What’s better for getting your business’ name out there and boosting sales than having a killer business marketing plan with well-placed ads, zippy copy, and a slick design?
The answer is: having a group of dedicated real-world customers who use their own platforms to advocate for your business and its offerings.
Thanks to social media, reviewing platforms, and the steady rise of online presence, your customers have numerous avenues in today’s internet to help make (or break) your brand. Discerning prospective customers don’t trust faceless brands with no reviews. In increasingly saturated markets, one of the best ways to build your brand is not to advertise to your customers, but to turn them into advocates for your brand and services.
What’s the difference between advocacy and community?
Although they may go hand in hand, an advocacy program isn’t the same as a user community. User communities are more about connecting all of your end customers with one another, your teams, and the resources they need to be successful with your products; and about giving them an active forum to find support, both from their peers and your teams. But an advocacy program should be more selective about its members. Sure, at first, you may be happy just to get people involved so you can get your program off the ground; but the ideal customer for your advocacy program isn’t just an average user with little investment in the product. Instead, it’s someone whom you can recognize as a power user; someone who is invested in the success of your product as being integral to their own success, and will, therefore, be more likely to help evangelize your wins and also bring enhancement requests, unanticipated requirements, bugs, and other worthwhile concerns to your attention.
But how do you find these people? How do you keep them engaged once you do find them? And what does it look like to build an advocacy program that actually works for you and that your customers genuinely want to be a part of? We checked in with Emma Furtado, customer advocacy manager at Carbonite + Webroot, OpenText companies, for her take on the best tips to turn your savviest customers into your loyal advocacy partners who can’t wait to spread the word about your amazing products and efforts.
Top 4 Tips for Building a Successful Customer Advocacy Program
Tip #1: Take your time.
According to Emma, step one is recognizing that doing anything right takes time. “You can’t build a successful advocacy program overnight,” she clarifies, “you’ll need to have at least one employee, maybe even a team, depending on the size of your business and program goals, dedicated to research and relationship-building. You should also think about coordinating across teams. Very few customers want to be cold-called to take part in an advocacy program. Take advantage of the relationships your sales reps and engineers have already built; start working with them to identify power users and have them make an introduction so that you don’t have to start building the relationship entirely from scratch.”
Tip #2: Figure out your goals.
Sometimes in business, we end up with the desire to do something without fully understanding why it’s necessary or what it can do for us. “The point of an advocacy program isn’t to just being able to say you have one,” Emma explains. “It needs to be doing something for you and for your advocates. So, start with the basics around your own needs. Are you trying to build brand awareness, get stronger product feedback, or something else? Ask yourself how this program could boost efforts that your team is already working towards. After you fully outline why you’re doing it, you can start determining realistic goals, deliverables, and KPIs to measure the progress of your program. And once you have those pieces in place, you can start working to determine how best to engage with your customers to develop the kind of program that can achieve those goals.”
Tip #3: Hand-pick your members
As mentioned previously, when your program is in its infancy, you might choose to have a sort of volunteer enrollment phase just to get people in the proverbial door. But Emma warns that, to actually meet your objectives, you need to make sure you’re bringing in customers who will work with you and make good brand advocates. “Not every customer meets that criteria, and that’s okay. Each customer will want to engage with us differently. Your job here is to identify the people who would make good advocates and be willing to be active for your brand in one way or another. A good place to start is by looking for folks who are already engaged in customer-facing programs, such as product betas; who have already provided a Net Promoter Score (NPS); who recently responded to a survey; and/or people who are already active in your industry through blogs or social media.”
Tip #4: Give customers incentives, not bribes.
It sounds rational to entice advocates to your program with exclusive swag or even free software. That’s not the worst thing you could do; but quality brand advocates are the ones who do it to get the word out, help their fellow IT pro, and improve the products we all use, regardless of whether they have a sweet, company-branded vacuum-insulated stainless steel tumbler for their morning coffee. “A good advocacy program isn’t about getting any old kind of engagement with your wider audience,” Emma says, “it’s about creating a mutually beneficial situation between your business and a select group of highly-invested power users. Those users aren’t doing it for the swag. They’re doing it because they believe in your mission; or because they love your products and want to help guild your roadmap; or because they feel they represent unique concerns and feel an obligation to share that voice; or because they want chances to increase their own expertise or presence in the space. There are so many reasons that have nothing to do with free stuff.”
While customer advocacy can’t entirely replace your normal marketing spend line items, creating an advocate program can make all the traditional line items significantly more effective. It is an exciting and important opportunity to level up your marketing efforts by identifying and leaning on your brand evangelists, who effectively share the marketing burden with you.
