Island hopping cyberattack: What it is and how to protect your systems from it

Island hopping cyberattack: What it is and how to protect your systems from it

Businesses both large and small are taking advantage of the latest technological innovations to enhance their operations. However, cybercriminals are also leveraging new technology to create more sophisticated cyberattacks. One such advanced attack that's gaining popularity is island hopping. In an island hopping attack, your organization is not the intended target of a cyberattack. Rather, it is used as means to gain access to a larger corporation you do business with.

What is an island hopping attack?

Island hopping is a technique that cybercriminals use to exploit the cybersecurity weaknesses of organizations with limited resources — like certain small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) — in order to breach their larger business partners. According to Carbon Black's 2019 Global Incident Response Threat Report, 50% of all cyberattacks utilized the island hopping technique. The report also revealed that the most affected industries were retail, manufacturing, and financial.

Types of island hopping attacks

Currently, there are three types of island hopping attacks cybercriminals commonly use:

1. Network-based attacks
This is the most widely used type of island hopping wherein cybercriminals infiltrate an SMB’s network and use it to gain access to an affiliate network. An example is the Delta Airlines cyberattack. In this attack, cybercriminals exploited [24]7'sinsufficient user authentication protocols to access personally identifying information and payment card data from Delta Airlines passengers.

2. Watering hole attacks
This attack involves threat actors exploiting a website that’s frequently visited by an SMB's customers and business partners. Attackers analyze the site's weaknesses and inject it with malicious links that take visitors to a compromised site or automatically download malware onto their computers. Once attackers infiltrate the victims' computers, they can then gain access to the corporate network.

3. Business email compromise attacks
This attack involves the use of phishing scams or keyloggers to steal or spoof the email accounts of high-ranking employees or executives. The fraudsters then the compromised accounts to manipulate targets into initiating fraudulent wire transfers or giving away sensitive information.

How to protect your company against island hopping attacks

As island hopping attacks become more frequent, SMBs should take the proper measures to ensure their network is safe from this cyberthreat. Here are some cybersecurity best practices organizations should implement.

1. Enable multifactor authentication (MFA)
MFA is an authentication process that requires a user to provide multiple verification factors to access a network or corporate resource. This extra authentication step is one of the best ways to keep cybercriminals from exploiting stolen login credentials, as other authentication factors such as biometrics are harder to come by

2. Keep software up to date
Software updates come with the latest patches will prevent cybercriminals from exploiting security weaknesses found in older versions of the software.

3. Limit access to your network
Making certain resources unreachable or even invisible makes it harder for third parties or cybercriminals to access sensitive workloads and applications, and that's why it's important to regularly review what resources your partners and affiliates have access to. Make sure anyone accessing sensitive data has been checked, authenticated, and verified. Some companies even factor in cybersecurity standards when entering into a contract with organizations they do business with.

4. Implement endpoint encryption
Any device connected to a corporate network — such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop — can be used as an entry point by cybercriminals. Endpoint encryption is an ideal way of ensuring these endpoints are secure and can only be accessed by authorized users.

5. Create an effective incident response system
Sometimes, even the strongest cybersecurity defenses can be broken. In the event of a data breach, only a well-developed incident response system can contain and minimize the damage. There are currently two industry standards businesses follow when creating an incident response system: the National Institute of Standards and Technology and SANS Institute standards.

6. Conduct cybersecurity awareness training
Human error and negligence are big factors that contribute to the success of a data breach. The best way to prevent this is by holding regular cybersecurity awareness training for everyone in your organization. The training should include information about phishing scams, password best practices, and data privacy, to name a few. Simulations and tests must also be conducted to see how well employees can respond to various forms of cyberattacks.

To protect your business and partners from an island hopping attack, implement robust cybersecurity policies and partner with a trusted managed IT services provider like Complete Document Solutions. Our IT experts have been providing high-quality IT support services throughout Los Angeles County and Orange County for over 25 years. Get in touch with our specialists today to learn more.


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