More than half of the known ransomware victims in Canada this year were critical infrastructure providers, according to a new threat assessment from Canada’s cyber spies — and the number is likely even higher.
As part of a new awareness campaign, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s foreign signals intelligence agency, released a ransomware bulletin Monday looking at the key trends of ransomware in 2021.
In its report, CSE’s Cyber Centre said ransomware attacks are “brazen, sophisticated, increasing in frequency, and, for the cybercriminals, very profitable.
“The impact of ransomware can be devastating, and the severity of the financial consequences related to a ransomware attack can be profound.”
For the first time, the agency also confirmed publicly Monday that it has used its new cyber attack powers, granted to it through legislation back in 2019.
“The Communications Security Establishment Act gives CSE the legal authority to conduct cyber operations to disrupt foreign-based threats to Canada, including cybercriminals,” said CSE spokesperson Evan Koronewski.
“Although we cannot comment on our use of foreign cyber operations (active and defensive cyber operations) or provide operational statistics, we can confirm we have the tools we need to impose a cost on the people behind these kinds of incidents.
“We can also confirm we are using these tools for such purposes, and working together with Canadian law enforcement where appropriate against cybercrime.”
Ransomware is a form of malware used by threat actors and criminals who encrypt files on a device then demand a ransom in exchange for decryption. Once successfully hacked, ransomware victims are often attacked multiple times.
CSE said it’s aware of 235 ransomware incidents against Canadian victims from Jan. 1 to Nov. 16 of this year and more than half of those targets were critical infrastructure providers, including those in the energy, health and manufacturing sectors.
The number is likely higher, as the agency said most ransomware events go unreported.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made organizations like hospitals, governments and universities more mindful of the risks tied to losing access to their networks and often feeling resigned to pay ransoms,” notes the report.
“Cybercriminals have taken advantage of this situation by significantly increasing the value of their ransom demands.”
Canadian hospitals hit
Newfoundland and Labrador is still reeling after a cyber attack hit its health-care system, cancelling thousands of medical procedures ranging from chemotherapy to X-rays.
Sources have told CBC the security breach is a ransomware attack, but so far government officials have not confirmed the nature of the cyberattack and will not say if they have received a ransom demand.
This summer Humber River Hospital in the Toronto area was forced to shut down its IT systems in order to prevent a ransomware attack.
Staff were unable to access electronic patient records and diagnostic test results leading to long waits in the emergency department and prompting the hospital to cancel clinics and redirect some ambulances to other hospitals.
CSE said it expects high-impact targeting to continue.
“We assess that ransomware operators will almost certainly continue to target large organizations with operational technology (OT) assets, including organizations in Canada, to try to extract ransom, steal intellectual property and proprietary business information, and obtain personal data about customers,” it warned.
Canada is far from alone. This year has been marred by the highest ransoms and the biggest payouts around the world.
Earlier this year the Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., was hit by an attack attributed to the Russia-based DarkSide RaaS cybercriminal group.
As a result, the company’s operations were affected, resulting in record price increases, panic-buying, and gasoline shortages
Ransomware operators will likely become increasingly aggressive: CSE
In Canada, CSE said the estimated average cost of a data breach, which includes but is not limited to ransomware, is more than $6 million. The average price has stabilized over the past years, a trend CSE attributes to cybercriminals becoming better at tailoring their demands to what their victims are most likely to pay.
Ransomware operators will likely become increasingly aggressive in their targeting in 2022, including against critical infrastructure, warned the agency.
Part of the problem fighting ransomware is that many operators and their affiliates are based in countries with lax or non-existent laws against cybercrime, said CSE.
“Mitigating the increasing risks will require concerted national efforts to improve cyber security and adopt best practices to harden critical systems, as well as co-ordinated international actions to undermine criminal infrastructure and tactics,” said the report.
As part of that effort, CSE, working with the RCMP, has published what they call a “playbook” that outlines steps organizations and businesses can take to protect against ransomware, and what to do if attacked.
Organizations urged to implement cyber safety measures
A handful of cabinet ministers have signed an open letter to Canadian organizations urging them to implement basic cyber security measures.