“Figure out where your advocates are and go there. Talk to them about their businesses and goals. Show them you’re invested in their success, with or without your products. You’ll have an advocate for life.”– Emma Furtado, customer advocacy manager, Carbonite + Webroot, OpenText companies
Keep in mind: an advocate program cannot succeed as a siloed effort. Customer advocacy works best when it supports your marketing efforts and product development. You can use the real-world customer input to inform your understanding of how customers want to be interacted with, improving the success of marketing programs and return on spend. Additionally, you can use the same feedback forum to guide how you use marketing and product development resources and pivot quickly on a leaner budget. By tailoring the overall customer journey to best serve their unique preferences and needs at each stage, you demonstrate to your base how highly you value their input. Ultimately, these actions serve to build a better experience for the customer overall, i.e., better reputation, brand recognition, and market posture for you.
Typically, when cryptocurrency values change, one would expect to see changes in crypto-related cybercrime. In particular, trends in Bitcoin values tend to be the bellwether you can use to predict how other currencies’ values will shift, and there are usually corresponding shifts in crypto-based crime, such as ransomware, though it’s not necessarily the kind of change you might predict.
According to Tyler Moffitt, senior threat researcher and resident crypto expert, “whatever Bitcoin does, the altcoins are going to follow. When [Bitcoin] crashes, the rest crash.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see big spikes in ransomware or cryptojacking. In fact, Moffitt states, because Bitcoin is known for being fairly volatile, it can undermine any direct effect on, say, the amount demanded in a ransomware scheme. It’s very possible for a Bitcoin ransom to lose value over time due to market flux, making it less profitable than it might otherwise appear.
So, what’s the real story? As we see cryptocurrency values rise and fall, how should we interpret shifts in the threats we can expect to see? Is it safe for ordinary folks to try to get into the crypto market, or does that just give malicious actors another method to scam and steal from you?
Get answers to these questions and more in this informative Hacker Files podcast with Joe Panettieri, in which he and Tyler Moffitt discuss the ins and outs of crypto, what the market looks like, how it actually affects cybercrime, and what everyone from crypto novices and to bigtime enthusiasts need to know.
Although cybercriminal activity throughout 2020 was as innovative as ever, some of the most noteworthy threat activity we saw came from the old familiar players, namely ransomware, business email compromise (BEC) and phishing. According to the 2021 Webroot BrightCloud® Threat Report, each of these threat types saw significant fluctuations as people all over the world shifted to working, studying, and doing everything else online. Here are some of the findings from the report.
One of the newer trends we saw in ransomware was that of data extortion. Believed to have been started by the Maze ransomware group, the data extortion trend involves not just encrypting business’ data and holding it for ransom, but in fact threatening to expose the compromised data if the victims refuses to pay. This new ransomware business model specifically targets sensitive data to increase the likelihood of payment.
Unfortunately, there’s little a targeted business can do in these situations. If they don’t pay up, their data might be disclosed publicly or otherwise misused. And, depending on what kind of data has been compromised, the consequences of exposure could include costly fines for violating privacy regulations like GDPR and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). These fines can really add up, starting at $100 per customer per record lost and going up to flat percentages of revenue.
As if the ransom cost and regulatory fines aren’t enough, there’s also the cost of other ransomware fallout, such as downtime and time to recover. Universal Healthcare Services reportedly suffered three weeks of downtime after its September 2020 ransomware incident, resulting in a $67 million loss of revenue. Finally, there’s the question of the brand’s reputation and customer trust, which could be so irreparably damaged that the business might not survive.
As the data extortion trend took off, we also saw massive payouts to ransomware actors.
- The attackers who hit Foxconn demanded ~1804 Bitcoin ($34 million at the time) to prevent the data they’d stolen from being publicly exposed.
- Malicious actors infected Garmin’s systems with ransomware and required (and reportedly received) $10 million to destroy the stolen data.
- By September 2020, the average ransom payment peaked at $233,817.
“In most cases, ransomware isn’t the beginning of a compromise. It’s actually the end state, where the criminals cash in after an extended period. By the time you realize you’ve got ransomware on your network, the criminals may have been in there, watching, listening, and tampering with things for weeks or months without your knowledge. They might’ve even checked out your financials, so they know what kind of ransom to demand.”
– Kelvin Murray, Sr. Threat Research Analyst
Business email compromise (BEC)
BEC typically targets commercial, government, and nonprofit organizations by impersonating a senior colleague, IT team member, vendor, or trusted customer. In most scenarios, the malicious actor contacts the victim via email under the pretense of requesting money (especially via wire transfer or pre-paid gift card), provide credentials, or release sensitive data.
BEC relies pretty heavily on the inherent trust of employees in their management teams, fellow colleagues, and customers. But with so many invoices and payment requests that occur as part of the daily operations in any businesses, it can be quite easy for attackers to sneak a fake one in.
From the example above, you might not think much of the consequences of this type of attack. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not always a matter of a few $50 or $100 gift cards; it could just as easily be a legitimate-looking vendor invoice for tens of thousands of dollars. BEC remains a very lucrative business; the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) got 19,369 BEC complaints in 2020, resulting in adjusted losses of $1.8 billion!
