A global proactive and collaborative approach to cybersecurity, not just in public/private partnerships, is key to fighting back against increasingly professional ransomware gangs.

Brian Neuhaus, CTO, America, Vectra AI

April 1, 2024

4 Min Read
The word "ransomware" floating over a digital image of a padlock
Source: Wavebreakmedia Ltd IFE-210813 via Alamy Stock Photo

COMMENTARY

The dramatic imagery of law enforcement "kicking down doors" to disrupt ransomware operations captures the essence of the tangible actions taken against cybercriminals. Having served as a CISO, I've witnessed firsthand the critical importance of robust partnerships between private sector defenders and law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, in combating the ever-evolving threat of ransomware. The recent resurgence of the LockBit ransomware gang, following a significant disruption by law enforcement, underscores a vital lesson: the fight against cyber threats demands not only advanced technological defenses but also strategic collaboration.

In my experience, the synergy between companies' cybersecurity teams and law enforcement can be a game-changer. Sharing timely, actionable intelligence with authorities can catalyze investigations or significantly contribute to ongoing efforts. It's this exchange of information that might just provide the pivotal tipping point needed for law enforcement to take decisive, physical action — literally removing the door from its hinges to halt the operations of ransomware groups.

The LockBit episode, where the gang swiftly reorganized and relaunched its operations on new infrastructure after a law enforcement takedown, highlights a hard truth: Cybercriminals are remarkably resilient. Their ability to rebound from setbacks, including the loss of critical infrastructure, demonstrates the necessity for continuous, proactive engagement between the cybersecurity community and law enforcement.

The gang's admission of "personal negligence and irresponsibility" leading to their initial downfall reveals a chink in the armor that was expertly exploited by law enforcement. This incident also illuminates the critical need for businesses to maintain up-to-date security measures. As LockBit conceded, failure to update essential software was a key vulnerability that enabled law enforcement to infiltrate its operations. This serves as a poignant reminder that the basics of cybersecurity hygiene, such as regular updates and patches, remain fundamental in guarding against threats.

Moreover, LockBit's strategic pivot to targeting the government sector and its efforts to fortify operations through decentralized affiliate panels and enhanced security measures highlight the evolving tactics of ransomware groups. These developments underscore the imperative for dynamic defense strategies and the value of intelligence sharing between the private sector and law enforcement. The gang's resilience and tactical shifts emphasize the ongoing nature of the threat landscape, where adaptability and collaboration are key to defense.

Public-Private Partnerships Could Curtail Ransomware

Reflecting on my interactions with the FBI, it's clear that a strong public-private partnership provides the bedrock necessary for effective action against cyber threats. Such collaborations can bring about the physical interventions needed to disrupt and deter cybercriminal activities. The shared goal of protecting sensitive data and maintaining the integrity of our digital infrastructure binds us in this common cause.

The financial reserves accumulated by operations such as LockBit's not only underscore their sophistication but also suggest a level of organizational maturity that parallels traditional businesses. It's probable these cybercriminal outfits practice business continuity planning, potentially conducting tabletop exercises to prepare for disruptions in personnel and infrastructure. This isn't merely speculative; the agility with which groups such as LockBit bounce back from law enforcement actions demonstrates a preparedness that is both calculated and practiced.

Much like state-sponsored threat actors, it's known that these groups maintain "office hours," during which they develop new technologies and refine their tactics. An illustrative example of this innovation is the development of LockBit 4.0, a multi-OS encryptor. This tool not only signifies their technical prowess but also their ambition to broaden the scope of their attacks, targeting a wider range of systems and increasing their potential for disruption and profit.

These developments highlight a stark reality: Ransomware gangs are operating with a level of professionalism and dedication that mirrors legitimate organizations. They invest in research and development, seeking to overcome the defenses erected by their adversaries. This relentless pursuit of innovation necessitates a corresponding response from defenders. Cybersecurity teams must not only guard against known threats but also anticipate new vectors of attack, adapting their strategies to protect against evolving tactics.

Global Effort

The existence of sophisticated tools such as the LockBit 4.0 encryptor also underscores the importance of international cooperation in the fight against cybercrime. As these threats transcend borders, so too must our efforts to counter them. Collaboration extends beyond public and private sectors within a country; it requires a global network of partners sharing intelligence, resources, and expertise.

Given the financial coffers and organizational discipline of groups such as LockBit, it's evident we're contending with adversaries that practice business continuity with a zeal akin to that of legitimate enterprises. They prepare for eventualities, including law enforcement interventions, with strategies designed to ensure their survival and continued operation. This level of preparation and the professionalization of cybercrime emphasize the need for a proactive and collaborative approach to cybersecurity.

In the face of these challenges, fostering a strong partnership between the defenders of companies and law enforcement becomes even more critical. The shared intelligence, resources, and collaborative efforts can lead to the disruptive actions necessary to combat these threats effectively. As a former CISO, I can attest to the power of these partnerships in making tangible impacts against cybercriminal operations. It's through these united fronts that we can hope to dismantle the infrastructures that support such criminal activities and secure our futures.

About the Author(s)

Brian Neuhaus

CTO, America, Vectra AI

Brian Neuhaus, Americas CTO at Vectra AI, brings over 20 years of CISO experience to the table, in addition to a background that involves founding multiple companies through the dot com boom of the 1990s and 2000s. As a CISO, Brian helped his organization steer through IPO, activist investors, and M&A to ultimately become a Gartner leading enterprise data management company. In his current role, he parlays that experience and his passion for cyber security into helping companies small and large navigate the dangerous coasts of digital transformation and the threat actors that lurk beyond its shores.

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