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August 21, 2020

Foreign Governments are Hacking our Universities, Think Tanks and U.S. Government Contractors

The cybersecurity situation is still not great. Last month we told you about Twitter, a major tech force out of Silicon Valley, California being hacked by a high-school-age student.

Yet, at the same time, nation-states are growing in their hacking boldness.

If you see the point here – a teenager is capable of hacking a top tech company – imagine what a determined country can do.

Looking back, we believe perhaps one of the most the most brazen hacks in terms of doing financial damage in a short amount of time was the Russian NotPetya attack on Ukrainian companies. It costs over $10 billion in damage – many of the companies were publicly traded and disclosed the financial damage in quarterly filings.

Another was Iran hacking a dam in Rye, New York a few years ago – had it been a different time of year when the hack took place, it could have led to injury or even death. Would this have been an act of war? Perhaps.

This week, U.S. government agencies published a malware analysis report exposing information on a remote access trojan (RAT) malware used by North Korean hackers in attacks targeting government contractors. 

The malware was identified by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the FBI and is known as known BLINDINGCAN.

Often, these contractors do not have to cybersecurity in place to protect them from such assaults and they subsequently become victims of attacks which allow other nations to monitor government activities and use the learned knowledge of the supply chain to further infiltrate other organizations.

This week we also learned that Russia, China and Iran are looking to hack into think tanks and universities to steal policy information as well as research.

FBI special agent Matthew O’Brien, a private sector coordinator in the Washington Field Office said, “We’re not trying to scare, we’re just trying to be as real as we can with them. Like, ‘Hey this is, it’s a constant threat, it’s not stopping.’”

Cybersecurity is a complex field but the human element is a weak link and technology alone has not to date, been a replacement for well-trained workers.

Yes, you need to ensure systems are patched, firewalls are configured properly, that you have a SIEM, anomaly detection solution and SOC in place but don’t forget the humans.

At Apex Technology Services we can help with all the above tech but also, perform cybersecurity training which is live and in-person or more recently, “Zoom” and in-person. During these sessions, we see 90-100% engagement levels and workers typically ask a lot of great questions and seem to learn from the sessions. We bundle this training with phishing – we use our own PHISH360 platform to send them phishing attacks before and after the training, We always see a huge improvement when this is done.

Companies must do this quarterly until none of the employees are tricked by phishing messages. Then, they can scale back based on budget and if they see the team has effectively learned what not to click on. New employees present yet another challenge and should be trained as well.

A high-school student masterminded a ring of hackers that took down one of the best companies in Silicon Valley. It was all because users were tricked. The biggest takeaway is training and phishing simulation must be performed regularly to keep your company protected.

Ask the experts at Apex Technology Services about how we can help your organization stay secure.

Apex Technology Services
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