“Like phishing prevention, successfully preventing BEC involves a combination of robust training for end users and appropriately designed and publicized business policies around how to handle financial or technical requests.” – Grayson Milbourne, Security Intelligence Director
Phishing is still one of the most popular ways (if not the most popular) to get ransomware and other types of malware into a business’ network. Getting a victim to fall for a phishing attack is often the first step, which gives attackers a jumping off point to perform reconnaissance on the network, acquire any necessary credentials, interfere with protection measures and backup schedules, deploy malware payloads, and more — and then they get to decide what to do with any data they steal at their leisure.
COVID-19 definitely affected phishing in very visible ways. For example, the majority of phishing lures we spotted throughout the year pretended to offer information on the pandemic, COVID-19 tracking, protection measures and PPE, and more, often purporting to be from reputable sources like the CDC or WHO. There were also numerous malicious spam (malspam) emails claiming to provide details on stimulus checks and vaccines.
The rates of phishing attacks throughout 2020 largely coincided with the early months of the pandemic. Attacks increased 510% from January to February, with eBay and Apple the brands most often targeted (we believe these numbers were due to buyers increasingly looking online as product shortages and technology needs arose). Attack volume continued to grow into March, then dropped off as we moved into the summer months. A more modest spike occurred in the months leading up to the U.S. election, up 34% from September to October, and another 36% from October to November.
Here are a few of the other phishing stats that stand out.
- From March to July, during the initial lockdown phase in the U.S., phishing URLs targeting Netflix jumped 646%. Other popular streaming services saw similar spikes at corresponding times.
- By the end of 2020, 54% of phishing sites used HTTPS, indicating that checking for the lock icon in your browser’s address bar is no longer an adequate way to gauge if a website is legitimate or not.
Cybercriminals certainly didn’t sit 2020 out, but it’s not all gloom and doom. In fact, there were numerous cybersecurity achievements throughout the year that work to the benefit of businesses and individuals everywhere. Security researchers and analysts have been working hard to identify and neutralize new threats the moment they’re encountered. More businesses are adopting robust backup and disaster recovery plans to remain resilient in the face of downtime, planned or unplanned. Operating systems and web browsers are improving their built-in security to stop threats sooner in the attack cycle. Phishing simulations and security awareness training for employees continue to improve business security postures by major percentages (up to 72%, per the report). Nations and companies are working together to break down cybercriminal infrastructure. Even malware (for the moment) is trending gently downward. It’s clear from our findings that, with the right backup, training, and security layers working together to form a united defense against cyber threats, businesses and individuals can achieve true resilience, no matter what threatens.
At Webroot, we could go on and on about user experience (UX) design. The study of the way we interact with the tools we use has spawned entire industries, university programs and professions. A Google Scholar search of the term returns over 300 thousand results. Feng Shui, Leonardo Davinci and Walt Disney are all described as important precedents for modern UX.
Just to say: it’s something software companies spend a fair amount of time thinking about, even cybersecurity companies.
April 27 marks the release of the re-designed Webroot business console, and our team of UX designers had plenty to think about in terms of inspiration for our first major business management console re-design in more than 10 years. Ultimately, it was decided that console’s facelift would be guided by the principal of “human-centered design,” or HCD.
The International Standards Organization describes HCD as “an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, and usability knowledge and techniques.”
Ultimately, human-centered design entails giving people the tools they need to accomplish what they set out to. It can refer to designing products to help individuals overcome their disabilities or making sure a driver feels like he’s behind the wheel of an Indy Car every time the engine turns over. As CIO puts it, “human-centered design focuses on the human first.”
HCD and the new Webroot management console
The humans we put first are our users. More specifically, in terms of our business products, managed service providers (MSPs) and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). These groups have varying pain points they need addressed by our software. MSPs tend to need multi-site, multi-tenant capabilities for managing many clients, whereas SMBs typically require a simplified console that’s easy to use. So, in accordance with HCD, we’ll be releasing a separate console for each.
That’s not the only way we considered the user in refreshing our console though. Our UX and product management teams directly discussed desired improvements with more than 50 top users and incorporated feedback from hundreds of users through the Community, wire frames, usability tests and conversations. Enhancements were made based on this customer research.
All this led to a cleaner, more intuitively designed management console that we hope puts the needs of the user first. It’s our hope that HCD will make the lives of our business customers easier, removing some of the barriers they encounter with the software they use to make their clients and businesses more secure.
For more release details, specific improvements made and screenshots of the new console, download the full product bulletin here.
Pen testing is the art of attempting to breach an organization’s network, computers and systems to identify possible means of bypassing their defenses. It’s an “art” because there is no one-size-fits-all method or process. Testers need a variety of skills, knowledge and tools to make the attempt.