The letter, co-signed by Defence Minister Anita Anand, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and International Trade Minister Mary Ng, said the federal government is working with its allies to pursue cyber threat actors and disrupt their capabilities.
“We are also assisting in the recovery of organizations compromised by ransomware and helping them to be more resilient going forward,” they wrote.
“Our message is clear: taking basic steps to ensure your organization’s cyber security will pay swift dividends.”
Apple poised as Peloton's saviour among news the company is pausing equipment production – MobileSyrup
A recent report from CNBC regarding Peloton’s manufacturing rate helped plummet the company’s stock by 24 percent in a single day.
The media outlet reports the exercise bike manufacturer has temporarily halted production of its fitness products because of a drop in consumer demand.
Internal documents revealed bike productions will pause in February and March. Production of Bike+ was halted back in December and won’t resume until June. The Tread treadmill won’t start manufacturing again for six weeks until February. Further, production of Tread+ was previously halted and likely won’t resume this year.
This fueled ongoing rumours surrounding the fitness company’s production problems, with Insider reporting Peloton will lay off 41 percent of its staff in its sales and marketing departments.
Once noted as the darling of connected exercise equipment, the company is now struggling. CNBC says that Peloton overestimated how many people would buy its products after a jump in sales tied to at-home workouts during the pandemic.
Now experts are saying the only way to save the Peloton is if tech giant Apple purchases it. Financial advice publication, The Motley Fool, reports Apple has the cash to spare and “wants to be a force in health and wellness.” However, the article also notes a possible acquisition would “benefit Peloton far more than it would Apple,” given the fitness company’s smaller “market opportunity.”
Peloton CEO John Foley has denied that production is slowing or halted and says media reports are “incomplete and out of context.”
“Rumors that we are halting all production of bikes and Treads are false,” Foley wrote in a letter of response.
However, he did acknowledge layoffs may soon be on the horizon.
“We now need to evaluate our [organizational] structure and size of our team, with the utmost care and compassion. And we are still in the process of considering all options as part of our efforts to make our business more flexible,” he wrote.
Image credit: Shutterstock
Latest research says combination of throat and nose swabs provides better COVID-19 rapid test results: Nova Scotia Health – CTV News Atlantic
In a Canadian first, Nova Scotia researchers say COVID-19 rapid tests that include both throat and nose swabs provide greater accuracy in detecting the virus.
Up until now, the instructions provided by the manufacture has been for nasal swab only.
Now, based on research led by Nova Scotia Health’s microbiology team, public health is recommending Nova Scotians using rapid tests swab both their throat and nose when collecting their sample.
In a release Friday, Nova Scotia Health said its working to update the current testing instructions that people receive when they pick up a rapid test.
The research was prompted by public discussion theorizing that a combined sample may produce more accurate results.
Speaking to CTV Thursday, Dr. Todd Hatchette, the chief of the province’s Division of Microbiology, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, said researchers found using a single swab on a person’s throat first, and then in both nostrils is more effective at detecting Omicron than doing either site alone.
“When we tested just over 1,500 people, we found that either the nose or the throat both detected about 60 per cent of people, but if you did a combined nose / throat, it detected over 82 per cent of people,” said Hatchette.
The research started about a week ago. Officials at the microbiology lab worked with volunteers at the Halifax Convention Centre testing site to collect the data.
In Friday’s release, Nova Scotia Health says collaboration with volunteer-based community rapid testing sites was key to the project’s success and allowed the project to rapidly answer a question that many jurisdictions across the country have been asking.
The investigation compared results of a common rapid take-home test using three sample sites: nasal swab; throat swab and; combined nasal/throat, the release said. All results were confirmed with PCR testing. Compared to PCR test results, samples from nasal or throat swabs each detected 64.5 per cent of cases; however, combining the nose and throat swabs increased sensitivity to 88.7 per cent.
This research project has been submitted for publication.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, speaking Friday from Ottawa, welcomed the Nova Scotia swab study.
“I’ve asked our laboratory network, our laboratory experts, to take that into account and see whether we can provide some sort of guidance,” Tam said. “But, of course, I think we’ve been discovering that the Omicron variant may be behaving a bit differently to the previous variants, so this approach, this swabbing, might be useful.”
