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Ransomware Attack Leaves Some Companies WannaCrying Over Technical Debt

The outbreak of a virulent strain of ransomware, alternately known as WannaCry or WannaCrypt, is finally winding down. A form of malware, the WannaCry attack exploited certain vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows and infected hundreds of thousands of Windows computers worldwide.  As the dust begins to settle, the conversation inevitably turns to what could have been done to prevent it.

The first observation is that most organizations could have been protected simply by following best practices—most notably, the regular installation of known security and critical patches that help to minimize vulnerabilities. WannaCry was not an exotic “zero day” incident. The patch for the underlying vulnerabilities (MS17-010) has been available since March. Companies like 2nd Watch maintain a regular patch schedule to protect their systems from these and similar attacks. It should be noted that due to the prolific nature of this malware and the active attack vectors, 2nd Watch is requiring that all Windows systems must be patched by 5/31/2017.

Other best practices include:

  • Maintaining support contracts for out-of-date operating systems
  • Enabling firewalls, in addition to intrusion detection and prevention systems
  • Proactively monitoring and validating traffic going in and out of the network
  • Implementing security mechanisms for other points of entry attackers can use, such as email and websites
  • Deploying application control to prevent suspicious files from executing in addition to behavior monitoring that can thwart unwanted modifications to the system
  • Employing data categorization and network segmentation to mitigate further exposure and damage to data
  • Backing up important data. This is the single, most effective way of combating ransomware infection. However, organizations should ensure that backups are appropriately protected or stored off-line so that attackers can’t delete them.

 

The importance of regularly scheduled patching and keeping systems up-to-date cannot be overemphasized. It may not be sexy, but it is highly effective.

All of these recommendations seem simple enough, but why did the outbreak spread so quickly if the vulnerabilities were known and patches were readily available? It spread because the patches were released for currently supported systems, but the vulnerability has been present in all versions of Windows dating back to Windows XP. For these older systems – no longer supported by Microsoft but still widely used – the patches weren’t there in the first place. One of the highest profile victims, Britain’s National Health Service, discovered that 90 percent of NHS trusts run at least one Windows XP device, an operating system Microsoft first introduced in 2001 and hasn’t supported since 2014. In fact, it was only because of the high-profile nature of this malware that Microsoft took the rare step this week of publishing a patch for Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Windows 8.

This brings us to the challenging topic of “technical debt”—the extra cost and effort to continue using older technology. The WannaCry/WannaCrypt outbreak is simply the most recent teachable moment about those costs.

A big benefit of moving to cloud computing is its ability to help rid one’s organization of technical debt. By migrating workloads into the cloud, and even better, by evolving those workloads into modern, cloud-native architectures, the issue of supporting older servers and operating systems is minimized. As Gartner pointed out in the 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Public Cloud Infrastructure Managed Service Providers, Worldwide, through 2018, the cloud managed service market will remain relatively immature, and more than 75% of fully successful implementations will be delivered by highly skilled, forward-looking, boutique managed service providers with a cloud-native, DevOps-centric service delivery approach, like 2nd Watch.  A free download of the report can be found here.

Partners like 2nd Watch can also help reduce your overall management cost by tailoring solutions to manage your infrastructure in the cloud. The best practices mentioned above can be automated in many environments– regular patching, resource isolation, traffic monitoring, etc. – are all done for you so you can focus on your business.

Even more important, companies like 2nd Watch help ensure the ongoing optimization of your workloads, both from a cost and a performance point of view. The life-cycle of optimization and modernization of your cloud environments is perhaps the single grea mechanism to ensure that you never take on and retain high levels of technical debt.

 

-John Lawler, Sr Product Manager

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