Most testers are hackers trying to use their skills legitimately, technical administrators, network administrators or just computer enthusiasts who enjoy trying to undermine IT security stacks. Many testers are jacks-of-all trades (and masters of them all). Their primary goal is to succeed in getting past defenses and report on their findings. An MSPs intention is to NOT allow this to happen by putting up the right security posture through layered defenses.
So it’s easy to see how the relationship can quickly become adversarial. But there are ways pen testing organizations can help MSPs. Before we get to that, more details on types of pen tests.
Types of testing
An issue with pen testing is a lack of standard operating procedures. No one company performs the tests the same way. Testers are fallible actors with certain skills they apply to circumvent defenses. While testers and testing organizations are usually highly skilled, they are not all knowing. Trust, but verify.
So, what types of testing methods are there? While standardization is scarce and pen testing is pretty much a Wild West environment, there are some common methods and approaches. These can be broken down into two categories: Blue Teams and Red Teams.
(Tools are varied and not important until the tester discovers or knows what type, brand or systems are present. In other words, tools are specific to the environment.)
With Blue Teams, “tester” has some information about the network, computers and organization that they’re pitted against. They know how things are set up and are there as more of an audit/report type tester rather than a malicious hacker.
Blue Teams can be anyone inside or outside the organization. However, in the MSP community, the Blue Teams are usually the technicians responsible for establishing the layered security defenses and then verifying their effectiveness. They’re the internal folks that are standing up various tools to block bad actors from encroaching or breaching their network, computers and systems.
Here’s where it can get murky and why you should always insist on more information about ay client’s pen test. Pen testing can be an outside organization performing a Blue Team activity and their report can be communicated as a Pen Test Failure. Trust, but verify.
Red Team testers have no idea about the organization they’re testing against and must figure out the technology, network, computers and systems before doing anything. These are true hackers starting from nothing. They may use social engineering to conduct reconnaissance, they may google employees, use LinkedIn or any other publicly available information to gain a foothold with the organization before they write one line of code.
This is real penetration testing, as they make the attempt to access networks, computes and systems of the identified organization they’re testing against. When a Red Team reports its findings on why and how they were able to breach a client, it’s time to pay attention.
Should you put a Penetration Testing company on retainer?
So, now that we’ve established some high-level perimeters, how should MSPs engage with pen testers?
First, it’s important to learn everything you can about your tools. The mantra of a strong security posture is ‘know your tools inside and out.’
But don’t stop there. Rather than stand up the layers of the latest cool tools and cross your fingers no pen tester hits a client with a failing report, be proactive. Learn about the penetration testing market, find a good pen testing company with strong credentials and engage with them. With security concerns exploding over the past few years, pen testing should be considered an essential tool for validating your effort and spend on the security stack. So get to know the good ones.
Again, many MSP view third-party pen testing organizations as the enemy. Instead, engage with pen testing organizations to test your own defenses before issues affect your customers.
Here are a few tips for improving your business’s relationships with pen testers:
- Pen test your own network, computers and systems. If you want to know how good your “Blue Team” is, put their feet to the fire and have a solid, reputable third-party pen testing organization attempt to breach your own defenses. Learn all you can about their methods and findings, then review and adjust.
- Work with the pen test organization as a potential revenue opportunity. Work out an agreement that lets you as the MSP provide work and opportunity through your own customer network. You act as the lead generator and offer their services as an adjunct to your own.
- When customers come along with a report that you were not involved, ask questions about how the test was conducted and then offer your own services to proactively verify their report.
Now that you know the basics of pen testing and how they can be used constructively, here’s a question: what happens when a customer fails a pen test? We’ll answer that question in an upcoming post.
In the United States, there are approximately 350,000 companies contracting for the Department of Defense. Each of these companies have to meet varying degrees of compliance and are now subject to the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). Effectively, CMMC means that before a DoD contractor can execute on their contract, they have to receive an independent, third-party verification certifying whether they meet the correct security and compliance criteria. The process is expensive and it’s pass/fail.
F1 Solutions, an MSP based in Huntsville, Alabama, has been working to align their security stack to the CMMC guidelines to help ensure that all of their customers, whether DoD contractors or otherwise, benefit from the comprehensive level of security the regulation requires. DNS protection, in particular, is a must-have under these rules. With over 5,000 endpoints under management, F1 has set itself quite a task. But with cyber resilience solutions from Webroot in their security stack, they’re up to the challenge.
“Of all our clients on our full stack (about 140), we’ve never had a client fall victim to cryptojacking or any significant virus, for that matter, unless the system was not using part or all of our stack or being managed by us. That’s pushing 5,000 endpoints, including all servers, terminal servers, Macs and PCs.” – James VanderWier, CEO, F1 Solutions
Hear how F1’s overall security and compliance offering changed for the better since they made the switch to Webroot endpoint security solutions in F1 CEO James VanderWier’s video testimonial.
Watch the video: https://vimeo.com/487018201
“It is a nightmare. Do all you can to prevent ransomware.”
