As the end of the year approaches and business begins to wind down, many of us are shifting into holiday mode. This includes cybercriminals. Why? It’s ransomware season, that’s why. Ransomware isn’t only a significant threat to businesses and institutions, it’s also really lucrative for hackers. According to a report by IBM, the average cost of a data breach is estimated to be $4.24 million and Cybersecurity Ventures predicts global ransomware damage costs will exceed $265 billion by 2031.
So while this time of year can be synonymous with rest and rejuvenation, it also brings a heightened risk of cyber threats, particularly ransomware attacks. And with many cybersecurity professionals already facing a lack of resources and dealing with burnout, it is crucial to recognize and prepare for the unique cybersecurity challenges that come with the holidays. The good news is that businesses that leverage robust identity governance and management practices are at an advantage to those who don’t.
Understanding the Holiday Season's Impact on Cybersecurity
The holidays usher in a perfect storm of conditions that elevate hacking risks for businesses. Increased online activity, a more relaxed atmosphere, decreased staff, and an increase in phishing attempts create an environment ripe for cyber exploitation. Some key factors that lead to elevated risk are:
- Online Activity Surge: The holiday rush sees a significant upsurge in online shopping, banking transactions, and digital interactions. Cybercriminals seize this opportunity to target a larger pool of potential victims.
- Reduced Vigilance: Many organizations operate with reduced staffing during the holiday season, leading to a potential decrease in oversight and slower response times to cyber threats. This dip in vigilance can provide a window of opportunity for attackers.
- Phishing and Social Engineering: The goodwill and generosity that is often on people’s minds during this time of year can easily be translated into holiday themed phishing emails and social engineering tactics. Individuals may unwittingly click on malicious links or open attachments in their rush to do good, providing ransomware attackers with an opening.
Beware of Ransomware
Ransomware can infiltrate an environment through various vectors, exploiting vulnerabilities and lapses in security measures. Some of the most prevalent risks and tactics used by cybercriminals are:
- Phishing Attacks: One of the most common methods involves phishing emails. Employees might receive seemingly legitimate emails containing malicious links or attachments, which, when clicked, execute the ransomware payload.
- Vulnerabilities and Exploits: Outdated software, unpatched systems, or unsecured networks serve as entry points. Attackers exploit known vulnerabilities to gain access and deploy ransomware within the infrastructure.
- Drive-by Downloads: This typically occurs when a user visits a website or interacts with online content that contains malicious code that triggers an automatic download and installation of malware onto the user's device.
- Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Vulnerabilities: Misconfigured RDP settings and weak or stolen credentials provide an easy gateway for ransomware attacks, allowing cybercriminals to infiltrate systems remotely.
Strong Identity Governance for a Better Defense
Implementing robust Identity and Access Management (IAM) practices is pivotal in fortifying cybersecurity defenses, especially during the holiday season. You can best defend against ransomware attacks using Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) in these ways:
- Access Control and Least Privilege: IAM ensures that access rights are strictly based on roles and responsibilities within the organization. Adopting the principle of least privilege limits the attack surface in case of compromised credentials.
- Roles and Permissions Assignment: In RBAC/RBAM users are assigned roles based on their job functions or responsibilities within the organization. Users inherit access rights associated with their assigned role, limiting unnecessary access and enforcing the principle of least privilege
- Identity Lifecycle Management: Maintaining an updated and accurate record of user identities throughout their lifecycle—ensuring prompt revocation of access for departing employees—reduces the chances of dormant accounts being exploited by attackers.
- Policy Enforcement and Auditing: IAM best integrates with robust policies, including regular software updates, strong password protocols, and encryption measures, reinforcing the defense against ransomware attacks.
- Continuous Monitoring and Detection: Best in class IAM involves monitoring user activities and behaviors, enabling early detection of anomalies that could signal potential ransomware attacks.
Holiday Cyber Risk Checklist
Staying vigilant, maintaining robust cybersecurity measures, and educating individuals about potential threats during this period are crucial in mitigating the risk of ransomware attacks. Some identity governance and access management focus areas to better combat cyber risk include:
- Holiday Security Awareness Training: Educate employees about holiday-themed phishing attempts and the importance of staying vigilant during this period.
- Increased Monitoring for Earlier Detection: Ramping up your monitoring for anomalies and potential threats can help teams identify irregular activity sooner. For instance, sudden spikes in data access, unusual login times, or unauthorized attempts to access critical systems can be flagged and immediately reviewed.
- Lifecycle Process Automation: Process automation is a proactive measure to mitigate threats. It optimizes operational efficiency while enhancing the overall security posture, crucial in combating constantly evolving cyber threats such as ransomware.
- Incident Response Plan Review: Ensure a robust incident response plan is in place, outlining immediate steps to contain and mitigate ransomware attacks.
- Regular Audits and Assessments: Conduct regular audits of IAM policies and systems to identify and address potential vulnerabilities.
Overall, the combination of increased online activity, reduced vigilance, and tempting holiday-themed scams makes the holiday season the perfect time for cybercriminals to execute ransomware attacks and increases the need for heightened cybersecurity measures. By understanding the unique risks, implementing strong Identity Governance through comprehensive IAM practices, and fostering a culture of cyber resilience, businesses can better safeguard themselves against the threat of ransomware attacks.
How can Clarity help? Clarity's solution diligently monitors your environment and lets your security managers know when there's been suspicious activity. But, even more than that, we put a large emphasis on prevention, which includes implementing things like role-based access controls, immediate reduction of access for terminated employees, and implementation of the principal of least privilege. To see our solution in action, request a demo today.