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Did We Learn Anything from Colonial Pipeline?

Today, the gasoline shortages caused by the ransomware hack of Colonial Pipeline are in our rearview mirror. Hopefully, the memories are not forgotten. There are things we can all do to make it harder to access and hold our data for ransom, and that includes applying pressure on business and government to take steps to make life harder for hackers.

More than a year ago, we identified ransomware as one of the biggest threats to all online life, and nothing has made it less of a problem. It’s increased. We also don’t want to pass judgment on Colonial Pipeline for paying a reported $4.4 million; they had a business decision to make. Going forward, our concern is if we as a society – one made up of citizens, businesses and government agencies – learned anything that we can use to strengthen our defenses.

Our various government agencies can make recommendations until the end of time, and according to the Federal News Network, the General Accountability Office made “over 3,000 recommendations to federal agencies to address cybersecurity shortcomings – and reported about 600 that had not been fully implemented as of early September 2020.” Of these nearly 600 recommendations, GAO designated 75 as a priority, including shoring up the government’s “supply chain risk management task force” through public/private partnerships.

What will these partnerships need to do? The answers are not surprising:

  • Work together to detect, contain and mitigate against potential threats, and share information as quickly as possible.
  • Know what tools and tactics hackers are using.
  • Study what happens during and after an attack and see what tools are in place to deal with it.
  • Develop better warning systems and response tools.

Just like our policies and programs to contain physical terrorism, the defenders of IT networks must shoot for 100 percent success. Whether it’s a nation or criminal ring attacking commercial or even personal networks, our defenses won’t be perfect, but they need to be highly effective.

As citizens, we can only reiterate the steps we can take to make the online world safer. One, of course, is to jump up and down and scream to our government to find or develop good tools and implement them. If there’s an issue that cries out for bipartisanship, this is it. At the same time, we need laws with teeth to mandate – not suggest – that businesses of all sizes take steps to secure their networks. Businesses, in turn, need to make sure all their technology is up to date – and they need to make sure their employees are trained in safe and secure online practices, including how they handle email and passwords and what links to click or not click.

You can let the businesses you patronize know that you are concerned about your online safety and demand they provide it. Ransom seekers go wherever they think they can make money. One victim was a six-person law firm that had a small online presence but obviously a big enough bank account and security hole to make them attractive to a cyber thief.

As individuals, we all need to pay attention to the basics, and that starts with making sure our operating system and app software, virus and malware protection and firewalls are all up to date. If a provider no longer supports what you have, make the investment to upgrade your technology to keep your files, personal information and probably your money safer.

Individual users should also have an effective password strategy. It should include using “strong” passwords that are long and complex; those are harder for hacking software to crack. Utilize password managers or even use technology that uses various verification codes to replace passwords. Use common sense when responding to emails – especially clicking on links inside an email – and even when visiting websites and looking at popups.

We can help with online defense training for businesses, non-profits and families and individuals. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up a security audit, develop a security plan or set up security systems for offices and homes.