Two recent cyber threat reports published by government agencies in Australia and New Zealand reaffirm the ongoing challenges faced by IT security teams across the region. Both reports also highlight the best practices urgently needed, such as privileged access management (PAM), to mitigate the threats.
This blog will distill some key takeaways from the two reports:
- The CERT NZ Q2 Report provides an overview of cyber security incidents impacting New Zealanders and reported to CERT NZ for the period of April 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021.
- The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s (ACSC) Annual Cyber Threat Report 2020-21 collates data from reported security incidents across the period of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.
Ransomware a Focus across Australia & New Zealand
Unsurprisingly, a key theme in both reports is ransomware and its growing impact on organisations.
In Q2, 30 cases of ransomware were reported to CERT NZ. Meanwhile, the ACSC report highlighted a 15% year-on-year increase of ransomware attacks, which totaled almost 500 across the reporting period.
Given the size and growth of the problem, both reports devote time explaining the common attack vectors and defences against the various types of ransomware campaigns.
First, both CERT NZ and ACSC recommend against paying a ransom. Not only is there no guarantee that payment will give you the tools required for decrypting your data, but paying off your adversaries may make your organisation a more likely target in the future.
To defend against ransomware, understanding the common attack vectors is key. In its report, the ACSC asserts that “phishing campaigns, targeted spear phishing, remote access through vulnerable machines and the use of publicly available exploits” are leading ways ransomware attacks are initiated. The goal of the ransomware operator, as CERT NZ points out, is to gain full endpoint access in order to take control of the devices and data.
For SMBs, the ACSC recommends the following ransomware protections: keeping devices and systems updated, enabling MFA, implementing data backups, enabling ransomware protection (available on some operating systems), and applying identity security and PAM controls (access controls, restriction of administrator privileges, and not sharing or re-using login details). They also recommend preparation of a cyber security emergency plan.
For government, large organisations, and infrastructure, ACSC recommends the implementation of their Essential Eight Mitigation Strategies and Strategies to Mitigate Cyber Security Incidents. Privileged access management controls help address more than half of the eight mitigations.
Why is PAM such a pivotal part of cyberattack defenses and emphasized so heavily by the ACSC? Restricting privileges not only prevents many attacks from gaining a foothold in the first place, it also means that even with some access to an environment, the ability for malware or an attacker to do damage is limited.
As the ACSC points out in its guidance, restricting admin privileges “makes it more difficult for an adversary’s malicious code to elevate its privileges, spread to other hosts, hide its existence, persist after reboot, obtain sensitive information or resist removal efforts.”
PAM solutions also ensure privileged accounts and credentials are properly managed and protected, and that privileged access security controls are even extended to remote access, including for vendors. You can learn more about how PAM addresses the ACSC Essential Eight in our recent blog.
Stolen Credentials Open Doors for Attackers
ACSC and CERT NZ each highlight the continuing threat around phishing and stolen credentials. The deployment of malware and ransomware often is made possible by a successful phishing attack or the use of stolen credentials, which enables the attacker to gain that first foothold before furthering an attack.
Between April and June of this year, CERT NZ received over 600 reports of phishing and credential harvesting. Incidents of this form of attack outnumbered the next eight types of threats combined!
As the ACSC noted in their report, the past year has seen a ready environment for such attacks, with COVID-19 used as a topic to lure people into clicking on links or inappropriately sharing login details. The ACSC also emphasizes that unpatched systems and unsecured remote access have allowed attackers to successfully target organisations with little effort or needed technical expertise.
How Privilege Management Can Help
The key cyber threat trends highlighted in the ACSC and CERT NZ reports are not disappearing any time soon. With this in mind, more organisations are turning to leading PAM solution providers, such as BeyondTrust, to help mitigate these risks.
BeyondTrust customers and analysts recognise the value of our Universal Privilege Management model, which provides the most complete approach to securing every privileged user, asset, and session.
Exploitation of insecure remote access pathways, phishing attacks, and credential and privilege abuse are common attack vectors and each plays a big role in ransomware attacks. BeyondTrust provides blended threat protection against these threat vectors, helping prevent or mitigate ransomware and other external and internal attacks.
- BeyondTrust Privileged Password Management reduces the risk of compromised privileged credentials for both human and non-human users. The solution enables automated discovery and onboarding of all privileged accounts, secure access to privileged credentials and secrets, and auditing, monitoring, and management of all privileged sessions
- BeyondTrust Endpoint Privilege Management combines privilege management and application control to enforce least privilege and ensure just the right level of privilege at the right time on Windows, Mac, Unix, Linux, and network devices. The solution also protects against tricky fileless attacks.
- BeyondTrust Secure Remote Access enables organisations to leverage privileged access security controls—including least privilege and credential management—to all remote access, whether for employees, vendors, or service desks.
Working together, these BeyondTrust PAM solutions can dismantle ransomware and other threats at many stages of the attack chain.
If you have an initiative to mitigate the risk around ransomware, phishing, or credential abuse, reach out to our team and learn more about how BeyondTrust can support your efforts.
Peter Vasey, Director, Marketing, APJ
With a passion for cybersecurity, Peter has spent more than 20 years in the IT industry helping to educate the market regarding solutions from the likes of Cisco, Symantec and LastPass. Peter joined BeyondTrust in 2021, responsible for APJ marketing, and is a member of the Australian Information Security Association (AISA).