Ex-NSA bigwig Chris Inglis appointed America's national cyber director by Senate

Plus: Impact of ransomware payments, CVS database not secured


In brief Chris Inglis was last week appointed America’s national cyber director, responsible for coordinating the government’s computer security strategy and defending its networks. The former deputy director at the NSA, who spent nearly three decades at the agency, was approved by the Senate on Thursday.

The United States has been lacking a government computer security chief since President Trump eliminated the position of cybersecurity advisor to the National Security Council in 2018, then held by ex-NSA exploit extraordinaire and Christmas lights enthusiast Rob Joyce. Inglis’s appointment bodes well for Jen Easterly, a similarly experienced candidate for the job of Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

The Biden administration has made online security a priority — or at least announced it as such by executive order. How effective this will be remains to be seen, but the Senate moving for experts rather than partisan hacks is an encouraging sign.

Paying ransomware demands doesn’t work

Paying off ransomware extortionists is a fool’s errand, costing businesses not only cash but talent, according to a survey this week.

It’s clear plenty of companies are taking the quick and easy route of paying off extortionists — 35 per cent of those surveyed who’d paid a ransom coughed up $350,000–$1.4M, with seven per cent paying more. But nearly half didn’t get all their data back, and four out of five of those who’d paid up had further malware infections afterwards.

This isn’t rocket science — if a crim has put malware on your system, chances are there’s more than just ransomware in the package, or routes into your network that remain undetected and open. Even if you can decrypt your data after an attack, basic security protocols would require a complete wipe of infected machines, or the network as a whole, to be sure. But it appears folks are trusting criminals to play by the rules instead.

As worrying is the cost on staff. Around a third of those hit by ransomware reported C-level execs exiting after an attack, and a third laying off workers as a result of the financial pressure caused by the infection.

For pity’s sake patch vSphere

A month after a critical and fundamental flaw in VMware’s vCenter Server was revealed, there are still seemingly thousands of unpatched systems facing the internet and vulnerable to attack.

Security shop Trustwave found 5,271 instances of VMWare vCenter Server open to scanning, over 80 per cent of which were still unpatched. Discounting honey pots, that’s a lot of corporate information to be had, and proof-of-concept exploit code exists for the bug.

As the research goes, it’s pretty basic — a Shodan scan and some ancillary work. But it shows there’s a baseline in the industry that really doesn’t care or maintain patching, and that’s a sore that criminals will love.

Apple too

While you’re about it, certain Apple users should check for updates too.

On Tuesday, Cupertino warned that there were serious flaws in its ASN.1 decoder and Webkit engine on iOS 12. In the latter case, “maliciously crafted web content may lead to arbitrary code execution,” and Apple warned miscreants are exploiting it in the wild.

The issue affects iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, and iPod touch (6th generation) running the vulnerable OS.

CVS billion-point data leak

Another week, another unsecured database.

This time it was US pharmacy giant CVS, when internet storage searchers spotted 204GB of its customer data in an unsecured public-facing database on the internet. In all 1,148,327,940 records were exposed, we're told. No financial or medical information was available, it seems, though the database would be a treasure trove of email addresses at least.

“The bad part about this finding was just how big it was,” said Jeremiah Fowler, who spotted the situation. “The number of records would time-out or break my browsing tool when I tried to get a total number of emails … In a small sampling of records there were emails from all major email providers.”

The database is now offline. ®

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