global ransomware attack

Ransomware defense depends on product upgrades, patches

While thousands of computers across the globe were infected with WannaCry in May, intelligence officials believe U.S. government systems were not compromised the way institutions in Europe were because U.S. agencies patched software and retired  products at the end of their lifecycles.

“The phasing out of earlier provisions within security systems is key,” said Tonya Ugoretz, director of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, at the Sept. 13 Billington Cybersecurity Summit.  “We saw overseas victims who were perhaps not using the most up-to-date software.”

CTIC was created through a 2015 presidential directive to coordinate the intelligence community’s response to significant cyber incidents and to develop interagency efforts to degrade or mitigate threat capabilities from adversaries.

The best way to prevent ransomware is “disabling end-of-life products” because such products can have connections that are not trustworthy, said David Hogue, technical director of the Cybersecurity Threat Operations Center at the National Security Agency.  NSA works with CTIC, the FBI and the National Security Integration Center at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep government agencies' systems up to date.

The U.K. National Cyber Security Center shared information with the U.S. defense and intelligence communities on its response to WannaCry and coordinated methods to contain the spread of the attack.

“We were caught up with the patch in general, and our carriers were blocking the effective port by default,” John Felker, director of operations at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center at the Department of Homeland Security, said of the U.S. defense against WannaCry.  “The patch was optional in Europe.”

Keeping ahead of ransomware attacks also requires collaboration with the private sector.  Palo Alto Networks was able to communicate with DHS at the start of the outbreak to share “samples in the wild” of WannaCry, according to Ryan Gillis, vice president of cybersecurity strategy and global policy. The company  also publishes technical reports twice weekly on cybersecurity threats that are available to government.

“The partnership with the private sector is going to be important to understand how these attacks are developing at the earliest stages,” Ugoretz said. “Looking at the vulnerability of networks and the ability to see threats [across government and private sector] is going to be a paradigm shift for us.”

Ugoretz encouraged security officials to include context in their reports to make them accessible to agency leadership. 

“We need to be able to take the latest threat intelligence and put in it a greater  picture of understanding over time to tell a story about the latest bit of the intelligence threat,” she said. 

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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