Is Ransomware Holding Global Trade Hostage? Here’s How to Safeguard Your Supply Chain

In June 2017, another major cyberattack targeted several large multinational corporations. The malware Petya (or NotPetya or Nyetya) was able to breach dozens of Russian and Ukrainian companies, including Russian oil and gas giant Rosneft, as well as leading global businesses across multiple industries.

This time, two giants in the logistics industry, Maersk and FedEx, were affected as well. The attack was initially believed to be ransomware, a type of malware in which the victim’s files are encrypted, and then decrypted after a ransom is paid.

As the situation unfolded, the affected companies had to take down mission-critical systems as a precaution to keep it from spreading, and were then forced to spend several days’ worth of time and resources to develop and implement a recovery plan.

Two weeks after the attack, FedEx said it had significantly impacted operations, and that the company was still attempting to recover data and complete transactions by hand.

Maersk reported that they’re estimating a loss of $200-300 million and 70,000 TEUs worth of volume as a result of the attacks.

Attacks like this are a disaster for businesses, and the logistics sector must prioritize cybersecurity by changing some of their most basic business practices.

Ransomware: The Basics

Malware is sneaky, malicious (hence the name) software designed to infiltrate or otherwise compromise a victim’s system. Malware often comes bundled with other software; some varieties even install themselves through security gaps when a user takes a simple, innocuous action like browsing an infected web page, or downloading a file.

Ransomware is a specific form of malware that prevents its target from accessing their data, wreaking havoc on a device or system until the victim pays the ransom.

The recent concoction, Petya “paralyzed thousands of computers, including those of Ukrainian government agencies, transportation infrastructure, and companies…and avoided the mistakes made by the hackers behind the last global ransomware outbreak known as WannaCry, skipping the sort of ‘kill-switch’ that neutered that earlier ransomware crisis.”

One of the reasons that this particular attack was so insidious is that it turned out not to be ransomware at all; instead, it was a wiper.

Even victims who paid the ransom could not regain their files, because they were wiped, permanently and irrevocably destroyed.

FedEx recently reported that they are still struggling to restore their systems, and that the attack may have a negative impact on earnings. “It is reasonably possible that TNT will be unable to fully restore all of the affected systems and recover all of the critical business data that was encrypted by the virus,” the company said in a statement.

Frighteningly, these acts are increasing in frequency.

Cyber Enemy #1

So what does this mean for the shipping and logistics sector?

This somber reality poses a troubling threat for shippers and carriers who remain dependent on outdated technology and manual processes. The most vulnerable point for a cyberattack is actually not technology; it’s people.

That smartphone used to fire off a quick email from the insecure wifi at the coffee shop inadvertently becomes a formidable weapon. The trusty spreadsheet attachment, pervasive in logistics and shared between dozens of users, is transformed into a stealthy backdoor into your system.

Sadly, managers usually need only one hard lesson in how surprisingly easy it is to spread malware within a network once external defenses have been breached. It’s hard to emphasize this enough: Manual processes involving emails and spreadsheets are not only cumbersome to use in the fast pace of modern supply chain logistics, but they are notoriously insecure.

It’s Time to Get Out of Email

IT security isn’t the core competency of logistics companies. Anyone will tell you that logistics is a relationship-centric industry. Business relationships are defined by your ability to quickly and clearly communicate information to the right party at the right time.

As such, the easiest way into corporate IT systems is through its employees, who are inclined to open and reply to emails, particularly from trusted contacts. So, how do companies safeguard their business in a threat-heavy world? It’s important that our industry look to automation to reduce threat levels.

Here are three important changes that companies in the logistics sector can make to reduce risk.

  1. Make sure that internal IT teams are in place to monitor networks. Many cyberattacks go unnoticed until the damage is significant enough to draw attention. Patch your existing systems. IT groups in large companies often support hosted platforms such as Exchange and SAP; while those systems reside behind the firewall of the company, they often remain out of date. A simple Windows Update would’ve prevented last month’s attacks, and that’s a far simpler update than a security patch for Oracle or SAP.
  2. If you’re using SaaS, select providers who provide guidance on security and can tell you about their own security practices. Modern SaaS sees constant security updates which don’t disrupt the customer’s workflow with downtime. While many SaaS solutions are likely more secure than internal applications, companies need to educate themselves on working with vendors and ensure adequate service level agreements.
  3. Reduce your reliance on email attachments and long email chains when dealing with partners. Customer communication is often done via email, which is notoriously insecure primarily due to its reliance on the recipient validating safety simply by looking over the person’s name in the FROM field. Unfortunately, both TO and FROM fields are easily manipulated with minimal code. At a minimum, your company’s attachment scanning software should prevent opening any and all attachments until they’re scanned for viruses. Otherwise, what looks like a simple tendered rates spreadsheet could wreak havoc. But more importantly, automating these processes with third-party platforms (such as a TMS) will not only let you free your skilled staff of repetitive processes, it will actually make your business more secure.

The logistics sector’s reliance on relationships, email, and spreadsheet attachments makes it particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks. And the costs are staggering, because when the world’s biggest ocean freight carriers and product producers are impacted, trade suffers and people don’t get the products they need when they need them. The downstream impact is huge.

It’s time that shippers and carriers alike prioritize modern technology solutions that make communication more secure. Fortunately, the same solutions that reduce this risk also dramatically improve the bottom line of the companies that implement them. It’s a win-win.

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