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Cybersecurity Risks Posed by COVID-19 Pandemic
The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic poses an elevated level of risk to the cyber security of Canadian organizations involved in the response to the pandemic.
In a recently released alert, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security said that the COVID-19 pandemic presents an elevated level of risk to cyber security, not just to the organizations in the medical and health sector but also to other Canadian businesses, particularly those with employees teleworking through VPNs. The Cyber Centre recommends that these high-risk organizations remain vigilant and take the time to ensure that they’re engaged in cyber defense best practices.
According to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, high-risk organizations should engage in cyber defence best practices in fighting against sophisticated threat actors and ransomware.
1. Sophisticated Threat Actors
The Cyber Centre said that sophisticated threat actors may target Canadian organizations involved in supporting the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include organizations within the medical research community. The Cyber Centre said these sophisticated threat actors may attempt to steal data relating to the response to the pandemic, including ongoing key research towards a vaccine or other medical remedies, or other topics of interest to the threat actors.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that encrypts victims’ computers or files, thereby locking out legitimate users and forcing the victims to pay ransom in exchange for the decryption keys that would unlock the computers or files.
According to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, the impact of a ransomware attack on Canadian organizations involved in supporting Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic could be more devastating during the current pandemic than if it were to occur in a non-pandemic environment. Cyber criminals, the Cyber Centre said, may take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, exploiting the increased pressure being placed on Canadian health organizations to extract ransom payments.
Preventive and Mitigating Measures Against Cyber Threats Arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Here are some of the preventive and mitigating measures or cyber security best practices in these trying times:
Stay Aware of COVID-19 Phishing Campaigns
As of March 28, 2020, the Government of Canada reported 5,386 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 60 confirmed deaths. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) as of March 28, 2020 reported 571, 678 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 26,494 confirmed deaths.
As this pandemic unfolds, people are hungry for information and cyber criminals are taking advantage by launching phishing campaigns – cyber-attacks that weaponized emails. In phishing campaigns, victims are tricked into opening emails that masquerade as coming from legitimate sources. These malicious emails are in fact, laden with malicious links or malicious attachments that once clicked could install malware, including ransomware.
Increase Compromise Monitoring
High-risk organizations should exercise increase monitoring in order to detect attempted compromises by sophisticated threat actors or ransomware attackers.
Employees who are now working from home as a result of COVID-19 pandemic put a strain on your organization’s network. It’s important to monitor logs for malicious activity.
Follow the 3-2-1 Rule of Backups
3: Stands for keeping 3 copies of any important file: 1 primary and 2 backups.
2: Stands for keeping the files on 2 different media types to protect against different types of hazards.
1: Stands for storing 1 copy offsite that’s outside the organization’s facility.
Apply Patch to Critical Vulnerabilities
According to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, critical security vulnerabilities related to telework, also known as remote work, are of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. As organizations rush to make more infrastructure available to remote users, such as virtual private network (VPN), unpatched software may be deployed, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security said.
Over the past year, multiple critical vulnerabilities in VPN devices have been identified. Multiple successful exploitations of these critical vulnerabilities in VPN devices have also been reported, leading the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security to assess that these same VPN critical vulnerabilities “are likely to be leveraged for renewed compromise attempts over the short term”.
The Cyber Centre added that the critical security vulnerabilities listed below are among those that are likely to be targeted by malicious actors:
- CVE-2019-0708: This security vulnerability in Remote Desktop Services allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code on the affected Windows operating systems, enabling an attacker to install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.
- CVE-2019-19781: This security vulnerability in Citrix Application Delivery Controller (ADC) and Citrix Gateway could be exploited through a directory traversal attack against the /vpn directory of a vulnerable system.
- CVE-2020-0688: This remote code execution vulnerability exists in Microsoft Exchange Server when the server fails to properly create unique keys at install time.
- CVE-2020-0796: This remote code execution vulnerability exists in the way that the Microsoft Server Message Block 3.1.1 (SMBv3) protocol handles certain requests. An attacker who successfully exploits this critical vulnerability could gain the ability to execute code on the target server or client.
- CVE-2020-1938: This critical security vulnerability in Apache Tomcat could allow attackers to access the Apache JServ Protocol (AJP) port by bypassing security checks based on client IP address and by bypassing user authentication if Tomcat was configured to trust authentication data provided by the reverse proxy.
It’s important to apply as soon as possible the available security patches and mitigating measures for the above-mentioned critical security vulnerabilities.
When you need help or looking for cybersecurity advice, to help Canadian businesses stay safe, The Driz Group will provide complimentary cybersecurity advisory services and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP