Managed Service Providers are an attractive target for cybercriminals. If a threat actor succeeds in gaining access to an MSP’s network, they can use the same remote management tools that MSPs use to conduct attacks on the MSPs clients.

Many companies are now turning to MSPs for IT support and management services. This is often the most cost-effective solution, especially when companies lack the in-house IT expertise to manage their networks, applications, and security. An MSP will typically provide IT management services for many different companies. A successful cyberattack on the MSP can therefore give a threat actor access to the networks of all the MSPs clients, which makes the attack extremely profitable.

There was a marked increase in cyberattacks on managed service providers in 2019, in particular by ransomware gangs using GandCrab, Sodinokibi BitPaymer and Ryuk ransomware. The MSPs were attacked in a variety of ways, including phishing, brute force attacks on RDP, and exploitation of unpatched vulnerabilities.

Once access has been gained to an MSP’s network, hackers search for remote management tools such as Webroot SecureAnywhere and ConnectWise which the MSP uses to access its clients’ networks to provide IT services. Several 2019 ransomware attacks on MSPs used these tools to access clients’ networks and deploy ransomware. MSPs such as PerCSoft, TrialWorks, BillTrust, MetroList, CloudJumper, and IT by Design were all attacked in 2019 and ransomware was deployed on their and their clients’ networks.

Kyle Hanslovan, CEO at Huntress Labs, told ZDNet in a recent telephone interview that his company had provided support to 63 MSPs that had been attacked in 2019 but believes the total number of attacks was likely to be more than 100. However, the number of MSPs that have been attacked is likely to be substantially higher. It is likely that many cyberattacks on MSPs are not even detected.

The attacks have shown no sign of slowing. Recently the U.S. Secret Service issued a TLP Green alert warning MSPs of an increase in targeted cyberattacks. Compromised MSPs have been used to conduct business email compromise (BEC) attacks to get payments sent to attacker-controlled accounts. Attacks have been conducted on point-of-sale (POS) systems and malware has been deployed that intercepts and exfiltrates credit card data, and there have been many successful ransomware attacks.

In addition to cybercriminals, nation state-sponsored hacking groups have also been conducting cyberattacks on MSPs, notably hacking groups linked to China. The National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) issued an alert about the threat to MSPs from state-sponsored hacking groups in October 2019.

Best Practices for MSPs to Adopt to Improve Their Security Posture

There are several best practices that can be adopted by MSPs to improve security and block these attacks. MSPs may currently be incredibly busy helping their clients deal with IT issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but given the increase in targeted cyberattacks on MSPs, time should be spent improving their own security, not just security for their clients.

The U.S Secret Service recommends MSPs keep up to date on patching, especially patches for any remote administration tools they use. ConnectWise issued a security advisory last month and patched a flaw in the ConnectWise Automate solution. The API vulnerability could be exploited remotely by a threat actor to execute commands and/or modifications within an individual Automate instance. Vulnerabilities such as these are actively sought by cybercriminals.

The principle of least privilege should be adopted for access to resources to limit the harm caused in the event of a breach. It is also important to have well-defined security controls that are fully compliant with industry standards.

Annual data audits should be conducted along with regular scans to identify malware that may have been installed on systems. Logging should be enabled, and logs should be regularly checked to identify potentially malicious activity. MSPs should also ensure that their employees receive regular security awareness training to teach cybersecurity best practices and how to identify phishing and BEC scams.