Paying for Data

Would you recommend your organization pay a ransom to get the key to decrypt data that’s become encrypted on your database systems? What if the data were encrypted in backups going back two weeks?

It’s an interesting question, and one I might expect we will have to deal with at some point. This week I saw an announcement that another organization, this time a university, paid a ransom to recover data. Before you react with “of course, not,” think about this quote from the University Vice-President:

“We are a research institution,” she was quoted as saying. “We are conducting world class research daily and we don’t know what we don’t know in terms of who’s been impacted and the last thing we want to do is lose someone’s life’s work.”

That’s a powerful statement, and certainly one that I could see salespeople, accountants, and more making as an appeal to upper management. What’s interesting in the piece is that the university acknowledges that using the decryption keys is a complex endeavor, requiring IT to get systems operational again. I hope that at the least they also made new backups of the encrypted data before using the keys. Who knows what sort of results come about from criminals that have encrypted, and the offered to provide reversal instructions and keys.

I expect the ransomware efforts to become more prevalent across the next few years, especially as people have success. Even if fewer people pay ransoms, I bet plenty of people will look to disrupt organizations with these actions. Perhaps even a competitor will look to introduce ransomware into your company? Maybe by offering a job to an individual that leaves such a surprise behind as they get ready to move to a new employer.

There are all sorts of issues here, and potential attack vectors. The fact that ransomware (or other malicious software) could be introduced to remain idle, or even transparently encrypt and decrypt systems until a date passes and the keys delete themselves, is horrifying. At the very least, I think this brings to mind the idea that we need multiple versions of backups, so mirroring a file system to another location, or some cloud service like Azure, Dropbox, etc., isn’t enough. Perhaps we should also have checks in place that look for changes. After all, can you imagine a rouge process implementing TDE and letting it run for a month before deleting the certificates from your system and truncating all the tables a week later?

Steve Jones

About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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