Top 10 Security Misperceptions

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Peter Mackenzie, Manager of Sophos’ Rapid Response team shares insights into security misperceptions seen across organizations who have faced cyberattacks

Below is a list of the most commonly held security misperceptions compiled by the Sophos Rapid Response team that encountered in the last 12 months while neutralizing and investigating cyberattacks in a wide range of organizations.

Misperception 1: We are not a target; we are too small and/or have no assets of value to an adversary Sophos Counterpoint: Many cyberattack victims assume they are too small, in a sector of no interest or lacking the kind of lucrative assets that would attract an adversary. The truth is, it doesn’t matter: if you have processing power and a digital presence, you are a target. Despite the media headlines, most attacks are not perpetrated by advanced nation-state attackers; they are launched by opportunists looking for easy prey and low hanging fruit, such as organizations with security gaps, errors or misconfigurations that cybercriminals can easily exploit. If you believe that your organization is not a target, you are probably not actively looking for suspicious activity on your network – such as the presence of Mimikatz (an open-source application that allows users to view and save authentication credentials) on your domain controller – and you could miss the early signs of an attack.

Misperception 2: We don’t need advanced security technologies installed everywhere

Sophos Counterpoint: Some IT teams still believe that endpoint security software is enough to stop all threats and/or they don’t need security for their servers. Attackers take full advantage of such assumptions. Any mistakes in configuration, patching or protection make servers a primary target, not a secondary one as might have been the case in the past. The list of attack techniques that try to bypass or disable endpoint software and avoid detection by IT security teams grows longer by the day.

Misperception 3: We have robust security policies in place

Sophos Counterpoint: Having security policies for applications and users is critical. However, they need to be checked and updated constantly as new features and functionality are added to devices connected to the network.Verify and test policies, using techniques such as penetration testing, tabletop exercises and trial runs of your disaster recovery plans.

Misperception 4: Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers can be protected from attackers by changing the ports they are on and introducing multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Sophos Counterpoint: The standard port used for RDP services is 3389, so most attackers will scan this port to find open remote access servers. However, the scanning will identify any open services, regardless of the port they are on, so changing ports offers little or no protection on its own. Further, while introducing multi-factor authentication is important, it won’t enhance security unless the policy is enforced for all employees and devices. RDP activity should take place within the protective boundary of a virtual private network (VPN), but even that cannot fully protect an organization if the attackers already have a foothold in a network. Ideally, unless its use is essential, IT security should limit or disable the use of RDP internally and externally.

Misperception 5: Blocking IP addresses from high-risk regions such as Russia, China and North Korea protects us against attacks from those geographies

Sophos Counterpoint: Blocking IPs from specific regions is unlikely to do any harm, but it could give a false sense of security if you rely only on this for protection. Adversaries host their malicious infrastructure in many countries, with hotspots including the US, the Netherlands and the rest of Europe.

Misperception 6: Our backups provide immunity from the impact of ransomware

Sophos Counterpoint: Keeping up-to-date backups of documents is business critical. However, if your backups are connected to the network, then they are within reach of attackers and vulnerable to being encrypted, deleted or disabled in a ransomware attack. It is worth noting that limiting the number of people with access to your backups may not significantly enhance security as the attackers will have spent time in your network looking for these people and their access credentials.

Misperception 7: Our employees understand security

Sophos Counterpoint: According to the State of Ransomware 2021, 22% of organizations believe they’ll be hit by ransomware in the next 12 months because it’s hard to stop end users from compromising security. Social engineering tactics like phishing emails are becoming harder to spot. Messages are often hand-crafted, accurately written, persuasive and carefully targeted. Your employees need to know how to spot suspicious messages and what to do when they receive one. Who do they notify so that other employees can be put on alert?

Misperception 8: Incident response teams can recover my data after a ransomware attack

Sophos Counterpoint: This is very unlikely. Attackers today make far fewer mistakes, and the encryption process has improved, so relying on responders to find a loophole that can undo the damage is extremely rare. Automatic backups like Windows Volume Shadow Copies are also deleted by most modern ransomware as well as overwriting the original data stored on disk making recovery impossible other than paying the ransom.

Misperception 9: Paying the ransom will get our data back after a ransomware attack

Sophos Counterpoint: According to the State of Ransomware survey 2021, an organization that pays the ransom recovers on average around two-thirds (65%) of its data. A mere 8% got back all of their data, and 29% recovered less than half. Paying the ransom – even when it seems the easier option and/or is covered by your cyber-insurance policy – is therefore not a straightforward solution to getting back on your feet. Further, restoring data is only part of the recovery process – in most cases the ransomware completely disables the computers, and the software and systems need to be rebuilt from the ground up before the data can be restored. The 2021 survey found that recovery costs are, on average, ten times the size of the ransom demand.

Misperception 10: The release of ransomware is the whole attack – if we survive that we’re OK

Sophos Counterpoint: Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. The ransomware is just the point at which the attackers want you to realize they are there and what they have done. The adversaries are likely to have been in your network for days if not weeks before releasing the ransomware, exploring, disabling or deleting backups, finding the machines with high value information or applications to target for encryption, removing information and installing additional payloads such as backdoors. Maintaining a presence in the victim’s networks allows attackers to launch a second at

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