Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

INDIVIDUAL IMPACTS OF THE CYBER THREAT

Throughout Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we have explored key topics related to the dynamic, global cyber threats our nation faces today and how to manage the growing intersection between cyber and physical threat management. We have discussed how the cyber threat environment has evolved and become more sophisticated and increasingly impactful over time, exposing vulnerabilities in systems, platforms, and infrastructure. To conclude this month, we will be discussing how the cyber threat landscape has expanded and how it can impact individuals, families, and communities as well as private and public sector organizations.

As the scope of the cyber threat broadens, individuals are increasingly facing impacts from cyber incidents: Source

AN EMERGING THREAT

Cybersecurity has gained attention as a threat to infrastructure and systems in recent years, with several high-profile cyber attacks against major businesses, local governments, and federal agencies. The United States alone suffered an estimated 65,000 ransomware attacks in 2020. This onslaught of attacks has led private and public sector organizations to increase their system hardening measures and enhance cyber preparedness. However, as bad actors in the cyber field become more sophisticated, the scope of their attacks has expanded to include attacks with more direct impacts to everyday citizens and individuals, in addition to those against companies or governments.

Recent cyber incidents have shown the capacity of the cyber threat to create devastating consequences for individuals, both by targeting individuals directly, and by targeting systems critical to life safety and security. Following a recent ransomware attack on a hospital, a lawsuit alleges that the hospital’s failure to contain and report the incident adequately led to the death of a patient. In addition to attacks on hospitals, hackers have exploited medical technology vulnerabilities by using malware and ransomware to threaten data and systems connected directly to users’ medical devices (e.g., insulin pumps).

Impacts on individuals have also been seen in telecommunications, with cyber attacks limiting phone service in communities and in schools. The Wake County Public School System experienced a partial phone system outage following a cyber attack. The City of Walla Walla, Washington also experienced a disruption in phone service following a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. The potential downstream impacts of telecommunications outages, such as limitations on contacting emergency or other essential services, are severe. 

Attacks on school networks have become increasingly common as well, with attackers targeting students’ data for identity theft. This challenge is often exacerbated by limited reporting requirements for schools, meaning that parents may not be aware if their student’s information was exploited. The potential for outages related to cyber attacks also poses a risk to educational systems, as classes and other educational resources are increasingly provided online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

EMERGING SOLUTIONS AND PROMISING PRACTICES

As we experience an increase in the frequency and severity of cyber attacks targeting or impacting individuals, private and public sector organizations will need to reconsider the meaning of cybersecurity and cyber preparedness to include not only the protection of their services, but also the protection of individuals who rely on them. Hagerty can support the implementation of promising practices and emerging solutions that are protecting users from the evolving cyber threats. 

  • Cyber Assessments: Enhancing your application of promising practices and emerging solutions should begin with a cyber assessment that includes an inventory of what resides on your network and identifies the level of protection and preparedness currently established by the organization or individual. It is important to understand the different levels of security that home and work devices may have and the cyber hygiene best practices that can enhance your protection. While the value of impenetrable passwords is clear, two-factor identification continues to see amplified importance after incidents such the Colonial Pipeline attack. Hagerty applies a comprehensive approach towards cyber assessments, ensuring data collection efforts that involve stakeholders and a thorough review of relevant documentation.
  • Cyber Policies: Individuals and organizations should ensure that they have developed cyber policies that assert responsibilities and principles associated with cybersecurity. With the growing threat from ransomware, it is critical to maintain and regularly test offline backups of data, as this measure can help ensure continued access to data and eliminate the need to pay ransom in the first place. Strong cyber policies help to reinforce cultural values for cyber threat awareness and prevention as well as supporting the implementation of cyber preparedness and response plans.
  • Cyber Plans: Hagerty supports the development of cyber plans with distinct focus areas, whether that be preparedness or response. Individuals and organizations should ensure a collaborative approach to planning that brings staff representing emergency management, business continuity, information technology/operational technology (IT/OT), and executive leadership together to determine which other partners must be engaged to maintain a coordinated approach to implementing action throughout the jurisdiction. With the increasing number of individuals who are also made victims by cyber attacks, the practice of planning is not restricted to organizations, and when a similar framework is followed, individuals can significantly increase their protection.
  • Cyber Training and Exercises: With cyber threats targeting individuals through increasingly frequent and sophisticated spear phishing attempts and individual vulnerabilities being exploited to target and disrupt organizations, the value of cybersecurity training and exercises is greater than ever. Hagerty has supported clients in building upon previous preparedness efforts to enhance organizational capabilities for cyber preparedness and response. Both bottom-up and top-down approaches offer value to building readiness against cyber threats. For instance, top-down efforts that focus on organizational leadership offer a unique opportunity for leadership to demonstrate that cyber is a strategic priority.

BUILDING A CULTURE OF CYBER THREAT READINESS

In addition to these promising practices and emerging solutions, contributing to a culture of cyber threat readiness is a key way to engage stakeholders and make progress toward reducing the impacts of cyber threats on individuals. Communicating the value and impact of cyber hygiene and other preparedness measures plays a critical role in establishing education and investments related to cybersecurity as a priority. 

Hagerty’s solution to cyber program management utilizes the Cyber Nexus Approach, which integrates existing practices and cultural values with the latest practices that build readiness against cyber threats. Whether your organization’s executive leadership is seeking support with building this culture, or you are seeking assistance with leveraging improvements in the maturity of your culture’s regard for cybersecurity, Hagerty is ready to help you strengthen your posture and reduce the impacts of cyber threats on your organization and those who rely on it.


Erin Bajema is Hagerty’s cyber sector co-lead and an emergency management professional with experience supporting several areas of emergency preparedness as an analyst, planner, evaluator, and instructional systems designer. Ms. Bajema has served on projects in a diverse range of subjects, including disaster recovery planning, housing, continuity of operations, hazard mitigation, active threat, evacuation, damage assessment, and cybersecurity.

Austin Barlow is Hagerty’s cyber sector co-lead as well as a planning, training, and exercise project manager with a background that includes disaster fieldwork, employment in support of all levels of government, and formal training and education in the development and implementation of emergency management policy. Mr. Barlow has led and supported national-scale projects, programs, and technologies, with a focus on strengthening whole community partnerships, addressing vulnerabilities, and building critical capabilities.