The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) issued a health care and public health sector notification this week entitled “Ransomware Activity Targeting the Healthcare and Public Health Sector (Update 2),” which was co-authored by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide a situation update on the threat of ransomware to the health care sector. [see previous blog post].

According to the Alert, “some recent healthcare sector victims have experienced very short periods of time between initial compromise and activation – even under a few hours. CISA, FBI and HHS urge health delivery organizations and other HPH sector entities to work towards enduring and operationally sustainable protections against ransomware threats both now and in the future.”

The risk mitigation measures the notice suggests were provided in the joint aler from October 28, 2020, which included “the use of Trickbot, BazarLoader, and other techniques to eventually deploy a ransomware (like Ryuk) for extortion and financial gain.”

The update alerts health care providers that “the threat from ransomware is ongoing and entities should develop effective deterrent procedures while maintaining effective care delivery.”

The threat-related statistics of malware and ransomware are mind-boggling. We have regularly reported on the dramatic increase of ransomware, but the statistics on successful exploitation and botnet activities are just as bad.

According to Nuspire’s Q3 Threat Landscape Report (www.nuspire.com), based upon its experience over the last three months, there was an increase of 128.21 percent in malware events since Q2.  Even more shocking is that the summary of findings shows that there were 3,646,448 malware events, 30,480,289 exploitation events, and 1,519,869 botnet events.

Just to put that in perspective, there were 1,168 unique malware variants detected, 43,410 malware variants were detected per day, and 303,870 malware variants were detected per week. According to the Report, “The largest contribution to increased activity was Visual Basic for Applications based documents….VBA Agents are a generic type of trojan that utilize Microsoft Office applications such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. These are often deployed in malspam campaigns and include common lures such as legal documents, invoices or may be themed after prominent media events.”

VBA Agents are used to introduce Emotet, which Nuspire found to have increased between Q2 and Q3. Therefore, “[O]rganizations should be extremely cautious when interacting with email attachments, especially ones from unknown senders and those that contain macros. User awareness training is critical to prevent interaction with these files…”

The statistics are scary and are getting worse. Malware protection and prevention all come down to the same thing: user awareness. One user can click on one malicious phishing email and all safety protocols can be compromised. Users have to understand the increased risk they pose to the company and companies have to provide their users with tools so they don’t become a victim. Let’s make December “User Education and Awareness Month” and get that user education on the books before the end of the year.