– A survey respondent
Many businesses are hesitant to talk about their experiences with ransomware. It can be uncomfortable to cop being hit. Whether it’s shame at not doing more to prevent it, the risk of additional bad publicity from discussing it or some other reason, companies tend to be tight-lipped about these types of breaches.
By offering anonymity in exchange for invaluable quantitative and qualitative data, Webroot and professional researchers surveyed hundreds of business leaders and IT professionals about their experiences with ransomware attacks.
Perhaps the most surprising finding from our survey, and certainly one that presents broader implications for those involved, is that the ransom demanded by attackers is only a small part of the loss that accompanies these crimes. There are also lost hours of productivity, reputational suffering, neutralized customer loyalty, data that remains unrecoverable with or without paying a ransom and the general sense of unfairness that comes with being the victim of a crime.
Our ransomware report seeks to quantify these knock-on effects of ransomware to the extent possible. We looked at the value of a brand and how likely customers are to remain loyal to one after their data is compromised in a breach. We studied the relationship between the time to detection of the incident and its cost. We added up the labor cost spent during remediation.
But we were also interested in real people’s stories concerning their run-ins with ransomware. What advice would they give to those who may find themselves in their same position? Respondents talked about the inevitability of attack, the relief when frequent backups mitigate the worst effects of ransomware, the importance of a plan, and advised against the payment of ransoms.
Finally, we provide advice for defending against or at least reducing the disruptive impact of ransomware attacks. As a security company, it won’t be surprising that we recommend things like endpoint and network security. But it goes deeper than that. We stress the importance of empowering users with the knowledge of what they’re up against and implementing multiple layers of defense.
Most importantly – no matter how comprehensive or scattershot a business’s protection is – is that that it’s are in place before it’s needed. During the fight is not the time to be building battlements. If your organization has avoided the scourge of ransomware so far, that’s excellent. But IT administrators and other decision-makers shouldn’t count on their luck holding out forever.
Here are a few of the report’s most enticing findings, but be sure the download the full eBook to access all of the insights it delivers.
- 50% of ransomware demands were more than $50k
- 40% of ransomware attacks consumed 8 or more man-hours of work
- 46% of businesses said their clients were also impacted by the attack
- 38% of businesses said the attack harmed their brand or reputation
- 45% were ransomware victims in both their business and personal lives
- 50% of victims were deceived by a malicious website email link or attachment
- 45% of victims were unaware of the infection for more than 24 hours
- 17% of victims were unable to recover their data, even after paying the ransom
Ransomware attacks generate big headlines when the targets are government entities, universities and healthcare organizations. But there’s one increasingly frequent target of ransomware attacks that tends to slip under the radar. Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have become bigger financial targets for hackers. As Webroot Senior Threat Researcher Kelvin Murray points out in a recent Hacker Files podcast, the SMB sector has become a cash cow for cybercriminals. According to Murray, there are more SMB targets than criminals have time to target, mostly due to inadequate security among SMBs.
Listen to the full episode of the Hacker Files podcast hosted by Joe Panettieri here.
It’s also become far easier for anyone with malign intentions but lacking coding skills to launch attacks. Murray cites the availability of ransomware kits on the dark web that anyone can download and figure out how to launch. Going by the name Ransomware as a Service, these kits reduce the sophistication required for perpetrators to target SMBs and collect hefty ransom payments.
Business email compromise (BEC) is also on the rise. In BEC attacks the perpetrator, pretending to be a colleague or vendor, contacts you under the pretense of requesting payment or disbursement for a seemingly legitimate business purpose. Businesses easily fall for these scams because, with so many invoices and payments occurring on a daily basis, it’s easy to slip a fake one in.
All of this malicious activity points to the need for a layered approach to cybersecurity. This includes essential security measures like firewalls, endpoint protection and DNS protection. And, since even firewalls can be circumvented, it means keeping backups of all business data so you never have to pay a ransom to get your data back.
Attacks like BEC are less about malware and more about manipulating people. This is why security awareness training with phishing simulations are increasingly important. Murray emphasizes that security awareness training is necessary due to the increasing popularity of remote working. While the corporate office is usually equipped with firewalls, DNS protection, corporate logins and security guards at the front door, now that everybody’s working from home, all of those things are absent. In their place you have faulty routers, dodgy setups, people sharing houses with other people and maybe even sharing PCs.
You can listen to the full Hacker Files podcast hosted by Joe Panettieri here.
With investors currently bullish on Bitcoin, is its high value driving cybercriminals to pursue crypto-generating forms of cybercrime like ransomware and illicit miners?
At time of writing, the value of one Bitcoin is north of $58 thousand. Famously volatile, a crash is widely expected to accompany the current bubble, perhaps before the end of 2021. The reason for this volatility is at least partly attributed to an event known as “the halvening,” where the reward generating supply of the cryptocurrency is cut in half, simultaneously increasing demand.
