft Exchange Server vulnerabilities

By : Nata Kesuma | Monday, April 05 2021 - 17:45 IWST

Ilustration Microsoft Exchange Server
Ilustration Microsoft Exchange Server

INDUSTRY.co.id - Following the recent disclosure of vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft Exchange Servers, Check Point Research (CPR) has observed a global surge in the number of ransomware attacks.

In fact, since the beginning of 2021, there has been a 9% increase monthly in organisations affected ransomware. This uptick includes a 57% increase in organisations affected by ransomware in the past 6 months.

According to various reports and official alerts from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the US, ransomware attacks are targeting Microsoft Exchange servers by leveraging previously exposed vulnerabilities.

In the last week alone, the number of attacks involving Exchange Server vulnerabilities has tripled. With over 50,000 attack attempts seen globally, CPR has observed that the most targeted industries are government/military, manufacturing and banking/finance.

The most affected country is the United States (49% of all exploit attempts), followed by the United Kingdom (5%), the Netherlands (4%) and Germany (4%).

Ransomware spikes globally

CPR has also observed the following trends in ransomware attacks:

In the past 6 months, there has been a general increase in the number of attacks involving human-operated ransomware, such as Maze and Ryuk, in which victims have to negotiate with the criminals that launched the attack.

In the last 6 months, there has been a 57% increase in the number of organisations affected by ransomware globally.

Since the beginning of 2021, the number of organisations affected by ransomware have been growing at 9% monthly.

In total, 3,868 organisations have been affected with ransomware

Ransomware Attack Attempts by Industry:
The industry sector most targeted by WannaCry is government/military (18% of total attacks). This is followed by manufacturing (11%), banking and financial services (8%) and healthcare (6%).

Ransomware Attack Attempts by Country:

The countries most affected by ransomware attack attempts are the United States (12% of all attack attempts), followed by Israel (8%), India (7%) and Japan (6%), while Canada, Spain, Mexico, the United Kingdom, China and Portugal each saw 2%.

WannaCry surges … again!

Worryingly, WannaCry, the wormable ransomware that made its debut four years ago, is also trending again, though it is unclear why.

Since the beginning of the year, the number of organisations affected with WannaCry globally has increased by 53%. In fact, CPR found that there are 40 times more affected organisations in March 2021 when compared to October 2020.
The new samples still use the EternalBlue exploit to propagate – for which patches have been available for over 4 years.

This highlights why it’s critical that organisations patch their systems as soon as updates are available.

Ransomware protection for your organisation
Below are some fundamental tips to keep your organisation protected from ransomware attacks:

Back up all data – One of most important actions to prevent ransomware from disrupting your operations is backing up your company’s data regularly. If something goes wrong, you should be able to quickly and easily revert to a recent backup version.

This won’t actively protect you from being the target of an attack, but if you’re ever attacked, the fallout won’t be nearly as devastating. Backing up data can help companies avoid having to pay ransom or suffer the ill effects of restoring systems back to a previous version.

Keep software updated – Ransomware attackers sometimes find an entry point within apps and software, noting vulnerabilities and capitalising on them.

Fortunately, some developers actively search for new vulnerabilities and patch them. Adopt a patch management strategy and ensure all team members are constantly up-to-date with the latest versions.

As mentioned earlier, WannaCry relies on unpatched systems to spread, yet the patches for the vulnerability it exploits have been available for 4 years – yet evidently many organisations have not applied these updates.

Utilise better threat detection – Most ransomware attacks can be detected and resolved before it’s too late. To maximise your chances of protection, have an automated threat detection system in place in your organisation.

Adopt multifactor authentication – Multifactor authentication forces users to verify their identities in multiple ways before they’re granted access to a system. This way, if an employee mistakenly gives their password to a cybercriminal, the criminal won’t be able to gain easy access to your systems.

Principle of least privilege (POLP) – Employees should never have more access to data than they truly need. Segmenting your organisation and restricting access can provide a kind of quarantine effect, minimising the impact of a potential attack and limiting the vectors of access.

Scan and monitor emails and file activity – Emails are the default choice of cybercriminals executing phishing schemes, so take the time to scan and monitor emails on an ongoing basis, and consider deploying an automated email security solution to block malicious emails from ever reaching users.

It’s also a good idea to scan and monitor file activity. Organisations should be notified whenever there’s a suspicious file in play before it becomes a threat.

Improve employee training – Most ransomware attacks are the byproduct of bad employee habits, or pure ignorance.

Someone may voluntarily give out their password, or may download an unfamiliar file to their work device. With better employee training, the chances of this happening are much lower.

Don’t pay the ransom – Finally, if your organisation happens to be the victim of a ransomware attack, don’t pay the ransom! It might seem tempting to get out of this bad situation as quickly as possible, but even after paying the ransom, there’s no guarantee that the attacker is going to be true to their word.

Anti-Ransomware Solutions – While the previous ransomware prevention steps can help mitigate an organisation’s exposure to ransomware threats, they do not provide perfect protection.

Some ransomware operators use well-researched and highly targeted spear phishing emails as their attack vector. These emails may trick even the most diligent employee, resulting in ransomware gaining access to an organisation’s internal systems. Protecting against this ransomware that “slips through the cracks” requires a specialised security solution.

In order to achieve its objective, ransomware must perform certain anomalous actions, such as opening and encrypting large numbers of files.

Anti-ransomware solutions monitor programs running on a computer for suspicious behaviours commonly exhibited by ransomware, and if these behaviours are detected, the program can take action to stop encryption before further damage is done.

News Comment

Today's Industry

Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno (19/04/2021).

Selasa, 20 April 2021 - 21:00 WIB

Vaccination Can Rebuild Creative Economy: Tourism Minister

Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno has expressed optimism that vaccination program for creative economy actors will boost productivity and rebuild creative economy sector.

President Jokowi inspecting vaccination for artists and cultural practitioners accompanied,(Photo: Bureau of Press, Media, and Information of Presidential Secretariat/Lukas

Selasa, 20 April 2021 - 20:40 WIB

Health Minister: Stay Vigilant, Disciplined in Observing Health Protocols

Minister of Health Budi Gunadi Sadikin Monday (19/04) inspected vaccination for artists and cultural practitioners at the Indonesia National Gallery in Central Jakarta along with President Joko…

President Jokowi chairs a Limited Meeting on Handling of COVID-19 Pandemic ahead of Eid Al-Fitr 1442 Hijri, at the Merdeka Palace, Jakarta, Monday (19/4). (Photo by: PR of Cabinet Secretariat/Agung)

Selasa, 20 April 2021 - 20:05 WIB

Gov’t to Boost Community Economy through Religious Festivity Allowance, Social Protection

The Government has announced that it will continue to maintain the balance of COVID-19 handling and national economic recovery, including during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr 1442…

Minister of Health Budi G. Sadikin (19/04/2021). (Photo by: PR of Cabinet Secretariat/Agung)

Selasa, 20 April 2021 - 19:55 WIB

Despite Vaccination, Stay Disciplined in Observing Health Protocols: Health Minister

Indonesia can learn from India on why the number of COVID-19 cases is rising despite successful vaccination there, according to Minister of Health Budi G. Sadikin.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, accompanied by Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas and Minister of Health Budi G. Sadikin

Selasa, 20 April 2021 - 19:15 WIB

Gov’t Extends Micro-Scale Restrictions to 3 May

The activity restrictions (PPKM) and micro-based activity restrictions (PPKM Mikro) policies that have been implemented since last January have been effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19,…