SingHealth Cyber-Attack: Just Another Brick in the Wall?

Brian Chappell
July 27th, 2018

SingHealth Cyber-Attack

The habit of building walls around our infrastructure and assuming that will be enough, the Fortress Mentality, is well understood and should be something that’s only a small part of our overall cybersecurity strategy. It’s clear, however, from the many high-profile cybercriminal attacks that it’s still being used in many environments. Healthcare organizations continue to be a source of concern. While it’s hard to find a hospital or clinic you can walk into without being directed to use the hand cleaner on the wall, it’s still relatively easy for hackers to gain access to their environments as IT has been a secondary focus in these environments, cybersecurity has (until recently) been even further down the list.

The recent attack on SingHealth, the largest healthcare group in Singapore, reinforces the common attack vector we are seeing everywhere. The initial entry is made via a relatively unprivileged workstation, i.e. someone’s desktop, and from there access to a privileged account is obtained often through cached credentials on the system. It often overlooked that when a Domain Administrator logs into a Windows desktop, for example, to provide support that the credentials for that account are cached on the system. When those systems are also either not kept up to date with patches and updates or even found to be running unsupported operating system versions, it’s relatively easy to find a vulnerability that will give the appropriate access to those cached credentials and then we are into a classic Pass-the-hash attack.

Early data for the SingHealth breach seems to indicate this kind of attack vector although it’s being identified as a very targeted attack by a state-sponsored group.

This can be addressed through some smart approaches to managing cybersecurity that not only increase protection but also help simplify the security model, making management, planning, and response much easier and more effective.

Starting by addressing the vulnerabilities with known exploits will, in many cases, reduce the attack surface significantly as even state-sponsored hackers use hacking toolkits. It’s rare to find attacks making use of entirely new vulnerabilities without published exploits as it’s a lot of work. While there are occasional, highly-targeted attacks, the vast majority are the result of well-known exploits and entirely preventable. Make sure your vulnerability management solution (VMS) allows you to quickly identify those vulnerabilities with well-known exploits and provide you with clear information on how to fix them. Retina CS Enterprise Vulnerability Management does just that.

Once the hacker has access to a highly-privileged account there is only one way to address that and prevent a Pass-the-hash attack, make sure the privileged account credentials have changed since they were cached. Use of a privileged password management solution, such as PowerBroker Password Safe, ensures that each time a privileged credential (like a Domain Administrator account) is used the password will be changed rendering those cached credentials useless.

Two simple steps that can be taken to help you avoid being tomorrows headline without impacting your productivity or breaking the bank. Cybersecurity is definitely a function of your organization that should be approached as “Why wouldn’t you do it” rather than “Why would you”.  For a customized strategy session, contact us today.

Brian Chappell

Brian has more than 20 years of senior level IT enterprise experience in a career that has spanned high-tech multi-nationals, including Amstrad plc, BBC Television and Xircom Inc. He has held technical IT roles including International Operations Manager for Cidera Inc. and Global IT Consultant for GlaxoSmithKline. Brian leads the Technical Services arm of BeyondTrust across the EMEAI & APAC regions. His role ensures the delivery of world-class technical services of BeyondTrust’s leading vulnerability management and least privilege platform, to some of the largest organisations in the world.