Your Network Has Been Locked: What I Learned at ILTACON 2022

It was wonderful to meet with you all! Last week was the first fully in-person annual educational conference of the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) since 2019. ILTACON is truly an event of peer-to-peer sharing. Many of the members have relationships dating back decades. Having an in-person event again was fantastic.

Security was one of the most in-demand topics. There were sessions on phishing, ransomware, breaches, and solutions. Here are three takeaways from sessions which I attended on what to do when a breach occurs. Note: I am not a cybersecurity expert. These are commonsense points which anyone can learn from.

Darkside Ransomware Email – Source: Acronis
  1. First Call

At 10 PM on Saturday night, Asher in Support gets a call from an attorney who says, “I’m looking at a screen which says, ‘Your network has been locked!'” Asher was educated to escalate any such messages immediately. Let’s assume that this message gets to the CIO within minutes.

Who does the CIO call first?

  • Is it a contracted or pre-vetted cybersecurity services provider?
  • Is it the cybersecurity insurance carrier?

In a session which included both a panelist from a top cybersecurity services provider and a panelist from a major cybersecurity insurance carrier, each argued that they should be the first call. Each may have distinct objectives.

The cybersecurity insurance carrier will immediately send in their SWAT team. This expertise may be quite welcome at the law firm. A good carrier will bring great expertise to bear. At the same time, law firms report that when the insurance carrier team arrives, they lose control of the process. The firm IT team may be sidelined, by contract. The insurance company may have as its top priority forensics. One of their objectives is to discover if the law firm were out of compliance with the policy.

The cybersecurity services company will also send in their SWAT team and bring great expertise and experience to bear. If the firm has vetted the services company their objectives should be aligned with the law firm’s.

Objectives include stopping exfiltration of firm data and business continuity. Law firms will want to safely get back to business-as-usual as quickly as possible.

2. Breach Counsel

One of the first things that the cybersecurity insurance carrier will do is to get their breach counsel engaged in the process so that communications are privileged. Law firms are uniquely positioned to get their own attorneys involved. Whether it is the insurance carrier’s attorney or a firm attorney, involve an attorney on all communications immediately. There will be public communications following the breach and perhaps legal action. Need I say more?

3. CIO Fiat to Shut Down Systems

When there is a breach, time is of the essence. Data may still be exfiltrating. While no law firm wants to do so, the best action may be to shut down all systems immediately. The moment when the firm’s data is flowing out to the hackers is not a good time to educate and negotiate with the firm’s executive team regarding shutting down systems. The CIO should have clear authority in advance to shut down systems.

Bonus: Have a Plan

Your firm is a target. Services, like Dark Utilities, make it easy for hackers to to set up a command center (C2) for malicious operations. Prices for C2-as-a-Service start at EUR 9.99. Easy, inexpensive tools mean that firms of any size are a target for “drive-by” attacks.

Even while your full incident recovery program is in development, it’s time well-spent to have a plan for the three points above in order to respond quickly.

One of the benefits of ILTACON is that we learn what has worked for other law firms in real world settings. Each firm should assess their own response plan.

See you in Orlando at #ILTACON23!

-Maureen

2021. It’s not farewell. Ransomware, Unicorns, Profits, and Work from Home

While we may be happy to wave au revoir to 2021, one midnight does not change world circumstances. I think that the following four trends that are not likely to go away in 2022.

  1. Our most popular blog post in 2021, by a factor of 10, was this post by our CEO, Seth Hallem, on the REvil vulnerability and the ensuing ransomware. Many IT and security people were kept busy over the July 4th weekend with the Kaseya VSA exploit. More law firms and more businesses overall were hit with ransomware than the public is aware of. At the risk of stating the obvious, this will only grow going forward.
  2. Unicorns, IPOs, M & A, and healthy funding rounds were undefeated by the pandemic. We covered the capital infusion in #legaltech here.
  3. Early in 2021, we learned from Thomson Reuters that Big and Mid sized Law had been very profitable in pandemic burdened 2020. Work from home meant more billable hours. Legal IT departments got attorney up and running from home in quite literally a weekend. In early 2021 the question was, would work from home end as quickly as it had begun? The profits lead one to conclude that it would not. The Delta and Omicron variants in 2021 ensured no quick ending.
  4. Finally, in the fall of 2021 companies such as Apple and Big Law firms were gearing up for early January or February 2022 “return to the office” dates. Then Omicron swept through the globe. Now all bets are off for when, and if, companies will return to the office.

Some good, some not so good. Overall, we can be grateful for the healthy demand for legal services and that so much of legal work can be done remotely.

I wish you the best for 2022!