At the same time, the average cost of a ransomware incident is also rising steeply. A study by Palo Alto Networks charted a growth rate of 171 percent in ransoms paid between 2019 and 2020, with the average cost now over $312 thousand. The steepest ransom doubled between 2015 and 2020, from $15 million to $30 million.
An iron law?
So, is it fair to argue that the two trends positively correlated? When the price of Bitcoin rises we should expect ransomware activity to rise with it? Not necessarily, says threat researcher and cryptocurrency expert Tyler Moffitt.
For one, Moffitt cautions it’s important to keep the relative values of U.S. dollars and the various cryptocurrencies in mind when comparing the cost of ransomware. Demanding $50 million in Monero last month for hacking the Taiwanese PC manufacturer Acer and demanding $10 million in Bitcoin for a hack last year will not have netted cybercriminals the same amount. Patient ones, at least.
“Ransomware actors can always grow their demands based on the value of the U.S. dollar,” says Moffitt. “But they have the added benefit of being able grow profits exponentially by riding the Bitcoin market.”
As could be expected with such a volatile asset, these swings sometimes happen quickly. Like when ransomware actors had Baltimore’s public schools between a rock and hard place with WannaCry. The price of Bitcoin had crashed in 2018, but as the ransom demand was on the desk of the city the price surged, sending the total value of the ransom up with it.
In a sense, it’s the volatility of Bitcoin that undermines any direct, positive relationship with ransomware rates. While it’s tempting to see today’s sky-high price and assume cybercriminals would rush to get their slice of that pie, they too know how markets work. It’s possible a ransom of Bitcoin this year could be worth far less next year. For ransomware actors, it’s better to ride out the market, treating their Bitcoin stash like a cybercrime savings plan for aging hackers.
“A lot of ransomware actors aren’t turning their Bitcoin into cash as soon as they get it,” says Moffitt. “Many of them live cheaply on the hope that the $200 million they made in their cybercrime careers will one day net them billions.”
A more direct relationship
Cryptojacking—the process of secretly hijacking a victim’s computing power to generate cryptocurrency—has a much simpler relationship with the value of various currencies. Because miners only collect their currency after doing the work (redirected CPU in this case), it’s only worth doing when values justify it.
“With cryptojacking, we do actually see an increase or decrease in the number of attacks based on its price. So right now, in a bull year when the price keeps rising, you’re going to earn more when you mine,” says Moffitt.
Browser-based cryptojacking uses scripts injected into the webserver, usually by exploiting an unpatched server or capitalizing on an out-of-date WordPress plugin, etc. Then any browser that visits that webpage will mine cryptocurrency using the viewers browser. This attack skyrocketed from its inception in 2017 into 2018.
A watershed moment in browser-based cryptojacking followed the great crypto-crash of 2018 mentioned above. At least according to their official statement, the drop in mining profitability caused the ostensibly-legitimate mining script company Coinhive to shut down in early 2019.
“The ‘crash’ of the crypto currency market, with the value of [Monero] depreciating over 85% in the last year,” was cited by the company as a reason for closing up shop, though some researchers doubt how much truth there is to that claim.
In reality, Coinhive scripts were used by cybercriminals to mine on unsuspecting users’ devices. Researchers at Cornell University discovered that 99 percent of the sites they found running malicious mining scripts were no longer running them following the shutdown of Coinhive.
Its authors concluded, “It became less attractive not only because Coinhive discontinued their service, but also because it became a less lucrative source of income for website owners. For most of the websites, ads are still more profitable than mining.”
Executable-based cryptojacking is when criminals leverage a breach on a machine, whether through phishing, exploits, RDP, and then drop a payload that on execution will use the machines resources to mine crypto. This attack was around before browser-based scripts and is still alive today. In fact, it’s the tactic seeing the most growth during cryptocurrency bull markets.
Monero, a favored cryptocurrency for miners based on its efficiency using consumer-grade devices, witnessed a rebound during this period. Over the course of 2020 and into 2021, the value rose from around $50 to around $250, perhaps explaining why Webroot found 8.9 million cryptojacking scripts in use in 2020.
In summary, both of these crypto-generating schemes require patience from their perpatraitors. When ransomware actors land a big payment from an extorted business, they may be forced to wait out market forces to maximize their earnings. For cryptojackers, profits trickle in over time. First they must determine whether they’re worth the effort and if they too want to play the long game with their take.
“I solemnly swear to back up my important documents and precious memories on March 31st.”
Are you taking the pledge this World Backup Day? Now in its tenth year, World Backup Day remains one of our favorite reminders of the risks of not backing up the data we hold dear.
According to the World Backup Day site, “This independent initiative to raise awareness about backups and data preservation started out — like most good things on the internet – on reddit by a couple of concerned users.”
The day goes beyond reminding businesses and private citizens of what they stand to lose due to device theft, hardware failure and other common forms of data loss. It’s a reminder that more and more of our culture is digital, and some of our greatest achievements reside online. Without them, we risk losing a piece of the very greatness of our civilization. (It’s a lot easier to come to work every day in support of the Carbonite mission when you put it like that.)
