Ransomware gangs continue to find creative new ways of exploiting weaknesses in corporate networks. Now they’ve added a dangerous twist that is sure to make the insider threat problem noticeably worse.

In this latest move, gangs like LockBit are actively recruiting corporate insiders to help them breach and encrypt networks in return for what can amount to million-dollar payouts.

According to a recent article in BleepingComputer, ransomware gangs have traditionally consisted of a core group of developers, who maintain the ransomware and payment sites, and recruited affiliates who breach victims’ networks and encrypt devices, with the affiliate usually receiving 70 to 80 percent of the ransom paid. But LockBit and its counterparts are now “trying to remove the middle-man” by messaging trusted insiders directly rather than using affiliates. The article’s author speculates that while it may seem “counterintuitive to recruit an insider for a network [that’s] already been breached… this message is likely targeting external IT consultants who may see the message while responding to an attack.”

Separately, Brian Krebs of Krebs on Security reports on one gang that offers insiders payouts of 40 percent of the ransom payment. The gangs “seem to have done away with the affiliate model in favor of just buying illicit access to corporate networks,” he adds.

This latest recruitment drive does two things: 1) It increases the pool of likely threats by turning otherwise hesitant insiders into enthusiastic ones; and 2) It significantly heightens the risk that an organization will suffer a major (as opposed to minor) data breach, since the recruits will be seeking the largest possible payout for the unique risk they are taking.

Insider recruitment for pay is the latest in a growing list of use cases for which Fishtech Group business unit CYDERES has designed its new Insider Threat Detection and Response (ITDR) managed service (pictured below).

ITDR, which uses models and other AI-based analytics to process user and network telemetry for early indications of insider intent, is optimized for three specific use cases:

  • Data Exfiltration/Sabotage: Detection of excessive file deletions or movements, unusual e-mail activities and consumer web application uploads is critical to preventing the exfiltration or sabotage of data – one of the more prevalent insider threat events. ITDR detects unauthorized or suspicious data access and activity and makes key correlations on file actions and transfers, focusing on ‘crown-jewel’ data in the cloud, apps, databases, file-shares and disks.
  • Departing Employees: Individuals who plan to leave the organization or learn they are about to be off-boarded pose a substantial risk to corporate systems and data. ITDR focuses on detecting network and application access patterns that indicate job searches, outreach to competitors and data exfil intent. Response capabilities include proactive alerts on these activities plus changes in behavior and productivity, and forensic reports for use during post-termination reviews.
  • Account Compromise: With the right tools, it’s possible to pinpoint behaviors that indicate a potential takeover of credentials by third-party actors via negligent or malicious insiders, at speed and at scale. By detecting unusual login volumes, logins from high-risk locations, or geographically/ temporally impossible login sequences, ITDR excels at alerting investigative teams to instances of potential account compromise – before a data exfil attempt happens.

One could argue that by offering trusted insiders a piece of the action, the LockBits of the world are touching on all three of those use cases.

Whatever the event type, it’s been clear for some time that the insider threat landscape is evolving rapidly. Organizations will need to evolve with it. And even as they address their adversaries’ current innovations, they also should count on even more insidious exploits in the future.

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Note: Tune in to our recent ITDR introductory webinar to learn more about the powerful capabilities this managed service can deliver to your organization. Or simply reach out here to schedule a live ITDR demo.