Saturday, January 28, 2017

Cyber attackers cause safety issues

Update: According to @cybergibbons he checked with the hotel in the story and found out the story was fake.  That's disturbing.  So we won't be using this as a cautionary tale. We also won't be using this as a cautionary tale.  Locking people in their rooms seemed far fetched, but locking people out of their rooms is still a huge (and believable) risk.  I'm going to leave this post up for the time being. We've seen backdoors left behind by cyber extortionists before.  We think it's wise to segment networks.  For those reasons alone, we think the post (though originally based on fiction) is worth keeping up.

Original post
I read a story today about a cyber attack causing safety issues, or more specifically a threat to human life. The attackers took over the key management system at a hotel with 180 guests and locked guests out of their rooms. Supposedly, even the guests in their rooms couldn't get out.  This is an obvious safety issue for guests.

The hotel paid a ransom in Bitcoin to restore service.  The attackers only asked for 1,500 EUR, but honestly could have probably gotten far more given the seriousness of the mayhem they were causing the hotel.  

A more important note is that attackers left a backdoor in the hotel's system and tried to come back.  It's not the first time the hotel has been attacked.  The hotel has been attacked at least twice before, though there are no details about the previous attacks offered in the article.  The hotel management also noted that they've been in contact with other hotels that have had similar ransom situations.

There's some interesting takeaways here. First, if you need an example of a cyber ransom attack causing a possible threat to human life, here you have it.  I'll certainly be holding this one in my back pocket for future discussions with Rendition Infosec clients.  The possibly liability here should be obvious (it's enormous).

Perhaps a more important takeaway is that the attackers planted a backdoor in the hotel's systems.  I don't disagree with the idea of paying a ransom. Do what you have to do to ensure safety.  People locked in their rooms are a fire hazard.  People who can't get into their rooms to get life saving medication are also obviously at risk.  So paying the ransom is the right thing to do.  But after you pay the ransom, organizations should aggressively hunt for attackers on the network.  Machines that have been compromised cannot be reliably cleaned of all backdoors and malware.  Best practices require that the systems be rebuilt (not restored from backup).

After rebuilding the computer systems the hotel decoupled some of its systems from its core network.  This is very similar to best practices in ICS (industrial control systems) networks where IT (information technology) networks are separated from OT (operational technology) networks. There's really no reason for the hotel's key control system to be on the corporate network in the first place.  Only bad things can happen from this extra connectivity.  It's worth noting that "decoupled" could mean any number of things.  We can only hope that the system is truly separated from the corporate network.

Finally, the article says the hotel will be replacing electronic keys with regular keys.  This creates a whole new threat model, but the good news is that real keys never get demagnetized (as a traveler, I hate this).  The hotel will have to evaluate whether replacing digital keys with physical keys is best for the safety of its guests.  But this is a good note of how maybe we shouldn't connect everything to the Internet (yes, I'm looking at you IoT).

This is a great educational story that could have ended very poorly.  Instead, the hotel responded quickly and took steps to keep it from happening again.  They pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.  I'm sure there are some who will say the hotel was wrong for paying the ransom, that paying encourages the attackers to target other victims.  But it's unlikely that those making these claims have ever faced such a situation.

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