Here are some of the threats we’ve recently faced online:
- 121 million ransomware attacks in the first half of 2020 alone, up 20 percent over 20191
- Eighty-nine percent of businesses claim to have been targeted by COVID-19-related malware in 20202
- Phishing attacks claiming to be companies like Netflix, HBO and YouTube skyrocketed early in the pandemic3
Numbers are great, and necessary for showing the scope of the problem, but I wanted to see how data loss—and backups—affect real people. So I reached out to our community for stories about times when backup saved their backsides. Here’s what they had to say.
“In the past six weeks we have had two clients hit with ransomware. We have been able to use our backups to bring up server live environments within 45 minutes and it has saved a lot of time and data.” —David H.
“We managed IT for a remote office of a national law firm. The senior partner worked out of our office, and we had a contract to back up all client data firm-wide, as we felt there were numerous vulnerabilities in their system. One morning at 7 a.m., the server RAID array died, and not only were none of the drives recoverable but their tape backup also had not been working properly for at least six months. After the first few hours of them discovering all the things that did not work, I reminded the partner that we had been backing up their data and had a full, clean back up from six hours before the crash. Our extra backup saved the day!” —David Y.
“Backups saved us from a ransomware attack. We were able to isolate the server with the infected machine and restore our files from a local backup. Total downtime was less than 30 hours.” —PJ
“I have been saved from losing both personal and business data more than once!”—Vasilis
“I was able to use a backup to restore all my client’s data after a ransomware attack. Needless to say, they were very happy!”—Nathan
“We are extremely lucky in the fact that we haven’t had any cyberattacks. We did have an issue when our sever failed, and backup basically saved us.”—Simon
“Having good off-site backups enabled recovery from a large fire which rendered on-site backups useless.”—Warren
“We came in one day to find the office doors busted down and the computers raided. They left the cashbox alone, just stole RAM and hard drives. We were encrypting the hard drives, so we didn’t lose any data to the wild as the encryption couldn’t be cracked. But we were back up and running within two hours from backups alone.” —Sharif
Hardware failure, natural disasters, ransomware, device theft, file corruption—it’s not surprising that all of the most common forms of data loss surfaced when we reached out to our users. Don’t fall victim to them!
Back up your data this March 31 to keep from feeling like a fool come April.
1 SonicWall Capture Labs
2 VMware/Carbon Black Global Threat Report June 2020
3 Webroot RTAP
Last year’s SolarWinds attack and its aftermath have provided numerous lessons concerning the dangers of IT supply chain attacks. Not all apply to every small and medium-sized business—most are unlikely to be targeted by highly trained state-backed hackers with virtually limitless funding—but some will be.
We learned, for instance, that even IT pros could use a refresher on basic password hygiene through security awareness training. A more substantive lesson is the importance of defense in depth, an approach that prioritizes mutually reinforcing layers of security.
In the case of SolarWinds, the Trojanized Orion update was able to elude endpoint security because it was issued by such a trusted source. As we’ve discussed, however, the damage from the compromise could have been limited significantly by using a defense in depth approach backed by leading threat intelligence.
A firewall with the right threat intelligence embedded could have blocked communications with the command-and-control server thus preventing a Trojanized Orion install from connecting back to the attackers and stopping them from furthering the attack. An endpoint DNS solution could have stopped the Trojanized Orion version by refusing to resolve the domain names of the command-and-control servers, again disrupting the infection to the point that no real damage could be done.
This is what we mean when we stress the importance of a layered defense. Take a hypothetical scenario in which the opposite happens, for example. A zero-day threat with no known connection to malicious IPs, files, or other data objects may not be known to the threat intelligence feed informing a network security solution. Once it has made its way to the endpoint, however, it begins to engage in behaviors known to be malicious. Examples include elevating privileges, moving laterally, or trying to establish outbound communications to name a few.
In this case, it is the endpoint security solution’s turn to save the day. If equipped with a rollback or remediation feature, endpoint solutions can not only stop the activity but also remediate the damage already done. These two layers work in concert to pick up the slack left by the other, helping organizations remain resilient against different types of attacks.
Remote work threatens defense in depth
Most larger organizations and a growing number of smaller ones have caught on to the need for layering endpoint and network protection. Firewalls embed threat intelligence and DNS security solutions are used to both block malware and control internet use. But recent events have worked to undermine this growing understanding.
Remote work exploded in 2020 with the advent of COVID-19, rapidly ushering in a new way of working before all of the security details could really be worked out. This presents a new set of stubborn challenges for IT security admins that’s not likely to fade soon. Outside of the corporate firewall, it is the Wild West. Every employee’s home network has a different set of security protocols and internet use is unregulated.
