Security Experts:

Can We Ever be Prepared for the Next WannaCry?

The recent WannaCry ransomware outbreak is yet another wake-up call. Humans alone can no longer be expected to manually respond to brazen, fast-spreading cyber-attacks that strike without warning and routinely bypass porous network borders. The early indicators of the attack were evident, but it spread too quickly for human security teams to react before it spread across the world like wildfire.

Cyber-criminals now have easy access to inexpensive, sophisticated, and fast-moving malware. The Shadow Brokers hacking group recently announced a monthly subscription platform to gain access to their arsenal of cyber-weapons, including the EternalBlue vulnerability that WannaCry exploited. Similarly, underground marketplaces are selling ready-made malware that even amateur hackers can use, some of which even come with live chat support and customer service.

Thanks to the rise of the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) business model, cyber-criminals were able to launch 638 million ransomware attacks in 2016 alone, netting them over $1 billion in revenue. Attacks like WannaCry infect networks in a matter of minutes, and unlike previous forms of ransomware, they do not rely on phishing emails to spread. These threats are often built with custom code from the dark web, making it extremely difficult for legacy security tools to detect them.

Of course, organizations should protect against well-known flaws and attacks, but it has become more important than ever to protect against fast-moving threats like WannaCry. This will prove essential as advanced malware – capable of adapting in real time to evade detection – starts to come to the forefront. Indeed, this transition has already begun. Self-modifying malware represents the cutting-edge of cyber-warfare, and these attacks are readily available on the dark web. Moving forward, it won’t just be the criminals who are getting smarter but their tools as well.

To defend networks in such a hostile and unpredictable environment, businesses have to be able to respond to threats in real time. During the WannaCry attacks, hospitals had to turn away patients, and their ability to provide care was hindered. The stakes are higher than ever, yet many organizations are still relying on legacy tools and reactive security postures.

The latest generation of AI technology enables organizations to defend their networks at the first sign of threat. The WannaCry ransomware attack moved too quickly for security teams to respond, but a few organizations were able to spot the early indicators of the ransomware and contain it before the infection spread across their networks.

While the WannaCry ransomware wreaked havoc across the globe, there was nothing subtle about it. All of the signs of highly abnormal behavior on the networks were there, but the pace of the attack was far beyond the capacity of human teams contain it. Attackers no longer resort to the same generic attacks they have always used. To break into networks, they are thinking outside the box, and defenders need to do the same. New strains are coming, and organizations need to arm themselves before it is too late. 

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Justin Fier is the Director for Cyber Intelligence & Analytics at Darktrace, based in Washington D.C. With over 10 years of experience in cyber defense, Fier has supported various elements in the US intelligence community, holding mission-critical security roles with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and Abraxas. Fier is a highly-skilled technical officer, and a specialist in cyber operations across both offensive and defensive arenas.