Xchanging, a subsidiary of DXC based in the UK, was attacked with ransomware on July 4th, 2020. Mark Hughes, senior vice president of offerings and strategic partners at DXC Technology, wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “5 Lessons We Learned From Our Ransomware Attack”. Hughes explains that a message was received from the attacker with a cartoon character making an obscene hand gesture and the note: “We have your data. We’ve encrypted your files. If you want to negotiate, we can talk on a secure tool or chat session.”
You might think Hughes’s first move would be to strike up the negotiations with the attacker. Instead, Hughes pinpointed the systems that were accessed and quickly isolated and neutralized the threat. The average ransomware attack takes 16 days to restore back to operational functioning. On July 5th, just one day after the attack, Hughes’s team had already cleaned and restored the impacted environment, and by Monday, July 6th Xchanging was processing insurance policies again.
Hughes’s experience can provide many valuable lessons on how to deal with ransomware but we will just review his top 5 from the article.
Know Your Infrastructure
First, know your infrastructure. You need to regularly apply basic software patching hygiene. Also, make sure all networks and firewalls have enterprise security tools in place as they will alert you to malicious activity. In Hughes’s ransomware attack, the hackers used “grayware” to exploit Microsoft Windows and launch malware. While the attack was not prevented, Hughes’s team was quickly alerted that something wasn’t right and they were able to identify where the network was compromised.
Include Senior Management
Hughes’s second point is to include senior leadership from the start. The reason why you want to include senior management is that they can make critical decisions quickly. For example, in Hughes’s crisis, senior management made the decision to sever all connectivity with Xchanging systems. This involved action from IT teams in the UK and India, and as Hughes puts it “engaging leadership from those teams allowed the shutoff to happen quickly and efficiently.”
Contact Your Authorities
Step three is to engage authorities and experts early. Law enforcement and security experts have experience dealing with ransomware cases and can give ideas on how to manage the attack and get legal support. In Hughes’s case he notified law enforcement in the United States that the ransomware was programmed to send Xchanging data to website domains in the U.S. By the end of the day, he had already received a court order to take control of the attacker’s internet domains.
Don’t Pay the Ransom
Step four is to gain as much leverage as you can and don’t pay the ransom. The experts agree – don’t pay the ransom. In the U.S. and UK measures are being taken to legally enforce against paying ransoms in a cyberattack. Hughes suggests that if you do decide to negotiate a ransom with cybercriminals, bring an experienced ransom broker on board.
And finally, be transparent. Sharing information can help keep others safe and mobilizes a whole bunch of help from those you are in contact with including colleagues, authorities, and the security community. Hughes notified the public with a news release on Sunday, July 5th and a few weeks later to inform the public that the ransomware was contained.
Ransomware attacks can be a messy business. There is much to be learned from Hughes’s experience on how to overcome ransomware. The writer concludes that Hughes is a hero because he not only saved his company but also passed on that saving information to us.