Webroot’s report on COVID-19 work habits found that three out of four people (76%) worldwide admit they use personal devices for work tasks, use work devices for personal tasks, or both. The 2020 Webroot Threat Report also found that personal devices were about twice as likely to encounter a malware infection as business devices. Together these numbers suggest a significant security threat for companies with remote workers.
DNS security solutions are one way of addressing this risk. Installed as an agent on each corporate endpoint, they route traffic through protected DNS servers that can identify, stop and disrupt communications threats. Of course, personal device use still represents a problem for companies not enforcing strict policies against their use. Nevertheless, DNS security remains a way to protect business-issued devices beyond the company network.
The “next one” will look different
Focusing solely on how the SolarWinds attack is not the key to preventing future breaches. The next large supply chain attack will likely look very different than the SolarWinds attack. In fact, other than the infamous CC Cleaner hack of 2017, in which more than 2.3 million users of the computer cleanup software were duped into downloading malware onto their own machines, these types of attacks leveraging trusted but Trojanized updates are relatively rare.
But this fact makes defense in depth more critical, not less. Zero days will continue to be encountered. There is no telling which techniques the next one will employ, so it is important to make use of multiple tools to limit potential damage.
Cybercriminals will continue to undermine individual defenses. Smart organizations will hedge their cybersecurity bets so they are not all overcome at one time.
If your critical systems, website or customer data were suddenly inaccessible due to a cyberattack, how soon would you be able to get back up and running? That’s a question that should be on every business leader’s mind. We’ve written before about cyber resilience and why it’s so important, but in today’s increasingly disruptive threat landscape, it’s more important than ever for managed service providers (MSPs) and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to embrace cyber resilience so they can mitigate disruption.
Threats such as hacking, phishing, ransomware and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are only the tip of the iceberg and have the potential to interrupt critical business operations and cause reputational damage to organizations of all sizes. With attacks such as the SolarWinds security breach making headlines, as well as increasing threats targeting remote workers and taking advantage of COVID-19, MSPs and SMBs must concern themselves with threats that were once only a concern for much larger organizations. To stay resilient, it’s essential that leaders understand how to protect their businesses using a multi-layered approach.
What’s driving the need for cyber resilience?
Cyberattacks are, unfortunately, a matter of “if,” not “when.” Being cyber resilient means that a company has both the ability to prevent attacks and also to mitigate damage and maintain business continuity when systems or data have been compromised. Where cybersecurity focuses more on protecting an organization before an attack has occurred, cyber resilience encompasses an end-to-end approach that keeps the business operating even in the midst and aftermath of an attack.
Without a holistic approach to security and recovery, catastrophic failures can occur. For example, many SMBs rely only on free cybersecurity solutions or eschew security all together. Our data shows only 26% of SMBs deploy enough layers of security to cover their users, networks and devices.
Complicating matters further is the digital disruption that stems from the rapid shift to remote work. The challenge for both MSPs and SMBs is in securing a remote workforce and new, unsecured perimeters, especially across home networks and personal devices, which are already at increased risk for an attack.
SMBs will look to MSPs to achieve cyber resilience
Business leaders have a significant opportunity to bolster confidence in the business through cyber resilience, especially as employees look to management to protect them against increasingly sophisticated threats. According to data from a recent report, only 60% of office workers worldwide believe their company is resilient against cyberattacks. Nearly one in four (23%) admit to not knowing whether their company is resilient, while nearly one in five (18%) flat-out think it isn’t. What’s more, only 14% of office workers worldwide consider cyber resilience to be a responsibility all employees share, meaning that the burden of championing resilience starts with leadership. These statistics indicate a clear gap, and it’s safe to say that many SMBs are grappling with how to keep their businesses safe from cyberattacks.
As prominent attacks and the flow of threats continue, SMBs will look to MSPs to protect their businesses and help them achieve cyber resilience. This creates a unique opportunity for MSPs to guide customers through the maze of cybersecurity and data protection solutions and ensure they are receiving relevant education on protecting the business. MSPs can ensure that customers have defense in depth by offering ongoing security awareness training as well as endpoint protection. Those looking to transition to managed security can lean on Webroot’s training modules and phishing simulations to provide world-class training and monitoring.
It can take a village to prevent cyber threats
While getting support from MSPs is a great stride towards keeping businesses safe, a big piece of the cyber resilience puzzle is teamwork. There’s no single solution or approach that can protect a business, and it really does take a village to protect against today’s cyberattacks. Just as SMBs look to MSPs to become cyber resilient, MSPs can rely on security expertise to fill in the remaining gaps.
Cyber resilience solutions can be custom built for MSPs and their SMB customers, and further tailored to each individual business. By partnering with Webroot and Carbonite, you can offer a customizable set of solutions including endpoint protection, ongoing end user training, threat intelligence, and backup and recovery.
To learn more about cyber resilience and stay up to date on security tips and industry topics, follow our Hacker Files and Lockdown Lessons podcast series.