White House tips on how to avoid ransomware attacks

Keith A. Reynolds

In a letter to corporate executives and business leaders, the White House has laid out the steps businesses should take to avoid the attacks.

As ransomware attacks on American businesses and healthcare systems increase, the White house has released guidance to avoid the attacks.

In a June 2 letter addressed to executives and business leaders, Anne Neuberger, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, wrote that protecting the country’s resilience against cyberattacks is a top priority for President Joe. R. Biden.

While the recent attack on an oil pipeline has made headlines recently, healthcare facilities have also been victims of ransomware schemes. With the federal government warning in October that they had gathered credible information about an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.

While the federal government is seeking to disrupt and deter these attacks, the letter says that the private sector also has a duty to protect themselves from these threats as any organization could be targeted. They urge executives to meet with their leadership teams to discuss the threat of ransomware and review the company’s security posture and continuity plans.

The letter also lists recommended best practices that the government suggests companies adopt now. The guidance is below as it appears in the letter:

  • Implement the five best practices from the President’s Executive Order: President Biden’s Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity Executive Order is being implemented with speed and urgency across the Federal Government. We’re leading by example because these five best practices are high impact: multifactor authentication (because passwords alone are routinely compromised), endpoint detection & response (to hunt for malicious activity on a network and block it),encryption (so if data is stolen, it is unusable) and a skilled, empowered security team (to patch rapidly, and share and incorporate threat information in your defenses). These practices will significantly reduce the risk of a successful cyberattack.
  • Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.
  • Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware, in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk-based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.
  • Test your incident response plan: There’s nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?
  • Check Your Security Team’s Work: Use a 3rd party pen tester to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.
  • Segment your networks: There’s been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It’s critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure ICS networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised. Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that safety critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.

For more information on Biden’s executive order click here. For more guidance and resources click here.