-Maureen

REvil has struck again. What can we do? Design for explicit access.

At a glance… 

  • Kaseya VSA is used by IT organizations and many Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to track IT assets and to deliver software installations and patches to a network of endpoint nodes.  
  • Over the 4th of July weekend, a ransomware attack perpetrated by the REvil gang and its affiliates was delivered through the Kaseya VSA remote management software.  
  • Each Windows node on the network runs a Kaseya agent, which is responsible for downloading and installing patches and software packages from the VSA server. It is common practice for an MSP to use a single VSA server to manage all of the MSP’s client networks, meaning that one compromised VSA server can create a downstream impact on hundreds of individual businesses. 
  • 1,500 businesses may be effected. 

The fascinating anatomy of the hack 

REvil’s successful hack began with an SQL injection attack against the VSA server. The attacked VSA servers were exposed to the Internet, presumably to allow for remote access to the VSA server by an MSP’s employees. An SQL injection attack was crafted by the hackers to (a) bypass authentication, (b) upload a file, and (c) inject a command to distribute a malicious software patch. This software patch was then dutifully downloaded by Kaseya agents installed on Windows endpoints attached to the compromised VSA server. The technical details of how this was accomplished are explained quite clearly in this article by Sophos

The hack itself is fascinating from a technical perspective in multiple ways. First, an authentication bypass renders an entire stack of security technology (authentication providers and MFA) entirely irrelevant. There is no password guessing or credential stealing involved in this attack. Second, the MSP model where client networks are intermingled in a single VSA instance is inherently dangerous in that a single compromised server (whether it be a via a 0-day exploit or a more traditional stolen credential) can spread malicious software across many disparate organizations, geographies, and networks. Third, it is perturbing that a piece of software like the VSA server was directly exposed to the Internet. The lack of any intervening, independent authentication (e.g., a VPN or IIS authentication using certificates or Kerberos) places an inordinate amount of trust in the security architecture of a single piece of software (the VSA server). 

In general, the best way to mitigate hacks of all varieties is to apply a few principles: 

  1. Keep independent networks as separate as possible, and always require authentication to move between them. 
  1. Authenticate users and devices in layers that rely on disparate software stacks. Software is built by humans, and humans make mistakes that cause security vulnerabilities. Using independent software stacks to layer together multiple forms of authentication ensures that a hacker has to find multiple, independent mistakes that are exploitable in conjunction. 
  1. Because there is still no perfect way to prevent endpoint attacks from happening, effective endpoint protection is essential. The Kaseya exploit relied on anti-virus exceptions on the endpoint to allow a malicious file to be downloaded, decoded into an executable, and run via a shell command. This malicious executable then executed a side loading attack to actually launch the encryption process. Effective anomaly detection could have shut down the encrypting process before it got too far, and an alternative approach to using an anti-virus exception would have stopped the attack when it tried to execute the downloaded executable. 

A collective reconsideration of how we protect networks and endpoints is overdue 

This latest attack from REvil confirms the obvious – the business of ransomware is here to stay. Whether it is REvil, a spinoff from REvil, or an entirely new organization that is inspired by REvil’s success, a collective reconsideration of how we protect networks and endpoints is overdue. It has become standard practice to disable security software in order to enable functionality, rather than demanding the opposite – that software declare its intended behaviors in order to enable security software to detect anomalous behavior. 

A system of specific access vs. access to the entire network 

Our LINK system is architected with this last principle in mind. Rather than assume that all mobile devices need access to the company network (e.g., via VPN), LINK assumes that only a small number of applications and data repositories should be mobilized. To configure LINK, IT specifies exactly what intranet applications, email servers, and file repositories (Document Management Systems, One Drive, SMB shares, etc.) should be accessible from a mobile device, and this specification is role-based so that IT can take a pessimistic approach to mobile access (i.e., you can’t access anything unless permission is explicitly granted to you). LINK also uses multiple, independent layers of authentication – SSL certificates to authenticate the device, then traditional password-based authentication if the SSL authentication succeeds. Finally, each LINK installation acts as its own certificate authority for the purposes of SSL authentication. Hence, stealing a certificate for one installation does not grant access to any other installations. 

As we expand LINK beyond mobile, our goal is to promote a different approach to endpoint computing. This approach starts with the idea that users, applications and data need to be integrated explicitly, rather than implicitly. This creates a work environment that is easily encapsulated, encrypted, and protected with limited entry points and exit points to move data in and out of this environment. While no approach is perfect, the more explicit we are about how users, applications, and data interact, the better chance we have to stop the ransomware business before it expands any further. 

-Seth Hallem, CEO & Co-founder, Mobile Helix