One thing to note, public health is advising that if only one location of the sample is being used, it should be the nasal swab, as the throat swab alone is not as effective as the nasal swab.
Nova Scotia is the first to report research results supporting a combined throat/nose collection method for self-administered rapid antigen tests.
Gold price next week: a breakout or a sideways trap? All eyes on hawkish Fed and stocks volatility – analysts – Kitco NEWS
(Kitco News) The gold market surprised with a breakout above $1,830 an ounce this week. And analysts say next week will be pivotal in whether gold breaks out or gets stuck in the sideways price action again.
In an unexpected move, the precious metal surged to two-month highs this week, with investors flocking to safe havens as volatility rocked the equity markets ahead of the Federal Reserve meeting next week.
With stocks and the crypto space selling off, money has to go somewhere, RJO Futures senior market strategist Frank Cholly told Kitco News.
“Gold rallied this week due to all the weakness in the equity market. Bitcoin is down pretty good too,” Cholly said. “We have a bottom in gold. The question is, are we going to go lower and stay sideways or climb towards $1,900. The precious metal needs another close above $1,830. It’s critical to hold that level before a move above $1,850.”
The move in gold did surprise some analysts because of how swift it was, said Gainesville Coins precious metals expert Everett Millman.
“The gold market has been going sideways for several months. To see a breakout in either direction was a bit surprising. Coming into this week, sentiment in the gold market was very negative. Many big banks were projecting the gold price to go down. This ended up playing in gold’s favor as negative sentiment set us up for a reversion in another direction,” Millman said.
Also, rising oil prices and strong retail demand have contributed to higher price levels in gold. “Higher oil does make it more expensive to get gold out of the ground. We could see constraints in the gold supply being mined. Plus, the real demand for gold is still strong. The U.S. Mint saw 12-year highs in gold sales, while the Perth Mint saw 10-year highs. Average retail investors are still buying gold at the fastest pace in ten years,” Millman added.
All eyes are on how markets will react to the Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting, scheduled for Wednesday. Cholly estimates to see a steeper sell-off in U.S. equities as the central bank maintains the same level of hawkishness.
“We could go through a more meaningful correction in equities. We’ll have more evidence of the Fed’s direction. And the stock market likes to throw tantrums to get the Fed’s attention. Next week, gold’s strength will hinge on equities moving lower and reallocation of money into precious metals. Silver may even become the leader as we move forward,” Cholly pointed out.
If gold does break above $1,850, it opens the door for $1,870-80 and eventually $1,900, he added.
Fed in focus
The Fed meeting, which will be followed by the central bank Chair Jerome Powell’s press conference, is the biggest macro event next week.
Analysts expect to get more hawkish clues in terms of the first rate hike in March and more clarity around the potential balance sheet runoff. Currently, markets are pricing in four rate hikes in 2022.
“With the Omicron wave now past its peak nationally, there is little to hold the Fed back, particularly if next week brings news of a further acceleration in wage growth,” said Capital Economics chief North America economist Paul Ashworth. “A dissenting vote, to raise rates immediately, from one of the hawkish regional Fed Presidents – who will be voting as part of the annual rotation – could also add fuel to the recent bond market sell-off.”
There is also a risk that the Fed could get even more hawkish by announcing the completion of the tapering process immediately, said ING chief international economist James Knightley.
“The Federal Reserve meeting will be the main focus, and we strongly suspect that we could see the announcement of the ending of QE asset purchases brought forward from the mid-March end-point currently signaled, to an immediate cessation, “Knightley wrote. “In an environment where the economy has fully recovered the lost output from the pandemic, where unemployment is back below 4% and where inflation is at near 40-year highs, it seems strange to say the least for them to continue stimulating the economy.”
Other key data releases to keep an eye on will be Tuesday’s CB consumer confidence, Thursday’s Q4 GDP number, jobless claims and durable goods orders, as well as Friday’s PCE price index.
“We expect to learn that fourth-quarter GDP growth was a slightly disappointing 4.0% annualized. But markets may focus more on the Employment Cost Index (ECI). Private wage growth hit 4.6% y/y in the third quarter and could have climbed as high 5% in the fourth, which would make a March rate hike a near-certainty,” Ashworth noted.
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